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Reflection On Separation Of The Church And State History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In the early sixteenth century there was only one religion in Western Europe. This was the Roman Catholic religion. For a long time, the Catholic Church had been involved in the political life of Western Europe. As a result of their involvement in politics, the Catholic Church became very rich and powerful. This caused the church to become weakened spiritually. The church had become a lot more interested in or had become corrupted by power and wealth causing it to pay very little interest to its actual purpose which was handling the spiritual problems of the masses. This caused the church to begin a number of malpractices, such as the sale of indulgences to the masses. Indulgences were documents signed by the pope that forgave or absolved people of all their sins and gave them access into heaven. Indulgences could also be purchased on the behalf of a dead relative, to reduce their time in purgatory before entry into heaven. The relationship between the church and the masses soon became solely based on money. Most of these practices, especially that of the sale of indulgences caused a number of people in different European states to start questioning the church, which was labeled as an act of heresy by the church. This people were the likes of Martin Luther in Germany, Erasmus of Rotterdam, John Calvin in Switzerland, and Henry VIII in England.

Martin Luther was actually the main person behind the reformations which took place in Germany, and eventually spread to other parts of Europe. His actions started with the letter and 95 theses he wrote against the church in 1517(). In his writings, he questioned the church’s sale of indulgences as well as other malpractices. His writings spread throughout Germany and eventually most parts of Europe causing people to begin to see the malpractices carried out by the Catholic Church. As a result of this, Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521. This did not change anything as Luther’s ideas had already spread throughout Germany. Luther’s reforms led to a number of wars against the church, which eventually led to the separation of the church. Luther formed the Lutheran church.

Another important figure that contributed to the reformation of the Catholic Church was John Calvin. Most of John Calvin’s works, such as the Institutes of Christian Religion were published in Switzerland which was a more liberal place as compared to France where he was born and escaped from. The Institutes of Christian religion was published in 1536(). He would have been persecuted by the king and the church if he had published his works in France. Calvin’s ideas were hugely successful in Switzerland and majority of the Catholics became protestant. Like Luther’s ideas, the Catholic Church was against them and labeled them to acts of heresy. Calvin formed the Calvinist church.

The king of England at the time, King Henry the VIII also played a major role in the reforms against the Catholic Church. English reformations against the church began under his reign. He pulled England away from the rule of the Catholic Church, making himself the supreme head of the English church by an act of parliament in 1534(). Although the English church had been cut off from the pope’s control, the English people were still predominantly Catholic. It was only later that the Church of England was to be known as the Anglican church of England and Anglicanism became a religion. Although Henry’s actions were for personal reasons, he questioned the Catholic Church’s authority, something that would spread throughout England. There were many others who contributed to the reformations against the Catholic Church, but the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin and King Henry VIII were at the fore front. The reforms that took place against the church helped most governments to break away from the control of the pope and the church. Most countries such as England and North Germany could to some extent make political decisions without the church’s permission. The population did not have to pay any more taxes to the church.

The Catholic Church hit back against the protestant reformers with what was known as the Counter Reformation. The Counter Reformation was led most notably by pope Paul III in 1534. He hit back with the approval of the new religious order called the Jesuits in the convocation of the council of Trent to deal with disciplinary and doctrinal questions asked by the Protestants 1545 – 1563() . He also readily deployed military assistance when necessary to act against the Protestants. The Catholics succeeded to save some of its territories from the reformers as well as obtain new territories in North and South America. This was done through a number of wars against the Protestants. Although most of Europe still remained predominantly catholic, the church lost the grip it had on the masses. People began to ask questions unlike before. The reformations against the church had a major impact on the separation of the church from the state.

