Political responsibilities of a Christian: A reflection on the cardinal virtues

By Moses Tinashe Mazena

Moses Tinashe Mazena

The model of society, as the Catholic tradition sees it, consists firstly of civil society in which man develops in the context of the family. It then follows that these family groups and individuals build up a pattern of organisations and associations for cultural, social and economic purposes. Governed as they are by the natural law as well as revealed law, they establish their moral and spiritual values accordingly in harmony with the law of God in solidarity with others due to the belief that all are his children. Catholic tradition again affirms that responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation. It is from this brief analogy that the writer of this article seeks to take a theological and philosophical reflection on the political responsibilities of every Christian as the country heads towards 2023 harmonized general elections.

Every citizen possesses rights which the state cannot take away and these citizens are the end and purpose of every social and political organization. These citizens have a pivotal role in the state due to the fact that the authority of the state comes to the rulers through the people and not directly from God and its purpose is the common good. Ancient Greeks among whom Aristotle suggested that, the state exists mainly for the sake of good life of its citizens and not life per se. It deeply pains one when this teleological function is not carried out by the state, since it militates against its very existence. It must be noted that the state is not only for those who are in the corridors of power but also for the general citizens.

In a democracy the citizens are given the role of selecting their own leaders through casting their vote in the ballot. So in this sense, every Christian should be mindful of this essential right and duty in order to promote the common good by using his or her vote. In actual fact, the Church praises and esteems those who devote themselves to the public good for the service of men. Gaudium et Spes 75, clearly notes that Christians must be conscious of their specific and proper role in the political community and be exemplary by their sense of responsibility and their dedication to the common good. They should recognize the legitimacy of different points of view about worldly affairs and show respect for their fellow citizens who defend their opinions by legitimate means. Those with a noble art of politics should engage in political activity with integrity, wisdom and courage. (GS, 75)  

Although the Social Teaching of the Church does not favor any particular political configuration according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1901), it does insist on the need for authority in human societies. In this sense, Christians have a duty to speak out when abuses of authority occur. In other words, they are obliged to follow their conscience if and only if they believe that the directives of the civil authority contradict the moral good. (CCC 2241 & 2242)  

As the country gears itself for the harmonized general elections in a few months to come, every Christian must pursue the way of virtue, principally the four cardinal virtues that are justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude. It is by following down this path that the anthropological existence of the state is fully harnessed and its goal thus exposed. Rationality is an intrinsic entity that defines and differentiates man from animals. Man, though possessing some animalistic tendencies within him, is led by temperance that is a moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. Those Christians in the corridors of power must guard against self-seeking motives. They must exercise a degree of the virtue of temperance. This means that all egoistic and self-seeking motives must be sacrificed on the altar of service and service for the common good of all the citizens should be the guiding impetus of their action.

More so, it is through the virtue of fortitude that helps the Christians to participate fully in the state. In politics the virtue of fortitude is of utmost importance in the sense that our Christian politicians would sacrifice their own interests to work for the common good of every citizen. Real fortitude has to be preceded by both prudence and justice in order for it to be a real virtue. In effect, the real concept of fortitude implies the readiness to fall in battle when fighting for an identifiable good one may hold dear. It means foregoing one’s ego in order to preserve a particular good. A state comprises of the leaders and the citizens, the citizens are necessary and important in the well-being of the state.

 Aristotle in his politics stated that the citizens are an important feature of the state since what the state strives at is for the common good of these people, thus citizens ipso facto being the backbone of the state play a solid and indispensable role in the political matrix of the state. As such the virtue of fortitude that is, a moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good must be the pioneering force in the life of all Christians. All Christians must be driven by bravery despite all the challenges they face every day. According to Martin Luther King Jnr, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.” So Christians in this sense must see to it that the good that they seek to achieve, that is happiness and good life, is achieved and they do this with boldness.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines prudence as right reason in action. Thus people in their quest for the common good must be driven by prudence and not violence. The government on its part must not exert torture or subvert the will of the people so as to force them into submission but must always opt for dialogue with its people, so that at the end of the day consensus between the leadership and the citizens is achieved and the goal of the state realized. Ultimately, Christians should be ready to exercise the virtue of justice, the moral virtue that promotes the good will to give their due to God and neighbor in pursuit of the common good.

As a matter of fact, all Christians deserve to have a prosperous country. They deserve to see virtuous people in government and in all positions of power. They deserve to see things being done in fairness and for the good of everyone.

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