At that time, the Pharisees went and consulted among themselves, how to ensnare Jesus in His speech. And they sent to Him their disciples, with the Herodians, Saying: Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest Thou for any man, for Thou dost not regard the person of men. Tell us therefore, what dost Thou think? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But Jesus knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin of the tribute. And they offered Him a penny. And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and superscription is this? They say to Him: Caesar’s. Then He saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Verse 15. This is the third conference which Jesus Christ had with the Jews. It relates to the civil conduct of mankind, as directed and influenced by religion.
Verse 16. The Herodians. That is, some that belonged to Herod, and that joined with him in standing up for the necessity of paying tribute to Cæsar; that is, to the Roman emperor. Some are of opinion that there was a sect among the Jews called Herodians, from their maintaining that Herod was the Messias. Ch. — These soldiers had come to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, which was to take place in a very few days. The Pharisees sent their disciples with these soldiers, that immediately as the former ensnared him in his discourse, the latter might apprehend him. It is worthy of remark, that these blood-thirsty miscreants sought to ensnare him in his words, not able to discover a fault in any action of his whole life. Nic. de Lyra. and S. Chrys. — Master, we know. The Pharisees had instructed their disciples and the Herodians to speak in this seemingly friendly manner to our Saviour, that they might put him off his guard, and thereby ensnare him; thinking that Jesus, like other men, could be led away by flattery. Thus do all hypocrites act. They first praise those they want to destroy; and thus by their deceitful words, lead them aside from the true path, into all kinds of evils and miseries. Ita S. Chrys. Tostatus, &c.
Verse 17. Is it lawful, reasonable and just, to give tribute to Cæsar? It was at that time a question much agitated among the Jews, whether they, being the peculiar people of God, ought to be subject and pay taxes to Cæsar, or to any prince whatsoever, or be exempt from them. Wi. — Judas Galilæus, about the time of Christ’s birth, stirred up the people to a revolt, which though suppressed by violent measures, and himself slain by the Romans, yet the doctrine he broached did not expire with him. Some even among the Pharisees were of opinion, that it was unlawful for the people of God to serve strangers and idolaters, as we learn from Josephus. The question, therefore, proposed to our Saviour was insidious in the extreme, and not easy to be answered, without incurring the displeasure of one or other of the parties. For, if he answered that it was lawful, he would expose himself to the hatred of the Jews, who were aggrieved with what generally thought an unjust extortion, and a mark of servitude injurious to God; if he denied the legality of this hated capitation-tax, he would incur the displeasure of the Herodians, and be denounced to Cæsar. This latter appears to have been their wish; as, in that case, it would have been very easy to persuade Pilate, that Christ and his disciples coming from Galilee, were favourers of that sect, who, from the name of their founder, Judas Galilæus, were called Galilæans; and some of whom, as we read in S. Luke (c. xiii. 1,) Pilate put to death, whose blood he mingled with their sacrifices. Indeed so determined were the enemies of Christ to injure him with Pilate on this subject, that notwithstanding his answer was plainly in favour of the tribute, yet they blushed not a few days after to accuse him to Pilate of teaching it to be unlawful to pay tribute; we have found him, say they, forbidding tribute to be paid to Cæsar. T. and Dion. Carth.
Verse 18. Ye hypocrites? Our divine Saviour knowing their malice, and that it was their wish in proposing this question, to render him odious to the people, or a suspicious character to the prince, answers them in these severe words. . . . Another motive was, to let them see that the secrets of their inmost heart were open to him, and thus induce them to be converted from their wickedness; for, certainly, if they perceived that he could read their hearts, they must thence concluded that he was something more than human. This severe reprehension, according to S. Chrysostom, shews, that it is better for man that God should chastise him here in this life, than spare him here to chastise him hereafter. Tostatus.
