Two for the Fourth

Note: Happy Fourth of July to all our TCT readers. We bring you two important commentaries about our nation on this day. Luis Lugo explains the proper relationship between the things that are Caesar’s and those that are not, and the significance of that distinction for all of us. And Michael Pakaluk, drawing on the wise words of Ronald Reagan, reminds us how we might approach the most significant moral question of the current presidential campaign: abortion. – Robert Royal

Strangers and Citizens

Luis E. Lugo

As Christians in the United States celebrate Independence Day 2024, we are doing so in what is now an essentially post-Christian society. Though we rightly lament our country’s move away from Biblical values, especially as secular forces adopt an increasingly militant anti-Christian posture, our present predicament does have one great advantage – it makes us more conscious of the transitoriness of all our earthly loves, including our love of country.

Our situation is not unlike that which the Church experienced during the first three or four centuries of its existence, when it lived in the midst of a pre- rather than a post-Christian culture. That’s why the theme of exile loomed so large in those early days.  St. Peter, for example, urged his readers to live as “sojourners and exiles.” (I Peter 2:11) And St. Paul explained to the Church in Philippi why this is so: because “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)

We are told that those great heroes of the faith inscribed in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews all had this in common: they “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth;” as pilgrims, they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”  (11:13, 16)

This may help explain those strange-sounding salutations we sometimes read in the writings of the early Apostolic Fathers. For example, Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians, written around the year 100, contains this: “The Church of God which resides as a stranger in Rome to the Church of God which is a stranger at Corinth.”

The danger of sacralizing the temporal becomes less of a temptation when the values of the earthly city stand in sharp contrast to those of the heavenly city. Truth be told, when the values of these two realms were much more closely aligned in our own history, we Christians perhaps were too prone to blur the lines between Church and country and rely too heavily on politics to advance a Christian vision of life.

However congenial the previous arrangements may have been, and however rightly appreciative we were for them (grateful immigrants like me, especially), we must acknowledge the temptation of a “God and Country” patriotism to assign an almost quasi-redemptive mission to the United States. As Msgr. James Shea has forcefully reminded us, however, “The Blessed Mother was immaculately conceived, not the American Republic.”

As for unduly elevating the importance of politics, we’d all do well to heed the wisdom of the late Chuck Colson’s advice to his politically active fellow Evangelicals that “The Kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.”

But we must not push this point too far. For the same apostles who addressed the early Christians as strangers and foreigners also reminded them that they were also citizens of their earthly country. St. Paul, for instance, writing in a decidedly pagan context, instructs Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all peoples, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (I Timothy 2:1-2; ESV)

It’s clear that for St. Paul this did not mean simply being willing subjects. His instructions to Titus, for example, included the admonition that the latter should remind the Christians under his charge “to be ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1) This was essentially the same message that God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, had delivered several centuries before to the Jews who had forcibly been carried away into exile in Babylon. Then they were instructed to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

So, we Christians shouldn’t merely be passive residents of our earthly city, marking time until the Lord’s return, but rather fully participate as active citizens advancing the welfare of the city where God in his wise providence has placed us. We should never forget, however, where our ultimate allegiance lies; with St. Thomas More, we are the king’s good servants, but God’s first.

Perhaps nowhere in early Christian literature is this tension given more powerful expression than in the 2nd-century Epistle to Diognetus. The unknown author of that missive first points out to Diognetus, likely a pagan of high social standing, how in many ways Christians live as ordinary citizens, doing their part to benefit their cities. But then, recalling the Lord’s prayer for his disciples in John 17, the author explains that “Christians dwell in the world, but they are not part and parcel of the world.” (Ch. 6.3)

Earlier in the letter, the author had provided this arresting description of the Christian’s dual status: “They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home is a foreign land.” (Ch. 5.5)

So, if our current situation as resident aliens keeps us from sacralizing the temporal, this does not diminish in the least our responsibility to “take part in everything as citizens,” as the Letter to Diognetus puts it. For all the changes we have seen in mainstream American culture in the last decades, there is still an essential goodness in loving our country, and there is still such a thing as healthy patriotism.

So, on this Fourth of July, let us render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. But let us also, as strangers and citizens, heed C.S. Lewis’ words that “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.” (“Learning in War-Time”)

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall, furnished as it may have been furnished in 1776 when the building was known as the Pennsylvania State House [photo: National Park Service] The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were debated and signed here.

What Trump Might Have Said about Abortion

Michael Pakaluk

On the tenth anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 1983, President Ronald Reagan published an essay, “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation.” I propose that we return to that essay and glean what an appropriately presidential candidate for the Presidency might say about abortion in a debate.

I use this phrase “appropriately presidential” not to make the familiar point that Trump and Biden, in contrast, lack the grace of a Reagan.  I mean simply that, in discussing abortion, both seemed to be pandering for votes.  Neither appealed to the interests of the country as a whole.  Neither found a basis other than “what you want to do” – either what women want to do, or what states want to do.

Note: I grant with Trump that given the MSM-induced post-Dobbs hysteria, it is political death in a Federal election not to concede pragmatically the “hard case” exceptions (threat to the mother’s life, rape, incest).

One might even affirm, as a debating position, that one is not in favor of any kind of Federal ban on abortion, even if (as you know) the other side is backing the “Women’s Health Protection Act” (S. 701), which would prohibit any government official from “diminishing” or “negatively affecting” anyone’s ability to obtain or provide an abortion.  (See Monica Miller’s excellent article on this point.)

Because the point, as Reagan saw, is not to bring in the coercive force of law, but to appeal to the consciences of the 50 million viewers of the debate.  You have their attention: now speak the truth.

Reagan’s lede was this: “[S]ince 1973, more than 15 million unborn children have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions. That is over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars.”  Update those numbers: 63 million, and “over 40 times.”  And just let that sink in.  Because no matter what people scream for, in their hearts they know that this is killing.

Reagan’s next point was indeed adopted by Trump but used inarticulately: “Make no mistake,” Reagan says, “abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution. No serious scholar, including one disposed to agree with the Court’s result, has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended to create such a right.” (Still, that’s a little different from saying, as Trump put it, that every serious legal scholar wanted to see Roe reversed.  Actually, they were all too happy to let it stand, with their “stare decisis” and “settled law.”)

As for the Gipper, in his next point he again speaks to the heart: “Abortion concerns not just the unborn child, it concerns every one of us. The English poet, John Donne, wrote: ‘any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’.”

In a debate, Trump might simply repeat these words.  He needn’t change a thing.  Because we can all see how coarse our society has become – how we have all been “diminished.”  What is the reason for it?  Could it be that millions of us hire putative servants of human health to eliminate the most helpless children?  How many of your 50 million viewers will find themselves raising and maybe suppressing this thought?

And then Trump might add, doing Reagan one better: “You say, President Biden, that you are Catholic.  You know that your Church teaches that each unborn child is fully equal to you and to me.  I happen to agree with that.  And so do millions of Americans who are watching this debate right now. What do you say to these Americans?  Are you telling them that it’s wrong to care about those unborn children?  Do you think it’s a good thing if they become indifferent about them?  What is your message to these citizens?”

Because these Americans need a leader at the national level. Reagan saw this: “[R]espect for the sacred value of human life is too deeply engrained in the hearts of our people to remain forever suppressed. But the great majority of the American people have not yet made their voices heard, and we cannot expect them to – any more than the public voice arose against slavery – until the issue is clearly framed and presented.”

Like Reagan, you might quote Lincoln on framers of the Declaration of Independence:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all his creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on. . . .They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages.

By memorizing and reciting this passage, Trump would give much better proof of his better acuity, over Biden’s, than his golf handicap.

Trump might even point out, as Reagan does – in a gesture to the Constitutional Originalists – that the drafter of the 14thAmendment, John A. Bingham of Ohio, explained that the rights guaranteed by the amendment applied to “any human being.”

I said that in a debate Trump should be “presidential.”  I might have said he should be Lincolnian.  He doesn’t need to invent anything.  The work has already been done. Just study and imitate Lincoln, as did Reagan: “Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion.”

Say that truth, that “truth social.”

__________

You may also enjoy:

G.K. Chesterton Patriotism and Faith

Ven Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Patriotism

Luis E. Lugo is a retired college professor and foundation executive who writes from Rockford, Michigan.

Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is a professor in the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children. His acclaimed book on the Gospel of Mark is The Memoirs of St Peter. His most recent book, Mary's Voice in the Gospel of John: A New Translation with Commentary, is now available. His new book, Be Good Bankers: The Divine Economy in the Gospel of Matthew, is forthcoming from Regnery Gateway in the spring. Prof. Pakaluk was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI. You can follow him on X, @michael_pakaluk

RECENT COLUMNS

Archives