The revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff sought to pressure the Catholic Church to liberalise its teachings has provoked understandable outrage. For those with a sense of history, however, it may also have elicited a tired shrug. Talk of swaying the Church for political ends has been around for a very long time.
Secular rulers have sought, from first centuries of Christianity, to influence the Church’s teaching and steer it in their preferred political direction.
That was the subtext of the Investiture Contest which pitted popes and kings against each other in the 11th and 12th centuries, and produced martyrs such as St Stanislaus of Kraków (1010-79) and St Thomas Becket (1118-70).
It was behind Henry VIII’s decision to declare himself head of the English Church, and Reformation-era princes’ commitment to the principle of cuius regio, eius religio – “who rules determines the religion”.
In 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia ended more than a century of bloody confessional wars, Europe’s rulers finally agreed to allow “exact and mutual equality” in religion, and to ensure that “all violence and physical force in these as in other matters shall be perpetually forbidden”.
But that broke down in the late 18th century, when the French Revolution set out to form a church whose primary loyalty would be to the state rather than Rome.
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