We continue the test of our Catholic worldview on the subject of the role of the Political Community- drawing upon Chapter 8 in the authoritative Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. We have looked at the Old Testament (#377-378) and Jesus’ interaction with political authorities #379) to see the development of doctrine relating to how we are to regard the political community. Now we turn to “The early Christian communities”.
What stands out for me in the next two paragraphs (#380 and #381) are these points: “legitimate authority responds to the order established by God”. “It concerns free and responsible obedience to an authority that causes justice to be respected, ensuring the common good”. “Praying for rulers, which St. Paul recommended even as he was being persecuted, implicitly indicates what political authority ought to guarantee: a calm and tranquil life led with piety and dignity (c.f. 1 Tim 2:1-1)”.
My take here is that we had better be careful as Catholics with taking any anti-government attitude so seriously. The idea that all taxation or regulation of some specific area of social interaction- like say the economy- is theft and evil socialism, just doesn’t seem to cut it from a true Catholic worldview as derived from the actual Church social doctrine and Holy Scripture- which to no surprise blends quite nicely. It will be seen that governments can go too far, regulations can be too strict or inconsistent, taxation rates may be too high or directed incompetently or corrupted. But the idea that government or “the State” must be weak in all areas but military defense or policing does not seem a logical conclusion to draw from Church teachings and recommendations that put political authorities directly on the hook for pretty much guaranteeing the common good according to the natural law- which must be the basis for civil law and societal order. Well- here are paragraphs #380 and #381 completely rendered for your consideration:
The early Christian communities
380. Submission, not passive but “for the sake of conscience” (Rom 13:5), to legitimate authority responds to the order established by God. Saint Paul defines the relationships and duties that a Christian is to have towards the authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7). He insists on the civic duty to pay taxes: “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, fear to whom fear is due, respect to who respect is due” (Rom 13:7). The Apostle certainly does not intend to legitimize every authority so much as to help Christians to “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17), including their relations with the authorities, insofar as the authorities are at the service of God for the good of the person (cf. Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 2:1-2; Tit 3:1) and “to execute [God’s] wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4).
Saint Peter exhorts Christians to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13). The king and his governors have the duty “to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right” (1 Pet 2:14). This authority of theirs must be “honoured” (1 Pet 2: 17), that is, recognized, because God demands correct behaviour that will “silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet 2:15). Freedom must not be used as a pretext for evil but to serve God (cf. 1 Pet 2:16). It concerns free and responsible obedience to an authority that causes justice to be respected, ensuring the common good.
381. Praying for rulers, which Saint Paul recommended even as he was being persecuted, implicitly indicates what political authority ought to guarantee: a calm and tranquil life led with piety and dignity (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-2). Christians must “be ready for any honest work” (Tit 3:1), showing “perfect courtesy towards all” (Tit 3:2), in the awareness that they are saved not by their own deeds but by God’s mercy. Without “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Tit 3:5-6), all people are “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing [their] days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another” (Tit 3:3). We must not forget the miserable state of the human condition marred by sin, but redeemed by God’s love.