Church and State in Paradise

Anthony Zimmerman
April 1, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Would Church and State have been two separate institutions in paradise had it lasted, and would there be contestations? A thought-provoking article by James Leon Holmes, and Jeremy R. Holmes, would make original sin be the cause of a separation of Church and State. The authors provide an overview of the gigantic struggles between Church and State during past centuries, and declare that such a division of powers would have been absent in paradise. (See their article"From Aristotle to JeffersonChristianity and the Separation of Church and State" in The Catholic Social Science Review, VIII, 2003, pp. 141-9).

My reply to this is that, had paradise endured into our day, Church and State would always be part of that perfect society. Their separate but sometimes overlapping competencies would need to be re-defined and adjusted constantly - perhaps with some non-violent power struggles. But Church and State would still be a part of the culture of the Garden of Eden, if that culture would have developed through the centuries into our scintillating age of electronics and nanotechnology.

The state of society before original sin

The following statement in the Holmes and Holmes article needs to be finessed to test ambiguities

Had Adam not sinned, he would have passed down original justice along with human naturehe would have been the source of nature, the source of holiness, and the source of all society, and so he would have had over everyone an authority at once familial, religious, and political. His unfallen heart never wavering from the right, he would have governed all affairs of all sorts with an even hand and divine authority. The seminal separation of Church and state therefore took place in the separation of human nature and original justice. The head of the human race is no longer our earthly king or our earthly father.

Two ambiguities must be addressed here. 1) Whether Adam would have passed down original justice to the offspring. 2) Whether the seminal separation of Church and state occurred because of original sin. We address both points in what follows.

Adam would not have been the source of holiness for his offspring and for society

Contrary to the authors, it would not have been Adam who would have passed down the original state of justice to AdamÕs offspring. Only God creates souls, only God endows the soul with grace. Parents pass their bodily genome to their children, but not their souls. The genes of the father are shuffled with those of the mother into a new deal for the offspring. But the souls of the parents do not live on in their offspring. Neither would Adam and Eve have endowed their offspring with grace, because it is the soul that bears this gift. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God it is not "produced" by the parents and also that it is immortalit does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

Adam, therefore, could not have been the source of grace for his offspring and for society, as the authors state wrongly. It follows that Adam would not have been the "source of holiness, and the source of all society" for humankind as the authors claim. The offspring would receive their souls and its gifts from God directly, not from Adam. The children, then, would owe gratitude and obedience to God, and after emancipation, would no longer owe obedience to their parents.

Or might Adam have retained religious authority over the children by virtue of a prophetic power given to him to preserve intact the contents of the original revelation? Note that the Catechism indeed teaches that he received revelation, but it is silent about any prophetic power given to Adam, such as Moses received over the Israelites, and such as Christ gave to Peter and his successors.

54 "God, who creates and conserves all things by his Word, provides men with constant evidence of himself in created realities. And furthermore, wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, he manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning." He invited them to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice.

55 This revelation was not broken off by our first parents' sin. "After the fall, [God] buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption; and he has never ceased to show his solicitude for the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in welldoing."

Had God provided Adam with a prophetic power to evangelize the human race, a duty beyond that of natural parenthood, God would necessarily have provided for a successor to Adam once he departed from this earth. There is no record of such a mandate. Indeed, it would have been quite impossible for one authority to rule over mankind in the hunter-gatherer society in which we presume Adam and Eve launched the society of the human race. Lines of communication did not reach far beyond the realms of separate groupings and tribes. Each generation of parents should educate their own children about the contents of that original revelation, whether they live in the Ituri tropical forests of Africa, or as Ainu peoples in Hokkaido, or as Eskimo's in the Arctics, or as Yamada Indians in Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. Had Adam not sinned, the children should be readily inclined to receive the teaching, being already endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment of their immaculate conception. The good environment would have helped tremendously to perpetuate the original revelation intact so long as the sinless condition of paradise persisted.

If Adam had not sinned, the continued existence of paradise would have remained precarious

We cannot assume that the offspring of Adam and Eve would have remained sinless if the parents had not committed original sin. Thomas teaches forthrightly that if the first parents had not sinned, their offspring might have done so. In other words, each generation would need to struggle to keep its paradise intact. Each succeeding generation must keep hands off the fruit of the tree of knowledge of what is good and what is bad. Paradise would remain in a precarious condition until the end of time.

Thomas reasons that God would have endowed children of a sinless Adam and Eve with the state of grace.

We must conclude that if children were born in original righteousness, they would have been born in grace; thus we have said above that the first man was created in grace (Q. 95. Ad 1). This grace, however, would not have been natural, for it would not have been transmitted by virtue of the semen; but would have been conferred on man immediately on his receiving a rational soul. In the same way the rational soul, which is not transmitted by the parent is infused by God as soon as the human body is apt to receive it (Summa Theologica 1,100,1).

