Maximus on the proper ends of financial administration

“There are three reasons for the love of money: pleasure-seeking, vainglory, and lack of faith. And more serious than the other two is lack of faith.

“The hedonist loves money because with it he lives in luxury; the vain person because with it he can be praised; the person who lacks faith because he can hide it and keep it while in fear of hunger, or old age, or illness, or exile. He lays his hope on it rather than on God the maker and provider of the whole creation, even of the last and least of living things.

“There are four kinds of people who acquire money, the three just mentioned and the financial administrator. Obviously only he acquires it for the right reason: so that he might never run short in relieving each one’s need.”

— Maximus the Confessor, The Four Hundred Chapters on Love 3.17-19

So when was the last time you heard someone suggest that ‘financial administrators’ were reputable, virtuous human beings, let alone people who acquire money for all the ‘right reasons’? For that matter, when was the last time you heard someone suggest that the only proper acquisition of wealth was for the ceaseless outpouring of generosity upon the needs of ‘the last and least’? Luxury and celebrity, hoarding and strategically managed self-sufficiency . . . are these not the ‘virtues’ of our bureaucratic clerics of consumptive economic management? Perhaps I’m being anachronistic here, but I can’t help but wonder if Maximus’ use of ‘obviously’ implies more than a hint of polemical irony. Either way, the underly point remains poignant: money is not itself an evil, but neither is it an end; for Maximus, its true worth and genuine usefulness is made manifest in the just and compassonate relieving of needs.

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About Ben Kautzer

I am currently dwelling in the intangible space of the between. Having finished my MA in Philosophical Theology at the University of Nottingham, I decided to take a bit of a break, return to California, and start applying for PhD programs. That process is finally drawing to a close. This Fall I will be commencing my doctoral research in political theology at either the University of Nottingham, Durham, or Bristol. As of yet, that future still remains (uncomfortably) uncertain. My recent academic pursuits tend to focus on political theology (ecclesiology, ethics, politics, liturgy), biblical theology (scriptural narrative, hermeneutics, philosophy of memory and historical method), and Continental Philosophy (especially phenomenology). View all posts by Ben Kautzer

13 responses to “Maximus on the proper ends of financial administration

  • Anthony Paul Smith

    Can I ask why it matters if Maximus said it or not? All of the stuff you’ve posted on Maximus strikes me as rather banal positions people who give some time to thinking about this sort of stuff usually come to in some form.

  • Ben Kautzer

    Nice to hear from you too, Anthony. I’m not quite seeing your point. Why does what matter exactly? If you find my postings here to be ‘banal positions’ I guess there’s not that much I can do about that. My purposes at the moment are to have a look through key thinkers in the Christian tradition and begin to trace the origins of the doctrine of the works of mercy and the Church’s teachings concerning the tangible care for the socially marginalized. It just so happened that Maximus was on my shelf and I decided to start there. A part of me is inclined to agree with you that thus far it’s not the most groundbreaking material in the world. So maybe it’d be better to check in a bit later on when I’ve found something a bit more interesting to you.

  • Anthony Paul Smith

    Yes, I can see how that can be seen as aggressive. Apologies for that. My point wasn’t that what you’re posting as your own thought is banal, but that Maximus is rather banal. So my question was why look at Maximus at all if this is all rather pat at the end of it all. You’ve said why to a certain extent (you’re looking through key thinkers, etc) but you clearly are not simply providing a history. Is it right to guess that you have some hope of providing a positive thesis on the topic? A corollary question, though I suspect we’ll reach a differend here, is why the Church’s teachings at all? What “Church” do you mean? The actually-existing “Church”, if we take that to mean the totality of communities that claim the title themselves, is really a polymorphous collection of different social organizations. What kind of consistent teaching do you hope to derive from there and, more importantly, how would you argue for that to take the place of the secular welfare state (as you hint at here on the blog following Ignatiff and in past conversations) if it is more a third rail within Christian theory than a social reality?

  • Ben Kautzer

    No worries. Your questions are certainly valid and ones that I’ve wrestled with for quite some time. I’ll admit upfront I am a very long way from being able to provide a satisfactory response.

    First of all, I do ultimately intend on integrating a historical survey into my overall project. I think it’s important for me to have a sense of the ways in which these types of practices have been understood and performed throughout the life of the church. A lot of work has been done demonstrating the deep roots the modern secular welfare state has in this doctrine of the Christian cannon. It’s difficult to decipher whether or not such shifts ought to be labeled as developments and advances or perversions and distortions without a clearer sense of the historical development and the question of origins. It may be that such a search for a foundational paradigm is unhelpful. I’m not sure. However, it seems to me that if we’re going to mount a critical engagement of contemporary bureaucratic patterns of formation, practice, power, and disciplinary control then being aware of what brought it about will prove illuminating.

    Why the church’s teachings at all? Well, I’m working on this project in the context of ecclesiology, liturgy, and political theology. I am quite open about the fact that I am writing as a member of the church and often have the church in mind. At least, that is where I’m starting from. It would be a bit bizarre for me to attempt such an agenda without first having a look at the roots of our current thinking on the topic. Also, if a big part of the problem with the contemporary structures and institutions we’re talking about is their distinctly modern character, than it can also be valuable to see what the church’s pre-modern teachings looked like outside such discourses. That doesn’t necessarily imply that what we’re looking for is an uncritical, nostalgic return (though that has often been suggested), but instead seeking out resources for moving forward in a more faithful direction. I suppose another reason to read the teachings of the church is because the ‘actually-existing church’ is not reduced to the now. That totality of communities also stretches itself back through time. So we’ve got that on the one hand. On the other, I’m also thinking about the concrete, particular churches I attend in San Diego, Rancho Cucamonga, and Nottingham. I’m wanting to ask with them how do these practices constitute the life of these congregations? How can they be formed, informed, shaped, encouraged, rebuked, directed, etc. by these reflections? The thing about the works of mercy that I’m not sure how to deal with yet is that they seem to refuse totalizing agendas, globally managed paradigms, and the like. Instead they talk about bread and water, encouraging the doubtful, comforting the afflicted, visiting the sick, and the like. That may be its deepest strength. It may also ultimately signal a need to look elsewhere.

    So you’re correct in saying that it is my hope to continue to think through a theological critique of welfarism. It needs to be said right away that I am not convinced that the proper way forward is to flat out ‘replace’ secular or state structures with ‘religious’ church ones. Considering the ‘polymorphus’ state of the church in any given geographic area, such a project would be very complicated to facilitate, especially considering the fact that most churches in a given city are extremely hesitant to partner together over even small scale social programs.

    As to your comment: ‘What kind of consistent teaching do you hope to derive from there and, more importantly, how would you argue for that to take the place of the secular welfare state (as you hint at here on the blog following Ignatiff and in past conversations) if it is more a third rail within Christian theory than a social reality?’

    Well, this hints at another reason to do the historical work. The reality is that while our current churches differ widely, we hold a common heritage (to a certain extent). One of the (potentially) valuable reasons of revisiting the Christian tradition (including its biblical, Jewish, Hellenistic foundations) is that it can help facilitate genuine ecumenical conversations. Part of the historical project is to start to figure out what the actual differences lie regarding various approaches to the works of mercy and also what gave rise to them. For example, the long debates of faith and works have long served to reduce the works of mercy to this ‘third rail’ you mention. Therefore, it’s helpful to figure out why those things were put into a dichotomy so that we can break them out it. Looking at the development of the doctrine can help identify when such moves took place.

    The challenge as I see it is twofold. First, to recover the centrality of these practices for the church’s own self-identity. And second, to negotiate the place of these practices in the context of a secular world.

