The Separation of Church and State: Religion and Society
“The Separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” (Art. II, Section 6, 1987 Philippine Constitution)
1986 EDSA People Power: Jaime Cardinal Sin’s Call
The issue of the separation of church and state is being raised many times already in Philippine history. Jaime Cardinal Sin stepped into the situation to call for the Catholic faithful to proceed to EDSA in order to protect and provide food for the rebel soldiers led by Gen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel V. Ramos in 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. In a video documentary made by ABS-CBN and hosted by Jim Paredes and Bianca Gonzales in 2006, Bishop Soc Villegas, former secretary of Jaime Cardinal Sin, said that the Cardinal made the announcement after a phone call from then Minister Juan Ponce Enrile where he assured the Minister of his support through prayer and an assurance of God’s protection (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL013C6F834BDF57D3). Afterwards, he announced over radio Veritas that Enrile and Ramos’ group “have appealed for food and expressions of support.” He went further by saying that “those (of you) who wish to help should do so.”
Just recently, members of a religious group flocked to EDSA to express their grievances with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Should a religious group concern itself with the affairs of the state or is it proper for the state to interfere with the operations and practices of the church? Can these two offices be fused in one office and administered by a single person?
The Prophet Samuel: Period of Transition
In the Old Testament, there was a time when the prophet Samuel served as a transition leader of Israel in the period of the Judges. He was a prophet who made known God’s will to the people (1 Sam. 3:20-21) and a judge who ruled over the civil affairs of the people (1 sam. 7:15). In addition he was appointed by God to carry out priestly duties even though he was not a descendant of Aaron (1 Sam. 7:9; 1 Chron 6:33-38). (Bridgeway)
In this sense the three offices (that of the Prophet, Judge, and Priest) is held by a single person.
This set up was brought about by the corruption of the priesthood. As such, its spiritual influence to the people has diminished severely. The various ceremonies and sacrifices were meaningless rituals. Consequently, God was increasingly using prophets, rather than priests, to speak to his people. (Bridgeway)
But this set up was just temporary. Same corruption and degradation may rise here in the Philippines and somewhere else in the world, but Samuel’s or Israel’s situation for that matter, cannot be deemed as a precedent for future church-state relationships. Later, the people of Israel clamored for a king just like the surrounding nations. It was hard and painful for Samuel but God comforted him and told him that it was He who was rejected by the people not Samuel. God commanded him to appoint a king in the person of Saul – the first king of the Monarchy.
Saul’s Attempt to Take Control of both Religious and Political Powers
Saul has a very impressive achievements in the early stage of his kingship. However, his own moody and rash temperament become his undoing (Lawrence Boadt: Reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Makati, Philippines: St. Pauls, 2003.).
This kind of temperament surfaced when in a moment of national emergency he apparently got tired of waiting for Samuel to offer prayer and sacrifice on behalf of the people before they go to war. He went on and offered the sacrifice, which was an exclusive function of priests. He was severely reprimanded by Samuel and called his act as “foolishness” (“You have done foolishly” 1 Samuel 13:13, ESV). This is a clear indication of the separation of the office of the king and the office of the prophet/priest. After the appointment of Saul as king, Samuel’s role as a transition leader ends and the office of the prophet/priest, and king are deemed separate.
Furthermore, Saul’s action was construed as rebellion against the authority of God. Samuel said to him, “You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Samuel 13:13, ESV italics mine).
This concept is affirmed in the New Testament, Paul admonished the believers in Rome to be subject to governing authorities because all “governing authorities are instituted by God. Thus, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
It says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1,2 ESV).
In this regard, the office of the king, priest and prophet have distinct role in society or in the people of God and all of them are directly responsible to Him. They serve to maintain check and balance in government in particular and in society as a whole.
This is effectively articulated by Mercedita S. Nolledo in her book The Constitution of Republic of the Philippines Expalined:
“While we recognize the separation of the Church and the State and that we adhere to freedom of religion, we have provisions on religious instruction in public schools and employment of chaplains in some government institutions. Priests and religious acts ministers have increasingly invoked their right as citizens of the country in criticizing acts of Government officials constituting violations of laws and human rights.”
She even quoted Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.:
“In matters pertaining to personal salvation and administration of sacraments, even heads of State obey the Church while at the same time, in matters pertaining to public order, even Bishops obey the law of the State.” (The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines Explained. Mercedita S. Nolledo. Philippines: National Bookstore, 2004).
Speaking of freedom of religion, Pope Francis in his recent visit to the United States last Sept. 22-24, 2015 talked about this and other relevant issues confronting the United States – “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” He discussed these matters in the presence of the US Congress and ‘challenged’ them to act upon these issues decisively. Some of the members of congress were moved to tears by the Pontiff’s address.
This and other recent religious demonstrations and gatherings here in the Philippines including those transpired during the 1986 EDSA People Power, cannot be viewed as meddling with the affairs of the state. Rather they pose a ‘challenge’ to those in government to do their part as the church does, for both of them are accountable to the One True God. The constitution’s provision on the separation of church and state is “inviolable’ which means it is “never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored” (Oxford Online Dictionary). They are indeed, separate yet both of them work together to maintain a just and godly society.