by Simon
Lien-yueh Wei




The Relationship between Church and State before the Reformation





The interaction and relationship between the church and the state

3rd century
After it separated from Judaism, Christianity became an illegal religion in Roman empire and was persecuted by emperors. The Churche’s attitude towards the Empire was outside of the state, but sometimes some bishops occasionally appealed to imperial authority to enforce their decisions they had made, such as removal of Bishop.

4th Century
Constantine changed the situation of Christianity from illegal to tolerate and support. The State began to be involved in matters of the church. For example, Emperors called the councils which tried to settle the doctrinal unity of the church. In the new imperial city, Constantinople, only Christianity was practiced; no other religions’ traditional rites were allowed. Apparently, Constantine and his sons intended to use the church as a means of unification of the empire. Most Roman emperors after Constantine’s line were committed to Christianity, but primarily as a means of securing their control over the empire.

5th Century
476, the Western empire falls. The popes turned to the rising power of the new peoples in the west to secure their independence from Constantinople. The church has an alliance with the Franks. The Eastern church maintained the alliance with Eastern empire untill 1453.

6th Century
Many barbarian tribes established their own states in the west. The mission work of the church made many states convert to Christianity, such as Kent of Britain.

7th-9th Century
The church needs financial support and military protection from the king. The king needs the alliance with Pope and needs Pope to declare the king a legal emperor or authority. For instance, Pippin gave the land to the Pope as a gift for the alliance with the Pope. Another example, the Pope, Leo III placed a crown on Charlemagne and declared him to be the Holy Roman emperor because he conquered over Saxon tribes that were the threat of the church and forced them to convert to Christianity.

10th-14th Century
The church had its own army. The Crusades was called by the Pope for a holy war. At this time, the military power of the church was stronger than the state so that it can protect not only the church, but also the state. The Pope became the highest leaders of Europe. On the other hand, a series of councils were called by popes. Before this time, all the prior councils had been called and controlled by emperors.  

Three theories of the relationship between the church and the state

After the promotion of Christianity in the 4th C.E., Roman Empire gradually became a Christian empire and began to be involved in the affairs of the church. The church had to develop political theologies to understand and regulate its relationship with the empire (state).

Eusebius’s theory: The church cooperate with the state
He looked positively on the Christian empire, and adopted the notion of a single society, which is under the guidance of the emperor, once the emperor had become Christian. Empire was regarded as an instrument of Christ’s victory. Empire promoted true religion and suppresses idolatry, and has responsibility for the Church. The Church has a limited degree of independence. The Eastern churches tended to accept this theory.  

Ambrose’s theory: The church must be independent from the state
He used Old Testament model of high priest and king to interpret the relation between bishop and emperor. The church must be completely independent from the empire and cannot be controlled by the king, especially on doctrinal issues. Moreover, the bishop could call the king to repent and follow God’s law. For example, Ambrose called the king to repent for having ordered of a massacre. 

Augustine’s theory: Two kinds of invisible forms of human association
There are two kinds of cities or forms of human association: City of God and the earthly city. The citizens of the City of God love God while those in the earthly city love self. Cities are defined by intention, are not visible social institutions. The Christian church cannot be identified with the City of God on earth because it contains persons who are evil. The state need not be evil. The state has its own role within earthly temporal realm. Its goals are to secure the good, people life, and the church.  Christians can and even should work in the state to help the state achieve its goals.



Burns, Patout, Lectures of “The Formation of Christian Tradition” in Vanderbilt Divinity school, 2004 Fall.




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