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Review of God and Caesar – Selected Essays on Religion, Politics & Society, by Cardinal George Pell.

Edited by M.A. Casey; published by Connor Court in Australia, the Catholic University of America Press everywhere else.

Less that 190 pages, this is a collection of ten essays by Australia’s foremost Roman Catholic cleric.

The topics covered include: The Law and Morality, Catholicism and Democracy, The Case for God and Human Dignity, Human Rights and Moral Responsibility.

Quite readable generally, most of the essays flow in a very conversational way which reflects their origins as speeches. I’m not overly familiar with Roman Catholic doctrine & semantics, but I was able to understand most of what Pell was trying to say.

In as much as the book has a central theme it is the rejection of the primacy of conscience.

There is a widespread view amongst religious and non-religious Australians that people should follow their conscience in almost all things. Do the best you can, and it will all come out in the wash.

Pell refers to this as the ‘Daffy Duck Heresy’. If someone sincerely tries to do the right thing, well, that’s all that matters.

Pell’s answer is that people should submit their consciences to God (and of course by implication, the Roman Catholic Church).

While I agree with his central premise that we must submit our consciences to God, the rub for the Protestant comes when determining what the will of God is. For the Roman Catholic, it is easy: what does the Church say the will of God is?

Of course, we have a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Hoeksma & etc to turn to, but ultimately, far more responsibility is put on the conscience of the Reformed Christian than the devout Roman Catholic. We are called to test what we read and hear with a Berean spirit, and ultimately, decide for ourselves what the will of God is.

Cardinal Pell is a bit of an institution here in Australia. As he points out in this book, roughly 50% of the Australians found in a church each Sunday are Catholics attending Mass. Along with Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, he is the ‘goto guy’ when the media wants a comment from a prominent religious conservative.

Unlike America, Australia does not have a strong Baptist movement. We have no Jerry Falwells, no Pat Buchanans, no James Dobsons. Whether this is a good thing or not is another discussion, but the fact is that for most Australians, the pro-life movement is represented in Australia by Cardinal Pell.

It will come as no surprise then that this book contains a strong argument for pro-life values. I think it will be Australia’s loss when Cardinal Pell passes from public life, as I am not aware of any other champion of the unborn within the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, certainly not in the caliber of Pell.

My main criticism of the book is the way it ignores the massive & vital role of Protestantism and the Reformation in the development of modern democracy.

Pell puts it euphemistically; “The Catholic Church was slow to give public approval to democracy.” Indeed.

Still, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the intersection of faith and civil government, especially in Australia.

Three stars.