Hatred of Mankind? by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with the permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's" At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.
The ancient historian Tacitus once accused Christians of a "hatred of mankind." His charge came, at least in part from the Christians' refusal to participate in certain civic functions and celebrations. For this reason Tacitus viewed them as hostile to the empire and unfit for participation in its common life.
To an extent he was right. The early Christians did in fact stand apart from the rest of the culture - but not out of any rebellious spirit or seditious intentions against the empire. And certainly not out of hatred. Rather, because the Roman Empire's public life often involved pagan beliefs and ceremonies, the Christians had to absent themselves. Their apartness rose from a peaceful and authentic understanding of Our Lord's instructions: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt 22:21)
These well known words of Our Lord establish an essential, twofold principle. First, that the state has a legitimate sphere of authority. Second, that the state's authority is limited by the prior, absolute authority of God. Therefore Christ's faithful will render to Caesar the things that are his by obeying and serving the state in all things possible. And Catholics have historically distinguished themselves for generosity in civil service.
On the other hand, Christ's faithful will also render to God the things that are God's, by resisting - even to the point of death - the state's intrusion on the rights of God. And again, as so many martyrs show, Catholics have distinguished themselves in this as well.
Fidelity to Our Lord thus produces a curious paradox: A Church that has given the world both some of the greatest civil leaders (including many saintly kings and queens) and the most stubborn opponents of the totalitarian state. Unfortunately, infidelity to Our Lord's words produces a curious scenario as well. In her history the Church has seen some of her children go astray by rejecting the state's legitimate authority. . . and others go astray by prostituting themselves to its power.
In our day we can perhaps discern an echo of Tacitus's accusation (indeed, it echoes throughout history). No, we do not yet hear the charge "hatred of mankind." But from many outlets - from the media and some political candidates - we certainly encounter the attitude and the conviction that Catholics are unfit for public office by reason of their Catholicism. Complicit in this calumny are those Catholics who privatize their faith ("I am personally opposed, but. . .") because they see their Catholicism as an obstacle to civil service.
Whether from straying children of the Church or from those outside the Church, the charge remains that Catholic beliefs - and therefore Catholics - cannot help the common good, that somehow their beliefs do not benefit society, that they are in fact harmful. Thus when Catholics oppose gay marriage, they - we - are called intolerant. When we oppose embryonic stem-cell research, we are called uncaring, lacking compassion, perhaps bearing a hatred of mankind.
In the face of such caricatures, we should rejoice that we have been found worthy of the same accusations that the first Christians suffered. Further, we should pray for the peace that steeled the nerves and fired the hearts of the martyrs. When we Catholics, in resisting the state's encroachment on the things of God, place ourselves apart from society, we do not have a "hatred of mankind." Rather we witness to a deeper, more primitive rule of law - that of God Himself - Who alone brings true justice and lasting peace.
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