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Torture and Eucharist – William Cavanaugh

May 11, 2016

TATEIn this unusual, slightly difficult to read and remarkable book we see how, albeit belatedly, the Roman Catholic bishops in Chile came to understand that the community-creating power of Eucharist was an effec­tive antidote to the community-destroying torture of the dictator Augusto Pinochet. They discovered that Eucharist was stronger than torture.

It explores torture as a means of social control. “Disappearance” became the hallmark of oppression in Chile; the euphemistic term for those who had been abducted for torture. Disappearances were sometimes simply random. 46% of those who were disappeared weren’t even politically active. More often disappearances were aimed at those who were politically or socially active and considered in some way threatening to the regime. Those who were killed were rarely ever found. Those who were tortured seldom had any physical scar to witness to the brutality. Disappearance meant that the church didn’t have the martyrs it needed to resist the regime. The state literally possessed the “body” of its people.

Torture wasn’t to illicit information: the questions were themselves part of the method of torture. The torturers often already knew the information they were asking about or didn’t really care about the answers. Torture got them to enact the part of the enemy of the state and, by acting the part, they actually became the enemy which legitimized the authority of the state. Torturers didn’t want the victim to recant anything and didn’t care if they signed a confession of forbidden political activity. It forced the victims to act out the part of the regime’s enemies, to “take on the role of filth, confessing his lowliness,” thereby justifying the government’s oppression. The very act of torture was not meant to discipline enemies of the state, but to create enemies of the state, thereby legitimising the need for the brutal government. Enemies of the regime “are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber.”

The choice of torture is not random, for it is based in pain, actively destroying language because pain is not something which can be described. Those in severe pain are reduced to the inarticulate sounds of infancy, cries and shrieks. Through pain, the victim is forced to betray friends, beliefs, and all other social connections, e.g. unions, religion, ideologies under torture, then derided as a betrayer by the torturers. By fearing disappearance and pain, society began to lose its social connections. If you live in fear that a neighbour might inform the government should you criticise the regime, or gather for prayer, this could result in disappearance and torture, it isn’t hard to see how social entities are broken down. Even those inclined to talk about what had happened had suffered such psychological trauma that they were unable to describe their own torture.

The end result was the total fragmentation of the society, eliminating everything except atomized, fragmented individuals who had lost the ability to voice their pain, form connections with others and even the ability to feel. Isolated and alone, their only vision of the future was seen darkly through the lens of the regime. Fear gripped the entire society. Everyone cut any social connections, other than superficial ones. So there was no social body, not even the church, which could rival the regime.

Cardinal Silva, influenced by Jacques Maratain ceded all authority to the government without even realizing it because of a dualism which conceives the “soul” as the property of the church but not the body. This division between spiritual and temporal sapped the church’s ability to resist the regime. The torture of the body had so fragmented society that the culture was left without any social body with enough size or power to actually speak out against it.

But the church recovered its ability to resist the the regime when it broke with the ecclesiological distinction between spiritual and temporal and became the true body of Christ. The ability to recover the Eucharist as a bodily act was central to this new self-perception of the church. Cavanaugh sees torture and Eucharist as opposing sacraments. “Where torture is an anti-liturgy for the realization of the state’s power on the bodies of others, Eucharist is the realization of Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of His followers.”

So the Chilean church began to see that “Christians are the real body of Christ, and the Eucharist is where the church mystically comes to be.” Through Eucharistic acts of defiance, the church began to exist again. The Eucharist becomes the imagination of the church, what Zizioulas calls a “memory of the future,” which begins to enact the future reign of the kingdom here and now. In this way, Cavanaugh contends that the “church does not simply perform the Eucharist, the Eucharist performs the church,” and builds a social body which is actually capable of resisting the regime.

Three practices of the Chilean church resulted that were particularly effective in resisting the politics of the regime:

Excommunication never came for Pinochet in particular, but there was a general excommunication for all of those who were involved in torture.

The Vicaria’s actions gave physical, bodily witness to torture, disappearance, hunger, poverty and oppression through legal, medical and other relief services to 900,000 people in the first five years of its existence. Through the solidarity of suffering and relief, the church began knitting back together a physical body of Christ.

Sebastian Acevedo set himself on fire outside a church after the disappearance of his two children. A passing priest with a tape recorder captured his final words, “I want the CNI to return my children. Lord, forgive them, and forgive me for this sacrifice.” From this act of defiance sprang the Sebastian Acevedo movement which organized clandestine protests. They would appear out of the crowds in busy areas, voicing the oppressed, saying out loud words no one dared utter, then disappear again into the crowds. Through these protest the “disappeared” were transformed into martyrs because this gathered body spoke their names and made their suffering public.

Is this book a challenge for American evangelicals (though they’ll probably never read, let alone understand it)? The dualistic ecclesiology in Chile has its correlatives in the contemporary church. Temporal and spiritual distinctions are very common – “I’ll Fly Away” longing for a place where “The Soul Never Dies.”  Also, most evangelicals have reduced the Eucharist to a sort of commemorative ceremony, not an act of civil disobedience.

Does today’s Church resist the oppressive regimes of individualism, materialism and nationalism?

What about America’s own torture program during the Bush administration? The American state claimed it had sole and unrivalled power over those bodies. The questions Cavanaugh helps raise are these: Did the church have any claim over those bodies? Or did the state stand unopposed?

How about the deportation of illegal immigrants? Capital punishment?

At the end of Cavanaugh’s book, he writes about a fictional character in a novel, “Carlos,” by which he means the cormunity-creating capacity of the Church. Carlos’s stories about people can alter reality. but his. friends nevertheless remain sceptical, convinced that he cannot confront tanks with stories, heli­copters with mere imagination but Carlos grasps that the contest is not between imagination and the real, but between two types of imagination, that of the generals and that of their opponents. Carlos, in the novel, comments: We have to believe in the power of imagination because it is all we have, and ours is stronger than theirs.”

Cavanaugh himself adds: To participate in the Eucharist is to live inside God’s imagination. It is to be caught up into what is really real, the body of Christ.”

Quotations:

‘torture is not a merely physical assault on bodies but a formation of a social imagination

Torture is not merely an attack on, but the creation of, individuals. In this aspect, torture is homologous with the modern state’s project of usurping powers and responsibilities which formerly resided in the diffuse local bodies of medieval society and establishing a direct relationship between the state and the individual. … ‘The real conflict in modern political history has not been, as is so often stated, between State and individual, but between State and social group.’

true resistance to torture depends on the reappearance of social bodies capable of countering the atomizing performance of the state.

Much of contemporary Christian thinking on church and state is intent on limiting the power of the state, but in fact adopts Hegel’s soteriology of the state as peacemaker for the conflicts inherent in civil society.

… it can be said that the state defends us from threats which it itself creates. The church buys into this performance by acknowledging the state’s monopoly on coercion, handing over the bodies of Christians to the armed forces, and agreeing to stay out the of the fabricated realm of the ‘political.’

… I argue conversely that torture is a kind of perverted liturgy, a ritual act which organizes bodies in the society into a collective performance, not of true community, but of an atomized aggregate of mutually suspicious individuals.

Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form. Torture is liturgy – or, perhaps better said, “anti-liturgy” – because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship of that mysterious power.

We misunderstand modern torture, however, if we fail to see that enemies of the regime are not so much punished as produced in the torture chamber. Torture does not uncover and penalize a certain type of discourse, but rather creates a discourse of its own and uses it to realize the state’s claims to power over the bodies of its citizens.

Techniques of torment taught by the master torturers place great emphasis on leaving no physical marks behind. And torture never surfaces, but does its work in the shadowy realm of the disappeared, in clandestine dungeons with no address and no escape.

If we are to understand properly the workings of terror and the church’s response, however, we must see the strategies of disappearance and torture as ways to deny martyrs to the church.

It is not the heroism of the individual which is most significant, but rather the naming of the martyr by those who recognize Christ in the martyr’s life and death. Indeed, what makes martyrdom possible is the eschatological belief that nothing depends on the martyr’s continued life; if he dies, nothing is ultimately lost.

Where torture is an anti-liturgy for the realization of the state’s power on the bodies of others, Eucharist is the liturgical realization of Chris’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of His followers. Torture creates fearful and isolated bodies, bodies docile to the purposes of the regime; the Eucharist effects the body of Christ, a body marked by resistance to worldly power. Torture creates victims; Eucharist creates witnesses, martyrs. Isolation is overcome in the Eucharist by the building of a communal body which resists the state’s attempts to disappear it.

… the Eucharist is much more than a ritual repetition of the past. It is rather a literal re-membering of Christ’s body, a knitting together of the body of Christ by the participation of many in His sacrifice.

If the church is to resist disappearance, then it must be publicly visible as the body of Christ in the present time, not secreted away in the souls of believers or relegated to the distant historical past or future. It becomes visible through its disciplined practices, but the church’s discipline must not simply mimic that of the state.

Discipline, therefore, is not opposed to forgiveness but is its embodiment.

Excommunicationn, therefore is not the expulsion of the sinner from the church, but a recognition that the sinner has already excluded himself from communion in the body of Christ by his own actions. Excommunication by the community clarifies for the sinner the seriousness of the offense, and, if accompanied by a proper penitential discipline, shows the sinner the way to reconciliation with the body of Christ while shielding the sinner from the adverse effects of continued participation in the Eucharist in the absence of true reconciliation. As an invitation to reconciliation, then, excommunication done well is an act of hospitality, in which the church does not expel the sinner, but says to her, “You are already outside our communion. Here is what you need to do to come back in.” Excommunication does not abandon the sinner to her fate; in fact, precisely the opposite is the case. It is failure to excommunicate the notorious sinner that leaves her to eat and drink her own condemnation.

The discipline of the individual body, however, always has reference to the discipline of the ecclesial body, and can only be understood in this light. The primary concern of the church in this regard is the visibility in history of the true body of Christ. The only point to disciplining the individual sinner is to reconcile her to the body of Christ, for without incorporation into Christ’s body, salvation is jeopardized. Pastoral concern for the individual Christian, therefore, is not opposed to, but is inextricably bound up with, concern for the visibility of the church as it is enacted in the Eucharist. If the church is not itself visible, then it does not witness Christ to the world, and the very salvation of the world is not advanced.

Excommunication is better understood as applicable to those kinds of sin which impugn the identity of the body of Christ. Excommunication, by definition, is for ecclesiological offenses. If, as I have already argued, the excommunicated person puts herself outside the church in the very act of her sin, then the sin itself must be construed as a sin against the body of Christ.

The idea of torture is perhaps the most effective generator of fear, since torture reaches to the very limits of horror, turning the body against the person to such an extent that death become desirable. Fear of torture, fear of death, were concrete fears that only began to articulate the hidden anxieties which lurked beneath the surface of Chilean society.

[The] ecclesiology which dominated the Chilean Catholic church between the separation of the church in 1925 and the coup in 1973 had theorized the church not as a social body but as the ‘soul of society.’ The church would be responsible for the souls of Chileans, in effect handing their bodies over to the state for political and military duty. The church would supposedly form their individual consciences, and people would enter public life as individual Christians, but the church as a body would not act politically. I will argue that imagining that it could become society’s soul, the church had already begun to forfeit its own discipline and to disappear itself.

In the face of constant accusations of interfering in politics, the church gradually made clear its refusal to leave bodily matters such as unemployment and torture to the state–in other words, to hand over the bodies of its members to the state.

If we are to understand properly the workings of terror and the church’s response…we must see the strategies of disappearance and torture as ways to deny martyrs to the church…[because] martyrdom makes the church visible…torture works to create victims, not martyrs.

…the strategy of repression employed by the Pinochet regime in Chile [was] not the production of martyrs but rather the denial of martyrs to the church. The effect of the regime’s strategy was to produce not martyrs but victims. Martyrs by their public witness build up the body of Christ in opposition to the state. For precisely this reason the regime’s strategy was predicated on the elimination of spectacle, and therefore the disappearance of the visible church…Those that were killed had their bodies disposed of secretly, left in clandestine graves, dumped into rivers or the ocean, or dynamited…It was crucial to the Pinochet regime to have complete control over bodies. The regime understood perfectly well that the body could become a focus of resistance to the state’s power.

