Is the Catholic Church against universalism

Religion and politics

Otto Kallscheuer

To person

PD, Dr. phil., born 1950; Philosopher, political scientist and freelance author.

Addresses: Hektorstrasse 8, 10711 Berlin; Via Muroni 13, I - 07100 Sassari.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications including: God's word and the voice of the people, Frankfurt / M. 1994; The Europe of Religions, Frankfurt / M. 1996.

What is the division between political and religious power? The development of this phenomenon is specific to Western Christianity.


The separation between political and religious power as specialized institutions - church and state - is specific to Western Christianity. The postulate of one opposite the imperial potestas higher normative auctoritas The office of the papacy had already been established by the (west) Roman Pope Gelasius I in his famous letter to the (east) Roman Emperor Anastasius I at the end of the 5th century. But only in the 11th century did this claim become an antagonistic contradiction, only with the "papal revolution" against the imperial supremacy - which in the dictatus papae Gregory VII received its "government program", so to speak, in March 1075 - the only virtual contrast between emperor and pope for Christian late antiquity gained a real, explosive dynamic.

In this "foreign policy" as well as ecclesiastical opposition to Byzantine Christianity, the Western Roman papacy was definitely the revolutionary or (as we would say today) the "fundamentalist" party. Just as it pursued the internal cleansing of Christianity, the reform papacy was bellicose in its crusade policy, aimed at the reconquest of the Holy Land. Obviously, the external challenge of the triumphant march of a competing monotheistic power - Islam - as well as an autonomous church-political renewal movement, such as that which only took place in the Western Church as a revolutionary cleansing, was needed to overcome this double contrast (Church versus Saeculum; Western versus Eastern Church). to a real, political and institutional conflict.

It was not until this conflict that lasted several centuries that both powers, the emperor and the pope, each developed their own legitimacy, their own patterns of rationality, their own membership rules and modes of recruitment. There was a differentiation between secular and spiritual institutions. And as a conflict between two institutions, both of which were rooted in Roman law, it could ultimately be rationalized for both institutions.

The radical revolution of Pope Gregory VII and his successors in the 11th century ushered in the "proto-modern" stream of rationalization of a separation between church and state, law and sovereignty, civil and mercantile urban society, which long before the Reformation laid the foundations of western modernity put. The "genetic code" of modern secularism emerged only in and out of this struggle for definitions between political and religious power; it is the libertas ecclesiae, the autonomy or self-regulation of the church (because this meant "libertas" in the Middle Ages), which in turn ultimately "set free" the worldly sphere.

This was later gladly forgotten by modern liberal, republican or socialist anti-clericalism. The "problematic" of the secular state is not known either in the Byzantine tradition of "Caesaropapism" or in the universalist political theology of the Islamic "ummah". That is why the development of social modernity in Islam - a religion that can be described in many respects as a "permanent reformation" - has indeed produced a number of secularists and modernists, but has not yet produced a separate ratio of separation between religion and state politics. And to this day, the Orthodox churches of the European East and Southeast, now increasingly supported by the political power of their countries, are fighting against unrestricted religious freedom - above all Russian Orthodoxy with reference to the so-called "canonical" territories of the "Third Rome" .

The next successful religious revolution, the Lutheran Reformation against the "Babylonian captivity" of the papal church, appears no less "fundamentalist" than Pope Gregory VII a few centuries earlier; but the result is the libertas ecclesiae subordinated to a newly emerging power structure: the territorial state. The European Reformation is the shaking of a world order: Both "bodies of the king" prove to be mortal, the common corpus Christianum breaks down into power blocs and religious parties, into churches and states, movements and sects that fight each other as "anti-Christian" or "heretical" .

With the end of the religious unity of Europe it is not only the common faith that is lost. Because "faith" in today's understanding is - firstly - a conscious decision (which could also turn out differently) for a very specific "confession" to God; and this is - secondly - a decision which also affects the believer's cognitive relationship to the world, but which differs from scientific knowledge. Such an understanding of faith is itself only a result of the Reformation and the subsequent subjectification of religion in the Catholic camp as well.

Only with the post-Reformation code of generalized "inwardness" does the secular, only political, territorial state arise at the same time in a parallel process of political "civilization" and social "normalization". And this establishes itself - through a process of institutional "condensation" - as sovereign and "absolute" violence in its territory.

Externally, the order inaugurated in the Peace of Westphalia represents the first international political system based on the unconditional territorial sovereignty of the respective sovereign, be it king, parliament or city council. Internally, the absolute state reduces the possible anomie through the principle of denomination. Thus the dominant result of the century of religious wars in Europe is the denominational state, whose religion is subject to the political control of the sovereign.

Only with the globalization of capitalism, i. H. the implementation of an economic world system as the flip side of the development of the European industrial nations makes sense of the concept of internationalism. Of course, the universalism of the Christian message is much older. But the problem of the institutional version of this universalism arose for the church (s) only since the 19th century - with the collapse of the Christian empires after the French Revolution.

Until the end of the 19th century, the Christian missionary movement of the respective denominations was primarily a civilizing appendage of the respective empires - Catholic for the Spanish and Lusitan empire, Protestant or Anglican under the British crown, free-church and sect-Protestant in many colonies. But after the American and French Revolutions, the medieval idea of ​​a universal papal monarchy has definitely become a political chimera.

