Civil religion was a vital part of ancient life, religion and politics were joined harmoniously. With the dawn of Christianity, a religion whose focus is not on the state primarily but on the afterlife, the world slowly began to change. Religion was often used to divide rather than unify the commonwealth. Modernity’s problem with Christianity came at the dawn of the Reformation, where Christianity was used to pull people apart and start wars between nations who share ethnic, cultural and religious ties. America is the shinning product of modern thought; the brain child of men such as Niccolo Machiavelli and John Locke. Both men drew an outline of civil religion for the purpose of maintaining and promoting the state. Machiavelli faults Christianity while praising Roman civil religion for its aim towards the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s examination of religion, namely civil religion, in the Discourses on Livy is expanded into a natural Christian religion in John Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration. Picking up on these concerns, John Locke laid down the policy of religious toleration in four letters. The issue at hand is not one of Church and State, but of religion and politics. As Jon Meacham explains in regards to the American situation, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics. Church and state are specific things.” This definition explains what is at the heart of Locke’s argument in The Letter Concerning Toleration. Further it even comes to the heart of Machiavelli’s argument. It says that religion and politics do have a place together, but the church and state do not. The importance of civil religion in the maintenance of the state is clear; for without civil religion the state would not be able to hold together her citizens and thus dissolve into oblivion.
According to tradition the Roman civil religion was founded by Numa Pompilius. Numa was king following Romulus’ assumption into heaven and his deification as the god Quirinus. Numa was chosen by the Roman senate to become king after a period of interregnum. Numa is said to have been a very pious man, as Plutarch tell us:
He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and while citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.
It was Numa, who according to tradition gave to the Roman people their religion. It was important to provide the Romans with religion because without it they would have fallen victim to the brute passions of a warlike people. The impact of the Roman civil religion is explained by Machiavelli, “It will also be seen by those who pay attention to Roman history, how much religion helped in the control of armies, in encouraging plebs, in producing good men, and in shaming the bad.” Numa instituted many changes to the Roman state whence he became king.
Among the first things he did, Numa introduced an additional month into the calendar; this month was called Mercedinus. Under Romulus there had only been eleven months, starting with the month of March in honor of Mars, the god of war. March was placed at spot of the third month and January and February went from the end of the year to the first two months. It was fitting for Numa to place January at the beginning of the year, “he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are preferred before those of war.” January was named for the god Janus, god of doors and beginnings. February comes from the word februa; the month was one of purification filled with offerings to the dead. Within the calendar Numa instituted a number of games and festivals in honor of the gods as Plutarch explains once more, “He also began markets and games and all sorts of occasions for gatherings and festivals. By these institutions he restored to humane and gentle behavior the minds of men who had become savage and inhuman through their love of war.” The intent of the festivals and games were to divert the attention of the people away from war and conquest to the gods.
Among others, Numa introduced a number of new offices, which were of religious significance; among these offices was the Pontifex Maximus whose job it was to declare divine law and to rule over sacred ceremonies; the Pontifex Maximus was fifth in the religious hierarchy behind “the rex sacrorum and three great flamens.” The Pontifex Maximus was also charged to lead the six Vestal virgins.  Numa constructed a temple to the goddess Vesta who was the oldest of all Roman goddesses and a symbol of purity. Her priestesses, called Vestal virgins, were given the task of keeping lit the sacred flame. The virgins were to remain as such for thirty years, if they broke their vow of chastity or allowed the sacred flame to go out the offending virgin would be buried alive. This office was the most sacred of all holy offices within the Roman state. The first ten years of a Vestal’s service were spent in training, the second ten were spent performing her duties while the final ten were spent training new Vestals. The Vestal Virgins were so important that it is said when another official passed one that they would order the fasces lowered.
