St. Bernard and John of Salisbury

St. Bernard and John of Salisbury. Two of the leading writers of the twelfth century who dealt with the relations of church and state were St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) 32 and John of Salisbury (1115-1180). St. Bernard was the most influential churchman of the period, although he declined all ecclesiastical honors and never became pope. He put faith above reason and tried to revive the ascetic and mystical spirit of the Church Fathers.

He had little sympathy with the secular learning that was beginning to appear in the West, and he attacked the tendency in the church to devote attention to wordily affairs. St. Bernard protested against the interference of the pope in administrative and non-spiritual affairs, believing that it was not in harmony with the lofty office of the pope to devote so much time and energy to worldly matters. Such duties, degrading in their nature, should be performed by the political authority.

St. Bernard believed uncompromisingly in the supremacy of ecclesiastical power, but he wished to limit its activities to those of a spiritual nature. In connection with an attempt of the pope to defend his territorial interests by force, St. Bernard interpreted the dogma of the two swords to mean that while the church possessed both the sword of the spirit and the sowed of the flesh, the former alone should be used by the priest, the latter by the soldier, at the suggestion of the priest and under the command of the emperor.

The venality and intrigue in the papal court, which was actively engaged in administering church property and organizing crusades, were scathingly rebuked by this reforming monk, who said that it was the law of Justinian and not that of the Lord that resounded through the papal palace.

John of Salisbury’s writings were also marked by a refreshing candor. While he supported the supremacy of the church as did St. Bernard, he freely accused the church at the same time of abusing its office through love of money and other sins.

John was an Englishman by birth, though he was educated in Paris. Paris was at this time the center of a revived interest in Greek and Roman culture. John consequently received the broad training evident in his later works. On leaving Paris he returned to England where he served as secretary to Thomas Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In this capacity, he was closely connected with Beckot’s struggle against Henry II. Later he became Bishop of Chartres, where he spent the remainder of his life.

In his Policraticus, completed in 1159, John advanced a general philosophy of politics. Broader in scope than other works of this period, this treatise presented in a style reminiscent of Cicero a comprehensive picture of what was generally believed about political philosophy during this period.

John argued, as did St. Thomas later, that a well-ordered society consists of a proper allotment of functions to the members of the commonwealth and the right composition and strength of each organ. After attacking the obstacles that interfere with the healthy life of the state, he made the first effort since St. Augustine to frame an ideal system of government, based on the necessary subordination of the secular to the religious authority. Monarchy was the only form of government with which he was concerned, and he viewed the state in terms of the Roman Empire and the Old Testament theocracies.

He emphasized the ancient idea that law is the ruler of men, viewing law as the eternal and immutable principle of divine will. The true basis of political life, therefore, he found in righteousness. The church, as the embodiment of righteousness, was the supreme ruler of man; the prince, as the embodiment of law, occupied the second place.

In defending the church against the state John declared emphatically that Every censure imposed by law is vain if it does not bear the stamp of divine law, and a statute or ordinance of the prince is a thing of naught if not in conformity with the teachings of the Church.

John was led from this to his famous doctrine of tyrannicide. If the prince acted unrighteously he became a tyrant who ought to be put to death. The death of the tyrant must, however, be accomplished decently and without offense to religion; poison was not to be used, as having no scriptural authority. The safest way of getting rid of the tyrant was by prayer, but if this failed the people could have recourse to the sword.

In teaching that princes must further justice and righteousness under divine law, John of Salisbury helped to perpetuate the traditions of Rome and the early Fathers. He also aided the growth of constitutional government from the twelfth century onward by providing its adherents with a logical basis for disposing of tyrannical rulers.

Read More Articles about The Conflict Between Church and State:-