The Doctrine of the Two Swords

The first thing that ought to strike the attentive reader is that the forces of God on Earth, whilst all belonging to Holy Church, are, nonetheless, differentiated into two clearly defined bodies: laity and clergy. Within these two bodies there are gradations according to rank, intelligence, utility and role. This is hardly very surprising for an army is not an amorphous mass, but a complex entity that strives to co-ordinate effectively a mass of men and machines. Officers without men are as ineffective as men without officers; a defined role is given by God to every man born whether or not he chooses to follow this role.

Thus we find that these two bodies within the Mystical Body of Christ have also been alloted their respective roles. In simplistic terms we may say that the principle concern of the clergy is the Church and all that pertains to the spiritual, to the things of God. To the laity belongs the State, the nation, and all that bears on the temporal welfare of man. Such roles are not intrinsically exclusive but are, in fact, mutually complementary when one comes to understand the fullness of Catholic theology. Thus, Pope Leo XIII writes: “God has divided between the ecclesiastical and the civil power the task of procuring the well-being of the himan race. He has appointed the former to divine, the latter to human things. Each of them is supreme in its own sphere; each is enclosed within perfectly defined boundaries, delimited in exact conformity with its nature and principle. Each is therefore circumscribed within a sphere in which it can act and move by its own native right.”

Given the fact that both the Church and the State operate in the world, it is natural that there will arise points where these two perfect societies come into contact with one another. Once again, Pope Leo XIII draws our attention to the right relations that ought to exist between the two: “There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers, a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobility of their purpose. One of these two has for proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of Heaven.” In other words, in absolute terms, the eternal interest must always take precedence over the temporal interest; the former does not negate the latter, but simply puts it in its truest perspective.

There is a certain tendency abroad in some traditionalist circles to accuse, however obliquely, Leo XIII of Liberalism because of his politically inept calls for Catholics to rally to the Masonic French Republic. How consonant then is the teaching of Pope Leo with that of Tradition? Fr. Fahey says: “For St. Thomas the spiritual power and the temporal power are both supreme, independent and sovereign, each in its own sphere, but the political power is subordinate to the ecclesiastical power, in as much and in so far as the matter with which the former power is concerned, and which are regularly temporal, become spiritual accidentally by reason of the circumstances.”

Or again, in Vehementer nos, published by St. Pius X in 1906, we read: “These two societies, religious society and civil society, have indeed the same subjects, although each of them exercises its authority over them in its own sphere. It inevitably results from this that there will be many matters of which the knowledge and judgement will be in the province of one and of the other. Now, when the accord between State and Church comes to disappear, from these common matters the seeds of disputes will easily swarm.”

Archbishop Lefebvre may also be quoted succinctly and usefully in this connection: “The State, which has the temporal Common Good as its direct good, is also a perfect society, distinct from the Church and sovereign in its domain. This is what Pius XII calls the legitimate and healthy secularity of the State.”

From all these quotations we conclude that Tradition holds that there are two powers, two societies, two swords and not one in the world; that each is supreme in its own sphere and thus is inviolable. The existence and scope of these two swords is not a man-made convention, but one that springs from the will of God. Any attempt, therefore, by partisans of one or other sword to suppress the rights and duties pertaining to the other necessarily invokes the wrath of God, for its objective is none other than to distort the nature of Holy Church and to overturn the Divine Plan for Order. Sadly, history is replete with such transgressions, on the part of one or other of the two swords, and draws its source, in the last analysis, from the fact of Original Sin. Daniel Raffard de Brienne rightly remarks: “There have been many intrusions by the spiritual power into the temporal domain and, without doubt more frequently, many invasions by the temporal power into the spiritual domain.”

