Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Separating Private Life from Public Life

Many are familiar with the way that JFK, Mario Cuomo, and many other politicians in the United States have separated their private opinions from their public or political views. There is precedence for this going back to the French Revolution. In 1791, 4 Bishops signed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and took an oath of loyalty to the new French Church. They effectively created a schismatic Church in France, letting the national legislature, for example, keep the number of priests in France at 6,000. Here is one argument they gave in support of their position:

The Bishops separated their private opinions from their political positions so as to preserve the spiritual purity of their private opinions. Developing this dichotomy was necessary for preserving the political health of the new French Regime, beset, as it was, by so many internal and external troubles. The Bishops stated, “We have never associated our religious sentiments with our political opinions” (352). Inferring from this principle, with respect to the order of the civil government, they reasoned, “the principles that have seemed to us to best conform to the interests of the people, in a stable monarchy, of which we do not wish to reverse its foundations” (352). “All men who are capable of thinking” would accept “the extension and the limits of social equality, about the principles and effects of a well-ordered liberty, without trouble and without license, about the origin of powers. These interesting questions are about philosophy and about politics” (352). God required them to be faithful to these principles “for the good of our country.” In fact, in the current constitutional monarchy, the royal authority obliged them to embrace and act in accord with these principles. To think otherwise would be to “favor an arbitrary power” (353). Instead, they have accepted “the true empire of political liberty” and that “natural equality does not exclude any citizen from the places to which providence calls him by way of his talents and virtues” (353).

Having accepted the empire of political liberty, the Bishops argued that they had to suppress or limit their beliefs about the scope of the influence of the Church over its own matters: the election of Bishops, the installation of priests in parishes, the rules regulating marriage, and whether priests could remain celibate. These matters now fell under the sphere of the political authority, not the spiritual authority.


Post a Comment

<< Home