Numa’s legacy on the Roman people lead them to become prosperous, Machiavelli writes, “All things considered, therefore, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the primary causes of Rome’s success, for this entailed good institutions; good institutions lead to good fortune; and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings.”  It was through religion, and not war, that the Romans became a successful and great civilization. Under Romulus the Romans acquired their name and ability for warfare but under Numa they acquired their culture, their civilization. Dr. Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich defines culture as, “the synthesis of a community’s traditions, customs, moral values, religious beliefs, and all other informal norms of behavior that have passed the test of time and bind the generations.” Under this definition, it is clear that Numa and not Romulus was the result of Rome’s culture. Rome was so attached to Numa that Machiavelli tells us, “Marveling, therefore, at Numa’s goodness and prudence, the Roman people accepted all his decisions.” The Romans revered Numa for his qualities and virtue, and they wished to imitate them as much as they desired to follow Numa without question. This is how Machiavelli begins to praise of the importance of religion; and how he demonstrates the greatness of Roman civil religion.
Following a discussion of the Roman religion, which is similar to the one given by Machiavelli in the Discourses on Livy, he begins section twelve of the Discourses by saying:
Those princes and those republics which desire to remain free from corruption, should above all else maintain incorrupt the ceremonies of their religion and should hold them always in veneration; for there can be no surer indication of the decline of a country than to see divine worship neglected.
It is the duty of the princes and magistrates of the commonwealth to uphold the religious practices of the people. Religion for Machiavelli is the glue of, and provides for allegiance to, the commonwealth. Machiavelli goes on to say, “The rulers of a republic or of a kingdom, therefore, should uphold the basic principles of the religion which they practise in, and, if this be done, it will be easy for them to keep their commonwealth religious, and, in consequence, good and united.” Without religion the commonwealth cannot keep itself together. Furthermore, as Harvey Mansfield points out, Observance of the divine cult is the cause of greatness in republics.”Religious observance, above all else creates the greatness in republics. But the end to which religion is important in the commonwealth is defined even further by Machiavelli, “And the more should they do this the greater their prudence and the more they know of natural laws.” It is here that religion plays it’s most important role in the commonwealth; for the commonwealth must be in line with the natural laws and natural law is discovered through religion. Without religion one cannot determine the natural law fully, and so one must attach themselves and their commonwealth to religion.
But to what religion ought the commonwealth to attach itself, whether it should be a Pagan society or a Christian society. Machiavelli denounces the Church of Rome’s attitude of religion despite calling Christianity a strong religion. Machiavelli recounts the story of the fall of the city of Veii. After the Romans conquered the city they entered the temple dedicated to Juno and asked her statue if she wished to be moved to Rome; as Machiavelli tells us, “To some it seemed that she nodded. To others that she answered, Yes.” This was possible due to the religious piety the Romans were imbued with by their rulers. According to Machiavelli when the soldiers entered the temple they did not enter as marauders, but as pious and religious men. This religious attitude was promoted by the city rulers. A similar religious attitude of the Romans is found wanting in the Christians by Machiavelli. He asserts, “If such a religious spirit had been kept up by the rulers of the Christian commonwealth as was ordained for us by its founder, Christian states and republics would have been much more united and much more happy than they are.” Italy, as attested to by Machiavelli, lacked religious observance in his day (as it might be even said to be lacking now.) He assaults the Church of Rome as the cause of the Italian “irreligious and perverse” nature. Further, the Church did not attempt to unify the Italians under one prince. Machiavelli believes, “no country has ever been united and happy unless the whole of it has been under the jurisdiction of one republic or one prince, as has happened to France and Spain.” These are the greatest faults Machiavelli finds with the Christian religion, at least in regards to Italy. Certainly the Roman religion was a means of unifying the people of the Italian peninsula, like the people of Machiavelli’s time the people of Italy at the time of the Roman republic all shared similar religious convictions. The Romans were able to use the religion to unify Italy, and much of Europe and North Africa under the banner of the Roman city. In the 1200 years of Christian dominance in Europe the continent slowly began to break apart first with a divide between East and West[i] and slowly more with the development of nation-states such as England, France and Spain. The Christian religion was even unable to keep Italy all one nation and it was not for another three hundred years after Machiavelli’s death that Italian unification was realized.
At least one explanation can be proposed for why the Christian religion failed, while the Pagan religion of the Romans succeeded, which is as Machiavelli points out the different aims of the religions. Christianity has the aim of the after life; they are citizens first and foremost of the city of God. Romans were citizens first and foremost of their own city and the religion was focused on the temporal success rather than salvation in the after life. Christianity, until much later was unable to successfully create a civil religion of itself. The Romans used their religion in order to secure certain outcomes in the city. As Machiavelli accounts:
The Roman people, having created tribunes with consular power, all of whom, save one, were plebians, there occurred in that year pestilences and famine, and certain prodigies took place. Availing themselves of this opportunity in the next appointment of tribunes, the nobles said that the gods were angry with Rome for having abused the majesty of her authority, and that the only way to placate them was to restore the election of tribunes to its proper position.
