Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Caesar and Christ: The Example of the Early Christian Church

THE BUDDING CHRISTIAN CHURCH found itself in unenviable circumstances, though we may believe it was all providentially determined to be in the fullness of time. Nevertheless, the young Church was persecuted by the Jewish religious authorities. 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 revolutionary mindset 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 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) But she rendered to Caesar not those things Caesar demanded, but only those things that were Caesar's. And the Church was the one who defined those limits,not Caesar. Incipient in this formula therefore were 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."

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)

Martyrdoms of Sts. Andrew, Paul, and Peter

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 why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

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," τὸν θεὸν φοβεῖσθε, τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε, Deum timete regem honorificate. (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) 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." Neither St. Peter nor St. Paul, however, must be seen as advocating the "passive obedience" doctrine which was advanced by 17th century "divine right" political theorists in Scotland and England, and certainly not the "active obedience" doctrine of Hobbes.** 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." (Compendium, No. 380)

Both St. Peter and St. Paul, then, understood that there a 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 visionary language, but it is not simply a dream. It is meant to inform the Christian:

This vision 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 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. As Voegelin puts it, Christianity "de-divinized" the temporal sphere and "de-divinized" the State. 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) It should be however obvious that until Christ's second coming, that sovereignty, that authority, is exercised by representatives.

The Lord,however, "has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. 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)
*Tertullian, Apologeticum, 39.11 ("Omnia indiscreta sunt apud nos praeter uxores.")
**Passive obedience is the political doctrine that held that it was not lawful, under any condition whatsoever, to take arms against the king or his agents, even if the King's law was believed to contradict the law of God. Though internal assent need not be given to an act considered against the law of God, and in extreme situations it could be disobeyed, it was always wrong to resist enforcement of the law, punishment, and incite rebellion. It was a central tenet of the Tory parties and the Jacobites in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hobbes would not even allow for passive obedience, and advanced the idea that a citizen owes active obedience to the absolute power of the states irrespective of the situation. See De Cive, xiv.23. St. Thomas Aquinas, who deals with the issue in his Commentary on the Sentences II, dist. 44, q. 2, art.2--distinguishes between authority, how it is acquired how, once acquired, it is used. Authority may be acquired legitimately or illegitimately (e.g., violence, bribery). Authority acquired unjustly or illegitimately may be resisted if there is an "opportunity," i.e., if prudent, at least up until such time as the authority becomes regularized through consent of the people or a higher authority. Legitimate authority may misuse its power because it acts "contrary to that for which the authority was ordained" (
contrarium ejus ad quod praelatio ordinata est). If it orders obedience against the law of God, it must be disobeyed. If that authority acts ultra vires or beyond the scope of its authority (quia cogunt ad hoc ad quod ordo praelationis non se extendit), then "the subject is not held to obey, but neither is he held to disobey" (non tenetur obedire, nec etiam tenetur non obedire).
***This notion of political authority participating in Providence and having something of "its own" given to it by God is quite beautiful. It might be compared to Islam's negative and constraining view. Borrowing from Aristotle's Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between despotic and political rule in his Summa Theologiae: "For a power is called despotic whereby a man rules his slaves, who have not the right to resist in anyway the orders of the one that commands them, since they have nothing of their own. But that power is called political or royal by which a man rules over free subjects, who, tough subject to the government of the ruler, have nevertheless something of their own, by reason of which they can resist the orders of him who commands." S.T., Ia, q. 81, a.3, ad. 2. A Muslim is a slave of Allah: he is to submit to the law, the Shari'a which governs all areas of his life, no questions asked. Under St. Thomas Aquinas's distinctions, Allah is a despot, and his slave, the Muslim, has nothing of his own. There is no freedom even to participate in the Providence of Allah. Allah holds the reins of all power, and gives none to man. There is no discretion in the Shari'a, and it leaves no part of life to the human. On the other hand, Christians view God as quite different. God's Providence involves "political or royal" power, a power which rules over "free subjects," subjects who, though under God's governance, "have nevertheless something of their own." God, in other words, has given man something of his own, the ability to participate in law-making, so that the laws that human societies pass participate in the natural law, which in turn is the eternal law as it relates to God's governance of man. Muslims have nothing of their own. They are not free. They are ruled by a despot. Christians have something of their own--granted that something is a gift of God, but it remains something of their own. They are free. They are ruled by royal and political power, a power which seeks obedience of its subjects--not through violence--but through persuasion, through reason, through grace, through love.

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