  • Anthony Paul Smith

    Thanks for the detailed response. A quick note, by third rail I mean that talking about the reality of “the Church” is often downplayed or completely ignored in favor of talking about this idealistic magic thing that most political theologians call the Church. It is a third rail in that if you talk about it honestly you’re fucked and if you try to argue with a political theologian (especially disciples of Hauerwasian notions and RO) they throw you onto the third rail and shut down discussion. I see some openness to talking honestly about the Church, though in your review of the literature I see mostly pious, intra-Christian discussions. Interaction with that literature would go a long way towards convincing someone like myself, who does not share in your particular language-game though is familiar with it, of the validity of your project. Of course, people like me probably are not our audience, a point that leads into the next issue.

    I am not convinced, for a variety of philosophical and historical reasons, that modernity (whatever this word might mean) marks any kind of real break with pre-modernity. That is to say, I don’t think one can set up the pre-modern as offering answers to modern problems. Those aspects that make up modernity rightly attempted to rectify issues arising from tyrannies and theocracies. It also provided roads, medicines, education, relatively more security, so on and so forth. I for one am not ready to throw all of that out under the banner of evil or empire or what have you. Not to say that there are not problems to be dealt with and alternative structures that can deliver the same benefits as bureaucracy or that I think we should all be out cheering for Empire. Just not sure what these narratives of decline get us except sad passions and further moves towards the quasi-fash. I am much more convinced by a neo-Bergsonianism that rejects the notion of progress as characterized by certain strands of Hegelianism, but of a process of creative differentiation that is stratified at times and responds to that stratification with a further differentiation. Perhaps that is too abstract though.

    Anyhow, thanks for the clarification. I recently read through Maximus in my own readings to understand the history of how Christian theology has thought nature. I’m not included this historical overview in my dissertation (others have already done interesting ones that pretty much over the important bits), but agree that it is important to understand that history. I found Maximus better than Palamas on this issue, but still was left feeling like there were major contradictions in the thinking of nature.

  • Ben Kautzer

    Thanks for this. I now get what you’re saying with the ‘third rail’ thing. That has long been a huge point of tension for me in the various readings I’ve long been immersed within. To be honest, I think there is a lot that I could learn from your thoughts and research regarding what you perceive has the limits of the RO and Ekklesia Project agendas. As you’re well aware, I’ve long been trained within these camps and have been deeply formed accordingly. However, as I move into this phase of my research I’m wanting to be transparent about the shortcomings of these perspectives and also be deliberate about moving the conversation forward beyond the confines of their gaze, and yet do so without casting to the wayside the respective strengths of their collective projects. Perhaps what puts us on differing ends of this conversation is that I remain fairly comfortable within RO and Hauerwasian models, of course I do not at all feel the need to ‘religiously’ adhere to them without deviation. In other words, I see my work as an opportunity to be somewhat of a corrective sideways engagement rather than a means of scratching these projects full stop and starting afresh elsewhere.

    With that in mind, I really want to explore how, from your perspective, the RO/Hauerwasian agenda might destabilize a project like mine, close down necessary and salient conversations, and construct barriers of exclusion and inhospitable distancing. I agree with you that this is often a danger (if not a trend). It is certainly one I have no desire to emulate. Of course, I think it would be uncharitable to push that description too far, but at the end of the day defaulting to an insatiably polemical discourse is a rather violent way of doing theology.

    I don’t know if this is still a true depiction, but a long time ago I envisioned this project to be ‘post-Hauerwasian’ in that it acknowledges and in fact takes seriously the claims that ‘the church needs to first be the church in its service to the world’ and that ‘the church is rather than has a social ethic’ and that ‘faithfulness is a deeper category than effectiveness’ and so forth, while at the same time strives to interrogate the harder question of what does a church so constituted tangibly look like? What does it do with its time, resources, and energy? And importantly, what is the relationship between this ‘rightly formed’ and ‘faithful’ community and the post-Constantinian secular world that it positions itself in contradistinction with?

