Graduate Theological Society

February 16, 2006

Response to Dunn on “Fasting as Economic Resistance”

Filed under: Dunn on Fasting, Proceedings — graduatetheology @ 5:31 pm

Write your responses to David Dunn’s paper, or Chad Maxson’s response, in this thread.


  1. Hey, Dave and Chad. I am sorry I could not attend, given that we are currently 500 miles or so from Nashville. I need to read everything a little more closely, but I would like to begin with a comment addressing Chad’s concern. You’ve put forth quite the thesis in responding to Dave, and I do believe that I understand your point. As a fellow sympathizer of Bourdieu, I appreciate your critique. You are correct that in its worst forms, religious practice/liturgy is mere formality and a way of gaining symbolic power. Perhaps it is always entangled with that and never impossible to separate from being simply that. However, what distinguishes Christian liturgy from ___ (Cavanaugh’s liturgy of the state, for one) is its movement away from distinction, away from seizing (symbolic) power. The reason the church proclaims that its liturgy is a means of grace/salvific is because the power invested there is that of the cross, of the uncontainable Spirit, the power of reconciliation of the powerful and powerless. This is the only hope theology has, and perhaps that hope could be considered its Bourdieu-ian distinction that outtrumps all others. If so, then ultimately, it’s just bread and wine, eating (or not eating) a meal, getting a bath, meeting with some people every so often–quite ordinary acts. And whether I’m Bourdieu or a theologian, this has to be affirmed. Where Bourdieu cannot go, though, is precisely where the distinction is erased, where these acts (which the church believes are efficacious through the Spirit) no longer distinguish or set the church apart because these ordinary acts call the church out of itself, to leave the building, and go into the world. These acts do not let the church maintain its identity, in other words.
    If I have grossly misunderstood, Chad, I do apologize. I’m wrestling a lot with Bourdieu these days as well. I understand that my comment may not be enough, but it’s all I’ve got off the cuff.

    Comment by Jodi Belcher — February 23, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  2. Chad, Jodi beat me to it, but she said almost precisely what I intended to say. I think one could say just as well to your statement that the Church, baptism, Eucharist, fasting, etc., cannot save us, is also “not unambiguous.” I know that you are not required to give a constructive proposal in a critical response to a paper, but those sorts of claims, I think, demand some sort of way forward. Can you say definitively what it is that saves us?…now, I know, “Jesus”; but, in what concrete way is this manifested for us over here across Lessing’s “broad ditch” as Kierkegaard reminds us? No doubt, for Kierkegaard himself it is not “Christendom.” Yet, in the small book titled, significantly, Practice in Christianity, he distinguishes what he would normally call “Christendom” (“triumphant” Church) from the Church “militant” (I know that you are aware of these arguments). I would just like to hear what you have to say about all of this…especially as I really feel like I can identify your voice in your response, and I can see where your passion is and how it is that you would respond to certain theological issues…but I think this question is a very important one.

    Dave, I know that this is merely a paraphrase of your actual paper–and I wish that I had read the full-length paper–so it is difficult for me to respond to some things. However, I would like to respond to your constructive theological section of the paper. I really think Chad sort of nailed it on the head: if certain practices are already corruptible, how will simply a new set of practices–“alternative praxis”–not also be susceptible to such corruption? To say that we simply don’t have the right set of practices that would properly shape and form the identity of Christian believers would have to take into account first of all the structure of our contemporary situation; and secondly, it would have to compare this situation to the history of the Church (and particularly the history of the way that the Church’s practices interfered with or were melded with “secular” practices). You do a little bit of both in this paper: in the first part you take stock of the situation of capitalism; and in the second–and I’m aware we miss the entire historical section–you deal with the desert mothers and fathers. However, what seems to be most lacking is placing the desert mothers and fathers in our contemporary capitalist situation (I think this has to be part of the investigative process rather than the solution itself). But, even if one were to do this, I would still question what seems to be a concern–almost teleological concern–for efficacy. It seems that what is really going on for you, in that we don’t yet have the proper identity, is that our current practices have yet to prove to be efficacious (correct me if I’m wrong, here). I just worry that this is driven by a need for change, a new modus…a sort of “modernism.” And I also think this is Chad’s point about distinction. The need to create an identity which is distinct from the world–something “new,” in a sense–is still determined by the terms of capitalism, or, at least, “the world” (whatever the hell that means!). And this was my point in our argument over the Augustine/Donatists controversy–sorry, all, for the blatant reference to an inside conversation between Dave and I: the Church as constituted by the Spirit’s gift of caritas consists of both saint and sinner. I know of course that what you are saying does not exclude this…your whole point is that the practice of fasting/feasting prepares the identity of the Christian to be wholly constituted by her relation to the neighbor; this is all about love. However–and this will be my final point…sorry, I can’t help but be long-winded–my question (which may really annoy some…sorry bout that) to all of this has not changed much in the last year: where is the body which will perform these practices? I know Dave that you have found a body…however, how is the identity of this particular body not itself susceptible to market value and competition…how is fasting as a characteristic of the identity of more orthodox communions not (used as) a way in which people can sort out how best to choose between competing churches in a marketplace of denominational division and competition? Isn’t unity in the love of Christ (as with Augustine and the Donatists) still the point? Still the one thing we most lack?

    I am truly sorry for such a long message, but truly grateful to be able to participate. Thanks, and peace.

    Comment by Jodi Belcher — February 24, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  3. Oh…last thing. Dave, I wonder how you would address someone like Caroline Walker Bynum’s concern…isn’t there a similar rhythm to fasting and feasting in binging and purging? And if so, how can these practices be arranged in such a way as to still be loving? Even saying that one’s body is not to be emaciated by this practice, its structure is so similar to bulimia that I think this would have to be addressed. Thanks

    Comment by Jodi Belcher — February 24, 2006 @ 10:27 am

  4. And it is significant that even anorexics and bulimics will do all those cosmetic and pragmatic things — like putting cover-up on their faces and dismissing themselves to use the restroom at the appopriate times, respectively — that will ensure their ritual is being done in secret. It is not so easy to go incognito in the world!


    Comment by Nate — February 24, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

  5. Great point Nate! I didn’t even think of that.

    Sorry…those last two were me…I forgot to log Jodi out–we use the same computer, obviously.

    And by the way, Jodi and I ate at Wendy’s for lunch today…in the bag was an advertisement for their fish sandwich. It was labeled as being “back for Lent.” This is part of my point, Dave; often religious practices are assimilated and redeployed to capital’s own ends–which is another reason I used to say to Tim that I buy Hardt and Negri’s argument that America is not the Empire we should fear, but the Empire of global capital is. Peace. Nate, Dave, Chad, and all…I just wanted to say how much I miss you all. It was great to see all of you (except Chad!), and we hope to be seeing a lot more of you…that’s out of our hands though!

    Comment by Dave Belcher — February 24, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

  6. I think one point Dave (he of the paper) makes needs to be remembered: he isn’t arguing for fasting simply as such as the panacea for a church praxis throttled by creeping capitalism; fasting signifies a space configured w/in two mutually constitutive conditions (this is obviously my language) – one, the eschatological tension of the fast-feast temporal rhythm (although Bynum’s concern *is* important here – in fact this came up in the ensuing discussion, and no easy answer was forthcoming), and two, the fact that fasting is only a meaningful praxis inasmuch as it is inscribed within the liturgical calendar – a move that simultaneously *de-centers* the self, as Dave says, and thereby resists the ersatz commodification of such a spiritual praxis (as with the Weigh-Down Diet) precisely because it makes it a practice inseparable from the being of the church – not to mention that it gives the lie to such maddeningly eclectic and facile appropriations as emergent churches (aka evangelicals with candles).

    Comment by Travis — February 25, 2006 @ 10:14 am

  7. Thank God for the Evangelicals — else we wouldn’t know how not to be Christian in America!

    It is amazing how visible and illustrative are the practices which we can point to and say: “I don’t mean that!” And equally amazing how desperately we want to create something that we can point to and say: “This!” Perhaps we’re trying to point to something that does not exist — for the theologian, at least.

    Comment by Nate — February 25, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

  8. To David Dunn:

    I know that I have been scatologically polemical in the terse and tendential remarks that I have made in this Weblog discussion so far. So let me reaffirm something very important in the midst of that: If I am driven to polemics by your paper and by the position that your paper indicates, it is because I find something so very theologically important and essential going on in your thought and the journey you have undertaken recently. (That doesn’t mean I find it to be right; I think it is very importantly wrong in many respects, though maybe for all the right reasons.) If I may say so: I think the conversation we all had together a couple of weeks ago following your paper was one of the most promising conversations we have had together in a while. And I think this is because it was a polemical conversation done rightly: in search of charity.


    Comment by Nate — February 25, 2006 @ 7:09 pm

  9. Let me say that I am glad that my paper (in part; Chad’s too) could generate so much discussion without me yet logging in to comment. I was able to take a look at some comments on Saturday, and again this morning. I am convinced that I need to edit down some sections a bit more and reinsert a paragraph I have in the longer paper that makes the point that Travis seems to have read out of it (amazingly enough as understated as it is). First, I am not making an argument for causation (Fast and we can bring down the market). Second, I am not saying that we need to find new ways of fasting today (what you seem to read out of my paper, David). In fact, part of the implication of my argument is that any attempt to “redo” fasting would quickly be coopted by the market. What I am doing with this paper is pointing to one unconsidered effect of fasting as it relates to the ability of the market commodification of people (constructing them as consumers). What is much more clear in the longer version of my now depleted second section (though I hint at it there and in my comments on Schmemann is well) is that fasting is only fasting as part of a larger nexus of practices. Many practices. Probably hundreds. I *never* claim that fasting can or should be isolated and that if it is isolated it will produce the effect of alternative (new) identity formation. The *church* “produces” (and I would much rather say births new persons by the power of the Holy Spirit who are nurtured and fed by a whole series of practices of which fasting is a part. The whole point of the Weigh Down foil is to show what happens when fasting is lifted from its ecclesial context which I have already stated I take to be more than simply a building or a denomination but again a complex nexus of practices. It is precisely at the point that any one of those practices are isolated that they get corrupted. I just do not understand the whole bingind and purging comparison because it seems to assume the same logic that I repudiate in my critique of weigh down. Despite whatever trappings it has that resemble fasting, it is *not* fasting because it does not have a church (again, the nexus). What the church does (and I grant that I should make this more clear) is keep fasting from being the work that Chad fears it will be. This was made clear to me during the epistle readings from Saturday of Souls and Judgment Sunday. Both of them came from passages from First Corinthians that seem to *discourage* fasting (eat whatever is set before you, and God will destroy both the stomach and food). So yes, Dave, I am assuming that there are ways and places in which this sort of thing can happen. Let’s not miss Hauerwas on this point. He is a blowhard, so he really overstates his case. The way he talks you would think that the kingdom of God has arrived with his little Methodist church (I guess the Episcopalians now). I reject his anabaptism. But if I may invoke January of 2005 as another instance of a rather disturbing phenomenon: we seem to have a tendency to think that when people like Kevin Crimmins reiterate again and again that there are places where the church is doing precisely what you want it to do (though *never* perfectly) they must be deluded. I am not saying that there is a true church doing all the right things. Or that if we just do these things then the church could somehow get it right and start being perfect. For that to happen God has got to do something (and when God does we will be in the kingdom). But yes, if the church wants to keep its body from being coopted by the market (or global empire which is practically the same thing) then the church needs to take a good hard look at what it does which you never get *apart* from what the church *is* (and I think this goes to the heart of charity for Augustine). But this is not a simple formula. There is a complicated relationship between being and practice at work here, and I am only focusing on small part of one small practice by which the visible (but not the true) church finds itself in the diffusing tendencies of the market.

    This post is on the verge of turning into a rant. I may have already gone over the edge. I just had a conversation that brought some clarity to me. So let me state very clearly what I am doing: I am not making grandiose ontological or even ecclesiological claims. I am making one small step, recommending one marginal change, in order to tease us toward readiness for the kingdom. (After this paper, 1 step down, 92 to go).

    So to restate: I have isolated fasting as one of hundreds of a complex nexus of ecclesial practices and attempted to show one of hundreds of its implications in “the world” (and I mean what Paul means by that term).

    Comment by Dave Dunn — February 27, 2006 @ 10:34 am

  10. By the way, Nate, there is more resonance between my small project and your overall theological concerns than I think you think I recognize.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — February 27, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  11. Dave Dunn.

    Actually, I am not sure there is (much more resonance than I’m assuming, that is), insofar as I think the popular conception of the Church as a nexus of practices that prepare us for the kingdom is woefully wrong-headed — both practically and ontologically. That is the central theological assumption underlying your “small project” that I am resisting so vehemently.

    Comment by Nate Kerr — February 27, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

  12. Dave Dunn says: “But if I may invoke January of 2005 as another instance of a rather disturbing phenomenon: we seem to have a tendency to think that when people like Kevin Crimmins reiterate again and again that there are places where the church is doing precisely what you want it to do (though *never* perfectly) they must be deluded.”

    This is, sadly, to miss the whole burden that drove us to convene the meeting in January 2005. I don’t think that “we” (I don’t know who exactly you’re talking to in the “you” in this sentence) are lookikng for the church to do anything in particular. Remember, the question that originally sparked that gathering and that guided our discussions all weekend was “Where is the Church?” Where in the world does the Church happen? Kevin’s decision to leave our gathering that Sunday morning strikes me as paradigmatic of the problem: Things have gone wrong when we have located the Church in a given place vis-a-vis such and such another place. As if we have what the Church is there and not here. This kind of assurance that we indeed do know precisely where the Church is, is ultimately a failure of hope: A hope for the Church to happen in the least likely of places. In a room full of despairing lay persons, students, pastors, and theologians, who know not what to do. In that setting, the eucharist is nothing — nothing but an oblation of faith, hope, and charity.

    Comment by Nate — February 27, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

  13. I do not want this to be about communio, so I will only say that our difference of opinion on that matter is illustrative of the dividing lines that tend to be drawn around issues of the visibility of the church. Some perceived the problem of the “disappeared” church in America differently than others (and some objected to the term “disappeared” altogether). That Kevin’s departure from the meeting to keep a commitment he made to a communion (to commune with his church rather than with those present) is perceived as paradigmatic of the problem is for me paradigmatic of the problem. Ok. I’m done talking about that episode. Maybe there is more of a difference between us than I had thought. Can you have the church without what the church does? Can you have the church without a liturgical gathering, without a visible communion (even if that communion is not the true church)? The church does not magically (and invisibly?) appear when you have faith, hope, and charity. And while I agree that the Eucharist makes the church–is a sign of the church’s union–you don’t get that without the church. If we aren’t looking for a recognizable church, a body that does something, then I will cash in my chips now, thank you very much, and join the Red Cross.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — February 27, 2006 @ 4:36 pm

  14. I’ve got a lot to say in response to your response Dave…but not a lot of time at the moment (so, I promise to write again later on–probably tonight). I must say that we are quite good at misunderstanding one another! We always seem to reach this particular impasse whenever we discuss all things ecclesiological. So, let me say for the record that whenever I problematize talk of “possession” of the Church–or, as you put it: “that there are places where the church is doing precisely what you want it to do” (and I’m not certain what you mean by that last part about what I want the Church to do)–it is not because I think someone is ONCE AGAIN trying to make claims to a “true” or “perfect” Church. There is no doubt that I think the Church is both True and Perfect–despite what it does….that is in fact my point! So, I was quite aware from the get-go that you were not claiming that the singular practice of fasting/feasting would somehow “fix” the Church, and that the Church for you IS a “nexus of practices.” My problem is exactly Nate’s: I totally disagree that the Church is merely a nexus of practices. In fact, if the Church IS that, then Chad’s critique wins out hands down. There is no escaping the structure of a situation by tying the Church’s particular practices to a mysitcal ontology…and don’t get me wrong here, I do understand what you are saying: it is in fact the being of the Church which constitutes or gives the Church its structure as a social nexus of practices (and not the other way around). But, this is why I asked Chad the question about what it is that saves us if not practices (which seems to be the implication of his statement)…and here is my point. I would affirm that Baptism, the Eucharist–and thus the Church–all do in fact proffer salvation…but these are not “practices.” At least they cannot be understood as a sort of flip-side of a dialectical coin to capitalist “production” (i.e., practices). If they are, then they will always be assimilated into and redeployed by the Power of Empire (and not because “Power” is all-Powerful…I’m using Hardt and Negri’s distinction between Power and power–two different Italian words, but because of the nature of sin in our world).

    So, when I often mention–in other venues–why it is I think the Donatist controversy is so important for us today (that the Spirit’s gift of Charity through Christ’s love for humanity, which grounds the Unity of the Church…and which also gives the Church salvific efficacy through the grace granted in her sacraments; that all of that is so important), or that there was a positive “spirit of Protestantism” which has not only been underestimated but decimated to the deprivation of Christian theology, people often respond by saying something like: “YES! Love…I’m tired of everyone talking, we need to act!” But, this is entirely contrary to what I am trying to get at…and likely a result of the dominance of the liberal interpretation–and subsequent proliferation–of “love.” And while I am aware that you are not saying simply this–you try to clarify your remarks to make sure that we understand you are in fact not saying this–there is something about your comment about Augustine–that his notion of charity is a concern with what the Church does, which cannot be separated from what it is–that resembles this same sort of argument. I think it is significant that it is after Ad Simplicianum that Augustine shifts his theological thinking about and towards the Church…and that ultimately guides the way in which he responds to the Donatists. I admit that I could be wrong…I am by no means an expert in these matters…but isn’t the point of Augustine’s interpretation of Romans 7 that charity is not in fact about what we do? I’ll explain more later what I mean by this, but I think that Milbank’s attempt to reconcile what Aristotle divided–poesis and praxis–is ultimately wrong. I let this get much too long…I had to actually let this sit all day long because I was interrupted by many things–mainly Samuel and shitty partisan politics…not by Samuel, though–so, sorry if I just cut it off here. I’ll say more later. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — February 27, 2006 @ 5:28 pm

  15. Let me add, Dave…

    This is not about communio for me. This is a theological issue raised in response to your paper, and has wholly to do with the Graduate Theological Society. I know that personal shit can get in the way simply because who we are cannot be divided from what we do–i.e., theologically. So, I’m aware that old skeletons might be raided from everyone’s respected closets, but I don’t think it’s completely necessary. Please don’t take any of what I say personally–especially as I think this is a noble project, and one which I endorse up to a certain point (even if that point stops with your concern that there is something awry with the Church and that something must change). So, with all respect, I still love you, and from what I remember you have always loved me for my ability to be downright blunt…so if you take my comments in any way, please take them in that light. Again, peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — February 27, 2006 @ 5:40 pm

  16. Really, I’m done talking about communio. That’s not what this is about. I was just noting that our perception of Kevin’s comments illustrated the point of division between these two camps (and I think that has been recapitulated in these discussions). It is irritating when I feel like I keep saying “I’m not talking about that” to which others respond, “No, we need to talk about that.” And ’round and ’round we go. This isn’t moving the conversation forward. I am really preoccupied with other things right now. So I am going to pause, finish my AAR proposals, take a French quiz, and work on a TF application. When that’s all over I’ll organize my thoughts and jump back in later this week. Please continue the conversation in my absence. As it stands, an asinine caricature of my position is being attributed to me (and this is not helped by polemic, mine or my opponents’). So it is as if I have not been present for most of this conversation anyway. But I do hope this thing moves forward in the next few days. I’ll try to help it along when my schedule gets freed up.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — February 28, 2006 @ 6:36 am

  17. This will no doubt earn me Nate’s sarcasm again, but I continue to be thoroughly confused about the opposition against any kind of concrete talk about the being and practice of the church. I am of course not privy to the communio issue, but there seems to be a common theme to Nate, Josh, and Dave B.’s positions that argues that those of us, like Dunn, who feel it is necessary to attend to the way the church is church and the form its fidelity to Christ takes – that is, to take up the theological meaning of its liturgy, which is its enacted prayer – are trying to “fix” the church or get it just right so that everything will be ok with Christianity again. Admittedly this sounds like a (counter)caricature, but this is the line of argument that is often taken. But nobody is arguing that the church is this position; Dave’s paper certainly does not presuppose the church is merely a nexus of practices. But the church does act – commonly known as mission and as worship – and the form that that action takes is not indifferent. Yes, the bond of unity given by charity does constitute the church for Augustine – but the body thereby formed takes a definite shape and is enacted a certain way. All that good ecclesiology does after all get written in a treatise On Baptism. Of course faith and charity constitute the church – without remainder – but this entails a certain response and form of life inasmuch as it is the body of Christ and conforms itself to Christ’s life.

    It is of course “about God.” But how, exactly, do we speak “about God” without speaking about God’s church? And if we don’t know where this church is, how precisely does it help matters to refuse to talk about what that church might look like and how it has been articulated by the theological tradition? To do so means precisely to ask ourselves about our charity and our faith inasmuch as that constitutes us as part of the communion of saints – as part of a tradition, in other words. If we’re that pessimistic about the church existing, perhaps we should all get ordained and enter the ministry, in the hope that we might find ourselves in one of the “least likely of places.” But how will we know it if we do not know what the church looks like?

    And yes, I do think there are certain ways not to be church, in America or elsewhere.

    Comment by Travis — February 28, 2006 @ 11:45 am

  18. Travis.

    I take D. Dunn at his word when he says that he is not saying that the church is merely a “nexus of practices.” But what D. Dunn then needs to do in this discussion, is to demonstrate how the church is not merely a nexus of practices for him. He has not done so yet. Almost everywhere he makes reference to the concrete church in his comments above, as what things like the Weigh-Down diet, e.g., are missing, he qualifies this church as a “nexus of practices.” The only way it seems for the church to be visible for Dunn is as such a nexus of practices. The “true church” for him thus be some kind of invisible and mystical spectre lying behind these practices: such that what you see is indeed not what you get. This, my friends, is magic!

    I am saying that there is another way altogether in which the church “shows up,” in which it is visible: it is visible as sacrament, as signum to Christ’s res. Baptism, eucharist, divine unction, fasting, etc., are not practices, but signs of the the dispossession, the kenosis, by which we are abandoned to God’s action. And such dispossessive acts are not anything we do, for it is God’s grace alone that dispossesses us. This is, finally, no low view of the sacraments. On the contrary, it is the highest sacramentalism available to the Church today, for it makes of the Church’s sacramental liturgy nothing but the ongoing confession of praise that everything depends upon the one, wholly active grace of God alone.

    D. Dunn may indeed have a higher ecclesiology than I do; but I would venture to say that — even as a Baptist — I have a higher sacramentology. And it is the latter, ironically, that puts me on the side of catholic tradition.

    (I should have stopped talking when D. Dunn dismissed himself to do his work. I could stand to get some work done myself; with my body not allowing me to be so productive lately, I’m really getting behind on things. But I just can’t stay away from this stuff. This probably means I won’t get an AAR proposal done. But that’s okay, I was hating myself for wanting to do one so badly anyway.)

    (And yes, Travis, those of us called should get ordained and enter the ministry. And if we are so called, we should not be Jonahs and let the lure of the Academy play Tarshish to the church’s Nineveh.)

    Comment by Nate — February 28, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

  19. First of all, let me say that I’m not really sure what to say anymore! I involved myself in these discussions to begin with because of a severe lack of theological dialogue in little Kankakee, IL. It has never been my intent–and that certainly has not changed–to rehash problems unearthed with what has heretofore been designated as “communio”; hence my last comment. I just want to be clear about that, especially as, Dave, that last comment seemed pointed at me…and I have no earthly idea why.

    There may be some caricatures being drawn here, but some of them are more like severe misunderstandings and misreadings. So, I will try to explain where I’m coming from–in relationship to Dave’s paper , which is the only purpose I commented on here to begin with. I may not be physically a part of this society, simply because I cannot give my body to you being this far away (but I feel like I have contributed to some sort of membership by trying to thoughtfully respond to each of the papers put up on this forum–unsuccessfully at times); be that as it may, I would like to suggest that issues over “communio” which do not pertain directly to Dave’s paper continue only through personal email. One reason I put up my last comment is that I saw where this was about to go, and I became very anxious–and even a little bit embarassed–to be discussing those particular matters in this public forum.

    One last clarifying comment. Since I was not at the actual discussion of this paper, I may have missed comments that Josh contributed to that discussion…nonetheless, he has not posted any comments here, yet, so it doesn’t really make sense to group him together with what is perceived to be a clear, concordant position between Nate and myself. I do think that Josh, Nate, and myself do agree on certain things theologically–just as we disagree on certain things, I’m sure. But, even so, we agree in very different ways.

    I will put up my comment in response to Dave’s last post and Travis’ to clarify where I’m coming from, and hopefully clear up some misunderstandings…however, I need to attend to a couple of things first (mainly Samuel).

    For now, I hope this can suffice: I urge both Dave and Travis to remember that I am writing my master’s thesis on Baptism–a liturgical action–and thus am not at all deceived into thinking that the Church does not or should not act…that would simply be nonsensical in my mind.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — February 28, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  20. Y’all crazy.

    Comment by Josh Davis — February 28, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

  21. Sho’ ’nuff.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 1, 2006 @ 7:55 am

  22. Nate,

    Thanks for the clarification. My frustrated tone stems, in part, from the fact that we rarely hear constructive alternatives to what it is we are so obviously missing (and Belcher, I mention Josh because he was taking a very similar line of argument in the discussion at GTS following Dunn’s paper – I of course recognize the fact that a uniform position is not held among you three). I’ll let Dave respond to your first charge, although I do think he is being held to an unduly exacting standard on saying explicitly what I think is imminent to his argument. It seems that the question of scope dictates that a focus on a particular liturgical expression such as this entails a certain condensation of rhetoric.

    As to your second paragraph: I agree completely and unreservedly with this sacramental ecclesiology. I wish we would here a bit more of this in our discussions, because it would ground what I think we’re all trying to talk about. I wonder, though, when we’ve cut through questions of language, whether Dunn isn’t right, whether we aren’t in fact closer than we think. It is, it seems, a question of just what this dispossession is and looks like.

    Belcher: I do know that (about the thesis, that is)! Which is why I pressed the issue of what was so problematic of talking about a liturgic act as we are.

    At any rate, peace.

    Comment by Travis — March 1, 2006 @ 9:04 am

  23. It occurs to me that it is not unironic that I’m more vigorous in defending Dunn’s paper than my own last time, as I never responded to Belcher and Josh’s critiques. I guess I don’t finally have that much invested in Badiou.

    Comment by Travis — March 1, 2006 @ 9:06 am

  24. DAMMIT! I have already written two replies and deleted both of them because I have found them wholly inadequate. I’m not really sure how to proceed here because I get the feeling that Dave does not want to continue this particular discussion — but I of course am interested to keep talking because I have had no real input on my thesis project in quite some time, and I have to start working at it again! So, let me do two things. First, let me say that I think, Dave, your paper does deserve to be talked about on your terms, and so I’d like to request that you state what it is that is central for you in this paper — and how it is that the claims made thus far are only marginal to your paper (for instance, how exactly is a paper on a practice of the Church not eccclesiological?). Secondly, let me just give a quote from the first chapter of my thesis to state clearly how it is I’m describing the “disappearance of the Church” — which has more to do with phenomenality than ontology:

    “[d]ue to political events of the twentieth century which have demanded a renewed understanding of the relationship between the Church as society and the State as society, the social body of the Church has been politicized to such an extent that it has become wholly externalized from what constitutes it as Church. The sacramental Church paradoxically—and mysteriously—exists in two realities at once: the heavenly and the earthly. It thus appears as a phenomenon—an historical reality—in the world, and is yet constituted by and makes present a reality beyond this world. As a result, the sacramental Church is said to have a double referent: the historical or visible reality, and its eschatological or invisible reality. The contemporary Church, however, has become thoroughly politicized, and therefore thoroughly visible.”

    So, at stake for me is the way in which the Church as a historical reality — the “corpus verum” — appears, or in this case, disappears. To presume that the Church is visible simply because we can see it like other phenomena is too presumptuous for me — especially in a time when the Church is not only so easily co-opted by the market, but is indistinct from it. So, this is not — for me at least — a one-sided (early) Barthian actus purus where operative actual grace leaves no room for human freedom and agency. It is in fact because I take human freedom so seriously — especially as that freedom is given in the Church — that I am concerned to show that the Church’s actions do in fact have consequences for the way in which she appears historically.

    My constructive proposal is not quite as clear for me yet…I am suggesting that the practice (yes, practice) of the mystics (of the 16th and 17th centuries–particularly John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart), which is a dispossessive practice (and here, I will say that human beings — the Church — do in fact act (and so would Aquinas), but we must situate that within a proper understanding of grace, which will always start from the realization that in some sense God is the only true act…but I think we can still talk about this in terms of God as the unity of act and being and humanity’s action as always in some way distinct from its being); that the dispossessive practice of the mystics must be taken up today in order to form a body which does not abandon the disappeared Church, but does hold open a space within her (again, I can talk about the existence of the disappeared Church because this has to do with phenomenality and not ontology) for God to move and breathe. Sorry for all of the asides in this paragraph (if it helps, skip all parenthetical remarks).

    So. That’s where I’m coming from. Does this make sense?

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 1, 2006 @ 11:19 am

  25. By the way, all of this for me has to do with aesthetics as well — a big reason I have made the decision to pursue a degree in guitar over the next few years. This is why I mentioned that Milbank’s collapsing of the distinction between poesis and praxis is wrong…which had nothing to do with Dave’s paper, necessarily (for more on this, go to Anthony Baker’s theology co-op page [] and read the comments of the latest post, “Demons and Doors”). And I am extremely sorry, Dave, if I have been selfish in my response by using it to say what I want to say — we always tend to think that what we have to say is more important than others. That wasn’t my intention, but our intentions out-run us at times. Peace

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 1, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  26. Submitted for you without edit.

    Sisters and brothers,

    I am exhausted. I have to force each word—each thought—from my fingertips. Had I more sense, I would put this off until after this weekend. Until after I had rested. After my French quiz. But I fear I may have alienated some of my friends and colleagues, so I am compelled to write (by the Holy Spirit?) when common sense tells me to get some sleep first.

    In the first place, it is true that I have isolated one Christian practice. It is also true that I am predisposed to think that a nexus of practices in the church shapes Christians. But this is nothing new. “And I will show you my faith by what I do,” said James. As I stated in the introduction of my paper, I am applying theory to make a pragmatic argument. Quite simply, the argument is that when Christians fast as part of a larger liturgical cycle, which assumes the presence of a host of other practices, “identities” (and I would want to say “persons”) are formed that marketeers find it difficult to latch onto in various ways. Note that I never say that fasting produces unmarketable people (if I do I need to fix that). I have tried to say that fasting is one of many practices that shapes people who resist market construction of identity through consumption. There are three basic constructive components to my argument: my analysis of the liturgical cycle of the church, my analysis of market identity formation through processes of habituation toward consumption, and my analysis of fasting itself that tries to make clear that fasting is precisely not about food but about the discipline of desire. It is part of a larger ascetic argument. This argument is only skimming the surface of a much deeper ecclesiology. Trying to read my ecclesiology out of this argument is a little like trying to narrate a person’s life story after hearing one side of a telephone conversation to his mother for one hour. My interlocutors have simply not been given enough information about my ecclesiology. They are eisegeting it from my isolation of a Christian practice. I can only infer from the tone of much of the banter that they are presupposing a fundamental disagreement with me (unless of course they would deny that practice has anyplace whatsoever in an ecclesiology).

    To continue, I should not have to summarize my ecclesiology in a discussion that should be about the way that an isolated practice in lieu of the Orthodox figures into Christian formation. The closest I have ever come to stating my ecclesiology in any systematic way was at the WTS 2005. I will summarize the argument of that paper which engaged the ecclesiological and political theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (actually beginning with his Christology). For Pannenberg, the church is the body of Christ through an act of transignification. This is Pannenberg at his most Augustinian, I think. The church identifies itself with Christ by partaking of the Sacrament. While I reject Pannenberg’s inverted adoptionism, I think there is a fundamental truth to his position that Jesus Christ is who he is because of the kingdom of God. I tend to move God to the end of the temporal system (but not in the same way as Pannenberg or Process). Thus in the Eucharist the church receives a foretaste of things to come. In the Eucharist the church imagines the future as present. I think I used the term “eschatological imagination.” Out of this constant return to cup practices begin to take shape that manifest the kingdom of God to the present. The dead are raised. The blind receive sight. Good news is preached to the poor. This is not legalism. The church does not act in this way because she is attempting to fulfill some obligation read out of a canon within the canon in the gospels. The church does this because communing together gives her a sense of what the future will be. Indeed, if we affirm a doctrine of real presence, and if I can be free for the moment to aver that God is the future of the world, then to confess that Christ hides in the bread and wine on the altar is to say that the future of the world “hides” in the church. I actually criticize Pannenberg on some substantive points he makes. I don’t think he goes far enough. And I end up working with Cavanaugh to complete his thought (but I also correct Cavanaugh as well). Put in the most succinct way possible, I maintain that the church is an icon of the kingdom. The kingdom of God shines through her, but an icon cannot claim to be the image (precluding any attempts at usurpation of political power). Thus the kingdom of God functions as a Platonic form for the church. Or if I may say (in a certain Augustinian sense), the kingdom of God will have been the church.

    Third, what I have attempted to do in my paper is to isolate one practice (and would we deny that the church has practices) of my tradition and to draw some implications out of it. Perhaps Nate’s ecclesiology is more sacramental. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if Eucharist and Baptism is more than just poetry for him. Does it do anything? If so, what? Do Christian behaviors stem from one’s passage through the death and resurrection of Christ (and the constant return to that death and resurrection, taking it into oneself)? In the third, albeit succinct, section of my paper, implicit in my analysis is the claim that fasting is only fasting because of the Eucharist. There is no fast, I say, without a feast. On the other hand, if we have read Paul we know that feasting without fasting is only to eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves. In other words, we must prepare to receive the body of Christ, to drink the cup of immortality. Therefore, I imagine a set of practices by which we prepare to approach the Lord’s Supper with fear and trembling (traditionally fasting, confession, and prayer; I would clarify that alms is considered the natural counterpart of the fast). My contention in another, longer, paper would be that all of these practices, if practiced perfectly (which is to fault the sinning members, not the body) would shape a kind of people that could not be capitalized and commodified by the global market. (In addition, I am of the opinion that the kind of openness and sharing given in these practices will be the shape of the kingdom, which is precisely how my paper does not give way to an ontology of lack). Seeing as how I needed to keep this paper short, I focused upon one practice in particular—the fast. I made it clear that the fast can readily be commodified if it is ripped from its liturgical—eucharistic!–context. I chose this practice because (as I argued in the second section) it more than any other disciplines desire. However, this is only one outcome of the fast. There are others. If the global economy suddenly fell into disarray, the fast would still discipline desire, but that aspect of the fast would no longer be as relevant would it? I would focus on another practice, or another aspect of fasting. Like I said in the introduction, this is a self-consciously pragmatic (and I suppose I should add the word “situational”) argument. The fact of the matter is that yes, Nate and others (Nate, you first made the point, that is why I bring you into it), my construction of this argument assumes the presence of a global economy, but these practices orbit (eliptically) around the sacraments of the church. They only are what they are because of baptism and Eucharist. So what I have tried to do is slow down the movement of one of these practices and focus on it as it relates to issues of market practice.

    One other thing, yes it is true that I think practices shape us into particular kinds of people. But I hope I have made it clear that we only are those people in the first place because of the Sacraments. Out of that point of origination certain kinds of behaviors must arise. Again, “show me your faith.” In as much as I am joining myself to an Orthodox communion, I imagine behaviors and practices that are highly ordered and centralized. I leave it to others to imagine practices for their particular communions. It is not my purpose in this paper to argue that one set of practices is truer than another (except of course reasonable consumption and gluttony). I completely reject the statement that the church merely is a nexus of practices. But I affirm that a nexus of practices is how we recognize the church, how we know that this thing, over here, yes, this is the church. That thing, over there, no, that is the YMCA. Oh, and that next to it, that is the White House. But this is only to stand in a long line of monastic and ascetic theology (which is where I am getting the bulk of this from, not Hauerwas). This is also to invoke the parable of the sheep and the goats. I think practices shape us, but do not determine us. They do not make us what we are. They arise from the grace of God, a grace which we take and eat. I am persuaded that discipleship is largely a matter of habit. Reflection is good, but I sometimes think that habit is what Paul means by “freedom in Christ.” In the communion of the church, discipleship (while never perfect because we are sinners) makes a slow, unsteady, transition of fits and starts from second nature to first nature. “We will all be changed.”

    This is like throwing the Patriarch of Moscow, the Pope, Luther, and Calvin into an octagonal cage. Every discussion seems to come to this moment. I hear more I agree with in your position Dave than I disagree with (and you should already know where I disagree). The same is true of Nate, though I will for now concede that our positions really are worlds apart. It is at moments like these that I come to think that one of our (unnamed) colleagues’ ability to constantly isolate and point to this moment may be the fruit of a special charism of the Spirit.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — March 1, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

  27. By the way, many of my last comments were made tongue in cheek. But not all. Sometimes I’m not even sure when I’m joking.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — March 1, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

  28. Dave, thanks for the long comment. I think you are correct that we agree on many things — but also that I think I knew that before this long message (remember when I first talked to you about my thesis? We were really on the same page at that point, and both excited). So, thank you for your long note — no one can now say that you have not been clear (ha!). Really, thanks despite the time it required (and, by the way, I wasn’t hoping that you would respond within any time frame). So, while we agree — and I mean, seriously, I think that you approach fasting exactly the correct way (especially as you situate it within a liturgical framework that is always tied to a local communion’s practice and is always…shall we say, negotiable–at least that was so for Augustine) — the one place we seem to be talking past one another is that you hear me making indictments about presuppositions of a possession of the Church (which I think puts you on the defensive), and I am trying to say that we have to work through this problem with the appearance of the historical Church (the corpus verum, again) before your wonderful paper can really have any force. Perhaps you have gleamed that the whole time; but, since we’re clarifying positions.

    Again, thanks for this — I thought it might be best for you to say many of the things you said in your email to me here…and you did. So thanks, friend.

    …Oh, one more thing. You said that habits make us what we are…I agree with this in one sense: in the sense that what we do (habitually) is an indication of what we love (and I think you would agree with this — you are generally one of the most Augustinian people I know). But, I also think that love is something that takes place communally (i.e., not simply between two individuals, but between groups of people as well…and here I am obviously referring to “intercommunion” love). It is love which joins us together into unity — and this ESPECIALLY in the Church. This was my point in my fist comment of saying that unity in the charity of Christ is still the thing we most lack — I think that practices of the Church must take into account the way in which the Church loves (which also affects her presence, and what she makes present [n.b., I use feminine language to describe the Church to emphasize the way in which the Church is Mother — especially after viewing ancient Churches last year with baptismal fonts in the shape of a womb]). Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 2, 2006 @ 8:44 am

  29. D. Dunn.

    Yes, thanks for the clarification. I’ll try not to be so caustic in this post; I’m usually all too aware of the fact that I’m not joking when I am. Which makes for brutal rhetoric.

    I do think that you and I are farther apart on some things than you and Dave B. are. But that may actually be neither here nor there.

    If I can put it simply, I think the difference is in how we are grounding talk of the Church. I hear you wanting to ground this talk of the Church and its visibility ecclesiologically, in terms of structures, habits, and practices. I much more want to think of the Church and its visibility dogmatically, in terms of Scriptures witness to Christ as the Lord of all reality. That is to say, the eucharistic body for me is visible doxologically, in its adoration of the Host, if you will, and not simply practically, in its resistance to market desire. (In this respect, I really do think there is something more “Protestant” about your position than mine.)

    To put it another way, even if in terms I’m not entirely comfortable with, it is not so much what we do that makes the Church visible; it is how what is done gets done that matters. And that makes all the difference. (Which is why we are so far apart on the one issue in which it appears we should be so close together.)


    Comment by Nate — March 2, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

  30. Nate, just for clarification, are you saying that “Protestantism” has as one of its characteristics “ecclesiology” at the expense of “dogmatics”? I’m not exactly sure what you are referring to here…so, just a clarifying question.

    I know I keep clarifying myself, but I think this one should be the last — because hopefully I will have ridden myself of utter obscurity even if slight obscurities remain. Here is where I think the impasse takes place (and, again, I am only speaking for myself and Dave Dunn here). What I was trying to say above in my last comment, Dave, is that I actually agree with what you are saying and endorse it wholeheartedly. However, my talk of a “disappearance” of the Church — even as this is an idictment by me of those in American Church-life who attempt to “possess” the Church — is taken by you to by an indictment of your own work. That’s actually not the case, though…or, at least, it’s not as simple as that. My first comment really reveals the critical element in what I am saying — viz., that practices are easily corruptible, and that the assimilation and redeployment of said practices must be taken into account (and, as I said, you do even this with the Weigh Down Diet, which puts me more on your side than on Chad’s…I just wanted to register that Chad’s comments were outstanding, even if you could account for them). So, beyond that I mentioned something about disappearance — well, actually, I asked “where’s the body?” (starting to sound a bit like a commercial slogan at this point!). Here, I really think it is important to emphasize that when I talk about disappearance I mean it phenomenally — i.e., as what is made present and what presents itself there — and not ontologically…and I think this is the place where the impasse is most centrally located; that is, you are hearing disappearance ontologically every time. There was a time very early on when I was developing these themes that I meant this ontologically…but also very early on in my research on the controversy between Augustine and the Donatists I realized that if I made that sort of claim ontologically, I had already lost Augustine. However, I think that Augustine not only can go where I’m going with a phenomenal “disappeared” Church, but props it up with the way in which he responds to the Donatists.

    All this is to say, I take it as centrally important that the phenomenal disappearance of the Church — i.e., the failure of the Church to make present, or signify, that which constitutes her and enables her to be the visible body of Christ, rather than a mere visible phenomenon — must be accounted for prior to reference to these practices, otherwise they will have no force because we don’t even know who it is that will perform them. Once it has been accounted for, however, what you are doing is EXACTLY what has to be done. We are actually in FULL agreement then (it is only the presupposition of the Church as a datum that is in question for me…which is, incidentally what quickly distances me from Cavanaugh’s ecclesiology). I hope this helps. Peace once again, to all.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 2, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

  31. “Nate, just for clarification, are you saying that “Protestantism” has as one of its characteristics “ecclesiology” at the expense of “dogmatics”?”

    Well, no, I am saying something more like: Protestant dogmatics (since Schleiermacher, at least) has as one of its characteristics the idea that the primary referent of the theologian is “the Church” as a culturally-specific phenomenon rather than Jesus Christ as the truth in whom the triune God is revealed. This is still a problem for Barth — and of course the whole post-liberal mode of doing theology is to an extent right to claim that it is Barthian in this way. It is just disingenuous to claim that it is sufficiently post-liberal and post-modern. And Milbank just doesn’t know how Schleiermachian he really is when he identifies theology with the ultimate form of social science.

    Of course, this is not true of the older Protestant dogmaticians such as Turretin, van Mastrich, Edwards, and the like. But nobody really reads those people anyway.

    Comment by Nate — March 2, 2006 @ 5:54 pm

  32. No shit…sorry to say I’ve never heard of Turretin or van Mastrich (showing my stripes here).

    Thanks for the clarification. I had a feeling you meant something like that, just wanted to be certain.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 2, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

  33. I’m guessing everyone is busy…and hoping that this silence is not because I have just dropped a bomb, or made myself extroardinarily unclear yet again, or that what I had to say was somehow dismissive (if it came across that way it wasn’t at all!), and most of all that it’s not because I coopted the conversation for my own ends.

    I glimpsed another place where I think the impasse is located, though. Nate, you say quite clearly in your response to me that you consider Dave’s position to be more “protestant” because of a consideration of the ground of the visibility of the Church as “a culturally-specific phenomenon rather than Jesus Christ as the truth in whom the triune God is revealed”; well, actually, you say that ‘the Church’ as this culturally-specific phenomenon has as its “primary referent”…”structures, habits, and practices.” I understand your point fully (I asked the question just to be certain from where you were speaking), and I know that Dave did (in his first reply) refer to the Church as a “nexus of practices,” but later he said that he does not understand the Church as SIMPLY that…so perhaps Dave understands the Church to have as its referent both Jesus Christ as Lord of reality, and the historical body which is culturally specific–the latter being something that has to be referred to simply because we are in the world, but never in such a way that it takes “priority” over the former. I have a feeling that this is how Dave would reply, and thus I can see how there would be an impasse where he would say that he perceives your position and his to be “closer than it appears.” But, I’ll let Dave say whether or not this is the case.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 5, 2006 @ 8:21 am

  34. And I should say that I think the Church can point to its practices in order to point to Christ…or, rather, that the point Dave is trying to make is that the liturgical practices of the Church DO in fact signify the revealedness of the Triune God–and not to a “culturally specific phenomenon.”

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 5, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  35. Nate,

    Do you understand my position to be that the eucharistic body is invisible doxologically “in its adoration of the Host” and visible only “practically, in its resistance to market desire”? This seems not to be what I have said above. So where are you getting it from? I could say more, but I would really like to move this conversation forward. So I will refrain from responding to what I think you understand my position to be until I get some clarity.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — March 6, 2006 @ 5:28 am

  36. Dave Dunn:

    I don’t think the Church is ever visible qua Church as a matter of “resistance” to anything. I think when that happens, its praxis is in fact divorced from its doxa, its practice from its praise. If the Church is ever visible qua resistance to this-worldly unethical phenomena, then the Church is visible in the sphere of the universal, in the sphere of what Kierkegaard called the ethical. The Church is thus visible solely as a “moral community.” When, on the other hand, the Church understands its practice as flowing from doxology, its praktike driven by the engine of theoria, its liturgy as an overflowing expression of its doxological contemplation of the triune God, the Church is visible qua Church as a sacrament, and is visible only to those who miraculously have been given the eyes of faith to see. The Church is thus visible as a matter of singular obedience to God, and as a singular instance of love of the neighbor. The Church’s “moral practices” are thus for me its way of going incognito in the world; their true meaning is a matter of secrecy and silence. And it is only as such that the Church is able to love the other through these practices, in such a way that this act of love and these practices are not able to be co-opted by universal structures of the world, because they are not practices that in any way or at any level pretend to define themselves over-against this world. The church is visible to an atheistic and unbelieving world as any matter of “resistance” (to market desire, or to secularity, or to Donkeys, or to abortionists, etc.); it is visible to faith as a matter of Christian charity as adoration of the host. And this is why I find the doctrines of justification by grace through faith and election to be so crucial to this debate; there is no logical or simple way to arbitrate this bi-furcation of vision, except by way of recourse to God’s free, vocative grace.

    Comment by Nate — March 6, 2006 @ 11:43 am

  37. Nate — I feel like I’ve become a moderator of sorts — this, I think, is right. The question still remains, however, whether this is contrary to Dave’s position; in other words, whether or not Dave’s notion of fasting as an economic resistance is posited “over-against this world.” No doubt you are saying that the very presumption that any of the Church’s practices — its “ethics” — could be considered to “resist” _________, is making a gesture over-against this world. Yet I wonder if Dave’s whole point isn’t simply to say that the Church’s ethic is different from the world’s (and that this is manifest in the ways in which fasting differ from market consumption by the way in which desire is disciplined). However, Dave, I think on the flip-side Nate has uncovered something fundamental in this response: that your position, in starting from an understanding that fasting is a “counter-economic practice,” or that “fasting is one of many practices that shapes people who resist market construction of identity through consumption,” that your notion of fasting already works in a reactionary manner, in the attempt to address the situation…in other words, your paper begins off of the presupposition that there needs to be resistance to market direction of desire towards consumption, and that fasting gives us one example (among many) of said resistance. Nate’s point would be then, that fasting has a telos outside its intended function (and here, I don’t — and I know Nate doesn’t — understand practices in a utilitarian manner, because…as Nate says, the meaning of these practices lie in “secrecy and silence”).

    So, I really think this is a great starting point. I have plaed myself in the middle here because I see great worth in both what Dave and Nate are saying — and because I agree with both to a certain extent, I’m sort of neutral here…my criticism remains despite which one becomes the clear way forward: that the disappearance of the body must be taken into account in order to talk about its “practices” at all. Thanks for such a wonderful conversation which is still going!

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 6, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

  38. Dave B.

    In relation to Dave Dunn’s paper, all this for me comes down to how it is that theory relates to and determines practice? That is, just what theoria is it that is driving our praktike? My concern is that the “theory” that Dave Dunn is “applying” to make his “pragmatic argument” in this paper (#26 above) is not the theoria proper to classical Christian theology, and that this renders his reflection upon the church’s pracices in this case otherwise than theological.

    Comment by Nate — March 6, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

  39. Nate, in my last response I said, “I think this is right”; I’m not so sure now, however. I say that simply because I looked back over your first response involving theoria and praktike after you submitted this last one, and I realized that I’m just not sure exactly what it is you are getting at…again, I think I understand perfectly clearly what it is you are saying, but I’m not sure I at all understand why you are saying it. Even if we concede that there is some sort of logical priority of theoria over praktike (or that praktike must of its nature be subordinated to theoria), is there not a pleroma of possibilities of that “doxological contemplation” (notice I don’t say “infinite possibilities”)? In other words, can you reduce “theoria” as “doxological contemplation of the triune God to “classical Christian theology”? And again, even if we could do that (which I am almost certain we cannot), then what exactly consists of “classical” Christian theology? Only the West? Anselm? What about Ephrem of Syria? Even if you were to open up classical Christian theology much wider than it seems to apply here, the West has a great variety of theoretical speculations which drive very different practices (see the baptismal councils of Spain during the Medieval period–particularly in Sevilla). I’m just quite confused at this point. Please help me out here.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 7, 2006 @ 8:52 am

  40. Strike that…I meant the councils of Toledo; though Isidore of Sevilla would give us a similar conclusion

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 7, 2006 @ 9:18 am

  41. Dave B.

    Whoa! All I\’m saying is that I think in this paper in particular Dave Dunn is theorizing in a very secular manner.

    What I\’m saying about theoria and praktike has been worked out by me in an essay on Anselm entitled \”Anselm: Theoria and the Doctrinal Logic of Perfection.\” There I argue that Anselm is more Eastern than he is given credit for. Classical Christian theorizing is dogmatics; it is constituent of its doctrine of God. This paper is scheduled to be published this year in the volume Partakers of the Divine Nature: Deification/Theosis in the Christian Traditions. I could maybe post it here if there is adequate interest. Or I could send it privately to you and Dave Dunn, therefore circumventing any ambiguity regarding copyright laws.


    Comment by Nate — March 7, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  42. Nate, Let me clarify. There is less rhetoric in my last reply than it seems on first glance. I really was trying to say that I was confused…that statement about being \”quite confused\” wasn\’t a rhetorical device to unfold why I think you are wrong, necessarily. I had a feeling you would say that I had misread you, but I honestly didn\’t know how (and it was that reason–that I was convinced that I was reading you clearly–that I was so confused). A lot of that going on these days…Communication is probably the biggest \”issue\” in my relationship with Jodi! I\’m terrible at it!

    Anyways, I would love to read your paper–I remembered you were doing something on Anselm for that theosis conference, but you never told me much about it, so I\’d be delighted to read it. Last thing…you have to admit, though, \”classical\” has implications which negate any broadening you intend for that term to the East.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 7, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  43. Nate,

    I think that I have one last question before I respond. If the church is what you say it is, in what way does the church recognize, point to, and condemn antichrists? Or does it? My guess is that you will probably find something wrong with the way I\’m forming the question. In that case just respond to what you perceive to be the thrust of my question. No sarcasm intended.

    Comment by Dave Dunn — March 7, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

  44. Dave Dunn. — That is a very fair question; one that I want to think about before responding.

    Dave B. — My \”Whoa!\” was not in reaction to your rhetoric, but rather an imperative, as in slow down. Too much happened too fast in your post for me. \”Classical\” was used by me broadly and in a dash, I could have just as easily said \”orthodox,\” had I been in a different mood, and not been constipated.

    Comment by Nate — March 7, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

  45. Ok…my last comment actually was pretty rhetorical (upon second read). To put simply what I previously said in a complex rhetoric (I think it just comes out that way sometimes, despite my intentions):

    Dave seems to be saying that his notion of the Church as a nexus of practices is always derived and driven by the doxa of the Church (its theoria)–which is his point that the Church is never simply its practices. All I was saying is that the “theoria” of the Church is vast, various, and even at times contradictory (between the various theorias that is)…and that Dave’s particular theoria is situated within that panoply–and I don’t think that it simply follows from the fact that the Church’s theoria is various that Dave’s fits within it. In other words, this does not mean that there are an infinite number of theorias possible within theological speculation…again, only a pleroma which is excessive (not simply one)…or that certain theorias cannot be deemed “wrong” as if we’re working withn a liberal framework of toleration; if you had used the word “orthodox” I most likely would have had the same reaction…it is because you say that what Dave is doing here is “otherwise than theological” or “secular” that I find your statement problematic. I hope you don’t think I’m being unfair…I of course would like to see your paper, partly so I can see in more detail what you are doing with these terms…but the kinds of lines you are drawing makes me wary. There is no doubt that theology is an apophatic discipline…and that the “way” to salvation is a narrow path…but theology is just as much a cataphatic discipline, and God’s grace knows no bounds. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 7, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

  46. Dave Dunn.

    Sorry to be so delayed in responding. The delay was partly due to a young girl named Zoe Grace. And it was partly to do with the fact that I’m not entirely clear on what you are asking in this question? Do you mean “antichrist” as formulated in the Johannine epistles, as those who (presumably coming out of the church) specifically deny that Jesus Christ is God? Or do you mean to ask about the “powers and principalities” generally, the evil spirits of the passing age, the old aeon?

    I’ll respond to the former, realizing that they are interrelated and that probably you just want me to say: At what point can we say “not that!”

    Of course, I don’t think its as easy as saying “not that!,” but nevertheless. I take the anti-Christ to manifest in any mode of life or thought that distracts us from our proper doxa, our proper praise, of Jesus Christ alone as Lord and head of the Church. The anti-Christ occurs when any member of the body of Christ becomes the object of theology proper, and of our theoria, apart from the singularity of Jesus Christ. In this way, the anti-Christ is traditionally a divisive element, and is tied with divisision in the church, inasmuch as it divides the body’s loyalties. For Christ is our unity; and the Spirit of Christ is the bond of our unity. So the anti-Christ is named and condemned in the reification of any part of the body as an object of our thought and praise, for such is an attempted usurpation of the head by a member of the body, and in its demand for our attention, prevents us from seeing Christ alone, and from seeing all others in Christ.

    Three parenthetical remarks:

    (This is necessarily sketchy; but it should of course be clear that I don’t understand the Church in history to be coextensive with the mystical body of Christ. And I do not understand the Christ/anti-Christ dilemma to be co-extensive with the Church/world dilemma.)

    (When I suggest that the anti-Christ manifests itself as an “attempted usurpation of the head by a member of the body,” I have a suspicion that this is something like what Milbank intends when he refers to the Pope as “perhaps the anti-Christ.” Incidentally, Karl Barth understood this to be the Roman Catholic heresy, viz., that it needed some other head than Jesus Christ on earth and in history.)

    (Notwithstanding my former parenthetical remark, this post is not meant to be a piece of anti-Catholic polemic or an attack upon the papal office. There will be other times and places for that. Though I’m sure you, Dave Dunn, wouldn’t be too concerned with defending the pope.)

    Hope this helps. It really is a good and important question; one I think that is more easily discerned negatively (i.e., by pointing to the disunity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church) than positively (i.e., by pointing to some one cause of said disunity and saying “we need need to fix that”). But all of this is just to say that I think the question of anti-Christs is a question particularly about Christian union. And of course, many antichrists have now come.


    Comment by Nate — March 8, 2006 @ 7:48 pm

  47. Nate,

    I read your paper this morning. It was the most clearly written paper that you’ve written, I think (which is to say, it really is an excellent paper, and you should be commended for it). I decided to respond here because, though you sent the paper to Dave and myself by email, it was given as a result of this conversation…so I thought it would be best to talk here.

    I really agree with everything you do in the paper–I have a couple of things we could talk about, maybe even argue about, but neither of them at all undercuts your central thesis, which I think is absolutely right. Now, you might get tired of me saying this (I think this is the third time now!), but I still don’t see how what you are doing with theoria in that paper really determines how it is that what Dave is doing in this paper is not theological (or, rather, that his theorizing is “secular”). I will let Dave Dunn reply, but it seems to me you are working in different domains here…your paper is something which must be taken into account before Dave can do what he is attempting to do–I absolutely agree with that–and yet, because Dave is working with something that your paper sort of demands but does not deal with (because that is not the ultimate point of your paper)–i.e., with how it is that we are to act in order to move into our vocation as creatures who are made to “see” God–I still don’t understand how your particular critique stands. And I think this is especially the case when one considers that Dave would no doubt agree that the creature must be understood from (and that the primary locus of theological reflection, or theoria, is) a proper conception that creatures were created for the purpose of sanctification (or beatification/theosis/participation). I think he says this in one of his replies (I could just be remembering some past conversation we have had, though–I’m not going to wade through all of those comments right now!). And this is of course why Dave is frustrated that “we” are reading an “ecclesiology” out of his paper, when he only gives us one aspect that would contribute to an ecclesiology (or dogmatics, if you prefer). I really think that this right here is the locus of the impasse in this conversation, and one that has yet to be solved. Even so (and I’m not simply trying to pat myself on the back here…more like I’m saying, “But, look over here!”), I still am not sure that my talk of the “disappearance” of the body (of the Church) is involved in this particular impasse.

    Thanks and good day. peace as well.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 9, 2006 @ 10:13 am

  48. Dave. You may very well be right; and this may be the point of impasse. I’m not sure, though.

    My only response will be to say this: I think the notion of a constructive ecclesiology — a modern invention, no doubt! — is itself a product of a secularized “theory.” Whether there is a difference on how Dave Dunn and I are conceiving “theory” in this debate may finally not be primary; any divergence of what proper theory is for theology is I think more a consequence than a premise of our fundamental disagreement. That fundamental disagreement is over the doctrine of the Church and the appropriateness of ecclesiology within the dogmatic task. That is, this disagreement is fundamental in that the question of whether or not we disagree on the question of theoria need not be the basis for our disagreement over the Church.

    What I’m objecting to is that Dave Dunn’s talk of the church and its sacramental “practices” presupposes first and foremost a stable and habitable ecclesiological structure or institution. I’d rather suggest that the only presupposition of such talk should be the dispossessive grace of the triune God.

    Comment by Nate — March 9, 2006 @ 11:56 am

  49. Nate, at some point I think this becomes a word game. I understand the distinction you are drawing between ecclesiology and dogmatics…yet when you say “That fundamental disagreement is over the doctrine of the Church and the appropriateness of ecclesiology within the dogmatic task” you might be splitting hairs in reference to Dave’s concern. That is to say, your concern to distinguish between a liberal protestant deviation from the dogmatic task in the “modern” speculation on the culturally specific phenomenon properly known as “ecclesiology” might not fully take into account the simple fact that most people use the word “ecclesiology” to mean “speculation on the doctrine of the Church”–and that this, in other words, might still be solely a dogmatic task for those people. You are saying something that theologians need to take seriously, I think, and those who use “ecclesiology” without fully understanding its genealogy would do well to pay attention to what you are saying (and here, I will again let Dave speak for himself as to how he uses this term). But, AGAIN, I still am not seeing this problematic ALL OVER what Dave is doing–at least not to the extent that you are. And I’m not saying that one’s intentions are fundamental to one’s conclusions–as if it only matters if someone shoots someone in the head with a gun if they meant to. I am simply saying that if the content of Dave’s claims, and the conclusions reached are in line with the positive proposal you have given, then his choice of words should be excused.

    After all of this, I think we probably need to hear a bit from Dave now (when you have time Dave…don’t put any pressure on yourself…I am patient)–depending on how he responds, I think it is possible that you will indeed be right…but, I don’t think you can be quite so certain of this fundamental disagreement yet. Dave simply hasn’t said enough to suggest that his claims are vulnerable to this charge.

    Finally, I think it is interesting that with all of this, what all of this amounts to for you is exactly the critique I am levelling: viz., that the presupposition of “a stable and habitable ecclsiological structure or institution” is presupposed without taking into account the problematic of the phenomenal disappearance of the corpus verum. The reason this is interesting is that I’m not sure that this is the same thing as the distinction you are intending to draw between ecclesiology and dogmatic theological contemplation on the Church. It seems that your presupposition here is that ecclesiology ONLY has as its referent the culturally specific phenomeon of the historical reality called “church,” while dogmatics has as its ONLY referent Jesus as Lord of reality. But, this presupposition doesn’t actually take into account the reality over which Christ is Lord…in other words, you cannot ignore the problem(s) of the culturally specific phenomenon within the dogmatic task. There is no true division between contemplation and action (as I said long ago in my “communio” reflection paper–which was based on an essay by Balthasar, as you know), even if action derives from or is driven by the “engine” of theoria. You may not intend this dichotomy–I’m pretty sure you don’t want to separate them–yet, I can’t reach any other conclusion based on what you have outlined. And here I think there may be a real disagreement between you and I: I understand the disappearance of the corpus verum as a problem for the Church, and thus theology, but it almost seems as though this is the way in which the Church ought to be in the world, for you. Even if I say that the Church is only visible as it is dispossessed, this should not amount to phenomenal disappearance; it merely means that the modus vivendi of the Church will not be recognized in the same manner as other visible phenomena (and hence the mystics…it can only be perceived as “insanity”). Maybe I’m all mixed up here, but this is simply a result of me trying to work my way through all of this confusion, which was onset with the inception of communio (in other words, this is an impasse which does have to do with the problematic of communio–even though we don’t have to talk about the historical events of communio in order to get at this problem–and not with your theological position…it is simply a result of recognizing the phenomenal disappearance of the Church and attempting to work our way through what has been so distorted by sin–an impossibility which is nevertheless our task).

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 9, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

  50. Nate and others,

    Don’t take yet another message from me as in anyway indicative of a sort of impatience on my part…I want to let you (whoever that would be actually) speak, and on your own time; I just had more to say.

    Perhaps we will have to wait until your paper on Lacoste, Nate, before we can actually finish (or continue) this conversation. For, I know that you are quite aware that when Lacoste admits that the literalism of the ascetic may be naive, and further clarifies that still “naivety can be right,” he nonetheless frames these reflections on ascetic experience within Heidegger’s concept “being-in-the-world” (especially in Building, Dwelling, Thinking). I draw attention to this because there is something of vast importance here, which though you are probably already attentive to it, I thought needed extra emphasis in this discussion. The literalism of the ascetic, for Lacoste, renounces ALL earthly possessions, renounces all that is worldly (and as he adds at the end of the chapter on Liturgy and Kenosis, this renunciation is not negative but positive because the ascetic lives “from the fulfillment” of what is promised to come–in other words the eschaton imposes upon the ascetic (though the ascetic as “fool” and not simply “lunatic” still chooses for this imposition to be made manifest as an act of freedom) the demand for all worldly being to be placed in subordination to the Being of the Absolute. But, this is where emphasis is needed…though this literalsim appears as an escape (much as does mystical or desert “withdrawal”), it is in fact not at all. Paradoxically, ascetic renunciation, or poverty, is situated within what Heidegger calls “the existent condition of man’s historical-social life today” (from “Poetically Man Dwells…”). Here Lacoste is simply repeating what Kierkegaard reminds us in Works of Love: “When it is a duty to love the people we see, one must first and foremost give up all imaginary and exaggerated ideas about a dreamworld where the object of love should be sought and found–that is, one must become sober, gain actuality and truth by finding and remaining in the world of actuality as the task assigned to one” (161). It is with sobriety, and within actuality and “historical-social life” that one goes incognito in the world, for Kierkegaard and for Lacoste’s fool–one does not escape, but smuggles into the reality of false appearances new life (and this is subsequently what I mean by “baptismal dispossession”). And this is likewise what I find so RIGHT about what Dave is saying…that is, the “practice” of fasting, of renunciation sobers us to our neighbors…we are led to love the one we see (here and now) by renouncing everything we see! A strange twist of fate, or rather of the Spirit, moves us away from ourselves, away from the world we have become centered within, and moves us to where God Himself goes–to those who are already made “poor,” “downtrodden,” and indeed “foolish.”

    I say all of this because I was compelled (and not as another form of argument)…I’m sure, Nate, that this is precisely where your heart lies as well…so don’t take this as an affront. Even if we do disagree on this point (and I’m still awaiting that conclusion), I say all of this in charity and with the peace of unity in mind.


    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 12, 2006 @ 1:21 pm

  51. Dave B. — How naive it was of me to think that you understood what you have articulated as being my position all along.

    Comment by Nate — March 12, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

  52. Nate, I have no idea what that means. Besides, I don’t know that I have ever known what your “position” is all along. Have I erred in presuming that we disagree, or rather that you would at all agree with what I have outlined in this latest comment? I’m guessing you mean the former, but I have no clue. Some of the ways you use concepts that I have tried to develop in my thesis are easily lent to misinterpretation–at least as far as I mean those concepts. I am responding to the ways in which some of your statements could be taken since they affect (even if only indirectly) the way that what I say about “dispossession” and/or “disappearance” is perceived…if we are in total agreement, then there really isn’t any need to hash this out (between the two of us, that is); then it would seem that my clarifications would aid your own interpretation of these concepts. If all that is at stake is that we disagree…then please say something more than that I have misunderstood you. Again, if you see my latest comment as superfluous to your position–as already contained within it–then take in stride the fact that I stated that I was compelled to write it not as an affront or a further argument, but simply because I felt it needed said (and not even to you, necessarily).

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 12, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

  53. Ok. Let’s start over.

    Dave. Please, again, take your time to respond, but I think it is necessary to hear a little bit from you so that this conversation remains tied to your paper. I think the back-and-forth between Nate and I has indeed been about your paper the whole time–even if orbiting around it…but nonetheless about it.

    I’m guessing here’s what needs to be said:
    1) The Church does in fact act, and acts within the world as a historical, contingent body.
    2) Nevertheless, in question is whether “the Church” can be taken as a presupposed datum; or, what is it that constitutes the Church, and particularly her appearance within the world of actuality?
    3) If the Church appears only as “unica catholica”–and this is indeed my presupposition–then a phenomenal disappearance of the Church does not preclude that the Church “happens” here or there (in space-time)…that it “is”…but only that it does not make present what it ought to because of sin.

    And the other tangential (but fundamental) question which has not really been answered yet (I’ve tried to anticipate how you might answer Dave, but we haven’t heard from you directly yet): If the Church’s practices (any of them) are understood from the starting point of “resistance” or as “counter-practices” to what could only be deemed “worldly” practices, then isn’t the Church constituted by its reactionary stance? (and not by what makes it present and it is to make present?)

    peace. I think my mediatrix role can now cease.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 13, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  54. I have been busy. I have not had time to read every post closely. I did read Nate’s response (thank you). I also skimmed some others. I will use Dave B’s last post and said response to reorient myself a bit more to the discussion.

    First, Nate this is a fair question. I need to be more clear about what I mean when I say antichrist. You have taken, I think, the Pauline stance in which it appears that the antichrist may indeed be an internally divisive element, as that “extra thing” opposed to Christ. Before I respond with two brief comments I want to ask you to clarify what you mean by saying that you don’t identify the church with the mystical body of Christ. Are you being Augustinian at this point. I need to understand how you are using that term (there is a sense in which I think Paul would disagree with you)? Now for my two comments.

    I can make the first comment in part while I wait for an answer to my last question. In as much as the antichrist, you say, is internally divisive, is an extra-Christ, I agree with you (and in my better moments I avoid being critical of the bishop of Rome, by the way). But this already suggests that there is a *what* to be divided, or a *who* if you prefer. If the visible church is unlocatable, is unidentifiable in this world–if we must shun any attempts to attribute content of any kind to a community that identifies itself as a church–then there is nothing to be divided. Or, given the current state of ecclesial divisiveness in this country alone, it would seem that not only is the church disappeared, but she is gone.

    Second (and this is a more general comment), let’s look at the Johanine sense, Nate. Unless you want to be highly selective with your canon you have to ask yourself who the antichrist is the Apokalypse. The answer is clear enough. It’s Nero. Babylon the whore is Rome. The people of God clearly have an enemy, and John is not afraid to say it. The charge you levee against me, it seems, must also be leveed against John the Revelator. But let’s not stop there; it must also be leveed against Augustine who *knew* that the Donatists were not apart of the church (you only get charity in the Catholic Church). Or Cyprian. Gregory of Nazianzus would be on your hitlist as well, for he directs a sermon to his “enemies.” In fact, let’s just extend this charge to Jesus who tells the 12 to wipe the dust from the sandals as a testimony against a town (yet stops James and Andrew from calling fire down upon them), who anticipates a time when his disciples will be dragged before synagogues and magistrates. I have a hard time reconciling your understanding of the church with Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Or James.

    It seems to me Nate (and apologies to the person from whom I borrowed this illustration) that the way you are framing the argument makes the argument work, but you are talking about something other than the church. It is as if one of three children says, “Let’s have a race!” The other two agree, but the first then says, “But here’s the rule, we are going to see who can run the slowest!” In that case, we are not talking about a race anymore, are we? In short, it seems that if I were to walk into some random nave, sing with a group of people, live, suffer, bleed, and die with them, make my life what it is because of them, I could not, at the end of my life, say, “It has been good to be part of God’s church.” For you, whatever it is I was apart of must have been something else entirely. Even more, if I were to love that “church,” to love her worship, her practices, her priests and find Christ mediated to me through those things, that would be antichristian. If both church and Christ (in heaven) have disappeared, then what are we left with?

    In summary: 1. The church must not exist, must never have existed (noumenally). 2. You seem to be passing off half a text as the canon.

    It will probably be some time before I resond again. Busy.

    Comment by David Dunn — March 16, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

  55. The corpus historicum is not identical, phenomenologically, with the corpus mysticum. That’s all I mean by not taking “the Church in history to be coextensive with the mystical body of Christ.”

    Comment by Nate — March 16, 2006 @ 4:28 pm

  56. Dave, I would want to add to Nate’s explantion of that phrase, what de Lubac’s thesis on the matter was: viz., that the visible body of the Church is the locus of the ‘true body’ of Christ (and this itself is an invisible dimension of the visible mostly because it includes the Hebrew patriarchs, etc.), and that the eucharist is the ‘mystical body’ of Christ in which the members of the ‘true body’ participate visibly, but are only invisibly united to by their charitable union of intentionality. I would only want to add that, I don’t think that patristic theology would have even recognized a corpus historicum that was not itself limited to the actual man, Jesus of Nazareth. That is, it was the mystical body of Christ that linked the true body of Christ to the historical body of Christ. I thought this distinction pertinent enough to interject. I do hope that this conversation continues.

    Comment by Josh — March 16, 2006 @ 5:38 pm

  57. I should include this caveat to what I hastily (sp?) dashed off above: that the eucharist, as the mystical body of Christ, would be the visible manifestation of the ‘true body’ of Christ, but that what establishes the eucharist as ‘mystical’ and the celebrating body as ‘true’ is the invisible bond of their union in charity.

    Comment by Josh — March 16, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

  58. Dave Dunn:

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. Your questions and charges are fair enough. Interestingly enough, though, it is precisely with the Book of Revelation that I would begin (biblically) to make the case for my own positive understanding of ecclesial life in history. So, inasmuch as it has been alleged that I am being destructively critical without proffering any positive position of my own, your appeal to The Apocalypse in support of your own ecclesiology is fortuitous indeed (or ill-fated, perhaps — we shall see!). This positive position of mine, I suppose, is expected of me in my April presentation to the GTS. If that is indeed the expectation, then it proposes a challenge that I am (sadly!) none-too-reserved about taking up.

    In the meantime, I should like to begin setting the groundwork for that paper, and making the cumulative case for this alternative ecclesial visage, by engaging us in a series of discussions on various topics of related interest. I will begin doing this with a reply to Dave’s understanding of anti-Christ with a separate blog post entitled “Church and Empire in the Book of Revelation.” I will compose that post within the next couple of days, and have it posted here by Saturday. If nothing else, I think a fresh comment thread will help us carry out and explore related avenues of thought in relation to a theological perspective that is admittedly at an angle to Dave’s own.

    Comment by Nate — March 16, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

  59. Dave,

    I won’t say much because I’m really tired and I have to travel tomorrow…

    I’m just not following you here. There seems to be just as much of an illogical strain running through what you are saying as what you accuse Nate of. Your presuppositions that a “disappeared” Church cannot be divided (since there is nothing there to be divided), or that disunity cannot occur without a dialectical opposite Unity which calls into question disunity, are both penetrable…but more than that, they both ignore the distinction I have tried to outline above: i.e., “phenomenal” vs. “ontological” disappearance. While I am beginning to feel that the only way I can go too far with this distinction is if I can create a grammar within which we can talk about it (or, rather, resituating the already extant grammar in its proper relationship to this particular discussion), nonetheless I think it still stands. In other words, while you have asked more questions here, you have still not answered any of mine. Sorry if this seems blunt. I’m extremely tired. Will write much more tomorrow.


    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 17, 2006 @ 1:45 am

  60. Even after Nate’s previous post, I want to reiterate: I really, really, hope that this thread does not die.

    Comment by Josh — March 17, 2006 @ 5:25 pm

  61. [Warning: this is really long—5 pp. double-spaced in Word—but I really hope you can all make it through this…thanks]
    Ok. Dave says at one point…in fact he says “Note,” so he wants emphasis placed here…that “a nexus of practices shape the Church” and that fasting as one of those particular practices does not shape “unmarketable people” but “people who resist market construction of identity through consumption.” So, beyond this presupposition, Dave does not think that he should have to lay out an ecclesiology to show how he gets to the conclusions he reaches (which is why he said that we were “eisegeting” an ecclesiology out of a paper that was only attempting to isolate one ecclesial practice). Neverthless, he does give us an outline of his WTS paper,

    which engaged the ecclesiological and political theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (actually beginning with his Christology). For Pannenberg, the church is the body of Christ through an act of transignification. This is Pannenberg at his most Augustinian, I think. The church identifies itself with Christ by partaking of the Sacrament. While I reject Pannenberg’s inverted adoptionism, I think there is a fundamental truth to his position that Jesus Christ is who he is because of the kingdom of God. I tend to move God to the end of the temporal system (but not in the same way as Pannenberg or Process). Thus in the Eucharist the church receives a foretaste of things to come. In the Eucharist the church imagines the future as present. I think I used the term “eschatological imagination.” Out of this constant return to cup practices begin to take shape that manifest the kingdom of God to the present. The dead are raised. The blind receive sight. Good news is preached to the poor. This is not legalism. The church does not act in this way because she is attempting to fulfill some obligation read out of a canon within the canon in the gospels. The church does this because communing together gives her a sense of what the future will be. Indeed, if we affirm a doctrine of real presence, and if I can be free for the moment to aver that God is the future of the world, then to confess that Christ hides in the bread and wine on the altar is to say that the future of the world “hides” in the church. I actually criticize Pannenberg on some substantive points he makes. I don’t think he goes far enough. And I end up working with Cavanaugh to complete his thought (but I also correct Cavanaugh as well). Put in the most succinct way possible, I maintain that the church is an icon of the kingdom. The kingdom of God shines through her, but an icon cannot claim to be the image (precluding any attempts at usurpation of political power). Thus the kingdom of God functions as a Platonic form for the church. Or if I may say (in a certain Augustinian sense), the kingdom of God will have been the church.

    So, what seems most important from this for present concerns is this: “Out of this constant return to cup, practices begin to take shape that manifest the kingdom of God to the present … the future of the world ‘hides’ in the church … Thus the kingdom of God functions as a Platonic form for the church … the kingdom will have been the church.” One can only glean from all this that Dave means that because the Church is an “eikon” of the coming kingdom, her practices will here and now take concrete and manifest form that appropriates to “the kingdom.” Nevertheless, it seems quite obvious that Dave also has a solid conception of sin: sin is quite simply the distortion of desire—and for him capitalism is the distortion of desire par excellence. So, sin—or capitalism—gets in the way of our desiring properly, and thus in the way of the Church’s practices taking a concrete form that is iconically [I don’t know, equivalent?] to the kingdom. And though he says that as icon the Church “cannot claim to be the image,” he also says further that “all of these practices, if practiced perfectly (which is to fault the sinning members, not the body) would shape a kind of people that could not be capitalized and commodified by the global market.” So—a side note—while this paper will not make the claim that fasting makes “unmarketable people,” he does think that “these practices, if practiced perfectly” will produce those unmarketable uncapitalizable and uncommodifiable people…it seems obvious here, but if this is indeed a possibility for the Church (and I think it is important to emphasize here that “unmarketable” is already to begin on the terms set by capitalism, so perhaps this is only a sort of “relative” perfection), then doesn’t the icon collapse into image, Church into Kingdom? On this “ecclesiological” basis—one could say—he then says that though he totally rejects the idea that the Church is merely a nexus of practices, even so “a nexus of practices is how we recognize the church, how we know that this thing, over here, yes, this is the church. That thing, over there, no, that is the YMCA. Oh, and that next to it, that is the White House.” And to give support beyond his ecclesiology, he turns to scripture, James: “Show me your faith by your works.” The problem is that this runs the risk of a Pelagian Church…though Dave goes to lengths to say that practices in and of themselves are nothing without the grace of God, he then goes on to make this analogy which reveals the dilemma quite clearly: “In short, it seems that if I were to walk into some random nave, sing with a group of people, live, suffer, bleed, and die with them, make my life what it is because of them, I could not, at the end of my life, say, ‘It has been good to be part of God’s church.’ For you, whatever it is I was apart of must have been something else entirely. Even more, if I were to love that ‘church,’ to love her worship, her practices, her priests and find Christ mediated to me through those things, that would be antichristian. If both church and Christ (in heaven) have disappeared, then what are we left with?” Here, Dave seems to be in line with what de Lubac says is the generally “Augustinian” Eucharistic theology: i.e., that the historical body [Jesus of Nazareth] is mediated to the true body [the Unity of the members of world congregations] by the mystical body [the Eucharist]; however, Josh’s last clarifying comment is thoroughly ignored here. The mystical body is a visible manifestation of the true body—but “what establishes the eucharist as ‘mystical’ and the celebrating body as ‘true’ is the invisible bond of their union in charity.” Dave’s statement that we recognize the Church—the “body of Christ,” that is—in the visible “nexus of practices” of which fasting is a part seems to make the “true body” a visible manifestation of the “mystical body,” rather than the other way around. So, I think Josh is right to direct us to de Lubac, here. We don’t recognize the Church in the Eucharist—where the true body is joined invisibly to the historical body, by the outward sign of the Unity of her members—but rather in her praxis…as if the Church is joined to the historical body by doing certain things, and doing them rightly (this latter “and…” does follow, otherwise why say that these practices “could” produce “unmarketable” people out of obviously “marketable” people?). Thus, how could a “disappearance” of the Church make sense if we understand the appearance of the Church—how we ‘recognize’ it—by what it does? Of course, this is not how I understand “disappearance” of the Church to function, because I understand real presence differently. Now, it will be disputed here that “the Eucharistic body” is a liturgical product—a “work of the people,” and thus at some point we are still talking about the practices of the Church. However, this would be to misunderstand precisely what it is that the “true body” does in the liturgy. The historical body of Christ—the flesh and blood of the body born of the Virgin Mary, crucified and resurrected—is mediated to the true body of Christ under the species (the “outward appearance”) of bread and wine, the Eucharistic body (which is “transubstantiated” from bread and wine into the real flesh and blood of Christ in the words of consecration, or rather in Christ’s words of “institution”); what the true Church does, then, is submit herself to Christ’s mediation by joining together under him as their true Head by the charity which is given by the grace of the Holy Spirit (notice I don’t say submit herself to the priest or bishop who is the representative of Christ the Head, or who mediates Christ to us—this was Cyprian’s mistake, as Josh can tell us after he’s written his Augustine paper for Burns…even the words of consecration flow from the lips of the Bishop by the breath of the Holy Spirit). Thus, the historical body of Christ—his saving reality—is not mediated to the Church by her institutions and practices, but, rather, by the Spirit’s having joined us together into Unity by love for one another and Christ our Head. The fracture of that Unity—of our love for one another and, therefore (yes, this follows, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew, and also 1 John), for our love of Christ—thus constitutes a disappearance of the Church. The Church is “recognized” by the love that binds her together as one body under one head at the table of the Lord’s Supper. Her Unity is a symbol of the restoration of Adam—thus Augustine will use ADAM as an acronym with each letter signifying the names of the four corners of the world based on a verse in Matthew—that all of humanity is redeemed under Christ’s Lordship (which is also the meaning of the assumptio carnis). And here is where Nate’s eschatological corrective is of absolute importance: the Kingdom is in fact the restoration of the scattered Adam; the Church is to point to that coming reality by showing her love for one another and for Christ in Unity (and this I would say is the only way to properly understand the Church as herself a “sacrament”). The unity of the local communion must therefore be swallowed up into the Unity of the Catholic Church in order to be true union. I would hesitate to think that anyone here would argue that the Church could be considered “unified” in this sense AT ALL today (or even for the past six or seven hundred years).

    I would add that although this is a sort of manifesto—and thus I am making myself very vulnerable here…I’m kind of putting it all out there—I really am still working my way through all of this, and I have no real definitive answers. I say these things in the hope that someone else will agree, or point out my faults so that agreement will be forthcoming. I truly am a weak mind—especially in the presence of you folk—so I submit this to you all humbly and with peace in mind. Thanks.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 20, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  62. Only one clarifying comment this time:

    If a constructive proposal is lacking here, then this is where the importance of Baptism enters for me. To love one another is to enter into the spirit of humility that Paul describes in Philippians 2 (attaining the “mind of Christ” by being concerned less for ourselves than for one another); this humility is exercised when we place ourselves under the power of the Spirit, dying with Christ by being buried with him in the waters of Baptism…I call this “dispossession” in my thesis (and in my paper I argue–I think convincingly, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide–that this is a “communal” dispossession since Baptism is–or at least was prior to the Counter-Reformation–a liturgical practice of the entire Church body). As John of Chrysostom says in his second baptismal homily, after being baptized the baptizands are then brought into the sanctuary where they greet for the first time their new family with a kiss, and eat with them for the first time the Holy Meal of Christ’s Supper. Eucharist is thus not had without Baptismal dispossession (just as Baptism receives its true signification in Eucharist–the dead body is raised from the water into new life within this world–this reciprocal understanding of Baptism-Eucharist is a demonstration that not even the brokenness of this world is an obstacle to God’s resurrection power). Since the fracture of Unity is not even recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and not even truly a concern for Protestants (perhaps our hope does lie with the Orthodox East), to “remember our Baptism” today (as the liturgy asks of us) must mean to submit to one another in loving humility, to allow God’s grace-filling Spirit to dispossess us of our claims to possession of the Church, and find one another as new in Christ alone. That is the intent of my constructive proposal. I see all of this at work in Augustine’s controversy with the Donatists (and later with the Pelagians, as well), and in the mystics of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. St. John of the Cross and St. Augustine must be revived today in this light. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 20, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  63. Ok. I lied…two more clarifying comments (both really important though).

    First, on the de Lubac stuff…it is important to note that for de Lubac there is a “gap” between the coupled “true body” and “mystical body” and the “historical body” (up to somehwere around the 13th century that is). The shift or “transposition” that took place was to place the gap between the true body and the now coupled historical/mystical body….The “true Church” thus became the invisible body–because reduced to a sole eschatological presence–with the “mystical” being the visible Church (thus also reducing the sacrament to an individualized function). This is still not what Josh (or I) said above, however. The fact that the Eucharist or the mystical body is a “visible manifestation” of the true body does not complete the transposition that de Lubac outlined. Rather, this goes beyond de Lubac (though not beyond Augustine) in clarifying the relationship between the coupled pair “true” and “mystical.” The social body that is “true” is “visible” in the “historical” performance of the historical body in the Unity of the members at the table–in its being joined to the “Eucharistic” or “mystical” body (thus, it can be said likewise that the Eucharist is a ‘visible manifestation’ of the true body). So. Hope that helps a bit.

    Secondly, I want to reemphasize that I still think Dave Dunn’s paper is extroardinarily helpful (and that I think it is something that is necessary today). In fact, I think it would be appropriate to talk about my “constructive” proposal with the Augustinian/mystic reappraisal in terms of “social and linguistic practices” and even creating a “space” for these practices. However, this always comes after the presupposition of the “disappearance” of the Church, for me (otherwise there are already such practices in place that affect the way in which presence happens). And these social practices are a way of taking up that absence by creating a space–but a hollow one…one which is founded ONLY by the willing of nothing (what Echkart calls “gelassenheit”)–for God to speak once again, or make himself present AS the body of Christ within its profound disappearance within history. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 22, 2006 @ 9:38 am

  64. Really? Five pages? Really? OK. Understand two things. First, I will need more time to digest this. Your rather thoughtful response is a continuation of debates that we’ve had and continue to have. Second, I’ve seen you write these kinds of posts before. You spend days thinking through what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Quite frankly, I don’t. I jot off whatever comes to mind at the moment. So thanks for putting some of my statements side by side. I don’t remember what difference I drew between the eikon and the image. If I did it’s a false juxtaposition. But I’ll reserve a retraction until I see what I did.

    Now, I probably will not have time to get to this until late next week, if that! But I will try not to wait to long to jump in to this discussion or Nate’s.

    Comment by David Dunn — March 22, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

  65. One other thing, I really tried to write something that would generate a lot of discussion, but it certainly irritates me that in a paper about one particular Christian practice, that practice has barely been mentioned. We have spent a good deal of time talking about sources and ideas that I never touch (I only mentioned them here in the hopes that we would get back to my paper). I am presenting this thing at a conference. The GTS is supposed to help me prepare for this conference. Instead we spend more time talking about an ecclesiology implicit to my paper, an ecclesiology that I am not sure would be apparent to strangers in a meeting room. If I get questioned about any of this, great. But a great big part of me feels woefully underprepared. I have this nagging feeling that I am going to crash and burn in the Q & A because my colleagues have not hit upon the substantive points of my paper (Schmemann, Miller, the Fathers, Shamblin), but instead have taken what they (think) they know about my position and attempted to tease an unstated ecclesiology out of an argument that I try to keep focused on the task at hand. Let’s say my ecclesiology is wrong. Does the church (Bible, God, whatever) require certain behaviors out of us or not? Does the church shape/form certain kinds of people or not? Do these people have to figure out how to live justly in a global economy or not? If all three of these questions are answered in the negative, then fine. But if any or all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, then let us consider in what way a traditional Christian practice shapes Christians, helps them to live justly, helps them fulfill the law of Christ.

    I am happy to have the other debate. But it pisses me off that we keep doing this. You may remember that at the colloquy where I presented my Gregory of Nyssa paper, I was rather quickly asked to defend apokatastasis generally. My paper was only dealing with Gregory’s logic. When I presented it, lo and behold I was asked whether or not I had dealt sufficiently with Gregory’s doctrine of the will. Thank God I was out of time and could defer the question with a joke.

    So I’m working on my one-liners for NEXUS.

    One last thing, then I’ll be done with my rant until next week. It would be very easy for me to give an answer that would shut down discussion. I could pull a Hauerwasian move here. I could be anabaptist. I could be Uber-Orthodox. I could by Cyprianic. It would be very easy for me. So Dave, while I take issue with your claim that there is an illogical train of thought running through my work, I readily grant that there are some gaps I need to fill in…eventually. But not yet. I would ask you to try and get a sense of the big picture here, but to do that you would need to walk a few miles in my shoes. Or I would need to be less cryptic about some of what is motivating here. I won’t be. Instead I’ll tell you a story. The other day, I had lunch with another convert. He heard I was at Vanderbilt and said with a smirk, “Vanderbilt! That’s the place where all the Marxists are huh?!” Or maybe he said, “What the hell are you doing at Vanderbilt?” I don’t exactly remember.

    Comment by David Dunn — March 22, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

  66. Dave, I’m sorry.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 22, 2006 @ 10:45 pm

  67. Dave B. — I’m not sure an apology is necessary here. I think it is appropriate enough to ask whether or not what Dave Dunn is actually trying to do in this paper is even possible without the fuller ecclesiological dimension. I also think it would be disingenuous of him to think that our pressing him on this issue is not related to his presentation of this paper at NEXUS. There may in fact be some major structural changes that need to be made to his paper as presented to us if what he is trying to say will actually be efficaciously said in Knoxville. Somewhere along the line, somethings not “working” for us in terms of his argument, and I don’t know what leads him to think that it will so work for the conferees. Or, I’m afraid, if it does work for them, it will work in a “that-is-cool” avant-garde Christian atheist way. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what Dave is looking for.

    So, in short, I assume that since he wrote the paper, Dave Dunn really does know Schmemann, Miller, the Fathers, and Shamblin, and can hold is own quite well with the conferees with respect to those thinkers. If he can’t, I’m not sure we can help. I think Dave should be a little less with how he comes off looking in the Q&A, and a little more concerned about finding ways to address the lacunae of his paper as is, that is, ways to make his analysis more pentrating, his critique more effective, and his vision more far-sighted. I think critical conversations like these can help do precisely that. Of course, such conversations take way more time and energy than any reasonably responsible human has to give.

    Comment by Nate — March 24, 2006 @ 5:24 pm

  68. Nate, it is true that some apologies are a result of necessity, but mine was freely given.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 25, 2006 @ 10:06 am

  69. Dave,

    I know I’ve already given you way too much to which to respond, but here’s one more…

    You say: “If the global economy suddenly fell into disarray, the fast would still discipline desire, but that aspect of the fast would no longer be as relevant would it? I would focus on another practice, or another aspect of fasting.” There are two things I wanted to emphasize about this, one of them is a question I have already asked a couple of times: though the fast “would still discipline desire” if the Empire of capital fell apart, if it is only “relevant” in its responsorial nature…or “reactionary” stance…isn’t fasting as a discipline of desire posited “over-against the world,” as Nate put it? (and doesn’t this mean that it is already decided or posited on the terms of global economy?) The second point of emphasis is that fasting was typically understood to be something that (because it is not a “sacrament”) should not be imposed, or become universalized…this is what is great about your paper (and something I feel you can emphasize even more…in fact, let me say that it probably DOES need to be emphasized more)…the fast is something regulated by the local communion, and is not to be something that would endanger unity between local communions. Augustine says something like this…because fasting is not–as you so rightly say–against our bodies, but is rather for the discipling of the “pleasures” or desire–i.e., for our souls, in order to direct us towards a more right contemplation–it should not be something that gets between the practices of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace (all bodily practices for Augustine!).

    So, while the first point is a danger of your paper that should be dealt with (and you have begun to give an answer by saying that “fasting still disciplines desire”…but this needs to be developed more in direct response to the question), your paper does attend to the second aspect (a good thing in my mind…just could be emphasized more). The only problem I see (even if you can properly address the first question) is that the way in which you frame the paper might indeed be forcing a universalization of fasting in order to “properly” combat or “resist” the market discipline of desire–which, I need not remind you, is a “globalizing” force (as we are constantly reminded by every corner of pop-culture). And I know that this is not what you do. This might mean giving away your context a little more…I know that typically papers like this don’t allow for a “personal confessional” section…but perhaps you can be upfront in your question/answer session (maybe even before you open up the floor) that you are Orthodox and speaking from that very specific tradition as an example for how YOUR local communion does this sort of thing. It can then be used as a suggestion for other communions, but not if it endangers peace and unity between said communions. I’ll say more about Rowan Williams’ book Where God Happens on the desert fathers later. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 25, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  70. Sorry, should read: “And I know that this is not what you WANT TO do.”

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 25, 2006 @ 10:43 am

  71. Dave, in the interim before I post my “book review” of Williams’ Where God Happens, you should check it out from the library and read it…if you skip the foreword, preface, notes on the sources, and introduction (only one of which is written by the author), and skip the collection of sayings compiled at the end of the book, it is only 111 pp. with very big margins and spacing. REAL quick read (and as this is one of Williams’ more “pastoral” writings, it is much simpler than others–such as his lectures on art and love which are rather difficult, I’m finding!), and will be a great aid for your presentation, I’m sure. Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 25, 2006 @ 5:46 pm

  72. Nate,

    I have bitched, and I feel better. I was not asking for an apology (and I already told Dave this in an e-mail). All I can say is that I disagree with you. In characteristic fashion you have intimated that you have a more thorough knowledge of my position than I do. You have suggested the following: “I think Dave should be a little less [concerned] with how he comes off looking in the Q&A, and a little more concerned about finding ways to address the lacunae of his paper as is, that is, ways to make his analysis more pentrating, his critique more effective, and his vision more far-sighted.” I will assume you have not forgotten that in the longer version of the paper I argue more extensively that the market is not an entity as much as a chimera created by a nexus of diffusing practices that include, but are not limited to, identity-forming relationships based upon purchase. I am not sure what you are wanting me to critique more effectively? The market? The state? The church? Somehow this is supposed to make my paper more “far-sighted.” But this only proves my earlier point doesn’t it, Nate? Did you miss the part when I said I am not trying to be far-sighted? So ask me to look up from my focus on a practice that shapes us, but acknowledge that at the moment I do that I am not talking about my paper anymore (unless you want to argue that what we do does not shape us or that we should not do anything at all). In other words: Yes. I need to be more farsighted. I am. But not here. Not now. Not in this paper. In this paper I am self-consciously, and deliberately near-sighted. You are projecting.

    And thanks for the suggestion, Dave, about contextualizing this. I hate to bring up what so many of you know personally about me because it feels like I am using my faith to further my career. It may automatically make me more “exotic” to my audience, and I’m not sure I want that. But I may have to say something about it.

    Comment by David Dunn — March 28, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  73. Sorry, Dave…the site isn’t registering new comments, so I missed that you had posted…and also sorry for not putting up the stuff about Rowan Williams’ book…been busier than expected here (I know it’s right at the end of course work, but have you had a chance to check it out?). Perhaps when courses are done if not (it’s a good “non-academic” — though not unrigorous — book to read). I promise to say something eventually…just might be a day or two. But, I’ll say here that it has to do with the monastic concepts of “fleeing” and “staying” in the desert fathers. I feel like your paper places emphasis on the staying…something akin to Wendell Berry’s emphasis on community, place, and cultivating a growing garden, tilling earth (there is no better non-theological writing that is at once theological for me than Wendell Berry). And the most important thing I felt like Williams says in the chapter on staying is that an over-tendency to flee can lead one [destructively] beyond the community…into an isolation which becomes self-love…but more importantly, if one leaves a community that is particularly boring, or performs badly, or has problems, or is theologically corrupt, one sends the signal that “this place is hopeless”; as Williams’ puts it: “it can’t be done, not with these people.” He also says there are indeed times to leave, to flee (he has a whole chapter on fleeing, but fleeing is of a different sort than tearing oneself away from the local community), but a wandering spirit can cause one to constantly leave one place for another…good stuff. I’ll say more later.

    p.s. Dave, I never think about it, but I guess in pretty much any Christian circle (but probably even more so in secular ones) you would be in a minority, or sorts (being Orthodox that is)…just saying you could emphasize the local more…maybe even just theoretically if not personally (sort of like Wendell Berry). Peace.

    Comment by Dave Belcher — March 30, 2006 @ 9:01 am

  74. Dave B.

    Actually, I think Dave Dunn represents the beachhead of a new kind of (enchanted) Christendom, one that will prove to become ever-more attractive and seductive to dis-enfranchised evangelicals in North America over the next quarter-century.

    Comment by Nate — March 30, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

  75. Yes! Finally something about fasting.

    Comment by fasting retreat — August 22, 2019 @ 10:56 pm

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