Religion, The State And Sovereignty

The influence of religion on humankind can be traced back to the
first records of history. Religion has served as a pillar of strength
to some and binding chains to others. There are vast amounts of
information and anthropological studies revealing the interaction of
religion and humankind. However, for the purposes of this paper, the
time periods of study will be broken up into three sections. Each
section will give a general description of how religion affected the
institution of the state and its Sovereignty in a Euro-centric
perspective. The first period is the early period, which will encompass
from Christianity and the Roman Empire to the Medieval times (approx.
311 to 1100 A.D.). The second period will include the Renaissance, the
Reformation to the Treaty of Westphalia (1101 to 1648 A.D.). The third
and increment of history will range from 1649 to 1945 A.D.
The date 311 A.D. marks the issuing of the "Edict of Toleration"
for Christians. This date is important because it symbolizes "national"
acceptance of Christianity, and planted its roots as a political
institution. Later the Roman Empire on the verge of internal collapse
acknowledged the importance of Christianity and used it to hold
together the remnants of it former self. This adoption of Christianity
took form and eventually became the Catholic church.
The church became intermingled with politics and became a strong
entity. The policies delivered from the church had more authority than
the local rulers and magistrates of the developing feudal system. For
example, St. Augustine wrote about war and what justified its enactment
against fellow men. This policy was followed and adhered to for
hundreds of years after St. Augustine wrote it.
Another example, is the use of the Bible as a guideline for
establishing governing systems. Scripture portrayed God as choosing the
king of the people. The pope, being God\'s "representative" was then
given the authority to crown the king. This crowning process gave the
pope large influence in the political arena. This ritual continued for
a number of centuries.
The Crusades, which occurred around 1100 A.D., played a crucial
role in challenging the church\'s authority. The pope identifying the
spread of Islam as evil requested all of Europe embark on a "Crusade" to
defeat the infidels. As the battles were fought, great treasures were
found in the form of books and knowledge. These books were crude
translations of old Greek texts, containing information which would
eventually produce the waning of Church authority in the future.
The Renaissance marked the beginning of intellectual re-birth.
Writers such as Dante, Machiavelli, Guiarccidini, Vitoria, etc., all
attempting to reform and some even contest church dominance. Dante in
his imaginative work "Inferno" writes of hell which he envision is the
pope\'s final destination. Machiavelli takes a more direct role
classifying the actions of a prince to be above morality and ultimately
above the Church. He continues the affront by classifying a human
character of "virtu" as being completely centered around man (humanism).
The Raison D\' Tat is supreme especially in terms of the church
In the middle of the Renaissance, the Church was dealt a deadly
blow from which it would never recover. This assault came via Martin
Luther. His work, "95 Thesis", marked the beginning of the Reformation.
This movement split the church into Catholic and Protestant sects. It
marked the beginning of a bloody period which virtually split Europe in
half. Examples of the conflict raged between Protestants and Catholics
from the great slaughter of Protestants in Paris 1572 A.D. (7000 dead)
to the Thirty Years War. With the Church in disarray, freedom was given
to the "state" to begin to develop.
During this period of Renaissance the political identity was
going through a tremendous transformation. This transformation took
form in what is called Absolutism. "Princes" began to tolerate less and
less manipulation from the church. The political entity in the form of
monarchy began to wean itself from the Church for its legitimacy and
looked toward its own power.
Other writers began to rise and discuss issues of sovereignty
and the state. Thomas Hobbes discusses the state and refers to it as
"Leviathan" which is the concurring title of his work. Believing man to
be evil, Hobbes fashions his description