church and state
Relationship between religious and secular authority in society. In most ancient civilizations the separation of religious and political orders was not clearly defined. With the advent of Christianity, the idea of two separate orders emerged, based on Jesus's command to Render unto Caesar what are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's (Mark 12:17). The close association of religion and politics, however, continued even after the triumph of Christianity as emperors such as Constantine exercised authority over both church and state. In the early Middle Ages secular rulers claimed to rule by the grace of God, and later in the Middle Ages popes and emperors competed for universal dominion. During the Investiture Controversy the church clearly defined separate and distinct religious and secular orders, even though it laid the foundation for the so-called papal monarchy. The Reformation greatly undermined papal authority, and the pendulum swung toward the state, with many monarchs claiming to rule church and state by divine right. The concept of secular government, as evinced in the U.S. and postrevolutionary France, was influenced by Enlightenment thinkers. In western Europe today all states protect freedom of worship and maintain a distinction between civil and religious authority. The legal systems of some modern Islamic countries are based on Shari'ah. In the U.S. the separation of church and state has been tested in the arena of public education by controversies over issues such as school prayer, public funding of parochial schools, and the teaching of creationism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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