The techniques of invisibility which the secret police structure perfected were capable of fragmenting the church body while depriving the church of martyrs, visible witnesses to the conflict between the church and the powers of the world. The bodies of the martyrs make the church visible as the body of Christ.

Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form. Torture is liturgy…because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship to that mysterious power.

When the state launched attacks upon the imaginations of the people of Chile in the form of torture and disappearance the Church was forced to respond to a state that was refusing to live by the bifurcation that their ecclesiology demanded. “Chapter 2 describes how ill-prepared the official church was to meet this strategy, since its own ecclesiology had already, in effect, disappeared the church as a social body.”

“The Eucharist , as the gift which effects the visibility of the body of Christ, is therefore the church’s counter-imagination to that of the state.”

“The Eucharist is the promise and demand that the church enact the true body of Christ now, in time. Worldly kingdoms have declared the Kingdom of God indefinitely deferred, and the poor are told to suffer their lot quietly and invisibly. In the Eucharist the poor are invited now to come and feast in the Kingdom. The Eucharist must not be a scandal to the poor. It demands real reconciliation of oppressed and oppressor, tortured and torturer. Barring reconciliation, Eucharist demands judgement.”

Offering a wide range of programs covering legal and medical assistance, job training, soup kitchens, buying cooperatives, assistance to unions and more, these organizations became the focus of church resistance to the regime…the church provided a space in which organization could take place and social fragmentation could be resisted….

[These] organizations help to “knit the people together”…The church in Chile resisted [the] strategy [of the state to disappear the church by isolating individuals from one another] precisely by knitting people back together, connecting them as members of one another.

On September 14, 1983, a group of seventy nuns, priests, and laypeople appeared suddenly in front of the CNI clandestine prison at 1470 Borgono Street in Santiago [where most of the torture occurred] and unfurled a banner: A MAN IS BEING TORTURED HERE. They blocked traffic, read a litany of regime abuses, handed out leaflets signed “Movement against Torture,” and sang.

Suddenly the invisibility under which the torture apparatus operates are shattered, interrupting its power. In an astonishing ritual transformation, clandestine torture centers are revealed to the passerby for what they are, as if a veil covering the building were abruptly taken away. The complicity of other sectors of the government and society is laid bare for all to see. The entire torture system suddenly appears on a city street. Techniques of torture are detailed, places of torture identified, names of victims and names of those responsible–including sometimes the names of the immediate torturers themselves–are made publicly known. Victims are thus transformed into martyrs, as their names are spoken as a public witness against the powers of death.

Unity in the church is much more than agreement on doctrine or the general ability of the members of the church to get along, nor is it just participation in a common project or community. It is participation in Christ, and so requires a narrative display of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unity is based on assimilation to Christ, and so the unity and the identity of the church are the same issue. Jesus was tortured to death. Tortured and torturers in the same church therefore threaten the transparency of the church as the body of Christ.

The gravity of an offense is often invoked in separating ordinary sins from sins meriting excommunication. I would argue that this not be understood as simply a matter of degree but of kind. In other words, excommunication is not reserved for those individuals who simply outdo the rest of the church’s ordinary sinners in the number or degree of their sins. Excommunication is better understood as applicable to those kinds of sins which impugn the identity of the body of Christ. Excommunication, by definition, is for ecclessiological offenses. If, as I have already argued, the excommunicated person puts herself outside the church in the very act of her sin, then the sin itself must be construed as a sin against the body of Christ. I am arguing, then, that the use of excommunication should not be extended, but rather limited to those sins which threaten the very visibility of the body of Christ.

If anyone is to “discern the body,” then it must become visible in present time. [It was the effect] of some state disciplines [under Pinochet] to render the church invisible, to “disappear” the body of Christ. The Eucharist, as the gift which effects the visibility of the true body of Christ, is, therefore, the church’s counter-imagination to that of the state. Formal excommunication makes the church visible, if only temporarily, by bringing to light a boundary between church and world which those who attack the church have themselves drawn.

