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Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 25, 2020

Paul R. DeHart
Pages 51-65

The Return of the Sacral King
The Christian Subversion of the Roman Empire and the Modern State

In Pagans & Christians in the City, Steven D. Smith argues that in contrast to ancient Rome, ancient Christianity, following Judaism, located the sacred outside the world, desacralizing the cosmos and everything in it—including the political order. It thereby introduced a political dualism and potentially contending allegiances. Although Smith’s argument is right so far as it goes, it underplays the role of Christianity’s immanent dimension in subverting the Roman empire and the sacral pattern of antiquity. This division of authority not only undermined the Roman empire and antique sacral political order more generally—it also subverts the modern state, which, in the work of Hobbes and Rousseau, sought to remarry what Western Christianity divorced.

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