Thursday, 7 February 2013

When is a State Church good (on the whole), and when is it bad

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I believe that, ideally, in a Christian society, Church and State should be one, in harmony - as in Byzantium at its best: there should be no autonomous secular realm.

Thus we get State and Churches linked by various mechanisms, more or less closely.

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As long as the State is Christian, or is becoming Christian, this is good; but when the State becomes non-Christian or anti-Christian, it will drag-down the State Church, inevitably.

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The clearest example was Russia, which went from being the most devoutly Christian society in the world to the coercive and violently murderous atheism of the the Soviet Union - and when Russia descended into Communism, the State Church was dragged down, and became merely an agent of the State.

(Now the Russian State has become and continues to become more Christianized, the Church is becoming healthier).

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In England the Church of England (headed by the Monarch, who appointed Bishops and approved liturgy) worked pretty well for as long as the State was Christian, but as the State became increasingly anti-Christian and atheist, the Church was inevitably dragged-down.

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Of course, a Church does not have to be a State Church to be dragged down by secularism - the Church of Scotland is not a State Church, but it has been politicized and secularized much the same as the C of E.

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But a higher degree of independence from a secular State does enable a Church to hold-out for longer, and more completely, against secularism. Thus the most devout of religions and of Christian denominations in the modern West, are among the most independent of the State.

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As so often, the best arrangement under the best conditions, is different from the best arrangement under seriously sub-optimal conditions.

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12 comments:

  1. Wouldn't you agree that the countries with state churches (or churches connected closely to the state) seem to have recovered better from Communism though? It seems like religion reappeared relatively easily in formerly Orthodox countries/areas, less so in Catholic ones, and hardly at all in protestant ones (like East Germany).

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  2. @C. Thats a good observation, which I hadnt considered. It is fascinating how fast Orthodoxy began to recover and thrive in Russia and Romania. Are you saying this did not happen with Roman Catholicism in Poland or Hungary? It is certainly worth pondering.

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  3. Will have to disagree slightly with C. Poland has, as far as i can tell, the largest upswing in religious activity in the last 20 years. The Orthodox countries got better quickly, but the recovery plateaued pretty early, and religiosity is still pretty superficial there. Some countries are doing better than others. Romania has seen an impressive reawakening of monastic life, while the Bulgarian parliament almost passed a law that would fine anyone who had their children baptised. So a very mixed bag overall, but poland seems both religious and keeps electing right wing governments, so they may be in the best shape.

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  4. The real divide doesn't seem to be so much between Catholic and Orthodox areas as between Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant ones. Formerly heavily Protestant areas like East Germany and Estonia seem to have had no religious revival at all.

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  5. @C and Alex T - This is very interesting, because I might well have predicted the opposite: that Protestant churches, being more dispersed and less dependent on priests, would have survived better under communism. But seemingly not.

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  6. @BGC: I would have made the same prediction. My theory is that the hierarchical nature of the O/C churches helped in some way. There are plenty of stories about undercover bishops keeping the catacomb church alive in Russia for example. On the other hand, there are a lot of protestant converts in eastern europe as well, so who knows. The whole situation is in flux, which makes it difficult to draw sweeping conclusions.

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  7. @AT - I think one factor was that Central/ Eastern Europe was very devout at the time of Communist takeover. But I'm not sure what lessons we should learn.

    I do not know whether modern priests would be likely to take the same terrible risks as those of nearly 100 years ago. For example the current Roman Catholic Priests of Spain or Ireland, or the Orthodox Priests of Greece... They seem to put up so little resistance to leftism and the sexual revolution where the stakes are much lower - would they be likely to risk prison or martyrdom?

    It was pretty common in the past for religious people to suffer severe persecution, but not to yield - the Mormons are a fairly recent US example.

    In other words, I think denomination is less important than devoutness.

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  8. "I believe that, ideally, in a Christian society, Church and State should be one, in harmony - as in Byzantium at its best: there should be no autonomous secular realm."

    The Roman Catholic Church always taught the contrary, from this teaching of Christ: Render unto Caesar the things which are Ceasar's and unto God the things that are God's. There was, and always should be, an autonomous secular state. If the head of state is Christian, it is all the better, but they have to be good and obedient Christians or at least morally good people, which is not often the case.

    History has shown repeatedly that the moral power of the Church is shining best when she is persecuted and weak (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). The Coptic Church may be the best example we have just now. I am also thinking of the American bishops who stood up to moral persecution as they never have before, and of the Catholic Church in the 19th Century, who gained in moral power much more than she lost with Papal states being annexed to Italy. To be too comfortable with secular powers is not a good preparation for supernatural fight anyway, it is rather morally hazardous.

    As for the Orthodox 'recovery' after Communism, I don't think it would have happened if they had not have previously bits of cardiac resuscitation by Catholic missionaries (Polish mainly).

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  9. "The Roman Catholic Church always taught the contrary"

    Not really. The papacy claimed both spritual and temporal power for many centuries. Caesaropapism with the Pope as the head. The Byzantine version was similar but had the Emperor as the head.

    "As for the Orthodox 'recovery' after Communism, I don't think it would have happened if they had not have previously bits of cardiac resuscitation by Catholic missionaries (Polish mainly)."

    Not sure what this is supposed to mean. How would Catholic missionary activity be helpful to the Orthodox church? Especially in a part of the world where the mutual hatred is still very real? How would catacombed believers in Krasnodar, or Old believers in Moldova benefit from the activity of Polish priests?

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  10. @BGC: To answer your question about Greek priests, there are two types. The ecumenists, who don't differ from your C of E bishops in any significant way, and the anti ecumenists, who have been facing persecution for the better part of a century now. This seems to be the new divide in the Orthodox world. The priests and monks who made deals with communism and now modernism, and those that refused. Those that refused are still being actively persecuted today, and have held up well. Look up Esphigmenou monastery on Mt. Athos for the most public example of this persecution.
    Your greater point is well taken, however. The amount of clergy and believers who would accept a martyr's death is tiny compared to other historical eras. More proof, perhaps, that we live in the end times, or at the very least, interesting times.

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  11. @AT - Thanks.

    I have a couple of pen-friends (including John Granger - "The Hogwarts Professor") who are in the 'remnant' US branch of the ROCOR (that have refused to re-join with Moscow) - and there is a monastery of that church in the UK whose magazine I read:

    http://www.saintedwardbrotherhood.org/shepherd.html

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  12. @Alex T
    As the word order suggests, Caesaropapism happens when the religious order is submitted to the secular order, which is characteristic of Protestantism from the start, particularly in largely Protestant countries. They came back more or less to the natural order of things, in which the secular state has to submit to the religious order in matters of faith and morals, while keeping its freedom in secular civil matters. (You might look up “Caesaropapism” in Catholic Encyclopedia articles “The Reformation”, “Protestantism” and “Civil Allegiance”.)

    The other thing is a personal speculation on true stories collected by a Polish author; the ones I recall best were about nuns operating clandestinely. I also received personal witness by Canadian missionaries after the fall of Communism. As both groups helped Orthodox as well as Catholic Russians, I extrapolate that in some small way they helped Eastern Orthodoxy survive and recover. Sometimes charity only asks for a drop of water.

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