The Relation of Man’s Two Ends to Church and State

May 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

I was recently in a discussion in which someone was claiming that the beatific vision was natural to unfallen man.1 He was at the same time advocating a complete separation of Church and State, and denying the notion that the State resulted from the Fall. Here I argue that those three claims are incompatible with each other.

The Baptism of Constantine

The Baptism of Constantine
Sanzio Raffaello (1520-1524)

The purpose of the State is to assist man in attaining his natural end, which is the temporal happiness found in the common good.2 The purpose of the Church is to assist man in attaining his supernatural end, which is the beatific vision, i.e. perfect participation in the eternal Life of the Blessed Trinity of divine Persons.3 The distinction between these two ends (i.e. natural and supernatural) distinguishes the State from the Church, such that the State is not reduced to an office of the Church and the Church is not reduced to an office of the State.4 Yet, the superiority of the supernatural end entails that when the State commands something that the Church forbids, or the State forbids something that the Church commands, Christians must obey the Church rather than the State. Pope Leo XIII wrote:

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing — related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing — might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. “For the powers that are, are ordained of God.” Were this not so, deplorable contentions and conflicts would often arise, and, not infrequently, men, like travelers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two.5

If the beatific vision were natural to unfallen man, then unfallen man’s natural end would have been the beatific vision, and any temporal ends would have been subordinate to that end and ordered to it. Given that premise, then if the Fall had not occurred, logically there would have been three possibilities: either (1) there would have been no State (and either no institution would have assisted man in attaining his ‘natural’ end, i.e. the beatific vision, or it would have been the Church that did so) or (2) the State would have been an office within the Church, as temporal ends would have been naturally ordered to the beatific vision, or (3) the State would have been the institution by which man is assisted to the beatific vision, and thus there would have been no Church. In all three cases, if the beatific vision had been natural to unfallen man, there would have been no separation of Church and State for unfallen man.

What does this mean regarding man’s fallen condition? Consider the implications, given each of the three possibilities presented above. First, if in man’s unfallen condition the State would not have existed, then if the State exists rightfully in this post-Fall era, it follows that the State is a result of the Fall. Second, if in man’s unfallen condition the State would have been an office within the Church, then if the State exists rightfully in this post-Fall era as something distinct from the Church, it follows that the State (as something distinct from the Church) is a result of the Fall. Third, if in man’s unfallen condition the State would have been the institution by which man is assisted in attaining to the beatific vision, and there would have been no Church, then what we now call the Church is the continuation of the State, and what we now call the State is something that resulted from the Fall, or at least its separation from the Church resulted from the Fall. So for each of the three possibilities, it follows that the State as something distinct from the Church, is a result of the Fall. So in summary, if the beatific vision were natural to unfallen man, it follows that the State as something distinct from the Church, is a result of the Fall. Therefore, claiming that the beatific vision is natural to unfallen man is incompatible with denying that the State (as something distinct from the Church) resulted from the Fall.

The Catholic distinction between man’s natural and supernatural ends avoids this problem, and explains the relation between Church and State, such that neither is reduced to the other, nor is the Church made equal or inferior to the State.6 It also explains why the State is not a result of the Fall, but is needed on account of man’s created nature, even in the pre-Fall condition.7 Without the distinction between man’s natural and supernatural ends, either the State becomes an office of the Church, or the Church becomes an office of the State.8 And if the denial of the distinction in ends is accompanied by the claim that the beatific vision is natural to unfallen man, then the State is made into a product of the Fall.

If divine beatitude was not natural to unfallen man, this entails that unfallen man needed grace in order to attain the beatific vision.9 And this supports the Catholic undertanding of the Fall, as taught by Aquinas and by the fifth session of the Council of Trent.