If Eucharistic discipline is rightly understood, then excommunication does not rend the unity of the church, but makes visible the disunity and conflict, already so painfully present, between the body of Christ and those who would torture it. Only when this disunity becomes visible can real reconciliation and real unity be enacted.

In the Eucharist the poor are invited now to come and to feast in the Kingdom. The Eucharist must not be a scandal to the poor. It demands real reconciliation of oppressed and oppressor, tortured and torturer. Barring reconciliation, Eucharist demands judgment.

These appear to be two contradictory movements: the world is autono­mous, yet permeated by God’s grace. How can the boundaries between church and world disappear and yet the world claim autonomy? It can only be because, as Gutierrez says, the church has now become part of the world’s story. The world has absorbed the church into itself. This signals both the final destruction of a church practice of the political, and the abandonment of specifically Christian discourse in favor of a social scientific reading of reality. The disappearance of the church as a social body, already begun by Maritain, is completed in Gutierrez’s reconstrual of the church-world axis. As John Milbank puts it, for this line of thought to take account of the social is to take account of a factor essentially ‘outside’ the church and the basic concerns of theology. . . . The social is an autonomous sphere which does not need to turn to theology for its self-understanding, and yet it is already a grace-imbued sphere, and therefore it is upon pre-theological sociology or Marxist social theory, that theology must be founded. In conse­quence, a theological critique of society becomes impossible. And, therefore what we are offered is anything but a true theology of the political.'”

If the true legacy of Vatican II is the breaking down of false spiritual/political, clerical/lay dichotomies – and not simply the emptying out of the church into the world- then we must go beyond Gutierrez and liberationist thought in order to mount a critique of Maritain and the New Christendom. I will attempt to locate a Christian contribution to liberation from oppressive state disciplines not in the subsumption of the church under supposedly autonomous social processes but instead in the church’s own character as a contrast society, a counter-performance of the body to that of the state. To do so I will need first to rebut the idea that the church is not properly considered a social body in its own right.

A general definition of “social body” has its limits in that, from a Christian point of view, the church is not simply one of a generic group of such bodies whose dynamics can be studied by an independent “science” such as sociology. My only point in calling the church “social” is to emphasize that it is not to be reduced to an interiorized “spirituality” in the hearts of its members. The church is a body sui generis . As a body it cannot be analyzed apart from the body of Christ. Maritain, therefore, is right for the wrong reasons when he claims that the church in its essence can never be subjected to sociological critique. Maritain would protect the vstical body from reduction to a merely natural community subject to the e laws of power as the state and other temporal bodies. Instead of challenging the autonomy ofthe temporal, however, his thought has the effect of promoting it, aiming at the same time to carve out an untouchable -spiritual” space for the church which is both interior to the person and transcendent to the state. Maritain does not allow the possibility that the Gospel may have its own bodily performances, its own “politics,” its own set of social practices which are neither purely otherworldly nor reducible to some “purely temporal” discourse.

The New Christendom model found in Catholic Action and Maritain is unable to envision the church as anything like a “culture,” that is, a set of specific social practices. For Maritain, his laudable desire to protect the church from the encroachments of the state leads him to posit a dualism of “religion” and “culture” which obeys a Kantian logic of noumenal and phenomenal. A culture is part and parcel of the contingent, the phenomenal, the relative, the realm of conflict and compromise. Religion, on the other hand, belongs to the supernatural, the realm of a kind of noumenal freedom which, as supernatural is not subject to phenomenal cause and effect, but also cannot directly intervene as cause. As a result the supernatural virtues are in effect excluded from the “realm of the dirty hands.” For this reason Maritain’s thought has been charged by several Chilean commentators with a tendency towards political “Machiavellianism.””

