Which Comes First, Church or Country?

 In an earlier post on the Member Feed, one of the more thoughtful (albeit cryptic and esoteric-minded) members, Pseudodionysius, posted the video below, in which Archbishop Chaput tells his faithful that “we’re even Catholics before we are Americans,” that “Catholic identity takes…

  1. Dudley

    I’m Catholic before I’m American

  2. Fredösphere

    No religion that fails to assert its primacy is worthy of the allegiance of anyone.

  3. KC Mulville

    Let me begin by noting that the concept of limited government is precisely the answer to this question.

    The government is not the people.

    The American experiment depends on the notion of government being a servant, not a superior. Our model of government comes from the old story of the three neighboring landowners, where a swamp develops that affects all three. None of the individuals wants to be responsible for draining the swamp by himself, so they all enter into an agreement whereby an entity (government) comes in and performs the common service.

    In that model, government is given a specific job. It’s powers are enumerated. Government doesn’t become the superior of the people; it remains a servant. Government is an institution, on par with the schools or the economy. It’s a device. It’s an organized solution to address some aspects of life’s problems.

    Obamacare, however, supposes that g0vernment has primacy of place, such that it claims the right to define and limit all the other institutions. Government no longer adheres to enumerated authority; it now claims to be in charge of its own enumerating.

    I deny that the state has authority to define truth.

  4. donald todd

    Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Give to God what is God’s.  One allegiance is temporal.  One allegiance is temporal moving to eternal.  Which is more important: The temporal or the temporal moving to eternal?

    Once you have the answer to that question, you’ll know to whom you owe your primary response.  It is not a question I can answer for you.

    Of note, I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things.  Anymore, I watch them to see what they do.  If you want to know what is important to someone, watch and see what that person does.  Then you’ll know what is important to that person.

  5. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    (cont. from #6).  Moreover, there are Catholic roots to many modern principles that the Enlightenment usually gets credit for (cf., Wood, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization). I would submit it was less France and Spain’s Catholicism and more their corrupt monarchies, vice Britain’s robust parliamentarianism, that accounts  for the underwhelming results of their new (and old)  world projects. And England was a Catholic nation for roughly a thousand years prior to Henry VIII testicular induced decision to break with the See of St. Peter.   But undoubtedly, the Reformation theologies were a powerful infuence on our Founders’ worldviews, I certainly would never deny that.  To get a better feel for what Archbishop Chaput is arguing, I would highly recommend reading his book Render Unto Caesar. He explicates his case there very well.  There is nothing in contemporary modes of governance, even exceedingly excellent ones like the form the U.S. has enjoyed for most of its existence,  that insulate them from imposing coercive requirements on persons of faith the same as the Caesars or the Soviets.  When that happens, believers– of any stripe– are obliged to be “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” 

  6. Schrodinger

    As the country abandons God, as it now is in the process of doing, I will gladly abandon the country. It is not just the government. We now live in a country where the majority of people seem to prefer the pleasures of this world to the promises of the next. It is dangerous to offer one’s allegiance to a country in this condition. 

  7. RightinChicago

    Chuntry?  But seriously, ideally, there should be no conflict between the two.  America, as founded, didn’t ask a citizen to choose between church and country.  Not so today.  Overall allegience goes to God though.

  8. Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    Carroll’s brother Daniel also signed the D of I. And Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimmons (of Pa.)  were both Catholic signers of the Constitution.

  9. katievs

    Astonishing, I think you are right in pointing to a problem.  The American experiment only works in concert with religions that 

    1) grant a separation between Church and state, and

    2) accept there there is such a thing as Natural Law, accessible to reasonable persons of any faith or no faith.

    Without those, we’re left with “majority rules” and, eventually, “might is right.”

    Neither secular leftists nor radical Muslims grant separation of Church and state or that there is such a thing as Natural Law.  

  10. Fricosis Guy

    Clarification: Do you mean “Country” or “The crap they play on the radio these days”?

  11. katievs

    As to your question, I can’t quite understand where you see a difficulty.  

  12. Mama Toad
    Cornelius Julius Sebastian: I think you overstate the case on Catholicism being inconsistent with the Founding.  Maryland was established as a Cathlic colony, and the Catholic Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence (cont.).      · 15 minutes ago

    Actually, although Maryland was established as a Catholic colony, by 1692, Catholicism was basically outlawed there. There were no colonies that specifically welcomed Catholics, although Pennsylvania resisted pressure to penalize Catholics for being Catholic. Rhode Island, a religiously tolerant colony, had civil restrictions on Catholics from its first published law code in 1719. 