The universal church (only) became a real constitutional problem in the 19th century. Of course, the papal church only experiences constitutionalism as an enemy - in the relationship between the Catholic Church and liberal modernity as well as in relation to the contrast between the universalism of the church's mandate and the unstoppable victory of the nation state in Europe. Both closely related conflicts shape the "long" 19th century: the opposition of Catholicism, historically rooted in the Central and Latin European Anciens Regimes, to the modern great powers of Europe, the (post) revolutionary France, the Prussian-Protestant-led German Empire and the English world power - and at the same time its conflict with almost all national, liberal, democratic emancipation movements of the old continent (not to mention socialist aspirations).

In the 19th century, the Catholic Church was the mortal enemy of the modern "religion of freedom", as Benedetto Croce called it. "Rome" became the prototype of all opponents of liberalism and emancipation. Only later, when the continued existence of the universal church as an institution, did modern forms of social and political Catholicism emerge within the constitutional nation-states.

But perhaps this Roman-centralist counter-revolution was the only chance to avoid a national fragmentation of the Catholic Una Sancta in national churches according to the "Anglican" or "Gallican" model? Only a church that was not related to the territory of a nation - or even identical to the Russian Orthodoxy with its "national body" or its "holy earth" - was or is able to become a world church in relation to the (emerging) world society become.

At the same time, however, this also presupposes the church's definitive departure from its secular power. This loss of power in Italy was enforced by the victory of the national movement over the Papal States, but ideologically, theologically and politically it was only processed in the 20th century. Only with the declaration of religious freedom at the Second Vatican Council did the Catholic Church arrive normatively in the modern age; only now does it demand the ethical self-limitation of certain modern freedoms instead of rejecting them en bloc. And long after the Vatican, as a merely symbolically sovereign state, had given up its own claim to power politics, a Pope of the universal church, John Paul II, also theologically recognized the positive sides of national identity and independence.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Christian West (or North) saw the religious future of the world as a missionary work associated with the expansion of modern civilization. The World Conference of Protestant Mission Societies, which met in Edinburgh in 1910, and at the same time one of the first manifestations of (Protestant) intra-Christian ecumenism, even set itself the task of Christianizing the world within a decade - still feeling the triumph of the successes of the Victorian Empire and Anglo-American civilization. The alternative was Christianity or barbarism.

Well, the 20th century should indeed become the century of barbarism, two world wars and the totalitarian "political religions" of communism, fascism and National Socialism. At the beginning of the 21st century, therefore, neither the diagnosis nor the prognosis of the Edinburgh Assembly of 1910 can be updated.

Today - and even more tomorrow, i. H. in the next few decades - the global south will become the focus of Christianity, as will Islam, the second monotheistic world religion. This is especially true when considering demographic growth: in two decades - after the United States - Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Congo and Ethiopia will be the countries with the largest Christian populations. The future of Christianity is African, Asian, Latin American.

The "invented" separation of religious identity from the respective political power in the West continues to be the prerequisite for local and transnational networks of religious community building; yes, these are becoming more and more important, especially in situations of state failure (as in sub-Saharan Africa); but their forms are less and less identical with those of the western and northern traditions. A radical evangelical, charismatic "sect" Protestantism of the Pentecostals and a theologically more orthodox but socially committed Roman Catholicism represent the two growth sectors in the global south. Healing and salvation, social care and pastoral care, syncretistic traditions and theological orthodoxy are combined in - for post-Christian agnostics and Christian liberals of the global "North" - quite unfamiliar and ideologically uncomfortable. New community formations are combined with a "personalistic" affirmation and reconnection of the identity of the masses mobilized, particularly in the urban mega-agglomerations of the Third World, which has been shaken by cultural and demographic migration movements.

Inevitably, however, the growing Christianity in the global south meets with Islam, which is also growing - and for similar reasons. Even if, as recent analyzes seem to suggest, the growth cycle of Islamism as a political ideology with totalitarian dangers should be over, the dangers of a diffuse radicalization of religiously coded resentment in the global Muslim community have not been overcome. Because Islam also has its own "constitutional" problem as a world religion. His message is addressed to all people who are of good will and ready to hear God's word and to follow his guidance. Like Christianity, Islam is designed for expansion, mission, and globalization. But these one billion Muslims do not yet have an international form of organization capable of protecting religious-ethical guidance from political instrumentalization and ideological perversion.

The "Umma" certainly has hundreds of ways of existence: from religious brotherhoods, business associations and charitable associations to various schools of law and scholars of God to political parties and guerrilla movements. This confused diversity is wealth and risk at the same time: there is no clear "corporate identity" of Muslim universalism. Above the transcultural continuum in which a Pakistani Muslim can encounter Indonesians, Turks, Africans or Black Americans, the superstructure of traditional schools of law and their controversial application of "Sharia" to the modern world rises. The political community, however, remains utopian - or it becomes reactionary: the dream of a return to the ideal Muslim community of the ten years of Medina.

There are indeed rich spiritual roots and practices of differentiating religious inwardness in the Islamic world - but they do not yet seem to have reached the "point of no return" for institutional learning that is also transnationally binding. Perhaps, however, the viewer from the north is only fooled by his Christian secular glasses.