Research Quotes


William T Cavanaugh

William T Cavanaugh – The Eucharist separates the church from a sinful world

As the center of Christian unity and visibility, the Eucharist separates the church from the sinful “world,” because in the Eucharist the church deconstructs the world and is caught up into the Kingdom. This does not mean that the pilgrim church on earth is not sinful, or that the Eucharist is reserved for an elite of people of surpassing personal holiness. The exclusion of those who fail to “discern the body” from participation in the Eucharist is used as a sign not of the church’s present purity, but of its present participation in the future Kingdom. In the Eucharist, as we have seen, the church anticipates the Kingdom, and supplants the imagination of secular time with the eschatological imagination. The excommunication of one who sins against the body of Christ is both a sign that such a person has brought a foretaste of the future judgment upon himself, and an anticipation of the eternal church, with all the saints, standing unblemished before God. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.250)



William T Cavanaugh – Unity in church is a common participation in Christ

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. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.247)


William T Cavanaugh – Excommunication

Since the altar is the key to the identity of the community, exclusion from the altar is used to locate that identity. […] It is significant for the church, however that this limit does not establish a “lasting city.” The Eucharistic limit is meant to reveal the contours of the heavenly city on earth, not create an earthly city with permanent boundaries policed by a church analogous to the state. The limit is Eucharistic precisely because the church is on pilgrimage and must constantly receive itself anew from the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. “Purity’ and “identity” are not attributes the earthly church can claim for itself, but rather characterize the eternal church as God sees it. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.245)

William T Cavanaugh – The church as a foretaste of the full body of Christ

While the identification of the church with Christ’s true body is much more than metaphor, the earthly church is not, however, to be identified with the whole Christ. Christ is fully identified with the heavenly church; the church in time is the fully realized body only as a foretaste in the Eucharist, when the heavens are momentarily opened. The modern Christian hardly needs convincing of the manifest sinfulness and unfaithfulness of the church throughout history, not least in our own day. Until Christ comes again, His body on earth is always a body under construction. We live in a construction zone, with all of the dangers that implies. The danger does not lie, however, in the identification of the church with the body of Christ, but rather in the complete identification of the earthly body with the heavenly. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.232-233)


William T Cavanaugh – To “do” or “perform” the eucharist

Modern Christians often speak of “hearing” or “attending” the Eucharist; priests “say” the mass. The ancient church, by contra tended to speak of “doing” the Eucharist (eucharistiam facere) or “performing” the mysteries (mysteria telein). The word anamnesis had the effect not so much of a memorial, as one would say kind words about the dead, but rather of performance. The emphasis is thus on the entire rite of the Eucharist as action, and not simply on the consecration of the elements. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.230)


William T Cavanaugh – The church is not perfect but flawed and sinful

To say that the Eucharist does in fact realize the body of Christ is not in any way to idealize the church as institution or those who hold authority in it. [The] church militant is always flawed and sinful. Although inseparable, the church militant is not simply identical with the church triumphant as realized in the liturgy. In the Eucharist the church is always called to become what it eschatologically is. The Eucharist does make the church ex opera operate, but the effects are not always visible due to human sin. Christians are called to conform their practice to the Eucharistic imagination. And […] to use the term ‘imagination’ is not to imply unreality. Rather the Eucharistic imagination is a vision of what is really real, the Kingdom of God, as it disrupts the imagination of violence. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.206)


William T Cavanaugh – Torture and eucharist are opposing disciplines

Torture and Eucharist are opposing disciplinae arcanorum using different means and different ends. 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 Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of His followers. Torture create fearful and isolated bodies, bodies docile to the purposes of the regime; 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. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.206)


William T Cavanaugh – Nation-states are fetishes

Nation-states are fetishes. They have power because people believe in the need for their security. They have power because people will kill and die – and sometimes torture – for them. Christians in modernity have often bought into a devil’s bargain in which the state is given control of our bodies while the church supposedly retains our souls. This arrangement would be bad enough if it stopped there. But the state cannot be expected to limit itself to enough if it stopped there. But the state cannot be expected to limit itself to the body; it will colonize the soul as well. A secular faith will not stay long confined to some temporal sphere; the secular god is a jealous god. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.195-196)


William T Cavanaugh – The counter-politics of the church in Chile

The division between “religion” and “politics” had served to ensure that the church would stand above the sectarian strife of politics as a source of interior unity for all Chileans. The official church saw itself, especially through the Eucharist, as the guarantor of reconciliation, so that Chile could function as an organic whole, free of essential conflict, especially between classes. As the bishops found themselves immersed in conflict under the military regime, they did not so much abandon their aversion to politics as reimagine the categories of “religion” and “politics.” In the face of constant accusations of interfering in politics, the church gradually made clear its refusal to leave bodily matters such as employment and torture to the state – in other words, to hand over the bodies of its members to the state. At the same time the bishops were quite clear that they would not simply revert to a Christendom model of ecclesiology in which the church threw its weight behind a political party and obliged the faithful to do the same. What we have, therefore, is the possibility of a different kind of ecclesial counter-politics, one which neither makes irrelevance to the political a point of pride nor is beholden to the autonomous power politics of party and state. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.120)


William T Cavanaugh – Social imagination makes the state “real”

The social imagination is not a mere representation of something which is real, as a flag represents a putatively “real” nation-state; the imagination of a society is involved when the flag becomes what one will kill and die for. In other words, the social imagination is not a mere image of something more real; it is not some ideological “superstructure” which reflects the material “base.” There is no substantive distinction between material and cultural production. The imagination of a society is the condition of possibility for the organization and signification of bodies in a society. The imagination is the drama in which bodies are invested. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.57)


William T Cavanaugh – Torture as a perverse liturgy

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. It is essential to this ritual enactment that it not be public […]. The liturgy of the torture room is a disciplina arcani, a discipline of the secret, which is yet part of a larger state project which continues outside the torture chamber itself. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.30)

William T Cavanaugh – The distinction between politics and religion is “invented”

The distinction between politics and religion was not discovered but invented. Before the seventeenth century, politics was associated with the commonweal in a broad sense, a political and moral order which included what we would call state and society. The distinction of ecclesial and civil powers in the medieval period was a distinction not of spatial jurisdictions, nor of means, but of ends; the temporal power served the temporary ends of the civitas terrena, which was passing away. (William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p.5)

William T Cavanaugh – Torture and Eucharist

For my second book I will present some quotes from the excellent book by William T Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist – Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. This book gives an account of the Church’ response to the suppressive Pinochet-regime in Chile between 1973-1990. The Eucharist is seen as a counter-political response to torture from the established politics. Torture, Cavanaugh argues, is an anti-liturgy that directly challenges the social imagination of the church.

The book feels more relevant now than ever.

Se all my posts for Torture and Eucharist here.

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