Tuesday, October 30, 2007

“Fear God. Honor the King.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

It has been said that the separation of Church and State is good for the Church. Worldly impotence, apparently, does wonders in keeping churchmen humble.

This is not a new idea. Lactantius (c. 304-313) wrote, “[God] would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness of prosperity, slide into luxury, and eventually despise the commandments of God.” Ironically, Lactantius would later be appointed tutor to the son of the first Christian emperor, St. Constantine. I certainly hope that living under Christian government did not cause him to despise the commandments of God.

Everyone needs to be humble. Both churchmen and statesmen are meant to serve God. Who is going to keep the statesmen humble? Clearly, no one has been doing this for quite some time.

King Henry II, on the other hand, after he encouraged the murder of St. Thomas Becket, was made to walk barefoot through the streets of Canterbury wearing sackcloth while eighty monks flogged him with branches. He then spent the night in the martyr's crypt. The same kind of penance should be recommended to certain Presidents of the United States for their crimes against humanity. As the Church and State are separate, who is to recommend it? Together, Church and State could keep each other humble.

It has been said that the Government should listen to the people and the people should listen to the Church. Should the Government listen to the people if the people hate the Church or Her teachings? If most people favor the legalization of the murder of a certain class of people (which, debatably, they do) shouldn't the Government stand with the Church, rather than the people? The law must not be relative to the whims of the masses. Truly, the people should listen to the Church, but when have they ever done that?

In the 18th century, democracy was an idea unpopular among faithful Catholics - opposed by the Pope and those loyal to him. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

I have often heard justified complaint that Catholics in America are more concerned with worldly acceptance than with fidelity to Tradition. This is the direct and inevitable consequence of the Catholic adoption of an American culture based on democratic principles. How can bowing to the will of the majority ultimately be anything other than relativist?

Many American Christians balk at my notion that the authority and power to rule does not come from the people. This idea is shared by, of all people, Jesus Christ: "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above," He said (John 19:11). The power to rule comes from God. You know, Divine Right and that sort of thing. “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). A government that does not acknowledge this true source of its power fails to govern well.

“My opinion is this: that in this way a kingdom may be governed in peace – when the sovereign is acquainted with the God of truth. That is, if the ruler withholds from doing wrong to his subjects out of fear of God, and he judges everything with equity…. For, if the sovereign abstains from doing wrong to those who are under his rule, and they abstain from doing wrong to him and to each other, it is evident that the whole country will dwell in peace. Many blessings, too, will be enjoyed there, because among all of them the name of God will be glorified. For what blessing is greater than for a sovereign to deliver the people that are under his rule from error, and by this good deed render himself pleasing to God”
– St. Melito (c. 170).


dave said...

I'll admit you make some persuasive arguments, but the scripture you quote could be used to justify any political system.

You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above," He said (John 19:11).

“For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1).

If even the Roman emperors are appointed by God, then why couldn't a democratically elected president be so appointed? The only way around this is to say that neither the emperors nor the presidents were in fact authorities, but Christ's admonishment to "render unto Caesar" is an acknowledgement of a certain kind of authority in a secular (or even pagan) government.

If I get a chance I will check the original language for "power" and "authority", which may not have the same clear distinction in Greek.

John R.P. Russell said...

In fact our government is appointed by God - as surely as any government is. I hope I didn't imply that it isn't.

The power that I have - to vote or to run for office, for example - comes from God.

John R.P. Russell said...

To elaborate: a government's appointment by God is not a mark of its quality - it is a quality of government.

This is like the authority of parents. God gives parents authority over their children. This does not make them good parents. Indeed, they may be evil.

A parent who submits to God is a good parent. A government which submits to God is a good government.

A democracy, by its very nature, is not prone to submission to God. The majority of people do not submit to God. Rule by the majority, then, is a guarantee of bad government.

I suggest that we should use our God-given democratic power and authority to oppose democracy inasmuch as we are able.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

What for you would be the appropriate form of government? I seem to remember your proposing a theocratic monarchy, but I may be mistaken.

Whatever the ideal, how do you see our pluralistic society adopting such a form of government? How would you see us getting from point A to point B?

Would you allow for religious liberty? If not, how would you uphold the official faith of the state?

Dave said...

