Wednesday 30 June 2010

Jesus Radicals and Jesus Manifesto Together

The Jesus Radicals and Jesus Manifesto web groups are coming together under the Jesus Radicals name. This will mean a change of direction and approach for members of both groups.

There has been an explicit UK page on the JR website for about four years and a forum page too for quite a while but the UK forum gets very little activity on it.

Meanwhile A Pinch of Salt has relaunched well and this blog has a lot of visitors if only a little interaction. For me this is partly about where to put my energy. If the relaunch of Jesus Radicals means a more engaged interface for European Christian anarchists then it might be worth redirecting energy there and even changing Pinch so that I finally give in to it being an online magazine.

This needs some serious consideration and response on this blog, and on the JR forum, and at the Christian anarchist conference in a few weeks time.

Your thoughts?

Thursday 24 June 2010

Celebrating with the Martyrs: Cavanaugh's reflection on Romero's theology

Celebrating with the Martyrs: Cavanaugh's reflection on Romero's theology

By Keith Hebden

In Dying for the Eucharist or being killed by it? Romero's Challenge to the First-World Christians, (Note)Cavanaugh uses the theology and praxis of two of San Salvador's priest-martyr's, Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande, to update St Paul's challenge to the Church not to eat and drink to condemnation (1 Cor. 11: 29 – 30) but rather carry the in the body the death of Jesus (2 Cor. 4: 10). (p. 177 – 178)

William T. Cavanaugh, a radical theologian based in the USA takes inspiration from Oscar Romero. Romero was made Archbishop and was expected to be a quiet, conservative pastor of the Church, unlikely to rock the boat. However, a week after his consecration a fellow priest and friend, Rutilio Grande was assassinated on his way to celebrate the mass in El Paisnal. Grande was an outspoken critique of his countries elites on behalf of landless peasants. Romero made the connection and as a prophetic act of defiance cancelled all the celebrations in the Archdiocese in favour of a Requiem for Grande at the Cathedral.

Romero intended the one Eucharist to be an anticipation of the kingdom, of the day when rich and poor would feast together, of the day when the body of Christ would not be wounded by divisions. (185)

Romero came under intense pressure from the elites who wanted no such "anticipation" but refused to acquiesce becoming for the first time a public prophetic voice and bringing the theologian of martyrdom back into the consciousness of the church.

Eventually Oscar Romero was assassinated – but not silenced – for his outspoken theology. He was shot while presiding at the Eucharist. For Cavanaugh, Romero's life, martyrdom, and teaching highlight the difference between dying for the Eucharist and being killed by it. One does the latter when eating the Eucharist without being in solidarity for others who share in the one cup but unequally so. Cavanaugh's energies in this paper are on illustrating the former. This means the article makes for a constructive read.

Cavanaugh's Christian theology of martyrdom finds its prototype in the execution of Jesus: "Christ triumphs by dying ignominiously, tortured to death on a cross, then peaceably rising again to new life." (178) So for the church father's, like Athanasius, the continuing tradition of martyrdom is not a failure of the political expansion of the kingdom but proof of the victory of Christ. The martyrs "bring a foretaste of the kingdom," by living and willingly facing of death as though "death does not finally exist." (179) Cavanaugh points out that the persuasive nature of public martyrdom is often cleverly undermined by those regimes who by means of secrecy and propaganda re-cast martyrs terrorists or delinquents. But this is where Cavanaugh moves the reader on to a more radical understanding of martyrdom than popular religion often allows. Martyrdom cannot be "the cult of heroic individuals" but rather the sacrificial act that sustains the body of Christ. (181)

What brought repression to a fever pitch in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s was not merely the actions of heroic individuals but the efforts of the people to organize into bodies of a social nature: peasant cooperatives, base ecclesial communities, unions, student movements, and women's groups – many of them sponsored by the church and all of them a threat to the atomization of the poor that had traditionally worked so well for El Salvador's landed elite. The repression was meant to disappear, not merely individual bodies, but especially social bodies, largely through the spread of fear. To participate in any kind of social body meant confronting the very real possibility of one's own death. (181)

So it is the witness of the church to the efficacy of the death of the individual that makes her or him a martyr. Implicit in this, because of Jesus' model of martyrdom, is the ability of the martyr to resist violence with nonviolence. Anyone who resists martyrdom violently is not a martyr but someone overcome, tragically, by a greater violence than their own.

