The following is Part I of the essay “What is Christian Politics?” by Tsoncho Tsonchev, currently a graduate student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where he is writing a doctoral thesis on Nicolas Berdyaev. Mr. Tsonchev hails from Bulgaria, but has been living in Canada for a bit more than a decade.
“For to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Gen. 33:10)
Christianity is political, but does not have a “political program.” It is revolutionary, but does not call for a change of political regimes. Christian politics is not the secular politics, the politics of power competition and fight for rights and privileges. It is “unconventional” by the standards of contemporary political theory and practice. The Christian understanding of politics is neither paradoxical nor perplexing, yet many fail to admit the adequacy of its concepts and prescriptions, many would argue that to be political means to have a political program, and to be revolutionary means to strive for a change of the political order and power. These are the arguments of those that have no clear sense of the nature of politics and that have no knowledge of the nature of Christianity as the most political and revolutionary teaching in human history.
Jesus advised, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) What is the meaning of these words? The secular mind would quickly interpret them as a command for obedience to State and Church, as an example of the Christian social and political conservatism. This command, many have argued, asks the people to have a slavish, apolitical behavior; it legitimizes the autocracy of kings and priests. We find this interpretation in the works of great political minds like Mill, Nietzsche, and Marx, but this does not mean that we should accept it uncritically. Because, as it has been said, if Christianity is the most political and revolutionary teaching in history, then, it cannot ask for slavish obedience nor it can legitimize a regime, temporal or spiritual, that is against the freedom of personal conscience.
So, what is the meaning of Jesus’ advice, according to the Christian interpretation? First of all, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” means that man should respect authority. What is authority? Authority is the power that serves the common good. As power serving the common good, the authority should respect man. The authority has the same obligation as the man (or people) under authority. It should “render unto Man (or people) the things that are man’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” As authorities, both God and Caesar, who is a man, are servants of man. The authority has no other goal but to promote justice. Authority is authority only as an act of justice. Authority without justice is autocracy—the rule, the will, and the individual good of autos kratos (self-power). Autocracy is not authority because it does not care for the common good. It is a despotic self-containment and self-sufficiency. Justice, as Aristotle says, is always about the “other,” it always includes more than one person. It is about common good. Justice is possible only in society, under authority, not under autocracy. Justice, in authority, has no other goal but to promote the equity in human society. And equity has no other goal but to defend the dignity of each person in society.