(Latin laicus, lay).
The term laity signifies the aggregation of those Christians who do not form part of the clergy. Consequently the word lay does not strictly connote any idea of hostility towards the clergy or the Church much less towards religion. Laicization, therefore, considered etymologically, simply means the reducing of persons or things having an ecclesiastical character to a lay condition. But in recent times, especially in France, the word lay has assumed a decidedly anti-clerical and even anti-religious meaning, which has extended also to the derivatives laicize and laicization. This change seems to have originated in the struggles and controversies, at once religious and political, that have arisen in that country in connection with the educational question; teachers belonging to religious congregations (congréganistes) have been driven from the public schools; all religious instruction has been forbidden therein, and this new lay character (laïcité) of the public school has been declared to be essential and inviolable. The expression, once current, has received a formidable extension and an aggressive anti-religious meaning applied to everything relating, whether more or less remotely, to the Catholic Church and even to religion in general. So it is usual to designate as "laicized" any institution withdrawn from the influence of ecclesiastical or religious authority, or from which the priest and his ministry have been excluded. A "lay" school, therefore, is one in which, not only is no place found for the catechism or the priest, but wherein the instruction given ignores all religion and God himself; "lay" legislation is that which is inspired by no religious idea, which looks on society as atheistic, and reduces religious worship to the purely voluntary acts of individuals; finally, the "lay" State, or Government, is one that recognizes no Church, no religion, and which excludes even the name of God from all its institutions or establishments, and from all its acts. An attempt has been made to set up a "lay" morality, i.e. a moral code independent of all revealed religion, as if Christian morality were aught else than the dictates of natural law; while some think they can establish a rationalistic morality without religion and without a Deity, without a future life, and with no real responsibility—a determinist morality which is the very negative of all morality. (See ETHICS.)
To laicize, then, is to give this lay character to whatever had not previously had it—or, at least, not entirely. It is to exclude religion from entering in any manner into the life of society as such. In this way education, the courts of justice, the army, the navy, the hospitals — in a word all activities under the control of the public authorities have been laicized in France. Laicization is the externalization and product of the rationalistic, anti-Catholic, and anti-religious movement. It is evident, therefore, that laicization thus understood, goes far beyond "equality", by which the State recognizes equal rights as possessed by various confessions or religions; it is much more than "neutrality", the attitude adopted by the state in its dealings with the divers confessions to which its citizens belong; it is something quite different from "separation", by which the concordats existing between the two powers are dissolved, and the official character of the Church, as hitherto recognized by the State, abolished. In addition to all this, the "laicization" of which we are speaking implies the negation of all religion in matters concerning temporal society; it is the ultimate outcome of absolute Rationalism applied to social life as such.
Looked at historically, laicization is the final outcome of what was formerly called "secularization", i.e., the hostile action of the secular power, which has successively despoiled the Church of the prerogatives she enjoyed in European society as moulded by the influence of Christianity for centuries. It is true that all the European nations have not moved with equal rapidity in this matter, and that they are far from having all arrived at the same point in their evolution towards complete secularization. Moreover, it must be recognized that this movement, hastened, in so far as concerns the Catholic religion, by the Reformation, has been retarded and partially eliminated in non-Catholic countries—where the civil power already possesses more or less complete influence, if not authority, over religion — whilst in Catholic countries it is in presence of an independent religious authority which it even accuses at times of being foreign. But if we abstract from local differences, the main lines of this secularizing movement, as yet incomplete, are clearly all the nations of the Christian world. It is advancing towards two not disconnected results: first, it is marking off more and more distinctly the spheres of action of the two powers, "the spiritual and the temporal", as the Gallicans formerly said; secondly, the secular power, while it frees itself from the influence of the spiritual power, confines the latter to a purely religious domain, depriving it gradually of the privileges it enjoyed in the Christian societies of the Middle Ages.
