The liturgy is the speech of God. The speech of God opens us up and closes us down, blesses and curses. God’s speech finishes and makes good what we start but cannot finish, and undoes what we have done falsely. The act of God creates a community and a life; it creates plurality, it sets all things in motion, and distinguishes every thing from every other thing. It creates the Church and gives it a speech and a work. It gives the Church the task of untying the world that ties itself up, and picking up and binding in again whatever the world has abandoned. God gives his speech to the world in the form of the Church: the Church is the action of God in the world. The Church interprets the world to itself and is God’s own compassionate act of world-analysis and -diagnosis. Theology serves this speech of God given to the Church. The doctrine of God who speaks and acts for us serves to secure our daily action and freedom of action against all that threatens to bring it to a close. Only the God of Jesus Christ will free us and drive out the forces that have colonised us. He will raise us from this merely illusory diversity and this premature unity, from this indistinguishable entity of the observer and the world he sets before him, that cannot be given its independence from him.
1. The liturgy is the act of God
The speech and act of God
The Son sets out and the Spirit opens up
We are loosed from one another
We are made responsive creatures
2. Liturgy as public truth
God exerts his own righteousness
We are arrested and held
3. Liturgy as exorcism
The worship of creatures
4. The other gods
Naming the gods
The gods are anthropologies
5. The spectator is thrown down
The spectator and his view
The spectator becomes a hearer
6. Liturgy drives theology
Scripture, tradition and world
God is in response
7. Theology serves liturgy
The word-generating words of God
We come into time
We bear the trauma of the world
Making responses and requests
The modern constitution of knowledge and the demonic individual
1. The liturgy is the act of God
The divine service
God speaks. The Father calls and Son responds, and this call and response creates a conversation and a work shared between them. Their speech is not only speech but also act: it is ongoing and it is already complete with its outcome. The speech of the Father and the Son brings into being a community. God’s people are the result of the conversation of Father and Son, multiplied by the speech of God and sustained by it in their own subordinate speech. The assembly that stands before God shares in the liturgical labour of God, and which brings into being an assembly on earth. The Church is an offshoot of this heavenly assembly. God elects and transforms the speech of those into his own speech and conversation. As God comes near his creatures come alive, his proximity turning them into sentient and vocal beings. The action of God in telling, hearing and receiving constitutes the whole economy in which we receive our being. The call and response of Father and Son sets up an antiphony and a liturgy. Their liturgy catches us up and enables to hear and repeats itself through us. This conversation generates all the sub-conversations that occasionally splutter into life on earth before lapsing again. Liturgy is the act of God and the receiving and verifying of this act by God.
God creates a people. He frees these people, distinguishing them one from another, so that each is distinct from every other. God works to make a world and bring into being a people and sustain it. His act and ministry is this event that brings plurality into being, and sustains it. This people is made ready by the Spirit for the Son to show the Father.
The work of the Son is the work of God. The work of the Son is to make us holy. The work of making holy is known to the Church as sanctification. It comes about in the course of sacrifice, which means the act of stating publicly what belongs to God, and so of giving thanks. We return to God the credit for his speech-acts, and in this way we are not tempted to think that his acts are ours. The concepts of service, sacrifice and liturgy properly belong together. Sacrifice is a synonym for a work of public service. God provides a public service. He works to make a world and so to bring into being a new public, and to sustain that public in openness to new works. God creates a people. He creates them and makes each distinct from every other, and at every point they are free. The Spirit makes the world holy, perfected, completed. We are the harvest. We are the work that the Son will show to the Father. We will be taken into the court of God and presented to him. There the Father will declared before all powers and authorities that we are the finished article, the work of God brought to completion.
The congregation we see in Church is the tail of procession of which the congregation in heaven is the head. The company of heaven makes the congregation we can see, so when we look round us on Sunday morning we see not a sorry collection of divided people, but the single indivisible people of God, not divisible from every other congregation, but the visible demonstration of the one congregation of God on earth and in heaven. We may not see our congregation any other way than as united to and part of the company of heaven. The company of heaven has a solid and reliably presence. But we are only fitfully here. They are the reality; we are so far just their fleeting echoes and harmonies. But they concentrate intently on us, and cheer on every sign of our responsiveness. They are determined that we should participate in their communion and should complete what they have started, and that we should finally join them. We are the people promised to them. They look forward to our day with joy. They now pay for us a first payment towards that reality. They are paying into our account so that we will reach that day when we will finally burst into life and into unmediated communion with them in the Son.
The Church is the speech-act of God. There is nothing more fundamental to God than this existing community on earth of his establishing, his very own act. The whole Western tradition prioritises idea over speech, believing that there is something more fundamental than speech. Christian theology reverses this. It understands that the Word is person. This person is fundamental. We must therefore refers everything back to the utterances and speech of two parties, the Son and the Father. Everything that is, is because it is derived from this conversation. There is nothing more basic or irreducible than words, the specific words spoken by the Son and the Father, whose words are acts. We are becoming part of the conversation of the Son and Father. We will become the words they use. We have no being outside that conversation. When they cease to employ us as the words with which they respond to one another, we are gone. The words they now sing will join together and bring us into being us as their words and word-uttering creatures.
The liturgy opens and looses
The company of heaven is the one real and actually existing communion. This company creates communion and plurality where there was none before. This communion actualises itself on earth, for us, as the Church. This communion of saints is the company of heaven, that has landed and taken earth. The liturgy is the noise the earth makes as it is seized, taken up, and shaped into one finished actually existing and life-giving man, the man who sits now at the right hand of the Father. That man propels his life back down to earth. He sends his Spirit. The Spirit interrupts us and halts all self-aggrandisement. He takes back all those taken and withheld from God by every disobedient power. He loosens the poor from their grasp. He dethrones every master, taking away his reputation and power, in order to establishes a better reputation and more effective and ordered power, that of the Son. The liturgy takes back from us the praise we abrogated to ourselves, and returns it to the Father who is its proper source and giver. We give it back to where it came from. The whole speech-act of the company of heaven makes us return praise to God. It takes away our misdirected speech-acts, and readdresses them so that they properly serve to call God us to us. The Son’s praise of the Father is in our mouths long before it becomes knowledge to us. The Spirit co-opts the sound we make to make it form the proper appeal to God, long before we are aware of this. The praise of God is put into the mouths of the creatures of the earth long before we know the name to use, or that it is the bearer of this name who has made this appeal appear from within us, that he has spoken through us and for us. We are the last to know. The praise and recognition that we grasped at is wrested away from us, in order that we be properly established as the creatures who receive their praise, with their being, from God.