But Thomas then continues by asserting that offspring in paradise would not have been confirmed in the state of grace. To understand him properly it is best to quote him at length and in context. His description of the beatific vision here is priceless.

I answer that, It does not seem possible that in the state of innocence children would have been born confirmed in righteousness. For it is clear that at their birth they would not have had greater perfection than their parents at the time of begetting. Now the parents, as long as they begot children, would not have been confirmed in righteousness. For the rational creature is confirmed in righteousness through the beatitude given by the clear vision of God; and when once it has seen God, it cannot but cleave to Him Who is the essence of goodness, wherefrom no one can turn away, since nothing is desired or loved but under the aspect of good. I say this according to the general law; for it may be otherwise in the case of special privilege, such as we believe was granted to the Virgin Mother of God. And as soon as Adam had attained to that state of seeing God in His Essence, he would have become spiritual in soul and body; and his animal life would have ceased, wherein alone there is generation. Hence it is clear that children would not have been born confirmed in righteousness (ST 1,100,2).

Thomas then replies to an objection by stating that innocent AdamÕs offspring could have lost it all had they sinned"By sinning of their own free will they could have become children of hell." Had they not sinned, this would not be due to a confirmed state of righteousness, but due to "divine Providence preserving them free from sin" (ibid). Apart from such a special privilege, then, even though our first parents had not committed original sin, if offspring had been born in paradise, they, or their next offspring, might have sinned. Thomas did not affirm or deny whether paradise could have continued for the offspring if only some of them had sinned.

In the rest of this writing I will assume, for the sake of discussion, that all the offspring would have lost the original paradise if some of them had sinned. The logic of this is that God would not have bestowed His grace indiscriminately to all humans at the time of conception, if some did not have parents who would educate them in the contents of the original revelation. God would not cast His precious pearls of grace upon unappreciative swine. I will also abstract from the discussion whether the paradise of the Bible is essentially a symbol of sanctifying grace rather than a locality of real estate (for which see discussion by Andre-Marie Dubarle,OP, The Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin, Herder and Herder, 1964, especially pages 230 ff.).

Church and State if paradise had endured

Let us suppose then, for the sake of argument, that Adam would not have sinned, that the first generation of AdamÕs children would all have retained their state of sanctifying grace, and that society would have developed in this felicitous manner as it spread over the globe and would remain in the initial paradise still today. Would Church and State function simultaneously in a global Garden of Eden?

A separation of jobs and competencies of some kind is essential for a society to function. As Paul points out

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Cor 128-11).

Had a sinless society endured through all the ages from Adam until the present day, when the human family is happily developing over the face of the earth, should we look there for a Church and State with sundry duties and competencies? The answer must be yes. The two societies are both necessary for humankind.

For example, Westphalia, Iowa, where I was born and grew up, was what one might call a fermenting paradise from the time of its founding in 1872. Virtually all the members of this rural community were self-selected German Catholic volunteers, immigrants who responded to ads by a Catholic real estate agent. All became parishioners of Saint Boniface parish. Church and State were well integrated there, but their functions were clearly not the same.

The pastor baptized, preached, administered the sacraments, educated us in the things of God. The village mayor was likely present at the two Sunday Masses, one at 800 and the High Mass with the longer sermon at 1000. The pastor also set up the school and obtained the School Sisters of St. Francis to teach the children. But the county school authorities certified the teachers and, surprisingly, paid their wages in the initial decades. The mayor, the township, and the county officials maintained the streets and roads, but the pastor maintained the sidewalk approach to the church entrance. Civic officials kept records of land transactions and boundaries, assessed land taxes, collected poll taxes and certified voters (adult males who owned property, before the advent of women suffrage, 100% Democrats until recent years), provided licenses to operate businesses such as the millinery, pool hall, buggy shop, machine shop, clothing shop, saloon, post office, hardware and grocery stores, ice plant, volunteer fire brigade. Yes, even in this fermenting paradise, Church and State functioned side by side for and with the identical village and parish population.

Similarly, on a larger scale, in a world society living in solidarity in the state of grace and eager to obey the Ten Commandments, Church and State would surely assist side by side to serve the paradise population.

The Bishop who plans to build a cathedral would consult the State about zoning laws, and the State would inspect the blue prints to insure safety standards. The Bishop would collect tithes and donations to build the church, but the mayor would use tax revenues to build public roads and sidewalks.

The bishop must insist that Catholic school children study the catechism and bible, but the mayor would pitch for literacy, for job training, for education in obedience to the laws.

On a national scale, taxation would be one of the thorny issueshow much economic power should the Church command to build cathedrals and schools and shrines and to do charitable works? How much should the State commandeer to build harbors, airports, railways and highways? Shall the State dictate to the Church how to operate its hospitals and schools to assure national safety and efficiency standards? Both sides would need to claim and arbitrate their separate and vested interests. Who would write the text books for public schools? To maintain a proper balance between the "horizontal" duties that the State imposes upon citizens to achieve the common welfare during this life, and the "vertical" duties that the Church imposes to pave the road to heaven, both Church and State have vested interests that need to be arbitrated and regulated.