It is not the object of this article to give the history of secularization, which rather belongs to the history of each country where it has been attempted or effected. This is only a cursory review, pointing out in their chronological order the various stages and the divers aspects of the movement. If at first we consider the privileged situation of the Church in the Roman empire, and the intimate union of the two powers occasionally confused, we must admit that the Church, though greatly favored, was in real danger of secularization, owing to the excessive power which the imperial authority arrogated to itself in religious affairs. The Church received from the emperors, not only considerable endowments, but numerous privileges: she acquired an official position such as had been held by the ancient pagan religion. The Theodosian Code and, still more, that of Justinian are impregnated with Christianity: the bishops are official personages and the emperor executes ecclesiastical decisions. Yet it is clear that he controls the Church. He is no longer the pontifex maximus, but he assumes the title "Bishop of the Exterior", convokes councils, makes and unmakes bishops, and legislates in ecclesiastical and even spiritual matters. Under these circumstances, the only peril for the Church lay in too close a dependence on the civil authorities — a misfortune that happened to the Byzantine Church after the schism. On a few occasions she did suffer some violence — e.g. certain attacks on the popes, and the laicization of the monasteries by Constantine Copronymus (767).
The situation of the Church in the Western kingdoms that rose on the ruins of the empire was different. The two authorities are still closely united, but the power of the king is less, while the Church is the civilizing element, and represents the tradition of government. As a natural result, her influence preponderates; she receives considerable gifts from kings and from the faithful; her privileges and exemptions are constantly extended. Thus, when the feudal order came into being, many ecclesiastical dignitaries were in possession of extensive rights, and some were veritable temporal lords. However, the kings always had influence, and even real power, over the Churches in their realms: they took part in the selection of bishops when they did not elect them; they called the bishops together in councils or mixed assemblies; they authorized and confirmed disciplinary canons, which they afterwards published as state or capitular laws; but they did not interfere with the purely spiritual power. In such a state of affairs the Church had not to fear any hostile civil legislation; yet she had to submit to a certain amount of usurpation on the part of the royal power, particularly in connection with episcopal elections and church property. The institution of the precaria, by which princes bestowed on their lay servants, especially their fellow-warriors, the revenues of churches and monasteries, was really a secularization of the goods of the Church. The abuse had existed in the sixth century, but it developed to an alarming extent under Charles Martel (716-41), who adopted the system to reward his soldiers (see CHARLES MARTEL; FRANKS). The precaria officially left the Church her property, but the dominium utile, or benefit, of it was transferred at the request, or prayer, of the king (preces, hence precaria), which was equivalent to a command, to the layman whom he wished to recompense. The dominium utile thus acquired was apt to pass to the heirs of the person who acquired it.
Under Pepin and Carloman, sons of Charles Martel, the Frankish councils, especially that of Lestines (also called Liftines and Leptines), in 743, corrected the abuse to a certain extent (Hefele, "Hist. des conciles", III, 342 sq.). Canon ii, owing to the circumstances of the times, does not abolish the precaria, but it reserves to the Church a tax of a silver penny per hearth (casata); on the death of the beneficiary the property returns to the Church, though the prince may bestow it again. In this way the Church's right of property was safeguarded against indefinite transmission, and at the same time she enjoyed some portion of the revenues accruing from her property. Although less common, the practice continued for a long time, gradually changing into the system of "commendations". The latter, though differing juridically from the precaria, had the same effect so far as the property of the Church is concerned: the revenues, diverted from their proper purpose, were received by laymen named by the king. This abuse spread extensively in the ninth century, especially under Emperor Lothair, and we find reforming councils of the Frankish Empire, particularly that of Meaux (845), striving to end it. ln the tenth century, when the papacy had grown weak and was unable to counterbalance the civil power, the dignities and property of the Church were invaded by the creatures of kings and emperors: the Othos and their successors made the popes and, at times, the antipopes; they invested the dignitaries with crosier and ring, symbols of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Such secularization would soon have proved fatal to the necessary independence of the spiritual power. The liberation of the Church from secular control was accomplished by Gregory VII. After long years of struggle, the separation of the two powers grew more marked; the dispute about investitures was ended by the Concordat of Worms (1122); lay influence was eliminated from the elections of popes and bishops, from ecclesiastical trials, synods and, to a large extent, from the administration of church property; and under the great popes who succeeded Gregory VII it seemed for a while as if the ideal of the Christian world was realized, the Catholic nations forming one family under the high suzerainty of the pope, the representative of God upon earth, among nations and individuals.
