RESPECT FOR THE CROWN OF AUTHORITY BY OUR LORD
FOURTH SECTION - RESPECT OF JESUS FOR CIVIL AUTHORITY
All power and authority emanating from God, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that all those who devoutly honour God, will invariably honour and respect all persons, that have by God been raised to any position of dignity and power upon earth. Devout children will always honour, love, respect, and obey their parents.
Pious Christians have always a profound respect for the sacred character of the ministers of God. And, because civil superiors are also in a lower sphere than the ministers of God's power and justice; so every sincere Christian, and practical Catholic, will respect their authority, and do homage to their dignity. St. Paul says: "Let every soul be subject to higher powers; For there is no power but from God; and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisted the power resisted the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation ... For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear; for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." (Rom. 13:1) These sublime and solid principles of Christian jurisprudence and morality, were dictated to the Apostolic Doctor of the Gentiles by our Lord, Jesus Christ. But according to his maxim, and uniform conduct, our divine Master ever practiced, what he intended to teach. Let us see then, how he showed, in practise, his respect for civil authority.
1. On the very threshold of the palace of civil dignity and power, we should reflect that all power and authority emanated from him, to whom all power is given both in heaven and upon earth. For whatever good quality, whatever dignity or power come from God to man, must be transmitted by, and through our Lord Jesus Christ... who is the head of all principality and power. (Coloss. 2:10) "For he is above all principality and power and virtue and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." (Ephes. 1:21) Whatever, therefore, may be the civil dignity, power, or title of any potentate upon earth; it should by Christian faith be considered a badge of honour conferred upon him by the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. (Apo. 19:16) By the selection of his blessed mother, and adopted father, from a kingly race, our divine Lord manifested his high regard for the dignity of man. Even before his birth, he recognized the authority of the Roman Emperor Augustus, when in obedience to his decree, he inspired his Virgin Mother and St. Joseph, to undertake a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in the very depth of winter. His birth in a stable, was an admirable act of obedience, in homage to the civil authority of a pagan monarch. The holy name of Mary, of Joseph, and very likely of Jesus, on the roll book, or imperial register, testify our divine Saviour's respect for civil authority, and his ready obedience to human laws. "And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled ...And all went to be enrolled, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they went there ... She brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." (Lk. 2:1) Behold how soon, and with what inconvenience to himself, and to his young mother, and adopted father, our Infant Saviour manifests his respect for civil authority.
Moreover, we are informed by the illustrious Cardinal Baronius, on the authority of Suida and Nicephorus, that soon after our Saviour's birth, our Blessed Lady appeared to Caesar Augustus in the Roman Capitol, holding the Divine Infant in her arms. The proper name of this emperor was Octavius; he was a nephew of the famous emperor, general, and historian, Julius Caesar. Octavius had been supernaturally informed of the imminent birth of our Divine Lord, who was to silence all pagan oracles, and destroy the idols. In memory and honour of this apparition, this most happy and best of Roman Emperors that reigned before Constantine, had a magnificent altar erected on capital hill, with this inscription "Ara primogeniti Dei," namely, "This altar is dedicated to the Incarnate Son of God." A little above three centuries after the remarkable event, the Emperor Constantine erected on the same site a large church in honour of our Blessed Lady, which still exists at the present day, under the ordinary title of "Ara Coeli." (A Lapide in Luc. 2:1)
Behold, the holy bishop St. Fulgentius exclaims, behold, O impious King Herod, that there is no danger to thy kingly dignity in the birth of this heavenly child. He does not wish to be thy successor on the throne, but he desires to have faithful believers in every part of the world. "Nee ideo natus est ut tibi succedat, sed ut in eum mundusfideliter credat." (Serm. 5 De. Epiph.) If the instances we have given could only be used as a favourable interpretation of the respectful regard of an ordinary man for human authority, we should reflect that the divine infant of Bethlehem is the incarnate wisdom of God, whose every act is full of important signification. We possess, however, more explicit proofs of our Saviour's respect for civil authority in his more advanced age. St. Matthew relates, that on a certain occasion the hypocritical Pharisees consulted among themselves how to ensnare our divine Master in his speech. For this malicious object, they sent some of their disciples with several officers of King Herod, to our Lord saying to him: "Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and teacher in the way of God, in truth; neither carest thou for any man; for thou dost not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what dost thou think; is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not ? ... But Jesus knowing their wickedness said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute. And they offered him a penny. And Jesus said to them: whose image and inscription is this? They say to him, Caesar's. Then he said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. (Mt. 22:15) Such are the maxims of this divine teacher of Christian jurisprudence. It is impossible to find any other more wise, more just, more solid, more comprehensive. But, the first part should never be separated from the second which is the most essential. Our duty to civil authority cannot dispense us from our higher obligations to God; but on the contrary, this is the foundation and support of the other. We will respect human authority in proportion as we respect the authority of God.
Action however, is the most evident proof of our convictions. Many persons are as prompt and eloquent in propounding theories, as they are remiss in practicing them. But our divine Master did not belong to this class of teachers. He was generally very concise in announcing theoretical principles, but very exact and perfect in acting upon them. He even taught more by his example, than by his words. Coepit Jesu facere et docere.
