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Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Robert Miller

This is good, solid stuff. But I question one premise.

Can the Catholic Church be considered an "intermediary institution" of any nation, or indeed of a universal empire, like Caesar's? Dr. Mirus does not explicitly distinguish "churches" from the Catholic Church, though perhaps he would, if the question were raised (remember, a long time ago, I was an editor of Triumph, so I can't resist raising it). And I think this question is very important for Catholics in the US and the West today.

It might well be that sectarian Christian ecclesial communities can be considered intermediary institutions of the nation, or national commonwealth, for members who join in their fellowship. However, the Catholic Church is a universal society whose common good and purposes are consistent with the common good of nations and of Caesar's Empire, when these are properly understood, but are not limited to these. Thus, for example, the national sectarian churches of the Protestant nations (when not merely sham government bureaus) could legitimately be considered "intermediary institutions" of their national commonwealths. In contrast, the Catholic Church could never be an intermediary institution of a Catholic national or universal (Holy Roman) commonwealth -- though Gallicans, Josephinists, Marsiglians, Hohenstauffens and even some of my beloved Hapsburgos and Spaniards tried often enough to force it to be.

In the contemporary context, this consideration argues for Catholics in the US and other Western nations to be leary of the argument that "all" the Catholic Church asks is freedom to express herself in the "public square". The Catholic Church must insist on much more: she must incessantly insist on her title to recognition as a universal society whose common good transcends the common good of any nation or of the Empire itself (to the extent it still tenuously survives) .

Indeed, Our Lord Himself admonished His listeners to discern "whose image and inscription are these", before rendering even temporal homage to men whose effigies appeared on coins. Would he have given the same instruction if the answer had been "Jefferson", or "Kennedy", or "Lady Liberty", instead of "Caesar". I think not. Don't forget that, even less than a century ago, there were Catholic temporal rulers, whose effigies appeared on currency in international circulation, and whose "first name" was "Caesar".

Robert Miller

Back to Caesar for a moment...

Last Sunday, I assisted at Mass in the Forma Extraordinaria. The gospel for that Sunday after Pentecost, in fact, was the one in which Our Lord asks to see the coin of tribute, giving then his famous reply to the Pharisees: "Render...".

When the passage was read in English, however, the current liturgical/scriptural lectionary was used, having Jesus admonishing his listeners to render to "the Emperor" what is his.

This, I think, exacerbates the all-too-prevalent erroneous interpretation of the meaning of this important passage. In this interpretation, the Lord is seen as, in effect, getting a little of His own back against the Pharasaical tricksters, while making a politically correct affirmation of the "separation of church and state".

Emperor (imperator) is a generic officer of state of a military dictatorship. Caesar is a person who exercises legitimate authority over the Senate and Roman People (and their dependencies), under the title "imperator". Paying tribute force majeure to the imperator (while attempting to limit its material and spiritual burden) always and everywhere has been self-evidently "lawful" under the universal principle: Vae victus.

The Pharisees want to know something more pointed: Is it lawful (in the integrally spiritual/temporal sense of the Law) to pay tribute to the man, Caesar (and, by implication to his legitimate successors)? In fact, the key question they are asking here is whether there can be a Holy Roman Commonwealth to which the Jews, as Jews, can give corporate material tribute so long as the man Caesar (and his successors) is its temporal ruler. The Pharisees did not ask Jesus whether it is lawful to pay tribute to any temporal ruler, but specifically whether it is lawful to pay tribute to this man, Caesar.

Jesus'answer must be understood as offering two lessons. First, He teaches that, before rendering even material tribute to any temporal ruler, we must determine the personal identity of the ruler. Second, He ordains lawful temporal material tribute to the man Caesar (and to his legitimate successors). Far from establishing a "neutral" test of civic obligation to states and "emperors", Our Lord enjoins us to discern the person of the ruler (and, I here argue, the legitimacy of his succession from Caesar).

"Render to Hitler..."?, "Render to Pol Pot..."?, "Render to the non-personal secular welfare state..."?, "Render to Anti-Christ..."? -- I think not, according to the Lord's teaching, if inevitably, according to the law of vae victus to which we increasingly are subject.

Look at the coin of tribute (what the "person" who rules asks of you), and if you don't see Caesar, know that you live under the law of oppression.

Todd Newbold

Give the temporal leaders what they confiscate for a functioning society, voluntarily give Jesus your obedience.

Brian J. Schuettler

As Dorothy Day is reputed to have said, "If we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar."

There is an unfortunate misunderstanding among many Catholics that Jesus is saying that there is a moral obligation is pay taxes.The 1994 Catechism instructs the faithful that it is morally obligatory to pay one’s taxes "for the common good". The 1994 Catechism also quotes and cites the Tribute Episode. But the 1994 Catechism does NOT use the Tribute Episode to support the proposition that it is morally obligatory to pay taxes. Instead, the 1994 Catechism refers the Tribute Episode only to justify acts of civil disobedience. It quotes St. Matthew’s version to teach that a Christian must refuse to obey political authority when that political authority makes a demand contrary to the demands of the moral order, the fundamental rights of persons, or the teachings of the Gospel. Similarly, the 1994 Catechism also cites to St. Mark’s version to instruct that a person "should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not ‘the Lord.’" Thus, according to the 1994 Catechism, the Tribute Episode stands for the proposition that a Christian owes his allegiance to God and to the things of God alone. If the Tribute Episode unequivocally supported the proposition that it is morally obligatory to pay taxes, the 1994 Catechism would not hesitate to cite to it for that position. That the 1994 Catechism does not interpret the Tribute Episode as a justification for the payment of taxes suggests that such an interpretation is not an authoritative reading of the passage.

Todd Newbold

Im still voting Democrat.

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