Skip to Content
Search Icon

Correlation, Not Contrariety: A Response to Russell Hittinger

On the meaning of "separation."

Urban Hannon’s writing has appeared in First Things, Ethika Politika, and other publications. He currently studies theology in Rome.

In two recent lectures, one delivered earlier this month in Rome, the other last week in Washington, Russell Hittinger has argued for the separation of the Church from all temporal powers. In both of these addresses, Hittinger sets out to prove that, when it comes to understanding the spiritual and temporal powers, “The term ‘separation’, rather than ‘integral’, is a first-order term.” To introduce the Church’s teaching on the proper relationship between Herself and earthly kingdoms, Hittinger says, “The word ‘integral’ is not fit to do this first bit of work.” Thus in contrast to us integralists, Hittinger declares of himself, “I’m a separationist.” At the Rome lecture, I challenged Hittinger during the Q&A about whether any of his arguments against “integration” really apply to integralism or integralists. For if all he means by separation is distinction—i.e. that the two powers must always be two powers, and not collapse into one in some sort of Hobbesian Leviathan—then integralists very much agree. In the Washington lecture a few weeks later, Hittinger stated explicitly that he would not be responding to any particular integralists; he was more concerned with our name.

If this were merely about the word “integralism”—that is, if Hittinger were only objecting to one possible thing that some ignorant bystander could take this name to mean if no one had ever explained it to him—then I would not feel it necessary to respond to Hittinger’s lectures at all. Integralists have now been explaining what we mean by the word, in essays and lectures and books and podcasts, for nearly a decade. The curious inquirer has a full syllabus at his disposal.

Alas, there is more to Hittinger’s conclusions. While his initial explanation of “separation” was eschatological and totally unobjectionable, focusing on the holiness or “set-apartness” of the Church, at a certain point he pivoted. Somewhere along the way in both lectures, Hittinger began to use this word “separation” as a synonym for some sort of indifferentism, which would have the Church remain aloof from temporal politics and vice versa. If the Church should fail to keep herself totally apart from the civil powers, Hittinger said, she would betray her entire mission, and would indeed no longer be the Church at all.

Before proceeding I should say that I have learned an incredible amount over the years from Russ Hittinger, especially with regard to Catholic social teaching, and if I am blessed to call him a friend today, it is only because he has been humble enough to imagine there might be some of that essential equality upon which friendship depends. So I address my brief response today to a hero and a friend. But I do disagree with my hero and friend here, and I think our disagreement is important. I am worried that Hittinger has both misunderstood integralism, and mischaracterized the relationship that ought to exist between the two powers that govern us Christian men.

As for integralism, Hittinger makes it clear that he has not understood what we are about as soon as he started using the phrase “pagan integralism” to describe the ancients. When Hittinger framed things this way, every integralist I know who heard either of his talks knew right away that something had gone badly amiss. Integralists agree that there can be no such thing as “pagan” integralism, because paganism does not include the Church. Hittinger’s error here is a basic category mistake. Pagan government did indeed involve itself in all sorts of matters pertaining to the people’s idolatrous sacrifices and so forth. But until the Eternal Son became man and instituted baptism so that we might be incorporated into his mystical body the Church, there was simply nothing there to integrate. The ancient pagans had only one polis: their ostensibly divinized temporal political community. Integralism is a response to the fact that Christians have two: the societas perfecta which is the temporal political community, and the societas perfecta which is the spiritual political community, the Church. Integralism does not want to abolish the distinction between these, or to have the Church subsume the temporal power into herself either formally or functionally. Rather, we want to respect the true distinction between these two incommensurable powers and to place them in their proper order.

