The basic point within my overarching thesis rests on the following observation:
Traditionally- and conventionally-minded Christians are wittingly or unwittingly using the external aspects of Christianity -- tradition, doctrine, scripture, etc. – to rationalize or justify their spiritual passivity and inertia, or to hide, obfuscate, deny, justify, or rationalize the total or near total forsaking of internal spiritual responsibilities, chief among them, the first Christian vocation to follow Jesus. They also fall into the trap of misusing tradition and the teachings of church fathers to forsake personal discernment, override conscience, and derail the active alignment of the Divine Self with Creation and God’s creative purposes.
For the most part, I will utilize traditional sources to support my thesis – the idea being that the witting or unwitting abuse of tradition can be easily revealed by referring to tradition itself. In this particular post, I will cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Contrary to what many presume, the observation noted above does not boil down to the total and outright rejection of Christian externals. It is instead a rejection of the abuse of Christian externals like tradition, doctrines, scripture, etc. As such, it should be a matter of great concern to traditionally-minded Christians and unconventionally-minded Christians alike.
In this post, I will focus on the matter of obedience to authority – specifically the commands exemplified by passages like Romans 13.
Though the traditional path to salvation via churches, scriptures, doctrines has never been a guaranteed, failproof way of attaining salvation, Christians could more or less rely on the traditional path to guide them toward that goal, which helps explain why practices such as obedience to external authorities, as exemplified in Romans 13, are regarded as high virtues toward which all Christians should strive.
The problem within the message of Romans 13 lies within the assumption that political, civil, and religious authorities emanate from God and, thus, more or less aim to align themselves with Creation and God’s purposes to promote and defend rights, freedom, and the common good.
The command to obey external authority generally works for Christians if and when the governing authorities adhere to the precepts outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (bold added):
1897 "Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all."
By "authority" one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.
1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.
1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."
1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.
Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church's most ancient prayer for political authorities: "Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you."
“Insofar as it is deserved” is a key point within 1900, and it immediately raises the question of how Christians should act if the governing authority strays from or intentionally opposes the moral order derived from God. Well, this is where things get interesting (bold added):
1901 If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.
1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility":
A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.
1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."
1904 "It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the 'rule of law,' in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men."
As we can see, Christians are not obligated to bend the knee to an unjust king. Quite the opposite.
Further on, the Catechism concentrates on the issue of parental authority and civil authority. Once again, the points outlined do not condone a blanket acceptance of the dictum in Romans 13 (bold added):
2232 Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
When it comes to following Jesus, even parents must be disobeyed!
2233 Becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God's family, to live in conformity with His way of life: "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord's call to one of their children to follow him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.
THE AUTHORITIES IN CIVIL SOCIETY
2234 God's fourth commandment also enjoins us to honor all who for our good have received authority in society from God. It clarifies the duties of those who exercise authority as well as those who benefit from it.
Duties of civil authorities
2235 Those who exercise authority should do so as a service. "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant." The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin, its reasonable nature and its specific object. No one can command or establish what is contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.
2236 The exercise of authority is meant to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should practice distributive justice wisely, taking account of the needs and contribution of each, with a view to harmony and peace. They should take care that the regulations and measures they adopt are not a source of temptation by setting personal interest against that of the community.
2237 Political authorities are obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person. They will dispense justice humanely by respecting the rights of everyone, especially of families and the disadvantaged.
The political rights attached to citizenship can and should be granted according to the requirements of the common good. They cannot be suspended by public authorities without legitimate and proportionate reasons. Political rights are meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community.
The Catechism then shifts to the duties of the citizen (bold added):
2238 Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts: "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution.... Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God." Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.
Even here, the Catechism advises against inertia and passivity, and instead encourages the voicing of “just criticisms” of anything that works against human dignity and the common good – more generally, against God’s divine purposes. The Catechism then explicitly expounds upon this duty in later passages, to the point of condoning armed resistance if certain conditions are met:
2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." "We must obey God rather than men":
When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.
2243 Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.
The Catechism then proceeds to outline “The political community and the Church”. What the Catechism notes here is quite revelatory, especially within the context of current world circumstances:
2244 Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain pre-eminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man's origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man:
Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.
2245 The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. "The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen."
2246 It is a part of the Church's mission "to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. The means, the only means, she may use are those which are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances."
I refer to all of this because I believe – or to put it more exactly, it has become blatantly obvious – that the vision of man and his destiny espoused by all institutions is now totalitarian and satanic in nature. Moreover, they have, indisputably, arrogated to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny.
In addition, the Church leadership – and the leaderships of nearly all Christian churches – have refused to pass moral judgments against this totalitarian power, thereby neglecting their mission to “safeguard the transcendental character of the human person”. Regrettably, religious authorities have largely aligned themselves with the assault against “the fundamental rights of man and the salvation of souls.”
This puts Christians -- particularly Catholics -- into an extremely awkward position. Does this mean the priests have not been anointed by God? Does this the priests can no longer deliver the Sacraments or that Sacraments delivered by such priests are illegitimate? Does this mean Christians should leave their churches?
I think the all of those questions can be answered in the negative as long as Christians remain focused on the first vocation to follow Jesus and not obey anything that opposes that.
And by the first vocation to follow Jesus, I am referring to believing on Jesus, following his image as a guide to determine good from evil, and accepting his gift of everlasting life. Tradition is secondary to that.
At the same time, Christians should not stumble over themselves to excuse or rationalize the behavior of their church leaders. Accepting that the priests and bishops are imperfect and fallible is one thing -- excusing them for willingly and glaringly aligning with totalitarian evil is another thing entirely.
In light of these considerations, the kind of obedience exemplified by passages like Romans 13 is inadvisable. More to the point, that sort of obedience is dangerous and, potentially, spiritually fatal today, as Dr. Charlton noted in a comment to one of my previous posts (bold added):
The current situation is - it seems - unprecedented in world history. I mean a world and all major institutions aiming purposively and strategically against God and creation (including nature). In other words, the global rule of demonic evil. This ought to be obvious to any Christian, however the institutional churches are included in this strategic evil. Those who refuse to make personal discernment will therefore be led to obey those who are active agents of the demonic agenda. As we see all around us...
Christians who insist on the primacy of obedience to externals today open themselves up to the risk of obeying the active agents of the demonic agenda, as personified by the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
Understandably, this is a bitter pill for Christians to swallow, but it should by no means be despair-inducing.
On the contrary, it should inspire us to concentrate on the first vocation of every Christian to follow Jesus internally and to weigh the subsequent externals of our faith against the primacy of that vocation.
This first vocation requires us to focus intensely on conscience, freedom, and the Divine Self, which I hope to address in future posts connected to this theme.
Note added: According to the Catechism and other sources, Christians are required to follow moral rulings issued by unjust rulers. However, they are in no way obligated to obey an unjust authority issuing immoral laws that oppose God's moral order and the dignity of man. On the contrary, Christians are duty-bound to disobey such tyrants, right up to engaging in armed resistance.
The problem is most Christians are extremely confused about what constitutes opposition to God's moral order and man's dignity!