MR. JOHN FISK has lately published a book on the “Beginnings of New England, or the Puritan Theocracy in its Religious and Civil Liberty.” He well and abundantly shows what it would seem no one in these days should be disposed to deny, that is, that “the faults of the Puritan theocracy, which found its most complete development in Massachusetts, are so glaring that it is idle to seek to palliate or explain them away,” and that the aim of the Puritans “in coming to Massachusetts was the construction of a theocratic State which should be to Christians under the New Testament dispensation all that the theocracy of Moses and Joshua and Samuel had been to the Jews in Old Testament days.” Pp. vi. and 146. Such truths, however, are not acceptable to some Calvinists even at this day. The Interior objects to this and criticises the theory. It cites the dedication of the national monument a short time ago at Plymouth, and says that in that, “no such ideas found expression or even an indorsement by implication,” and that “further and more definitely the orator at the dedication took issue with the historian by declaring that these devout emigrants did not believe in a theocratic State any more than a secularized church.”
The orator referred to was the Hon. W. C. P. Breckinridge, member of Congress from Kentucky and a member of the Presbyterian Church.
The Interior quotes from the orator the following words:—
“No historian has given to those who first suffered for the sublime truth, that human freedom was impossible except by the separation of Church and State, that place of eminence which is by right theirs. This is the truth to which the pilgrim fathers testified. This truth they first brought to America; this is their true honor; this their fadeless crown. The company ‘which came over in the Mayflower’ was of the Calvinistic Protestant Church. Its peculiarity was that it was a separatist church. It was purely English. It differed alike from the Catholic and English Church, including the Puritans in the English Church, and the difference was wide, fundamental and irreconcilable. It involved nothing less than the whole question of enforced or free religion, the difference which separated and still separates the State churches from the free. What is involved in this belief? That the Church is a voluntary, spiritual association, to be governed only by the laws of Christ, and entirely free, as church, from the domination of the State. The honor due to the Plymouth fathers is that they first brought that truth as a practical, vital principle of governmental life to this continent. It was an immense stride when this separation was won.”
This may be admitted to be true as it is stated, but the difficulty with it is that even though true, as far as it goes, it tells but half of the truth. It is true that they held that the Church is a voluntary spiritual association to be governed only by the laws of Christ and entirely free as a Church from the domination of the State. But it is not true that they believed or held in any way that the State should be free from the domination of the Church, and that is just what makes the half truth.
In stating a people’s belief in the separation of Church and State, it is not enough to say that they do not believe in the churches being free from the domination of the State. To state the whole truth in such a case, it must be said that they do not believe in the domination of the State by the Church. There is a union of Church and State when the Church dominates the State as certainly as there is when the State dominates the Church. And in talking of a theocracy it is not at all a correct expression of a separation of Church and State to say that the Church is free from the domination of the State.
Properly speaking, the domination of the Church by the State is not a theocracy. A theocracy is only where the religious element dominates the civil. And when speaking of a theocracy the only correct statement of a belief in the separation of Church and State is to say that it is a belief in the total separation of religious and civil things; that the religious shall not interfere with, nor control, nor use the civil power for its own purposes in anything.
In the line of its own criticism and of the above thought of the orator, the Interior says:—
“The interference of a temporal ruler with spiritual matters or the holding of a church service under State authority and patronage becomes intolerable to those who have conceived the thought of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences.”
That is all true. And in addition to this it is also true that the interference of a spiritual ruler with civil matters, or the holding of State service under Church authority and direction, is intolerable to those who have conceived the thought of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences, as well as to those who have conceived the thought of not worshiping God at all.
The truth of this whole subject is expressed in these three sentences: The State dominating religion and using religion for State purposes is the pagan idea. Religion denominating the State and using the civil power for religious purposes is the papal idea. The total clear-cut and distinct separation of religion and the State, as the United States Constitution has it, is the Christian idea.
A. T. J.