The following was one of his first maxims. "Whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great, in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 5:19)
According to the assertion of Orosius, assented to by the learned Cornelius A Lapide: Our Lord Jesus Christ became a Roman citizen, by the fact that his parents and himself, were after his birth, enrolled in Bethlehem in the Roman register. Christus dicendus civis Romanus census professione Romani. (Oros. Lib. 6 Cap. 2. ex A Lapide in Lk. 2:3) As the King of Kings and Saviour of the world, our Lord was not bound in justice to pay any tribute to any earthly monarch. Moreover he was so poor that he did not possess the necessary amount of money demanded. But he works a miracle, rather than fail in giving this practical proof of his subjection, to human authority and obedience to civil laws. This fact is related in all its beautiful simplicity by St Matthew in the following words: "When they were come to Capharnum they that received the didrachma; came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachma? He said yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him saying: What is thy opinion Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute, or custom, of their own children or strangers? And he said of strangers. Jesus said to him: then the children are free. But, that we may not scandalize them, go thou to the sea, and cast in a hook; and that fish which shall first come up, take; and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that and give it to them for me and thee." (Mt. 17:23) How many instructive lessons are contained in this fact! In his extreme poverty our divine Lord works a miracle to pay the head, or personal tribute not only for himself, but also for his Apostle Peter. He works a miracle to avoid giving any occasion of scandal, and this is charity. He consents to pay a tribute to which he is not bound in strict justice. This is an admirable act of respect for civil authority. In paying the tribute, he equals himself to his humble disciple, a poor fisherman. Is this not profound humility? ... In this humility however, our Lord teaches us the honour due to Peter, whom he equals to himself, and also the respect due to the Roman Pontiff, his vicar upon earth. But we must return to our main subject.
Words in praise of authority are good; tributes for the support of its dignity are better: but the best proof of our profound respect for it is to suffer and die, when necessary in obedience to its laws. This is what we have now to consider in our divine Master and Model.
Let us return to the palace of the Roman Governor. Pilate is the legitimate representative of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, as governor of Judea. As man our Lord is now placed under his jurisdiction by the chief priests, senators and magistrates of the Jewish people. Look at our Blessed Redeemer and Master, and consider his behaviour.
We read in history, that the emperor Alexander the Great, having been severely wounded in battle by an arrow, and a painful surgical operation being required, was asked by the military surgeon, to allow himself to be bound for a short time. His answer on this occasion has been highly extolled. He said with an air of dignified haughtiness: "It is beneath the dignity of an emperor to be bound with cords. When the pious and dethroned King of France, Louis XVI, was by his rebellious subjects brought to the scaffold for public execution in Paris; he firmly refused to have his hands manacled and his arms pinioned before being beheaded; and prepared to repel the brutal executioners saying: "I will never allow it to be said that a King of France consented to be bound with cords like a coward, and manacled like a vile criminal." It was only when his faithful, brave, and prudent confessor proposed to the saintly monarch, the example of our divine Lord, and warmly exhorted him to imitate it, that King Louis devoutly raising his eyes to heaven, heaved a deep sigh, and extending his hands, mildly consented to endure this public humiliation.
But Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and Lord of lords, supreme Sovereign of heaven and earth, of angels and men. He is a God of infinite majesty, and of omnipotent power. Countless millions of angels are in adoration before him ... with an act of his omnipotent will he could destroy all his enemies, and annihilate the whole world ... Yet... behold, Christian reader, behold this incarnate Son of God, meekly standing before the Roman Governor, bound in chains, like the lowest and worst of malefactors. Look at this divine prisoner. His hands are manacled, his arms pinioned, a rope is fastened around his neck. "When morning was come, St. Matthew says: all the chief priests and ancients of the people held a council against Jesus to put him to death. And they brought him bound and delivered him to Pontius Pilate, the Governor." (Mt. 27:1) The conduct of our innocent Saviour, before the Roman Governor, was very different from that of some great political criminals in the presence of their legitimate judge, when they attempted to justify their treason and rebellion, and boldly despised and denied the authority of their lawful superiors. Some superficial Christians, imbued with the modern spirit of insubordination, too often metamorphose this iniquitous behaviour into an heroic act of patriotism, worthy of all admiration and praise. But all good Catholics prefer to follow the example and the doctrines of their Divine Master. Our Lord recognized the authority of the Roman Governor, Pilate, and respected his dignity. He declared that his authority had a divine origin and came to him from above. He mildly answered the Governor's questions. He promptly obeyed all his commands. Our Lord went to the balcony, or retired there from, at the least intimation of the Roman Magistrate. Though perfectly innocent, yet when condemned to the cruel punishment of the flagellation at the pillar, the divine Lamb of God humbly submitted to that unjust and degrading chastisement, and bore the scourge without a word of complaint.
See him standing before the Roman Governor, with that horrible Crown of Thorns torturing his adorable head. Does he complain? does he even allude once to his agonizing sufferings? Not a word escapes from his mouth. He, the incarnate Son of the most High, is postponed to the bloody murderer, Barabbas, and bears the insult in silent meekness. He is condemned to the barbarous and infamous death of the Cross, and bows his head in humble submission ... He cheerfully takes upon his shoulders, the heavy instrument of his crucifixion, and carries it to Mount Calvary. There, at the least intimation of the presiding officer of justice, Jesus strips himself, and meekly lays down upon the cross, extending his divine hands and feet, that they may be fastened thereon, with large and rough nails. All this is done in a spirit of obedience, and respect for authority not only divine, but also human; for there is no power, but from God, "he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Philip. 2:8) Here is our teacher; this is our model; "Be ye subject, therefore, to every human creature, for God's sake whether it be the king as excelling or to the governors, as sent by him ... For so is the will of God, that by doing well you may silence the ignorance of foolish men ... Fear God, honour the king; servants be subject to your masters, with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward for this is thankworthy, if for conscience towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if sinning, and being buffeted, you suffer it? But if doing well, you suffer patiently, this is thankworthy before God. For unto this you have been called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps." (1 Peter 2:13)