Clergy Rule—Is It the Answer?
PEOPLE the world over are tired of injustice, oppression, and political corruption. They want something better, as is evident from their efforts to change political leaders. But new leaders seldom if ever bring the people contentment.
Some think that clergy rule would result in better government. They believe that clergymen would bring godly qualities into governmental affairs. It was probably with this in mind that cleric Marion (Pat) Robertson, a U.S. presidential hopeful in 1988, prayed that “godly people” would win political office. But would this really answer the need for better rulers?
When the Clergy Ruled Europe
During the Middle Ages, the clergy had tremendous secular power. Why, popes were able to crown and dethrone kings! In 800 C.E., Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. For a thousand years, this empire represented the union of Church and State, and during that time the clergy enjoyed varying degrees of power over secular authorities.
Beginning in the 11th century, the papacy took over the role of leader in Europe. In this regard, The Columbia History of the World, edited by John Garraty and Peter Gay, says: “The church was Europe’s greatest government.” This book also observes that the church was able to “wield more political power than any other Western government.” What was the situation of the people under clergy rule?
No one was free to worship as he pleased or to express opinions conflicting with those of the clergy. This clerical intolerance created a climate of fear throughout Europe. The church established the Inquisition to root out individuals who dared to hold different views. Considered heretics, they were brought before inquisitors, who tortured them for confessions. Often, those found guilty were burned at the stake.
Regarding clergy rule in Spain, The Columbia History of the World states: “Wars and the crusading ideology had welded together an orthodox and snobbish aristocracy and clergy which held all the reins of power in the state. Intellectual life had been crippled by censorship and the Inquisition, which had been used against anyone protesting against either official theology or state policy.”
In his book The Age of Faith, Will Durant said: “Making every allowance required of an historian and permitted to a Christian, we must rank the Inquisition, along with the wars and persecutions of our time, as among the darkest blots on the record of mankind, revealing a ferocity unknown in any beast.” In the Middle Ages, clergy rule meant the destruction of personal liberties.
Did the Protestant reformer John Calvin differ from the Catholic clergy? Well, consider what happened when Michael Servetus fled from persecution by the Spanish clergy and was apprehended in Geneva, Switzerland. There, Calvin had set up a community over which he and his ministers ruled with absolute power. Because Servetus denied the Trinity, Calvin achieved what had eluded the Inquisition. Servetus was condemned to death for heresy and was burned at the stake. Calvin thus showed the same intolerance as the Catholic clergy.
Did clergy domination of secular governments mean peace for the people of Europe? No, indeed. Instead of enjoying peace, they had to endure years of clergy-inspired warfare. Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade and thus began a series of wars that lasted for 200 years. Moreover, clergy-fomented wars against people considered to be heretics resulted in the death of thousands of men, women, and children.
Did clergy rule eliminate corruption? Not in the least. The book A History of the Modern World, by R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, states: “Increasingly the life of the church was corrupted by money. No one believed in bribery; but everyone knew that many high churchmen (like many high civil officials of the day) could be bribed.” Corruption among the clergy was a common complaint.
Did clergy rule result in compassion for the common people? By no means. For instance, consider what happened when Cardinal Richelieu of France gained control of governmental affairs during the reign of Louis XIII. The book The History of the Nations, edited by Henry Cabot Lodge, says that Richelieu’s “policy was based on the ruin of the French liberties.”
In Mexico during the 17th century, Indian towns were often ruled by the clergy. According to the book Many Mexicos, by Lesley Simpson, the clergy considered the whipping post “an indispensable aid for implanting and maintaining the Christian virtues, as well as for the punishment of secular offenses.”
History books thus enable us to examine the record of clergy rule over the centuries. What does that record reveal? Shocking disregard for the happiness, well-being, and liberties of the common people. Indeed, clergy rule has been unendurable despotism. As Daniel Defoe wrote in his work The True-Born Englishman: “And of all plagues with which mankind are curst, ecclesiastic tyranny’s the worst.”
Obviously, then, clergy rule is not the answer to man’s need for better government. So, to whom can we turn? The answer is within the reach of everyone, as we shall see.
[Picture on page 4]
Protestant Calvin showed the same intolerance as the Catholic clergy
Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum