Spilt religion

Give Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s, according to Our Saviour. I wonder how well this statement is understood, even when taken as quick repartee to an entrapment question. In that light it was an invitation to His persecutors, to think again — about God, about moral obligation, about human freedom, and many related things. Today, we cite the phrase to enforce, from the Christian side, the separation of Church and State. I doubt that could have been the original intention, for Jesus’ contemporaries never concerned themselves with the niceties of American constitutional practice. They had sixteen more centuries before they’d ever have to think about the Peace of Westphalia. Notwithstanding, the distinction between earthly and heavenly power, slurred in ancient paganry including the Roman, was, I think, already morning star on the horizon of Hellenistic thinking.

We can’t cease to be modern, or escape history, so long as we are breathing. Nor have we become again quite so barbaric that the past is lost to us. Even if unwilling, we are anachronists, and the ideas, both of Church and of State, do not go away. To our modern view, shot through with the vice of individualism, a man has connexions with God and with his neighbour that are different in kind. We hear an “either/or” when Christ had specified a “both/and.”

He was — and I am no theologian, don’t trust me — making a distinction between God and Mammon. (Now, what this term “mammon” means is a large topic; its reduction by childish translators to the word “money” is a sign of our times.) Both exist in the spiritual realm, both (by the Incarnation) in the material. The silver piece that Jesus was shown (foreshadowing the silver pieces to Judas), were of Mammon, on whom Christ made no claim. On justice and order He did, so that ultimately Christ claimed Caesar, but in no worldly sense. Caesar did Christ’s work, insofar as he maintained the lawful order of things; or he refused, and served only himself. That coin was his token, either way, and not for Christ to micromanage. It was not a sacred article.

Trade, though it should be honest, is in its nature profane. This does not mean that it is evil. Eating and drinking are not wicked things, in themselves. We are not Manichees. Insofar as a human is an animal, alive within the natural world, he is not a moral subject. Only insofar as he belongs to a supernatural order, does he participate in the absolutes we find there. We are not Animists, we are not Pantheists; the natural order we neither worship nor condemn. We give up the coin in taxes, or we give up our body to the lion in the Forum; at the material level, it is all one.

Although this world is a mixture of the sacred and profane, we need not confuse them. We ought not confuse them, and never in God’s name. The sphere of politics, on which I touched yesterday, is the sphere of Caesar’s coin. It is decidedly NOT the sphere of our neighbour, who is never abstract. The most seemingly charitable welfare or eleemosynary schemes are in the realm of Caesar.

Christians are called upon to be alert. With God or neighbour our relation is with a Person; the Church, for all her outward organization, is a vessel in which we find a Person, too. The vessel of the State contains, actually, a bottomless nothing.

Our contemporaries are bewildered by these. They think that Christ has called us to advance His Kingdom by political means; or that good resides in the empty vessel. This is spilt religion; the wine poured, as it were, into the wrong jar, and lost, immortally. That which is owed to Christ — a life — is instead paid into the emptiness.