Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”: vince in bono malum (Rom 12:21). There is a profound truth underlying these words: in the moral and social sphere, evil takes on the countenance of selfishness and hatred, which is negativity; it can only be overcome by love, which has the positivity of generous and disinterested giving, even to the point of self-sacrifice. This is the heart of the mystery of Christ’s birth: to save humanity from the selfishness of sin and its corollary of death, God himself lovingly enters, in Christ, into the fullness of life, into human history, thus raising humanity to the horizon of an even greater life. This is the message: “overcome evil with good”. It can be a guide to all in meeting the great challenges facing humanity today.
The challenge of freedom.
Freedom is first and foremost a right of each individual. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fittingly states in Article 1: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 3 goes on to state that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Certainly the freedom of States is also sacred; they need to be free, above all so that they can carry out adequately their fundamental duty of safeguarding both the life and the freedom of their citizens in all their legitimate manifestations.
Freedom is a great good, because only by freedom can human beings find fulfillment in a manner befitting their nature. Freedom is like light: it enables one to choose responsibly his proper goals and the right means of achieving them. At the very heart of human freedom is the right to religious freedom, since it deals with man’s most fundamental relationship: his relationship with God. Religious freedom is expressly guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (cf. Article 18). It was also the subject of a solemn Declaration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, one which began with the significant words Dignitatis Humanae.
In many States, freedom of religion is a right which is not yet sufficiently or adequately recognized. Yet the yearning for freedom of religion cannot be suppressed: as long as human beings are alive, it will always be present and pressing. Consequently I repeat today an appeal which the Church has already made on numerous occasions: “It is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society” (Dignitatis Humanae, 15).
There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society. On the contrary: together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive, inasmuch as freedom is an indivisible good, the prerogative of the human person and his dignity. Neither should there be a fear that religious freedom, once granted to the Catholic Church, would intrude upon the realm of political freedom and the competencies proper to the State: the Church is able carefully to distinguish, as she must, what belongs to Caesar from what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21). She actively cooperates in promoting the common good of society, inasmuch as she repudiates falsehood and educates to truth, she condemns hatred and contempt, and she calls for a spirit of brotherhood; always and everywhere she encourages, as history clearly shows, works of charity, science and the arts. She asks only for freedom, so that she can effectively cooperate with all public and private institutions concerned with the good of mankind. True freedom always aims at overcoming evil with good. Vince in bono malum.