29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 22:15-21
Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.”
The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians sought to trap our Savior by asking him the question of the tax – Is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar? In response to this, the good Jesus points out that the image of Caesar is on the coin – but that we are to render to God what is God’s.
As the Fathers of the Church read this passage, they recognize that the coin is made with the image of Caesar, but man is made in the image of God.
It will be well for us to consider the historical debate among the Jews which set the stage for the question of taxation. We will then consider the manner in which man is in the image of his Creator.
The debate about taxation, from Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
The occasion of this question being propounded to Christ, was as follows. About this time one Judas, of Galilee, had taught that it was not lawful for the Jews to be in subjection to the Romans, and pay them taxes. Now Christ and the Apostles were regarded as Galilæans; and the Jews professed to look upon them as upholders of this teaching of Judas the Galilæan, as being their countryman. And for this reason they frequently repudiated this error of theirs. Hear S. Jerome (in cap. 3, ad Tit. ver. I), “I think,” says he, “this precept was given by the Apostle, because at that time the teaching of Judas the Galilæan was still in vogue, and had many followers. Among their other tenets, they held it probable that, according to the law, no one ought to be called lord, except God only; and that those who paid tithes to the Temple ought not to render tribute to Cæsar. This sect increased to so great an extent as to influence a great part of the Pharisees as well as the rest of the people, so that they referred this question about the lawfulness of paying tribute to Cæsar to our Lord, who answered prudently and cautiously, Render, &c. S. Paul’s teaching is in agreement with this answer, in that he bids believers be in subjection to princes and powers.” (Cornelius Cornelii, On Matthew)
Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
As though He said, “Since ye, O ye Jews, are now subject to Cæsar, and use his coins, do ye not so much give as render or restore (reddite) to him the denarius which is due to him as tribute. But spiritual things, that is to say, worship and piety, give ye (date) to God. For this God exacts as what is rightly His due. So shall it come to pass that ye will offend neither against God nor Cæsar.”
Observe: that Christ is here unwilling to enter into the question whether the Jews were justly or unjustly subjects and tributaries of the Romans. For this was a doubtful question. For prima facie, the negative, that they were not justly subject, would seem the more correct. For Pompey, who first reduced the Jews under the Roman yoke, was only called in by Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, the grandsons of Simon the high priest, to decide between them which of the two was to succeed to the Jewish sovereignty and high-priesthood. By what right then did Pompey pass them over, and transfer the sovereign power over Judea to the Romans? […] And yet, if we examine what happened more carefully, we shall perceive that the contrary proposition is the more probable, namely, that Pompey seized upon Judea by the right of a just war. […] Hyrcanus being unable to keep it by himself, delivered it to Pompey, with the consent of the elders and nobles of the Jews, who preferred to be subject to the Romans rather than to Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. For they saw that without the Romans, the Jewish state would be annihilated by schisms and seditions. See the relation in Josephus (lib. 24, c. 5, &c.).
Lastly, prescription was on the side of the Romans, for they had been in peaceful possession of Judea for about a hundred years, with at least the tacit assent of the Jewish people. And without doubt the position of the possessor is the stronger. Wherefore, if the Pharisees wished to deprive the Romans of this possession, the onus probandi lay upon them of showing that they had acquired it unjustly. Since they were not able to do this, the Romans rightly retained possession. […] Christ therefore, in this place, does not choose to enter into the question whether the Roman dominion over Judea, and their imposition of tribute, was just or unjust: but He takes for granted that, as a matter of fact, that which was strengthened and confirmed by the various titles specified above was just. […]
Christ answers, on the contrary, that it was not an injury to God and the faith, nor an indignity to a faithful nation, if the people of God were subject to Cæsar, a Gentile; and that the Jews themselves might both profitably and honourably obey both God and a Gentile prince, if they would but render to both their due; and if they would do this with prudence, so as to arouse against them neither God nor Cæsar, and so destroy their whole nation, as they did not long afterwards. For it is better to pay money than to lose life and everything.
Money in the image of Caesar, man in the image of God
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide offers several important quotations from the Church Fathers:
S. Hilary says, “We are bound to render unto God the things of God, our body, soul, and will; for the coin of Cæsar is in gold, in which his image is engraven; but God’s coin is man, in whom is the image of God. Give your money then to Cæsar, but keep for God the consciousness of your innocence.” And S. Augustine says, “To God must be given Christian love, to kings human fear.” And S. Bernard, or whoever was the author of the book on the Lord’s Passion, says (cap. 3), “Render unto Cæsar the penny which has Cæsar’s image; render unto God the soul which He created after His own image and likeness, and ye shall be righteous.”
The coins of the day were engraved with the image of Caesar, and this proved that they belong to his dominion and authority; but the soul is made in the image of God. Therefore, when our Savior states that we are to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God, he signifies that we must give our soul (that is, especially, our intellect and will) to almighty God.
As St. John of the Cross stated so well: “One human thought is worth more than the whole world; therefore God alone is worthy of it.” (Sayings of Light and Love)
How man is in God’s image
St. Thomas Aquinas, summarizing the tradition, tells us that man is in the image of God principally according to his soul. The soul of man, with both intellect and will, has been created in God’s image.
Still, even the body contains something of the image of God – St. Thomas points out that the manner in which the soul is in the whole body and gives life to the body signifies something of the way in which God is present in all creation and holds all things in being.
Still, it is most especially insofar as the soul has the faculties of the intellect and will that it is in the image of God. Indeed, here we recognize even something of an analogy of the greatest mystery of all: The Most Holy Trinity.
After the manner in which the soul has an intellect and a will, so too there is generation and spiration in God. The Son proceeds from the Father as thought in the soul, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as willing from the soul through the intellect.
Consider your dignity, oh man! You have been made in the image of the Almighty!
Why then waste your intellect and will on those things which fade away? God alone remains.
NOTE: As I will be on vacation from October 3rd through the 14th, the comment box will be closed. They will be opened from the 15th.