Introduction to Church and State in Early Christianity | Hugo Rahner, S.J.
The first edition of this book appeared seventeen years ago when the struggle between Church and state in Nazi Germany was at its height. It then bore the title: The Liberty of the Western Church, Documents Concerning Church-State Relations in Early Christianity (Einsiedeln-Cologne: Benziger, 1943). Since then times have become more tranquil, but only in a superficial and impermanent way. Thus the question of the relations between Church and state remains as interesting as ever; it is a continuing problem in America and Russia and could at any moment reappear in Germany now that it has again become a world power. This alone would justify a new edition.
The book remains substantially unchanged in form and fundamental ideas. It provides the living witness of the early Church to the solution of the ever-recurring problem touching us as citizens of a state and members of the Church because all persons, in addition to the complex of influences affecting their personality and status as citizens, are in the Church or are called to her. For the Church is the "Kyriaké", the queen just as Christ is the King. She must, therefore, proclaim to all generations and to all states the revelation that Christ the Redeemer has brought to mankind in his power and majesty, And the state is called to listen to the Church. But both those who make the proclamation and those who hear it must do so in a way that neither exceeds nor blurs the limits of the mutual autonomy that God the Creator has set for the state, and God the Redeemer for the Church. Because citizens of the state and the members of the Church are the same individuals, the problem of the just relationship between Church and state remains a difficult and vital question for all.
The history of this problem has been a turbulent one right down to our own times. Its solution has risen out of struggle and death ever since Christ in masterly fashion drew a distinction between God and emperor while at the same time decreeing obedience to both God and emperor  –a fact that did not prevent the imperial procurator's condemnation of Christ to death on the cross.  The struggle continued at the time that Paul wrote from Rome during Nero's tyranny that the "existing authorities are instituted by God",  and Peter from that same "Babylon" advised the people of Asia Minor, especially prone to emperor worship, "Fear God, honor the emperor"  –efforts that did not hinder their being dragged before "kings and judges", as enemies of the state liable to capital punishment. Notwithstanding their loyalty to the head of state combined with adherence to Christianity, the principle-one must obey God rather than man-was understood by them in concrete situations as meaning that the Church is superior to the state any time a claim dangerous to the fundamentals of the Church demands such a decisive delimitation of authority. "God is greater than the emperor", was the claim of the Church of the martyrs as she courageously faced the threat of death. Ambrose said frankly, before an imperial tyranny even when it had become Christian, in a phrase that was never forgotten in subsequent centuries and which became a classic formula: "The emperor is in the Church, not above her. A good emperor seeks to help the Church not to combat her. We say this with a humility equal to our determination, even when threatened with torture, execution or exile. As servants of Christ we put aside all fear."