Cavanaugh brings to bear on this theology of martyrdom a theology of the Eucharist: that in sharing in the body of Christ we become that body and therefore partake in the sacrifice of God to us: a mutuality of grace. (182) But also that the Eucharist both draws the prototypical martyrdom into the present and the eschatological hope of the kingdom into the same present moment. In all of this he drawn on the theology of Augustine of Hippo, Roman Catholic teaching, and scriptural inference. (183 – 184)

The Letter to the Hebrews makes clear to the humble group of assembled Christians that their liturgical action is no mere earthly mumbling… At the Eucharist, the feast of the last day irrupts into earthly time, and the future breaks into the present. (184)

He poignantly notes that this eschatological element of the Eucharist is one easily forgotten by minority world Christians but not so by the persecuted Church. For Cavanaugh both the Eucharist and the martyrs participate in the sacrifice that makes builds and reveals a body of people. (186) They are signs and samples of the kingdom of God. But because, unlike Oscar Romero, we often sit down to the Eucharist without being in solidarity with the martyred Church we eat judgement upon ourselves.

This is not simply a matter of wishful thinking; our unity is true eschatologically, for we will all feast tighter in the kingdom. Where divisions exist now, in history, Christ in the Eucharist appears in judgement, according to Paul, and the judgement is severe…(186)

The Eucharistic feast penetrates through the nonsense of globalisations myth of world harmony; of "Thai villagers and Minnesotan suburbanites happily communing on the internet." (187) In the feast of the kingdom we are invited to properly discern the body and to give greatest honour to those considered least important. Romero shows us the way.

William T. Cavanaugh, Dying for the Eucharist or being killed by it? Romero's Challenge to First-World Christians, Theology Today 58:2 (July 2001): 177–89.

Find Cavanaugh's original article and others by the same here and even more here.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Lucky ol' Gaza!

Today Israeli officials have offered to strangle Gaza with only one hand instead of two. Thus killing the region slightly more slowly. No doubt the Israeli Government and IDF will be praised for this by Western Governments who know no better because they are equally psychotic. All states are psychotic, not just Israel. They don't always kill their next-door neighbours but they are always destroying something beautiful.

Monday 14 June 2010

Eucharist and Social Imagination: Understanding Cavanaugh

William T. Cavanaugh's Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Social Imagination in Early Modern Europe

by Keith Hebden

In Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Social Imagination in Early Modern Europe William Cavanaugh gives an overview of how the reformation debate on the nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice was formed as much politically as theologically. This fits with a broader theological method that Cavanaugh uses. Cavanaugh is much influenced by both the Radical Orthodox school and by Mennonite ecclesiology. So he draws on an orthodox understanding of Christian faith and on the Church fathers and mothers to reflect a radical understanding of Christian faith and worship.

Cavanaugh focuses on Luther's polemic against the Catholic Church in distilling a reformed theology of the eucharist. He notes that were one to rely on Luther's other polemic – against other reformers like Zwingli – a different emphasis would emerge but not a contradictory one. So for Luther the sacrament of bread and wine is a testament rather than a sacrifice because he sees the role of gift-giver as being exclusively with the God's agency. Humans respond in faith and should do prayer(1) and charity in relation to other people but cannot add or take away from God's initiative and complete role as gift-giver. Cavanaugh calls this a "zero-sum logic"; if God gives and we give back then there is an exchange rather than a gift and the grace of God is annulled. For Luther a human agency brings the sum back to zero instead of leaving us in eternal debt to God. (p. 587)

