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Catholic Dictionary




The Christian polity insofar as the principles of Christianity governed (and still govern) the laws and civil institutions of nations. Its foundations may be traced to the Jewish traditions of a theocracy, and its history properly began with the liberation of the Church under Constantine. It developed through more than a millennium in most of the countries of Europe and with numerous setbacks remained fairly intact until the Protestant Reformation. In its best days, Christendom represented the corporate Christian social life, and its impact on world civilization through the arts and philosophy, law and the medieval universities has been great and lasting. With the changed conditions in the world, the Second Vatican Council expressed the Church's new role in civil society: "By reason of her role and competence, the Church is not identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system. She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person" (Church in the Modern World, IV, 76).