Machiavelli mentions two other events in the Roman republic, which used the religion in order to seduce the people. The first is in regards to the war with the city of Veii previously mentioned; the Roman generals used religion to keep the soldiers primed for attack. The second is with the tribune Terentillus who wished to pass a law, which Machiavelli does not describe, but the nobles used religion to stir the people into a fear that they did not allow for the law to pass.  The Romans used religion for the sake of the city, which with the devotion the people had to religion caused them to have a deep devotion to the city and so that religion could stir the people to its defense. Harvey Mansfield observes, “Machiavelli concludes that Numa’s religion was among the first causes of Rome’s happiness, because it caused good orders, which produced good fortune in successful enterprises.”  This observation is the issue Machiavelli has with the Christian religion in regards to the commonwealth.
It appears that for Machiavelli the biggest concern for Christianity is her inability to rally her followers. As a result of Christianity’s inability to keep Europe unified, individual nations began to spring up. Citizens were forced to choose between remaining loyal strictly to Rome or to their new nation. The kings of France, Spain and England demanded that their subjects be loyal first and foremost to the state and second to the religion. England in a way was able to create a civil religion when Henry VIII separated himself and his kingdom from Rome. He became the new head of religion and was thus able to unify the state and the Church. However, the problem still laid in that the Christian religion is focused on the salvation of souls and not on the preservation of the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s arguments for religion are only strong enough to support that in order to be successful religion must be present in the commonwealth; and that religion be aimed at the preservation of the commonwealth. As J. Patrick Coby explains, “Religion, understood as the fear of God, produces civil obedience” which is what Machiavelli praises about the Roman religion and detests about the Christian. Christianity’s lack of primary concern for the commonwealth creates a lack of concern for the commonwealth within the people and ultimately can lead to civil disobedience. By this civil disobedience, it is to be understood simply as a disobedience to the commonwealth. However, John Locke’s argument for toleration of religion permits the creation of a civil religion that is unconcerned for the salvation of souls but with the continuance of the commonwealth.
Before divulging into John Locke’s beliefs on religious toleration and how it creates a civil religion, it should be noted that Locke himself does not officially promulgate a civil religion rather he outlines the duties of the magistrate, which in turn can be used to create a civil religion. Within his Four Letters Concerning Toleration, Locke begins by denouncing the belief that religion and/or the civil magistrate has the authority to coerce people into attending a national church. However, too much attention is often paid to that which the magistrate cannot do; that it is often over looked to what Locke says the magistrate can and must do for the preservation of the commonwealth. And it is with what the magistrate can do that the civil religion of Christianity can be born.
Machiavelli’s analysis of religion in the Discourses can viewed in the same light as Thomas Paine’s discussion of government in Common Sense.[ii] Machiavelli discusses the role religion in both the Christian and Roman commonwealths, but fails to offer advice on how to cure Christianity’s problems. Similar in style to John Adams’s argument in “Thoughts on Government”, John Locke takes up the task of outlining a new role for religion in the modern commonwealth. Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration is beneficial in helping to reorder the Christian commonwealth for a civil religion based on Christianity. Locke has the benefit of living in a post Reformation world where it is clear that there can no definite church pegged as the true church. As all churches use force and intolerance, Locke states, “That I esteem that Toleration to be the chief Characteristical Mark of the True Church.” Clearly, as no church in Locke’s time practiced toleration none can be properly said to be the “True Church.”