Exactly, John, which is why these two verses do not argue for or against any particular kind of government. I thought that you were using them to argue against democracy.

Many who favor democracy would say close to the same thing, that the authority to govern is given to the people by God--and they might add that this God-given authority is a part of their dignity as human beings.

John R.P. Russell said...

I hold monarchy to be an improvement, theocracy to be a fact.

Jesus Christ is King of every nation.

Most nations ignore this reality. A democracy, practically by definition, ignores this reality.

A democracy could, I suppose, elect to acknowledge the Lord of all Creation as such; it could elect to enforce His Law as well as it is able. Indeed, as citizens with certain democratic powers, we are beholden, I believe, to cast our votes for just these sorts of things.

But to believe in democracy itself is relativist madness. To believe in democracy is to believe that the will of the majority is the greatest good. "Truth" is here determined by the most appealing advertizing campaign.

A monarchy, on the other hand, is as good or as bad as the king. Earthly monarchy is not the ideal. The Heavenly monarchy is the ideal, where the King is Goodness Himself.

But a monarchy has the potential for goodness. If a nation has a good king - a king who, like a good father, loves, knows, and honors God - it is a good nation.

It is worthwhile to believe that a certain good man or woman ought to be king or queen. If you find yourself trapped in a quasi-democratic system as we do, voting for that man or woman to rule is the necessary course of action.

However, under no circumstances should we believe the lie that the democratic system works to elect the best ruler for our nation. Honestly, at their cores, I don't think many people actually believe in democracy itself; they believe, rather, that who they vote for should win the election.

Majority opinion is a far more random way to choose a ruler than heredity, which is itself too random. Personally, I greatly admire the form of succession that has developed for the papacy: Get yourself a good ruler, and let only those people that he appoints elect his successor. Inspired genius. Also admirable is the way Solomon succeeded David - David gave him the throne while still living.

But I digress.

Kyle, in answer to your question, "how do you see our pluralistic society adopting such a form of government?" I don't. It will never happen in our lifetimes.


John R.P. Russell said...


I don't think the Bible has anything to say about democracy - other than resounding silence on the issue. Our Biblical heroes were far more likely to draw lots to settle an issue than vote on it.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Thank you for the elucidation of your position, John. Given that politics has been called the art of the possible, and with good reason, and your admission that good king or queen will not be coming to rule our postmodern nation any time soon, should our energies and resources be at all focused on establishing a theocratic monarchy with hope for the distant future?

dave said...

So really, your interest in monarchy is practical. We agree that no system of government is inherently superior to another. A king may be better than a president, or he may be worse.

But I think you overstate the case for the practical superiority of monarchy. A king needs the support of his people or he will be overthrown and "democratically" replaced by someone more popular. An army can hold the people down to a certain point, but then the approval of the army is needed and in effect the monarchy becomes the oligarchy of the king and his generals.

Democracy attempts a peaceful solution. When a majority of people feel strongly enough about something, and their opinion is not heard by their leaders, they can vote in new ones rather than mount a bloody rebellion, which would get them to the same point, namely the preeminence of their point of view, only with a lot of dying in the process. Certainly if the people are immoral in a democracy they will elect an immoral government, but then the same thing would happen in a monarchy, too.

In other words, a good government is mainly the reflection of its subjects. I think that rulers have less impact on their subjects than their subjects have on them. Can we really imagine that Plato's philosopher kings would have remained impartial and just if they ruled a rabble with no interest in the learning that was the whole basis of the political system?

I do acknowledge that a monarchy has certain advantages, and if we were presently living under such a government I would not feel the need to overthrow it. In the end a government is good not because of how it's constituted but because of what it does.

John R.P. Russell said...


I'd rather stop breathing than limit the use of my energy and resources to attaining the "possible." I despise politics.

Political theory, on the other hand, I love. I will devote much energy to its development.

John R.P. Russell said...


My interest in monarchy is not solely practical. The Heavenly monarchy, as I wrote, is the ideal government.

Ideals, being Heavenly, are not found here on earth, but strived after by men of good will. Monarchy, I think you must agree, is a better reflection of monarchy than is democracy.

Monarchy in an inherently superior form of government not only because of its greater practical possibility of goodness, but also because its philosophy is more in accord with that of Heaven.

