_Cities of God_: Church as Erotic Community (ch 6)

In this chapter, the key point has to do with the nature of desire or eros.

In addition to reducing eros down to sexual desire (see previous post) secular modernity roots desire in an economy of lack or scarcity. So the reason I want something (a cup of coffee, a new pair of jeans, a relationship with another person) is that I lack this thing.

This economy of lack presupposes that the things of this world (including relationships and other people) are posessions to be controlled and consumed.

Christianity’s understanding of desire, however, is not at all rooted in this economy of lack. This understanding, which seems so foreign to our fallen and modern minds, begins with St. Paul’s situating the Church as in Christ, Christ being both the source of all things as well as the consummation of all things. If I am a member of the church (Ward’s “We”) then I am in Christ, there there is absolutely nothing that I lack. (I know this by faith which of course is penetrated through & through by reason.)

If this is true, then lack or privation which Augustine (as well as Hegel) connects to evil cannot be the source of my desire.

What, then, is the source of my desire? Here, as well as elsewhere, is where human language fails. Perhaps we can say that my desire is stimulated by my participation in God, or perhaps we can say that I desire the Other simply because the Father desires the Son (and vice-versa, throwing the Holy Spirit in the mix, too).

Or perhaps you could say what my wife and I have always said to each other in answer to the question “Why do you love me?” The only answer which satisfies the questioner is “No reason.”


_Cities of God_: Communities of Desire (ch 5)

I think (I hope) I might be reaching “a simplicity on the far side of complexity,” that is, a grasp of the big picture of what Ward is saying and doing in this book.

My dad & I have a long-standing argument over the question, “Is the world getting better & better, worse & worse, or something else?” It is easy, especially for Christians in the West today, to think that the world is getting worse & worse. However, what Ward (along with other practitioners of theological genealogy) shows is that the state of affairs we have today (I am thinking, for example, of rampant and dominating consumerism, and its many destructive effects) is really just a point on the trajectory of certain developments which have been happening for centuries now within modernity.

A few such developments are key to Ward’s thesis: the reduction of eros down to libidinal desire; the reduction of real community to transaction, then to imagination, then to virtualness.

These trends, along with the Hegelian and Freudian belief that the “nuclear family” is the building block of civilization, are all at work to produce the situation in which we find ourselves today: a culture in which we are determined in almost every way and at almost every level by the capitalistic marketplace which endlessly stimulates our desires, promising satisfaction but never delivering. (Worst of all, it is this dynamic which grounds most postmodern forms of community, or vestiges of community.)

However, what if we are at a “late point” in the history of these trajectories? For example, Ward shows how transactional community (seen clearly in the commodification culture of the Industrial Revolution) has led to imaginary community (ie, the formation of community, for example, in the modern nation state around nothing but the imagined belief that we are a real community), which has led to the virtual community which characterizes life today.

Well, what will this lead to? It is easy to see this as the last phase in modernity’s long project of the destruction of true community. If so, then that is good news, and perhaps we could say that, in this narrow sense, the world is getting better and better (or something like that).


_Cities of God_: The Displaced Body of Jesus Christ

In this chapter / essay (chapter 4) Ward rehearses five movements of displacement, narrated in the Gospel stories, of the body of Jesus (we are here speaking of the soma typicon): the transfiguration (which shows that bodies can be transfigured), the institution narrative of the Eucharist (which shows that bodies can be transposed), the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension (in which Christ’s body is expanded to fill the entire church and cosmos).

I really appreciate Ward’s critique, in light of his “nyssan” cosmology of materiality, of Calvin’s view of the Eucharist, presupposing as it does the spatial location of the body of Jesus in heaven.

What Ward is doing, quite rivetingly, is starting with Christology and then developing from there a Christian cosmology. If Christ’s body is somehow iconic or paradigmatic of all creation (Col 1:15; Eph 1:10, 22-3) then this makes sense. And, as I have been saying Ward has a precedent in this effort in Gregory of Nyssa.


_Cities of God_: 2 Quotations from Greg of Nyssa

I am realizing that Graham Ward’s Cities of God is, among other things, a postmodern retelling of the theology (or perhaps, more accurately, the christology, which includes for him the doctrine of creation as well as that of the church) of Gregory of Nyssa.

He who sees the Church looks directly at Christ…. The establishment of the Church is the re-creation of the world…. A new earth is formed, and it drinks up the rains that pour down upon it … but it is only in the union of all the particular members that the beauty of Christ’s body is complete (Nyssa, On the Making of Man, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (eds) Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises etc. Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979, 13, 1049B – 1052A).

… and again:

[The Church, the Spouse of Christ] is wounded by a spiritual and fiery dart of eros. For agape that is strained to intensity is called eros (ibid, 13, 1048A).


_Cities of God_: Transcorporeality

Ward points out in chapter 3, “The Ontological Scandal,” that, much to the chagrin of the likes of Bertrand Russell and all other empiricist types, materiality (don’t forget that Ward is theologizing, or philosophizing, about bodies in this book) is transient.

That is, it arrives in the mode of a gift. It is not static; it cannot be stockpiled; it cannot be commodified and transactionalized.

Rather (and here is where secular postmodernists such as Derrida have trouble making affirmations), it exists in the mode of gift, “continually in a state of being gifted to us, animated by God” (89). That is, “nature cannot be natural without the Spirit informing it at every point” (88).

Consistent with this view is Gregory of Nyssa’s view that the materiality of creation is literally an energeia of God, a mode of Trinitarian dynamis, or power. For more on the energies of God, see here.


_Cities of God_: Two Views of Language

In Graham Ward’s _Cities of God_ he does a good job (see chapter 3, “The Ontological Scandal”) of distinguishing between two kinds of speaking & “naming.”

