Archbishop of Dijon: How should Church and State Interact?

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 10-9-2007

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle

Publication Place



The Archbishop of Dijon, Roland Minnerath, delivered a public lecture at Notre Dame in early September, entitled, “Caesar’s Coin: How should Church and State Interact?”

Acting Dean of Philosophy and Theology, Professor Peter Black reports:

The Archbishop comes from a city with a venerable history. While the diocese was created in 1732, the actual city of Dijon was the place of residence for the Bishops of Langres since the fifth century. Well before the Episcopal residence in the city, Dijon Christians had proudly venerated their own Saint Benignus in the early years of the Church.

Archbishop Minnerath is a member of the International Theological Commission and also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. He has served in the Vatican Diplomatic Corps in Brazil and in Germany and has held distinguished teaching positions in a number of European universities. This academic background together with his broad cultural and political experience, especially with the European parliament in Strasbourg, ensured that his lecture on the Church and state would be informative and insightful, and to the delight of the gathering, it proved entertaining as well.

He began with a broad overview of the history of Church-state relations in Europe, highlighting the adoption and abandonment of a variety of models of relationship. Reflecting on how in the very early history of Christianity a model of the separation of Church and state had been successfully adopted and promulgated by the Edict of Milan in 313, only to be abandoned in later years so as to create Church city states, the Archbishop commented that relations between Church and state sometimes regress rather than progress with the passage of time. A quick but comprehensive consideration of the multitude of models, from states and churches being independent but cooperative to states and churches being independent but uncooperative, reinforced the shifting sands of these history making relationships. Only a scholar with a board sense of history could in such a short time introduce an audience to the complexities of Church-state relations over such an extended period of history.

It was the question time at the conclusion of the lecture that revealed the depth of the Archbishop’s knowledge and diplomatic skills. Questions asked at the end of a lecture usually focus on the difficulties associated with the topic under discussion. This evening was no exception. Questions were raised about the state of the Church-state relations in Russia, China and Vietnam. Archbishop Minnerath drew both on his knowledge of these countries and their history together with his personal experience in France in his response. Interest soon became more focussed on Australia and the issue of the responsibility of the Church and Catholic politicians in the area of legislation, especially when proposed legislation touches explicitly on ethical issues that surround human life. His Grace’s response was both direct and balanced. The Church has the responsibility to present the insights of the Church on such issues in a language and a manner that will encourage serious consideration by those responsible for proposing and passing legislation. He stressed that well structured arguments based on the best of the natural law tradition hopefully will speak to people of Christian faith, other faiths and no faith.

The Archbishop’s short visit to Perth has been a source of encouragement to many. At the lecture there were representatives from the Federal Government, the Judiciary, the academic community and the Board of Governors of UNDA.

Archbishop Minnerath had also addressed a number of politicians during a breakfast at Parliament House. As he returns to his Archdiocese of Divionensis (the Latin title for Dijon) there is no doubt that this Archbishop will continue in his mission to influence Church-state relations at its grass roots.