Render Unto Caesar
by Archbishop Charles Chaput
Render unto Caesar is a book written by a Roman Catholic Bishop, who can only speak truth or falsehood as a person who is indelibly marked as a Baptized and Confirmed Christian and Bishop. He wrote this book out of and within a Christian ethos in general and a Catholic mind-set in particular, and therefore it is herein evaluated for good or for ill on that basis.
Charles Chaput, the very conservative Catholic Bishop of Denver and a very nice fellow personally, steers clear of any serious analysis of the primal issue in Church-state relations, that either poisons or empowers everything else. He does not seriously address in Render unto Caesar the foundational problem of the morality of Christians using violence in all forms against other human beings, and even each other, under the guise of the word "state." In other words he assumes as Gospel truth, and accepts, the Constantinian definition of the content of Christian love — a definition and content that is patently inconsistent with the definition and content Jesus gave the word love by His words and deed. Specifically, Charles Chaput’s definition of Christian love includes killing and maiming people. Jesus’ does not. His understanding of Christian love cannot be found in original Christianity. It comes into its own about 300 years later with Constantine.
Beyond this, no more really needs be said about the book. If one accepts Chaput’s understanding of Christian love, he or she may still have quibbles and squabbles, or maybe even fist-pounding arguments, with him about what he writes on this page or that, regarding the implications and applications of his understanding of that love. But, if one accepts Jesus’ definition of love, he or she will find an entire book one cannot accept, because it is the Constantinian understanding of love that underlies all thought in it.
Take for example the book’s introductory quotation from the philosopher Henri Bergson: The motive power of democracy is love. I agree. In fact on April 4,1971, I gave a public address of some length, subsequently published, entitled, "Direct Democracy and Agape," on this very subject. In it I referenced the word love exclusively to Christlike love, specifically quoting in full 1 Corinthian 13 to be certain that people would be clear about what I was saying. Since love is a word with an almost indefinite number of meanings attached to it in English, I felt truthful communication required this explicit clarification. In Render unto Caesar the meaning of the word love slips and slides like a drunken sailor all over the lot. Sometime what is being said appears to be Christlike love, or at least a logical deduction from it. Then on the next page it is clearly Constantinian love. The confusing and commingling of these understandings of love, understandings that exclude each other because of the logical Principle of Non-Contradiction* are the piedi d’argilla on which Render unto Caesar makes its stand for everything it presents as moral truth in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.
*["X" and "not X" cannot both be true; between "X" and "not X" there is no middle ground.]
Now, the saddest thing about Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book, Render unto Caesar, is that 98% of the Christian Churches and Christian leaders, from Moscow to Manhattan, from the Pope to Putin, agree with him and think as he does in relation to the teachings of Jesus and their relationship to the "state." They believe that the piedi d’argilla on which this book stands are rock solid, namely, that Christlike love includes Christians getting a hold on the levers of the state’s power of violence. As previously noted, they only disagree with Bishop Chaput, and among themselves, on some of the details of the execution of violence — on which human beings and on behalf of what causes Christ would approve killing, maiming, torturing, destroying and desecrating other people under the auspices of the "state." But, at root they all — Charles Stanley, John Hagee, Alexei Ridiger, James Dobson, Reverend Ike, Dimitrios Arhondonis, Hans Kung, Charles Chaput, Rowan Williams and tens of millions of other Christian pastors and preachers — are in complete agreement, getting the states power of violence in the hands of good [by their particular standards, not Gospel standards] Christians is faithful discipleship on the part of the Church and on the part of those Christians who pursue this end.
An icon of Jesus as a soldier firing a machine gun at another human being is understood across the board to be a preposterous image of Jesus. It is an image imparting a grave and destructive false witness. But, what of the image of Jesus as Prime Minister of Israel, Premier of Russia, President of the United States, or Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the military of the Vatican City-State? Are these authentic images of Jesus or are they equally false images imparting a grave and destructive false witness to Christians and non-Christian alike? Indeed, does not each of these images absolutely require the other? Does not the Christian soldier killing and maiming people with a clear conscience require that the Prime Minister, et al., permitting him or her to kill? And, does not the Christian Prime Minister, et al., require the soldier with the machine gun ready to pull the trigger on the PM’s command? To have an image of a Prime Minister, et al. without including in it a soldier at the ready to destroy human beings upon a given order from the PM is like having an image of a Mafia Godfather without his "enforcers" and triggermen. Both images are arrant nonsense because of what they leave out. As the old song goes, "You can’t have one without the other!"