    St. Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit martyr, escaped captivity in the 1640s and made his way to New Amsterdam (NYC today), where he was welcomed by a Dutch minister in spite of it being illegal to be a Catholic priest in the colony.

    I’d say it is difficult to overstate how unwelcome Catholics were at the time of the founding of the republic. 

    In 1789, the same year the newly ratified Constitution took effect, John Carroll (distantly related to Charles Carroll of Maryland) was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore, the first diocese and the beginning of the organizational structure of the Catholic Church in the USA.

  13. R. Craigen

    I disagreed with the good Cardinal on this point.  Not that the underlying thought is wrong; emphasis and articulation is wrong.  It boils down to an old difference between protestant and catholic — Catholics have a hard time (in many instances … I won’t say in every case) distinguishing between allegiance to God and allegiance to the church.  Just look at all the protestant schisms … evidently we don’t have that problem.

    Fundamentally our allegiance is to God, before country.  If you have trouble distinguishing between God and church, then perhaps understandably you might end up where the Cardinal was on this point.

    I have always felt that our difference on this matter largely boils down to a distinction protestants make, between “the church” and “The Church”.  The former consists of an identifiable earthly institutional structure, fallible people and man-made rules and relationships.  It roughly coincides with — but is by no means the same thing as — The Church, which is the collective gathering (literally “calling out”) of all believers in the world — insofar as they faithfully embody the mind, calling and mission of Christ in the world.  To The Church I owe allegiance.  Not so much to the church.

  14. R. Craigen

    I’ll add, my allegiance to my family comes next.  Then country.  God (or, what amounts to the same thing, “Church” capitalized), Family, Country … uncapitalized “church” is somewhere down the line from there.  

  15. katievs

    Nor did I see anything awkward in Ryan’s abortion response at the debate.    The moderator’s question played to liberal assumptions, viz., that abortion is a personal question.  But that’s not how Catholics see it.  Nor do we see it as a matter simply of Church teaching.  It’s a matter of justice and natural law.  The Catholic Church opposes it because it is wrong to kill innocents; it’s not wrong (for Catholics) because the Church prohibits it (like it prohibits the eating of meat on Good Friday.)

    No Catholic wants to see a law that all Americans go to Mass on Sunday.  No Catholic American thinks the government should require all Americans to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Immaculate Conception.

  16. katievs
    R. Craigen: I’ll add, my allegiance to my family comes next.  Then country.  God (or, what amounts to the same thing, “Church” capitalized), Family, Country … uncapitalized “church” is somewhere down the line from there.   

    For me, that would depend on the concrete conflict.  

    It think it goes without saying that the ties that bind us to family are deeper and more central in human life than the ties that bind us to fellow Americans generally.  

    If all my children, say, were to move together to New Zealand to build their lives there, I’d want to join them.

    But would I commit treason out of loyalty to them?  I hope not.

  17. Nancy Spalding

    “(To the good Catholics who assert that there is no tension between faith and reason, one observes that any such claim assumes that one’s own faith is the one true religion and one’s own reasoning is the only reasonable reasoning.)”This quote threw me, since I believe my faith to be the one true religion (why else would I follow it?), but I do NOT believe my reasoning to be infallible. I follow C.S.Lewis, who suggested that all religions have some reflection of truth, since all are striving to know the One True God, and understand His revelation of Him self, but that Christianity (the Catholic version, for me if not Lewis) is the truest experience & reflection of that truth. If God points me elsewhere, I will pursue that. Jesus said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are Gods.” Caesar’s face is on the money & the laws; God’s face is written on my heart, and He created & preserves my life.

  18. Nancy Spalding

    Cont’ from #25: Now and then I must pause to figure out what that entails, but not often. I love my country, but it is more of an abstraction than my work or my family– and my God. The Shema– “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” everything comes after– and if the Church is the best way to hear and know what that entails, I see no question. Whether I always ACT on that is a different question. Short answer: no.

  19. tabula rasa

    If I have to choose, I choose my church before my country, particularly if the reality of my country is Roe in perpetuity, the government taking over more and more of life (including impeding my allegiance to my church), and the comprehensive regulatory state. In other words, my church is far more consistent with my moral outlook than the America of today.

    But, and here I agree with K. C. Mulville, my religion and the America I would like to see (which would not be a theocracy) are entirely consistent.  

    Perhaps the more pertinent comparison is my religion and the U. S. Constitution.  Read as intended by the founders and its plain language, my religion and the Constitution are entirely congruent. It has been the steady undermining of the Constitution that has raised the question of where my allegiance lies.

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