torture, William Cavanaugh

Quotes from Cavanaugh

I finished just hours ago (for at least the second time) Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ by William T. Cavanaugh. I cannot recommend the book enough, particularly for anyone thinking about violence, theology and the state, ecclesiology, eucharist or torture, to name a few. The following quotes from the book only begin to touch on the genius. So by George, go get the book and read it.

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.’ – 3

…true resistance to torture depends on the reappearance of social bodies capable of countering the atomizing performance of the state. – 4

[Concerning the historical phrase “Wars of Religions”] Protestants and Catholics often fought on the same sides of the battles, for what was at stake in these wars was not mere doctrinal zealotry but the dominance of the rapidly centralizing sovereign state over the local privileges and customs of the decaying medieval order. – 5 [For reunderstanding the Early Modern wars, and therefore understanding the Enlightenment slandering of Religion, read Cavanaugh’s work Theopolitical Imagination]

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. – 7

… 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.’ – 9

… 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. – 12

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. – 30

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. – 31

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. – 49

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. – 59

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. – 64

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. – 206

… 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. – 229

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. – 234

Discipline, therefore, is not opposed to forgiveness but is its embodiment. – 239

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. – 243

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. – 244

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. – 247


2 thoughts on “Quotes from Cavanaugh

  1. These quotes are brilliant! I saw this book at the library once – I’m going to read it next week! Thanks for sharing and totally turning me on theologically!

  2. d. w. horstkoetter says:

    I’m glad you liked the quotes. Personally, the work of Cavanaugh is something like genius. Maybe thats too much praise, then again maybe that just reflects how much his work has freed me to the church, instead of seeing the nation-state as saviour. I’d also suggest reading his much smaller book Theopolitical Imagination. The publisher is a jerk and keeping the price high, but I swear its worth it.

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