The gospel operates creation as a central locking system. It is the signal that open or close gates, so creation as a whole opened or restricted. It releases us to go into a broader area, or to limit us to a more closely defined area. It is a response to our ability to cope in the area which we have been granted. If our competence with one another sinks the space given to us is drawn in, and if our competence rises we are allowed greater room. The gospel is not an order addressed to us; it does not make itself audible to us and we have no awareness of it. The gospel is not first information. It is not for us to receive or comprehend. Our comprehension of this comes a very time afterwards.
The Son sets out and the Spirit opens up
The Son sets out and builds. The Spirit calls us into the place the Son has prepared for us. The Son institutes and the Spirit constitutes. The Spirit lets us take our place freely; by patience he enables us to take our time and move into our proper place. Every time we attempt to take less than is offered, or to settle in any place that is not right for us, the Spirit shakes out of our grasp whatever we have taken and are prematurely satisfied with. The Holy Spirit draws us into adulthood and into all the habits of responsive creaturehood. The Spirit induces us to be co-operators in our own becoming, so our coming into being is not achieved without us. We are not constructed as any inert entities, but are allowed freely to take everything the Son shows us. He makes us takers and receivers of what is given to us in the form of the Son. What is given to us is not all present and accessible at once. The Spirit is the whole support of the Son manifest as that crowd of his supporters that throngs around the Son and bears him to the Father.
The Spirit distinguishes us and looses us one from another. The company of heaven created by the Spirit has in the event of the resurrection distinguished the Son from us. The same company will therefore succeed in distinguishing you from me. It will make you more than I can make you, or indeed than the whole company of presently existing humanity can make you. There is more variety there in heaven than here on earth: heaven represents the means of making much more variety, as we are able to demand. The company of heaven is not satisfied with the present extent of your particularity, but will supply and produce a yet more distinct person than the person you yet are. It will act decisively to extend your particularity and individuality. It will free you from our premature and constraining definition of you and relationship to us. It will give you more difference. We are not going to be absorbed into one another to become one single giant entity. We are not going to be lose our particularity in Jesus. The Spirit is going to be distinguish us from one another, not by discerning a difference that is already there, but by making you different from me. He is going to extract you from the herd. He is going to take you away from me, so you are not my clone, nor a function of me, so that I can no longer subordinate you to my purposes. He is making a difference by enabling you to differentiate me from yourself. And so made different from us, he is going to give you back to us, as a gift to us, a gift that is not-us, but something new.
Plurality against monism
The Spirit distinguishes the Son from the Father. All the speech and act of the Spirit and the Son with the Father witness to this difference, particularity and communion. The public life of the Church witnesses to this difference and unity: it is the establishment on earth of the possibility of life together, in the actuality of the togetherness of every member of the Christian body with the Son and the Spirit with the Father. This is the single means of being human together with other humans, the single means of being a person. All other forms of being fail to sustain plurality, and all other ideologies are forms of opting out of the problem of sociality. They all understand other persons as barrier and threat, and they understand salvation as individualisation and isolation. They all imagine salvation or maturity as leaving behind the confusion caused by other people, so they are forms of escapism, part of a flight from manyness to monist identity. All paganism is part of this flight. Paganism is foundationalism and monism, that is to say that it understands that there is first something there, let us call it nature, and that this is essentially one, and manyness is derivative of it and even a deviation from it. It asserts that being or nature has priority, and that God can only act in second place, when something else, some floor or minimum, or some set of principles, has been established and some necessity or fate respected. Each would-be autonomous man sets himself up as individual only by giving himself away to a set of brutal imperatives. He gives himself in their hands, in order to extract himself from the hands of his peers.
The Christian liturgy confesses that we must respect and regard only God. Christian doctrine is anti-foundationalism. It defies our most primitive and recalcitrant assumption, that there is something there, before and beyond persons. Christianity says that persons are the most fundamental category, that persons and freedom rest on nothing else, that beneath persons there is nothing – but the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christianity therefore accuses all other accounts of human being of being fundamentalisms, theories about nature or being or other occult forces, and thus a capitulation to necessity. Christianity is an anti-idolatry defence system that charges that the concept of nature is idolatry.
We are taken
God speaks. By the intervention of God the Christian is cut away from his former masters, raised from them and made alive. His being made alive by his new master is his death to his former masters. Since his former master have no life but the life they extract from him, his death to them is death for them also. The word of God is a life and force that pushes out what is weaker than itself. The old power is pushed aside by the new. The incoming new fuel drives out the old fuel. The new master does not require that the old masters are removed by some third party, or that there is an intermediate transition period between masters in which the house is emptied and cleaned. He takes us and in this act all other beings, power, principles and imperatives are driven out.
We are creatures. We are not the source of our own life. Life passes continually through us, but is never ours. It is in transit; it is not present to us, we do not possess it. It is loaned to us for just as long as it routed through us. At no point can we store it or re-direct it. We do not possess our resources or make our life present to us on command. We have only life delivered to us from the future, or rather we are supplie`d with ourselves by the future. The future makes our present life past. It tears our present life out of our hands and takes it away from us, where we cannot retrieve it, and it cannot reach us. It is only the future that makes (our) present irretrievable, past and gone. Our future is God’s act of raising us: his act is finally the only truth about us. Our present life is not present to us, but future to us. It is not our act but his act, the act he can keep aloof from (future to) us. Nothing (else) can now come between the (entirely future) resurrected One and the people to whom he now supplies his life and their future. This he supplies to them piece by piece, present by present. They have no other present than the present he supplies to them. He supplies them his presence, which to them is pure future, the future presencing itself, and making them fully present one to another. This presencing current makes their other life, the life of the old masters, increasingly past to them.
We are made takers
A creature is a taker. To be a creature is to be not self-sufficient but always in process of re-supply from a giver, always to be in receipt. The life of each creature leaks away from it, so it is always in need of a top-up. But to be a fallen, rebellious creature is first to delay taking what is given, then become frozen in this delay, until paralysis has become refusal, recalcitrance, panic and rebellion. This creature has stalled. It has not to taken its being from God. Its inaction has become its delusion of autonomous action. This is to be an entirely deficient being, an entity of almost no reality. To seize autonomy is to forfeit it. There is no autonomy – for the creature that does not take from God and receive all things from God will certainly be in receipt from other lesser sources and will be supplied by a quite deficient being by them.
The Spirit is the reception event of the Son from the Father, that is actualised in the return event in which the Son worships and gives thanks to the Father. This event is a person, the person of the Spirit. The Spirit works the thankful reception event in us: he receives the Son more powerfully precisely where we so weakly attempt to turn the Son back and refuse him admittance. The Spirit lets the Son in to that very place which we assume we occupy alone.
