Daily Meditations

God and Caesar (Part V): The Love of Enemies & The King and His Fool

The Love of Enemies

The theologians of violence forget the Beatitudes. The theologians of non-violence forget that history consists of tragedies. But amongst the violence of history, it is the duty of Christians to manifest the love of enemies, which is the strength of Christ himself. The love of enemies, exercised in the most extreme circumstances, is the only cure for our political neurosis, the desire to escape one’s own death while projecting it on to the enemy; and the cure begins with me. Only thus shall we achieve a life that is creative and free. But to erect non-violence into a system is to dream of recreating the Constantinian period in a sublimated form. The ‘peacemakers’ are to be called ‘children of God’, but we must not forget that the Son of God was crucified. Nothing is more confusing than the turning of spiritual disciplines, like fasting, intended to render the world secretly permeable to the divine light, into means of psychological restraint on society. The life of Gandhi was so fruitful precisely because of his constant willingness to lay it down, and the same was true of Martin Luther King. The belief was common in the Middle Ages that it was the duty of a Christian king to die a martyr’s death for the sake of his friends – and his enemies; Saint-Just’s bitter remark that nobody can reign with impunity was answered before he made it.

It is the Church’s business not to impose methods, even nonviolent ones, but to witness in season and out of season to the creative power of love. The problem is not one of violence or nonviolence at all; and the solution, which can never be more than partial, lies in the ability to transform, as far as possible and in every circumstance of history, destructive violence into creative power. The cross which, as Berdyaev memorably said, causes the rose of worldly existence to bloom afresh, here signifies not resignation, but service; not weakness, but creative activity.

The King and His Fool

At the heart of Christianity is the tendency to desacralize power in order to sanctity it through the person who exercises it. When he was tempted in the wilderness, Jesus decisively rejected the worship always demanded by the prince, and the princes, of this world; but he asked his followers to render to Caesar the things that belong to him and reminded Pilate that he would have no power at all over the Son of Man if that power had not been given him from above. In the same way, as we have said, the early Church, while denouncing the divinized State as the Beast of the Apocalypse, prayed for the authorities.

Later, with the arrival of Christendom, the Church conferred unction on the Christian King, cherishing him as a bearer of a special gift of the Spirit, almost equivalent to crucifixion, the gift of kingship. In the East, chiefly, but also in the West during the long struggle against the theocratic claims of the Papacy, the best relationship between Church and State was found to be that of ‘symphony’, or mutual agreement, in which the ecclesiastical hierarchy did not pretend to possess the source of political power. The king, as the representative of the laity and of its ‘royal priesthood’, bore the image of Christ in a special way. In him power was sanctified by becoming creative service, the restriction of evil, the establishment in the midst of chaos of an enclave of order and peace.

There was a certain grandeur about this endeavour. Combining in creative tension with the monks’ longing for eternity here and now, it encouraged the ennobling of daily life by true beauty. The king and his people received communion in the church; but they also met together on holidays in the square outside.

The experiment failed because it did not respect freedom.

Today it is the duty of each Christian to assume the ‘royal priesthood’, by which power is sanctified through service and creativity. Indeed, it is vitally important that we recognize the genuinely religious significance of creative activity. We shall defeat the clericalism of the Church and the clericalism of ideology – both exercised by the same type of castrati – only if, in every field, we nourish the vocation to be truly royal, to transform violence into creative energy, to increase life and beauty: in short, to be good gardeners, who prune not haphazardly but to make the tree bear fruit. And, certainly, to be crucified between violence and creation, is the inescapable ‘passion’ of kings.

A king, therefore, finds personal peace not in monastic seclusion but in creative tension. King-priest, because he tries to symbolize the eternal in the flesh of earthly cities. King-prophet, because in the face of all the idols he proclaims the true Kingdom.

The king, moreover, never comes without his fool. The world of the Beatitudes is a looking-glass world in which the ponderousness and pompousness of our own side are pricked and burst. And we are kings of an invisible Kingdom. The royalty of the Christian is inseparable from a certain buffoonery towards all over-serious or possessive behaviour. One of the highest forms of sanctity is seen in ‘fools for Christ’, those ‘innocents’ sometimes found in the rougher parts of town living among people whom the Pharisees despise as immoral. While seeming to clown, they can suddenly strip away the dead layers from the soul, leaving it bare, bringing it face to face with death, or love.

These strange vocations flourish on the edges of big cities. And every village has its idiot, who knows its secrets.

These are the voices to which the king listens when he listens to his fool.

The fool prevents the monk and the king from glorying, the one in his unworldly detachment and the other in his worldly importance. He reminds the one that he is much less advanced spiritually than the cobbler who prays that all might be saved, or the bandit whose heart was one day pierced with pity, or the mother burdened with family cares who never gives up hope. To the other he says, Memento mori.

Today we must all, in dealing with the world, exercise and internalize the two functions which, when society was Christian, constituted the two pillars of the people of God: that of the monk and that of the king. But let us not forget to be our own fool as well.

~Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology