Author: Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Publisher: Doubleday, 2008
“ The author of Render unto Caesar, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has said publicly that some of the ideas he addresses in his book don’t apply to the Canadian context. However, when the reader recognizes the differences between Canadian and American history and their political structures, the content of the book is not only equally applicable, but badly needed in both countries. Political ideas may change from time to time and from nation to nation. This is not so with Christian discipleship.
The Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, encourages and pleads with the Christian reader to have a strong and informed conscience to help us decide how best to vote and how to be a witness to our faith. Only by doing this can we hope to live out our Catholic faith in the world as followers of Christ. Essentially, this is one of the major points of the book, as its title suggests. Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” According to the author, this statement clearly addresses the question of religion and the state. Citizens owe Caesar, our civil authority, our respect and proper obedience. But only if this does not contradict with what belongs to God. The true believer must discern what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Even the state must be subservient and answer to God for its treatment of the human person.
Render unto Caesar is a book that can help us put our religious beliefs into practice. It’s a solid self-help Catholic text. It offers a great deal of information about the Catholic faith that can be used as a way of deepening our faith and a help in making political decisions. The author stresses that political engagement is not an option because where power is exercised there one finds moral issues which have human consequences. An example of this can be found in recent laws, in Canada, in America and in many other countries that have changed the definition of traditional marriage, the family, sexuality, bioethics, abortion, euthanasia and the acceptance or rejection of religion in the public square. Archbishop Chaput underscores the idea that beliefs are of little use if citizens are unwilling to protect them or to live them out publicly.
Near the end of the book in a chapter called, “Faithful Citizens” the author suggests how the individual can integrate faith with politics and why it should be done: “Deliberately killing innocent human life, or standing by and allowing it, dwarfs all other social issues. Trying to avoid this fact by redefining when human personhood begins is simply a corrupt and corrupting form of verbal gymnastics. And this habit is not the special reserve of our political leaders. The challenge to American bishops as teachers is most forcefully shown by the mail many receive from the people in the pews. Quite a few American Catholics feel comfortable in the role of lions when they lecture the church to keep silent about immigration reform and abortion. But they turn into kittens when it comes to demanding a real change of direction from their political parties and leaders on the very same issues. Persons who claim to be Catholics under such circumstances are deluding themselves. They want the eternity insurance of faith but refuse to pay the premium it involves.” (Pages 211-212)
The author goes on to define Catholic citizenship with a quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch who said, “Just beg for me the courage and the endurance not only to speak but also to will what is right, so that I may not only be called a Christian, but prove to be one.” (Page 212) On this point it’s instructive to remember the words of Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Render unto Caesar is a clarion call to Catholics to know their religious history. If one doesn’t learn anything about the struggles of the past, one cannot fully deal with the issues in the present. It is important to realize that many American institutions, and we can also add Canadian ones, were founded on ideas and ideals shaped by a religious vocabulary and experience. To take God from public life is to destroy the very foundations that have built it. Just consider what’s been happening in Quebec with the removal of religious instruction in the school curriculum. Furthermore, words affect the way human beings think. So when the meaning of words like “fetus”, “abortion’, “the common good”, “family” and “conscience” are distorted then we also weaken our ability to think and act clearly and responsibly. In debasing our language, we also must accept the new laws which inevitably emerge from this misuse of language. This has been clearly seen with the legal redefinition of traditional marriage and of abortion. In a speech on this subject which he delivered here in Toronto, the Archbishop put this way:
“We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue.Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty—these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it is never an end in itself. In fact, tolerating great evil is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square peacefully, legally and respectfully, but also energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.” (Toronto, February 23, 2009, St. Basil’s Church)
With this, every Christian is reminded of the personal mandate that comes with Baptism. For to leave everything in the hands of Caesar, we allow governments and others to change our view of marriage and the family, sexuality, bioethics, abortion, euthanasia and the very presence of religion in public life. And while realizing that this counter-cultural mission is a daunting task, Archbishop Chaput offers the reader hope. He reminds us that hope is not a sentimental idea or mere wishful thinking, but for Christians it is a virtue and thus a source of courage and strength. No doubt there will be difficult decisions and tough choices. Here’s what he said in speaking to a group of pro-lifers in Ireland: “History shows that guerrilla wars, if well planned and methodically carried out, can defeat great armies. And we should never forget that the greatest ‘guerrilla’ leader was not Mao Zedong or Che Guevara, but a young shepherd named David, who became a King.”
Render unto Caesar is an excellent and timely guide for believers to confront the present moral challenges. The book offers ways in which the faithful citizen can be loyal to God and at the same time help the nation. I highly recommend this book. When you finish reading this text you’ll regret that it has come to an end. However, you’ll soon forget that because you’ll be thinking of ways to live out the book’s Christian message.
HMWN Radio Maria
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If you haven’t read Archbishop Charles Chaput’s latest book I suggest you do!