Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

3/7/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

the Church rendered to Caesar not those things Caesar demanded, but only those things that were, in fact, Caesar's. And the Church, not Caesar, was the one who defined those limits.

What was really revolutionary, and what turned Caesar against her, was the Church's notion of political power.  When it came to civil authorities, the early Christian Church lived out the notion of the two kingdoms taught by Christ.  Christ was her ruler, but she rendered those things to Caesar that were Caesar's. (Mark 12:17) 

Article Highlights

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/7/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Caesar, Social Doctrine, Social Justice, Church and State, government, religious persecution, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The budding Christian Church found itself in historically unenviable circumstances, though we may believe it was all providentially the fullness of time.  Nevertheless, the young Church was persecuted by the Jewish religious authorities, including at one time its greatest advocate, St. Paul.  More significant perhaps were the threats that the infant Christian community presented to the Roman Empire, its allegedly "divine" emperor, and his false pretensions to divinity.
To be sure, the Christian Gospel was revolutionary in a manner of speaking, particularly in its central doctrines--the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Redemption, the Resurrection, to name a few.  These were a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1 Cor. 1:23)

Some of its practices, particularly some of its moral doctrines, were equally revolutionary.  Perhaps this is best described by Tertullian in his Apologeticum: "All things are common among us but our wives."  The early Church had a countercultural notion of marriage and sexual morality.  It also had a countercultural notion of solidarity, of community. With respect to private property it had what the Compendium has called the "universal destination" of goods. (Compendium, No. 178)

But these sorts of things would not have raised the ire of Caesar.  What was really revolutionary, and what turned Caesar against her, was the Church's notion of political power.  When it came to civil authorities, the early Christian Church lived out the notion of the two kingdoms taught by Christ.  Christ was her ruler, but she rendered those things to Caesar that were Caesar's. (Mark 12:17) 

However, the Church rendered to Caesar not those things Caesar demanded, but only those things that were, in fact, Caesar's.  And the Church, not Caesar, was the one who defined those limits. 

We find here the seeds of persecution, inasmuch as the imperial Caesar resisted any limits on his power, especially limits imposed by what he viewed as an upstart Church.  The "divine" Caesar would grow to hate the religion brought by the "Pale Galilean" whom he failed to recognize as divine.  It was, in fact, a clash of divinities, with a political idol on one side and the Word of God on the other.

Nevertheless, the "party line" in the Church was submission to properly constituted authority.  Not passive submission, and certainly not unthinking submission, but submission "'for the sake of conscience' (Rom.13:5) to legitimate authority," inasmuch as this was seen as responding "to the order established by God." (Compendium, No. 380)

If Ephesians Chapters 5 and 6 contains a Haustafel or rule for domestic order, then Romans 13:1-7 might be said to contain the Staatstafel or rule for relationship with civil authorities.

"Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience."

This is a frequent theme in St. Paul.  We find it, for example, as part of his instructions to his friend and fellow bishop, St. Titus. "Remind them [his flock] to be under the control of magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise." (Tit. 3:1)  He suggests, further, that St. Timothy have his flock offer "prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings . . . for kings and for all in authority." (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

St. Peter likewise stresses obedience to authority.  "Be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake," St. Peter states in his first epistle, "whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good." (1 Pet. 2:13-14)  He gives a short motto to guide the faithful, clearly adverting to the two kingdoms, the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of Caesar. "Fear God, honor the king." (1 Pet. 2:17)

There is already in germ in the notions of St. Peter and St. Paul, a Christian political philosophy.  Praying for those of authority--even an unfriendly authority--"implicitly indicates what political authority ought to guarantee: a calm and tranquil life led with piety and dignity." (Compendium, No. 381)  Moreover, the "biblical message provides endless inspiration for Christian reflection on political power, recalling that it comes from God and is an integral part of the order that he created. This order is perceived by the human conscience and, in social life, finds its fulfillment in the truth, justice, freedom, and solidarity that bring peace." (Compendium, No. 383) In short, statecraft is soulcraft.

It is significant that St. Paul invokes conscience, and not principally fear of punishment, as a reason for obedience to civil authority. Similarly, St. Peter enjoins obedience, propter Dominum, "for the Lord's sake."  But this obedience has its limits.  Recall that it is the same Peter who stated that he was compelled to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)  What they are advocating is "free and responsible obedience to an authority that causes justice to be respected, ensuring the common good," and not a forced or irresponsible obedience.  (Compendium, No. 380)

Both St. Peter and St. Paul, then, understood that there are limits to the authority and power of the State.  "When human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, [and] it makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission," it "becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, an image of the power of the imperial persecutor 'drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus' (Rev. 17:6)." (Compendium, No. 382)

This is apocalyptic language, but has concrete applications hre-and-now.  It is meant to inform the Christian:  This Apocalyptic vision of the Beast "is a prophetic indication of the snares used by Satan to rule men, [the Beast] stealing his way into their spirit with lies.  But Christ is the Victorious Lamb who, down the course of human history, overcomes every power that would make it[self] absolute.  Before such a power, St. John suggests the resistance of the martyrs; in this way, believers bear witness that corrupt and satanic power is defeated, because it no longer has any authority over them."  (Compendium, No. 382)

