Cuius Regio Eius Religio
An ideology must be constantly created and verified in social life; if it is not, it dies, even though it may seem to be safely embodied in a form that can be handed down. Many Christians still think of kneeling with folded hands as the appropriate posture for prayer, but few now know why; and the few who do know cannot, even if they choose, mean the same thing by it as was meant by those to whom the posture was part of an ideology still real in everyday social life. The social relations that once gave explicit meaning to that ritual gesture of the vassal's subordination to his lord are now as dead as a mackerel, and so, therefore, is the ideological vocabulary, including the posture of prayer, in which those social relations once lived.
-Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America
The royal headship could be maintained because Scripture would "bear" it. It rested on the plain precedents of the Old Testament and the clear indisputable teachings of the New. But for the papal headship there was only the flimsiest of biblical evidence.G.W. Bromiley, Thomas Cranmer: Theologian, p.14
This post is partially inspired by recent posts at the Scrivener and the Going Along Blogs, but I have been thinking on these questions for quite a while. These two posts are from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, and ask some good questions. There are some other thoughts, however, I would care to add, ones that may invert the whole argument at hand.
The subject, of course, is the relationship between Church and State, and more broadly between Church and civil society. How can we be Christians in an indifferent and even arguably hostile civil society? The problem goes deeper than we would like to realize.
Let me start with ecclesiology. The title of this post in Latin means roughly, "the religion shall be that of him who governs". Just the issue of "what church do I go to?" has been historically determined for 90% of Christians by what the State decides is a permissible church in the realm. My Mexican mother, when she first came to this country as a young girl, would make the Sign of the Cross when she passed any building with a cross on it. She didn't know that there was more than one church; in the village, there was one church and that was of course Roman Catholic. Are a lot of the latter-day posturing and hostile apologetics the result of post facto posturing by Christians who confront their fellow Christians as the Other (l'enfer, c'est les autres)? Unable to explain why this person who claims to be Christian looks different from us, do we then begin to apply polemical justifications for why these differences exist? It is arguable that the rift of 1054 started with ritual (who can read the decrees of excommunication now and not blush with embarrassment at the polemics over beards and the sexual habits of priests?), and only later became theological when it was discovered that the Other was bigger and scarier than we first imagined, especially when those in power thought it convenient to inflate those prejudices for their own interests?
Of course, this can be countered with various other examples from Church history. The Catholic Church in Hippo at the time of St. Augustine was also one of many others, but still remained the true Church. There were many post-Reformation villages in Europe where Protestant and Catholics lived side by side, not to mention the early Church having to proclaim its message amongst so many heretical sects. How far, however, can we take these analogies? Were St. Basil's heretics the same as my heretics? Is what is at stake now the same as what was at stake then? Can we be so sure?
Thomas Cranmer, according to MacCulloch's biography, was speechless at one point in his trial when confronted with a well-put point of one of his Roman inquisitors: if the Head of State is head of the Church, does that mean that Nero was head of the Church when he crucified St. Peter? Good question. Why, however, was St. Paul still saying we should obey all (secular) authority? Why did the early Church never set down who was ultimately in charge in ecclesiastical affairs, and why did secular power quickly come to fill the gap in many circumstances after the Emperor Constantine's conversion?
It is hard for us to know just how powerful and sacred "secular" power was considered by the Church itself. We, as postmoderns, like to whip out all of the examples of the Church confronting power, but never the ones when the Church bowed before it and obeyed. Were not the king and emperor anointed at their coronation? Did not the Byzantine emperors receive Communion right from the altar like a bishop? The model of Altar and Crown still seems much more Biblical. Cranmer's point, mentioned at the beginning, remains a very good one.
I have always thought that the phrase, "Kingdom of God" has become one of our many "garbage words" or empty "God-talk" that means absolutely nothing to us. From the time I was a monk, I always thought that the modern congregation is immediately lost in the Divine Liturgy right from the get-go:
Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages...
Does anyone know what that means anymore? Golly, these days people don't even hit their kids to discipline them! How can we really know what a kingdom is, where the Sovereign has life or death, willy-nilly control over his subjects? Can we truly know what grace is when all we speak is the language of entitlement and "human rights"?
I of course am in the biggest bind of all. I am a semi-leftist who has to pray for a government I don't agree with (it's in the Prayer Book). Can I really consider the Bush administration sacred?
Do I have a choice in the matter? And how does this culture of continual criticism and democracy square with the Gospel ethos?
Again, lots of questions, very few answers. But to smugly proclaim ourselves as Christians contra mundum, to exalt "truth over power" and rejoice in our own strangeness may just be a symptom of petit-bourgeois "self-expression", and in truth very far from the spirit of the first Christians.