Locke uses the term toleration to mean that no person or magistrate has the authority to force another individual into attending a certain church against their own conscience. Time and again Locke suggests that force should not be used by the magistrate, church or individual against anyone in regards to religion. Furthermore, the magistrate or church cannot deprive an individual who fails to attend a national church of their life, liberty or property. The ends of the Church and the Commonwealth are completely different, as Locke describes the Commonwealth as, “a Society of Men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing of their own Civil Interests.”  The Church’s end is for the salvation of souls and in order for this to occur members must consent in their consciences to the Church’s doctrines. No person can be forced to believe something that they themselves have not accepted as truth. In his Second Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains, “But that which he denies, and you grant, is, that force has any proper efficacy to enlighten the understanding, or produce belief. And from thence he infers, that therefore the magistrate cannot lawfully compel men in matters of religion.” The first characteristic that Christianity must adopt in order to be successful in the modern commonwealth is toleration insofar as the magistrate cannot force any individual against their own conscience to attend a national church under penalty of loss of life, liberty or property.
Yet this is not all that Locke promulgates in his letters. In fact, this is only the beginning. Acknowledging that the magistrate does not have the authority to force individuals to attend a national church, Locke clarifies his position as to what the role of the magistrate and the commonwealth is in the matter of religion. The magistrate, per his rights as an individual, retains the authority to use words to persuade individuals to religion. Such an example of this persuasion to the faculties of human understanding, include the posting of the Ten Commandments or calling for a day of Thanksgiving throughout the nation. Locke explains, “‘Go and teach all nations,’ was a commission of our Savior; but there was not added to it, punish those that will nor hear and consider what you say.” Preaching, without physical and outward force, is permitted according to Locke within the commonwealth. In fact it “was a commission of our Savior” to “Go and tell all nations.” This is the right of all mankind, including the magistrate, to tell all who they encounter of the Lord.
However, there is something more simplistic in Locke which calls for a civil religion. All commonwealths must be in line with the natural law and cannot violate it. Therefore, Locke says of the duty of both the commonwealth and the church:
A Good Life, in which consists not the least part of Religion and true Piety, concerns also the Civil Government: and in it lies the safety both of Mens Souls, and of the Commonwealth. Moral Actions belong therefore to the Jurisdiction of both the outward and inward Court; both of the Civil and Domestick Governor; I mean, both of the Magistrate and Conscience. 
This is merely only the beginning of the duties granted to the commonwealth in regards to religion. Morality is the basis of a good regime, and morality is acquired through religion. Laws concerning morality may be created within the commonwealth in order to secure the safety and happiness of the citizens. Religion, as we have seen, can be used in the public sector as long as it is not forced upon them, or used to harm the natural rights of citizens. One of the means of incorporating religion into the commonwealth is through moral laws, which promote the laws of nature. Locke explains further in the First Treatise on Government when he says:
If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultry, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have their Principal Aggravation form this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto. 
This example from Locke demonstrates that not only can the magistrate ban such immoral and unnatural behavior but that he must ban it. The morality of the people will thus be secured and will unify the people under a similar moral code promoted through the law of nature, which is revealed to humanity through God. In his Third Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argues, “Indeed they all agreed in the duties of natural religion, and we find them by common consent owning that piety and virtue, clean hands, and a pure heart not polluted with the breaches of the law of nature, was the best worship of the gods.” This harkens to Machiavelli’s argument for the Roman religion and further within the commonwealth the best form of worship is to keep to the laws of nature. Machiavelli’s desire for religion to be a unifying force within the commonwealth is secured in part by Locke’s mandate that immoral and unnatural behavior be banned within the commonwealth.
Yet there is still another way in which Locke secures the commonwealth’s unification and stability and that is that no church is permitted from preaching ideas contrary to the moral law, law of nature, or the commonwealth. As Locke states in his first letter:
No Opinions contrary to human Society, or to those moral Rules which are necessary to the preservation of Civil Society, are to be tolerated by the Magistrate. But of these indeed Examples in any Church are rare. For no Sect can easily arrive to such a degree of madness, as that it should think fit to teach, for Doctrines of Religion, such things as manifestly undermine the Foundations of Society, and are therefore condemned by the Judgment of all Mankind: because their own Interest, Peace, Reputation, every Thing, would be thereby endangered.
The magistrate is permitted to ban opinions which teach the undermining of the authority of the commonwealth. Thus, religion is molded to support the commonwealth and to promote unity within it. There is an inherent obligation of religion to teach its members to obey the laws of the commonwealth. If the religion teaches something contrary to the public good, the magistrate has an obligation not to tolerate it. The religion may also not profess authority to relieve members of allegiance to the prince of the commonwealth. Further Locke states, “That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate, which is constituted upon such a bottom, that all those who enter into it, do thereby, ipso facto, deliver themselves up to the Protection and Service of another Prince.” Thus the unity of the commonwealth is preserved in Locke’s teaching by requiring that all churches promote loyalty to the magistrate. Churches must teach the natural law and moral law as well as promote allegiance to the civil magistrate. This is a divorce from early Christian teachings which promote allegiance primarily to the city of God.
