Render Unto Caesar… What? Reflection on the Work of William Cavanaugh

Paul S. Rowe; The Review of Politics 71 (2009), 583-605; The University of Notre Dame 

The following serves as research for a paper that seeks to look into the appropriate Christian role in Politics, especially in light of the upcoming 2016 Australian Election. 

Rowe embarks on a reflection of Cavanaugh’s work. Seeks to also introduce his work to a wider audience in political theory and science. Rowe is a political scientist.
Follows three line of questioning:
1) what are we to make of C’s argument against the state, and in particular, the coercive nature of the State?
2) is C correct to challenge the independence of civil society as a part of the state apparatus?
3) is C creating a fulsome critique of the modern international system from a Christian perspective?

In conclusion R suggests:
“his view of the church speaks in a limited way to Christians but even less to non-Christians”. p 585

On William Cavanaugh
associate professor of Theology of St. Thomas in Minnesota // Catholic tradition
– part of a movement called: radical orthodoxy it looks at the roots of various political concepts and theories and how they have departed from their original meanings in modern society.
– Due to this, he sees the State as a modern rival to the church as a place of reverence and legitimacy, one that is,however, artificial and contrived. p586.

p602 – important!
Spiritual Kingdom; no a temporal order, just challenging political thinking.
The church was to become the standing witness of Jesus’ spiritual kingdom in the world. The fact that this has political and institutional implications was evident in the perceived challenge to existing authorities… It would provide alternative principles for leadership, reverse relationships of enmity, and create new conceptions of mercy, grace and justice. As such, it devised new patterns for political thinking, which have challenged and will challenge the nature if the modern nation-state. But it did not create an alternative temporal order. Attempts to do so have been woefully inadequate, to because of the failures of the church as a spiritual entity but because the institutional church is by definition something more than that spiritual church to which the scriptures refer.

Ekklesia – Old Testament reasoning 
C’s exalted notion of the church does not follow from this Protestant tradition, but rather from an assumption of the church in some way as a continuation of the theocratic polity of the Jewish Old Testament. In one place, he argues the use of the word ekklesia in acient Greek for the church of the NT indicates its identification with the assembly of all Israel in the OT.. The point C is making here is that the church is not a mediating influence between State and Society, that it is properly an alternative loco of authority and tradition with a firmer grounding than the State itself…
It suggests that the Christian needs to filter the ideals of the state through a mind transformed by the power of Christ. But the ekklesia is not to be conflated with the temporal institutions of the church, many of which have proven as tragically artificial and unfocused on the common good as the modern nation-state itself.

–> But C does not advocate for a theocracy // public institution but not constitutive of a polity as a whole.
Simply providing an apologetic for the continued supremacy of the Catholic Church as a trasnational religious order.
– On the Reformation: “Luther contributed to the myth of the State as ‘peacemaker’ which would be invoked to confine the Church”. p603, quoting C in ‘A Fire’, p399.

Similarities to Sandel’s call for robust, values-driven, political engagement
Current international relations theory: The fear that religious traditions seeking to challenge the place of the nation-state will inevitably clash with one another and with modernity sugests that the diversity of religion represented by C’s devotion to the Eucharist will inevitably be de-stabilising. I hope to suggest otherwise: that the international stage is, indeed, a place for contending values to play themselves out, and often in political ways, but that this need not translate into uncontrolled conflict.
  What is necessary here, however, is a category of social relations in which such relations can play out. C may be right that teh stat is the wrong category. But he may also gave rules out more promising venues. p 604.

Reliance on the State
Without the state, or its attendant civil society, how do modern religious organisations seek some sort of common ground? By eliminating the secular state and civil society, C has left us with precious little space to construct common ground with the Other. p 604.

Render Unto Caesar
Was Jesus referring to the state when he made this claim? Was he not in fact declaring gather separation of church and state or was he simply making a pronouncement in the absence of the modern state? Or is it simply that the state must be constrained against the wanton use of violent means? p 605.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s