After the reformations, the next period that really affected the church was the period of revolutions in science and political thought. During this period, ideas such as geocentrism accepted by the church where being questioned by scientist. The likes of Nicolas Coperincus, Johannes Kepler, Gallileo Gallilei and Isaac Newton proved the idea to be wrong and came up with the idea of heliocentrism. William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood, which was previously and unattainable feet because the church did not permit dissection of the human corps. More aspects of the catholic religion were questioned and yet again were proven to be wrong. Although the church threatened most of them and ordered their works not be read, the damage had already been done. The church began to lose its supremacy over the masses. The works and discoveries by scientist greatly affected philosophers of the next century. Like scientist, a lot of philosophers also started coming up with new ideas which encouraged people to begin thinking. A lot of these philosophers gave ideas concerning political thought and reasoning. They included the likes of David Hume, John Locke, Francis Bacon, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Charles-Louis de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu, Immanuel Kant and many others. Most of this philosophers or philosophes came from the enlightenment (Age of Reason) period in the eighteenth century. The idea behind most of their work was the reduction of power from the kings in Europe. The kings in Europe at the time were absolute monarchs, and exercised authority over their subjects as the head of state and government. Most of the philosophes at this time were against this form of government, and strongly encouraged a form of power reduction. Montesquieu, for example came up with the idea of the separation of power into three distinct branches. These three branches included; the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Most governments today such as those of France and Germany are being ruled with the idea of separation of government. John Locke’s idea was that a ruler’s authority was supposed to be conditional and not absolute.

In his book entitled Two Treatises of Government (1680 – 1690), he defines political power to be

“A right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good (195).”

The United States of America is an example of a country that uses this form of government today. The ideas introduced by these philosophers led to revolutions in Europe, such as the French revolution and in European colonies abroad such as the American Revolution. The people sort to end the reign of absolute monarchy and introduce a new form of government. The French philosophe Voltaire’s ideas were also very influential. He directly questioned religious dogma at the time. He strongly routed for the separation of the state from the church. At the time the government was integrated with religion. What the church saw as an offense against its doctrines, the government laid out a sanction for the crime. No one could speak freely, choose his religion, or think without being persecuted. Revolts against absolute kings in a way were revolts against the church.

As different European countries reluctantly accepted the change from absolutism, they became open to many other things including Protestantism. The Catholic Church slowly lost its grip over political affairs of the state thus leading to secularism and eventually, separation of the church from the state. With this, punishment was not given out to the citizens on the bases of religious laws or doctrines. In 1648, after the thirty years wars (a war that caused a transition from medieval to modern politics), secularism was really put into effect. Church lands were transferred to the state during the treaty of Westphalia, as well as the tolerance to other minor religions (Protestants). With the coming of secularism and the separation of the church from state, most countries picked up what was known as sovereign nation-states. The treaty ended the Holy Roman Empire as an institution and began what was known as a modern European system.

England was the first European country to end the reign of the absolute monarchs in Europe. This happened at the end of the seventeenth century through the glorious revolutions under James II’s rule. These revolutions saw the complete over throw of absolute monarchs in England. The power of the monarchs became supplementary to the powers of branches of government. Parliament then drew up a Bill of Rights which restricted the power monarchs over the parliament and individuals in the society. It would not be for another century that absolutism would end in other parts of Europe. Absolutism ended mainly in most of Europe with the coming of the French revolution.

The French revolution began in France in 1789 under the reign of Louis XVI. The revolution ended with the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793 (). This brought an end to absolute monarchy in France. This period was followed by Robespierre’s reign of terror under a new form of government called the National Convention from 1793 – 1794 (). The system in France eventually led to a consulate form of government in 1799. Napoleon Bonaparte became the emperor of France in 1804.

Napoleon Bonaparte was strongly for the removal of the church from state affairs. France and the Catholic Church were not on good terms during the period of the revolutions. Regardless of this, Napoleon signed the Concordat 1801, which was an agreement that Napoleon would recognize the church and Pope Pius VII would recognize the revolution. All this was a formality for Napoleon as he did not really care what the Catholic Church thought. He was very displeased with the amount of power the Catholic Church had. During Napoleon’s coronation by the pope in 1804, he seized the crown from the pope and crowned himself emperor. This was in a way to show that he was not going to share his power with the pope. Napoleon was also in favor of religious tolerance and this was clearly seen through his Napoleonic code.

her minor religions (protestants) thus followed. the bases of religious laws or doctrines s including protestianism

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