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For Greater Glory

This movie is the true story of the 1926-9 Cristeros War, which was a revolt by Roman Catholics in Mexico against the anti-clerical government which was violently persecuting the Church. I would not say that it is an excellent piece of cinematic art, but it was over two hours of good entertainment, and it taught a history lesson. Though the events portrayed happened not very long ago and not very far away, very few Americans know about it.

The separation between church and state, which is an important tradition in the United States, is a modern concept which did not exist during the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, Church and state were intertwined and the leaders of each often came into conflict. The conflicts were similar to the one portrayed in the movie "For Greater Glory". First of all, Americans should understand that the term "church and state" has a very different meaning outside the United States. The majority of Americans are Protestant Christians. Protestant Christianity is divided into about two hundred denominations, and within these denominations each local minister or pastor is free to do what he thinks best, which is to say there is no central authority which he must obey. When Americans talk about "church and state," they mean religion in general and its relations with the government. It has been believed since the time of the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, and even before them, since Jonathan Edwards, that church and state should be separate, because politics corrupts and it religion should be forever free of such corruption. In most other countries, on the other hand, there are not hundreds of churches with decentralized leadership. In Mexico and in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, there was only one Church - the Roman Catholic Church - and it had a hierarchy of leaders leading up to the ultimate authority on Earth, the Pope, who is believed to be the Vicar of Christ. In such situations, the Church is a powerful institution, so Church/state conflicts consist of struggles for power between two great institutions - the Roman Catholic Church and the national government. Each has military might, and the conflicts were real wars.

Though the Cristero War depicted in "For Greater Glory" is similar to things that happened in the Middle Ages, there is one important difference. During the Middle Ages, both the Pope and his bishops on one side, and the Emperors and Kings on the other side, claimed to represent God. There was no secular government then. In 1920's Mexico, like in the United States today, the government is persumed to be non-religious, so when conflicts arise it is between those who have Faith and those who do not. During the Middle Ages, almost everyone had Faith (Frederick II of Germany and Sicily was an exception). Belief in God, and the belief that religion is important, was universal. When Emperors and Kings fought against the Church, they were not fighting against religion, but against the institution. Several of the Emperors and Kings during that period were actually very holy men: King Louis IX of France, King Edward the Confessor of England, Emperor Henry II of Germany; Good King Wenseslaus of Bohemia, etc.. None of those I here mention made war against the Roman Catholic Church, but their descendants did, and when they did they looked back at their holy ancestors and compared them to Popes and bishops who were not as holy. This strengthened their positions when they claimed to represent God.