Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jesus, Cato, & Caesar

Well, I've facilitated discussions on Romans 13 and the American Founding that have almost beaten the horse to death. I've little dealt with Mark 12:17, where Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. ..."

Let's do so now. The passage, like many of Jesus' sayings, has specific and broader meanings. In the specific sense, Jesus recognized Caesar's temporal governmental authority over Him and His followers. In a broader sense, believers are to be subject to the civil government, pay their taxes and so on. And because the civil government Jesus recognized was that of pagan imperial Rome, logic instructs Jesus advanced institutional separation of church and state, where Christians can live under a "state" that is a pagan and un-godly entity as was Caesar's.

This parallels Romans 13 as I understand it. Most biblical scholars agree that the higher power St. Paul instructed believers to submit to -- in the literal instance, the specific example ordained by God -- was the pagan psychopath Nero.

In a symbolic sense, that would set a very low standard for "rulers" to meet in order to properly maintain their Romans 13 power.

Now, I've heard some orthodox believers argue Paul really wasn't telling believers to submit to Nero but rather to some ideal "godly" government because he said "rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil," and that they are "minister[s] of God to thee for good." As such, Nero or any tyrannical ruler wouldn't qualify.

But, when one puts Romans 13 together with Mark 12:17 that interpretation seems less biblically sound. In the latter, Jesus recognizes the civil legitimacy of an imperial pagan entity, arguably a tyranny. (By this time Rome ceased being a "republic" and was now an "empire.")

When the American Founders posited the notion "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," because they operated in a general Christian context, they had to deal with the Bible.

That notion is not "biblical." Whether it's "anti-biblical" (something the Bible forbids) or "a-biblical" (something the Bible doesn't teach, but doesn't necessarily forbid) is debatable. What's not debatable, in my very learned opinion, is the notion "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God," however nice it sounds, is NOT what the Bible teaches.

With Romans 13, while most of the "key Founders" ignored it (it ended up, with all of Paul's words, on Jefferson's cutting room floor), to satisfy the public (who may have been more concerned with the Bible) ministers like Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel West offered "reasoned" explanations for why Romans 13, properly understood, didn't forbid revolt against tyranny.

But the Founders still had Jesus to deal with on government. And, unfortunately for them, Jesus' words offered no satisfaction for their plans on how to deal with tyrannical rulers. Indeed Gouvernor Morris lamented to George Washington the insufficiency of Jesus' words in this respect.

However, Jesus did inspire them. Whether they were orthodox Christians, Arians or Socinians, they thought Jesus the "best person," regardless of whether He (or he) was 2nd person in the Trinity or simply a man on a mission from God to save us through his (not His) perfect moral example. Jesus always did the right thing. So on how to conduct your personal affairs, follow Jesus.

George Washington's 1783 Circular to the States (not written by GW, but given under his imprimatur) "dispose[d] us ... to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."

But there was a figure (how much of his example was actual history, how much literary embellishment, I do not know) who, unlike Jesus, did rebel against tyranny. In fact, a contemporary of Jesus, he rebelled against the same tyranny to which Jesus submitted: Cato the Younger. He purportedly committed suicide (not a very Christian act) rather than submit to the tyranny of Caesar. He was, as it were, the last of the Roman republicans, after Rome transformed into an empire.

It was Joseph Addison's tragedy Cato that inspired the American Founders. Washington had this play performed for his "Christian" troops to inspire them.

Of course, if Jesus's words offered support for what Washington and the others did against the British they would have been used. But, alas, they didn't. So the Roman Stoic Cato filled in.

17 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think the example of CATO is an example that universalizing scripture is a little simplistic if one wants to live reasonably...

"Living reasonably" for one person, might not be "living faithfully" according to another, because each person will have a different bias, goal, value, or perspective. But, reason underwrites the reasons, of most reasonable men :)!

Tom Van Dyke said...

A fascinating analysis of the Cato play.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3822/is_199910/ai_n8852832/?tag=content;col1


The question is offered---is Cato really the hero?

As the eighteenth-century critics themselves suggest, "despite the existence of viable military options, [Cato] commits suicide just when his people most require his leadership."

