“In 1964, Voegelin gave a series of memorable lectures on what he considered
‘the central German experiential problem’ of his time: Adolf Hitler's rise to
power, the reasons for it, and its consequences for post-Nazi Germany.”
press release for the paperback edition
of Hitler and the Germans, Detlev Clemens and Brendan Purcell trans. and
of Missouri Press, 2003. The text is taken from this
page, to which LewRockwell.com linked on
July 14, 2006.
another critique of Received Opinion regarding Romans 13, see
“The Powers That Be,”
by Otis Q. Sellers elsewhere on this site.
Inquiry into Romans 13
And now, in
concluding this investigation on the Evangelical side, a theoretical
inquiry into Romans 13 for the Evangelical part, and then for the
Catholic part an inquiry into the theological idea of the corpus
mysticum Christi, so that the decadence I have repeatedly spoken of
will come to light.
In all the
documents, Evangelical and Catholic, with which those belonging to the
communities were enjoined to obey Hitler, there are two texts from the
Bible invoked by the clergy in order to command obedience to the
authorities. Among the two, on the Catholic side, in the documents I will
present to you next time, the fourth commandment is preferred. That
commandment is “Honor your father and your mother.” This father and mother
is now interpretatively expanded as “Honor the state, carry out its laws,
obey the authorities!” Please note that. Not a word of all that is in the
fourth commandment—for the good historical reason that precisely in the
covenant of Sinai, within which the Decalogue was announced, the people
existed under God and not under authorities. There was no occasion for
speaking about having to obey any kind of authorities at all. So it is
unhistoric and anachronistic, and if such an alteration of an
interpretative kind were made to a text in a secular context by a scholar,
one would say: Absolutely barefaced falsification of the text! When
theologians do it, then it is the church.
The same is now done
with Romans 13, and here indeed the link is Luther, who in this regard is
fully adopted by the Catholic Church, that is to say, that “everyone
should be subject to authority.” That is the first sentence of the
thirteenth chapter in the letter to the Romans in the Luther translation.
Of this assertion, that “everyone should be subject to the authorities,”
there is not an iota in Romans 13. I will now therefore undertake an
investigation of Romans 13—which is always gladly referred to, especially
this first verse—as a whole. I have for this purpose translated the text.
The whole text of chapter 13 in the letter to the Romans falls into three
parts: the first part, verses 1–7, the second part, verses 8–10, the third
part, verses 11–14, and I will read out and comment on each of them. The
first part, verses 1–7, reads, in literal translation:
Every soul must
submit to the higher authorities, for there are no authorities except
those under or by means of God. And the existing authorities are ordered
by him. Therefore, whoever rebels against the order of the authorities,
resists a divine order. And those who offer resistance will bring judgment
[krima] down upon themselves. For rulers are not terrors for
the good but only for the evil. If you do not want to fear the
authorities, do what is good, and you will have their approval, for they
are God’s assistants, in order to do good to you. However, if you do evil,
then fear them, for they do not bear the sword without reason. They are
God’s servants, who cause his anger to be felt by him who does evil.
Therefore you should submit yourself to them, not only from fear of anger,
but for conscience’s sake. Therefore also bear these burdens, for they are
the servants [leiturgoi] of God, who dedicate themselves to
this service. Fulfill all your duties, tax where tax, tolls where tolls,
fear where fear, honor where honor, is due.
So that is the first
part, of which only the first verse is ever quoted. 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.
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. The kingdom of God, that comes only in the future. So, on the
whole, it is not very different from Aristotelian politics, which also
presuppose ethical behavior through orientation of the spirit and the
continuous practice of the virtues.
It then presupposes
the corrective—since people are inclined not to be virtuous—for violations
of this order. The correctives in this case are the power of public order,
the higher powers, the municipal authorities, the archontes of the
polis, whose responsibility it is for restraining these violations or, if
they still take place, for punishing them.
So it is classic
politics, a bit Hellenistically changed in terms of vocabulary, but that
is all. And always presupposed is the moral order as what these higher
authorities make effective in this world. What now these men should really
do is by no means merely to obey the authorities; rather that comes now in
verses 8–10. There it says:
Owe no one
anything, except love for the other, for whoever loves his fellow man has
fulfilled the law. For the commandments “you shall not commit adultery,
you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” along with
all the other commandments, can be summed up in this one rule, “Love your
neighbor as yourself.” Love cannot do evil to the neighbor; the fullness
of the law, therefore, is love.
If now we translate
the language of Paul into the philosophical language of Aristotle, we
would have to say this: All the different virtues from which the concrete
commands follow are subordinated to what I call the existential virtues,
in Aristotle, justice, philia, love, which is the fundamental ethic
of the political community, as the philia politike in the spirit,
the homonoia, the noetic virtue, that is positive order.