At this point Maritain would undoubtedly object that he has simply been misunderstood, for he takes great care to subordinate the natural telos of virtuous political action to the supernatural telos of the person. Maritain deliberately distances himself from Machiavelli, as the following illuminating excerpt from Man and the State, worth quoting at length, illustrates:

For human life has two ultimate ends, the one subordinate to the other: an ultimate end in a given order, which is the terrestrial common good, or the bonum vitae civilis; and an absolute ultimate end, which is the transcendent, eternal common good. And individual ethics takes into account the subordinate ultimate end, but directly aims at the absolute ultimate one; whereas political ethics takes into account the absolute ultimate end, but its direct aim is the subordinate ultimate end, the good of the rational nature in its temporal achievement. Hence a specific difference of perspective between those two branches of Ethics.

Thus it is that many patterns of conduct of the body politic, which the pessimists of Machiavellianism turn to the advantage of political amorality ­such as the use by the State of coercive force (even of means of war in case of absolute necessity against an unjust aggressor), the use of intelligence services and methods which should never corrupt people but cannot help utilizing corrupt people, the use of police methods which should never violate the human rights of people but cannot help being rough with them, a lot of selfishness and self-assertion which would be blamed in individuals, a perma­nent distrust and suspicion, a cleverness not necessarily mischievous but yet not candid with regard to the other States, or the toleration of certain evil deeds by the law, the recognition of the principle of the lesser evil and the recognition of the fait accompli (the so-called “statute of limitations”) which permits the retention of gains ill-gotten long ago, because new human ties and vital relationships have infused them with new-born rights — all of these things are in reality ethically grounded.

The fear of soiling ourselves by entering the context of history is not virtue, but a way of escaping virtue.

As we have seen, for Maritain the natural virtues needed for social and political life are “elevated” by the supernatural virtues. He insists, as did St Thomas. that the politician who is caretaker of the common good must be bonus vir, a virtuous man in every respect, that is, natural and supernatural. Temporal civilizations cannot be left to leaders possessed of merely natural virtue; they achieve their full dignity by being “elevated in their own order” by the “influence” of those virtues belonging to God and not Caesar.’ The charge of Machiavellianism at face value against Maritain is therefore unfair. Never­theless, there is plenty in the passage above which should give us pause. If only “individual ethics” can aim at the highest end, because entering “history-means “soiling ourselves,” then we are left in a world where the police “cannot help being rough with” people.

At the heart of the problem are at least two serious distortions of St Thomas teaching on virtue. The first distortion is that for Maritain politics is ethical if it “takes into account” the absolute end, while aiming somewhat lower. In Aquinas, however, the supernatural virtues transform the natural virtues to direct them to their proper end. When Aquinas says that charity is the of the virtues, he does not mean that charity must simply somehow be “taken into account” while acting in history. Charity transforms both the status the content of the natural virtues, which is precisely the importance in Aquinas’s account of infused natural virtues, which are essentially different from Aquinas.

division of temporal and spiritual is strictly respected and the natural virtues inculcated by the state are subordinated to, and elevated by, the supernatural virtues which are the province of the church.

For Maritain everything hinges on the propriety of the modern differen­tiation of spiritual and temporal into two distinct planes which intersect only in the individual. According to Maritain the desacralization of the state following the Reformation was the proper fulfillment of the true Christian ideal of a pure spiritual life unburdened by cultural and tribal particularities. Jesus articulated this ideal in his pithy reply to the agents of the scribes and the chief priests: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The true meaning of this passage remained implicit for many centuries as the spiritual and temporal powers struggled towards proper differentiation. Finally in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the church was freed from the state but, by an unfortunate coincidence, the absolutist notion of the state arose at the same moment in history, worsening in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The world still awaits, says Maritain, the full realization of the Gospel ideal of the properly profane state well-tamed by the spiritual order.

