Christianity and the Political Order: Conflict, Cooptation, and Cooperation

By Coleman, John A. | Theological Studies, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Christianity and the Political Order: Conflict, Cooptation, and Cooperation


Coleman, John A., Theological Studies


CHRISTIANITY AND THE POLITICAL ORDER: CONFLICT, COOPTATION, AND COOPERATION. By Kenneth R. Himes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013. Pp. xv + 359. $40.

Himes covers a capacious topic: church versus state, church and society, and the two realms of the temporal and the spiritual (their quasi-separate autonomy but necessary interaction). Following the famous formula of Gelasius that "two there are," two distinct realms, each with its authority derivative from God, allow for no facile division.

H. deftly explores OT kingship, showing that while it had a religious role, it was accountable, under the covenant, to God. H. notes the dual strands of monarchical versus antimonarchical traditions in the OT, and its refusal simply to wipe out one or other is obvious.

The famous dictate of the NT about rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God still leaves relatively ambiguous just what belonged to each. The NT exhibits three different strands concerning church and state: (1) a constructive view of the state as found in Romans 13; (2) a critically transformative view of church and state as found in Mark 12; and (3) a stance of critical resistance as found in Revelation 13. H. notes that any utterances of the NT about the state are never to be taken as purely theoretical and about government in general, but always in relation to some particular governmental organization.

Four chapters survey important formulations or contestations about church and state in the patristic era, the medieval era, the age of reform, and the age of the French Revolution. The chapter on the patristic era contrasts the favorable views of the empire of Eusebius (who allowed a religious role to the emperor) with more moderate views of Ambrose (who insisted on an arena of freedom for the church) and with Augustine's sense of the state as merely a force to restrain sin. In the medieval era, as the emperor moved eastward to Byzantium, the popes grew to have temporal power. H. rehearses the investiture controversy between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV, in which the pope claimed the exclusive right to nominate bishops and even a right to depose a monarch. Gregory did not subscribe to the formula of Gelasius but argued that the temporal was subordinate to the spiritual realm. In a later dispute between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV of France over the king's imposition of taxes on the clergy, Boniface wrote his famous decree, Unam sanctam, claiming papal supremacy in the temporal sphere. …

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