Men are fallible. We make mistakes. Some of us are wrong more often than right. And yes, “men” includes women, so no smirking, ladies. Especially since the majority of you react worse to being criticized than to being publicly groped.
The history of Christianity knows few mortal figures to compare with Saul of Tarsus, better known as Saint Paul the Apostle. He was phenomenally important to the early history of the Church, both as an evangelist and in disseminating the Gospel to the people of the classical world. But Paul had his flaws, as we all do. One of them was his willingness to present his own opinions as Christian doctrine.
I subscribe to a daily emailing from The Catholic Company called “Your Morning Offering.” It’s a simple little thing that presents Bible passages, commentaries from Catholic polemicists, selected prayers, and a brief bio of the saint of the day for the reader’s contemplation. I’ve often found it a valuable stimulus to thought. Today, however, it presents a passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
“For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience.”
This passage is complete and arrant nonsense. Moreover, it was written at a time when the rulers of the Roman Empire were doing their best to eradicate Christianity, which makes it utterly inexplicable. Needless to say, it has its fans among the political elite and the admirers of governments.
An objective appreciation of government is that it is like unto a weapon. While there are exceptions – bioengineered diseases, for example – a weapon need not be evil in and of itself. It’s nearly always the wielder who determines whether it will be put to good or evil uses.
A ruler who does evil, as so many do and have done throughout history, is not “a servant of God for your good.” I could make a good case that the majority of governments extant today are being used for evil. The world’s Christians have absolutely no reason to subject themselves to such regimes. That includes the Usurper Regime currently ascendant in Washington, D.C.
But Paul of Tarsus, among his flaws, was intolerant of both contradiction and constraint. His peremptory nature wore out the affections of more than one acolyte. The passage above irritated Christians who had lost loves and homes to official persecutions. It also presents a severe problem to Biblical literalists, who insist that the Bible is entirely the word of God and that no part of it is to be questioned or dismissed.
A man need not be perfect to be, on balance, a force for good. But humility is vital. One of the most important lessons of the Church is that we are all fallible, and all sinners. It was a lesson that Paul of Tarsus failed to internalize. His self-importance is often perceptible in the tone of his writings. The unwisdom of the cited passage from the Epistle to the Romans, which is overall a vitally important document in the development of Christian thought, makes plain the importance of humility.
Donald Trump is a great man and was an unusually good president. But he was wrong to repose so much trust in the medical bureaucracy generally and Anthony Fauci in particular. It may be a minor blot in comparison to the good he did from the Oval Office, but it’s there nevertheless. We should remember that as a shield against the encroachment of cults of personality.