    Who knows … perhaps a discussion on something as mundane, concrete, and irreducibly particular as the works of mercy will facilitate a more realistic, humble, and even penitent reflection, not on the ‘idealistic magic thing that most political theologians call the Church,’ but on those real communities laying it all on the line to advance the kingdom in hospitals, refugee camps, rain shelters, prison blocks, and the countless other invisible spaces where Christ presents himself to us in the least. After spending a lot of time thinking with Hauerwas (and even some of his students), I still see him as an asset rather than a liability in keeping this agenda at the fore of our theological imagination.

    In terms of my review of literature, it should be noted that the list there is VERY preliminary. For example, it excludes all the works I’ve started to collect on the more sociological and economic perspectives of charity and welfare. It also excludes the more philosophically oriented perspectives that will need to be voiced (I’m thinking of Bourdieu, de Certeau, Michel Henry, and others on the question of praxis; Marion, Nancy, Foucault, Illich, Belloc, Bellah, Budde, on community, capitalism, disciplinary welfarism, the gift, and bureaucracy). So I agree that what appears there at the moment is a bit skewed toward the ‘pious, intra-Christian discussions.’ The reason that is the case is because that review of literature was referring to works that deal SPECIFICALLY and DIRECTLY with the works of mercy. It’s not the most popular conversation in the world.

    I’ll save the modernity question for another post. But as a quick note I’d be keen to see how you integrate your neo-Bergsonianism conception of history with the traceable socioeconomic and political developments that gave rise to the manifold changes we’ve witnessed since the late middle ages. I agree that it would certainly be naive to presume that everything that came under the general heading of ‘modernity’ belongs to the categories of evil, empire, capital. Then again it would also be naive to presume that such things as hospitals, education, and the like have no concrete roots in distinctively Christian models.

  • Anthony Paul Smith

    Thanks for the continuing conversation. I have come down with a flu, a mild one it seems, but it has still weakened me. So, if there are issues in what I write below that may be why (or, perhaps, not).

    I’m not sure I understand your question in the final paragraph. The neo-Bergsonian perspective on history would suggest that the ultimate traceability of these developments if far more complex than simply locating them in distinctively Christian models. I remember reading Henry’s passage at the end of I am the Truth where he remarks that with Christianity there would have been no roads or hospitals, etc., and thinking that this seems a strange point to stop. It is almost like the watchmaker’s fallacy that Hume dismantled in his Dialogues on Natural Religion. Christianity does, of course, mark a kind of break (though every religion marks a break in kind), but that break is not one of monoculture or mono-modeling. I’m not arguing for a naive secularist position, but I’m rejecting that the answer is to return to Christian communities and strengthen them. This conviction shares much with my skepticism towards narratives of decline and the kind of theological histories or philosophies of history like Milbank or Brague or other such thinkers (perhaps conservative voices like Belloc, Chesterton, and Lewis should be included here) that present the early and mid-middle ages as a source of potentially radical thought. All of that fails to explain why their ideas failed and have an ideologically function of staving off critiques of Christian models that trace the capitalist system to Christian modes of thinking (“Ah, yes, but you see that’s not really Christanity!”).

    Yes though, I’m sure this is a differend between us.

  • Alex

    Not to leap in here, but part of my problem would be in identifying those concrete links between theology and the institutions and changes in mood you describe. Sure, medieval forms of the monastery and the hospital are wonderful, but at the same time were they directly influenced by theology, or a simple reading of the Bible on which someone like Thomas’ simply performed a second order reflection in formalising them. Sure, theology does have a people, so there is a closer link between thought and practice, but one would have to, for example, see how Aquinas was used in the middle ages – if you recall, he wasn’t exactly the pal of the church authorities at the time, though it is obviously the case that in the Catholic tradition he remains a major (and perhaps over loud) voice. I guess what I’m trying to say is, how is a theologian from around 500 AD (and from the theological East, not the West) got anything to do casually with modernity? It seems too much idealist and history of ideas type stuff, which pays no attention to the material conditions.

  • Alex

    Note I’m saying theology here, not Christianity. Hospitals etc were certainly about the latter, but were they about the former?

  • Ben Kautzer

    Hey Anthony. Hope you’re feeling a bit better. It’s possible that my last paragraph just didn’t make sense. I think I was trying to figure out what exactly a neo-Bergsonian perspective on history looked like and how it would treat these theme differently. There is no doubt that the historical reality is far more complex than many of these thinkers have suggested. I doubt that any attempted hypothesis-testing, historical reconstruction will ever even come close to doing it justice. I also think it’s pushing it too far to say that without Christianity there would be NO roads, hospitals, legal structures etc. Of course, that doesn’t nullify the fact that the existence of THESE roads, hospitals, legal structures, educational institutions, etc. in the West has been radically influenced by the formative presence of Christianity. Thus far I have found the work of the historians fairly convincing on this point. I’ll grant that the models of decline that tend to permeate these discussions act as sweeping generalizations that are also heavily charged by a certain fidelity (a decline from what? and why is this a ‘decline’ rather than an emancipation?). Nonetheless, I don’t think you can read Taylor, for instance, and honestly say that he’s regurgitating a bland ‘mono-modeling’ perspective on the historical data. He’s a lot more careful than that. So in terms of your neo-Bergsonianism I’m still a bit unsure of how that view (1) is somehow inherently more capable of respecting historical complexity and (2) how it would render these traceable shifts in thought, practice and social structure.

    Welcome, Alex. Always good to have your insights in the mix!

    Alex: ‘[P]art of my problem would be in identifying those concrete links between theology and the institutions and changes in mood you describe. Sure, medieval forms of the monastery and the hospital are wonderful, but at the same time were they directly influenced by theology, or a simple reading of the Bible on which someone like Thomas’ simply performed a second order reflection in formalising them.’

    I’m not sure I get what you mean here. What do you see as the difference between theology and a ‘simple reading of the Bible’? Obviously, these guys knew Scripture well. Equally, their exhortations to charity, mercy, and the care of the poor was almost always advanced in the context of the Bible (be it a catechismal teaching, a letter of encouragement or rebuke, a homily, or some kind of apology). It seems like what you’re asking at is: what is the link between these texts, academic discourse, theological/philosophical concepts, and the visible, documented sociohistorical changes that materialized in new institutional structures that came to shape the West and foreshadow the move toward modernity?

    You may be right to suggest that such moves are more difficult to discern in someone like Thomas. Of course, by the 13th century many of these changes were well underway. I mean, much of what Aquinas wrote is of a more descriptive or archival nature with respect to the Christian tradition. That being said, I think it’s much easier to see how Aquinas is causally related to the rise of modernity. His influence is demonstrable not only in terms of proximity and the widespread acceptance of his theological agenda, but often in the projects that set themselves up against him (not just the Scotus/Ockham crowd, but also the catholic manualist tradition that stoked the flames of the Reformation and so forth – see Servais Pinckaers’ The Sources of Christian Ethics).

    Of course, you’re not asking so much about Aquinas as you are ‘a theologian from around 500 AD (and from the theological East, not the West)’, by which I assume you are referring to someone like Maximus. First of all, my point in bringing up Maximus is not so much to manufacture a clean, unbroken causal chain straight into the arms of modernity as modernity. At the moment, my efforts are much more humble than that. I’m looking around at contemporary manifestations of charity as divided into either public welfare or private philanthropy, and I ask myself: How did this situation come about? What are the theological and philosophical origins of these paradigms? What historical adjustments in structure and practice made this state of affairs normal and normative for our understanding of ‘the poor’? And so forth. Maximus may or may not be directly causal with respect to modernity on this particular question, but he is certainly formative for guys like Aquinas. I have a feeling it’ll take the long, hard, boring research to start to get a feel for which of these theological figures are actually important for my question.