The Spirit occupies our place, the place that would be ours and which we intend to be ours alone, if only we had the means to take possession of it. The Spirit occupies fully, and stands solidly on the ground we can only drift over. He is real where we are at best provisional. We are ghosts, people of deficient materiality reality. We are mere indistinct outlines of what we will be. We need feeding up. We are fed now by the Spirit. The Spirit is both our feeder and the new metabolism that at last receives for us and distributes within us the nourishment supplied, and which will make us co-participants in his life and so make us solid and real. The Spirit receives the Son, and that reception is the event by which we are finally re-inaugurated and embarked upon our proper receptive creaturely being. The saints who precede us already have a greater materiality and presence than we do. But since their materiality is not yet complete, they are protected from us, and we know nothing about them not mediated to us by the Scriptures. We are given a greater reality and embodiedness one to another. We recover taste and feeling. We get our limbs back again, or rather, for the first time. The arrival of the Spirit in us brings the end of dystrophy and numbness: our limbs are no longer useless and idle, but used and weight-bearing.
The Father gives to the Son, and the Son gives to us. The Holy Spirit takes from them for us. The Son puts his words in our mouth and his action in our bodies, and the Holy Spirit takes and benefits from those words and that action. The Holy Spirit is the taking and benefiting event that precedes us and occurs within us. The Holy Spirit is the thanksgiving event by which we are distinguished from the Son, and by which a new community is constituted. In this event of the Spirit and the community that results from it, the congregation recognises and receives Jesus. Where a bystander sees a minister at the altar breaking bread, the congregation sees the Lord at work feeding and serving us, breaking, moulding and making us. But the congregation only sees Jesus in this instance that it is itself integrated into the serving and feeding action of Jesus. Jesus is nursing and ministering to us, and we receive this ministering in the event in which we are employed in the ministering action of Jesus. We are integrated into the action of the Son. He is the baker and we are first the loaf in his hands, and then we are also his hands, ourselves at work on that loaf.
We come into being only in the event of this giving and taking that brings a community into existence. What we receive in the course of this eucharistic being brought together, we take to the world, and the Spirit receives from us for the world. In this event we are being made persons. Our personhood sustains the openness and freedom of the world. Our unity and plurality, receptivity and generosity, is supplied through us by God to the world. We keep the world together and prevent it from floating apart and dispersing into many world-bubbles. We hold each part of the world apart, keeping each thing distinct from every other, to prevent the lot deteriorating into a single indistinguishable mass.
We are made responsive creatures
We are given a response to make. The creation is not complete without our response. We are to live from the conversation of God. That conversation is intended to be our life-stuff, the stuff that animates us and makes us living creatures. We are enabled to respond, aware that we will be called to give an account of our action, aware that you are properly answerable to the people we are given. We are answering beings. We are always rehearsing what we are going to say about what we are doing. But we are answering beings who have become afraid to speak up. The Church that is taught no theology absorbs from the pagan and protological theology of the culture around it. The result is that the modern Church understands salvation to be flight from an ugly crowd into an exclusive relationship which the individual has with Jesus and which the crowd therefore doesn’t have. But salvation is not to isolation, and it is not to inaction, but to action. That action is to take on the resistance caused by the delirium and paralysis of the world. We are set to work. The Church is a macrocosm of the world. The Church is bigger than the world. The Church represents the future enlargement of the world, and is the response already made that will bring about that enlargement.
2. Liturgy as public truth
The speech of God is spoken against us
God speaks. He speaks against us. His shout shatters our self-absorption and brings us to a halt. His interruption is the end of our dignity: we are not God’s pals; we do not get what he is doing. We thought we had an ally, but he is a raging enemy. His word drags us out of our places like animals, frightened, panicked and vicious. When he speaks our bodies provide no defence against the battering. The word of God is to us the utterance of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the word No. A wall rises across our path and we hurtle into it. We are thrown back by the pressure wave of the voice of God. We are traumatised by the impact, now utterly exposed to him as to an alien force. The impact of the cross has taken away our understanding, damaged our hearing, removed truthful speech from us. After this blast we can hear no more, and the truth of us is the silence we experience from God. He has put us out, and now he is out to us. He has removed his word from us, does not return our prayers, gives us nothing of himself. All this we are made to say in the liturgy. We have to confess that we do not know God and cannot make him come. It is our humiliation, before the world, to warn the world that we have been knocked down.
The liturgy stops us and arrests us. As the Son bursts in we throw away every incriminating thing, flush the narcotics and tranquillizers we have been living on and pedalling to others. Our repentance and penitence is the simple act of panic, a physical act of retching and throwing away. The action of passing on the word of God is an instinctive action, the action of someone handed something too hot to hold and who unthinking throws it on to the one next to him. The liturgy is the charge read against us. The charge is that we are the people who have taken but not passed on the Word of God. We are have taken possession of it, but not become its handers-on (traditores), with the result that the Word has numbed and burned us and closed us down. We assumed that it was for us first to ponder and deliberate how we get the Word of God over, what preliminaries are required and what deference to other imperatives and proprieties demanded. In this moment it becomes our project and we cease to be the hands of God and have become religious people. We still assume that the world must hear us because we have the word of God, but the word of God is no longer in our word, and our word is no longer carried by the Word of God so now the world can now only hear us, our voice now quite empty of the boom of the voice of God. Now the gospel is a proclamation we read only against ourselves, the notice of our closure, which we receive without alarm, without realisation that we are now the instruments of our own closure.
We have sat ourselves in the place of the Son, and understood authority over the people of God as an office ceded to us, a piece of property. We talk about equality and rights, not understanding that we have lost everything. We have lost our rights. Or rather we have earned the cross: we have a right to this. We have been the losers in this encounter. But God is now serving up increasing humiliation for us. We have a lot of losing still to do. The Word has identified every false and alien thing in us, and is removing it. We must now go on losing every thing we think is ours until it is all gone and there is no more insubordination and defiance from us. There is a long way to go before we have truly let everything go and never wish for it again. He is going to make us a new and holy creature, entirely informed by the voice that has just caused us this devastation.
The liturgy is the event of truthful speech. It can distinguish one discourse from another. It points out that different discourses have different results. Not all talk is fundamentally the same. Discourses are not all interchangeable. Each of them produces a different way of life and a different creature. We can therefore say Christianity can identify those who are not Christian. It can even give them a name. It can call them pagans. Doubtless this is not what they will call themselves, but that doesn’t make it an unsuitable name, and it is not uncivil to name them in this way. Pagan means no more than non-Christian. We do not have to call them anything coy, like ‘those who do not believe’, or ‘can no longer believe’, or have ‘lost their faith’. We can give them more credit than that. There is no particular point to calling them atheists: it is just that they see no point to the concept of God. We can say that say that the Christian doctrine of God addresses itself to some deep metaphysical assumptions because it is concerned with our form of life – that is with how we live with and treat one another. It deals with ideas because it deals with our life and being, and ideas articulate different forms of life and being. Discussion of ideas that contrasts the pagan ideas-system with the Christian ideas-system is required if we want to articulate the pagan, that is the non-Christian, way of life and form of being. It is fair to all to say that the Western tradition is two traditions, the Christian and the pagan. Perhaps it is even a useful generalisation to say that the human and social sciences represent the pagan tradition. We must indicate something of the pagan form of life by contrasting it with the Christian form of life. We can contrast the pagan liturgy with the Christian liturgy, but we can only do this from the vantage point of the Christian liturgy, and as we understand the Christian liturgy to be the act of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Son calls his assembly together
The Son calls together an assembly (synaxis). He raises his voice and brings into existence a people. His call creates this ecclesia. His act of thanksgiving, eucharist, to the Father brings into being a gathering and being-brought-together. His answer to the Father creates a joyful crowd. To be brought together by his call to be brought into existence, to be given duration and identity. The congregation of believers assembles around the Son before the Father. The assembly has no other existence other than as what is called into being by the command of God. Assembly means being properly ordered, by being ordered around the Son, and from this orientation and order it receives its whole existence.