One view, what we might call the “speech of man,” represented by the likes of the early Wittgenstein and British Empiricism, thinks that, through our language, we have direct control of the things of this world. (This presupposes all kinds of things, such as that our perception links up with discreet objects, which in turn presupposes an atomistic view that reality is primarily composed of discreet units of stuff, of matter. Both of these assumptions are at odds with Christian theology.)

The other view, which we might call “the speech of God,” is that we are creatures of God who speak not because we are in control of anything (or even that we know what we are doing) but rather because we are always already in a prior relationship with God and his creation. We speak and name because we cannot help it, in terms of efficient causality. We speak and name because we are images of a relational and speaking God, in terms of formal causality.

Two implications, both of which are key to Ward’s theology:

1. The “hermeneutic ontologies” of postmodern, continental philosophy (Vittimo, Derrida, Foucault, et al) seem to have much more in common with the Christian view than with the former view.

2. The latter, Christian view has a much greater openness to the “ontological scandal” prompted by Jesus when, gesturing toward a loaf of bread, he says, “This is my body.”


_Cities of God_: _permixtarum_

I continue to be so grateful for the theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy. It has scratched my postmodern itches, and given me a theology to believe in, especially as an Anglican / Episcopal priest.

One way in which this kind of theology in general, and Graham Ward in particular, encourages me is to remind me to be theologically humble and nonjudgemental, embracing the weakness and contingency of my own, and my church’s, theological claims about God and the world.

As is the case for theology in general, Radical Orthodoxy has its more traditional types, and its more revisionist types. Graham Ward, author of _Cities of God_, is clearly of the latter ilk.

And yet, I have long thought that there are two types of theological revisionists or theological subversives: those subverting from a position which is essentially outside the tradition, and those subverting from a position inside the tradition. I would rather not name the names of those (even within my own church) who fall into the first category, but Graham Ward, I think, falls in to the latter. Along with the likes of Origen and de Lubac, Ward’s sources of subversion are truly theological, and not secular.

To wit:

A holographic presence of St. Augustine permeates these pages [the pages of Cities of God] whispering of the two loves [amores] of which only one is holy, the other impure [immundus], the other sociable [socialis], the other self-centered [privatus] (Augustine). He whispers also of the two places in which these two amorous desires operate “the course of the two cities, the one heavenly and the other earthly, which are mingled together [permixtarum] from the beginning down to the end. Of these the earthly one has made for herself false gods whom she must worship by making sacrifice; but she who is heavenly and a pilgrim on earth does not make false gods, but is herself made by the true God of whom she herself must be the true sacrifice. Yet both alike either enjoy temporal good things, or are afflicted by temporal evils, but with diverse faith, diverse hope, diverse love, until they must be separated by the last judgement, and each must receive her own end, of which there is no end. About these ends of both we must now treat.” (Augustine, de civitate dei , Bk. XVIII

What a quotation. By the way, this quotation reminds me that the difference between Augustine’s two cities (the heavenly and the earthly, of God and of man), is not “good” and “bad” or “holy” and “evil” or “natural” and “gracious,” but rather “faithful / holy” and “fallen.” The point is that you cannot say that the City of Man is bad, since it is rather only fallen, potentially and in principle redeemed. It also falls short only to emphasize that the City of Man is natural, since as Augustine knew, the natural is always already charged, suffused, receptive to, divine grace.

The problem with the Roman Empire, the problem with the American Empire, is not that it is bad or natural, but rather that it is fallen.

Another thing. The heavenly city merely sojourns as a pilgrim on earth not because the earth is bad, or because the earth is going to “burn,” but rather because earth has yet to find her destiny as fully and finally permeated by that realm where God is fully present, that is, heaven. (NT Wright’s theology of overlapping dimensions: God’s and man’s.) To be a stranger on earth is, strictly speaking, to be a stranger on the earth which is not yet fully united to God’s realm. That is, it is to await the day when our earthly dwelling will also, fully and finally, be our heavenly dwelling.


_Cities of God_: Analogical Worldview

In Graham Ward’s _Cities of God_, which after many years I finally have the leisure to focus on in an extended way (I’m on vacation in Seattle), he is forwarding what he calls the “analogical worldview.” Among other things, this perspective – shared by the Augustinian Christian tradition as well postmodern theorists such as Lacan, Foucault, Slajov Zizek, and the Jesuit Michel de Certeau – sees the things of this world (airplanes, bodies, hospitals, trees), as (a) text(s) which (like all texts) are culturally produced. As texts they call for interpretation.

Ward lays out six “shared characteristics” of “the analogical worldview:”

1. All human knowledge is culturally conditioned / mediated / embedded.

2. Human knowledge consists only in interpretation, not ontological claims. It does not claim to explain or even to describe.

3. Human knowledge, therefore, is indeterminate and open-ended.

4. There is no ideology-free zone.

5. Human beings have an “identity” which is open-ended and in flux.

6. Ontology is seen as “weak” or “hermeneutical,” as opposed to “a strong ontology of being as true identity.”

I love these six characteristics and am in full agreement with them, but I want to point out how they are all negative, or rooted in a hermeneutics of suspicion and finitude. That is, they are not actually theologically constructive. For that, Ward needs to be supplemented (as they do by him) by Milbank and Pickstock, who offer a theology of participation (rooted in neoplatonism) which “grounds” this analogical worldview in constructive, affirming, positive, cataphatic ways.

Put another way, in these six characteristics, Ward is making a much needed deconstructive move, but much more is needed than just this. The tradition, as non-identically repeated by Radical Orthodoxy, provides this “much more,” it seems to me.