Tang Ben Forum
CAESARS WHO DONíT BELIEVE IN GOD
Los Angeles --- ďRender unto Caesar the things which are Caesarís, and unto God the things that are Godís.?
That, according to Gospel authority, was the policy recommendation of Jesus Christ more than two thousand years ago when confronted with the dicey question about the obligation of the faithful as to whether they owed tribute to the governing power of the time. In effect, Christ said, split the difference and live and let live.
The formulation was rather clever. Without going into messy detail, it established the principle of the separation of church from state ?or rather that of Caesar from God. It reinforced the idea that human souls on earth have civic as well as religious obligations.
In China these days, alas, this age-old formulation doesnít seem to be working as well as it might. The Communist authorities in general have been taking an uncharitable view of the Vaticanís role in the selection of priests on the mainland to elevate to the position of bishop.
Recently government authorities named two clerics to positions of bishopric without the advice and consent of the Vatican. This broke a valuable understanding that only complicated the efforts of the Holy See and the Communist government in China to establish normal relations.
China has been eager to gain official Vatican recognition, especially as it would mean de-recognition of off-shore Taiwan, whose elected president has been leaning toward the apostate position of independence declaration. It has also been eager to convince the world that its rise is peaceful.
Even so, Chinaís sinful transgression against the ďrender unto" deal is not hard to figure out. The first reason is the most obvious and thus mostly easily forgotten. Those who lead China are card-carrying members of the Communist Party, and communists donít believe in God. Whatís more, they tend to think that people who do are either off their rocker, high on illusion and delusion, or closet subversives trying to knock the Godless Communist Party off its throne.
That leads to the other reason. The Communists in China remember the gallant but unceasing anti-Soviet and anti-Communist campaign of the current Popeís predecessor. The late Karol Wojtyla, as a priest in his native Poland, was vehemently anti-Communist and as Pope John Paul II he made it a point to go down in history as probably the most effectively anti-Communist pope ever.
Thatís inspirational for us anti-Communists, even for those of us who are out-and-out atheists; but for those holding onto power in China, the Wojtyla spectacle put the Pope on about the level of some secular great Satin.
The current pope, Benedict XVI, has made some overtures about getting the Vatican and Beijing on the same page in the hymnal. But the Chinese are wary of this new pope and of his reputation for being more conservative than John Paul. They will not be able to trust the new leader of the Catholic Church until they are able to verify that he is not as much of a crusader as the old one.
The two sides are off to a bad start in terms of getting along. And Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong early this week had a lot to say about the matter. If he did not exactly threaten the materialistic money-changers to the north with a cane, he did serve notice that Beijing had crossed the line by in effect entering Godís temple. Caesar has no more right to make a man a Catholic bishop than the Church has a right to have a say in the naming of Chinaís generals.
To this end, Beijing should back down and re-submit the proposed promotions to the Vatican for vetting or withdraw them. It should recognize Cardinal Zen as an internationally respected church leader who in effect is really asking of the mainland Chinese nothing more than they have already promised with their oft-proclaimed Hong Kong policy of ďone country, two systems.?
This in effect is precisely what the Vatican is suggesting: It recognizes that China is one country and that its Catholics are part of that one China. But it is also insisting the process of elevating priests to the bishopric cannot be done by the same system that inducts Chinese citizens into the Communist Party.
For the kingdom that is not Caesarís, a second system is necessary. It is that simple. The atheists in Beijing need to just a little religious on this point.
UCLA Prof. Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran journalist and a former Catholic. He has never been a Communist.
Tom Plate, 2006. Distributed by the UCLA Media Center.
Copyright © 2000 -- 2005, 2006 TANG BEN