Hittinger, however, seems not to want to set spiritual and temporal authorities in a peaceful order, but to keep them completely apart. “‘To have no share whatever’ is precisely what I mean by separation,” he declares. As I understand it, Hittinger’s argument for the aloofness that he thinks ought to exist between the spiritual and temporal powers hinges on a twofold opposition that he has identified between the Church and the world—and it is this double opposition that I will focus on for the remainder of this response. The spiritual power and “the reign of sin and death” relate as “contradictories,” Hittinger says, whereas the spiritual power and the temporal power relate as “contraries.” I think he is mistaken on both counts: the former are not contradictories and the latter are not contraries. To understand why, we must return to the text from which both of those terms are taken, the very first work of philosophy (not in the order of history but in the order of learning): Aristotle’s Categories.

In Chapters X and XI of the so-called “post-predicaments” of the Categories, the part at the end after Aristotle has treated the ten categories or “predicaments,” the Philosopher distinguishes his famous four modes of opposition. These are the different ways in which things can be called opposites of each other. Going from the least opposed to the most opposed, the four are: (1) correlation, (2) contrariety, (3) privation/possession, and (4) contradiction. Aristotle’s four introductory examples of each are, respectively: (1) double and half, (2) bad and good, (3) blindness and sight, and (4) sitting and not sitting. Let’s take each mode in turn.

Correlatives are the least opposed of these four sorts of opposites. In fact, inasmuch as they are correlative, these opposites even have to exist together. The mention of one immediately calls to mind the other. Besides double and half, other examples would be husband and wife, parent and child, body and soul, knowledge and what is known. It is important that this first kind of opposition is in no way antagonistic—and not least of all since it is the mode of opposition one finds between the persons of the Most Blessed Trinity. In the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the divine persons are subsisting correlations.

Contraries come next, and unlike correlatives, they do not co-exist. The presence of one contrary in some subject necessarily displaces the other. However, they still share something significant since by necessity they have to belong to the same genus. In other words, they have to be the same kind of thing. Contraries are the extremes of a genus, which puts them maximally far apart from each other within that genus, but still guarantees they will have the genus in common. Besides bad and good, other examples of contraries would be white and black, hot and cold, odd and even, virtue and vice, knowledge and error. Notice that each pair, while opposed, is still included together in the same kind of thing— color, habit, number, or what have you.

After contrariety is privation/possession, or having and lacking. Opposites in this third mode of opposition do not exist together in a complementary manner, as correlatives do, nor do they share a common genus, unlike contraries. Nevertheless, they have something in common, because in order for them to be opposed at all they need to pertain to a common subject. Blindness and sight do not harmoniously co-exist and are not the same sort of thing, but they are both said in regard to the eye. When the eye has the power to see, there is sight (possession); when it lacks that power, there is blindness (privation). Here other examples would include light and darkness, or knowledge and ignorance.

Finally, the most radical mode of opposition is contradiction. Two contradictories share nothing in common whatsoever, not existence or genus or subject, but are perfect opposites: A and not A. It is sometimes easier to see this one in statements than in simple concepts: “He is sitting” versus “He is not sitting.” The one is the direct denial of the other. Needless to say, such affirmations and negations cannot both be true simultaneously. As contradictory, they literally “speak against” one another. Further examples of contradictions would be man and not-man, colored and not-colored, knowledge and not-knowledge.

I go through this logic lesson not because I enjoy it—logic is a tool to be used but is not especially lovable in itself—but rather because I believe Hittinger’s whole argument depends upon the double opposition he drew between the Church and the world, and I am afraid he has mischaracterized it twice. With regard to “the world” in the sinister sense, which he calls “the reign of sin and death” as opposed to the kingdom of God, Hittinger has said that the Church and the world are contradictories. With regard to “the world” in a benign sense, as the natural political society, Hittinger has said that the Church and the world are contraries. Neither claim is true. It is rather the kingdom of God and “the reign of sin and death” that are contraries, whereas the spiritual power and the temporal power, if they are opposed at all, are correlatives.