It is this logic of the market and exchange value that Cavanaugh focuses in on and identifies as modern: at odds with the medieval worldview. Helpfully, Cavanaugh describes what he sees as the relevant difference here between a medieval and a modern social system (accepting that there are blurring of these differences in the historical transition). For the medieval social imagination the primary illustration of society is of a human body. This body has different parts with different function; it is organic; hierarchical divinely ordained; held together by mutual obligation.(591) So the medieval mind begins with the social collective and sees how individuals must play their part: the hands must feed the stomach or they will suffer, even if they don't see the stomach's usefulness accept to eat the fruit of another's labour, and so on.

For the modern mind set, however, the point of departure is the abstracted free and private individual. Social relations between these individuals can be seen as either through a fair exchange of privately secured goods (the zero-sum) or through gift. (593) At this point Cavanaugh can't resist developing the theme of how this notion of the individual helped carry the moral development of the nation state to protect these now atomised individuals – no longer held in mutual, divinely appointed obligation – from killing each other.

But there is a problem with applying this zero-sum individualism to a theology of the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the problem that gift giving leaves an unbalanced maths:

Self-sacrifice in its modern mode preserves self-possession and precludes mutual participation because there must be an unreturned transfer from one discreet self to another. Self-sacrifice reinforces the boundaries between what is mine and what is thine – even if I give all – because it remains crucial that the absolute distinction between giver and recipient be maintained in order to identify self-sacrifices as such. Agape thereby appear to exclude eros, the desire of the giver to be with the recipient.(597)

The charitable act is problematic because it creates a power imbalance and is self-nullifying.

Cavanaugh is positive about Luther's intention to reform the corrupted practices of the Roman Catholic church in turning the work of offering the Eucharist into an opportunity in itself for an exchange to take place. In other words, the theology and practice was corrupt. However, he sees Luther's response as one that de-eschatologises the Eucharist and takes out human participation. (589)

For Cavanaugh, the patristic theology of anamnesis is key to re-thinking the Eucharist. Put simply, when the Eucharist is celebrated there is a collapsing of time, or rather the past event of Christ's sacrifice is drawn into the present moment of its celebration and the future hope of it's fulfilment is drawn forward into the now. With this theology it is possible to say that as the Priest and people celebrate the Eucharist they take part in God's sacrificial act – as they eat of Christ so they become the Body of Christ the very sacrifice they receive.

Cavanaugh uses the theology of Irenaeus and of Augustine to pull out a socio-theological response. For Irenaeus there can be "no distinction between our offering and Christ's offering in the Eucharist."(599) We are drawn into the divine life and our offering is made part of God's – neither deducting nor adding to it. For Augustine it is the sharing of the sacrifice with Christ that unites us with God. As Cavanaugh puts it: "In the sacrifice of the God-man, the zero-sum distance between divine agency and human agency is collapsed into the Body of Christ." (600) This solves the problem of unfair exchange because no distinction is made between giver and recipient and gift since all are part of the body of Christ in the work of the Eucharist.

Cavanaugh Concludes:

It may be possible after all, then, to embrace a conception of sacrifice which does not fall prey to the modern imagination of social exchange and its politics of oscillation between public self-interest and private philanthropy. At the same time, there is much in the patristic ideas of sacrifices that transcends the static hierarchical organicism of medieval Europe.(602)

What is radical about this orthodoxy is it's reliance upon the Eucharistic imagination to impact the social imagination. The Eucharist draws the Church into a new and realising eschatology of a society where all receive every gift and the gift of giving in every sacrifice made.

"William T. Cavanugh," Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Social Imagination in Early Modern Europe," in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Duke University Press, 31: 3, Fall 2001, 589.

The full text of William Cavanaugh's paper can be found here and even more archived stuff here.