Caesar and The Apostolic Authority of the Church (Part I)
December 04, 2020
In my essay series on social justice, I began writing about the role of government in establishing and maintaining social justice. My point, so far, has been that just government needs to be rooted in truth about God, man, and the purpose and destiny of human life, that the weak human reason is insufficient to establish this truth, which must therefore be made firm by some sort of diviner authority, manifested in a verbal revelation. For reason to recognize this revelation it will need to be able to recognize that the revelation of God is capable of making sense of the whole scope of human experience.
Either no such authority exists, or it is different for different people, or indeed there is such an authority and it is one for all of humanity, whether it is recognized as such or not. If no such authority exists, then government can only be the imposition of the will of the stronger; if it is different for different people, then there can be no unity between those different people, only the uneasy truce of a ‘co-existence’. Only if there is one divine authority for all the world and for all peoples could there be any possibility of ‘unity in diversity’.
The only real candidate for an ‘organization’ possessing universal divine teaching authority is the Catholic Church under the Roman Pontiff. Recent Popes have at least downplayed the political relevance of their teaching authority. Indeed, the tendency has been to put the Church at the service of a world unity, a universal brotherhood, that lacks a religious foundation. This has been manifested in a special way by the Church’s promotion of the United Nations. Indeed, the Church has presented herself as a champion of ‘human rights’ only to see those ‘rights’ hijacked and turned against her by a whole new set of ‘equality rights’ that favor the LGBT movement.
Now before I go any further let me insist on something of essential importance: I am not setting forth a proposal for the establishment of the Catholic religion in the United States or anywhere else. I have been writing, and still am writing, about social justice on a theoretical level as the right order of human society.
If what I am writing is true, then it sheds light on the disorder of our present society, but does not have much to say as to how right order might be established. In any case, the establishment of the Catholic religion, in the United States or elsewhere, could not justly take place without the conversion of at least as substantial portion of the populace to the Catholic faith, indeed it could not justly take place unless the Catholic faith became the dominate social and cultural force in society. That would require also a tremendous renewal within the Church herself, a clearing out of the widespread corruption both in faith and morals that has been poisoning the life of the Church.
In any case, let us now turn our attention to the great political Gospel, the words of Jesus: Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. (Mt 22:21)
The words are evidently true and just, but their meaning might not be so obvious as we tend to think.
Truly the words do speak to the relation of Church and State, because Caesar represents all civil authority, while the Church, the Roman Catholic Church, has been entrusted with the care of what belongs to God. We need to grasp that there is an authority, in the world, but not of the world, that has care for the things of God.
Before leaving this world, Jesus said to the Apostles: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always. (Mt 28:18-20)
Notice first that the authority of Christ the King has no limits. While he was on earth, the man Jesus Christ did not rule over anything and even submitted himself to the unjust judgment of Caesar’s representative, Pontius Pilate. After he ascended into heaven, he entered into his kingship and now rules the universe with the fulness of his divine authority.
Next, notice that he delegates to his Apostles a definite mission, together with the authority needed to carry out that mission. That mission is universal in its scope, extending to all nations on earth and through the whole duration of time until Christ’s return in judgment. That mission involves leading men to faith in Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel (make disciples), giving them to share in the life of the Holy Trinity through the sacrament of baptism, and teaching them the way of life proper to the children of God.
This apostolic authority comes directly from Christ the King, is subject to no human authority, but is answerable only to Christ himself. Just as all men are bound to believe in Jesus Christ, all men are bound to obey the apostolic authority.
Yes, the authority can be abused and God will call to judgment those who abuse the authority he entrusted to them. Nevertheless, the abuse does not take away the authority. (To be continued)
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.
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