Jack Butler of National Review Online sets today’s political debates aside temporarily to focus on a more important discussion.

From the very beginning of the Christian faith, followers of Jesus have been struggling with the relationship between the two worlds to which they are tied: the earthly, temporal one and the heavenly, spiritual one. And they have long been unsettled by the implications of His statement: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Or “unnerved,” as Russ Hittinger, senior research fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology and co-director of CUA’s program on Catholic Political Thought, puts it.

So how should Christians make sense of this seemingly intractable problem? Guided by, among others, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Leo XIII, Hittinger has attempted to divine the best approach. He outlined this approach last week in the first annual Lecture on Catholic Political Thought. …

… Christianity has been marked, ever since, by an enduring tension between these two worlds — and by an enduring temptation for Christians to make too much of the political. Politics is not always bad, and engagement with the political is necessary. But, Hittinger warned, it can be “dangerous, if it’s confused with a broken and exaggerated sense of immortality” sought in the temporal rather than in the spiritual.

The history of Christian thought shows this constant tension. In the aftermath of Rome’s fall, Augustine chastised his own followers for having thought that their salvation was in Rome. “But the Lord and his Ministers were preparing you to receive a divine kingdom that is not of this world,” Augustine said in a sermon at the time. “For your part, you prefer to grieve for the stones of Rome.” Aquinas wrote similarly, as did, much later, Pope Leo XIII and Joseph Ratzinger, both before and when he became Pope Benedict XVI.