Caesaropapism is the idea of combining the power of secular government with, or making it superior to, the spiritual authority of the Church; especially concerning the connection of the Church with government. The term caesaropapism (Cäseropapismus) was coined by Max Weber, who defined it as follows: “a secular, caesaropapist ruler... exercises supreme authority in ecclesiastic matters by virtue of his autonomous legitimacy”. According to Weber's political sociology, caesaropapism entails “the complete subordination of priests to secular power.”[1]

In its extreme form, caesaropapism is a political theory in which the head of state, notably the Emperor ('Caesar', by extension an 'equal' King), is also the supreme head of the church ('papa', pope or analogous religious leader). In this form, it inverts theocracy (or hierocracy in Weber) in which institutions of the Church control the state.


Caesaropapism in the Eastern Church

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Caesaropapism's chief meaning is the authority the Byzantine Emperors had over the Church of Constantinople or Eastern Christian Church from the 330 consecration of Constantinople through the tenth century.[2][3] The Byzantine Emperor would typically protect the Eastern Church and manage its administration by presiding over Ecumenical Councils and appointing Patriarchs and setting territorial boundaries for their jurisdiction.[4] The Emperor, whose control was so strong that "Caesaropapism" became interchangeable with "Byzantinism", was called "Pontifex Maximus" after the fourth century, and the Patriarch of Constantinople could not hold office if he did not have the Emperor's approval.[5] Eastern men like St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople[4] and St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, strongly opposed imperial control over the Church, as did Western theologians like St. Hilary and Hosius, Bishop of Córdoba.[6] Such Emperors as Basiliscus, Zeno, Justinian I, Heraclius, and Constans II published several strictly ecclesiastical edicts either on their own without the mediation of church councils, or they exercised their own political influence on the councils to issue the edicts.[7]

Caesaropapism was most notorious in the Tsardom of Russia when Ivan IV the Terrible assumed the title Czar in 1547 and subordinated the Russian Orthodox Church to the state.[8] This level of caesaropapism far exceeded that of the Byzantine Empire.[9] Caesaropapism in Russia was taken to a new level in 1721, when Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate and formally made the church a department of his government formally known as the beginning of the Russian Empire.

Caesaropapism existed in the Eastern Orthodox Church in Turkey until 1923 and in Cyprus until 1977, when Archbishop Makarios III died.[10] However, in no way is caesaropapism a part of Orthodox dogma. The historical reality, as opposed to doctrinal endorsement or dogmatic definition, of caesaropapism stems from, according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the confusion of the Byzantine Empire with the Kingdom of God and the zeal of the Byzantines "to establish here on earth a living icon of God's government in heaven."[11]

Caesaropapism in the Western Church

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy combines Western and Byzantine elements.

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the papacy from 537 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii (liaisons from the pope to the emperor) or the inhabitants of Byzantine Greece, Byzantine Syria, or Byzantine Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Extended use

Passional Christi und Antichristi, by the Lutheran Lucas Cranach the Elder. This woodcut of the traditional practice, that had developed over time, of kissing the Pope's foot is from Passionary of the Christ and Antichrist. The two fingers the Pope is holding up is the traditional sign of blessing given in the Catholic Church.

The term is just as applicable to similar reports between secular and religious power when the titles of one or both office holders are different, and even at a smaller scale than the universal Church, and is even used when the control is less than total. Thus the French kings are a good example of a non-imperial Catholic monarchy that was rather successful in getting a great say in the French Catholic Church (such as commendatory prelatures) and getting access to significant income from the Church's property; during and around the 'Babylonian Exile' of the papacy in Avignon they even had a heavy hand in the papacy as such; and aspects of Gallicanism reflect the desire to give even the liturgy (even when Latin was the only language for liturgical ritual in the Latin Rite) a distinctive French flavour.

After the introduction of Protestantism, the immense fermentation caused by the introduction of socially subversive principles into the life of a people would exhaust its revolutionary beginnings, and result in a new form of social and religious order - the residue of the great Protestant upheaval in Europe was territorial or State Religion, based on the religious supremacy of the temporal ruler, in contradistinction to the old order in which the temporal ruler took an oath of obedience to the Catholic Church. Martin Luther's first reformatory attempts were radically democratic. He sought to benefit the people at large by curtailing the powers of both Church and State. The German princes, to him, were "usually the biggest fools or the worst scoundrels on earth". In 1523 he wrote: "The people will not, cannot, shall not endure your tyranny and oppression any longer. The world is not now what it was formerly, when you could chase and drive the people like game". This manifesto, addressed to the poorer masses, was taken up by Franz von Sickingen, a Knight of the Empire, who entered the field in execution of its threats. His object was twofold: to strengthen the political power of the knights — the inferior nobility — against the princes, and to open the road to the new Gospel by overthrowing the bishops, but his enterprise had the opposite result: the knights were beaten, lost what influence they had possessed, and the princes were proportionately strengthened. The rising of the peasants likewise turned to the advantage of the princes: the fearful slaughter of Frankenhausen (1525) left the princes without an enemy and the new Gospel without its natural defenders. The victorious princes used their augmented power entirely for their own advantage in opposition to the authority of the emperor and the freedom of the nation.

Caesaropapism was also established in England in the sixteenth century when Henry VIII established himself as head of the Church of England. Queen Elizabeth I expanded the role and power of the British monarch over the Church. The British monarch continues to rule over the Church of England, the Anglican Church, to the present day. However, this "rule" is now delegated to the General Synod of the Church of England, relegating the Crown to a ceremonial role, in much the same way political powers of that Throne are actually exercised by Parliament and the ministries of Parliament.[citation needed]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Max Weber, Economy and Society, cited by Richard Swedberg, Ola Agevall (2005), The Max Weber Dictionary: Key Words and Central Concepts, Stanford University Press, p. 22.
  2. ^ Cross, F.L.; Livingstone, E.A. (1983), Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 218 
  3. ^ Douglas, J.D. (1978), The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (revised ed.), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, pp. 173 
  4. ^ a b Encyclopedia Britannica, II, 1985, pp. 718–719 
  5. ^ Latourette, Kenneth Scott (1975), A History of Christianity to A.D. 1500, I (revised ed.), San Francisco: Harper & Row, pp. 283; 312 
  6. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1956), The Making of Europe (2nd ed.), New York: Meridian Books, pp. 109–110 
  7. ^ Schaff, Philip (1974), History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, II (5th ed.), Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 135 
  8. ^ Bainton, Roland H. (1966), Christendom: A Short History of Christianity, I, New York: Harper & Row, pp. 119 
  9. ^ Billington, James H. (1966), The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, New York: Random House, pp. 67 
  10. ^ Ware, Timothy (1980), The Orthodox Church (revised ed.), New York: Penguin Books, pp. 98 
  11. ^ Ware, Timothy (1980), The Orthodox Church (revised ed.), New York: Penguin Books, pp. 50 

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