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Saint Pius X and the separation of Church and State

Even in the American context, the separation of Church and State is not really so hallowed (irony intended) as some liberals would like us to feel.

Detail from "Pius X", photo portrait by Francesco De Federicis, 1903, retouched and colorized. (Image: Wikipedia)

“That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error.” – Saint Pius X, Vehementer Nos, 1906

Just over a decade before Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto’s elevation to the papacy, France’s transformation from Catholic kingdom to secular nation-state was marked by the erection of the Eiffel Tower. Back in 1889, the Tower was highly controversial, dedicated as it was to the French Revolution and Enlightenment rationalism. It was widely perceived and denounced among devout French Catholics as a new Tower of Babel, the most visible symbol of a longstanding campaign against France’s Catholic identity.

This campaign would later be denounced by Pius X in Vehementer Nos. From the reintroduction of the French Revolution’s “right to divorce” to the changing of oaths of office, the French government was divesting France of its Catholic heritage, Pius lamented to his bishops:

You have seen the sanctity and the inviolability of Christian marriage outraged by legislative acts in formal contradiction with them; the schools and hospitals laicized; clerics torn from their studies and from ecclesiastical discipline to be subjected to military service; the religious congregations dispersed and despoiled, and their members for the most part reduced to the last stage of destitution. Other legal measures which you all know have followed: the law ordaining public prayers at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session and of the assizes has been abolished; the signs of mourning traditionally observed on board the ships on Good Friday suppressed; the religious character effaced from the judicial oath; all actions and emblems serving in any way to recall the idea of religion banished from the courts, the schools, the army, the navy, and in a word from all public establishments.

This long string of abuses would culminate in France’s 1905 Law of Separation, which abrogated the old Napoleonic concordat between the Church and the French government; it was this law which prompted Pius to issue his outraged encyclical.

For most Americans, even Catholics, separation of Church and State is so self-evident an ideal that any condemnation of it may seem repulsive, equivalent to a call to resume the Thirty Years’ War and the burning of heretics. Certainly a distinction needs to be made with nations like France, imbued with an ancient Catholic legacy, and America, which emerged from a very different historical milieu. Both practically and morally, it is one thing to preserve or even restore a centuries-old Catholic system, and quite another to call for imposing a full-blown Catholic confessional state upon a population of Protestants in a country their Protestant ancestors founded.

At the same time, an absolute separation of religion and government has consequences which should be disturbing for Protestants and open-minded unbelievers, no less than for Catholics. For it is not clear that any human value can be entirely disentangled from religious foundations. Why should there be prohibitions against public sex acts, for instance, barring some profound, implicitly religious understanding of the meaning of sexuality? Setting aside the issue of gay “marriage,” what possible justification can a government have for privileging married couples over individuals? By definition, how can an oath of office be sacred without at least some hint of religion? As more honest atheists have admitted, even the very concept of human dignity derives from a religious consciousness. Notwithstanding Kant’s convoluted attempts to construct an ethics without either natural law or God, over time agnosticism about the Supreme Being inevitably leads to agnosticism about created beings. The most famous recent example of this agnosticism is reflected in the reluctance of educated people to say much of anything about what a woman is.

Even in the American context, the separation of Church and State is not really so hallowed (irony intended) as some liberals would like us to feel. The First Amendment’s famous establishment clause – “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion” – is self-evidently directed at a branch of the federal government. It says nothing about the established churches found in several small “s” states at the time of the American founding. Local ordinances closing businesses on the Sabbath, prayer in state schools, municipal regulations regarding pornography, distinctions between “wet” and “dry” counties – these and other religiously-informed measures have played prominent roles in American life, at least until quite recently. The unexamined assumption that what Congress cannot do, no other authority can do, is based upon nothing except the liberal elite’s equally unexamined prejudice in favor of centralized government. Far from being alien, the public representation of religious interests is an integral part of the American tradition, albeit at the state and local level.

It is worth emphasizing that Pius X himself was not the theocrat some detractors and supporters might take him for, and that he hardly called for an impassable barrier of enmity between Catholics and their non-Catholic neighbors. Continuing Leo XIII’s teachings about the defense of the laboring classes, for instance, Pius made clear that “Catholics, in their efforts to improve the workers’ living conditions, more equitable distribution of wages, and other justified advantages, have a right, provided they exercise due caution, to collaborate with non-Catholics for the common good.” Thus there is some possibility of cooperation between Catholics, Protestants, and others, for there is a common ground which extends just so far as any particular non-Catholic is capable of recognizing “the common good.”

Perhaps the only person with whom the Catholic can never effectively work with is the militantly agnostic Modernist. “According to this teaching,” wrote Pius of Modernism in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, “human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things.”

Just to be clear, it is not stubbornness or bigotry which prevents the Catholic from cooperating meaningfully with the Modernist in the pursuit of the common good; rather, fruitful cooperation is simply prevented as a matter of principle, thanks to the Modernist’s claim that no one can have the slightest idea what the common good is. The inanity and apparent insolubility of contemporary controversies stem from disingenuous attempts to evade, hedge, and obfuscate the implications of radical agnosticism.