Washington had written that he wanted to play Juba, the noble African. Juba lives on, to pick up the pieces.

Of course, Washington wanted Sally Fairfax as his Marcia [Cato's daughter and Juba's secret love]:

"I should think our time more agreeably spent, believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, and myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make."

http://americanheritage.com/people/articles/web/20090908-George-Washington-Love-Letter-Martha-Dandridge-Custis-Sally-Fairfax-Virginia-Mount-Vernon-Fort-Belvoir-High-Society.shtml

Heh heh. Still, it's quite possible that Washington's hero wasn't Cato, and we can not assume he was.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Washington's affinity for the play is often used as an argument for America's Roman, "non-Christian" influences.

However, as we see in Paine's 1776 "Common Sense":

"Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts."

The young [fetus!] America is already arguing against monarchy and contemplating a republic.

But history had little in the way of republics to draw from: in Federalist 52, Madison has only the Roman republic, Sparta and Carthage [about which little was known] to look to.

All the rest were monarchies and empires, and the Athenian democracy is also conspicuous by its absence, something seldom mentioned by historians, come to think of it.

In Federalist 52, Madison also notes that the hereditary and oligarchic Roman Senate doesn't fit the "American genius." A House of Lords, I guess. America isn't going to be that kind of party.


The Cato play was extremely popular in the Founding era: Franklin quoted it often, and Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale might have copped their most famous lines from it. Clearly, even Sally Fairfax knew it well.

And we can see the Roman Stoic notions of virtue and ["our sacred"] honor run throughout the Founding sentiments [the linked essay traces "Give me liberty or give me death" to the Cato play].

But what's interesting is that we don't see the Athenians or the vainglory of the Iliad's Achilles in the Founding. Especially in the latter case, that world was too alien.

However, among all the pagan traditions, it was Roman Stoicism that was most incorporated into the Christian tradition and Christian thought, even down to "natural law": that way of looking at things, that "worldview," is compatible---that there is an order to things and a natural and objective "good" that man should live in harmony with. I don't think I'm stretching here: in fact, Roman Stoicism was more at ease with "Divine Command Theory" then most Founding-era Christians were.

As this very interesting essay notes, in Christianizing Stoicism, the ethics [and natural law] were kept while the [meta-]physics and cosmology were rejected.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/neostoic/

What's clear from the above essay is that Stoicism and Christianity had a long relationship, and even John Calvin was aware of it enough to attack [of course] the "neostoicism" of the Renaissance.

For the Stoics, the wise man or sage (sophos) can overcome all unwanted emotions by rational analysis of his judgements. For a Christian, however, this should only be possible with the help of God’s grace.

I still think the former describes George Washington far more than the latter, based on his writings, more a Vulcan than a Christian. For the rest of the Founding era, I think it was more a Christianized Stoicism: if a holy roller like Patrick Henry could manage a synthesis between Cato and Christian orthodoxy, then it was certainly possible for the less holy, hence signers of the Declaration of Independence pledging to each other their "sacred honor."

Add: Doing a double-check, it appears Nathan Hale's famous last words are apocryphally drawn from, yes, the Cato play.

http://blog.acton.org/archives/2630-book-review-nathan-hale.html

"the Essex Journal, on February 2, 1777, reported Nathan’s final words as ‘You are shedding the blood of the innocent. If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down, if called to do it, in defence of my injured, bleeding country.’

Either way, Nathan Hale was known as quite the Christian. Interesting story in the link.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Stoics "virtue" is nothing but "submission" to "fate", as "god".

Isn't there a debate about the ground of moral philosophy?

Wasn't Epicureanism also alongside the Stoic? And wasn't their understanding one of "beauty"? Didn't Thomas Jefferson lean toward Stoicism?

Isn't Stoicism more a "biblical" view, while Epicurian is an apologetic view, (if one wants to use philosophy as particularly supporting Christian religion)?

