Protestants Wouldn’t Fare Well under Integralism

Protestants Wouldn’t Fare Well under Integralism October 4, 2023

Catholics and Protestants have been at each other’s throats for centuries.  But lately they have been getting along.  Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants see conservative Catholics as allies in pro-life issues, the assault on sexual morality, the critique of transgenderism, and the common struggle against secularism.

Since Catholics have a long philosophical tradition–which evangelicals tend to lack–they are a good source for Protestants in their arguments and reflections on today’s issues.

Now that a strain of this Catholic philosophical tradition is advocating “integralism,” which calls for the state to be under the leadership of the church, some Protestants are getting on board with that, calling themselves “Protestant integralists.”

Talk of “Protestant integralists” is exceedingly naive.  That becomes clear in James Dominic Rooney’s review article The Utopian Philosophy of the Confessional State in Law & Liberty.  He is reviewing All the Kingdoms of the World: On Radical Religious Alternatives to Liberalism by Kevin Vallier, a philosophy professor and Eastern Orthodox Christian.  Vallier offers a fair reading of integralism, recognizing its continuity with historic Catholic teaching and noting the good parts about it.  But he ends up rejecting it because it is unfeasible, inherently unstable, and unjust.  The reviewer is a Catholic–a Dominican friar–who also rejects integralism, though with a different take than Vallier.

Rooney summarizes the three assumptions of integralism (my bolds):

  1. God directs the state to advance the natural common good of a community.
  2. God directs the church to advance the supernatural common good of all baptized persons in this community.
  3. To advance that supernatural common good, and only for this reason, the church may mandate state policies, backed by civil penalties, that directly advance that supernatural good, without excessively undermining either the natural or supernatural common good in some other respect.

What struck me is the notion that these “civil penalties” would be applied against such threats to the “supernatural good” as heretics.  That is to say, Protestants.  Also non-Christians and followers of other religions.  Here is what Rooney says about it [my bolds]:

To begin with the elephant in the room, there is an unaddressed worry about the place of non-Catholics within integralist states. Whereas Vallier has arguments against Islamic versions of these measures, he largely leaves these considerations aside in his case against Catholic integralists. This is a mistake. For non-Christians, the injustice of the integralist system is that it de jure involves limiting their participation in politics on equal footing with Catholics. No matter how nice integralists are, the ideal would limit non-Catholics’ political participation to ensure that the Church exercises effective influence over the affairs of state. Non-Catholics are thus always and necessarily second-class citizens in Integristan. Even if baptism rightly subjects a citizen to the Church’s coercive authority, merely living under a given civil government surely does not.

Remember how the old Protestant bigotry against Catholics included the fear that they wanted to do away with democracy, take over the country, and turn it over to the Pope?  And this was why so many Protestants, especially in the South, were leery about voting for John Fitzgerald Kennedy because he was a Catholic?  And how JFK forthrightly pledged to voters that he was under no marching orders from the Vatican and that he would not let his Catholicism interfere with what is best for the country?

That pledge and JFK’s presidency were probably turning points in evangelicals’ attitude towards Catholics.

But it sounds like the integralists want to do exactly what the bigots were afraid of.  Integralism sounds like a return to the bad old Catholicism.

To be sure, Reformed theology has a theocratic strain, which might come to some of the same conclusions as the integralists.  But confessional Lutheranism cannot.  Luther crusaded against the temporal authority of the pope and insisted that the church may not use coercive authority.  Rather, the secular authorities have the temporal authority, and God works through them to restrain evil in the course of their vocations.  Read the Treatise on the Power & Primacy of the Pope, in the Book of Concord, a confessionally binding document on all Lutherans.

I know, I know, the Lutheran state churches, a big mistake in my view as a violation of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms as borne out in the tyranny of the Prussian Union, which led to the emigrations that gave birth to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  But even in the Lutheran state churches, it wasn’t that the church exercised authority over the state–as in Catholic countries–but that the state exercised authority over the church.

At any rate, Protestants would not fare well under an integralist regime.  Fortunately, Catholics such as Rooney, whom I suspect represents the Catholic mainstream, don’t want such a regime either.



Photo:  The Pope’s Triple Crown [not used since John XXIII].  As described by the Holy See Press Office: “The Triregnum (the Papal Tiara formed by three crowns symbolizing the triple power of the Pope: father of kings, governor of the world and Vicar of Christ).”  By Dieter Philippi, The Philippi Collection, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Browse Our Archives