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Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 3

December 28, 2006

Final part in a three-part series

(Read Part One here).

(Read Part Two here).

The Church, however, was distinct from Christendom; as mistress and teacher she could not be identified with that body which it was her duty to instruct, to guide, and to control. Considered even as the sum total of baptised persons, she must not be confused with Christendom; for membership of Christ’s mystical Body and membership of a temporal institution have different ends. The Church and Christendom are two Christian societies in close alliance; but the purpose of one is to secure its members in possession of eternal life, and of the other to help them towards the attainment of an earthly goal. As a member of Holy Church, the Christian is subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction; but as a unit of Christendom, he is ruled by secular authority.

The distinction is clear-cut, and was universally recognized. It is apparent, for example, in the phrase ‘Christian people, kings and clergy’; though confusion was always possible-and sometimes tempting. The Church may not be identical with Christendom, but she it is who furnishes those principles upon which Christendom is based. Do away with the Church, and Christendom is no longer conceivable. Moreover, if the ultimate goal of temporal society is supernatural, that society could not be independent of the Church which guards the supernatural treasury. ‘Christendom’ says Jean Rupp, ‘is not the Church considered as a hierarchy, but it owes its very being to the Church’; and therein lies the root of all those troubles to which the period was prey.

We shall discover a tendency to confuse ‘Christendom’ with ‘the Church.’ Instead of allowing each to operate in its respective sphere, human interests came to regard them as synonymous. In their anxiety to strengthen the force of Christian principles and to impose the Christian order upon men, churchmen too frequently stepped down from the spiritual to the temporal plane. The fundamental distinction between the City of God and the City of the World was more or less forgotten; it was believed, or pretended, or at any rate devoutly hoped, that ecclesiastical interference in the secular domain would bring about on earth a foretaste of celestial order, a ‘theocratic Utopia’ as Maritain has described it.

Utopia indeed; for the dream, splendid as it may have been, could not come true, and there was a rude awakening. The Kingdom of God is not of this world, the stain of sin mars all man’s endevour here below. But the fact remains, so lofty a conception raised whole generations above themselves, deepened the significance of Christian life, and left behind imperishable monuments. Can that be rightly called a dream which wrought so much? Are the great achievements of mankind aught but Utopias realized by determination, sacrifice, and faith?

Excerpted from Cathedral and Crusade by Henri Daniel-Rops, Image Books, 1957

Related Posts:
Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 1
Daniel-Rops on the origin of Christendom, Part 2


From → Books, On Christendom

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