The Son calls the elements away from the many lords. They are snatched away by his call. God sent the Son to be the calling together and assembly of all the scattered elements to form the ordered mind of man. Now they are united under the Son, and take the form he gives them. This public display of contraries now marching in step under this new head tells the rivals of God that they have been defeated. They held all things separated, divided and set against each other; they kept the world in a state of civil unrest. Now their power to do this has been broken. They can no longer hold onto what they seized. Their fall from power has begun.
The Church is gathered around God in session. The Son remembers his people and gives an accounting for them. In this remembering (anamnesis) we are remember what has happened. These words of institution remember the past event of the cross, the one fixed and non-negotiable event from which the whole cosmos is to take its orientation. This remembering then means correctly ordering and re-ordering the members. It is taking the register, numbering off, to make sure that all, even the least of these, are present and correct. Those who are not yet present in the assembly we must find and bring in. We cannot start the feast without them. God sends an overseer to account for its good order. He is our Anamnesis. The congregation of believers assembles before this servant. We line up behind him.
The Son prays
The Son speaks first. He asks the Father. He prays, and we pray behind him. He speaks, and we breathe in what he has spoken. He gives us breath; his words respirate and animate us. Our speech is his speech first. He asks the Father, and the Father hears him and provides him with what he asks for. He animates us with his prayers, so we are asking the Father before we know what we are doing, then animated by this asking, we learn to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Christ teaches us to act, serve, intervene and provide what is missing. He teaches us to see, so we can also see the world labouring; he gives us that perception and insight that enables us to step in and say what is needed or provide it ourselves. His Spirit is the breath and breathing of Christ. The Breath himself pushes open our lungs, raises our chest, pumps our heart, fills our vessels. The breath inflates and contracts in us until the motion he is in himself is transmitted to us and becomes our own intrinsic motion. The motion he animates us with is the motion that renews and constitutes the fabric of our bodies, and drives our bodies to stretch, reach and serve.
The Son respirates us with his breath, so this new breathing, which is his breathing in us, animates us to ask and thank, to pray and sing with him in response to the Father. We chant, in antiphony, one side of the congregation alternating with the other. Some words are put in the mouths of one part of the congregation, some in the mouths of another, so making one part of the congregation respond to the other and require the other in order to be itself. While one part of the congregation is breathing out the other is breathing in. The words spoken together in the service are words of the company of heaven, taunting the gods dethroned by Christ. This company of saints roar defiance. By this taunting that animates the Christian crowd, the powerlessness of the defeated gods is publicly demonstrated. The crowd in heaven and on earth support and cheer on those isolated Christians presently engaged in running the most fiercely contested race. The breath of this crowd fills each Christian and keeps them connected to the whole communion.
3. Liturgy as exorcism
The liturgy is God’s act of exorcism. The voice of God blasts out all the other voices and claims that make up the cacophony of this world. It drives out the alien spirits and other masters. The voice of God commands and silences them. The blast of his voice loosens every grip and shakes every parasite from us. He interrogates them one at a time and judges them. The liturgy is the naming and driving out of those who exercise an undue influence on us, whose influence on us is unaccountable and thus demonic. The undue influence of the ancestors has to be removed. The liturgy is the silencing of rival words and voices. The people brought into being by this divine liturgy know that the expulsion of these other influences is to be weekly celebrated and affirmed, so that they do not return. We have to take our freedom, and continue to take more of it at each weekly assembly. We have the unique right to pray to the king of creation, but have it as long as we continually exercise it, so we must repeatedly ask. We must ask to be more and more released from all the forces whose teachings unwittingly serve only to reinforce all the variants of our captivity. If our freedom is not used it atrophies and we shall start to become victims again. The liturgical taunting, in which we tell the gods that they are not gods, is good for us, as it is good for them. By this weekly confession of their powerlessness we are prevented from ourselves making iniquitous and unsustainable claims – from becoming ‘divine’. The liturgy is the work in which the Son unstitches all that in the course of the week we have stitched prematurely closed, and the disavowing of whatever we have illegitimately claimed. The liturgy is his undoing of what we have falsely done. And it is a making good and finishing of what we started but abandoned. It is a loosing, and it is a binding.
The worship of creatures
The people of this world give themselves away. They dedicate themselves to lesser beings than themselves. They subordinate themselves to parts and set their hearts on this or that aspect of creation, rather than on the one who made all creation for them. They pay undue respect to some abstraction – ‘nature’ for example, or what they are please to call ‘reality’. They distinguish one aspect of creation from another in order to defer to these separated aspects, thereby promoting the products of the generosity of God to a separate status they should never be given. They promote a half-truth to a separate truth and make it normative on others to follow them. They are first victims of a too-small account of the truth, and then they are the promoters of this half-truth, which gathers adherents who drive each other into duplicity. The whole deceit results in misery and active mistreatment. They attribute their half-truth with effects. They promote it to the status of cause and make a personification of it. Their abstraction becomes an agent, a god. They have believed the lie (2 Thessalonians 2.11). They revere, follow and comply with a by-product of their own action, amplified by feed-back loop, so what starts as an unintended consequence becomes a little god who feeds off them. This god, or gods, is a parody of the life intended for us.
The moderns alienate away from themselves the properties the are intended to be properly theirs. But by setting out to exercise these properties autonomously, they hand themselves over to all sorts of unidentified mediating powers. So it is that the moderns think that they are not under any external law or discipline. They are not aware of any disciplines or regimes precisely because these disciplines are the media of their own perception. They cannot see them because they are looking through them in order to see everything else. They are relying on them as the interface by which they interact with the world. We could even say that these implicit covenants and arrangements are our own operating-systems and we are their hardware. They are running us. The Western mind is the operating system, and the Western individual is its vehicle, the means by which the Western mind reproduces itself. The delusion of freedom, the fiction of the Western tradition, is the agent here. The Western tradition is free, the Western individual is not free at all. Freedom is the illusionary goal that entices all to surrender themselves to intermediary goals, the worship of parts, of those possessed and run by other unnamed imperatives and autonomous mechanisms that created by the pursuit of the illusory autonomy.
