After reading this article you will learn about the political ideas of the Church.
Christianity or church, per se, did not propagate any political doctrine or ideas and it was not the purpose. But its sermons—preached among the people belonging to all sections of society—contained the germs of certain political concepts which were treated by the great academics as remarkable political doctrines.
These may be designated as natural law, human equality, and necessity of justice in the state and the nature of government. Particularly, the concept of natural law, which the Christian fathers preached, was in agreement with Cicero.
Referring to the Gentiles, St. Paul said—for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. This is law of nature. It is the embodiment of reason and it lives in the hearts and minds of people.
There is a difference between law of nature and law of state. The Stoic philosophers emphasized upon the law of nature and the church fathers accepted it. In the medieval political thought the law of nature played a very crucial role. There are several passages in the New Testament which have advocated the law of nature.
The church fathers and other persons closely associated with Christianity propagated the law of nature and the concept of equality. These were prominent ideas in Middle Ages. All men are created by God.
So, all men are brothers. There is no difference in respect of caste, sex, high and low. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Jesus Christ.” To Jesus, all men are equal.
The equality of all men led the church to lay faith on the identity of human nature in all parts of the globe. It may be noted in this connection that although the church acknowledged the equality of all men, the same was not applicable to the institution of slavery.
The slaves were not free and the Christian fathers did not make any attempt to abolish or even denounce slavery, on the contrary they advised the slaves to carry out the order of their masters. They did not consider slavery as unlawful.
The argument of the church father was that slaves were not endowed with the power to control their own spirit. This is, the spirit or soul of all persons, including that of slaves, was equal.
In the New Testament we find a wonderful description of obligation. Everyone must show utmost obligation to higher authority. Few relevant lines from the New Testament may be quoted here. “Let every soul be subject unto higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
The implication is, every power is ordained by God and no man can defy the order of God. The church fathers declared that any defiance will be treated as a sacrilegious act. In other words, it is the duty of everyone to show obligation to the power or authority and this constitutes the very foundation of the modern concept of political obligations. Persons showing no obligation will be punished.
In support of the theory of obligation another famous passage may be quoted: ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.’ The obedience to civil authority is a must for every citizen.
Church fathers believed that God created the rulers to punish the people involved in sinful works and to encourage the honest men. Naturally, no question of disobedience to magistrates could arise.
The concept of obligation, in early Christian political thought, was closely connected with the idea of civil government. The civil government was viewed as a divine institution. The state was created to maintain justice. It was the primary duty of the ruler to do this job. He received authority only from God.
So disobedience to civil authority was doubly unjustified. The disobedient person was acting against the justice and acting against the wishes of God. The Christian fathers strongly emphasized the obligation to fight the anarchism which was the characteristic feature of early Christian communities.
The ascendency of the church to great power and importance resulted in some tangible consequences of political tenor. The church fathers became highly conscious of their so-called authority. They also thought that they must keep their separateness and independence.
Ultimately, the church was able to establish a parallel authority which was in a sense a “state within a state”. The church indulged in an irresistible desire to control not only the religious world but also the political world. People were advised to divide their loyalty, that is, they would show obligation both to the emperor and to the Pope.
But in case of conflict they would withdraw their loyalty from the king and must be unconditionally obedient to the church. Summarising the political ideas of church, Gettell says— “As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it gradually developed its semi-political organization, acquired property and power, and built up its system of theology, a new attitude began to appear in its political ideas.”
This attitude was self-consciousness which drove it to be independent of the state authority. The church was determined to assume political power peremptorily. This created an atmosphere of inevitable conflict between the church and the state.