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Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s

Submitted by on Wednesday, 17 September 2008No Comment

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"Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s". Some people take this to mean a separation of powers. The new testament writers however and those who read their works for subsequent generations understood this as a subordination of powers since the Lord himself said to Pilate: "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above (John 19:11)." The authority of men derive from God, and so kings and rulers are obeyed lest in disobeying them, one disobeys God Himself. We find this idea implied in the prayer raised by Clement of Rome in behalf of governors and rulers. The Fathers understood well this subordination of powers: obedience to the king ends where rebellion to God begins. And rebellion to God, at the time when Emperors were regarded as gods, meant worshipping the Emperor. And so we have two examples from the Fathers, one from Justin the Martyr and the other from Theophilos of Antioch, of apologies made before Roman magistrates about why Christians should not render to the Emperor the worship that belongs to God alone. Finally, we have Ambrose commenting on the Lucan parallel to Matthew 22:15-22. Interesting is the interpretation he makes of the fact that Jesus’ interlocutors had the coin he asked for.

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John 19:11
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11Jesus answered: Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin.
Matthew 22:15-22
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15Then the Pharisees going, consulted among themselves how to insnare him in his speech.
16And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou dost not regard the person of men.
17Tell us therefore what dost thou think, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
18But Jesus knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites?
19Shew me the coin of the tribute. And they offered him a penny.
20And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and inscription is this?
21They say to him: Caesar's. Then he saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's.
22And hearing this they wondered, and leaving him, went their ways.

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