4. The other gods
The liturgy is the proclamation of the God of Israel against all other gods. It is the event in which he names and exposes them. He calls them by their name and their time is up. So the Church must taunt the gods, and it must be an expert on foreign gods. This is what is taking place in every Church service. Whenever it is in session the Christian community speaks out to the world to say, ‘Look, Modernity, here are your gods…’
Naming the gods
God has rescued us from many rival lordships. We can give them a collective name, such as ‘Satan’, or ‘Egypt’. But we must also give them names that identify them individually, to demonstrate the particularity of each local power parasitical on us. Each entity is at first no more than our belief in it. But it grows to constrict our whole way of life. It has occult (hidden) powers in that no one can any longer successfully name its whole effect, call it to account and bring it to an end. It is down to the Christians to name some of the forces, addictions and anonymous lordships that have got their teeth into this society of ours.
Giving recognition to God means taking it away from the other gods. To praise God is to denounce other gods. It is to is to take praise away from them, taunt them, demonstrate their powerlessness. More than that, to take praise away from them is to take their existence away from them. To give praise to God is to publicly return to him the fact that we have our existence from him, and that it remains good existence only as long as we continually refer it back to him. In giving praise to God we are engaged in a lordship extraction and deflation exercise. There is nothing substantial to the other dominions. They are bubbles. The Christians must burst them, and let those bewitched by them come out of their dream state. Those who are suddenly released are as angry as anyone woken from a dream to the cold light of morning. The gods are not real but images of things that do not exist. They ostensibly attempt to bring into being what they represent, but these images are substitutes: they get in the way of the coming into being of the independent agent that they claim to represent. What existence the gods have is stolen existence, existence that we have received from God and illegitimately alienated and passed on to them. They are what we have given away. Though the gods have no existence of their own, they do have an effect. They have a power to draw people into their sphere; indeed they are nothing but this power. They are addictions, circles of action that once entered are hard to escape.
Every god is a representation of the human. Each is bidding to represent the finished and independent form of human being. Each god is an eidolon of what it is asserted I might become. They are presenting sketches of my future self; they are offering me selves to try on. Each is a persuader and a tempter, a seller of masks and scripts, a dealer in selves. Each has many versions of my self to offer me: they do not wish to be prescriptive. They humour me with the illusion that it is I who may choose, that I am in charge here. I am the little prince who must be pampered, the customer who must be pleased, the little god. They keep me compliant with the fear that, unless I keep paying them all I have, my fickle companions Youth and Growth will leave him, and I will be left to be gathered in and drawn under by recession, depression and all the chthonic forces.
Gods are centres of attraction and gravity formed by habitual action. It is our own action of giving ourselves away that creates them. They are brought into being by my worship of the creature, rather than of God who creates a world of creatures for my benefit. They are the result of our attributing to the part the status that should be reserved for the whole. We give our deference to entities that are not worthy or able to receive us. They are less than persons and so are unable to receive our personhood from God and return it to us. We attribute to them more competence than they have and give them more than they can deal with. Yet we do not admit to this, but insist on our continence and absolute autonomy.
The people of this world put themselves under all sorts of less generous and less competent masters. These masters receive all the life they have from these subordinates, and are never ready to let them grow up to maturity. The people of this world have been sold short; they fail to exercise their rights as consumers. They are defrauded, but do not like to let this become public. It is the job of the Christians to be more demanding, to bully the fraudsters into producing the quality goods they promise but attempt to withhold. By the power of their challenge the Christians can turn the authorities from deceivers to proper purveyors of our being. Christian rhetoric can frighten the image-sellers into honesty.
We have been placed under the tutelary powers
The Christians must ask to be increasingly released from all the forces. But we could not be released from them all at once. They are the forces of nature, and we are under their supervision. God has set us under these forces. They are our tutors, there to do us good. We are not to be released from them until we have properly benefited from them, learned not to struggle against them (no matter how unrighteous) until they have done us good. We have to receive all external authority, even unrighteous authority, as the discipline of God by which the coverings of the masters are removed from us. We are beaten until we are obedient to the voice of the Son alone. We are trained until we are is no longer tugged in different directions by every contradictory scent and movement, but obedient to just one voice. We are sons, and a son must sit at the feet of the many retainers and servants in the big house, to learn from each so that one day he may rule over all. If we treat these forces properly, learn from them, they are angels, there to do us good.
The gods are anthropologies
A god is a personified anthropology. Each anthropology is a template for man. Each represents a form of man and produces a population of men that corresponds to it. Each is also a particular bundle of passions, and the moral environments that result from their dominance. Each god is a particular form of desire and envy. We emulate, and we spend our time selecting and re-selecting who to emulate. Those we choose are thereby appointed as our superiors: they are superior only inasmuch as we emulate them rather than their rivals. Human life is a constant engagement in the process of sifting images of what it is to be human, setting them one before another, some to be discarded, some to be emulated. The Nichomachean Ethics provides the finest expression of this universal procedure. To follow it we must name some gods.
The minor gods
We can see this most easily by looking at the trivial forces and minor gods and the trivial compulsions. These are those which we do not feel the power of, but we can see the power they exert over our children or the under-achievers. Each figure represented to us by each celebrity. Here are some names to begin with: Tammuz, Asherah, Aphrodite, Demeter – in English – Woman. She is the one I have to get.
Look at the ever-changing faces of Woman. She was Demeter, she was Madonna, then Kylie, now Beyoncé. Each of these is one of her faces, a bunch of her qualities. Her message to me is that if I earn enough respect in the market, she will reward me with one of her daughters. All her many faces and definitions of the Feminine, seem to make one representation to me, which is at first ‘You can have me’, and then the price ‘you must give me more of yourself before I give myself to you’. She speaks to me on television to tell me that youth and beauty demand a daily routine of self-anointing, that I can reverse the aging-process, that I am worth it. She then she tells me that I have not paid enough, that my worship has been inadequate, that I am not worthy of her, that my time is up, that she is withdrawing her favours and departing from me. Each beautiful figure that prances and pouts across the screen represents a different equation of guilelessness or knowingness. She enjoys the many-layered irony and ambiguity too. This stream of ever-new media faces, of criteria, continually alters and determine the moral field in which even the most culturally sophisticated of us navigates and within which we negotiate our own identity.
Every Sunday morning the Christians meet together to tell Aphrodite of her defeat, that this idol-figure of Woman is no more. Together the whole Christian congregation, the youthful and the unattractive in league together, reveal to the world that Aphrodite is a fiction. They announce this with all the glee of children telling each other that there is no Father Christmas. She has been invented by those who want to master us in order to siphon off from us some of the life we have been given. The Christians say that our youth and our beauty is not sourced from her, but from our Lord. Our youth will be restored only when we have gone through a comprehensive programme of being publicly worn out, of gathering marks and scars, of being made the wonder of the world, in taking and absorbing all the punishment the world doles out to itself. Aphrodite is being taken out of us, and she is growing less with our every act of confession of Christ.
