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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Biblical Aspects of the Question of Faith and Politics

This is a homily that was delivered on 26 November 1981 in the course of a service for Catholic members of the Bundestag in the church of St. Wynfrith (Boniface) in Bonn. The readings provided for the day by the lectionary were 1 Peter 1:3–7 and John 14:1–6. At first sight they seemed to be out of keeping with the subject, but on closer inspection they showed themselves to be unexpectedly fruitful.]

The epistle and gospel that we have just listened to have their origin in a situation in which Christians were not citizens of a state who were able to shape their own lives but the persecuted victims of a cruel dictatorship. They could not share in responsibility for their state but simply had to endure it. It was not granted to them to shape it as a Christian state; instead their task was to live as Christians despite it. The names of two emperors in whose reigns tradition dates these two passages are enough to cast light on the situation: they were Nero and Domitian. Thus the first letter of Peter describes Christians as strangers within this state (1:1) and the state itself as Babylon (5:13). By doing so it indicates very impressively the political position that Christians were in; it corresponded more or less to that of the Jews living in exile in Babylon who were not responsible citizens of that state but subjects without any rights, and who thus had to learn how they might survive in it, not how they could build it up. Thus the political background of today’s readings is fundamentally different from ours. Nevertheless they contain three important statements which are significant for political activity among Christians.


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