Should the State coerce citizens to do their duties toward God so that the pax paradisi might endure for the welfare of all? We see the ugly specter of outer conformity without inner acceptance where there is coercion. Moreover, a possible Inquisition lurks just over the horizon. Coercion of beliefs and of religious practices would not exist for adults in the earthly paradise. Non-emancipated children might properly be compelled to obey, and adults might be subjected to persuasion, but religious compulsion of adults by police would be absent from the earthly paradise. Every one would readily obey God and the Ten Commandments voluntarily.

A Pope in Paradise?

We touched above on the question whether the AdamÕs offspring might have one single religious authority who would guard the original deposit of the faith once given to Adam. The conditions of the hunter-gatherer style of life that prevailed from the time of our first parents until about 10,000 years ago did not have world communication lines that would make such a unique authority workable. The Fourth Canon of the Mass, however, states "Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation." There would be a desire among the peoples to be certain that their religion is from God, not from a mere theologian.

When the fullness of time came, Christ recognized this need. He established the Church with the Pope at its head, who is endowed with the power of infallibility in a strictly defined area. An authority over the world religion became possible after reading and writing made the permanent recording of the Gospels a matter of historical fact, and after the Pax Romana was firmly established around the Mediterranean Basin. Once established, the religion would not be forgotten, but would eventually become accessible on a global basis.

The State in paradise

The State would also have its definite place in a model society in the Garden of Eden. As Pope Pius XII stated in Summi Pontificatus

Hence it is the noble prerogative and function of the State to control, aid and direct the private and individual activities of national life that they converge harmoniously towards the common good. That good can nether be defined according to arbitrary ideas nor can it accept for its standard primarily the material prosperity of society, but rather it should be defined according to the harmonious development and the natural perfection of man. It is for this perfection that society is designed by the Creator as a means.

Indeed, even in a sinless world, in which all are obedient to God, the State would be a very necessary element of society.

Would there be armies and police? Police maybe yes, to enforce speed laws and safety measures, but probably not armies to defend a nation from aggression. All peoples in every nation on the earth being eager to obey God, would arbitrate differences and come to mutual agreements without need of military battles.

Would there be a world authority to regulate international commerce, monetary exchanges, rights of nations over land and sea, definitions of borders, safety measures for tourism, standards for eminent domain vs. private property rights, taxation for international development, courts for arbitration and settlement of international differences? I think so. Happily there would not be a danger of abusing power by becoming tyrannical, such as we note with dismay in our world after original sin.

Each child born into this paradise, however, would need to be nurtured and educated to adopt the lifestyle and faith and holiness of the original paradise culture. Each new generation would need to put on the culture of obedience to God and the Ten Commandments, so that all people on earth, in global solidarity, would refrain from committing mortal sin. Then would a friendly human society exist as Isaiah envisioned

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious (Isaiah 116-9).


Contrary to Holmes and Holmes, even if Adam had not sinned, and if from then until today the world would be inhabited by a sinless people who obey God and love the neighbor, nevertheless a Church there must be and a State there must also be. Both would have to constantly adjust to each otherÕs rights and competencies by arbitration and mutual give-and-take, sometimes, no doubt, with a bit of pounding on the table. But since by definition all would be in the state of grace, all would hold to the First Commandment, "Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God," there would be no unjust laws, no wars of aggression, no need for armies and navies; the economy would be shaped for the good of man and not man for the economy, human solidarity and sympathy would extend from sea to sea and from river to river, distributive justice would give to each what is equitable and require from each what is due, human subsidiarity would foster the activities of great and small alike each in its place, and each of us would pass from life on our earthly paradise into eternal glory.

The good news is that the message of the Gospel of Christ and the waters of Baptism are yeast that ferment human cultures in which paradise gradually emerges even today. We can indeed, with Christ' salvific power, essentially re-paradise this our present world. We do not necessarily hope to eliminate all evil elements from this paradise. Even in the Garden of Eden, the gate was open and the serpent was free to enter there. God must have left the gate open with a purpose, namely to challenge man to develop genuine virtue that has been tested by opposition and trials and hardships.

On the whole, we can even now see that Christianity has already re-paradised the world to a very great extent ever since Christ gave the mandate to evangelize and baptize all nations. We are being challenged to carry on this work of evangelization. Happily we Christians already live in a relatively successful civilization of love where the Gospel message is truly alive, in families, in neighborhoods, even in civic society. Contrast these conditions with those of Islam where Church and State are not separated, where sharia is enforced without the moderation of the Gospel. As Pope Saint Leo the Great (440-461) exulted to his people in Rome, we are already in paradise

Let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For to-day not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through ChristÕs unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devilÕs malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever, Amen (Sermon LXXIII on the Ascension).