The bible teaches that we should submit to our governments in:

Romans 13:1-2 (KJV)

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (KJV)

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme ; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

Examples of this submission can be found in stories of Peter and Paul (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:18-20; Titus 2:9-11)

The Catholic church considers the Pope to be the Vicar of Christ

The traditional assertion of Catholics in this matter is that each pope has the totality and supremacy of the power Christ left on earth for the building up of the kingdom of God. The pope is said to have the plenitudo potestatis, or fullness of power. His authority, direct from Christ after the manner of a vicar, extends equally directly to each man, woman and child committed to his care, namely all men. This fact of papal primacy has been denied on numerous occasions, but chiefly in five great eras of the Church's history.

Furthermore, there is the papal infallibility which further illustrates the power of the pope. Which is biblically backed as he is "the next Peter" in Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:31-32, John 21:15-17

It should be observed in conclusion that papal infallibility is a personal and incommunicable charisma, which is not shared by any pontifical tribunal. It was promised directly to Peter, and to each of Peter's successors in the primacy, but not as a prerogative the exercise of which could be delegated to others. Hence doctrinal decisions or instructions issued by the Roman congregations, even when approved by the pope in the ordinary way, have no claim to be considered infallible. To be infallible they must be issued by the pope himself in his own name according to the conditions already mentioned as requisite for ex cathedra teaching.

Do the papal teachings supersede government rules where they conflict? Is there an historic precedence of either?

On the surface, it would be easy to say, "the Pope is the Vicars, he rules". But we must consider that historically the pope (the person, not the title) hasn't always been a good representation for the church, either because the wrong person was chosen or another reason. Which is why I'm looking for an historic precedence.

  • By "papal teachings" do you mean only infallible declarations of doctrine by a pope, or any statement at all by a pope? Aug 22, 2014 at 14:37
  • If a Catholic would consider any statement by the pope as authoritative, then they are included. Aug 22, 2014 at 14:39
  • The only statements which must be considered universally binding on the whole Church are those which are specifically recognized as infallible statements; and those are about doctrine, not about practice. I don't see how they could be interfering with a statement by the government. Aug 22, 2014 at 14:43
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    Just so that the comments get out of hand, I've created a chat room for further clarification of the question and will modify this question as agreed in chat. Aug 22, 2014 at 14:47

2 Answers 2


I believe this ending conclusion and summary - Thus, even if public authority commanded that every religious institution perform same-sex marriages, if the Church believed that such a command contravened the will of God, it would refuse to do so. - in MattGutting's answer to Homosexual marriages in the Catholic church sums it up well.

The Lord Jesus himself said to us to, '[r]ender to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.' He paid his taxes and recognized the authority of Pilate as have been given to him [Pilate] from above.

We also respect and obey all our lawful superiors as commanded by the fourth commandment.

cf. Penny Catechism, 198
198. Are we commanded to obey our parents only?
We are commanded to obey, not only our parents, but also our bishops and pastors, the civil authorities, and our lawful superiors.

I believe the difficulty the question seems to present is easily resolved by an understanding of what is the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals that Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with. [cf. CCC 888-892]. Key words: faith and morals i.e. to what the infallibility covers and is limited to.

Below is a good example to illustrate what is and is not covered by the infallibility of the Church's shepherds:

The Mother of the future Cardinal recounted also that on another occasion, whist she was explaining to him the meaning of papal infallibility, she decided to test him. Taking a book bound in black in her hand, she asked him: “Rafael, if the Pope said that this book is bound in white, what would you say about that?” The little boy, after a moment’s reflection replied: “Mother, the Pope would not be able to say such nonsense,” showing – by his reply – the acuteness of his most refined intelligence. - If Pope says black is white, that's it, right? - a very special young man knew better than that | Rorate Cæli.

Do the papal teachings supersede government rules where they conflict? Is there an historic precedence of either?

This is playing out right before our eyes and not only between Church and State e.g. HHS Mandate, Homosexual unions and 'marriages', abortion, stem-cell research, contraception, euthanasia, etc. but also within the Church herself with e.g. Card. Kasper's proposal.

The trial for the Christian arises whenever Caesar sets himself up as god, an idol really, demanding things that ought to be rendered to God be rendered to him [Caesar].

  • @TheFreemason I am grateful that you found my answer useful and accepted it.
    – user13992
    Sep 12, 2014 at 19:38

Mark 12:17, draws a clear distinction, with government (Caesar) to be obeyed on matters of concern to the government and God to be obeyed on matters of religion (at this point there is no suggestion that the Church itself is to be obeyed on behalf of God):

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.

In Unam Sanctam, his Bull of 1302, Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed absolute temporal and spiritual sovereignity for the Church and the Roman pontiff:

.4. We are instructed in the Gospel sayings that in Her and within Her power, there are two swords, specifically, the spiritual and the temporal. For the Apostles say, "Behold, there are two swords here," that is, in the Church. But when the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not respond, "it is too much," but "it is sufficient." [Luke 22:38] Certainly, whoever denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter, misunderstands the word of the Lord, saying: "Put your sword into its sheath." [Matthew 26:52] Therefore, both are in the power of the Church, namely, the spiritual sword and the material. But indeed, the latter is to be exercised on behalf of the Church; and truly, the former is to be exercised by the Church. The former is of the priest; the latter is by the hand of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

.9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.

A few years later, under pressure from Philip IV of France, Pope Clement V withdrew Unam Sanctam.

The development of democracy, in modern times, makes papal claims to supremacy over the authority of government impossible to sustain. As for governemts having authority over the Church, the Catholic Church at one time refused to allow clergy to be tried for criminal offences by the secular authorities, but that is no longer the case almost anywhere. A similar example is the secular requirement that binds Church leaders to report to the legal authorities any suspected cases of paedophilia perpetrated by clergy, brothers or lay teachers.

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