  1. At least natural in the sense of attainable by unfallen man’s natural power, without grace. []
  2. Immortale Dei, 2,5,14,18 []
  3. Cf. Immortale Dei 1 []
  4. See Immortale Dei 10 []
  5. Immortale Dei 13 []
  6. If the Church and State were equal in authority, this would imply a Manichean teleology, in which the telos of the State was both distinct and equal to the telos of the Church. []
  7. See St. Thomas Aquinas’s argument in Summa Theologica I Q.96 a.4, where he argues against the notion that the State is a product of the Fall. See also Immortale Dei 3-4. []
  8. That is because without the distinction between man’s natural and supernatural ends, one of those ends is eliminated. If the natural end is eliminated, then the State becomes an office of the Church. If the supernatural end is eliminated, then the Church becomes an office of the State. []
  9. See my post on Aquinas’s explanation of why Adam originally needed grace. []
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  1. Of the three premises that are offered by “someone” it is the third which is clearly problematic. The book of Genesis suggests (or outright insists, depending on how you read it) that the beatific vision was our natural state prior to our acquisition of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One need only look around the world and into human history to see the nightmares that erupt when Church and State are too deeply entwined. One could even argue that the overwhelming majority of the “culture war” in this country is the result of a slow, steady creep of the Church into our State (which has necessitated a creeping of the State into the Church).

    But to insist that the State is not the result of our acquisition of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is almost nonsensical. Throughout the Old Testament, G-d insists repeatedly that the chosen people should have no State (no King) but should be a people under judges who are subject to G-d. This is not theocracy, this is people living as a Church.

    Jesus’ teachings (and to a large extent Paul’s as well) portray an attitude that the State is largely besides the point. We are to be about the business of preparing ourselves and our world for the coming of the Kingdom. To the extent the State stays out of the way, great. To the extent the State interferes, we resist without violence even if we are in the process destroyed (as Jesus himself was).

    Why would we need any assistance in achieving our natural ends if we had never learned want, desire, lust, covetousness, and the rest?

  2. Mr. Marks,

    Adam & Eve could not have had the beatific vision before the fall because they sinned. If one can, having received the beatific vision, still sin – we are under no guarantee whatsoever that we won’t do it again.

  3. I wasn’t aware we expected a guarantee we wouldn’t do it again.

  4. The Beatific Vision is to see God as He truly is and consequently to see all things as they truly are. No angel will ever sin again, we are confident of this because they have received the Beatific Vision. But even the angels, though born in a state of grace, were not given the Beatific Vision to begin with. Lucifer did not fall from the Beatific Vision (or else what does it even mean to see things as God sees them? If we can see God as He truly is and still think it’s a good idea to sin – what’s so great about seeing God that way anyhow?)

    The important distinction here is that being in a state of grace is not the same thing as receiving the Beatific Vision. Adam & Eve were created in a state of grace as were the angels and the Blessed Virgin but none of them were born into the state of the Beatific Vision. Here is Bryan Cross’s post on the subject of angels & the beatific vision.

  5. Jim,

    It is a De fide dogma of the Catholic Church that the beatific vision lasts for all eternity, and once attained cannot be lost. Pope Benedict XII in the edict Benedictus Deus (1336 AD) definitively declared:

    … after there has begun or will be such intuitive and face-to-face vision [of the divine essence] and enjoyment in these [persons], the same vision and enjoyment without any interruption [intermission] or departure of the aforesaid vision and enjoyment exist continuously and will continue even up to the last judgment and from then even unto eternity.

    St. Augustine, in De civ. Dei writes, “How can one speak of true bliss, when confidence in its eternal duration is lacking.?” (De civ. Dei XII 13, 1; X 30; Xi 13) And St. Thomas Aquinas directly addresses this question in Summa Theologica I-II Q.5 a.4.

    We could never be perfectly happy if we retained the worry or anxiety of losing that happiness. Perfect happiness thus requires the impossibility of its loss.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. If we are truly discussing something that extreme, it ceases to have any meaning or context in which we can possibly relate it to actual human experience. It is pure abstraction. It has no bearing on a discussion about State, Church, or Space/Time as we understand it. The entire conversation becomes nonsensical. In which case this post is very puzzling. The “someone” offers three premises. The first, if we use this strictly abstract definition of beatific vision, is blatantly false and nonsensical. Thus, it has no relevance to the other two, so what’s the point of even critiquing the rest?

  7. Jim,

    In my experience, most Protestants would deny that Adam and Eve possessed the beatific vision prior to the Fall. But some Protestants believe that the beatific vision was attainable by Adam and Eve through their natural power, without grace, if they had obeyed God. In other words, one Protestant position is that Adam and Eve, without grace, by their obedience could have merited the beatific vision. And that is the gist of the first of the three claims above.