Subordination is required under the existing authorities, whose
precise goal it is to reestablish order, only if this positive order,
which is enjoined here, is not kept.
Now the Christian
element in this matter is something different. It is that all these
negative worldly admonishments—subordinate yourself to the authorities or
the powers!—should be existentially characterized by their positive
accomplishment through love, which has then become one of the theological
cardinal virtues. All of this becomes more urgent because the end of the
world, spoken of in verses 11–14, is imminent:
And above all, you
should be aware of the critical time [of the kairos]
and the hour for you to awaken from sleep. [Demands formulated like
this go back to Heraclitus,] For salvation is closer to us
today than when we first believed. [That means, the time from now to
salvation is shorter than from that point in time when we began to believe
up to the present. So, in a short time, in our lifetime, the end of the
world is coming.] The night is almost over and the day is near.
Let us therefore cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of
light. Let us live decently as in the day, not with feasting and drinking,
with lust and fornication, with quarreling and jealousy. Put on the Lord
Jesus Christ [as the armor of light], and do not turn your
thoughts toward the desires of the flesh.
So, a carefully
thought-out literary context aimed at those who are inclined to
misunderstand the Gospel and the arrival of the aion as implying
that one may now be licentious, that everything is permitted. But nothing
of the kind. In this aion the higher powers, to which one must
subordinate oneself, continue, and behavior toward the neighbor is
positively characterized by love as the existential, spiritual virtue. And
above all one should bear in mind that the end of the world and the second
coming of Christ is close, very close indeed, closer than the time from
the beginning of our faith, which has already run out, and that in this
situation of the critical time one should therefore behave according to
All of this has
nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with one having to be subject to any
kind of authorities—above all, naturally, nothing to do with having to
comply with the Hitler laws, as the bishops commanded, in their pastoral
letters, by invoking the fourth commandment and, here, Romans 13. This
scandalous misuse of a literary text for subjugation—and, indeed, for
unconditional subjugation—under the authorities in the sense of power
politics, if it happened on the secular side, would also be considered a
barefaced falsification. But again, in the theological sphere one may say
such things about the relations of church and state, with which the New
Testament has nothing to do.
However, of late,
there has been a certain relaxation of these misinterpretations. In 1963
the Berlin bishop Otto Dibelius—I am now still speaking of the
Evangelicals—published a study on the authorities. And already from
the layout of the book, in the first part on Romans 13, you can see an
interpretation not very different from what I have given you here. In the
second part, he discusses Luther and the authorities, the bowdlerizing of
this text through Luther’s notion of authority. Further, he treats of the
objections, that Romans 13 also held good for the totalitarian state, and
finally considers the freedom of a Christian. These would then be the
problems of the second and third parts of the letter to the Romans. There
we see that already something has been relaxed. But all of this relaxation
takes place under a very ominous indication. I will read out this passage
But when we speak of
Romans 13, it is a question, firstly and above all, of a theological
matter within the church.
And a page later:
Once again: it is a
question within the church how an important passage of the Bible is to be
interpreted. But certainly it is a question that must be considered by the
Christian throughout the whole world.
That is a
masterpiece of barefacedness. Christ has come among men, but what he has
said may only be interpreted by the theologians. It is only a matter
within the church. And if the theologians within the church interpret the
passage of Romans 13 in such a way that their fellow citizens are
slaughtered, not even then is it a public matter having to do with men and
victims. Oh no, it remains even now a pure theological matter within the
church. Here again you have this problem of the complete lack of human
awareness among Christians. Christ is a private possession of the socially
institutionalized organizations one pays church tax to. Even the lay
people within the church have no say here and may not say, “Look, but that
isn’t in the Letter to the Romans 13 at all.” And naturally whoever does
not belong to the church, for example, Jews, who will be slaughtered, have
no say, because these theologians have interpreted the letter to the
Romans in this way.
So, there is this
complete perversion in the treatment of Scripture, this complete failure
to be a member of human society, this complete failure in the duty of
being a citizen as well as a human being, this arrogance in treating
Christianity and the words of Christ as a private matter for theologians,
which then can cause horrible murderous wrong. That is still the attitude
of Bishop Dibelius in the year 1963. That’s how things are!
 Otto Dibelius,
Obrigkeit (Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1963). Dibelius (1880–1967) Was
general superin-tendent of Kurmark from 1925 until deposed in 1933. Deeply
involved in the Confessing Church, he was bishop of Berlin, 1945–66;
president of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 1949–61;
and a president of the World Council of Churches in 1954.
 Ibid., 72 (emphasis
in the text).
 Ibid., 73.
Posted July 15, 2006
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