This was the apogee: the movement towards secularization began forthwith. In the twelfth century, under the influence of Irnerius, the school of Bologna witnessed a revival of the Roman Law; the laws of the Caesars became the basis of the claims of the secular power; and, while the canonists, finally systematizing the ecclesiastical laws, were establishing the thesis of pontifical power, indirect or even direct, over empires and kingdoms (the Bull "Unam sanctam"), the imperial and royal jurisconsults were building up the opposite thesis, and claiming for secular princes entire independence in temporal matters, authority in ecclesiastical matters not strictly spiritual, and eventually a Divine origin for their power. In the opinion of these jurisconsults ecclesiastical privileges and immunities were graceful concessions of the civil authorities, who could, consequently, withdraw them. From that time laicization had begun, thenceforward carried into effect, not by expedients or by violence, but on principle; it was a battle of systems, in which the secular power, becoming more and more centralized and conscious of its strength, was destined always to prevail.
The struggle which, as before, centres around the temporal goods of the Church, begins with Philippe le Bel (1285-1314) and Boniface VIII. The king imposed taxes on church property; after having resisted as a matter of principle, the pope authorized their imposition, provided it was done with his consent. In this way the canonical immunity of ecclesiastical property was violated. Later it was the jurisdiction of the Church in mixed matters which yielded little by little to that of the royal courts: these adjudicated, not only in questions arising out of marriage — e.g. inheritances, legitimacy of children, adultery but also in most cases relating immediately to matrimony or benefices, whether presenting questions of fact or involving bare right of possession; further, the system of appealing against so-called abuse of ecclesiastical power (appel comme d'abus) permitted almost all ecclesiastical acts to be brought, if the State so chose, under the cognizance of the royal judges. Papal Bulls and decrees of councils were recognized only after examination and in virtue of royal authorization; moreover, they had to be ratified in order to obtain the force of laws. In regard to benefices, the pontifical laws were openly resisted; the royal prerogative of nomination to vacant benefices was exercised, and the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, under Charles VII (1438), applying in France the quasi-schismatical principles of Basle, refused to acknowledge the papal right of reservation and forbade direct appeals to Rome. If the principle of spiritual jurisdiction was safeguarded by the Concordat of 1516 between Leo X and Francis I, this agreement, nevertheless, abandoned to the civil power all control of the temporal possessions of the Church. The clergy of France came to depend more on the king than on the pope: Louis XIII forbade the holding of ecclesiastical assemblies and councils without royal permission; Louis XIV put into practice the most advanced principles of Gallicanism, and regulated the affairs of the Church almost as if he were a Justinian; his parliamentary courts, his grand conseil adjudicated in all ecclesiastical affairs, except questions of dogma and purely spiritual matters. In a word, while the Church was treated with favor and enjoyed numerous privileges, it was only by reason of her yielding to the State all authority in temporal or mixed affairs.
Other Catholic countries followed in the same path. The extreme limits of this encroachment of Secular power was reached by the minute ecclesiastical regulations of Joseph II of Austria. In other countries the Reformation greatly advanced the policy of secularization. The privileged situation of the Church in the matter of temporal property had been weakened by the errors of John Hus and Wyclif, and the troubles resulting therefrom. Soon the leaders of the Reformation placed themselves under the protection of the princes and gave them with the property of the Church, an almost absolute authority over the new religious bodies. In many German principalities, in England, and in the countries of Northern Europe, the Church disappeared, her goods were confiscated, pillaged, or else transferred to the new religious organizations. It suffices to recall the secularizations of the Teutonic Knights and their property and then, in England, the confiscation of the monasteries and churches under Henry VIII and his successors. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction was also secularized and taken over by the kings and the civil courts, or at most left in some small degree with the clergy, who were entirely dependent on the civil power. A little more, and the two powers would have blended into one.
To return to the Catholic Church, the most complete secularization was that effected by the French Revolution; if the movement seemed at first to be to the advantage of the "constitutional church", a creation of the civil power, and afterwards to that of a vaguely Deistic form of worship, it was to the profit of the sovereign State, freed from all religion, rationalistic if not atheistic. The facts are well known: church property was confiscated and sold; the clergy divided into "jurors", or "constitutionalists", and "non-jurors"—an absolute proscription of the Catholic religion. The functions confided for ages to the Church were again assumed by the State: schools, hospitals, registration of births, marriages, and deaths, marriage itself, and even worship—all was secularized. And when, after the storm, the Concordat of 1801 restored the Church to her official position, everything or almost everything remained secularized. The property that had been confiscated and sold was not returned to her; the places of worship left at her disposal still remained the property of the civil authorities; public teaching had become a function of the State, whose permission she had to obtain for her few schools; civil life and marriage were regulated independently of her, while awaiting the re-establishment of divorce; her tribunals were no longer acknowledged; the members of her hierarchy were officially recognized, but only as functionaries in strict accordance with the articles organiques—in spirit at least, a survival of the old regime; her former immunities were restricted and finally abolished.
Like the other developments of the Revolution, the policy of secularization was imitated by the different States in varying degrees. The ecclesiastical principalities of the German Empire which had survived the Reformation were secularized at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the movement culminated in the suppression of the Papal States, swallowed up in the new Kingdom of Italy. Ecclesiastical property, especially that of the monasteries, already encroached upon by partial secularization in the eighteenth century, was confiscated in Spain (1820, 1835, and 1837), in Portugal (1833), in Mexico (1856), and, for the most part, in Italy (1866). Almost everywhere the ecclesiastical immunities (see IMMUNITY) disappeared, legislation became purely secular, civil marriage was established, and the Church, except in the case of Divine worship, excluded from public service, or participating in it only by the favor of the sovereign State.
In this brief exposé it has not been intended to generalize to any great extent. The situation is not the same in all countries; it is only in France that official secularization and laicization have been carried to the extreme limits. On the other hand, we are far from overlooking those deeply rooted general causes of the transformation of modern society which have rendered inevitable a certain amount of secularization. There is no longer unity of faith: various confessions have multiplied and mingled in the same country; temporal interests have assumed a preponderating importance in the life of each state; ideas of religious toleration and liberty have spread and are accepted everywhere. In a word, the ideal harmony between the two powers is no longer capable of realization. Moreover, this marked separation of the two authorities is not without certain advantages for the Church. But while all this must be recognized, it remains true that laicization pushed to extreme limits is contrary to Catholic teaching, and therefore must be condemned; moreover, it is injurious to the real interests of temporal society. To understand the position of the Church in this matter, we must first make allowance for her just protests against violation of her acquired rights. Theoretically, the Church can and does submit to secularization that does not affect her rights as a spiritual society or interfere with the exercise of these rights in concrete social conditions, the demands made upon her naturally varying according to time and place. However, she must condemn any measures that affect her essential rights and the freedom necessary for the exercise of her sacred ministry. No principle can justify in a society composed of Christians the exclusion of every Christian idea, nor in any human society the exclusion of all religion and of the Deity. The Catholic doctrine on the juridical relations of the Church and the State is explained elsewhere (see Pius IX, "Syllabus", props. 39 sq., 77 sq.). But the most superficial attention to the influence of religion, especially of the Catholic religion, on the moral life suffices to show the absurdity and danger of laicization, even when this is not identical with legalized persecution of the religious idea.
(See also STATE. For the present progress of laicization in France, see FRANCE, VI, 179 sqq. For the facts relating to the history of the different countries, see ENGLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY, etc. Also CONFLICT OF INVESTITURES, GALLICANISM, LOUIS XIV, etc.)
The principal facts may be found in SAGMULLER, Kirchenrecht (Freiburg, 1909), 14, 173 sq., containing a full bibliography. On the question of ecclesiastical rights, see CAVAGNIS, Institutiones juris publici ecclesiastici, I (Rome, 1906), WEBER in Kirchenlexikon, s.v. Sacularisation der Kirchenguter (for Germany).
APA citation. (1910). Laicization. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08744a.htm
MLA citation. "Laicization." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08744a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.