While Christians are being butchered in the Middle East, the Chinese Government is also increasing pressure on Christians. Their message? Become a ‘Chinese national’ church- or else:
Chinese Catholics are under pressure to distance themselves from the Vatican and come under Beijing’s influence.
A senior Communist Party official told a government-approved church body that Catholics must run their church independently, implying at arms length from the Vatican, and guide believers on a “Sinicisation path”, as China and the Vatican seek to improve relations.
Pope Francis is trying to heal a decades-old rift with China where Catholics are divided between those loyal to the Vatican and members of a Chinese government-controlled official church.
One of the obstacles to improving relations is the question of who should be able to appoint senior clergy.
China says bishops must be named by the local Chinese Catholic community and refuses to accept the authority of the pope, whom it sees as the head of a foreign state that has no right to meddle in Beijing’s affairs.
Prospects for a deal were set back this month after Lei Shiyin, a government-backed bishop excommunicated by the Vatican, participated in the ordination of new bishops.
Catholics should “run their church independently and better integrate it into society”, senior Communist party leader Yu Zhengsheng told the government-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and Bishops Conference of Catholic Church of China.
“The church should adhere to the principles of self-administration, run religious affairs independently and guide believers to adhere to the Sinicisation path of the religion,” said Yu, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Thursday.
The Sinicisation of religion is likely a reference to bringing religion under Chinese influence.
Chinese Catholics must “unify patriotism with affection for the Church” and “unite all believers to contribute to construction of the socialism with Chinese characteristics”, said Yu, who heads a largely ceremonial body to parliament, one of whose aims is to represent religious believers.
The Vatican should take steps to improve relations with China, the Chinese head of religious affairs said on Tuesday. The Vatican in turn said last week that Catholics in China were waiting for positive signals they could trust in a dialogue between China and the Holy See.
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China after the Communists took power in 1949, and the Vatican’s continued maintenance of official ties with self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its own. (source)
What the Chinese government is attempting to do right now is a repeat of a very important event in Church history and something which is quite relevant for today with the rise of nationalism.
Tertullian once wrote “What does Athens have in common with Jerusalem?” This is in reference to the nature of both places. Athens represents the world and all of its wisdom, its power, and its temporal strengths and weaknesses. Jerusalem represents the eternal. The conflict between Athens and Jerusalem is the conflict between the sacred and the profane- the two represent completely opposing philosophies- one changing, the other unchanging; one temporal, one everlasting- but they necessarily cross over each other because until Christ comes again, temporality exists within eternity. As much as they are opposed to each other, they must be able to exist alongside each other. This conflict between Athens and Jerusalem historically manifests itself in the conflict between the Church and the State.
Unlike Islam, which promises worldly delights as eternal beatitudes and promises to make heaven on earth (which always ends up creating hell on earth), Christianity came to bring governance to the heart first and then to society. Hence there is no “Christian” form of government comparable to that which exists within Islam. Certainly there are forms which are more common and even preferred over others (such as the monarchy over the popular democracy, to use one), there have been many kingdoms that have been ruled by righteous Christian Rulers (such as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, or St. Louis IX of France), and many governments often turned to Christianity and the Church for guidance and it was these same governments which upheld Christian laws and executed punishment on a civil level for disobedience, but there is no template for such as government as is codified in Islam. This is because, while Christianity needs to have a presence in government for the purpose of giving truth and saving souls, but the Church is not the government and the government is not the Church. For while the Church partakes in government, She also partakes in civil society among the people.
You may have heard of the term “The Three Estates“. This comes from the classical division in Catholic nations between the Government (first estate), Church (second estate), and People (third estate). The purpose of the Church historically is to sit between both the rulers and the ruled, serving as both a means of uniting and separating both groups, keeping either from exploiting and taking advantage of the other. In a historical sense, the Church was, is, and always shall be the “buffer” between the two. This is in addition to serving the spiritual needs of both, which while similar are also different owing to their particular circumstances.
One can see from looking at Islam the power of government when it is bonded to religion. For Islam, this is only natural, as Islam is a religion that places beatitude in the acquisition of power and money, and so it is natural that they would unite perfectly and likewise, bring with it all the horrors of the world. For the Christian, the Church must necessarily unite with the world to a point, but as Tertullian asked about Athens and Jerusalem, how much must they unite and what balance must they share with each other?
St. Thomas More of England,who stood against King Henry VIII, another ruler who sought to subjugate the Church to the State in the same vein as Luther.
Now this struggle to find balance is an ongoing issue among Christians throughout Christian history. Indeed, one might say that Christian history can be written partially in the struggle between the rulers of nations trying to co-op the Church in order to exploit it for their own ends of power acquisition against the Church who is constantly having to keep government from expanding outside of its legitimate reach. Since many times the expansion of states and empires is closely tied to or driven by popular support with a strong sense of the superiority of the self and especially against another, in that sense the Church has always been at war against nationalism in so far as the state seeks the unrighteous destruction or subjugation of the Church or other people in exchange for achieving its “national” goals.
