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Religion, And State Sovereignty

The influence of religion on humankind can be traced back to the
first records of history. Religion has served as a pillar of strength
to some and binding chains to others. There are vast amounts of
information and anthropological studies revealing the interaction of
religion and humankind. However, for the purposes of this paper, the
time periods of study will be broken up into three sections. Each
section will give a general description of how religion affected the
institution of the state and its Sovereignty in a Euro-centric
perspective. The first period is the early period, which will
encompass from Christianity and the Roman Empire to the Medieval
times (approx. 311 to 1100 A.D.). The second period will include the
Renaissance, the Reformation to the Treaty of Westphalia (1101 to
1648 A.D.). The third and increment of history will range from 1649
to 1945 A.D. The date 311 A.D. marks the issuing of the “Edict of
Toleration” for Christians. This date is important because it
symbolizes “national” acceptance of Christianity, and planted its
roots as a political institution. Later the Roman Empire on the verge
of internal collapse acknowledged the importance of Christianity and
used it to hold together the remnants of it former self. This adoption
of Christianity took form and eventually became the Catholic church.

The church became intermingled with politics and became a strong
entity. The policies delivered from the church had more authority than
the local rulers and magistrates of the developing feudal system. For
example, St. Augustine wrote about war and what justified its
enactment against fellow men. This policy was followed and adhered to
for hundreds of years after St. Augustine wrote it. Another example,
is the use of the Bible as a guideline for establishing governing
systems. Scripture portrayed God as choosing the king of the people.
The pope, being God’s “representative” was then given the authority to
crown the king. This crowning process gave the pope large influence in
the political arena. This ritual continued for a number of centuries.

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The Crusades, which occurred around 1100 A.D., played a crucial
role in challenging the church’s authority. The pope identifying the
spread of Islam as evil requested all of Europe embark on a “Crusade”
to defeat the infidels. As the battles were fought, great treasures
were found in the form of books and knowledge. These books were crude
translations of old Greek texts, containing information which would
eventually produce the waning of Church authority in the future. The
Renaissance marked the beginning of intellectual re-birth. Writers
such as Dante, Machiavelli, Guiarccidini, Vitoria, etc., all
attempting to reform and some even contest church dominance. Dante in
his imaginative work “Inferno” writes of hell which he envision is the
pope’s final destination. Machiavelli takes a more direct role
classifying the actions of a prince to be above morality and
ultimately above the Church. He continues the affront by classifying a
human character of “virtu” as being completely centered around man
The Raison D’ Tat is supreme especially in terms of the church
belligerence. In the middle of the Renaissance, the Church was dealt a
deadly blow from which it would never recover. This assault came via
Martin Luther. His work, “95 Thesis”, marked the beginning of the
Reformation. This movement split the church into Catholic and
Proteezt sects. It marked the beginning of a bloody period which
virtually split Europe in half. Examples of the conflict raged between
Proteezts and Catholics from the great slaughter of Proteezts in
Paris 1572 A.D. (7000 dead) to the Thirty Years War. With the Church
in disarray, freedom was given to the “state” to begin to develop.
During this period of Renaissance the political identity was
going through a tremendous transformation. This transformation took
form in what is called Absolutism. “Princes” began to tolerate less
and less manipulation from the church. The political entity in the
form of monarchy began to wean itself from the Church for its
legitimacy and looked toward its own power. Other writers began to
rise and discuss issues of sovereignty and the state. Thomas Hobbes
discusses the state and refers to it as “Leviathan” which is the
concurring title of his work. Believing man to be evil, Hobbes
fashions his description of the state as the mechanism to control and
harness the capabilities of man. There can be no peace as long as
there is not absolute surrender to reason. The state’s interest is
supreme, as well as, its authority. These ideas were written in direct
opposition to the church and its history. Hobbes desired a complete
refutation of the Church’s influence in government. Hobbes portrays a
state as sovereign. The sovereignty of the state is in direct relation
to its longevity and basic existence. State sovereignty must be
perpetual and supreme. The authority of this described state would
over-shadow the authority of the church. Continuing historically, the
development of the thirty years war was significant in its unique
result. The treaty of Westphelia was the agreement which not only
settled the war, but gave absolute authority to the sovereign of each
individual state. This was accomplished by granting the sovereign the
right to choose which religion he/she desired and that in turn
transferred down to the people. Thus, once again the authority of the
church was restricted, however this time by the emergence of an
institution called the state.

During this period states begin to develop colonies and
exploration of the new world. The discoveries and travel further
challenged church authority. An example of this is the well founded
“scientific” fact that the earth was flat. After such journeys by
Columbus and Magellan, the concept of church’s monopoly on truth was
attacked once again. The third period in history starts with the age
of reason. Its intellectual basis of the time period is science and
natural law. Empiricism plays a fundamental role in church legitimacy.
Factual concrete proof of God and his work is not provided by
science. States begin to mature politically as colonial powers. The
Church or rather the concept of religion is still strong but begins a
transformation during the Enlightenment. From Religion ideas of
morality and natural law arise.
Locke addresses the role of the government of a state. He
portrays the ideas of a social contract between the people and its
government. He continued by pointing out that the government has a
commitment with the people it must with hold. Locke’s writings also
contained concepts concerning of natural rights which are inherent to
human beings. This developed and identified that power now comes from
the people. These people from which the government is derived and
power (legitimacy) have rights and will be safe-guarded by the
people. The French and American Revolutions harnessed the ideas which
the enlightenment wrote and discussed. The French Revolution
exemplified the early stages of nationalism. Nationalism derives from
a grouping of people who share common cultural and social
From nationalism the concept of self-determination is derived.
Phrases like,” We the People. . .” began to show up in constitutions
and declarations, which showed consensus among people with like-minded
purposes. The inception of positive law was the last and final blow to
the concept of religion. Positive law is fashioned and codified by
man. The law has replaced the concept of morality. The framework which
laws create make the state and its sovereign powers legitimate and
legal. States no longer operate in terms of what is just but on
whether the legality for the action or jurisdiction have application.
The evolution of the state and its sovereignty is clear. The Church
once being a dominant political factor has been reduced to a mere
whisper of advice. The influence of religion in instituting or in the
elective process of choosing a representative ruler has been severely
minimized. Sovereignty and the institution of the State has surpassed
predestination and Divine Right of Kings.


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