Adolf Martin Ritter

The problem

The world in which the Christian church assembled was, without doubt, already politically structured. One is scarcely permitted, however, to draw the conclusion that the relation between ' church and state' was regarded, from the beginning, as a particularly important problem. As a matter of fact, this wording appropriately characterises a central problem ofmodern times, in the same way as state' is a modern concept, arising in the Italian Renaissance. Even with reference to the Middle Ages it can be applied only to a point. The famous 'investiture struggles' were, of course, exactly not conflicts between ' church and state'; to transfer this scheme to early Christian times would definitely involve the danger of introducing a great many anachronisms which tend to obstruct our understanding of the real challenges of those days.

The New Testament takes the existence of political authorities for granted and proposes instructions as to the appropriate Christian attitude towards Jewish and Roman rulers. Christian apocalyptic uses, beyond that, a categorical contrast between the people of God and the 'world' power inimical to God. Within the one tradition, spanning from Matthew 22:15-22 (the section on the payment of tribute to Caesar) to Romans 13:1-8, we certainly meet the 'state' or, better, the Roman empire, but not the church. Again, in the persecuted servants of God we can find, it is true, the church, but her counterpart is not really the state as a political ordering power, nor is it the Roman empire, but precisely the world' inimical to God. This difference already hinders us from forming a simple contrast between one tradition as positive and another as critical with respect to the state' (or the political circumstances, respectively), although there is no doubt that Romans 13 and Revelation 13 reflect on the Roman empire from completely different points of view. The history of interpretation ofthese two texts until the time of Constantine i1 reveals that the ancient church

1 Cf.Strobel,' Schriftverstandnis'.

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