    In response to your wider claim here: ‘I guess what I’m trying to say is, how is a theologian from around 500 AD (and from the theological East, not the West) got anything to do casually with modernity? It seems too much idealist and history of ideas type stuff, which pays no attention to the material conditions.’

    While folks like Maximus and Aquinas might not be the sort of theologians that fit this profile, that does not mean that none exist. Take as a prime example the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century. Now St. Basil of Caesarea (320-379) is a guy at the very center of those foundational ‘second order reflections’ that would forever mark the Christian faith. He and the two Gregories wrote much of the formal liturgy, heavily engaged Greek philosophy, and were seminal thinkers behind the creedal theology of the First Council of Constantinople (which confirmed the Nicene Creed). On top of all that, Basil was a bishop (and therefore a political authority) and founding figure of communal monasticism in the Christian East.

    At a first glance, this description seems to suggest an ‘idealist’ masquerade of a ‘history of ideas type’ ideology. However, even the slightest survey of Basil’s life and work quickly disseminates any assertion that this ‘pays no attention to the material conditions.’ As bishop, Basil started one of the earliest chains of hospitals (hospices, houses of hospitality in service of travelers, the homeless, and the infirmed), monasteries dedicated to the service of the poor, and food distribution centers (early soup kitchens) during times of drought and famine. An excellent account of the work of the Cappadocians is found in Brian Daley’s essay, ‘The Cappadocian Fathers and the Rhetoric of Philanthropy.’ In this paper, Daley quotes a passage where Basil defends himself against charges of undermining public interest by asking (in an ironic tone): how does it harm the state,

    ‘to raise in honor of our God a house of prayer built in magnificent fashion, and, grouped around it, a residence, one portion being a generous home reserved for the head of the community, and the rest subordinate quarters, all in order, for the servants of the divinity—to which there is free access, both for you magistrates and for your retinue? And whom do we wrong when we build hospices for strangers, for those who visit us while on a journey, for those who require some care because of sickness, and when we extend to the latter the necessary comforts, such as nurses, physicians, beasts for traveling, and attendants?’

    Daley adds to this, ‘the Greeks knew that words and ideas, however brilliant they are, need to be fleshed out in actions. It was the reason Basil’s eloquence, along with that of the two Gregories, needed to be built into the stones of a shelter and a hospital—the reason philanthropia, and not just wise and powerful words, had to take such a central role in shaping the life of their new city’ (p. 461).

    How this all was carried on in the monastic tradition (one thinks of the Rule of St. Benedict or Francis of Assisi), the medieval guilds and fraternities, into the ‘poor laws’ of the 17th – 18th centuries, and so forth on into the construction of the welfare state (first ecclesial and then secular) – is a fascinating story that holds a lot serious historical validity (Well, not in the way I just told it in the last sentence! But you know what I mean).

    Undoubtedly not every 5th or 6th century theologian is causally linked to modernity. However, modernity did not come from nowhere. It’s legacy in the west is irreducibly formed (positively and negatively) by its Christian, Hellenistic, Roman, Jewish, Anglo-Saxon etc. origins.

  • Alex

    Cheers for the response and the continuing conversation.

  • thomaslynch

    Thanks for these thoughts Ben. I think one of your most important responses comes when you say:

    ‘I also think it’s pushing it too far to say that without Christianity there would be NO roads, hospitals, legal structures etc. Of course, that doesn’t nullify the fact that the existence of THESE roads, hospitals, legal structures, educational institutions, etc. in the West has been radically influenced by the formative presence of Christianity.’

    I think this is an important point, though I’m not sure if you mean this as a positive point (what good there is in these phenomena comes from Christianity) or critically (Christianity is complicit in the emergence of the these phenomena as we experience them).

