In Les métamorphoses de la cité de Dieu, an unjustly neglected work, Etienne Gilson expresses irritation at the late mediaeval distinction between the theories of the direct and indirect power of the Roman Pontiff in temporals. Gilson does not seem to believe in the distinction. Insofar as he is forced to choose he says the temporal power of the Pope is direct. No doubt Gilson is irritated because he perceives under the distinction the tendency to attribute an excessive self-sufficiency to the natural order. It is often forgotten that it was Gilson and not Maritain who originated the concept of Integral Humanism and in the former’s hands it had none of the laicist implications given it by the latter. For both men it arose from a correct perception that moral philosophy (and so the political order) is somehow inadequate without divine revelation. The final end is the first principle in moral reasoning and therefore in political reasoning also. In this order of providence man’s end is supernatural and cannot be known by reason alone. Indeed, in any order of providence the possibility of an end surpassing nature (at the least preternatural) is knowable to reason and therefore even in an order of providence where man’s end merely proportioned his nature God would still have to tell him so. This ought not to surprise us. St Thomas points out that, as the immateriality of the soul can be known by reason alone and there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses, the mortality of human nature is in a sense unnatural despite the fact that it results from the principles of our nature. The absence of preternatural immortality is thus a sign of original sin. One cannot love nor attain to an end the existence of and means towards which one does not know. The bearer of revelation to man would in all orders of providence thus constitute the supreme social authority on earth. The bifurcation of ecclesiastical and civil authority does not result from the distinction between nature and grace but from the tension between the two introduced by sin. Care for the temporal obstructs the care of the spiritual because of the wounds of the fallen soul. It is not right that the Apostles should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Adam was priest and king. In original innocence the family was political society enough and sanctifying grace was transmitted by natural generation. Now the Church the family and the state are formally distinct societies. Nevertheless, if they are to realise the proper perfection of their own natures, the second and third are necessarily subject to and exist within the first. There is only one legitimate polity on earth, the City of God. As Boniface VIII solemnly teaches,

“We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords‘ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard‘ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.”

When the cleric exercises the spiritual power he acts for the Church herself for her proper ends which surpass and in extremis may dispense with temporal goods. The cleric may not, except for necessity, wield the temporal sword because this will prejudice his spiritual functions. Nevertheless, the temporal sword may only be legitimately exercised by the subjects of the spiritual power. “It belongs to the spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good.” If the king or the soldier presumes to exercise this lesser sword to the prejudice of the spiritual power the wielder of the spiritual power must take it from them and give it to another. For, as Innocent III teaches, the Roman Pontiff is given “not only the universal Church, but the whole world to govern.”