The final piece to the civil religion of John Locke and the promise of a stable and unified commonwealth is through the banishment of those who do not profess a belief in God. In his first Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains:
Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, tho but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their Atheism undermine and destroy all Religion, can have no pretence of Religion whereupon to challenge the Privilege of a Toleration. As for other Practical Opinions, tho not absolutely free from all Error, if they do not tend to establish Domination over others, or Civil Impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no Reason why they should be tolerated. 
Locke’s understanding is in line with Machiavelli’s belief that religion is of the utmost importance in the commonwealth, specifically the republic. As a result those who do not profess a belief in God cannot be tolerated if the commonwealth is to survive. Furthermore, as Voltaire says, “All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.” Morality cannot be learned by one who does not believe in God. Without the moral base, a person is apt not to follow the laws of the commonwealth, adhere to their contracts or follow the natural law.
Simply put John Locke’s civil religion can be outlined as follows:
The magistrate and citizens have a right and divine duty to “tell the nations” of God and Jesus Christ. As such, no law should prohibit public preaching and public displays of religion.The commonwealth should prohibit immoral and unnatural behavior by the citizens. Examples of such: Sodomites, Adulterers, and Murders.The commonwealth should not tolerate religions that preach openly against the authority of the magistrate, or those which preach openly against the laws of nature and morality, which are the basis of civil society.That the commonwealth ought to not tolerate those who openly profess against a belief in God.
This religion can properly called a civil religion as it is aimed not at the salvation of one’s soul, which is the proper place only of the Church as it belongs to speculative opinions, but of the promotion and security of the body politic.
Machiavelli’s praise of Rome is clear because it promoted and made secure the Roman state. His opinions of Christianity as being a divider and not a unifier are made clear by Locke as Christianity promotes speculative opinion, which is open to interpretation. Locke promulgates a modern ideal for civil religion by permitting the state to publicly teach religion (so long as it does not force individuals to attend or believe in a national church), to create laws for the moral excellence of the people, to ban religions which preach against morality, the laws of nature and the authority of the commonwealth, and to ban individuals who openly preach that there is no God. These concepts can be found throughout the new Rome, or the United States. Religion was for Modernity the major obstacle to the creation of the modern nation state. In order to be successful religion had to be placed into a proper role. This role resembles the one religion played in the ancient cities like Egypt, Athens and Rome. Machiavelli and Locke together promulgate the necessity of civil religion within the modern commonwealth as a means of promoting unity and stability.
 Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Translated by Leslie J. Walker, S.J. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003. Book I section 11 pg. 140
 Hus, Alain. Greek and Roman Religion. Translated by S.J. Tester. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962. pg. 103
 Hus, 103
 Machiavelli, 141 Book I section 11
A further example of this can be found in Locke’s statement, “Those that are Seditious, Murderers, Thieves, Robbers, Adulterers, Slanders, etc. of whatsoever Church, whether National or not, ought to be punished and suppressed. But those whose Doctrine is peaceable, and whose Manners are pure and blameless, ought to be upon equal Terms with their Fellow-Subjects.”, Locke, Letter on Toleration page 54.
[i]The Great Schism of 1054 officially split Europe between East and West, or Orthodox and Catholic. A separation was already begun however when Charles the Great was crowned Caesar of the Roman Empire.
[ii]In a brief introduction to John Adams’ essay “Thoughts on Government” in The Portable John Adams, John Patrick Diggins says, “Adams’s essay was a response to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense…Adams believed, as he told Abigail, that Paine was more interested in tearing down government than in giving any thought to reconstituting it.” I believe that this is a similar situation with Machiavelli’s argument of religion in the Discourses and Locke’s argument of religion in the Letter Concerning Toleration. Machiavelli provides thoughts on how to reconstitute the Christian religion to create the proper aims religion ought to have in the commonwealth.