Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Perfidious Caesar or perfidious Christians?

I first posted this almost two years ago and thought it worth repeating.

[I’m offering here some more tidbits from Dorothy Sayers for your reading enjoyment and discussion. Bear in mind that these words were written in England during the Second World War, around the time that I was born. I’m afraid that many Christians in North America still don’t understand what has gone wrong in the romance between them and Caesar. It is vain to search history for a time when the USA or Canada were truly Christian nations. There was merely a marriage of convenience, which Christians should always have recognized to be convenient only for Caesar, never for Christianity. Now that Christianity has been thoroughly compromised, Caesar has quite lost interest.]

“Up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin [lust], has had the active alliance of Caesar who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state. But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar no longer needs to rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously, by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance. Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church. This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man – particularly in Caesar. If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own – that is to say sacramental – grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.”

“Now, I do not suggest that the Church does wrong to pay attention to the regulation of bodily appetites and the proper observance of holidays. What I do suggest is that by overemphasizing this side of morality, to the comparative neglect of others, she has not only betrayed her mission but, incidentally, also defeated her own aims even about morality. She has, in fact, made an alliance with Caesar, and Caesar, having used her for his own purposes, has now withdrawn his support – for that is Caesar’s pleasant way of behaving. For the last three hundred years or so, Caesar has been concerned to maintain a public order based upon the rights of private property; consequently, he has had a vested interest in morality. Strict morals made for the stability of family life and the orderly devolution of property, and Caesar (namely, the opinion of highly placed and influential people) has been delighted that the Church should do the work of persuading the citizen to behave accordingly. Further, a drunken worker is a bad worker, and thriftless extravagance is bad for business; therefore Caesar has welcomed the encouragement of the Church for those qualities that make for self-help in industry. As for Sunday observance, the Church would have that if she liked, so long as it did not interfere with trade. To work all round the weekends in diminishing production, the one day in seven was necessary, and what the Church chose to do with it was no affair of Caesar’s.

“Unhappily, however, the alliance for mutual benefit between Church and Caesar has not lasted. The transfer of property from the private owner to the public trust and limited company enables Caesar to get on very well without personal morals and domestic stability; the conception that the consumer exists for the sake of production has made extravagance and thriftless consumption a commercial necessity. Consequently, Caesar no longer sees eye to eye with the Church about these matters and will as soon encourage a prodigal frivolity on Sunday as on any other day of the week. Why not? Business is business. The Church, shocked and horrified, is left feebly protesting against Caesar’s desertion, and denouncing a relaxation of moral codes, in which the heedless world is heartily aided and abetted by the state. The easy path of condemning what Caesar condemns or is not concerned to defend has turned out to be like the elusive garden path in Through the Looking-Glass, just when one seemed to be getting somewhere, it gave itself a little shake and one found oneself walking in the opposite direction.”

[Excerpted from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Kobo ebook edition.]

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