Verse 21. Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s. He neither directly decided the question, nor offended the Herodians. They admired his wisdom, were quite disappointed, and retired with confusion. Wi. — The reasoning of Christ appears to be this: As you are the subjects of Cæsar, which you plainly acknowledge by admitting his coin, upon which he inscribes himself lord of Asia, Syria, and Judæa, &c. it is but just you pay him the tribute due from subjects to their sovereign; nor have you any reason to object on the plea of religion, since he demands of you for the exigencies of the public service only temporal things, and such as are in some respects already his own, by being stamped with his own image and superscription. But spiritual things, which belong to God alone, as your souls, stamped with his image, divine worship, religious homage, &c. God, not Cæsar, demands of you. “Give therefore to Cæsar what belongeth to Cæsar, and to God what belongeth to God.” T. — What our Saviour here commands us to give to God, is nothing else but our heart and affections. Here our divine Lord likewise shews us, how we are to steer the middle course between the two extremes, into which some persons fall. Some say that all must be given to God, and nothing to Cæsar, i.e. all our time must be given to the care of our soul, and none to the care of the body; but Christ teaches that some must be given to the one, and part to the other. Origen. — Although Christ clearly establishes here the strict obligation of paying to Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar, yet he is afterwards accused, as we have mentioned above, (see note on v. 17) as if he forbade tribute to be paid to Cæsar. In like manner, in spite of the most explicit declarations of the Catholic Church, respecting her loyalty and subjection to temporal powers, her enemies fail not to calumniate her doctrine as inimical to the state, and subversive of due subordination. But let our opponents attend to the following authority and public declaration of Pope Clement XIV. addressed to all Catholic bishops in the Christian world. “Be careful,” says he, “that those whose instruction in the law of the gospel is committed to your charge, be made sensible from their very infancy of their sacred obligation of loyalty to their kings, of respect to their authority, and of submission to their laws, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake.” — But princes should not exact, and subjects should not affect to give them ecclesiastical jurisdiction. S. Athanasius quotes the following strong words from an epistle of the famous confessor Hosius, to Constantius, the Arian emperor: “Cease, I beseech thee, and remember that thou art mortal. Fear the day of judgment, and meddle not with ecclesiastical matters; neither do thou command us in this kind, but rather learn them of us. To thee God hath committed the empire; to us he hath committed what belongs to the Church. And as he who, with a malicious eye, hath designs upon thine empire, opposeth the ordinance of God; so do thou also beware lest, by an improper interference in ecclesiastical matters, thou be made guilty of a great crime. For it is written, Give to Cæsar, &c. Therefore, neither is it lawful for us on earth to hold the empire, neither hast thou, O emperor, power over incense and sacred things.” Athan. ep. ad solit. vitam agentes. — And S. Ambrose to Valentinian, the emperor, (who by the ill counsel of his mother Justina, an Arian, required of S. Ambrose to have one church in Milan made over to the Arian heretics) saith: “We pay that which is Cæsar’s to Cæsar, and that which is God’s to God. Tribute is Cæsar’s; it is not denied. The Church is God’s; it cannot verily be yielded to Cæsar; because the temple of God cannot be Cæsar’s right. Be it said, as all must allow to the honour of the emperor, for what is more honourable than that the emperor be said to be the son of the Church? A good emperor is within the Church, but not above the Church.” Ambros. l. v. epist. Orat. de Basil, trad.
1841: Twofold Power on Earth
From the Encyclical, "Etsi multa luctuosa," Nov. 2, 1873
Faith (however) teaches and human reason demonstrates that a two- fold order of things exists, and that at the same time two powers are to be distinguished on earth, one naturally which looks out for the tranquillity of human society and secular affairs, but the other, whose origin is above nature, which presides over the city of God, namely, the Church of Christ, divinely established for the peace and the eternal salvation of souls. Moreover, these duties of the twofold power have been very wisely ordained, that “the things that are God’s may be rendered to God,” and, on account of God, “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” [Matt. 22:21], who “is great on this account, because he is less than heaven; for he himself belongs to Him to whom belong heaven and every creature.''* And from him, surely by divine mandate, the Church has never turned aside, which always and everywhere strives to nurture obedience in the souls of her faithful; and they should inviolably keep, (this obedience) to the supreme princes and their laws insofar as they are secular; and, with the Apostle it has taught that princes “are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil,” ordering the faithful “to be subject not only for wrath,” because the prince “beareth not the sword as an avenger to execute wrath upon him that cloth evil, but also for conscience' sake,” because in his office “he is God’s minister” [Rom. 13:3 ff.]. Moreover, it itself has restricted this fear of princes to evil works, plainly excluding the same from the observance of the divine law, mindful of that which blessed Peter taught the faithful: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a railer, or a coveter of other men’s things. But if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” [1 Pet.4:15f ]
1857: The Political Principality
From the Encyclical, "Diuturnum illud," June 29, 1881
That is the one reason for men not obeying, if something is demanded of them which is openly at odds with natural and divine law; for it is equally wrong to order and to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, then, it ever happens to anyone to be forced to choose one or the other, namely, to ignore the orders either of God or of princes, obedience must be rendered to Jesus Christ who orders, “the things that are Caesar’s, to Caesar; the things that are God’s to God” [cf. Matt. 22:21], and according to the example of the apostles the reply should be made courageously: “We ought to obey God, rather than man” [Acts 5:29]. . . . To be unwilling to refer the right of ordering to God, the author, is nothing else than to wish the most beautiful splendor of political power destroyed, and its nerves cut.…
In fact, sudden tumults and most daring rebellions, especially in Germany, have followed that so-called Reformation, whose supporters and leaders have utterly opposed sacred and civil power with new doctrines.