That the Church and the evil world are not contradictories is very easy to manifest: One is not the simple negation of the other. The contradictory of Church would be not-Church. The contradictory of “reign of sin” would be not-“reign of sin.” Granted, the “reign of sin” would get included in the group of “not-Church”—but then so would your pet goldfish, and so would next Thursday. “Reign of sin” is not total enough to be the contradictory of the Church. What we have in the case of these two warring kingdoms is not contradiction but contrariety, just as we have between good and evil or virtue and vice. The Church and the world, in this sense, both pertain to ultimate commitments, to final ends, to that in which intelligent creatures could set their happiness—and then they point in diametrically opposed directions, one toward heaven and the other toward hell. This is the behavior not of contradictories, but of contraries. Thus it is the Church and the “reign of sin and death” that exemplify Aristotle’s second mode of opposition, the genus-splitting antagonism of contrariety.

The more important case, however, for adjudicating between integralism and Hittinger’s “separationism,” is the relationship between the Church and the world in the non-sinful sense, the relationship between the spiritual authority and the temporal authority. Here again, it is plain that Hittinger’s classification of them cannot be correct. He calls these contraries, but as we have seen, contraries necessarily displace each other in a subject, such that where one is the other is not. However, being a citizen of the societas perfecta which is the temporal city, and being a citizen of the societas perfecta which is the Church, do exist in the same subjects: namely in all of us baptized Christians. Nor do these two, the spiritual authority and temporal authority, divide a genus, since they are ordered to two entirely distinct ends: our supernatural end and our connatural end respectively. Therefore, if we want to admit any opposition between the spiritual and temporal powers, we will not find it in contrariety, Aristotle’s second mode, namely, but in correlation, his first—the least opposed of all oppositions, the same one we find even within the Most Blessed Trinity.

Correlation is the right place to look for the relationship between the temporal polis and the Church. This is why everyone from Saint John Chrysostom to Saint Thomas Aquinas to Saint Robert Bellarmine to Pope Leo XIII, in explaining this relationship, has employed the paradigmatically correlative analogy of body and soul. In Immortale Dei, Pope Leo writes that it would be “most repugnant” to imagine that God would set the spiritual and temporal powers in a state of inherent conflict:

Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man.

Thus the Church and the temporal power are harmonized by God to work together, in their distinction, in the tranquility of order. This is comparable, Pope Leo says, to the relation between body and soul. But as we have seen already, body and soul are not contraries. They are not enemies. They do not displace each other (we’d be in really big trouble if they did). Body and soul are correlatives, distinct and complementary co-principles of the human substance. So also the spiritual and temporal authorities: These are not contraries, necessary enemies best kept apart. They are correlatives, co-principles, which are ordered by God to come together in peace for man’s attainment of his good. As the body is not the soul, but is ordered to the soul and guided by the soul, so the temporal power is not the spiritual but is ordered to the spiritual and guided by the spiritual. As for “separationism,” we have a name for what happens when body and soul are separated: We call it death.

In the preceding paragraph of Immortale Dei, Pope Leo writes:

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing—related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing—might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. “For the powers that are, are ordained of God”!

According to Leo, our God has not so arranged the spiritual and temporal authorities such that the temporal is an inherently dangerous antagonist, a contrary to the Church. Rather “God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other.” Once more we find correlation, not contrariety.

Of course I do not suppose that my considerations here today, about the Church and the world and the modes of opposition, have somehow proven integralism correct. Integralists have written plenty of things elsewhere to try to do that, using arguments from both reason and authority. But I do think that I have shown that the spiritual and temporal authorities are opposed not as contraries but as correlatives—if indeed they are opposed at all—and that Hittinger’s central contention in these lectures is untenable. “Separationism,” in the strong sense, is wrong. It is not the case that the spiritual and temporal powers must necessarily stand aloof from each other. Hittinger has not made any points against integralism, therefore, but through “separation” in his original sense—the “set-apartness” of the Church, the Christian difference—he has simply raised the question more forcefully of how the two powers are related. That is the very question from which integralism begins. On our account, neither separation nor elision will do. We propose, in place of these erroneous extremes, the mean of distinction and order.