Or there are the many faces of Adonis, Apollo, Baal – Man. He is the one I have to be. Apollo, with a touch of Mars and cunning Odysseus, wants me to emulate him and to become part of him. Each face of Man the television flashes at me represents a new package of characteristics, another way of catching my eye. It alternately holds me here transfixed to the screen, and propels me back down to the shopping centre to purchase the latest issue of his cultic tokens. How many ways there are for me to be a man. I have to be the protagonist of my narrative, but what sort? Should I be the romantic lead, or comic or tragic hero? Should I be the serious passion-free man of self-control, untouched by the neuroses of my peers, the man who is aloof? He is the man I must be, the cool one, who is still amid all the misdirected the franticness. I have to be the utterly self-possessed man. But Apollo strings me along as Aphrodite did. He said I could be him, and that I would be if I paid over to him all my existence in his pursuit, if I followed his rigorous regime. But he said that I was not trying hard enough, that my worship was not adequate, then he answered my calls with silence, let it be known that I could never be him and I should take myself away. Which of these protagonists I am depends on the narrative mode, whether romantic, thriller, comic or epic – and this is a function of how fast the story is played, and how fast the story is played reflects my decision about complex the mixture of emotions I want to experience, and this reflection what social class and cultural-educational level I want to be a member of. How am I decide all this? There is no one who can decide but me, for I am the protagonist, alone in my drama against a world full of cut-outs. I could consult Homer, Hesiod and Apuleius for the stock figures and Aristotle for the various narratives to play out with them. Still I want to be Apollo, and make all this my puppet show.
But on Sunday morning I am torn out of my narrative again. I am given a smaller role in which Jesus Christ is the protagonist. The Christians meet to taunt this Apollo-Adonis and every Sunday they bully the memory of this god out of me and by their praise of Christ they put a better set of instincts and responses in its place. The Christians meet together to tell me that this idol-figure of Man is no more. The liturgy is exorcism – this figure is driven out of me. So to know what is going on in the Christian liturgy we must unpack this a little.
The gods of modernity
The gods of modernity are images and practices and narratives that exert a pull. They do so because they are not given a name and held to account. The gods do not name themselves; if they did they would have no power and not be gods. Names are power, and they do not intend to give themselves away. Cultural studies cannot name them. The Christians have to name to them, for naming the powers is the business of exorcism, the event in which a power is pushed out by a stronger power. Every work of Christian witness must attempt to contrast the God of Jesus Christ with the gods of the present market. We can look at the iconography of the gods of the Greeks and of the puppet gods of film and television, but it must always receive the diagnosis from the Scriptures, the single source of anti-idolatry. Gods are the cults, images and brands, cultivated by the policy people and cinematographers. By creating new costumes and ever dressing and re-dressing their dolly they create social norms. Maintaining the social figure is done by this constant work of grooming and caring for these images and puppets. The effigies of femininity and masculinity we elevate are the complex figures of society. We parade them just as we once paraded our Earth-Mother Demeter around, taking her down to the river to wash her, and dress her in a new costume. The stylists, designers are the priests and theologians of this timeless cult and life of emulation. The whole priesthood is busy painting in the eyes of the goddess and her devotees. This is the fierce, merciless cult that demands that we be attractive, youthful, dynamic, powerful, and that we spend our youth serving this monster and this fiction.
Each cult tells us what we want to hear. Each tells us that we are beautiful, competent, successful and will remain so as long as we are in possession of the token of its cult, and are assisted by whatever service the cult claims to provide. Each cult tells me that I am an individual, to believe in myself, that I may be whatever I want to be. It tells me I am free. This single untruth unites all cults. I desire to be an individual so I take the cultic token – and desire to have more of it, and immediately I am made dependent. We believe that we are purely actors, each protagonist of his own narrative. We cannot concede that we are acted on. Our belief that we are solely agents has made us victims. We need to counteract this overwhelming delusion of Western metaphysic. This prejudice works against us. We are in fact (unwittingly, unwillingly) acted on, but we cannot concede that we are acted on, that we are passive and recipients of the action of others, and that when this is unwilling we are also victims. It we are drawn into the orbit of many competing centres of power without realising we are being drawn. We are drawn without means to resist as long as we alien from ourselves the name and the means given to us by God by which we can resist. We go where the buzz is: the buzz draws us, so it is the agent, we merely functions of it.
We are victims of our own involuntary act of emulation, and that we are victims of our own deliberate act of alienating our own substance to them. But the position is more stark even than that. It is not that we give ourselves to them. Rather we are already theirs. We are products of them. We are nothing but their epiphenomena. We are extensions of them, forms of their own expression. We are the many faces of the single lump of rebellion against God, the rebellious man in his merely apparent singularity as individual, and in his merely apparent plurality, the autonomous republic.
Who shall we model ourselves on, who try to be like? Whoever we choose will be our pattern until we come to choose again. But this is precisely the point. We are incapable to not choosing and re-choosing and not being satisfied by any choice and able to stick to it and grow into it. We are stuck in a neurotic choosing loop, a perseveration. This kind of choosing is itself the pattern of the man created by the economy and the republic of the autonomous man. every man is by his whole action trying to be the norm of the man of the republic. Every individual is trying to reach the canon of man that constitutes the state. The state is (trying to) reproduce that man, and this endless competition, it keeps the state one, reproducing it. For all our choosing, we do not choose, and are incapable of exercising choice. We are only a slave dreaming of being a king who endlessly exercises choice. The effect of all apparent choosing is that we alien our faculty of choice, give away our freedom. Which founding father shall we select as the criterion of what it is to be the man and anthropology of this republic? The action of every man in the republic serves only to build and maintain (by striving and emulating) the meta-man or mega-man, the Leviathan, the State itself. He, the State, consumes and disallows any forms of man and anthropology except those that form and reproduce himself. All the many serve this one. They do so regardless of whether he is an actually existing individual (a despot), or whether he is represented by one actually existing (or vanished into the past and mythical) figure. It does not matter whether the god and spirit of the state (regime, republic) is represented by a presently existing human – such as Mao or Stalin, or by a benign series of constitution-creators, like the American founding fathers.
