Ave Maria! "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."(1)
In the best of all possible worlds -- and we do not live in that world -- societies would be governed by good and just men who rule with the prosperity and well-being of all their citizens in mind; rulers diligently striving to keep the laws of their nations in line with the laws of "nature's God." And the nations and peoples of this best possible world would be united in their willing and enthusiastic acceptance of Christ the King, through membership in the Catholic Church which He established, under the leadership of good and holy priests, bishops, and popes. We don't live in that world, and there is probably no nation on earth that comes close to such a situation. Yet, that is no excuse for giving up, and allowing the forces of evil to pull us yet further from the ideal.
Our own nation was founded by men who, for the most part, were not Catholics (although there were a few). They were at most a generation or two removed from a European Christendom that was at war with itself -- not just Catholic vs. Protestant, but numerous squabbles and persecutions between the sects of the Reformation as well. Many of the American colonies had been founded to escape what amounted to a religious civil war. English Puritans came to New England, French Huguenots to New France, Quakers to Pennsylvania, English Catholics to Maryland. A strong Calvinist presence had been established by the Dutch, and, of course, many of the English colonists were Anglicans. The philosophies of the "Enlightenment" and Freemasonry were here as well. When the American revolution came, it was led by men who were tired of religious strife - as well as being fed up with the excesses of a foreign king. Not surprisingly, they set up a republic with no established national church.
While it was clearly not a Catholic nation, it was far better for Catholics than it might otherwise have been.
A fact which it gives pleasure to acknowledge [wrote Leo XIII], thanks are due to the equity of the laws which obtain in America and to the customs of the well-ordered Republic. For the Church amongst you, unopposed by the Constitution and government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals, is free to live and act without hindrance.(2)
If America was not a Catholic nation, it was at least a nation in which Catholics could take part in the "free market of ideas," and hope to win over their fellow citizens on the merits of the truth that we possess.
Sometimes people mistakenly refer to the situation in America as a "separation of church and state." That really is not correct, for it gives the impression that religion is virtually outlawed in public life, and that morality should not influence public law. To the degree that such a "separation" exists in current day America, it is due to the failure of our representatives to follow the Law of the Land, and to the general lack of complaint from us citizens about that failure. It is due in some measure to the propaganda we read and view, telling us that things are supposed to be that way. And, particularly among Catholics, it is due to the error of "religious indifferentism" that has savaged the Church since Vatican II.(3)
If America is not a specifically Catholic country, it most certainly was founded as a generally Christian country. We may have had dogmatic differences, but at least until the early 1900s, Christians all understood the need for a society that recognized Christ's Kingship and kept itself free of evils like theft, murder, violence, and the things that polite people didn't even talk about in mixed company.
The Republic had chaplains in its armies, its courts, and in its Congress. It appealed to "Nature's God" and to its "Creator" in declaring its independence. The Continental Congress called for public days of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer," and imported 20,000 Bibles for its soldiers.(4) Three times, the U.S. Congress and President Jefferson appropriated money for missionary work among the Indian tribes.(5) On at least four separate occasions, as recently as 1931, our Supreme Court ruled that America is a "Christian Nation."(6) And as recently as 1952, the Court ruled that there was no real separation between church and state, pointing out that if there were, "the church and state would be aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly," an idea that seemed ridiculous or impossible in 1952.(7)
It was the United States Supreme Court that wrote:
Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.(8)
Now, why do I mention all of this? The reason is simply that we in this world must render some things to Caesar and some things to God. But the two are not totally separate. Caesar and his government must govern by the principles of morality and justice prescribed by "nature's God," "the Redeemer of mankind." If nothing else, failure to do so will cause society to fail -- because society cannot run on "theft, murder, violence, and the things that polite people don't talk about in mixed company." And an immoral people cannot expect to enjoy God's continued blessings as we have in the past.
And if Americans continue to believe, as so many do, that church and state are truly separate -- that morality has no place in law and government -- we will continue to see our society fail as we have seen it fail in the past 30 years or so.
As Americans, every political decision we make and every civic action we take must be shaped around our Christian heritage. And all the more so as Catholics, for we claim an even more intimate relationship with "nature's God," "the Redeemer of mankind." We may not live in the best of all worlds, but that is no reason not to try -- it is no reason to give to Caesar what belongs to God!
Notes: (1) Gospel for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost: Matthew xxii: 15-21. (2) Pope Leo XIII, _Longinqua oceani,_ 6 January 1895. (3) Cf. _Dignitatis humanae,_ paragraph 2. (4) _One Nation Under God_ (Springfield VA: Christian Defense Fund, 1997), pp. 8-9. (5) Ibid., 31-32. (6) See Supreme Court case citations in Paul A. Fisher, _Their God is the Devil_ (Baltimore: American Research Foundation, 1991), p. 9. (7) _One Nation Under God,_ p. 63. (8) Ibid., 56.