In the biblical Book of Acts, the apostles Peter and John were told by the Jewish authorities that they were no longer to teach or speak in the name of Jesus. Their response was blunt: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
With this story in mind, it is important to ask if Pope Francis has chosen to take another course in his directives to Chinese Catholic leaders. According to the Vatican newspaper, L’ Osservatore Romano, in an article published on Sunday, the pope has urged “all the Bishops to renew their total adherence to Christ and the Church,” but added, “as members of the Chinese people, they are obliged to show respect and loyalty to civil authorities.”
According to the Global Times, Wang Meixu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented, “The announcement shows that the Vatican is calling on all the clergy and the faithful, including those who regard themselves as from the ‘underground churches,’ to be in solidarity and to support the bishops’ pastoral duties.”
While Christians have historically strived to be good citizens, and generally support civil authority while it is exercising its biblical role of restraining evil in society, they have often balked at attempts by government to dictate purely ecclesiastical matters. For example, when Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist dictatorship attempt to coopt German Christianity and mold it to support the totalitarian regime in its anti-Semitic and anti-Christian directives, many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, resisted, even to the point of imprisonment and death.