Living by one's reason and living faithfully to those reasons, are what I'd call integrity. Liberty has to be the ground whereby the individual finds his integrity.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

OOPS, Thomas Jefferson leaned toward Epicurianism...not stoicism...sorry.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, did you read the link about Stoicism? It would be nice if you kept the conversation flowing instead of throwing down speed bumps of your own. There was plenty to learn there. At least I did, and so I thought I'd share it with everybody so we could discuss it.

Since Roman Stoicism was at the heart of Jon's original post and all, and something this blog has touched on but has never really gone into at a proper depth.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Jon

For this interpretation to be true with by linking the words of Jesus and Paul then Jesus would have to be saying that his followers had to give honor to Nero. Not just allegiance but honor. That goes so far against the spirit of the teachings of the Old Testament it is not funny. Mayhew's critique stands untouched in this sense.

The other problem is that Jesus was probably saying the same thing that Locke thinks Paul was saying:

Jews had to respect the legtimacy of Pagan governments. Not bow to everything a tyrant did but that it was ok to be a Jew and live under a pagan government.

Your citing this passage not only does not touch the Locke/Mayhew version of Romans 13 it actually supports Locke's reading of it.

Joe Winpisinger said...

"Of course, if Jesus's words offered support for what Washington and the others did against the British they would have been used. But, alas, they didn't. So the Roman Stoic Cato filled in."

Actually Jesus had some very clear words based on the Jewish concept of Imago Dei that the founders did look to if even in an indirect way when the read the theology of Locke that supported inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property.

Love God will all your heart, soul,and mind and your neighbor as yourself was what he said. This did make it into Locke's Second Treatise.

With that stated, since Jesus said that this summed up the entire teachings of the Torah, the bigger question is how it is love to let someone oppress their neighbor? The argument could also be made that Jesus came to speak to the Jews because he said it and thus had no real comment on the tyranny of the Romans. He sure did nail the Jews when they were doing it. Ever read what he said to the Pharisees?

You walked right into this one Jon and there is no way to wiggle out. You are right when confused we should go to the words of Jesus. He clearly said to love our neighbor. That is the angle that Frazer ignores in all of this.

Still waiting on my answer about Othniel and Calvin too.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Jon,

I would also remind you that it is important to include that Nero had not started any persecution of Christians until after Paul wrote Romans to make sure that a secular audience understands that. When this is presented it takes most of the steam out of that argument.

Jonathan Rowe said...

King,

I think the problem is I am approaching this from a "the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God" hermeneutic where all of the texts have to be taken literally and synthesized to not contradict one another.

Locke and Mayhew, as far as I read them, didn't really have that approach. And I don't see you as personally believing in that approach either. However, I did leave an out when I wrote --

Whether it's "anti-biblical" (something the Bible forbids) or "a-biblical" (something the Bible doesn't teach, but doesn't necessarily forbid) is debatable.

The notion that revolution against tyrants is "a-biblical" fits with what Mayhew and West argued. The Bible stops and then the natural law -- what's discovered from "reason," fills in the gap and supplies the rule.

I also don't see how I at all misrepresented Jesus. Whether one is orthodox or not, we all should agree he or He taught people how to live. The orthodox say He did much more (made an infinite Atonement, etc.).

But what's not debatable is that he didn't overturn ONE unjust social institution. Not one. Not empire, not divine rule of Kings, not slavery, not one.

Jonathan Rowe said...

With that stated, since Jesus said that this summed up the entire teachings of the Torah, the bigger question is how it is love to let someone oppress their neighbor?

Again -- I really don't have a problem with this reading -- but it's more of a liberal cafeteria Christian understanding of the Bible.

Paul said slaves obey your masters and Jesus didn't overturn chattel slavery as an institution.

That's the "literal" -- every word of the Bible is inerrant, infallible approach.

Joe Winpisinger said...

"But what's not debatable is that he didn't overturn ONE unjust social institution. Not one. Not empire, not divine rule of Kings, not slavery, not one."

He never said no one else could and the Old Testament is filled with examples where people did and were aided by God in doing so.

King/Joe

Joe Winpisinger said...

"Again -- I really don't have a problem with this reading -- but it's more of a liberal cafeteria Christian understanding of the Bible."