. . . From that heresy a falsely called philosophy took its origin in an earlier time, and a right, which they call “new,” and a popular power, and an ignorant license which many people consider only liberty. From these we have come to the ultimate plagues, namely, to communism, to socialism, to nihilism, most loathsome monsters and almost destroyers of man’s civil society.
1866: The Christian Constitution of States
From the Encyclical "Immortale Dei," November 1, 1885
And so God has partitioned the care of the human race between two powers, namely, ecclesiastical and civil, the one, to be sure, placed over divine, the other over human affairs. Each is highest in its own order; each has certain limits within which it is contained, which are defined by the nature of each and the immediate purpose; and therefore an orbit, as it were, is circumscribed, within which the action of each takes place by its own right. . . . Whatever, then, in human things is in every way sacred, whatever pertains to the salvation of souls or the worship of God, whether it is such by its own nature or again is understood as such because of the purpose to which it is referred, this is entirely in the power and judgment of the Church; but other matters, which the civil and political order embraces, are rightly subject to civil authority, since Jesus Christ has ordered: “The things that are Caesar’s, render to Caesar; the things that are God’s to God” [cf. Matt. 22:21]. But occasions sometimes arise, when another method of concord is also efficacious for peace and liberty, namely, if rulers of public affairs and the Roman Pontiff agree on the same decision in some special matter. On these occasions the Church gives outstanding proof of her motherly devotion, when, as is her wont she shows all possible affability and indulgence. . . .
15. Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?" 18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19. Shew me the tribute money." And they brought unto him a penny. 20. And he saith unto them, "Whose is this image and superscription?" 21. They say unto him, "Caesar's." Then saith he unto them, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." 22. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
Pseudo-Chrys.: As when one seeks to dam a stream of running water, as soon as one outlet is stopped up it makes another channel for itself; so the malevolence of the Jews, foiled on one hand, seeks itself out another course. “Then went the Pharisees; went” to the Herodians. Such as the plan was, such were the planners; “They send unto Him their disciples with the Herodians.”
Gloss. ord.: Who as unknown to Him, were more likely to ensnare Him, and so through them they might take Him, which they feared to do of themselves because of the populace.
Jerome: Lately under Caesar Augustus, Judaea, which was subject to the Romans, had been made tributary when the census was held of the whole world; and there was a great division among the people, some saying that tribute ought to be paid to the Romans in return for the security and quiet which their arms maintained for all. The Pharisees on the other hand, self- satisfied in their own righteousness, contended that the people of God who paid tithes and gave first-fruits, and did all the other things which are written in the Law, ought not to be subject to human laws.
But Augustus had given the Jews as king, Herod, son of Antipater, a foreigner and proselyte; he was to exact the tribute, yet to be subject to the Roman dominion. The Pharisees therefore send their disciples with the Herodians, that is, with Herod’s soldiers, or those whom the Pharisees in mockery called Herodians, because they paid tribute to the Romans, and were not devoted to the worship of God.
Chrys., Hom. lxx: They send their disciples and Herod’s soldiers together, that whatever opinion He might give might be found fault with. Yet would they rather have had Him say somewhat against the Herodians; for being themselves afraid to lay hands on Him because of the populace, they sought to bring Him into danger through His liability to pay tribute.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This is the commonest act of hypocrites, to commend those they would ruin. Thus, these break out into praises of Him, saying, “Master, we know that Thou art true.” They call Him Master, that, deceived by this shew of honour and respect, He might in simplicity open all His heart to them, as seeking to gain them for disciples.
