“Although the term 'secularism,' both in the past and in the present, refers first and foremost to the reality of the State and not infrequently assumes forms that run counter to the Church and Christianity,” the archbishop noted, “it would not exist at all were it not for Christianity.”
“In fact, without the Gospel of Christ the history of humankind would not have known the fundamental distinction between what man owes to God and what he owes to Caesar; in other words, to civil society.”
Speaking on the historical underpinnings of the break between the Church and secularism, the archbishop explained that in the Middle Ages, “sovereigns who sought to avoid being subject to the Pope did not for this reason consider themselves as being outside the Church. At most they wanted to play a role in controlling and organizing the Church, but they had no desire to separate themselves from her or exclude her from society.”
“It was with the Enlightenment, and in a particularly dramatic way during the French revolution, that the term 'secularism' came to designate quite the opposite: complete alterity, a net opposition between civil life, and religious and ecclesial life,” he clarified.
“Although secularism today is not infrequently invoked and used to hinder the life and activity of the Church,” said the Vatican official, “in its profound and positive sense it would never even have existed without Christianity.”
“The same is true for other values which today are considered as typical of modernity and often invoked to criticism the Church, or religion in general, such as respect for the dignity of the person, the right to freedom, equality, etc.,” he observed. “These are to a large extent the fruit of the profound influence of the Gospel in various cultures, though later they were separated and even set in conflict with their Christian origins.”