Eric Voegelin on Romans Ch.13

A beaut of a little essay on (site with lotsa great links).

Romans Chapter 13, particularly since the time of Luther (first German translation of Bible), read the passage to say “submit to the authorities”–meaning the political authorities. Part of what Luther called the “two swords” theory of political governance. (One Sword for the Church, running its own affairs, one for the Princes to rule the secular sphere).

But according to Voegelin this is a massive misreading of Paul’s text–and lies behind the German idolatry of the state (from Hegel to Hitler). Voegelin:

The language Paul speaks here, in order to clarify the relation to the authorities, as he calls them, is conventional, taken from the Stoic philosophy of politics. The idea is that of a hierarchy of authorities in the cosmos, where God is in the highest place, in the lower places are the authorities in society, in the lowest place is man himself. That is the hierarchy of being in its order. So, whoever fits into this order must submit to the law of the world, which for whatever reasons has provided that there are also orders in society and representatives with the power of punishment, who must take care that men obey the moral law and that its violations are punished.

The presupposition of this entire instruction is naturally that one lives in the Roman Empire at the time when the Stoa had established the ethics of worldly order. That means that the im­perial government, its officials and their administration, in fact obey and sanction the moral law in the Stoic sense. That is the presupposition. There isn’t a word there that one should be subject to any authorities whatsoever, let alone, as we shall then see from the documents the next time, that one should have to be subject to the authorities even when they do evil. Let alone what Kant, for example, following Luther, read into obedience to authorities, that the authorities are holy or anything of the sort. Nothing of this. The passage is quite obviously directed toward persons in the Christian community who misunderstand the freedom of the Christian under God as meaning that one no longer has to obey the ethical order of society, that is to say, it is directed toward those who violate this ethical order. These are admonished that in this aion we find ourselves in, there is also a moral law, the one that will be sanctioned by these higher authorities.

Published in: on January 31, 2008 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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