Primary Sources Concerning the Separation of Church and State
Dominican monk and Inquisitor Bernard Gui composed the Practica inquisitionis heretice pravitatis (The Conduct of Inquiry Concerning Heretical Depravity) as a manual for fellow inquisitors. The text lays out a method for interrogating suspected heretics, individuals who held beliefs that contradicted Roman Catholic Church teachings. Gui chooses questions designed to expose members of non-traditional believers – heretics – common in his day. The manual suggests, for example, asking the alleged heretic to swear an oath, a practice forbidden to Cathars.
Gui’s manual shows the Inquisition as a powerful and unified Catholic response to the threat of non-traditional beliefs. By the fourteenth century, the Inquisition was a massive enterprise, demanding the training of many new Inquisitors. Manuals like Gui’s offered the means to share effective strategies. Gui’s work also reveals an important connection between Church and state: Inquisitors determined punishments that secular authorities carried out.
In 1491, Lorenzo de Medici composed a letter of advice to Cardinal Giovanni de Medici, his sixteen-year-old son. The letter is centrally occupied with fatherly advice – Lorenzo wanted his son to preserve his (and his family’s) reputation by living “a pious, chaste, and exemplary life.”
But the letter indirectly attests to the corrupt politics of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. Giovanni, the youngest Cardinal ever appointed, had received his office because his family’s connections. The letter alludes to the vices of other cardinals, offers advice about how to win the Pope’s favor, and reminds young Giovanni to watch out for the interests of the de Medici’s and Florence if “this may be done with equal advantage to all.”
In 1517, Dominican monk Martin Luther ‘published’ a series of 95 arguments against the Roman Catholic practice of indulgence selling. Indulgences promised repentant Catholics that time spent atoning for sins after death could be reduced in exchange for contributions to the Church. Luther found the practice scandalous and argued that the Church did not have the authority to alter divine punishments. His Theses argued that indulgences distracted the faithful from the importance of good works as the route to salvation.
Luther’s posted his Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, but his protest was aimed directly at a campaign of indulgence selling commissioned by Pope Leo X (the former Giovanni de Medici) to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The theses were a direct challenge to the Pope and are viewed a key catalyst of the Protestant Reformation.
The Act of Supremacy was enacted by the British Parliament in 1534 to establish King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church of England. Passage of the act was prompted by King Henry’s unsuccessful attempts to gain an annulment – a church-sanctioned divorce – from his wife Catherine of Aragon. When the Pope failed to grant the request, Henry took matters into his own hands.
By strengthening the power of the monarch relative to the Roman Church, the Act of Supremacy furthered the autonomous power of the British government.
In April 1615, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine addressed a letter to a Carmelite priest, Paolo Foscarini, who had published a book defending Galileo’s ideas. Bellarmine’s letter, which addressed both Foscarini and Galileo, urged both men to frame their arguments about heliocentricism as hypotheses: “you act prudently when you content yourself with speaking hypothetically.”
Bellarmine appears to offer an opportunity for science – he allows that heliocentricism may even be a superior hypothesis. But in the end he sets the standard that will lead Galileo before the Inquisition. Unless uncontestable truth of heliocentricism could be provided, traditional interpretations of Scripture had to be defended.
In his letter to Madama Christina (the Grand Duchess Dowager), Galileo simultaneously defends his research supporting heliocentrism while critiquing the Catholic Church. Specifically, he argues that not every word in the Bible could be read literally. Furthermore, he claims that theology is the supreme authority, but doesn’t supersede science in its own venue. This letter represents the beginning of Galileo’s defense of his (currently informal) heresy charges.
The Decree of General Congregation of the Index, enacted on March 5, 1616, is a list of literature that Church has found to contradict the Holy Scriptures. This act allows the Church to effectively censor information and knowledge within the Catholic community – the act was still effective into the mid 1960s. The General Congregation of Index ties into the censorship of heliocentrism and the trials of Galileo, as well as the political and cultural impact of the Church.
Galileo was put on trial by the Church because of his research concerning heliocentrism — a ‘theory’ that directly contradicted the teachings in the Holy Scriptures, where the earth was the center of the universe and the sun orbited it in the heavens. In his Second Deposition (April 30, 1633) and his Fourth Deposition (June 21, 1633), Galileo argues that although he originally believed and supported heliocentrism he stopped his work after the Church condemned them. In the Papal Condemnation of Galileo (June 21, 1633), the Church puts Galileo under imprisonment (later specified to house arrest) and places his book on the Congregation of the Index — Galileo accepts this punishment in the Recantation of Galileo (June 22, 1633).
These documents are a demonstration of the extent of the Church’s political power and cultural influence. Galileo, a leading scientific figure and close friend to the Medici family, is easily taken down by the Church, indicating that no one is out of their reach.
In his A Treatise on Toleration published in 1763, Voltaire critiques fundamental components of Christianity. Instead he advocates for toleration as a fundamental teaching of religion.
Voltaire claims that superstition, not religion, is the provider of false ideas and corrupt understandings, however the Catholic Church perpetuates these superstitions. He further argues that the belief that one deity and thus one religion is supreme — a belief held firmly in the Church — is inherently faulty and ridiculous, as it is a view shared by every religion and ethnic group. With both of these concepts understood, Voltaire proceeds to criticize the Inquisition as an extreme action rooted in faulty interpretations of the Bible and other religious documents. Furthermore, he believes that the power of the Inquisition is illegitimate – they should not have control of the legal system.
In the end, Voltaire advocates that religion or a belief system is necessary, but Catholicism is inherently detrimental.