The Catholic Culture Podcast: 90 – Leo XIII on the State’s Duties Toward the Church


Oct 30, 2020

Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Humanis
, begins by noting that its discussion of religious
liberty “has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society”
and so “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral
duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the
one Church of Christ.” This episode is about discovering what that
traditional doctrine was and is.

Our main source will be Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Immortale
, which is available in audiobook form on Thomas Pink guides us through a close reading
of this document (with supplementary material from
Libertas and Longuinqua). Here, and in the
magisterium of other 19th-century Popes, we find a number of
teachings on Church and State that have gone largely unmentioned
since the Council, and which are sadly forgotten or even rejected
by the majority of self-described conservative Catholics.

The core point is that the State, like the Church, receives its
authority from God. Therefore the State has a duty of obedience to
God, obedience which cannot be arbitrarily limited to what can be
known by reason, excluding revelation. So, Leo says, the State has
duties to profess, protect and foster religion, and not just any
religion, but the true Faith:

“The Church, indeed, deems it unlawful to place the various
forms of divine worship on the same footing as the true religion,
but does not, on that account, condemn those rulers who, for the
sake of securing some great good or of hindering some great evil,
allow patiently custom or usage to be a kind of sanction for each
kind of religion having its place in the State.”

Other points discussed are these: Leo’s analogy comparing the
relationship between Church and State to the harmony between soul
and body. The evil consequences of the State’s indifference toward
God and true religion. The authority of the Church to coerce the
baptized in fulfilling their religious duties, and to have the
State act as its agent (all the while remembering that the State
has no authority of its own to regulate the supernatural good of
religion). Leo’s condemnation of freedom of speech and opinion as
commonly understood.

It is clear that a docile and orthodox reading of Vatican II
cannot lead us to dismiss prior teachings on Church and State. Yet
this works both ways: Church teaching is is a unity, so when
discussing these older teachings, we must also ask what is the
nature Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty and how all of
these teachings can be understood in light of one another. The key
lies in the limited scope of Dignitatis Humanae, which
from the outset intends only to address religious coercion by the
State, and leaves the duties of the State towards religion
untouched in both senses of the word.

Though the Church’s teaching on religious liberty is much
further from the ideals of the American Founding than many careless
readers of Dignitatis Humanae have assumed, American
Catholics can and must love their country. Therefore we close with
Pope Leo’s friendly and encouraging words to the Church in


[3:09] The historical and theological context of Immortale

[7:52] True and false liberty

[10:38] The two powers of Church and State; their directive and
coercive functions

[18:40] The State’s duty to profess, protect and foster the one
true religion

[24:06] Reasons for toleration of other religions; coercion of
the baptized

[34:15] Leo’s analogy of Church and State with soul and body

[43:36] Separate sovereignties of Church and State interact;
State can act as the “secular arm”

[49:41] Obligations twd. religion of the State properly
speaking, not just rulers as individuals

[55:23] Consequences of the State neglecting God and

[1:03:00] Dignitatis Humanae: drafting, intended scope,
legacy, compatibility with tradition

[1:20:50] Papal condemnations of freedom of speech and

[1:31:30] The Church’s move away from coercing baptized

[1:36:33] The importance of docility in accepting difficult

[1:41:49] Need for a synthesis of the whole magisterium on
Church, State and religious liberty


Audiobook of Immortale Dei

Text of Immortale Dei (On the Christian Constitution of

Libertas (On the Nature of Human Liberty)

Longuinqua (On Catholicism in the United States)

Thomas Pink on Twitter

Thomas Pink, “Conscience and Coercion”

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