    The Catholic Church denies that first claim (i.e. that unfallen man could, without grace, have obtained the beatific vision). The Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by grace alone, and that this is no less true for unfallen man than it is for fallen man. Even unfallen man could not have loved God as Father, without grace, for grace is the gift of participation in the divine life of the blessed Trinity of divine Persons. Without grace, Adam and Eve could have known God only as Creator, not as Father. Knowing and loving and obeying God as Creator, i.e. without grace, is not sufficient to merit the beatific vision, because the beatific vision is the perfect participation in the inner life of the Trinity of divine Persons. Only those with grace, who thereby know and love God as Father, can be worthy of the perfection of that participation in the inner life of the Trinity of divine Persons; that perfection is the beatific vision. Hence according to the Catholic Church only by the infusion of grace may any man, whether unfallen or redeemed, attain the beatific vision.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Yes, thank you all, I have been re-educated on that point quite thoroughly now.

  9. Making clear that I am in a position of learning, at this stage I disagree with the identification of natural end with temporal happiness. I think we should distinguish between natural and temporal, as well as between supernatural and eternal.

    Of course, as RC I fully agree with what Bryan says in comment #7. The beatific vision, man’s supernatural end, requires sanctifying grace, which was not part of human nature even before the Fall.

    My specific point, which I think is orthodox RC doctrine, is that the moral nature of man and the immortality of the soul ARE part of human nature. Therefore, even if it had not been part of God’s design that man would gratuituously participate in divine life and thus attain beatific vision, man would still have had to obey God’s Law and, if he did, would have attained a peaceful and pleasant eternal destiny, a sort of everlasting Abraham’s bosom.

    Therefore, my point is that the natural end of man is not just its temporal happines but also the limited eternal happiness it would have attained without sanctifying grace. In equations:

    natural end = temporal happiness + limited eternal happiness

    supernatural end = full eternal happiness (beatific vision)

    To be clear, I am presenting this as a basis for learning through discussion, not to nail it to the door of any church.

  10. Johannes: Therefore, my point is that the natural end of man is not just its temporal happines but also the limited eternal happiness it would have attained without sanctifying grace.

    Hi Johannes, good to see you posting here again!

    I find your idea interesting – that the natural end of unfallen Adam would have been “limited eternal happiness” . This would be something along the lines of life in the limbus patrum, but a life lived with a soul that is united to a body, whereas life in the limbus patrum was life without a body. (The limbus patrum is the limbo of the Fathers, or Abraham’s bosom). Have I captured the gist of what you are saying?

    Your idea sounds similar to what was taught in the Baltimore Catechism about the eternal destiny of the infants that died without receiving the sanctifying grace bestowed by the Sacrament of Baptism. According to the Baltimore Catechism, infants that died without being baptized would go to the limbus infantum (the limbo of the infants), and these infants would never see the beatific vision. But that would mean that these infants would receive new bodies at the resurrection of the dead, and they would dwell for eternity in the fringes of hell with their resurrected bodies. Their eternal dwelling place would have to be in hell, since those that see the beatific vision are in heaven, and after the General Judgment, heaven and hell are the only two places where people can dwell. The Baltimore Catechism taught that this place in hell where innocent babies would ultimately spent eternity was a place of “natural happiness”, and not a place where the eternal fires of hell tormented the eternally damned.

    What was taught in the Baltimore Catechism, was never de fide definita dogma, but theological speculation. The whole speculation hinges on the idea that there could even be a place of “natural happiness” where one could dwell for eternity without ever falling into despair. But that idea of a place of natural happiness where one could spend eternity without the beatific vision has its own problems, because man has a longing for union with God as part of his nature. To me, to be eternally consigned to live in place where I longed for union with my great love, but to also know that I would never have that love consummated, would be indeed consignment to a life in a living hell, a living hell of unrequited love that knows no end. So I don’t think that there could exist a place of “natural happiness” where one could dwell for eternity without ever seeing the beatific vision.

    Now please indulge me as I speculate a little about the life in Paradise before the Fall.

