ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church


From the Secretary General

“What’s the longest word in the English language?” was a challenge in my grade school. “Antidisestablishmentarianism” was supposed to be the correct answer. The word refers to opposition to disestablishing, in particular, the official Church of England. This is almost the exact opposite of the popular American idea of separation of church and state.

Many British colonists in North America were religious dissidents who had fled religious oppression in their homeland. When political structures for the United States were being developed, it was agreed that there should not be any official government-established religion.

This was a radically new idea that went against the tide of history.

For example, the ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman empires all saw state, religion and culture as indivisibly linked.

Many early Christians were killed not for being followers of Jesus, but for denying public veneration of the divine Roman emperor. Their religious convictions made them appear as traitors to the state.

When Christianity became the imperial state religion in the 4th century, the tables were turned, but the same linkage of religion and state prevailed. In the Byzantine East, until the 15th century, the emperor was head of the Church and “Coequal of the Apostles.”

It was the emperor who convoked and presided at the early ecumenical councils – and set much of their agenda as well.

After the fall of Rome in the 5th century, again the linkage prevailed, but this time the religious authority, the pope, took on the power of the state.

Popes continued as temporal rulers until the 19th century, when they lost their lands to a new, unified Italian state.

Union of church and state characterized many Catholic countries right up until the Second Vatican Council.

Sometimes religion was displaced by another, pseudo-religious ideology, but one still linked to the state – for example, rationalism/secularism in France, Nazi socialism in Germany and Marxist communism in Eastern Europe.

Notwithstanding the American inspired idea of separation of church and state, in much of the world today, in effect, an “antidisestablishmentarian” view prevails.

Wherever Muslims are the majority, Islam is the prime constituent of society. Islam does not know a separation of religion from government. Islamic states, whether secular, moderate or extremist, all still have an “established religion.”

Israel was founded as a Jewish state. It still struggles to define its identity and the role and rights of its non-Jewish citizens.

Paradoxically, the United States, so concerned with separation of church and state at home, supports both the Jewish and some Muslim states in the Middle East, while wrestling with its relations with the other Muslim ones.

Moses was a ruler; so was Muhammad. Jesus denied that his kingdom was of this world, but it has been taking his followers a long time to really get the message.

Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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