Gloss., non occ.: There are three ways in which it is possible for one not to teach the truth. First, on the side of the teacher, who may either not know, or not love the truth; guarding against this, they say, “We know that Thou art true.” Secondly, on the side of God, there are some who, putting aside all fear of Him, do not utter honestly the truth which they know respecting Him; to exclude this they say, “And teachest the way of God in truth.” Thirdly, on the side of our neighbour, when through fear or affection any one withholds the truth; to exclude this they say, “And carest for no man,” for Thou regardest not the person of man.
Chrys.: This was a covert allusion to Herod and Caesar.
Jerome: This smooth and treacherous enquiry was a kind of challenge to the answerer to fear God rather than Caesar, and immediately they say, “Tell us therefore, what thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?” Should He say tribute should not be paid, the Herodians would immediately accuse Him as a person disaffected to the Emperor.
Chrys.: They knew that certain had before suffered death for this very thing, as plotting a rebellion against the Romans, therefore they sought by such discourse to bring Him into the same suspicion.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He makes an answer not corresponding to the smooth tone of their address, but harsh, suitable to their cruel thoughts; for God answers men’s hearts, and not their words.
Jerome: This is the first excellence of the answerer, that He discerns the thoughts of His examiners, and calls them not disciples but tempter. A hypocrite is he who is one thing, and feigns himself another.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He therefore calls them hypocrites, that seeing Him to be a discerner of human hearts, they might not be hardy enough to carry through their design. Observe thus how the Pharisees spoke fair that they might destroy Him, but Jesus put them to shame that He might save them; for God’s wrath is more profitable to man, than man’s favour.
Jerome: Wisdom does ever wisely, and so the tempters are best confuted out of their own words; therefore it follows, “Shew me the tribute money; and they brought unto Him a denarius.” This was a coin reckoned equivalent to ten sesterces, and bore the image of Caesar. Let those who think that the Saviour asks because He is ignorant, learn from the present place that it is not so, for at all events Jesus must have known whose image was on the coin. “They say unto Him, Caesar’s;” not Augustus, but Tiberius, under whom also the Lord suffered. All the Roman Emperors were called Caesar, from Caius Caesar who first seized the chief power. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s;” i. e. the coin, tribute, or money.
Hilary: For if there remain with us nothing that is Caesar’s, we shall not be bound by the condition of rendering to him the things that are his; but if we lean upon what is his, if we avail ourselves of the lawful protection of his power, we cannot complain of it as any wrong if we are required to render to Caesar the things of Caesar.
Chrys.: But when you hear this command to render to Caesar the things of Caesar, know that such things only are intended which in nothing are opposed to religion; if such there be, it is no longer Caesar’s but the Devil’s tribute. And moreover, that they might not say that He was subjecting them to man, He adds, “And unto God the things that are God’s.”
Jerome: That is, tithes, first-fruits, oblation, and victims; as the Lord Himself rendered to Caesar tribute, both for Himself and for Peter; and also rendered unto God the things that are God’s in doing the will of His Father.
Hilary: It behoves us also to render unto God the things that are His, namely, body, soul, and will. For Caesar’s coin is in the gold, in which His image was portrayed, that is, God’s coin, on which the Divine image is stamped; give therefore your money to Caesar, but preserve a conscience void of offence for God.
Origen: From this place we learn by the Saviour’s example not to be allured by those things which have many voices for them, and thence seem famous, but to incline rather to those things which are spoken according to some method of reason. But we may also understand this place morally, that we ought to give some things to the body as a tribute to Caesar, that is to say, necessaries. And such things as are congenial to our souls' nature, that is, such things as lead to virtue, those we ought to offer to God.
They then who without any moderation inculcate the law of God, and command us to have no care for the things required by the body, are the Pharisees, who forbad to give tribute to Caesar, “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created.” [1 Tim. 4:3] They, on the other hand, who allow too much indulgence to the body are the Herodians. But our Saviour would neither that virtue should be enfeebled by immoderate devotedness to the flesh; nor that our fleshly nature should be oppressed by our unremitting efforts after virtue. Or the prince of this world, that is, the Devil, is called Caesar; and we cannot render to God the things that are God’s, unless we have first rendered to this prince all that is his, that is, have cast off all wickedness. This moreover let us learn from this place, that to those who tempt us we should neither be totally silent, nor yet answer openly, but with caution, to cut off all occasion from those who seek occasion in us, and teach without blame the things which may save those who are willing to be saved.
Jerome: They who ought to have believed did but wonder at His great wisdom, that their craft had found no means for ensnaring Him: whence it follows, “When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left Him, and went their way,” carrying away their unbelief and wonder together.