    I think that Adam and Eve were created by God to have a longing to be like God as part of their nature, and that this good and natural longing to be like God is how the serpent was able to tempt Adam and Eve. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be like God in some sense, since Christians should want to be like Christ, and Christ himself has told us to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. I believe that before the Fall, Adam and Eve wanted to be like God – they desired to be perfect as their Heavenly Father was perfect because they were uncorrupted, and their natural desires were under the control of their reason because of the supernatural grace with which they were blessed.

    Before the Fall, Adam and Ever were blessed with both supernatural grace and the preternatural gifts, and before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a state of holy innocence. But that holy innocence was not the same as the innocence of infants in the fallen world, because infants in the fallen world possess innocence without knowledge, whereas Adam and Eve had innocence along with the preternatural gift of knowledge. Being blessed with the preternatural gift of lack of concupiscence, and possessing holy innocence, it seems to me that Adam and Eve neither had the inclination to sin, nor the knowledge of how to commit sin. Which is why Adam and Eve fell when they acquired the knowledge of evil from the forbidden fruit . When they fell, they became ashamed of their nakedness, that is, they lost their innocence. After the Fall, their appetites were no longer under the control of their reason because they had lost the gift of sanctifying grace. Christians that are restored to a state of grace through the Sacrament of Baptism are not given the preternatural gift of lack of concupiscence, which is why we struggle to be holy, whereas for Adam and Eve before the fall, holy innocence was a way of being that they did not have to struggle to maintain.

    So how could the serpent tempt beings that had no inclination to sin, nor any knowledge of how to sin? Through the only way possible, through their natural desire to be like God. Note that the serpent told Adam and Eve that that they could be like God by eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The CCC speaks about the nature of Adam’s sin.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Man’s first sin

    397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

    398 In that sin manpreferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.

    Before the Fall, Adam and Eve knew what was good, since they were surrounded by the unfallen world that God had proclaimed to be good. They had a knowledge of themselves in that world, and God had declared the world with Adam and Eve dwelling in it to be very good. They also had a knowledge of God, the supreme good. My point here is that Adam and Eve knew the good, and the good alone, since they were holy innocents. But God is omniscient, and Adam and Eve were not, since, for one thing, they had no knowledge of evil since they were holy innocents. Therefore, I see that Satan is being very subtle when he tells Adam and Eve that they would become like God if they acquired forbidden knowledge.

    What the serpent tells Adam and Eve true in a sick and twisted sort of way – they would become more like God if they acquired more knowledge, since God knows all things. Their reason told them that acquiring knowledge that they did not possess would make them more like God who knows all things, but their reason also told them that listening to a serpent, who is an order of creation lower than themselves, instead of listening to God, was unreasonable. As I see it, Adam and Eve committed a sin by misusing their will to do what was unreasonable. But they didn’t discern between good and evil before they fell; they sinned by not trusting God whom they knew to be their Father.

    Adam and Eve needed to live by trust and faith to reach the end their nature desired – to be like God. But they failed the test that God had set up for them. They failed by listening to an unauthorized interpretation of God’s explicit instruction to them. The Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience is really nothing more than what caused the Fall in the first place – making oneself the primary authority for what interpretation of God’s commands one will accept and act upon.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Freedom put to the test

    396 God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.

    Adam and Eve were being tested by God. Would they trust God, and let God bring them to what their hearts desired – to become like God? O would they try to become like God by abusing their freedom?

    The point here, is that the natural desire for man is to become like God, and I don’t think that a “place of natural happiness” could possibly be the natural end of man.

    What do you think?

    It seems to me that Calvin claims that before the fall Adam and Eve already had a knowledge of evil, because Calvin asserts that before the fall Adam and Eve could discern between good and evil.

    Free choice and Adam’s responsibility

    Therefore, God has provided the soul of man with intellect, by which he might discern good from evil, just from unjust, and might know what to follow or to shun, reason going before with her lamp…To this he has joined will, to which choice belongs. Man excelled in these noble endowments in his primitive condition, when reason, intelligence, prudence, and judgement, not only sufficed for the government of his earthly life, but also enabled him to rise up to God and eternal happiness. Thereafter choice was added to direct the appetites, and temper all the organic motions; the will being thus perfectly submissive to the authority of reason.