Indeed, these mutual intrusions are sufficiently common in history as to be designated by the terms Clericalism and Laicism. By Clericalism is not meant the fundamentally Masonic idea that the clergy are a baneful, noxious influence that ought to be extirpated wholly from our society, but rather that situation where the clergy seek to use their spiritual authority to justify and support their invasion of the temporal sphere, in spite of the fact that they have been granted neither mandate nor competence for this by God. Priestly competence, be it well remembered, extends only to the things of God: politics, science and economics are beyond the directly sacerdotal role. In a situation where the two swords meet concretely, it is in consequence of a spiritual interest that a priest or bishop is empowered or even obliged to speak. Prosaically, we may say that it is the duty of the priest to remind the politician that what is morally wrong cannot be politically right. This right and duty of the priest is called the Indirect Jurisdiction, and is granted him by God in virtue of the fact that man’s eternal interests take precedence over his temporal ones, but this indirect power may only be exercised legitimately in given situations and circumstances. It can never be cited to justify the substitution of the politician by the priest. St. Thomas Aquinas, the official theologian of the Church, makes this abundantly clear: “The secular power is not subject to the spiritual power universally and from any point of view. Thus, in purely civil matters the ruler of the State must be obeyed and likewise in military matters the head of the army, rather than the bishop, who ought not to occupy himself with these things or with temporal affairs, except in so far as spiritual interests are concerned.”

Laicism may be regarded as the mirror deviation of clericalism. It seeks to confer upon the laity a pure autonomy in the temporal sphere, and proclaims that the jurisdiction of the priesthood does not extend beyond the doors of the church. Such an imbalance forgets that man is completely incapable of creating a just and harmonious society by purely natural means, this being one of the many consequences of Original Sin. Nature has to be transformed by grace, and that ever vital grace is normally imparted to men through the ministry of the priesthood. The autonomous layman, therefore, is as much a deviation from the Divine Plan for Order as is the theocratic bishop. There is the further problem that Laicism, historically speaking, has rarely stopped at the point of telling the priest that his jurisdiction extends only to the church porch. In such cases it seeks not merely the separation of Church and State – and thereby exhibits its Masonic pedigree – but rather the submission of Church to State. This is the profound and disordering heresy of Greek Orthodoxy; that God renders unto Caesar.

If these points are sufficiently grasped by the reader, it will be understood that the current crisis in the Church has its roots, in a certain sense, in a veritable explosion of Clericalism and Laicism; one might even talk justly of a kind of ‘ transmigration of souls’ for the clergy are invading the temporal order at the same time as the laity are invading the spiritual order. On the one hand, we witness bishops and priests pontificating on the subjects of unemployment, racism, sexism, ecology, nuclear power and the like – none of which is in their field of competence, directly speaking – whilst, on the other hand, the laity want to read the epistle and Gospel; give the sermon; become Eucharistic Ministers or married deacons, liturgical innovators and motivators and so forth. It is a confused mess that stems from the fact that the doctrine of the Two Swords is no longer known and undertood properly in the Church. Nor can we console ourselves by arguing that such deviations are only to be found in the Conciliar parishes. These deviations are to be found in Tradition, alas, albeit in different forms. This is not to accuse, or denounce, or reject, but simply to state a sad fact; but a fact that can be changed with study and goodwill.

But if the clergy – or elements of it – are to be rebuked, it is not to be thought that the laity are free from guilt. Shocked by the Modernist crisis and its extent, many good people have done sterling work to retain or rebuild pockets of the traditional Faith, and in the process many have expended a great amount of time, energy and money. They have built such outposts of Tradition according to the Catholic law that when the Church is in full crisis, every baptised Catholic is obliged to become a missionary and work for the restoration of Catholic Order. Yet, such good souls frequently resent handing over the running of an outpost to a priest when, by the grace of God, one is granted them. They forget that their justification for such action is purely temporary; it exists merely for the duration of the crisis. Now, when a priest arrives, the crisis may be said to have terminated in a purely localised sense, and thus the priest is fully within his divine rights to undertake the exercise of his full priestly power, the spiritual power. This resentment shows itself not merely in outright statements, but also in actions. How many laity, despite reminders, will not stand, kneel or sit according to the prescriptions of Tradition, during Holy Mass? How many women will not cover their heads during the Mass, despite the fact that it is one of the Church’s most ancient traditions and indicates in itself a right attitude to God? How many men turn up at Mass in beach shorts, or women in unsuitable dress, arguing that this is not the business of the priest? It is evident that both clergy and laity are at fault.

Now, whilst the doctrine of the Two Swords is perfectly clear, human frailty has frequently made observation of it tendentious, to say the least. It is plainly obvious that this doctrine is absolutely central to the notion of Catholic Action, for it determines the nature and scope of Catholic Action. Should there be confusion on the nature of the Two Swords, it will logically follow that there will be confusion on Catholic Action.