The Two Kingdoms: Whom to Serve?
Catholic leaders are understandably angry about the Administration’s decision to mandate that Catholic schools and hospitals provide abortion-related services and birth control as part of their employee health insurance coverage, even to the point of military chaplains opposing the order from their pulpits. While this writer is not a Catholic and never has been, the dilemma that Catholics face – to serve Caesar or God – is one that ought to evoke the sympathy of all, regardless of religious affiliation.
In thinking about how to deal with this, it is, ironically, a concept that Martin Luther used – ‘the Two Kingdoms’ – that comes first to mind. ‘The Kingdom of the Left’ is the State, instituted by God to administer the earthly matters of justice and public administration, while ‘the Kingdom of the Right’ deals with affairs of a higher order. When the two clash, as they may, our allegiance must be to the commands of God and not to contradictory ones emanating from our fellow men. While we are to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,”‘ we are to “render unto God the things which are God’s.” Our dollar bills bear the image and name of Washington; one could suppose that, in the context of America, that we ought to render unto Washington that which is Washington’s, but what has not changed is the latter part of Christ’s injunction about obedience to the King of Heaven.
The history of non-violent resistance to injustice is a long and noble one. The anniversary of the martyrdom of the ‘White Rose‘ movement’s leaders is nearly upon us; this is as good a time as any to reflect upon what it means to act on conscience in defiance of the will of one’s temporal rulers. In terms of church-state relations, two examples of the battle between the spirit and the sword have been memorialized in classic movies: ‘Becket,’ with Richard Burton in the title role, depicting the refusal of the King’s friend and boon companion to, when once elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury, be the King’s loyal poodle. Becket filled his office, ex-libertine that he was, with more courage and conviction than many a holy man could have mustered, and he paid for it with his life. A successor of his was also martyred by another English King: Thomas More paid for his refusal to acquiesce in an act he considered immoral – a divorce for Henry VIII – that the latter had his murdered. His story is beautifully told in ‘A Man for All Seasons., starring Paul Scofield’ These are worth checking out of the library and watching, and may the watching engender meditation upon the subject of non-violent civil disobedience to intrinsically immoral dictates from temporal governments, and on our duty to forego the easy path for the one demanded by the ‘still, small voice of peace’ which ought to inform our conscience, especially in time of trouble.
Postscript: It appears that the mandate, odious as it is to Catholics, is to be softened somewhat; it is unknown if this is enough to satisfy the consciences of those who are offended, nor is it known if the promised relief will materialize after the election season is over and the prospect of the aggrieved expressing their displeasure at the polls removed. Nonetheless, this is an important point to ponder – when we are confronted with an immoral law, how will we respond?