    Ref: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 15, section 8

    http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/

    It seems to me that Calvin thinks that reason is given to discern good from evil, but that necessarily means that one must know what evil is before one can discern good from evil. But I don’t think that is true, because as holy innocents, Adam and Eve knew what was good, but they had no knowledge of what was evil. Which makes me wonder, if Adam and Eve already knew what evil was before the Fall, what was the nature of the serpent’s temptation? How could Adam and Eve possess holy innocence if they knew what evil was, and why would they think that they could become “like God” if they acquired what they already had – the knowledge of good and evil?

    How is this germane to this thread? I think if Adam and Eve had not fallen, they would have had children in Paradise, since God had told them to be fruitful and multiply, The “government” of Paradise would have been a Patriarchy. Adam, would have been its temporal head, and as obedient children, our reason and consciences would have told us that we must be obedient to our parents, grandparents, etc. Supernatural grace would have allowed us to live as our reason and consciences dictated. Adam would have had “political” authority over everyone, since he would have been the oldest elder living amongst us. But Adam would have been our religious leader too, and he would have instructed us to be faithful and trust that God would bring us to what our hearts desired – to be like God. And that longing desire would have come to be fulfilled in an utterly amazing way – through the incarnation of the Son of God in Paradise, who would have been born of Mary.

  11. mateo,

    You wrote:

    But that idea of a place of natural happiness where one could spend eternity without the beatific vision has its own problems, because man has a longing for union with God as part of his nature. 

    I discussed this briefly in comment #19 of the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread. See also the link in comment #4 above. I recommend reading Larry Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters and Steven Long’s Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Hi Mateo, and I feel honored that my comment gave you the opportunity for such extensive and deep analysis!

    I now see that in my first comment I omitted an extremely important distinction between hypothetical and factual.

    Hypothetically, God could have not decreed that man would gratuituously participate in divine life and thus attain beatific vision. In that hypothetical case, since the moral nature of man and the immortality of the soul ARE part of human nature, man would still have had to obey God’s Law and, if he did, would have attained a peaceful and pleasant eternal destiny, a sort of everlasting Abraham’s bosom. (Whether that everlasting condition would have probably included man’s body or not is a still finer issue which I will leave aside.)

    In this hypothetical case man would not have a supernatural end, and the following equation would summarize the overall situation:

    natural end = temporal happiness + limited eternal happiness

    Factually, God decreed that man, both before and after the Fall (in the latter case thanks to the merits of Jesus Christ), will gratuituously participate in divine life and thus attain beatific vision. In the factual case, the supernatural end of man (beatific vision) replaces the eternal component of the natural end in the hypothetical case, and the overall situation is now summarized by two equations:

    natural end = temporal happiness

    supernatural end = full eternal happiness

    So when we analyze the situation before the fall, we must distinguish whether we are talking about the hypothetical case or the factual case.

    Regarding the doctrine in Baltimore’s cathechism, we all know that, till not long ago, it used to be the only safe RC doctrinal position on that subject. Though it is still a safe position, it is no longer the only one. The subject was discussed several months ago in this thread:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/12/signs-of-predestination-a-catholic-discusses-election/

    Now, your view on the subject, which are also Bryan’s in his comment #19 on the other thread, is that an everlasting condition like Abraham’s bosom or the limbo of the infants is essentially a cool, unmolested compartment of hell, where no true happiness can really take place. In other words, an everlasting “natural happines” just does not cut it. From which the straightforward conclusion is, using rather audacious terms for the sake of clarity, that if God would not gratuitously endow man with beatific vision as a supernatural end, He could just save the trouble and not create man at all. Because man without beatific vision as a supernatural end just doesn’t make sense.

    My own position on the subject is quite practical: given that God’s factual design is that man be called to sharing in divine life and attaining beatific vision, I just don’t need to care whether a hypothetical design in which man would only attain natural happiness would have been good enough to warrant the creation of man at all.

  13. Johannes, (re: #12)

    You wrote:

    Now, your view on the subject, which are also Bryan’s in his comment #19 on the other thread … as a supernatural end just doesn’t make sense.

    That’s not my position. What I said in comment #19 on the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread is not the position you summarized in the penultimate paragraph of comment #12 just above. But this discussion is veering off topic, so I recommend that you and mateo take it offline.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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