This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Martin Luther on the separation of Church and State

The notion of a beneficial “wall of separation between church and state” has its roots in liberal philosophy, and in fact this idea follows very naturally from its basic premises. So inevitable was this conclusion that we find it rearing its head not only in the political philosophies of John Locke and J.S. Mill, but even from religious reformers such as Martin Luther, who advised princes as follows:

“…you have people under you and you wish to know what to do. It is not Christ you are to question concerning the matter but the law of your country…Between the Christian and the ruler, a profound separation must be made…Assuredly, a prince can be a Christian, but it is not as a Christian that he ought to govern. As a ruler, he is not called a Christian, but a prince. The man is a Christian, but his function does not concern his religion…Though they are found in the man, the two states or functions are perfectly marked off, one from the other, and really opposed.”[1]

And while the Catholic Church had warned kings that “through this crown, you become a sharer in our ministry,”[2] the secularism of Luther was to become the unconscious status quo in all the later liberal-democratic regimes with which Protestantism would form an unhealthy union. In nations built on this philosophy, even those Catholics who wished to participate in public life would have to sacrifice their principles to the liberal altar. Consider the following statements of the Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and consider how perfectly they mirror the thinking of Luther, while at the same time flatly contradicting the teachings of Kennedy’s own Church:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute… I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me…Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”[3]

[1] Luther’s Works (Wiemar Edition) XXXII, pp. 391, 439, 440.

[2] Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (Indianapolis, 1976), p. 33.

[3] Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association delivered Sept. 12, 1960.

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