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.
 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 
Protestant sects. It marked the beginning of a bloody period which 
virtually split Europe in half. Examples of the conflict raged between 
Protestants and Catholics from the great slaughter of Protestants 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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