A political theology of the Roman Catholic Church in Zambia

Roman Catholicism has several distinctives. These according to Black (2008:141) include (a) the incarnation, (b) the sacraments, (c) community, and (d) concern for the poor.

It is from these theological distinctives where Catholicism develops its wider perspective of other beliefs such as Church and State relations. Christ as fully man and fully God makes Catholics to place high value on humanity and the natural world.

Catholics believe that sacraments connect man to God and are important parts of the Christian communal experience.

In terms of concern for the poor, their long-standing concern for the poor makes Roman Catholics to be more inclined towards commitment to operate schools, hospitals, and charities (Black 2008:141). And it is in their practical desire to operate these social and health institutions that the Catholic Church inevitably confronts the State—as both complimentary to the state and critical of the state.

A Catholic perspective on what should constitute an appropriate model of the relationship between Church and State is as complex as the historicity, constitution, and diversity of the Catholic Church itself.

In its historicity, we see the Catholic Church at one historical period supportive of the State and other time hostile to it.

Additionally, we encounter through its history the Catholic Church itself functioning as the State—as the temporal power and political leader.

In fact, much of western civilization and history do have the Catholic Church as the dominant if not the main secular power in the society.

It is only later in history that the Catholic Church lost its temporal powers. Even then, it remained a very influential temporal organisation. As such, what was regarded as the Church’s position on Church—State relations during those times when the Catholic Church was the dominant political and religious organization, would be markedly different from what the Catholic Church taught latter in its history when it lost its temporal privilege and lost its monopoly on religious matters.

The constitution of the Catholic Church is also another element that adds to the difficulties of formulating a Catholic perspective on Church and State. It is no doubt that the Catholic Church has a very strong hierarchical structure. The Pope is at the top with the College of Cardinals under him and then the faithful are at the end of that hierarchy.

Shelledy (2009:16) put very well that “every Catholic is responsible to his or her bishop, who in turn is responsible to the pope, who is head of the Church”.

As such, the Bishops all around the world preside over their diocese in a hierarchical manner. In this constitution, it would be difficult if not impossible to pinpoint exactly who is speaking for the Catholic Church. Would it be the Pope alone, or the Cardinals or the Bishops?

Recently the rise of lay Catholic theologians increases the confusion of who exactly is speaking for the Church.  Again, an appreciation of the complex constitution of the Catholic Church should be considered when attempting to formulate a Catholic theology of Church and State.

In terms of Diversity, the Catholic Church may as well boast to be the most diverse religious organization in the world. It can literally be found all over the world. This diversity means that there is no longer one Roman Catholicism.

In fact, it would be fair to say that Roman Catholicism now comes in different forms and character.

As such, this diversity has led to very different and diverse answers to the question of Church and its relationship to the State.

This could perhaps explain why, the rise of Liberation Theology in predominantly Catholic Latin America was met with rather benign opposition from the Vatican.

In view of all this historicity, constitution and diversity, no far-reaching documents have been a pinnacle at clarifying the Catholic perspective on the role of the State and the Church’s relationship to it in the modern world than the documents arising from Vatican II.

Contemporary catholic understanding of Church and state is deeply rooted in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1966. It is from Vatican II that the Catholic Church rejected an establishment model of Church-state relations.

From Vatican II the Church moved towards more tolerance of pluralism and the promotion of religious freedom.

As such an appropriate understanding of the Catholic perspective of Church—State relations originates in the documents of Vatican II but are supplemented by the Social Teachings of the Church, and by various theological discourses of Catholic theologians.

Catholic Theology views the state as a legitimate part of God’s creation (Black 2008:141; Shelledy 2009:17). Gaudium et Spes, in paragraph 74, states that the State is founded on human nature and hence belongs to the order designed by God.

First, the Catholic Church takes the conservative view that the state is and must be a positive and irreplaceable component of civil life.

As such, the State is responsible for promoting the particular purpose of the common good (Shelledy 2009:17).

The second aspect of the Catholic Theology of Church and State assigns the State to temporality and the Church to eternity.

As such even if the State is a legitimate part of God’s creation, it nevertheless is subordinate to and lesser than the Church.

The third aspect of Catholic Theology of Church and State tries to create a clear separation of roles between the Church on one hand and the State on the other.

In other words, Church and State should be separate. According to Black (2008:141) Church and state need some separation to guarantee religious freedom, but the Church can and should cooperate with the government to achieve shared goals.

Fourthly, it is Catholic Church teaching that while catholic lay Christians are encouraged to participate in politics, the Church itself or the Church clergy cannot be politicians or serve in political office, in theory at least.

In Zambia the Catholic Church remains the most influential religious organisation politically and otherwise.

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