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Friday, April 29, 2011



While I agree that Jesus didn't advocate for a welfare state of any sort, it strikes me as just as boneheaded to argue the reverse- that "render unto God what is God's" represents an advocacy of limited government. Sure, the passage limits government in the sense that we shouldn't worship government as God... but not in any sense relevant to the tax code.

If giving money to the government for redistribution amounts to turning the government into God, what does private charity amount to? Under such logic, private charity would simply be idolatry of the market or of the individual rather than some sort of religion of state. It's all nonsense. Redistribution for the common good stands decidedly within the human plane of practicality and feasibility. Strategies for redistribution are neither sacrosanct nor evil... they just work to varying degrees of success, and should be judged accordingly. Not by inflating their significance into some theological either/or.


I really hope this debate gets out into the open. Rarely are O'Donnell's ideas expressed so explicitly. This is delightful.

For far too long people who think that way have hidden behind generalizations like appealing to Catholic Social Doctrine and in many cases even believe that trumps the moral teachings of Jesus, as in the case of Catholic pols who support abortion.

Here's a question for those obsessed with the separation of Church and State, doesn't this commentary demonstrate that if socialism is Jesus' teaching, the socialists are then shoving their religion "down the throats" of Americans?

Robert Miller

The first thing we need to get right is that Our lord was not speaking of the modern post-Christian state when he admonished his interlocutors to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

God became Man at a precise moment in history -- during the reigns of Caesar Augustus and Caesar Tiberius. We seem to forget that Jesus points to the unique, once and for all, quality of His response by requesting to see the coin of "tribute", and asking: "Whose image and inscription are these?" We further, in English-speaking precincts in recent decades, have muddled understanding of this and other related teachings of Our Lord by referring to what we once called "publicans" as "tax collectors".

We are missing the entire drama of the encounter of the Son of God with the reality in which He chose to become Incarnate.

Caesar was a man, not a state, and he demanded tribute. The business of collecting tribute he farmed out to freebooting provincials, who paid Caesar his "take" and extorted and skimmed whatever they could for themselves (a better name, capturing the popular feeling toward them, would be "traitors" or perhaps "Quislings"). Caesar was not a "state" or "government", and his "tax collectors" were not bureaucrats.

Our Lord's teaching was not a reflection on the "justice" of a bureaucratic state's exactions -- not even a reflection on the justice of Caesar's tribute. Rather it was the proclamation of a new modus vivendi with this particular world ruler, Caesar, and his officials. Thereafter, until the early 20th century, this man Caesar produced a line of successors who, from the time of Constantine, adopted the Lord's standard as their own.

No, I don't think Jesus was teaching us about our relationship with "the state". Jesus proclaimed "the Kingdom", recognizing Caesar and his successors as Providential intermediaries of its temporal growth. The Kingdom is the Christian reality -- in its secular form, Christendom, protected by Caesar and his deputies (ultimately, the kings of the various Christian peoples).

What makes Catholic social teaching so difficult to articulate is its typically ahistorical presentation. It treats current political and social issues as if they were amenable to discussion and resolution in a "marketplace" under the auspices of a state that ultimately "is us". The modern state is not Caesar -- and it is decidedly not "neutral" with respect to Christ (in fairness, it can't be neutral). The state is an invention of the Renaissance-Reformation-Enlightenment. It is constitutionally designed to replace Caesar, his deputies and Christendom. It can only prepare for its Anti-Caesar (who, of course, also will be Anti-Christ). It is not "us".


