Student Question

How are the Church and the state of England entangled in Becket?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship of the Christian hierarchy to national governments had been a vexed issue since Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. The two polar extremes in this relationship are Caesaropapism, practiced in the Byzantine church, in which the Emperor convenes ecumenical councils and is the secular head of the church, and ultramontanism in which church power is independent of nation state and centred on the papacy (culminating in the declaration of Papal Infallability in the first Vatican Council of 1871). The Gallican movement in France and Anglican movement in Britain both tended towards moderate forms of the eastern tradition, in which monarch had responsibility for church temporalities. In this area, the church and state were intertwined, and much of the history of 12th - 16th century Britain involved the English kings attempting to disentangle the Roman church from matters considered internal to England.

The church controlled "temporalities", vast lands and wealth. Bishops sat on the House of Lords. Also, there was a legal question of whether issues concerning clergy were to be tried under common or canon law. Additionally, were the sins of the laity a church or state issue?  Were English people to be thought of as the "flock" of the Roman church or the subjects of the King? Since the Pope was the secular ruler of the Papal States, in what way was unconditional loyalty to the Pope treason to England?

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial