Benedict XVI on Faith and Politics

In his Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict XVI offers the following interpretation of the third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (as recounted in Matt 4:8-10):

The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria (39-40).

A bit later, Benedict concludes:

Jesus…repeats to us what he said in reply to Satan, what he said to Peter, and what he explained further to the disciples of Emmaus: No kingdom of this world is the Kingdom of God, the total condition of mankind’s salvation. Earthly kingdoms remain earthly human kingdoms, and anyone who claims to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands (43-44).


4 thoughts on “Benedict XVI on Faith and Politics

  1. I just preached on this passage. I thought his reply to Peter was slightly different – “get behind me” as opposed to “go away.” Or am I missing something? One of the commentators I read suggested this was an important difference.

    Nevertheless, interesting stuff from Benedict. In reading some of his other materials, he has spoken out very strongly on the need for the EU to recognize its Christian (read: Catholic) roots and, more broadly, the need for the Church to have a public and political witness. Interesting conversation partners with what you have just shared. Thank you.

  2. The Greek (ὔπαγε) is an imperative form of ὑπάγω, which means simply “to go away.” It is the same thing that Jesus says to the healed paralytic in Matt 9:6 when he tells him, “Go home.” Interestingly, when Jesus rebukes Peter in Matt 16:23, he uses the same form of the same verb, but adds ὀπίσω, which is an improper preposition meaning “behind” or “after.” So, to Satan he says, “Go away,” and to Peter he says, “Go behind me.”

    I’ve definitely enjoyed much of what Benedict has to say about the relationship between the Church and the political machine. To be sure, he isn’t saying that the former must not relate to the latter…only that the two cannot be collapsed into one another. Faith can attempt to influence politics, but if it is within the political structure that we hope to find salvation, we seek in vain.

  3. That is his chief issue with Marxism, actually. He repeatedly argues that Marxism is a kind of secular eschatology run rampant, in that it clearly claims to be a road to salvation without God.

    Thank you for the clarification of the Greek. So perhaps Peter’s particular way of incarnating evil in that moment was in refusing to follow, and that is why he is told to “get behind” rather than simply “go away.” “Get in your place Peter,” perhaps?
    I think that is what my aforementioned commentator was getting at. Hope all is well your way. Hope it is not terribly long before I see you again.

  4. Yeah, I’m not quite sure what is going on with Peter…to be honest, I always assumed that the verb construction was the same with both Peter and Satan, and thus I never bothered to check. Now I’ll have to add that to my list of things to figure out.

    I hope all is well with you also!

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