The story of Western Europe has been about the attempt to make the man who fits, the personality to determine the corporate personality. Western history offers competitive accounts of the personality that will allow every one of us to be the individual who denigrated and denies the existence of every other. The Christian charge against the republic, all other assemblies, is that they disallow plurality and particularity. The charge is greater if the republic seems to withhold all such positive teaching and modelling. The man against society, the anti-hero, is the man who sees the contradictions of the republic, that it cannot protect all its members but always allow the greater number to consume the smaller. It is based on violence and the expenditure (sacrifice) of the minority for the majority. Who is the man of the republic? Is he the man who seems most to benefit, the one is able the meld the greater number to his way? Is he the successful designer or policy-maker? Is he the man who finds everything obvious and is startled even by the consideration that not everyone is able to share his contentment –suburban, apolitical man? Or is he the truthful man, who identifies the contradictions and costs of the republic, becomes the anti-hero? Is this truthful man the one who best represents the truth of the republic? This man of the republic is the outcast, has been placed, and placed himself, outside the crowd. He is a spectator and an individual. He is the one who is sickened by the hypocrisies and contradictions, and is himself misunderstood. But from the margin he has the view that uniquely enables him to see the danger and save his republic from it. First the republic, in the form of his peers and bosses, does not recognise him. Then, weakened by their negligence, the republic lurches into danger. The leaders of the republic hire a man to save it, and finally recognise, too late for their own redemption, the man they hired is the man they spurned. The truth is revealed in a spectacular violent display until all contradictions are played out. He knows too much. The peace of the republic requires that this excess truth is driven out. This spectator must first appear and then be re-absorbed. This is the plot (liturgy of modernity) identified by Aristotle – the tragedy of the (man) of the republic. This plot of the rise and exclusion and then re-absorption of the individual, is the liturgy of modernity.
But now our freedom to give away our freedom has suddenly been taken away from us. In our place someone has exercised choice for us. He has chosen for us the faculty and freedom to choose. The Son has exercised choice, and established it: he has decided, freely, to obey the Father, and the Father has confirmed him in that choice. We will be free because the Son will by his Spirit fill us with all the habits and faculties of free and willing people. We have been baptised into the freedom of the sons of God.
5. The spectator is thrown down
But it will be protested this is all mythology. Everything we have said above in terms of the many personified figures of the gods, we must say again in terms of one, the single concept of nature, the known object. What we discussed in terms of civil religion we must run through again in terms of natural religion, now known as natural science. We must discuss what is there, what is to be known, and then raise the question of who is the one to whom it is known. It is not simply about ‘nature’, about what is obviously immediately and incontrovertibly there. It is about who can assert and determine what is there. So as much as we say it is about nature, the pure object, it is about who is the knower and the scientist, the pure subject. The more we say it is about one thing, the more it is about two things, the object and its subject. We do not have one world of objects, we have two worlds, one of objects and one of discussion of who is the constitutive subject, the spectator.
The spectator and his view
Let us imagine that there are two spheres, one set above the other. The upper is the sphere of the theoretical, heavenly and ideal. The lower is the sphere of empirical, earthly and practical. But these are not really separate spheres – but a single set of characteristics under two descriptions, each description the opposite of the other. These two spheres and two worlds are the two faces of a single coin. You cannot have one face without having both. They require each other so that fundamentally the knowledge of one is completely and totally also knowledge of the other. It sets out two sorts of reason, the empirical and the ideal, or the scientific and the religious, or justifiable reason and unverifiable faith. The two sorts of reason is really one reason under two descriptions. Both descriptions of this reason (both ‘reasons’) refer to and reinforce a single state of affairs – one in which man is judge of the world. He is the subject, it his object. It is never the situation in which the world (or anything that is not-man) is judge of man. Both refer to the spectator who sits in judgment on all that he decides is not himself. There two sorts of reason – ‘reason’ and ‘unreason’, or reason and ‘faith’. In this contrast ‘reason’ is defined (only) as the reason of the spectator who is not involved, not bound up in the world he looks on or down at, who is not creature of it or minister to it. His being is by definition one – of disdain and condescension. He is not of this world that he observes, but above it. We still have two circles, but now one is set within the other. The outer circle is the world, the object, all that we know. The inner circle is the subject, the observer and consumer, who views and controls what he sees. We do not see this second inner circle, for it is us. We have made ourselves impregnable to radical enquiry. Our subject status is invisible, not open to question by anything in the republic. Every discussion of the object-world affirms our status as masters of the world, and only allow this circle to appear when we discuss the form and method of our knowing. We cannot be free of his world. He cannot make himself distinct from it. However sternly and scientistically he insists on its objectivity, he cannot concede that it is more than he can know.
The spectator is the worldly-wise, world-weary man who can raise himself about the turmoil of the involvements, complication, compromises of society and plurality. He is the man who can extract himself and ascend to a high place in which none of these grubby forces can touch him. He is the viewer, the wry observer, detached, above the fray, supercilious Parmenides in the still bright light of Apollo.
The spectator is thrown down.
But the liturgy of God has broken in and interrupted the liturgy of man, and has brought down this autonomous man secure in his knowledge. The outside observer and all his viewing apparatus is toppled, his impartial eye, his camera, his autocue and his whole panoptical technology. It is no longer us who look on in detachment, viewing, registering, controlling. This time we are first the known, and our knowing is revealed to be a self-exalting now brought to an end. We know nothing that is not given to us by that first act in which God knows us, and knows us first as miserable creature and as enemy. The liturgy forces this community of the Christians to warn us publicly that we do not know God, and we do not know his creature, man. It says that God can keep his creature, man, hidden from us, so we go on living a impoverished parallel life in complete ignorance of man’s proper definition. All we can confess in public in Church with our fellow Christians is that we know that we do not know him, because he tells us so. The unknowable God is his own secret. He does not stop taunting us with this secret. He will not let that issue go away, or leave us to reconstruct ourselves without him. He will not be content until we know that he knows us and wants us. The cross of Jesus Christ is the act by which God refutes all our certainty and nullifies our knowledge of ourselves.
Pagan thought treats the Western (political philosophical) tradition as though an object it could observe with detachment. It regards it as something quite exterior to itself, as though its own powers were in no way connected to this whole body of debate that has formed us. The (pagan) philosophical tradition cannot concede that we are the head derived from that body, that we are the product of that lived history. It assumes instead that whole tumultuous history is an object from which we are entirely disconnected, that we are beings without provenance, without constitution relation to anything that is not-us. It is a voluntarism. This is the explicit pneumatology of pagan (political philosophical) thought, an anti-pneumatology that denies any continuum between that object (history) and this subject (ourselves as observers).
Christian theology must set out the reigning pneumatology of the pagan world. It must give an account of the man and field of competition between men to be the decisive man. It is therefore a Christology from below, an account of a hero and leader, the one to emulate and lead us. Such an account will compare the leaders of different states, and will set Jesus Christ into this comparison to see how he fares against them. Jesus is then one of the many claimants, pretenders, rules, heroes and strong men. It shows that the Son learned obedience, and to show that the Son engaged, suffered and overcame other men, and in overcoming them demonstrated that he was stronger because he was unified, unbreakable, invincible. Augustine says that we must provide a secular account of the secular history of the God-less world of the pagans. This is the aim of The City of God book 18. He names the powers, the Gentiles, their leaders and their gods. He argues that the pagans and the divinities they name are indistinguishable from one another. He then contrasts them with the true God, who is entirely distinguishable from his people (he is not merely their ‘spirit’) and is therefore able to do them good. The divine liturgy of the whole company of heaven creates our freedom from these gods, from this false manyness and this premature unity, from this single entity of observer and the world he sets before him, that cannot be distinguished one from another.
