The first time I went snow tracking, it was amazing. My class drove into the mountains to find a clean snow field, and there, far from urban disturbance, we saw the stories of local wildlife written into the powdery surface: the tiny prints of a mouse, the widely spaced prints of a rabbit, the linear prints of a deer. But the amazing part was when we came back to Lander: the city itself was suddenly full of animal tracks! Had those tracks been there all the time? Had I really been so blind? Our instructor told us we had acquired the appropriate “filter” so as to notice what before had been hidden before our eyes.
I feel like that happened recently with the book of Daniel. Chapter four tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, who becomes boastful and ascribes all of his great works to himself instead of giving glory to God, and as a consequence God takes away his rationality for a season. The great king goes on all fours, eating grass and living outside, until God deigns to give his reason back. Then the king publishes an edict praising God and ascribing all of the king’s great works to the Almighty.
And it struck me: Is this not clearly saying that a king or kingdom that fails to acknowledge God will become less than human? That only the king or kingdom who acknowledges God will regain his humanity?
Chapter seven recounts one of Daniel’s most famous visions. He sees three beasts, each more ferocious than the last, and the beasts are strange, monstrous creatures made of parts from different animals. Then he sees “one like a son of man” who comes and supplants all the beasts. The dream is interpreted thus: the three beasts are three kingdoms of the Gentiles, and the “one like a son of man” is the kingdom of God’s people—or the Messiah himself, for later Jewish readers.
And it struck me: Is this not saying that all kingdoms that do not worship God become somehow subhuman and even monstrous? That the kingdom of those who worship God is, in fact, the only fully human kingdom?
I had a new “filter” on as I listened to Daniel this time, because I had just spent the morning on Gaudium et Spes 22: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
And Gaudium et Spes 36: “But if the expression ‘the independence of temporal affairs’ is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear.”
In retrospect, it seems logical that Daniel would have a strong message about the relation of religion and state. The narrative setting is the exile of Israel, when Israel lost its state but—miraculously—kept its religion, thus introducing a sharp distinction between state and religion for the first time. And if you believe the modern view that Daniel was written around the time of the Macabean revolt—which I do—then we also have the first time of the state setting itself very directly against the people’s religion.