As his feast day approaches, it is appropriate to recognize how portentous Pius’s pontificate was. He was the last pope to live in what could be easily recognized as Christendom, after all. His papacy began through the intervention of the Hapsburg emperor, who had vetoed another candidate; it ended when Pius died in August 1914, shortly after Austria declared war upon Serbia. In other words, his pontificate was made possible by an office which would be demolished, along with the last Catholic world power, in the course of an unprecedented and disastrous war which many scholars have characterized as an act of civilizational suicide.

As many readers are no doubt aware, the bitterness, revolutions, and further bloodshed which followed the Great War helped enshrine as public dogma the very Modernism Pius X sought to stave off. Today, the question is no longer how to prevent Modernism’s ascendancy, but how to cope with it.

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About Jerry Salyer 56 Articles
Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor and freelance writer.


  1. Jesus is, Second Coming, Coming to Rule the world. That is how to deal with ‘Modernism’. Jesus will Rule with and through His Church, the Catholic Church. Jesus is not King and Ruler of the world until His Subjects, Catholic Apostolic Successors/Combat Angels of the Apocalypse, put His Laws into enforcement on earth. The Revelation 10 ‘small scroll’ is a list of Catholic auto-anathemas. Catholic anathema is Jesus’ lips binding sinners to their sins. Once the ‘small scroll’ of Catholic auto-anathemas is read, while blowing seven trumpets, Jesus is immediately enthroned in heaven as King and Ruler of the world! Then we go through the ‘Three Days of Darkness’ on earth. On the third day we emerge from our darkened homes and step into Messianic Reign. Jesus will have wiped away we, His Bride, the Catholic Church’s, every tear. There will be peace on earth. Hallelujah!

    Revelation 10:7
    At the time when you hear the seventh angel blow his trumpet, the mysterious plan of God shall be fulfilled, as he promised to his servants the prophets.”

    Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet. There were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign forever and ever’.

    In the Third Secret of Fatima, the mountain Catholic Clergy are climbing is Revelation 21’s ‘The New Jerusalem’, which is the Restoration of Israel and the Birth of Zion on earth, as we enter into Messianic Reign.

    Obadiah 21
    And saviours shall ascend Mount Zion to rule the mount of Esau, and the kingship shall be the Lord’s.

    A Portion of the ‘Third Secret of Fatima’.
    …the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way…

    Psalms 47:6 God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts. Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise. God is king over all the earth; sing hymns of praise. God rules over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne. The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham. For the rulers of the earth belong to God, who is enthroned on high.

    Acts of the Apostles 26:17
    I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.

    Matthew 6:9 The Lord’s Prayer
    …your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven …//… Subject us not to trial but deliver us from the evil one.’

    Acts of the Apostles 1:6 The Ascension of Jesus.
    When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going* to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

    It was St. Catherine Loubore who first received an apparition of the Coming of Messianic Reign on earth. In St. Catherine’s first vision, she sees the Blessed Mother, standing on a cloud (heaven), offering the world a Globecross. The Globecross represents Messianic Reign.

    Then the vision switches to The Blessed Mother, standing on the crushed head of Satan, standing on earth. The Blessed Mother is no longer holding the Globecross, because the gift of Messianic Reign has been received on earth. In the second vision we now see twelve stars above The Blessed Mother’s head, which represents Christ’s Power and authority on earth, flowing through His Apostolic Successors on earth. In the second vision, The Blessed Mother now has her arms pointing down to earth with rays flowing from her hands to earth. One time the seer children of Fatima got hit from a ray shot from the hand of the Blessed Mother. All three dropped to the ground and started praying and praising Jesus. The Fatima seers said the rays from The Blessed Mother’s hand caused them to do this, and they could not resist to do so. The Immaculate Heart of Mary had triumphed and the Blessed Mother Coronated. The twelve stars in her crown, signify her Queenship over world, flowing through Catholic Apostolic Successors, Ruling the world, with and through Jesus.
    Please visit the visions of St. Catherine Laboure

    God was King over Israel from the Exodus to the Fall of the House of Judah in 587 B.C.. Because of the massive sins of Israel, God divorced Israel, removed His Presence from the temple in Jerusalem, exiled Israel into captivity, Relinquished His Kingship over Israel, and placed, man’s evil human pride in secular power as king and ruler over Israel, beginning with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

    The prophet Daniel lived through the fall of Israel and prayed for the day God, through Jesus the Messiah, would deliver Israel from the power of Satan. When deciphering King Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream, Daniel sees God restoring the kingdom to Israel, through Jesus’ enthronement as King and Ruler of the world. All world dominant secular power, aka Satan, from the fall of Israel in 587 B.C., to the rise of Jesus’ Kingdom Come of the Revelation 21 ‘New Jerusalem’, falls, and is turned to dust, as Jesus takes over as King and Ruler of the world. The four secular kingdoms to fall from power upon the Coming of Jesus as King, are Babylon, the Medes and Prussians, Greece, and the fourth and final kingdom to fall, is the kingdom of the Descendants of Ephraim, who are the white race, still ruling the world today.

