The Church, a perfect society
The Church has been considered as a society which aims at a spiritual end, but which yet is a visible polity, like the secular polities among which it exists. It is, further, a "perfect society". The meaning of this expression, "a perfect society", should be clearly understood, for this characteristic justifies, even on grounds of pure reason, that independence of secular control which the Church has always claimed.
A society may be defined as a number of men who unite in a manner more or less permanent in order, by their combined efforts, to attain a common good. Association of this kind is a necessary condition of civilization. An isolated individual can achieve but little. He can scarcely provide himself with necessary sustenance; much less can he find the means of developing his higher mental and moral gifts. As civilization progresses, men enter into various societies for the attainment of various ends. These organizations are perfect or imperfect societies.
• The end which it proposes to itself must not be purely subordinate to the end of some other society. For example, the cavalry of an army is an organized association of men; but the end for which this association exists is entirely subordinate to the good of the whole army. Apart from the success of the whole army, there can properly speaking be no such thing as the success of the lesser association. Similarly, the good of the whole army is subordinate to the welfare of the State.
• The society in question must be independent of other societies in regard to the attainment of its end. Mercantile societies, no matter how great their wealth and power, are imperfect; for they depend on the authority of the State for permission to exist. So, too, a single family is an imperfect society. It cannot attain its end — the well-being of its members — in isolation from other families. Civilized life requires that many families should cooperate to form a State.
There are two societies which are perfect — the Church and the State. The end of the State is the temporal welfare of the community. It seeks to realize the conditions which are requisite in order that its members may be able to attain temporal felicity. It protects the rights, and furthers the interests of the individuals and the groups of individuals which belong to it. All other societies which aim in any manner at temporal good are necessarily imperfect. Either they exist ultimately for the good of the State itself; or, if their aim is the private advantage of some of its members, the State must grant them authorization, and protect them in the exercise of their various functions. Should they prove dangerous to it, it justly dissolves them.
The Church also possesses the conditions requisite for a perfect society. That its end is not subordinate to that of any other society is manifest: for it aims at the spiritual welfare, the eternal felicity, of man. This is the highest end a society can have; it is certainly not an end subordinate to the temporal felicity aimed at by the State. Moreover, the Church is not dependent on the permission of the State in the attaining of its end. Its right to exist is derived not from the permission of the State, but from the command of God. Its right to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments, to exercise jurisdiction over its subjects, is not conditional on the authorization of the civil Government. It has received from Christ Himself the great commission to teach all nations. To the command of the civil Government that they should desist from preaching, the Apostles replied simply that they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Some measure of temporal goods is, indeed, necessary to the Church to enable it to carry out the work entrusted to it. The State cannot justly prohibit it from receiving this from the benefactions of the faithful. Those whose duty it is to achieve a certain end have a right to possess the means necessary to accomplish their task.
Pope Leo XIII summed up this doctrine in his Encyclical "Immortale Dei" (1 November, 1885) on the Christian constitution of States: "The Church", he says, "is distinguished and differs from civil society; and, what is of highest moment, it is a society chartered as of right divine, perfect in its nature and its title to possess in itself and by itself through the will and loving kindness of its Founder, all needful provision for its maintenance and action. And just as the end at which the Church aims is by far the noblest of ends, so is its authority the most excellent of all authority, nor can it be looked on as inferior to the civil power, or in any manner dependent upon it."
It is to be observed that though the end at which the Church aims is higher than that of the State, the latter is not, as a society, subordinate to the Church. The two societies belong to different orders. The temporal felicity at which the State aims is not essentially dependent on the spiritual good which the Church seeks. Material prosperity and a high degree of civilization may be found where the Church does not exist. Each society is Supreme in its own order. At the same time each contributes greatly to the advantage of the other.
The church cannot appeal to men who have not some rudiments of civilization, and whose savage mode of life renders moral development impossible. Hence, though her function is not to civilize but to save souls, yet when she is called on to deal with savage races, she commences by seeking to communicate the elements of civilization to them. On the other hand, the State needs the Supernatural sanctions and spiritual motives which the Church impresses on its members. A civil order without these is insecurely based.
It has often been objected that the doctrine of the Church's independence in regard to the State would render civil government impossible. Such a theory, it is urged, creates a State within a State; and from this, there must inevitably result a conflict of authorities each claiming supreme dominion over the same subjects. Such was the argument of the Gallican Regalists. The writers of this school, consequently, would not admit the claim of the Church to be a perfect society. They maintained that any jurisdiction which it might exercise was entirely dependent on the permission of the civil power. The difficulty, however, is rather apparent than real. The scope of the two authorities is different, the one belonging to what is temporal, the other to what is spiritual. Even when the jurisdiction of the Church involves the use of temporal means and affects temporal interests, it does not detract from the due authority of the State. If difficulties arise, they arise, not by the necessity of the case, but from some extrinsic reason. In the course of history, occasions have doubtless arisen, when ecclesiastical authorities have grasped at power which by right belonged to the State, and, more often still, when the State has endeavoured to arrogate to itself spiritual jurisdiction. This, however, does not show the system to be at fault, but merely that human perversity can abuse it. So far, indeed, is it from being true that the Church's claims render government impossible, that the contrary is the case. By determining the just limits of liberty of conscience, they are a defence to the State. Where the authority of the Church is not recognized, any enthusiast may elevate the vagaries of his own caprice into a Divine command, and may claim to reject the authority of the civil ruler on the plea that he must obey God and not man. The history of John of Leyden and of many another self-styled prophet will afford examples in point. The Church bids her members see in the civil power "the minister of God", and never justifies disobedience, except in those rare cases when the State openly violates the natural or the revealed law. (See CIVIL ALLEGIANCE.)
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Blacks took control of Detroit City and they own it...
Posted by Amateur Brain Surgeon