Did any Catholic theologians think the State ever has the right to correct the Church in theological matters?

For example, when Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334) denied the then-material (i.e., not-yet-infallibly-defined) dogma that the souls of the deceased destined to heaven behold the Beatific Vision immediately after death, he had

the gravest responsibilities before the tribunal of history [since] he offered the entire Church the humiliating spectacle of the princes [French King Philip the Fair, Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian, Philip VI of Valois], clergy [cardinals] and universities [Chancellor Jean Gerson of U. of Paris's theology college, the Sorbonne] steering the Pontiff onto the right path of Catholic theological tradition, and placed himself in the very difficult situation of having to contradict himself.
—Cdl. Alfredo Idelfonso Schuster, O.S.B., Gesù Cristo nella Storia della Chiesa (Benedictina Editrice, Rome 1996), 116–17, quoted in De Mattei, Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church

cf. "When did a 'formal act of correction' of a pope's statement happen in the past?"

  • Super interesting question! Prior to any research, my immediate thought is to say "no" :) but that's just my opinion. Depends what theological matter it is. If it has been infallibly defined by the magisterium, then definitely not!
    – Luke Hill
    Dec 7, 2021 at 4:12

2 Answers 2


Using the OP definition of Church to mean the "One Catholic Church", then we might look at history to see if the State was ever used to enforce a certain belief of the "One Catholic Church" over and against other parts of the One Church.

One of the earliest issues that shows this authority as a right of the State was about how to observe the death, burial, resurrection of Christ. We know this as the Easter Controversy. It has led to questions over the centuries like was Christ crucified on the 14th or 15th of Nisan?

This controversy had continued from about the time of "Pope" Sixtus I circa 120 AD to the first Council at Nicea in 325 AD. The Church at Rome (or per the OP, the "One Catholic Church" basically enlisted Constantine (the State) to enforce its timing against what the Church at Asia Minor taught. Constantine was the guarantee of acquiescence.

and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South, and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable, it has appeared good to all; and I [Constantine] have been guarantee for your consent [Asia Minor], that you would accept it with joy, as it is followed at Rome, in Africa, in all Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, in all Achaia, and in the dioceses of Asia, of Pontus, and Cilicia. Eusebius, Church History

Was Constantine a theologian? No, but as emperor he did want peace throughout his kingdom. His subjects were subject to him.

So, to answer the OP question did the State have the right to correct the Church in theological matters, yes it did have the right given to it by the "One Catholic Church" and it did at that time.

To add, there is not a sense in modern times that the State in free countries has the same right. The exercise of religion is a guarantee of Law in America, which I suppose, is a bit ironic. It is the State guaranteeing freedom.

  • "depends on the OP definition of Church" I'm asking for a Catholic perspective. The Catholic Church isn't a "denomination"; it's the one Church Christ founded.
    – Geremia
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:28
  • "So, to answer the OP question did the State have the right to correct the Church in theological matters, yes it did have the right and it did." Can you cite any Catholic theologians who make this assertion?
    – Geremia
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:30
  • 1
    @Geremia no problem, the answer would be about the same, but rather than calling it as was known then "Church at Rome" (see Clement for example), I'll just call it the Catholic Church as it came to be called.
    – SLM
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Geremia the State had the right imputed to it to enforce the Catholic Church's observance of Easter. It then used it with Constantine as the guarantee. If you question this, looking for a comment from a Catholic theologian, perhaps you could instead show something like the State did not enforce the Catholic point of view.
    – SLM
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:40

No, according to Pope Gelasius I in his 494 A.D. letter to Emperor Anastasius on the superiority of the spiritual over temporal power, Duo sunt (Latin, English):

There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.

You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these [religious] matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will.

Duo sunt quippe, imperator auguste, quibus principaliter mundus hic regitur, auctoritas sacrata pontificium et regalis potestas, in quibus tanto gravius pondus est sacerdotum, quanto etiam pro ipsis regibus hominum in divino reddituri sunt examine rationem.

Nosti etenim, fili clementissime, quoniam licet præsideas humano generi dignitate, rerum tamen præsulibus divinarum devotus colla submittis atque ab eis causas tuæ salutis expetis, inque sumendis cælestibus sacramentis eisque, ut competit, disponendis subdi te debere cognoscis religionis ordine potius quam præesse. Nosti itaque inter hæc ex illorum te pendere iudicio, non illos ad tuam velle redigi voluntatem.

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