Though the New Testament has a positive view on human authority, it also issues forth something entirely new.  Politics was no longer the highest art.  Man was meant for an eternal destiny, and this spiritual destiny, and the authority and power that related to it, was not in the hands of the State, but in the hand of the Church, to whom Christ, Lord of heaven and earth to whom all authority had been given, had given it. (Acts 17:24; Matt. 28:18)

"Christ reveals to human authority, always tempted by the desire to dominate, its authentic and complete meaning as service. God is the one Father, and Christ the one Teacher, of all mankind, and all people are brothers and sisters. Sovereignty belongs to God." (Compendium, No. 383)

The Lord, however, "has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power."  He gives his creatures freedom and allows them a share in His Providence.  As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church eloquently puts it:  "The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence." (Compendium, No. 383) (quoting CCC, § 1884).

How many of our secular liberals see themselves as "ministers," that is servants, of "divine providence"?  Not many, I would suppose, or they would not flout His Law.

-----

Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

---


Pope Francis calls for your 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women:
That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lord’s invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.



Comments


More Politics & Policy

Ron Paul says he will not pay IRS fine against his non-profit org Watch

Image of Ron Paul suggested his group will fight the IRS if they attempt to enforce a fine against Campaign for Liberty.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, a nonprofit political group, has been targeted by the IRS. The IRS has demanded to see the group's donor list, a demand the group has refused to meet which has led to a fine. The organization now says it will not pay the fine. LOS ... continue reading


Report says Christianity should be taught Watch

Image of Religions place in public education is a hotly debated issue for Americas.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It is commonly, though wrongly, accepted knowledge that public school teachers are not allowed to teach the Bible, biblical values, or Christian history in public schools. It is a debate that dominates every part of life, from a single household to the federal ... continue reading


Obama has proposed 442 tax hikes since taking office and you won't believe what he could tax next! Watch

Image of Obama has proposed hundreds of tax increases and more could come within the last two years.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Obama has attempted 442 tax increases during his six years as president so far, and more are likely to come as the administration looks for ways to pay for their proposals. According to Americans for Tax Reform, the numbers suggest why it's important to have ... continue reading


Hey Eric Holder, where are the special prosecutors? Watch

Image of Hey Holder, why won't you answer simple questions?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

At several federal judges said last week that in their professional opinion, Attorney General Eric Holder has exceeded his authority by giving federal prosecutors "improper instruction" to reduce drug sentences prior to official approval of new guidelines. LOS ANGELES, ... continue reading


Corruption runs deep - Ranking member of Committee asked to explain 'surreptitious communication' with IRS Watch

Image of Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has suspicious contact with the IRS. He has also resisted efforts to compel Lois Lerner to testify.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is asking its ranking member, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) why he had surreptitious communication with the IRS over a group that received unlawful IRS scrutiny. The committee says the public deserves a "full and truthful explanation" ... continue reading


Attorney General Eric Holder lashes out Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Attorney General Eric Holder has been under some intense, unflattering scrutiny as of late, stemming from the "Fast and the Furious" debacle. Holder went "off script" during a speech given at the National Action Network. While lauding the organization's effort ... continue reading


House Republicans contemplating jail for Lois Lerner Watch

Image of Lois Lerner could go to jail if she refuses to cooperate with investigators.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Republicans are contemplating the arrest of Lois Lerner for contempt in the event the Attorney General, Eric Holder refuses to act on their findings. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to investigate whether or ... continue reading


Attorney General Eric Holder gets 'ghetto' during hearing Watch

Image of Attorney General became angry and slipped into colloquial speech during a hearing with Representatives.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Attorney General Eric Holder might not be in contempt of a Congressional hearing, but he certainly behaved contemptuously in our opinion, when he was questioned as to why his department could provide documents to terrorists and their attorneys but not congress. After ... continue reading


Your government at work: Feds ATTACK lone cattle rancher with army --to protect a tortoise Watch

Image of Cliven Bundy is under siege on his cattle ranch by a small army of federal agents, over a tortoise and unpaid grazing fees.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A shocking paramilitary action in unfolding in the high Nevada desert pitting the Feds against a lone rancher and his cattle herd. It's the stuff of fiction, but it is happening right now and the U.S. government doesn't want anyone to know what they are doing. LAS ... continue reading


SEARCH AND READ - ACLU opens database of leaked NSA documents Watch

Image of Americans have widely condemned NSA spying, but little has changed.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The ACLU has launched its own database of documents leaked by Edward Snowden as well as other disclosures regarding at activities of the NSA. The ACLU says the documents will serve as a primary source for understanding the government's interpretation of its authority ... continue reading


All Politics & Policy News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 50:4-9
4 Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
8 I am estranged from my brothers, alienated from my ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 26:14-25
14 Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 16th, 2014 Image

St. Bernadette
April 16: On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter