Friday, 3 April 2015

Greg Wiebe: “Civil Society as the Devil's Body: Liturgy and Dominion in Augustine's City of God”

As Jennifer Herdt has argued, for Augustine, the two cities are opposing spectacles and liturgies. Indeed, more than this, Augustine speaks of a human body of the devil that corresponds to his doctrine of totus Christus. And, just as the body of Christ, the truesacramentum, is constituted in attendant sacraments ranging from the Eucharist to Old Testament theophanies, so Augustine speaks of wicked people entering into a kind of covenant with the devil sacramentally through various pagan institutions. My paper will outline this inverted relationship, and delineate the sacramental constituents of this diabolical covenant as they appear in the opening books of The City of God, which include temple rites, theatrical performances, literary classics, philosophers’ naturalistic explanations of the gods, and also the “magical” phenomena of demonic wonders present in things like prodigies and neoplatonic theurgy. With ongoing questions about modern Augustinian political participation in the background (e.g. in the work of Eric Gregory and Charles Mathewes), the paper will conclude by commenting upon Augustine’s deployment of this conception of the devil’s body as “political” criticism. Augustine singles out Roman leaders who have commended false worship as though it were true in order to exploit its usefulness for ruling, thereby possessing subjects like demons in an imperial libido dominandi. This makes Christ’s mediation of the true God in the church the centre of whatever political vision Augustine has, and opposition to the sacramental community of demons definitive of its scope, as demonstrated in the examples of Constantine and Theodosius.

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