There is no such thing as Christian democracy; there are Christian democrats; there are democracies of Christians; but there are no Christian democracies. In other words, democracy itself is not Christian. Once a democracy elects to uphold Christianity (not simply Christian values, but Christianity), it has ceased to be a democracy - I think you'll find the ACLU would agree with me here.

Christianity is monarchical, hierarchical, patriarchal (those curse words of democrats, liberals and feminists). We have a King and His word is Law. And if anyone won't obey Him, then he can just go to Hell.

Some of your practical objections to monarchy are true, but - as you say about my arguments - they can be made about any govermental system. Succession of political power is sometimes bloody in this vale of tears. You don't need a majority to mount a bloody rebellion. An oppressed minority suffering under the tyranny of the majority can rebel with violence equal to any other kind of coup, especially in this age of terrorism.

Also, examine our own Civil War.

Democracy attempts a peaceful transition of power, true. It sometimes fails. Monarchy, too, attempts a peaceful transition of power. It also sometimes fails. Everything in this sinful world sometimes fails.

Your practical point that "good government is mainly the reflection of its subjects" is taken. I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that if a nation were Christian, it would establish a monarchy.

Every Christian nation that has ever existed has been a monarchy. There are precious few Christian nations left.

Examine that black page of history, the French revolution: overthrowing the monarchy means overthrowing the Church too.

Dave said...

"Every Christian nation that has ever existed has been a monarchy. There are precious few Christian nations left."

This is an interesting point. At first I was going to a historical survey and consider if this has been true in every case, but I think it may be more interesting just to investigate whether this must be true in principle.

I think it is true that a government cannot itself be Christian if it can continue existing even in a non-Christian form. The American government is a good example of this. Clearly it can continue to exist in a secular society, which demonstrates it was never essentially Christian in the first place.

For this reason, I concede that a pure democracy, and many mixed democracies such as ours, cannot be Christian. In the same way, a pure monarchy could not be Christian, because a monarch with absolute power could turn his back on the faith--and since he is the government, the government would no longer be Christian.

I speaking in principle here. If it is possible for a monarch to cease to be Christian, then a monarchy cannot itself be considered Christian. It may function a Christian form of government most of the time, but how could the government be considered essentially Christian if it could stop being Christian and continue to exist?

I was going to suggest that consitutional democracies and monarchies might solve the problem because a Christian constitution could rule even when the leaders have ceased to Christian themselves. However, it didn't take much thought for me to remember that men are always more powerful than pieces of paper.

There may be an error somwhere in my line of reasoning, but the conclusion I am coming to is that no government can really be Christian because no government shares the timeless, infallible qualities of the Church, and unfortunately our assurances of the Church's infallibility do not extend to making political decisions, but only to the doctrines and morals that underlie them. We cannot rely on the Church itself to provide civil leadership; we must instead find men who have developed their sense of justice in the Church, and again these men will not be infallibly Christian.

As for your claim that monarchy is the correct form of government because it reflects the divine, I am not convinced that heavenly government and earthly government are similar enough that we can make an analogy between them. There are good and wise men, but none nearly so good and wise as Christ the King.

One last thing: the Civil War is certainly a good example of an inherent weakness of democracy. Many professed democrats change colors when they don't get their way at the polls. Sometimes it is moral for them to do so, and sometimes, as in the case of the Civil War, it is immoral. In either case it reinforces my earlier claim that the people matter more than the government.

lexscripta said...

Well, first off, the the founders intention was not democracy. Read Federalist paper 11.

What fascinates me here is that soon there will be a man whom the whole world will be enthralled with. He will be masquerading as the Messiah, and he will be a sort of King by implication. People will certainly want to declare him king.

To that end it seems that the thinking/philosophy/drive behind an earthly monarchy of any type is a preparation for his acceptance.

Of course, I don't want to be in that camp, but as political thinking matures it shows how the world is being prepared unwittingly by self proclaimed intellectuals for the appearance of the wicked one. The Bible is clear that the "whole world will be deceived", and if possible - "even the very elect".

I think more time needs to be spent in study of Gods Word, instead of all of this unfruitful contemplation.

Karl Barth himself when asked if he could sum up in a sentence everything he had learned, thought for a moment, smiled and replied: "A song my mother used to sing to me comes to mind - Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

My friends, the whole of life - including the deepest theological thinking - can be reduced down to this simple fact.

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