This was the main issue behind the Protestant Revolution. Protestantism was only in part about theology. As we and many respected historians have pointed out before us, Luther was the first German nationalist because Lutheranism was a National movement first and a religious one second. Luther’s obsession with ‘freeing the German people from Rome’ was only in part about theology. Rather, he wanted to re-create Christianity- to re-design God- in a Germanic image that he liked instead of what has been decreed through the Church. Certainly there were abuses in the Church during his time, but there always have been abuses. Can one not argue that the multiplicity of heresies and other false teachings which bore more errors were and are far worse than what the errors during Luther’s time were? But these issue are only a diversion from the real issue, which is essentially a pagan revolt using a Christian mask.
An illustration of the Thirty Years’ War, one of the consequences of the “Reformation”. The Reformation is better called Revolution because it was not about actual reform, but a revolt to subjugate the Church to the state.
Luther is an excellent example of this, but Luther was just one of such revolutionaries that have always existed in both the East and the West. The danger here is with those who seek to elevate the identity of the people who attend the church on a level that is over or equal to the role of the Church. This famously played out in the Middle Ages during what is known today as the Investiture Controversy.
The Investiture Controversy was in short a struggle that began in Germany over the power of the Papacy versus the power of the German Emperor Henry IV. The Imperial Government (along with many other governments of that time) historically participated in appointing and disposing of Bishops with the Church. There was always a degree of controversy about this because of the dangers for abuse, which did happen at times, but it was for the most part left alone. However, certain Germanic emperors used this long-standing practice to appoint bishops who were not shepherds of souls but vassals who would willingly submit to their bidding instead of stand up for Christian truth while at the same time deposing any bishop that would stand against them. Pope St. Gregory VII was determined to put a stop to this practice because, as noted earlier, while it is important that the Church participate in government, the Church is not the government and neither is it a tool submitted to the government to be used to enforce government policy.
The famous Walk to Canossa, where Henry IV walked to see Pope Gregory VII while wearing a hair coat as a form of penance
While the controversy was eventually resolved with the Concordat of Worms, the fact is that it was a 50-years long bitter struggle between the Emperor and the Church, and even then it was still an uneasy peace. This took place during a time very different than today- when people actually believed in their religion more so than today, as it was during the age of the Crusades- and yet this still happened.
Fast forward to today, and one can see that what the Chinese Government is attempting to do is really no different than what happened a thousand years ago. The Chinese Government, just like the Germanic emperors and just like Luther and his ilk want to create a Church that is not accountable to God but rather to men because they want to reshape God’s teachings to fit their own, and the answer to this is because they want to be God- to determine what is right and wrong, good and evil. This has been the desire of so many who seek after power, and in reality it is the sin of the Garden of Eden written about in Genesis, for if man was meant to worship then either he must worship the true God or he will find something to worship, even if that object is himself.
The same thing can be said about the nationalist movements sweeping across Europe today. What so many of these movements have in commons is that (a) Jesus Christ is NOT there except as an accessory to the goals of promoting nationalism, and (b) they are all pagan at heart, worshipping (to use a German term) das Volk– the people, land, and culture- instead of God, and conforming themselves to man’s standards and not God’s. As noted above, if Christianity is there it is but a secondary concern because these people do not want to worship God, but rather an idol they made in their own image they have chosen to call as their god, and they want Christians to support it.
Athens is important because that is where life begins and as a man lives, where he remains. But just as Athens of the ancient world passed away, so will all men pass away. It is at that point when we will be left with nothing more than our deeds and our beliefs, and that is what God looks at. It is what St. Paul discussed on the meaning of being in the world but not of it.
Until Christ comes, men will struggle with each other for power. It is the job of the Church to remain as She always has- connected to both the ruling and the ruled but never wholly bonded to either, and there will always be a new tyrant there to attack the Church with any number of reasons, but all with the same intentions in mind, and that is to subjugate the other for personal gain in order to become a “god” among men.
It is the job of the Church to resist these attempts at all costs, because it is just the same old evils with a different disguise, and that is what is happening in Europe. Having chosen apostasy by their actions and inaction, and instead of turning to the Catholic Faith, many are choosing to follow themselves and ultimately into the errors of the pagan world that the Church has always stood against.
Never neglect participating in the affairs of the world, for Christians are commanded to do so. But just as the Church has always said, do not be pulled into the ways of the world, because one day all power will cease and return to the great ruler, Christ the King, to whom every kneel must bend and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Life is short. Heaven is eternal. Don’t miss Heaven for the world.