So, is the Christian who orders the trigger pulled any more or any less a faithful follower of Jesus and His Way, a true images of and witness to Jesus and His Way of love (Jn 13:34, 15:12, Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1970, 2822) than the Christian soldier who upon orders pulls the machine gun trigger thereby cutting another human being to pieces? Practically all PMs and their "enforcers" in Western civilization over the last 1700 years have been and are Baptized Christians!
The piedi d’argilla of Charles Chaput’s book is the piedi d’argilla of just about every Church and pastor today, and for most of Church history. From House Churches, to Pentecostal Churches, to Glass Cathedrals, to Rock Basilicas — First World, Second World, Third World and Fourth World — nearly all Churches and Church leaders and Church members have been trying to be Pilgrim Churches and Pilgrim people while standing and walking on these ever corroding and corrupting feet of clay, that is, on a presentation and enfleshment of the truth and love that Jesus taught, that is not the truth and love that Jesus taught.
Nothing in the teachings of Jesus says or even suggest, that for His disciples violence becomes acceptable when done as part of a crowd — whether the crowd names itself a state, a corporation, a Church, an army or any combination thereof. Render unto Caesar as noted above steers clear of this primal issue and simply assumes that it is a settled matter that followers of Jesus can be faithful followers of Jesus and kill and maim people, or order the killing and maiming of people, e.g., war, abortion, capital punishment, etc. if it is done under the auspices of the "state." As mentioned above an icon of Jesus firing a machine gun is universally experienced as preposterous because of what it says on the pages of the Gospels about who He was, what He taught and how He lived. Does the Baptized follower of Jesus, who is expressly commanded by Him to "Love one another as I have loved you," have available to him or her — morally, spiritually and ontologically — a body and a soul that have the authority to render to Caesar in an act of homicidal violence?
Render unto Caesar is a book by a Christian and a Bishop about love, politics and Jesus. But, it is not a book about the love that Jesus teaches in the Gospels nor is it a book about the politics of Jesus. It is a book that says one can achieve Christ’s ends by using unChristlike means. To believe this disconnect between ends chosen and the means chosen to achieve them "requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse," to use Charles Chaput’s own words from another context. God is not mocked, we reap what we sow. It makes no difference if we re-name corn "wheat," or re-name violence "Christlike love." Nor, does it make any difference for how long we have been re-naming corn "wheat" and violence "Christlike love." It is equally irrelevant what personages of distinction re-named corn "wheat," and violence "Christlike love." What we will get in reality for sowing corn and violence is a harvest of corn and violence, and their fruits!
Render unto Caesar is a book, that if it had courageously disciplined itself to proclaiming that love, and that love only, that Jesus taught, that is, a nonviolent love of friends and enemies in imitation of Him and in fidelity to His teaching, could have been an authentic prescription for Christianity being that salubrious mustard seed which planetary humanity so desperately longs for and needs for its healing and peace. Instead it is a prescription for more of the same old addictive poison that for over a millennia and a half the Churches have been pouring into the minds and hearts and bodies and blood of Christians and non-Christians — the poison of the cross of nonviolent love turned upside down and made into a sword, and then sold to humanity in a bottle with the label "Christlike love!"
Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite) of the Catholic Church. Formerly a lawyer and a university educator, he is the founder and the original director of The Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame. He is also co-founder, along with Dorothy Day and others of Pax Christi-USA. He has conducted retreats and spoken at conferences throughout the world on the issue of the relationship of faith and violence and the nonviolence of the Jesus. He was the keynote speaker at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee for the 25th anniversary memorial of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. there. He is author of several books, including these: All Things Flee Thee because Thou Fleest Me: A Cry to the Churches and their Leaders to Return to the Nonviolent Jesus and His Nonviolent Way; Christian Just War Theory: The logic of Deceit; August 9: The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love. He has also authored innumerable articles on the subject of violence, religion and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies taught by Jesus by word and deed. His audio/video series, BEHOLD THE LAMB, is almost universally considered to be the most spiritually profound presentation on the matter of Gospel Nonviolent Love available in this format. BEHOLD THE LAMB is now available on mp3CD through his website, either at the cost of $5.00 for a disc or it can be acquired directly by an mp3 downloaded from the website for no cost. Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work on behalf of peace within people and among people. He may be reached and his work may be accessed at the Center for Christian Non-Violence.