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Give to God What is God’s

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Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. Some people take this to mean a separation of powers. The new testament writers however and those who read their works for subsequent generations understood this as a subordination of powers since the Lord himself said to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above (John 19:11).” The authority of men derive from God, and so kings and rulers are obeyed lest in disobeying them, one disobeys God Himself. We find this idea implied in the prayer raised by Clement of Rome in behalf of governors and rulers. The Fathers understood well this subordination of powers: obedience to the king ends where rebellion to God begins. And rebellion to God, at the time when Emperors were regarded as gods, meant worshipping the Emperor. And so we have two examples from the Fathers, one from Justin the Martyr and the other from Theophilos of Antioch, of apologies made before Roman magistrates about why Christians should not render to the Emperor the worship that belongs to God alone. Finally, we have Ambrose commenting on the Lucan parallel to Matthew 22:15-22. Interesting is the interpretation he makes of the fact that Jesus’ interlocutors had the coin he asked for.

The Tribute to Caesar

“Whose image and inscription do you find?” (cf. Luke 20:24). In this passage, He teaches us that we ought to be careful in rejecting the accusation of heretics or the Jews… He asked for a coin and asked of whom was the image. In fact, the icon of God is different from the icon of the world. For this reason, even he admonishes us: “And as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so now we bear the image of the heavenly man (1 cor. 15:49)”

Christ does not have the image of Caesar because He is the “image of God.” Peter does not have the image of Caesar because he has said: “We have left all behind and we have followed you (Matthew 19:27)”. The image of Caesar is not in James or in John, since they are the sons of thunder … But if he did not have the image of Cesar, why did he pay the tribute? He did not pay from his own, but has given back to the world what belonged to the world. And if you do not want to be a tributary of Caesar, do not possess the property of the world. But you have riches, so you are a tributary of Caesar. If you do not wish to become absolutely a debtor of the king of the earth, leave everything behind and follow Christ.

And it is right that he commands first to give to Caesar what is of Caesar, because no one could belong to the Lord if he has not first renounced the world. All of us, certainly, renounce by word, but we don’t renounce with the heart. In fact, when we receive the sacraments we make the renunciation. What heavy responsibility it is to promise to God and not to pay the debt! “It is better not to make vows”, it is written, “rather than to make it and not to fulfill it (Ecc. 5:4).” The obligation of the faith is stronger than what is pecuniary. Give what you have promised while you are in this body, before the executioner comes “and this throwns you into prison. In truth, I tell you: you will not come out of it until you have payed the last penny.” (Luke 12:58; Matthew 5:25)

Ambrose, Exp. Ev. sec. Luc. 9:34-36


A Prayer for Civil Authorities

Give concord and peace to us and to all the inhabitants of the earth, just as you did for our fathers when they invoked you in holy way in faith and in truth (1 Tim. 2:7). Make us obedient to your Name, omnipotent and full of virtue, and to those who command us and guide us on earth.

You , O Lord, give them kingly power through your magnificent and ineffable strength because in recognizing the glory and honor given to them we may obey them without opposing your will. Give them, O Lord, health, peace, concord, and fidelity in exercising the sovereignty given them from you.

You, O Lord, Heavenly King of all the world, grant to the sons of men glory, honor and power over the things of earth. Lord, bring to a good result their will according to that which is good and pleasant to your presence, to perform with piety in peace and sweetness the power you have given them and that they may find you Merciful.

You, alone are capable of accomplishing these good things and others better than these. We thank you through the great High Priest and protector of our souls Jesus Christ through whom you are glorified and magnified from generation to generation forever and ever. Amen.

Clement of Rome, Ad Corinth. 60, 4-61,3


God should be in the first place

We make the effort to be the first in paying taxes and tributes to your officials everywere: for this is what He has taught us. At that time, in fact, some people stood before him and asked whether they should pay the tribute to Caesar. He said: “Tell me, from whom is the image in the coin?” They said: “From Caesar”. So he said “Give therefore to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Therefore, we give adoration to God alone, for the rest we serve you, recognizing you as emperors and heads of men and we pray to God that before the imperial authority we also would receive a healthy consideration. But although we pray for you and we render ourselves transparent to you, you despise us. Know that we are not the ones who do any damage since we believe, rather we are convinced, that each of us will undergo the punishment of the eternal fire according to our deeds and render an account in proportion to the faculties received from God, just as Christ admonishes: “God will ask more from him to whom God has given more.”

Justin the Martyr, I Apol. 17


Worship is owed to God alone

I will honor the Emperor. I will not worship him, but I will pray for him. Only the kingly God, the true God I will adore knowing that the emperor was made by him. Certainly you will ask me: why don’t you adore the Emperor? Because he was not made to be adored but to be honored with obedience to the law. He is not God but a human being that God has constituted not to be worshipped but to function as a just judge. In a certain sense, God has entrusted to him administration. And even he does not wish that anyone who is subordinate to him be called Emperor. “Emperor” is his name and no one can be called legitimately by that name. In the same way, adoration is only for God. Therefore O Man, you are trully mistaken. Honor the emperor, loving him, obeying him, praying for him. Doing thus, you do the will of god. In fact, the Divine Law says: “Son, honor God and the emperor and do not be disobedient to one or the other. They immediately punish their enemies (Prov. 24:21)”

Theophilos of Antioch, Ad Auct. 1, 11

Originally posted 2008-09-12 00:42:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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