The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium asserts towards the beginning of its chapter on the Laity (30-38) that “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God.” Of course, the question of the precise manner in which the laity are to order temporal affairs according to the plan of God has become a matter of confusion and acrimonious debate since the promulgation of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty which has been taken by many to require the elimination of divine revelation as a source of public policy and public law. However, Lumen Gentium itself  in the documents it cites as illustrative of its doctrine on the laity would seem to afford a highly traditional, indeed intergalist, answer to this question.

In section 38 the Constitution teaches:

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion. In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of its citizens, is rightly to be rejected.

At this point there is a footnote (116 in the Latin text) which reads:

Cf. LEO XIII, Epist. Encycl. Immortale Dei, 1 nov. 1885: ASS 18 (1885), p. 166ss. IDEM, Litt. Encycl. Sapientiae christianae, 10 ian. 1890: ASS 22 (1889-90), p. 397ss. PIUS XII, Alloc. Alla vostra filiale, 23 mart. 1958: AAS 50 (1958), p. 220: “la legittima sana laicità dello Stato”.

These three texts are very interesting. The first is from Leo XIII’s Immortale Dei (On the Christian Constitution of States.

13. 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 travellers 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.

14. But it would be most repugnant to them to think thus of the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar’s is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God.

The second is from the same pope’s Sapientiae Christianae (On the Duties of Christian Citizens).

30. The Church alike and the State, doubtless, both possess individual sovereignty; hence, in the carrying out of public affairs, neither obeys the other within the limits to which each is restricted by its constitution. It does not hence follow, however, that Church and State are in any manner severed, and still less antagonistic, Nature, in fact, has given us not only physical existence, but moral life likewise. Hence, from the tranquillity of public order, which is the immediate purpose of civil society, man expects to derive his well-being, and still more the sheltering care necessary to his moral life, which consists exclusively in the knowledge and practice of virtue. He wishes, moreover, at the same time, as in duty bound, to find in the Church the aids necessary to his religious perfection, in the knowledge and practice of the true religion; of that religion which is the queen of virtues, because in binding these to God it completes them all and perfects them. Therefore, they who are engaged in framing constitutions and in enacting laws should bear in mind the moral and religious nature of man, and take care to help him, but in a right and orderly way, to gain perfection, neither enjoining nor forbidding anything save what is reasonably consistent with civil as well as with religious requirements. On this very account, the Church cannot stand by, indifferent as to the import and significance of laws enacted by the State; not insofar, indeed, as they refer to the State, but in so far as, passing beyond their due limits, they trench upon the rights of the Church.

31. From God has the duty been assigned to the Church not only to interpose resistance, if at any time the State rule should run counter to religion, but, further, to make a strong endeavour that the power of the Gospel may pervade the law and institutions of the nations. And inasmuch as the destiny of the State depends mainly on the disposition of those who are at the head of affairs, it follows that the Church cannot give countenance or favour to those whom she knows to be imbued with a spirit of hostility to her; who refuse openly to respect her rights; who make it their aim and purpose to tear asunder the alliance that should, by the very nature of things, connect the interests of religion with those of the State. On the contrary, she is (as she is bound to be) the upholder of those who are themselves imbued with the right way of thinking as to the relations between Church and State, and who strive to make them work in perfect accord for the common good. These precepts contain the abiding principle by which every Catholic should shape his conduct in regard to public life. In short, where the Church does not forbid taking part in public affairs, it is fit and proper to give support to men of acknowledged worth, and who pledge themselves to deserve well in the Catholic cause, and on no account may it be allowed to prefer to them any such individuals as are hostile to religion.

The last reference is to the closing paragraph of an allocution of Pius XII in 1958.

There exist, in Italy, those who are agitated, because they fear that Christianity takes from Caesar what is Caesar’s. As if giving Caesar what belongs to him was not a command of Jesus; as if the legitimate sound secularity of the state [la legittima sana laicità dello Stato] was not one of the principles of Catholic doctrine; as if it did not belong to the Church’s tradition the continuous effort to keep distinct, but still, always according to the right principles, united the two Powers; as if, instead, the mixture between the sacred and the profane was not the most strongly verified in history, when a portion of the faithful separated from the Church.

These are pretty straightforward, indeed Mediaeval, accounts of the proper relations between the temporal and spiritual powers. Chapter IV of Lumen Gentium even concludes with the famous quote from the second century Epistle to Diognetus “Christians must be to the world what the soul is to the body.” In the context of the chapter as a whole this soul-body language can only be legitimately interpreted in Leonine (i.e. Augustinian and Thomistic) terms. For, as 24 Theses remind us,

This rational soul is united to the body in such a manner that it is the only substantial form of the body.  By virtue of his soul a man is a man, an animal, a living thing, a body, a substance and a being. Therefore the soul gives man every essential degree of perfection; moreover, it gives the body a share in the act of being whereby it itself exists.

Which translated into political terms means “kingdoms without justice are but criminal gangs” and “there is no justice save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ”. As Leo XIII himself puts it earlier in the second of his encyclicals quoted buy Lumen Gentium Chapter IV,

What applies to individual men applies equally to society – domestic alike and civil. Nature did not form society in order that man should seek in it his last end, but in order that in it and through it he should find suitable aids whereby to attain to his own perfection. If, then, a political government strives after external advantages only, and the achievement of a cultured and prosperous life; if, in administering public affairs, it is wont to put God aside, and show no solicitude for the upholding of moral law, it deflects woefully from its right course and from the injunctions of nature; nor should it be accounted as a society or a community of men, but only as the deceitful imitation or appearance of a society.

I suppose the conservative modernists and the liberals would just look at these footnotes, shrug, and say with Fr Rhonheimer “you have to say these things to get it through”. Yet, for those with a stubborn loyalty to the actual teaching of the Church (rather than the presumed destination of ‘the god who is history’), it is consoling to see that Lumen Gentium too when taken at its word “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”