The Catholic Church as Shatterer of Polities

In our law and religion colloquium, one of the early themes Mark and I touch on is the dualism of Christianity, and the complicated sense in which this dualism is, and is not, a precursor to contemporary ideas of church-state separation. Some of the complications concern the view that separation in this early sense may not have meant complete division, but instead a kind of complementarity of authorities.

We don’t touch perhaps as much as we should on the Catholic Church’s role in the formation of the contemporary nation state, but this new book does: The Catholic Church and European State Formation, AD 1000-1500 (Oxford University Press) by political historians Jørgen Møller and Jonathan Stavnskær Doucette. Their core claim seems to be that the Church was the prime mover of political fragmentation (or “pluralism,” to give it its modern euphemism), and in particular the disruption of the Holy Roman Empire, during this period.

Generations of social scientists and historians have argued that the escape from empire and consequent fragmentation of power – across and within polities – was a necessary condition for the European development of the modern territorial state, modern representative democracy, and modern levels of prosperity. The Catholic Church and European State Formation, AD 1000-1500 inserts the Catholic Church as the main engine of this persistent international and domestic power pluralism, which has moulded European state-formation for almost a millennium.

The ‘crisis of church and state’ that began in the second half of the eleventh century is argued here as having fundamentally reshaped European patterns of state formation and regime change. It did so by doing away with the norm in historical societies – sacral monarchy – and by consolidating the two great balancing acts European state builders have been engaged in since the eleventh century: against strong social groups and against each other.

The book traces the roots of this crisis to a large-scale breakdown of public authority in the Latin West, which began in the ninth century, and which at one and the same time incentivised and permitted a religious reform movement to radically transform the Catholic Church in the period from the late tenth century onwards.

Drawing on a unique dataset of towns, parliaments, and ecclesiastical institutions such as bishoprics and monasteries, the book documents how this church reform movement was crucial for the development and spread of self-government (the internal balancing act) and the weakening of the Holy Roman Empire (the external balancing act) in the period AD 1000-1500.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • A petition for certiorari has been filed with the U.S Supreme Court in Arkansas Times, LP v. Waldrip (see prior posting). In the case, the Eighth Circuit sitting en banc upheld, against a free speech challenge, Arkansas’ law requiring public contracts to include a certification from the contractor that it will not boycott Israel. 
  • In Weiss v. Perez, a California federal district court allowed a tenured professor to move ahead against most of the defendants she named in a lawsuit, which alleged that the University had retaliated against her because of her opposition to repatriation of Native American remains. Professor Weiss has argued that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act violate the Establishment Clause by favoring religion over science. Due to this belief, Weiss claims San Jose State University has interfered with her research and limited her professional activities. 
  • In In re A.C. (Minor Child), an Indiana state appeals court upheld a trial court’s order removing from the home a sixteen-year-old transgender child who suffered from an eating disorder and emotional abuse due to their parent’s unwillingness to accept the child’s transgender identity. The parents allege that they could not affirm their child’s transgender identity or use the child’s preferred pronouns because of their religious beliefs. The court rejected the parents’ Free Exercise claims.
  • The EEOC announced that it has filed a Title VII and ADA suit against Global Medical Response, Inc. and American Medical Response, Inc., which operate one of the largest medical transport companies in the country. The suit alleges that the companies refused to accommodate employees in EMT and paramedic positions who wish to wear facial hair for religious reasons. 
  • The EEOC has reached a settlement in a religious discrimination suit it had filed against a Conway, Arkansas Kroger store for failing to accommodate two employees who refused to wear the company’s apron. The employees insisted that the symbol on the apron promotes the LGBT community, which the employees’ religious beliefs preclude them from affirming. Under the settlement, Kroger will pay each employee $20,000 in back pay plus $52,000 each in additional damages.