Pope Leo XIII—Immortale Dei: On the Christian Constitution of States
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“Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were no God.”
We’re releasing this episode just a couple of days before the 135th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical letter ‘On the Christian Constitution of States’, Immortale Dei, first issued on November 1, 1885. We’re also releasing this just a few short days before the United States presidential election, at a time when the relationship between Church and State ought to be particularly relevant, especially to the mind of the Catholic voter.
Indeed, in this encyclical, Pope Leo XIII urges Catholics to give particular attention to national politics, and to make use of popular institutions for the advancement of truth and goodness. He warns that, were Catholics to abdicate the field of politics, it would “allow those whose principles offer but small guarantee for the welfare of the State to more readily seize the reins of government.”
The question came up most recently in American civic life with the successful confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barret to the U.S. Supreme Court. During her hearings, we saw what Pope Leo would term “a hackneyed reproach of old date” in the not-so-subtle accusations that Justice Barret’s professed Catholicism would somehow compromise the discharge of her civil duty.
Such anti-Catholic invectives have, notably, been entirely absent when it has come to the professed Catholicism of a certain presidential nominee. The reason why should be obvious for anyone with eyes to see.
There, too, Leo condemns the politically expedient side-lining of Catholic teaching, warning that, for Catholics, “It is unlawful to follow one line of conduct in private life and another in public, respecting privately the authority of the Church but publicly rejecting it.” He especially cautions those who would hold positions of authority, writing: “they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and preeminence of their dignity.”
It is the right exercise of authority that is at the heart of Leo’s concern in Immortale Dei— and in particular, the right relationship between the authority of the Church and that of the State.
Leo’s is a corrective to the defective view of authority that arises from an incorrect view of liberty—and this theme of liberty, as opposed to license, predominates throughout Immortale Dei. In fact, Pope Leo would, less than three years after issuing Immortale Dei, follow up with another encyclical letter entitled Libertas, on the Nature of Human Liberty.
We’re releasing this episode ahead of the U.S. election in the hopes that it may serve as a resource leading up to this great expression of civil responsibility, but also in witness to the fact that—whatever the outcome of this or any election—Christ remains the same; as does the perennial teaching of His Church; as does the law of charity, and the responsibility of the Christian.
Full text of Immortale Dei: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=4916
The Catholic Culture Podcast Ep. 90—Leo XIII on the State’s Duties Toward the Church—Thomas Pink: https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/90-leo-xiii-on-states-duties-toward-church-thomas-pink/
Audiobook of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum: https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/pope-leo-xiii-rerum-novarum-pt-1/
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