Current Affairs
Debate on State-Church separation goes back to 18th Century

A recently published research sheds more light on the first attempts for the separation of powers between the State and Church in Malta. It was Nicolo’ Muscat – a prominent figure in the administration of the Knights’ Order – who in the middle of the 18th Century insisted that these powers should not continue to be tied together.

Around 200 years ago, Nicolo’ Muscat, who was an adviser to Grand Master De Rohan had a heated debate with representatives of the Church in Malta – the Bishop and the Inquisitor – to convince them on the separation of powers between State and the Church.

A research by Professor Frans Ciappara analyzed the ideal of Nicolo’ Muscat in the context of State-Church relations during the end of the 18th Century.

“Muscat was saying that each person in Malta, what is temporal should appear before the Government’s Court – if a farmer working his Church-owned field lacked behind in lease payment, he does not appear before the Bishop’s court but before the Government’s court because he says he is a ‘particolare’ – he is not a religious person and his issue has nothing to do with spirituality”.

Prof. Ciappara said that the strong resistance of Muscat’s views were clear in a correspondence between Rome and Malta. Even, the Pope’s Foreign Affairs Minister called Nicolo’ Muscat ‘nemico del Papa’ – the Pope’s enemy.

The historian says that at first, Muscat worked closely with the Church and was a lawyer of the Cathedral. However, conscious on the ongoing political debate in Europe, he started instigating the Enlightenment principle, including Muscat’s appeal for the introduction of civil marriage.

Prof. Ciappara added “he also had the idea that the marriage is a civil contract, and the issue led the Inquisitor and the Bishop to report him further”.

Muscat’s ideas raised anger within the Church with the Pope requesting his exile.

“Pope Pious XI ordered Grand Master Rohan to dismiss him and the Grand Master did exactly this – but he pretended to exile him by sending him to Naples. Here, Muscat visited the King and told him to support Malta against the interference of the Pope in Malta. He came back, was given his previous posts and the story started again. In 1793, the Grand Master dismissed him”.

The historian says that Muscat did not see his dream come true during his life, however the work he started saw the results many years later with thinkers and leaders who continued striving for Nicolo’ Muscat’s ideas.

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