New Christendom ecclesiology rests on this very influential, and entirely spurious, fairy tale. This fable is based on a series of anachronisms and misreadings of history that are more often asserted than argued for. To begin_ it is illegitimate to read the modern division of religion and politics back into the story of Jesus and the coin. Not only would the very ideas of “religion-and “politics” as separate things have been unthinkable for a first-century Jew-. but the story itself makes no sense unless the reader assumes some overlap or competition between the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s. IfJesus had taught that they belonged to two distinct planes on different levels of reality, then those who posed the question could hardly have expected – trap Jesus with it and use his words to denounce him to the authorities. -it is, the question is posed in the context of mounting conflict between God and Caesar, as a prelude to the Passion in all three synoptics (Mt. 22:1f – Mk 12:13-17; Lk. 20:20-6). Mark and Luke place the story immed._ following the parable of the wicked tenants’ murder of the son, and before Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions that his followers will be imprisoned, “brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake” (Lk. 21:12). –preached the distinction of planes, his conflict with the authorities remains comprehensible. The Cross itself needs some explanation. Although precise interpretation of the story of Caesar’s coin is difficult, I concur with Oliver O’Donovan’s judgment that this passage “allows us to rule out the view that assigned Roman government a certain uncontested sphere of secular in need of some accounting for is the absence of the “distinction of ” interpretation of this passage until at least the late medieval period.

According to Maritain, it is simply “common knowledge” that the distinction :ritual and temporal and the creation of the desacralized state is “the movement of the Christian centuries and their glory,'” an assertion he seems to offer in order to bluff his way out of presenting any evidence that such the case. Undoubtedly the distinction gradually took form during the centuries, but it would be odd to call “their glory” what in fact preceded with their demise. Maritain’s contention that the best of liberal terms and universal human rights is the fruit of the Gospel’s subterranean in Western culture similarly is based on mere assertion. In the face of defence that those ideas originated in the Enlightenment context of an explicit assertion of Christianity and the church, Maritain sprinkles a bit of holy water over them and declares that what is good in them is due to the Gospel’s invisible influence. Although he is certainly right to endorse the disentanglement of church from coercive state power, we should expect Maritain at least to acknowledge that the desacralization of the state is not historically separable m the very privatization of Christianity and rising nation-state ambitions to power that Maritain himself abhors.

Maritain’s claim is that the creation of the state as separate from an indivi­dualized “spiritual” order was proper and only coincidentally mixed up with state pretensions to absolute power. Absolutist theorists such as Bodin and Hobbes, however, saw and explained quite clearly that the state’s power is predicated on the domestication of the church and an unfettered resort to the means of violence. The more apparently tolerant Locke went even further in reducing religion to purely interior belief. Locke held that the state cannot coerce religious belief because it is a matter of the internal conscience. But for the very same reason he flatly denied the social nature of the church, defining it as merely a free association of like-minded individuals, a semi-private club. When Locke’s ideas were enshrined in England’s Toleration Act of 1689

The gravity of an offense is often invoked in separating ordinary sins from sins meriting excommunication. I would argue that this not be understood as simply a mater of degree but of kind. In other words, excommunication is not reserved for those individuals who simply out do the rest of the church’s ordinary sinners in the number or degree of their sins. Excommunication is better understood as applicable to those kinds of sin which impugn the identity of the body of Christ. Excommunication, by definition, is for ecclesiological offenses. If, as I have already argued, the excommunicated person puts herself outside the church in the very act of her sin, then the sin itself must be construed as a sin against the body of Christ. I am arguing, then, that the use of excommunication should not be extended, but rather limited to those sins which threaten the very visibility of the body of Christ.

It should be apparent that this social practice [i.e., excommunication] is not based on any perfectionistic ethic for the church. My argument that torture, as an anti-liturgy of absolute power which attacks the body of Christ itself, should be met with excommunication is by no means an argument for the use of excommunication in general for other types of sin. This is torture, not theft or masturbation. If accepted, my argument would limit excommunication, to keep it from being used in the service of right-wing ecclesiastical politics. Furthermore, formal excommunication is not the only key to the church’s visibility. It is not so much a solution as a recognition that something has gone terribly wrong.

If Eucharistic discipline is rightly understood, then excommunication does not rend the unity of the church, but makes visible the disunity and conflict, already so painfully present, between the body of Christ and those who would torture it. Only when this disunity becomes visible can real reconciliation and real unity be enacted.

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One Comment
  1. Ian permalink

    Your review has reminded me of this powerful book, which I read about 8 years ago. I am sorry it isn’t better known.

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