    Daniel 2:31 Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
    ‘In your vision, O king, you saw a statue, very large and exceedingly bright, terrifying in appearance as it stood before you. The head of the statue was pure gold, its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs bronze, the legs iron, its feet partly iron and partly tile. While you looked at the statue, a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand being put to it, struck its iron and tile feet, breaking them in pieces. The iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold all crumbled at once, fine as the chaff on the threshing floor in summer, and the wind blew them away without leaving a trace. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

    Luke 20:17
    ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone of the structure’? The man who falls on that stone will be smashed to pieces, It will make dust of anyone on whom it falls.”

    Daniel 2 continued; This was the dream; the interpretation we shall also give in the king’s presence. You, O king, are the king of kings; to you the God of heaven has given dominion and strength, power and glory; men, wild beasts, and birds of the air, wherever they may dwell, he has handed over to you, making you ruler over them all; you are the head of gold. Another kingdom shall take your place, inferior to yours, then a third kingdom, of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. There shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; it shall break in pieces and subdue all these others, just as iron breaks in pieces and crushes everything else. The feet and toes you saw, partly of potter’s tile and partly of iron, mean that it shall be a divided kingdom, but yet have some of the hardness of iron. As you saw the iron mixed with clay tile, and the toes partly iron and partly tile, the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. The iron mixed with clay tile means that they shall seal their alliances by intermarriage, but they shall not stay united, any more than iron mixes with clay. In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain without a hand being put to it, which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold. The great God has revealed to the king what shall be in the future; this is exactly what you dreamed, and its meaning is sure.

    Be sure to receive your gifts of Divine Mercy this coming Divine Mercy Sunday. Be prepared for the Coming of our Lord! Only those in a state of Grace will be in the Presence of Jesus in the ‘Holy City’ of His Kingdom Come. If you sin, the auto-anathemas will kick you out of His ‘New Jerusalem’. Then you will have to go to confession to get back in.

  2. Some of the relevant language from the Second Vatican Council:

    “In their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing. Yet, by a different title, each serves the personal and social vocation of the same human beings. This service can be more effectively rendered for the good of all, if each works better for wholesome mutual cooperation, depending on the circumstances of time and place…” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 76).

    Overall, the Council paid more attention to its fit with broad society than with the earlier and particular question of Church and State. This broadened focus then is subverted by the likely influence of Teilhard de Chardin:

    “…the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one” (n. 5). And yet, “political authority […] must always be exercised within the limits of morality and on behalf of the dynamically conceived [?] common good…” (n. 74).

    Given the intimacy of the German “synodal way” with both secularist society and the rubber-stamp political order, might we still ask—synodally—how the “limits of morality” are to be unambiguously maintained at least within the perennial Catholic Church itself?

    Alleged “backwardness” versus the evolutionary, rigidly/bigoted, and “progressive” thingy…

    • Hi, dear Peter. Thanks for the insightful observations.

      “Alleged ‘backwardness’ versus the evolutionary, rigidly/bigoted, and ‘progressive’ thingy…”

      Maybe more deeply divided, even; as St John enlightens us: “Children, you have already overcome these false prophets, because you are from God and you have in you One who is greater than anyone in this world; as for them, they are of the world and so they speak the language of the world and the world listens to them.”

      “But we are children of God and those who know God listen to us; those who are not of God refuse to listen to us. This is how we can tell the spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood.”

      The world spirit hungers for overall control, wealth & riches, property, hordes, power, influence, status, luxury, hierarchical dominance by whatever means.

      The spirit of truth hungers for lowly-hearted humility, godliness, righteousness, faithfulness, self-giving love, mercy, forgivingness, justice, kindness, self-control,
      thankfulness, and a peace-filled heart of praise & worship.

      What a catastrophic mistake to imagine these could ever be yoked together . . .

      Always in the love of The Lamb; blessings from marty

      • There is no such thing as backward and forward pertaining to truth since truth is eternal, forever unchanging. Similarly, there is no such thing as a seperation of Church and State in the sense of religion and governments since God can not be seperated from anything , not even from the tiniest atom, which is merely a thought in His mind.

        • Hi, dear Edward, thanks for your response.

          Your vision for our present situation has ancient roots; it’s what the Church calls PANTHEISM. That’s a major error, condemned for millennia.

          It’s true that God in Jesus Christ rules all of the heavens & the earth. Part of that is His gift of freedom of choice. That freedom allows ungodly things to actualize (please see Matthew 18:7 & Luke 17:1).

          The reason for this divinely ordained process is explained again & again in the Gospels: it’s what enables all that’s ungodly (and there’s more than enough of that) to express itself and thus qualify to be justly removed on Judgement Day.

          God doesn’t judge potential evil but actual evil.

          Judgement Day is also when all who have freely accorded with the mind of Christ will be salvaged into God’s glorious eternity. Enjoying what Paul calls our incorruptible ‘spiritual bodies’.

          The children of God live in full accord with God’s will in The New Jerusalem. A city & its people we refer to as The Church Triumphant – the most infinitely desirable of all places!

          To me this is a truly beautiful plan and I praise & thank The Holy Trinity of God for it with all my mind, & heart & soul.

          Take care, dear Edward. Always in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

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