God and Caesar | Fr. James Swetnam, S.J. | HPR
In the Catholic view, the religious sphere is based on the virtue of faith. This faith is a gift of God … In contrast, according to this Catholic view, the civil sphere is based on experience illumined by faith. That is to say, it is experience aided by faith.
Next, they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, “Master, we know that you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because human rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissive to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or not?” Recognizing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.” They handed him one and he said to them, “Whose portrait is this? Whose title? They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar—and God what belongs to God.” And they were amazed at him. (Mk 12:13-17, New Jerusalem Bible)
Making the cultural and religious journey from 21st century America to New Testament times in search for the original meaning of a text, and the return journey to try to ascertain its legitimate relevance, is always fraught with challenges. But if Scripture is to have any purchase on our lives, we have no other choice than to make such journeys.
The story recorded above has as its basic lesson not that our religious life and our civil life are two completely separate areas, each with its own proper rules of conduct, but that our civil life is a legitimate part of our religious life. The two are related, but different. This is in contrast to the Muslim view that regards the religious sphere and the civil sphere as indistinguishable.
In the Catholic view, the religious sphere is based on the virtue of faith. This faith is a gift of God. Faith is completely gratuitous, absolutely unmerited. Faith can be prepared for by experience but is independent of experience. It is not unreasonable, but it gives us truths which are beyond the scope of reason to arrive at or understand. It is faith aided by reason. Its content comes from Christ, either directly or indirectly. Reason helps us understand that these data of faith are not contradictory to reason, that is, reason helps us to “understand” the data of faith to a limited extent. (Witness the early councils of the Church and the use, therein, of the language of Greek philosophy.)
In contrast, according to this Catholic view, the civil sphere is based on experience illumined by faith.