It's absurd to think that the state should take the place of private charity for caring for the poor. The Old Testament calls for a tithe, which sets a wonderful ceiling for what God expects us to contribute, 10% of our income. He graciously allows us to keep 90% and says nothing about expectations that the government provide for the poor. (Caesar's government didn't care for the poor in any noteworthy or systematic way, so the gospel passages about "giving unto Caesar" are red herrings regarding welfare.) It's an ahistorical, uneducated expectation that the modern state should be empowered by the dutiful Christian to tax and provide welfare to the poor.) America has a constitution that limits government involvement, and a remarkably vibrant set of non-governmental charitable organizations to care for the poor in very efficient and careful ways. I wish more Catholics would understand that government *isn't* what the Bible calls for to take care of the poor -- it's US, the Christians, independent of apparatus of state, who need to help our brothers and sisters. Jesus wasn't a socialist, social democrat or a republican. He wanted individuals to take care of individuals, person to person giving. Catholics, as educated as many of them are, seem to get this more wrong than most Christian denominations; this is a ghastly stumbling block that makes confused Catholics tools of the secular government. Once government's limited role becomes clear, many other aspects of faith, hope and charity fall right into proper place. It's bizarre how many Catholics will argue indignantly that they're not required to give any set % of their income to church (such as a 10% tithe) but then claim that the government should *raise* taxes to make sure the poor are "taken care of". That's a sad misunderstanding of scripture AND the fathers of the church.


I know several folks who agree strongly with Mr. O'Donnell. They are very proud of the fact that they pay their taxes and very critical of those they assume are shirking their duty. This self-righteous attitude ignores the fact that if we don't pay our taxes, eventually people with guns will show up at our door and take us to jail for a long time. In contrast, the practice of giving freely, i.e. without coercion, offers at least the possibility of helping us grow in love for others.

The historical perspectives of the previous posts get to the heart of the discussion. We know that for over a century, the U.S. government has been controlled by wealthy progressives. Originally these former pietists lost their belief in the transcendent God and replaced it with belief in an all-powerful state run by people just like themselves. Today we have a leviathan government with its fingers in everything, including control of charitable giving through the granting of 501c3 status. I may be in the minority on this, but I do think the Church and her members could better witness for Christ if we broke free of seeking government approval. After all, the Catholic Church pioneered and institutionalized care of the poor and sick, widows and orphans more than a thousand years before secular government divorced charitable giving from spirituality.

Robert Miller

Jean and MarkAA have some very acute insights that situate them very close, as I read him, to the Holy Father in Caritas in Veritate.

For me the most compelling teaching of the encyclical is that justice is included within charity. Of course, we've always known that. But, in the modern context, we've tended to see their objects as separate pursuits. What's worse, with the post-Reformation fragmentation of man's secular and spiritual objects, a false distinction between the pursuits -- justice, secular; charity, religious -- has rendered justice blind and charity superfluous. The Enlightenment, accordingly, rendered charity a "private" matter and justice the primary object of a state without the heart of Christendom.

But the Church knows that there is no justice -- giving each fallen, yet redeemed, man his due -- without charity. And there can be no charity that is not the personal movement of a heart redeemed in Christ.

Let the state exact as much tribute as it can with the ultimate threat of force, but it will never establish justice, let alone move hearts to charity.

The modern, statist, ideologies -- whether of Left or Right -- are grounded in a false, reductive (in our time, morphed into deconstructive) anthropology. If we, as citizens, are not allowed to see Christ in the poor person, we never will be able to do him justice, no matter how high or low our taxes,

Carlos Caso-Rosendi

In my humble opinion it is easy to see what Jesus demands of us: everything. But --in sharp contrast with the Leviathan State-- He gives us His all in return including Himself in the precious gift of His Body and Blood.

If the world followed His example to a tee there would be no need of welfare or state. Paraphrasing Aristotle: "Where everyone strives to be just no one fails to be blessed."

Chuck Prenatt

Is charity the responsibility of the Christian? Of the Church? How convenient that evil "society" has released us from that difficult and heavy burden. The church, not just the Catholic Church but also the New Evangelicals are unequally yoked with the Republican Party and the Rulers of this World. We should not inform our theology according to their principals and goals.
“The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” is not Marxism but is is a redistribution of wealth- even wealth from labor. The Rulers of this World do not mind redistributing wealth in their direction. Christ- as the Head of the Church should inform our principals and policies. Not by endlessly searching and debating the Scriptures but as we yield our hearts to Him.

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