    If you have a chance you should check out Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion and the collection of Foucault’s writings on religion (in a volume edited by Jeremy Carrette). Both of these focus on this very issue. Foucault has additional thoughts scattered through his other work, but Carrette’s collection has the most easily accessed essays and interviews.

  • Ben Kautzer

    Thanks for the note, Tommy. I’ve used Talal Asad’s work before, although not yet to a very substantial degree. His ‘Genealogies of Religion’ and ‘Formations of the Secular’ are two of about 20 urgent readings that I’ll be kicking off my PhD with in September. Undoubtedly his work will be important for the story I’m attempting to flush out here. Regarding the Foucault collection you mentioned, I had a brief look for it only to find that Carrette has had his editorial hand in 4 or 5 similarly titled books. I was wondering if there was a particular one that you hand in mind?

    Regarding your earlier comment concerning the relationship between Christianity and the institutional structures of modernity, you are right to catch a deep degree of ambiguity here. I think that this awkward tension can be helpful in bringing to light certain underlying presuppositions we might carry into the historical investigation.

    While I’m still at the early stages of my research here, I would nonetheless suggest that the simple response to your question would be … well … yes. On the one hand, I think an honest approach to the historical data needs to acknowledge the positive contributions of Christianity, but also be humble enough to recognize that Christianity does not own an implicit monopoly on ‘what good there is’ in these entities. At the same time, one of the critiques that needs to be raised to the more pastorally-focused or ecclesially-shaped readings of this history is the many ways in which the church has participated in and even facilitated, constructed, and brought about systems of welfarism as means of disciplinary control, social management, and the explicit oppression of the marginalized. That is to say the past was checkered long before the rise of modernity itself. I find Illich’s phrase suggestive here that ‘corrupted Christianity gives rise to the modern.’

    This is a point worth pausing to think about. I mean, we do have to be careful to avoid simply saying that if hospitals contribute good things, bam! that’s the Christianity in it! Or likewise, if these same hospitals represent places of dehumanization, alienation, violent biopower, and panoptical control, saying that such things are ONLY due to a ‘secularization’ foreign to the concrete development of Christianity through time. While we all like to have our cake and eat it too, such a (rosy) perspective is as unhelpful as it is unconvincing.

    Likewise, it’s also important and necessary be very clear about what exactly we mean by the term ‘Christianity’ in such a conversation as this one. In a similar vein as Anthony’s earlier point about the way we often use ‘the Church,’ Christianity itself often becomes this mythical totalizing entity that is just vacuous enough, just far enough removed from the real that it can become a cipher for our own ideological presuppositions. In this light, talking of the positive or critical dimensions of ‘Christianity’s’ relation to modernity might not make as much historical sense as we would hope. Instead, the data might be directing us ask, WHICH Christianity are we talking about? So the question can become rather complicated in light of the polyvalent voices rising within the Christian tradition throughout this time period (as Alex mentioned, Aquinas was somewhat at odds with the formal Roman Church hierarchy and so forth). Certainly this line of reasoning can be pushed to other unhelpful extremes that suggest there was NO common threads of liturgical, doctrinal, ecclesial heritage – a perspective I am in no way advocating. I’m just suggesting that our interpretive decisions in these matters ought to reflect the historical reality as best as we’re able.

    In sum, my (early) hypothesis would be that from a historical perspective we’d be acting rashly by too quickly and too determinatively defaulting with either a wholly positive or wholly critical perspective. To a degree both sides of this dichotomy are undoubtedly at play. However, I do find more compelling the hypothesis that certain performances and manifestations of Christianity have been complicit in bringing about these problematic situations. From my perspective, I would want to then carefully interrogate the particularities of those performances and manifestations in order to determine whether or not they are better depicted as truthful, robust, and peaceable embodiments of a Christianity faithful to its Messiah or whether they are perversions, corruptions, and transgressions of that fidelity. The temptation is to decide this question ahead of time. The riskier task is to take serious our own history even if this (painful) process evokes from us humility, lament, and contrition.

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