The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/The relation of Church and State

The relation of Church and State

By the Rev. Francis W. Jedlička, Vicepresident, National Alliance of Bohemian Catholics.

During the long years of the greatest war of the ages the dominating question in the minds of the majority of men was to crush the tyrannical and autocratic powers and peoples who usurped the right to destroy and subjugate the nations of the world and eliminate all principles of true democracy in all lines of human endeavor. The hectic struggle began in 1914, and gradually, with the rapidity of a devouring conflagration, it spread practically over all the countries of the world, so that it really be came a struggle for national existence of those nations that allied themselves in a common cause of righteous principles against an inimical array of nations bent upon ruling the world by a long previous preparation of brute force. The unhappy struggle began, and fortunately, thanks to the Almighty, is ended with a complete victory of the true principles of just democracy.

However, the great war has left upon the minds of the people a scar of evil. Brute force to be conquered had to be met by like methods. Nations that have quietly pursued their religious, social, political, educational and commercial interest previously to the great war were compelled to abandon them and were thrown into a murderous conflict with a system of Germanic militarism to safeguard their lives, wealth and national integrity. Thrown from their peaceful pursuits into the throes of war, seeing millions of human beings killed and wounded, seeing cities destroyed, women and children maltreated, witnessing whole sale rapine and murder, these millions of human beings forgot their peaceful pursuits, their homes and their better nature and were swayed by the evil effects brought on by long and cruel wars. In one respect the religious inclinations of the war-afflicted peoples create a situation well worth one’s attention and study. This article is limited to a brief study of after-war religious conditions in the newest of the worlds republics, that of Czechoslovakia.

The Czechs, Mravians and Silesians and all other nationalities of the Kingdom of Bohemia as it existed under the Austro-Hungarian government, as well as the Slovaks of Hungary, are confronted as a result of the war with the question of separation of Church and State. It must be admitted by thinking men that the effect of this change will have a tremendous influence upon the religious inclinations of the people involved. The importance of stabilizing religion in the new Czecho-Slovak Republic is attracting the attention of all the civilized nations, where this question, recognized as most important for the tranquillity of national life, does not require any radical change from its pre-war status.

How will the Czechoslovaks in their newly gained independence respect the rights of individuals to religious freedom? This and similar questions have been asked of political representatives of the new nation long before the independence of Czechoslovakia had been recognized by the principal allied nations. The answers given have shown that the men who guided the fortunes of the newly forming republic have had not only political welfare of the nation at heart, but also realized that the delicate question must be given proper and due attention. They realized that the mind of the world must be satisfied on this point, if the Czechoslovaks are to be considered as a nation truly matured for self-government. A retrospective view into the history of religion in the former Kingdom of Bohemia, proves conclusively in this particular instance as it always did in the past, that religion has been the cause of more national strife and international conflicts, than perhaps any other known existing cause.

The ninth century witnessed the introduction of Christianity into Bohemia and Moravia by the great and saintly apostles of the Slavs, St. Cyrill and Methodius, who showed heroic virtues in their evangelization of the Czechs. Slav rulers, the Bohemian duke Bořivoj, Moravian grand duke Svatopluk, Bořivoj's wife, saintly Ludmila, and most of their relations were baptized in the Catholic faith. Bořivoj's and Ludmila's grandson Václav, the sainted King of Bohemia, was a model of religious perfection to all of his people. Christianity spread over Bohemia rapidly, the people were deeply religious, although in the executive department of the church the Germanic influence, for which the Bohemians had ever in national affairs showed aversion and hostility, had perhaps somewhat a baneful influence upon the religious mind of the people. In the 13th and 14th centuries Bohemia had reached the zenith of its religious fervor and supremacy. Dark clouds of national and spiritual discontent began to threaten the peace and concord of the nation, when John Hus was condemned by the council of Constance for spreading the errors of Wyclif. The minds of the people were agitated. Controversies arose and the Germans used to great advantage the national strife of the Czechs; the Church suffered enormous losses and the baneful effect of this struggle lasted through centuries. However severe were perhaps the trials of the Catholic Church in Bohemia and notwithstanding the fact that Protestantism secured a foothold in the land after the Hussite wars, the majority of the Czechs remained true to the Catholic doctrines. They did not confound the pure teachings with the occasional unworthiness of those that taught. It can be truthfully stated that up to very recent years the Czechs remained true Catholics, whereas Protestantism was in a great minority as far as numbers were concerned. Owing to the unfortunate recent results of the union of the Church and State in Austria-Hungary, the Czechs inoculated with modern influence of materialistic teachings, began to forsake the Church, and although obliged to go through religious formalities, in what we may term a formally Catholic State, at heart they were not true and practical Catholics. The numerical strength of the Catholics in Bohemia is an artificial government calculation and does not correspond to the true state of affairs.

The religious state of affairs brought about by the conclusion of the war as reflected in Bohemia might be called chaotic. Great numbers of the Czechs with the possible exception of Moravia have defected from the practice of the faith and are at liberty to do in matters of religion as they wish. Will they adhere perhaps to the teachings of Huss and follow them practically? That is a problematical question. The field for missionary work in Czecho slovakia is open. No doubt the separation of State and Church is an assured fact in Czechoslovakia. The individual churches, whether Catholic or otherwise, will receive a practical support of their communicants, and religion will again be honored for its own sake and not through any rule or law of the State.

President Masaryk expressing his views on this vital question said again and again that absolute liberty of religion and conscience will be safeguarded in Czechoslovakia. His own words, addressed to the representatives of the National Alliance of Bohemian Catholics in the United States, which organization assisted according to its means to procure the downfall of the tyrannical Hapsburgs, said: “I am of the opinion that a plan for the adjustment of relations of Church and State will be worked out with the cooperation of the interested church officials. I assure you, that in so far as I can collaborate in the solution of this question I will see that it is done with due deliberation and without haste. The intention of this action is to remove the Austro-Hungarian abuse of religion by the State.”

It is to be sincerely hoped for the sake of the future glory of Czechoslovakia that the Czechoslovaks benefiting by their political maturity and universal intention to obtain political liberty after centuries of oppression, will after their dreams are realized show fully as much foresight and consideration in such an important factor as is the establishment of a true religious freedom, safeguarding thus the principles of Christianity and the idea of a true God.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.