My hermeneutic is far from being cafeteria Chrisianity and I think leaving room for natural law, taking the humble approach that some may interpret passages differently and still the right overall understanding, allowing that the epistles are one side of the conversation and many times the person's opinion, and other methods of interpretation is a far cry from picking out the points one likes in the Bible and throwing the others away.

When we conflate the two we look at Mayhew and Locke and not realize that their arguments against a dogmatic reading of Romans 13 were straight from scripture. Yes they applied reason to the scripture but so did Calvin or anyone else that wants to give and opinion on what it says.

I am stating that using nothing but the Bible one can refute Frazer on this. I think Mayhew does it well. If Frazer's argument is based on Calvin's then they both need to reconcile the use of Othniel as legimtate forms of resistance to authority. That story contradicts Calvin on interposition or our understanding of Calvin.

I think it is the latter. The best way in my mind to understand what someone is saying is to look at the examples they use. His using Othniel as an example I think clarifies what he was saying. He seems to leave room that God raises up people to resist tyrants in judgement to that tyrant or in answer to prayers of his people.

I think interposition is often the wisest course of action but no one can say it is in the Bible. I think it is based mainly on inalienable rights grounded in a the biblical concept of Imago Dei and the natural law that flows from there.

I think one could easily state that if one believes in Imago Dei that it is self evident to protect self and neighbor from harm to that image.

But what one has to acknowledge is that the concept that this line of thinking is built on is uniquely Judeo-Christian and straight from the Bible. Those that deny that deny an essential part of the philsophy of our founding. Or at least what they had to say to get it by the people.

Barton is not so much wrong as the foundation of his argument is flawed and he give shitty evidence. I personally also have major qualms about his interpretation of a godly society as well.

You and I can agree 90 percent politically, which I think we probably do, and I came come from theological point of view and your a philosophical one. I think that is what most cannot see. Religious right political theology is not the only bibical theology there is.

Yes, a great deal of this rises out of realizing that many topics are a biblical but not all.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have a defensiveness to "agendas" that "use" information to guide or propigate "one view". The reason for such a strong bias is that control is the "stuff" of indoctrination, brain-washing, and not education or free thought or creativity, or scientific endeavor OR liberal demcracy, because liberal democracies do not have agendas that they impose upon others.
A liberal democracy embraces free enterpise in regards to market economics, freedom of information in regards to ethics (transparency) and academic freedom, and liberty of conscience in religious conviction.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, these liberties are citizen rights, or our civil liberties. The question of globalism and gloabalist agenda is the stuff of propaganda, dissolving liberty and individuality, because of the need for beauracratic control...for whatever ends are deemed "just" or "good"...

Jonathan Rowe said...

If Frazer's argument is based on Calvin's then they both need to reconcile the use of Othniel as legimtate forms of resistance to authority. That story contradicts Calvin on interposition or our understanding of Calvin.

I think Frazer answered this a number of times. His argument is not based on appeal to Calvin's authority but rather the Bible's. Yet, he and Calvin far more often than not see eye to eye on this matter and a bunch of others. But not always. Gregg has noted he believes in only four of Calvin's five points.

On the Othniel point, likewise Gregg has answered more than once.

Re Calvin and Othniel, as far as what I understand Calvin to be saying, that's going to have to wait.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I think Frazer answered this a number of times. His argument is not based on appeal to Calvin's authority but rather the Bible's.


Calvin's "authority"? He has no "authority," by Protestant theology itself.

No popes, no Magisterium.

Therefore, neither does Dr. Frazer have any "authority" more than any Founder.

That Gregg Frazer's opinion on what the Bible [God] says has any standing over John Calvin's around here has been the great mystery to me, and a great waste of time.

Further, I rounded up a Calvin scholar recently, Dr. Jeremy Bangs, who thought the Founders' arguments were not out of sync with Jean Calvin himeslf.

So not only cannot we---those of us with no dog in the fight---cannot definitively say even what Calvin would have thought of the American Revolution, let alone Paul the Apostle, or God.