Quick Review: Render Unto Caesar

by Anselm

Recently, I had the pleasure to read Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life. Although published in 2008, the book remains quite relevant in the debate of religion in the public square. Of course, that debate predates all of us.

With the assault on the Catholic Church intensifying, Roman Catholic Americans are looking for direction.

Chaput’s book provides a clear and easy-to-read description of how we can use Catholic beliefs to edify our nation. His simple message is that we should live as Catholics. His impetus for writing the book is clear as he writes:

“Over the past decade, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the church and her people being told to be quiet on public issues that urgently concern us.”

Within that kernel is the argument for the whole book–Catholics should not be quiet on public issues. He affirms that we are human agents who must live our faith, not just providing lip-service, or going through the motions.

We must live our faith. Chaput writes that:

“People, not words, make converts. This is because the Catholic faith is much more than a set of principles we agree to, but rather an entirely new way of life. People must see that new life being lived. They must see the joy that it brings. They must see the union of the believer with Jesus Christ.”

One of the best features of the book is how Chaput characterizes the complexities of the American political system with a Catholic context. He even goes as far as to indict Roman Catholic Americans.  Chaput writes:

“When we look back over the past four decades, Vatican II may have assumed a maturity and zeal in Catholics that too few of us have lived—or even understood. Many Catholics who invoke the council to defend personal conscience and religious liberty seem to have little grasp of what the council actually meant about either of those issues. And too often in the United States, Catholic thought since the council has not been a child of Vatican II, but of American political and popular culture. In fact, too many of us have become evangelizers in the most ironic sense of the word: preaching the world to a church we claim to love, but which we no longer really understand.”

And so, it becomes clear to the reader that there is a perfect storm within the church and without. It’s not just the government. It’s not just the mainstream media. It’s also bad catechesis.

Chaput’s message is clear. We need to live our faith as it has been handed to us, not as we want to choose to live it. We must know out faith to inform our choices in all areas of life, not just in politics.

Render Unto Caesar is a gentle call-to-arms, and I recommend that you read it if you already have not done so.

As a side note, Archbishop Chaput has a weekly column that can be found here.