Theology therefore intends to deconstruct the state and the anthropology it presupposes. It has to point out the price implicit in each anthropology, the blood demanded by each god. Any anthropology and any state will expend some in order to provide for others. It show that the state is nothing more than the big man, the man who detaches and raises himself above all. The big man does not exist as individual figure (with the rare exception of a Stalin or Mao). This figure is the corporate personality, the composite man: his existence is the extent to which this figure secures compliance and makes people an extension of him. We have to show that all nations and their states, and all their claims and ideologies, are claimants to the power that is God’s alone. They are offensives mounted against God, that take the form of offensives mounted against all those who have no protection. We may say that that our carelessness about the unprotected God takes as aggression against them; God takes it on himself to represent and protect the unprotected. All this is to enable us to say that there are gods, idols and demonic powers and that we have to name them. The liturgy names us not as merely victims, but as perpetrators, co-conspirators who connive and are complicit, who have hidden the effect of our purchasing decisions from ourselves, ruling through off-shore power-brokers, to keep the knowledge of our actions at arm’s length. We have to show two things. We are the victims of these powers. We are those demonic, totalitarian powers, those gods and idols, and this brings us great misery.
The liturgy deconstructs the rational pretensions of Western politics and government. It shows that the discourse of the republic (the liturgy of the pagans) represents the act of the man who intends to make himself autonomous, who raises himself above his peers. All the political philosophical discussion of the pagans shows that the development of the state is rational and inevitable. The Christian liturgy shows that it is not rational, not necessary, but that it is the same outrageous self-assertion of one man over another. It is the vaulting of man in rebellion against God and aggression against his little ones. Political power is not abstract, is not a machine, but is the personal act of many personal agents. The Christians make requests what they want: they pray to a person. They thereby dismiss the machine-metaphor of Western political philosophy, which compels us to speak in terms of cause, and so only ever understand ourselves to be within a mechanism. The liturgy replaces the logic of the abstract state-machine with that of persons in constitutive relation. It de-naturalises Western political thought, making our public life together it no longer a matter of nature, the natural history of ‘being’, but making it a live and ongoing event. This is at last to cease to describe history in terms of (dead) substance and to return to a living, personalist ontology.
Christian speech serves Christian public action. This is the first breakthrough. Christian doctrine, what the Christians say, serves what they do, and what they do serves what they are. Furthermore what they do is not first their action but the action of God who brings them into being. Articulation serves performance, and performance serves the integrity of the community that witnesses to the performance of God. Modern theology offers an account of the action and gift of God without an account of the action and gift of the pagans. It does not show what it should show, that the Church outbids the pagans, that the pagans are trying to do the same thing, trying to emulate the Church, but are only offering counterfeits. We have to show Western (history and) action as cultic, but we can only do this from the perspective of an account of the Christian action and cult.
6. Theology serves the liturgy
Theology is the dialogue of Scripture, tradition and world
Theology is the dialogue between biblical studies, the Christian tradition, the Christian liturgy and the world. The world for this purpose is usually represented by ‘Reason’, or ‘philosophy’. Theology is not in dialogue with the bible or biblical studies alone. It is in dialogue with the world. It is not left alone to enter dialogue with the world. It is in dialogue with the world only because it is the servant of the Scriptures which encounter and confront the world. Theology is not in dialogue with the bible alone, but with the whole history of bible-reading, of the (reading-) communities brought into being by, and determined by, the readings they have given the bible and have received from the bible. Scripture is commentary on the liturgy of the whole people of God. It is commentary on the public and political confession of the liturgy, that takes recognition away from every intermediary authority and returns it to God. It is commentary on the liturgy as the act that brings the Christian community into being and sets it to work. The liturgy is the act of compassion that sets this community to work, that propels its members to be at the service of all others, and drives the night shelters, youth work, letter-writing campaigns, asylum-seekers centres, occupational therapy initiatives and prison-visiting. This social work of feeding someone else’s poor is visible public rebuke of the public authorities who have not fed them. Theology understands the liturgy as this public speech and act of confrontation. Commentary on the liturgy must make clear the interaction of liturgy and Scripture, and shows it to be the Son’s act of obedience and that is an act of repentance, and of the gospel’s own self-articulation, fides quaerens intellectum.
Scripture hermeneutics refers to the task of accounting for the central place of the bible, and to the problem of why, when we each have a copy of this book, are still members of the Church, that is why they need each other anymore. We can come up with a better hermeneutics of Scripture by avoiding thinking of the bible as a book. We should see it instead as a single speech-act of God which activates and brings into being the many witnesses. In the hermeneutic used here I have amalgamated Scripture and tradition under the single concept of the saints. We can say that Scriptures are the speech-act of those named in them – let us call all these ‘prophets’. This joins the two creedal phrases that tell us that the Spirit ‘spake by the prophets’ and the Son was raised ‘according to the Scriptures’. Then instead of referring to ‘tradition’ we can refer to the saints. The saints passed the Scriptures on to us (at their own cost) who insisted that we take the whole canon of Scripture, not less, and who taught the Church how to read Scripture and pass it on. Finally we can refer to the prophets as saints. God bears them, God utters them, and they bear God and utter God, and are thereby made holy – never one statement without the other.
Though modern theologians are afraid to remain under the discipline of the Scripture. They regard Scripture as a not quite respectable form of discourse. Their apologies and caution betrays their fear that the hard men of critical historical biblical studies will burst in on them and pour scorn on their proceedings. But the Scriptural exegetes are genuinely not interested in what theologians are saying. They have created for themselves a parallel universe that discusses the same territory in such a different idiom as to make it effectively a separate discourse. The biblical studies and the Christian doctrine people have been brought up to whisper in case the neighbours bang on the wall: now they can shout all they like and will never be heard in the neighbouring department. A peace line has been built just where the first and most essential conversation should be taking place, between the Scriptures and the Church, on one side theologians without exegesis, on the other exegetes without theology. There no theological exegetes at work, once the particular contribution of systematic theologians was to comment on the work of the theological exegetes, but modern theology can only be a commentary on a work that never takes place. The theologians have been re-trained to give all their effort to providing reasons why theological exegesis is no longer possible, why the Scriptures and the Church, and Church and university, must never be allowed to hear from each other.
Obedient theology however cannot see any such peace line. Theology must be clear that there are two liturgies, of God and of the pagans, and that they are in competition. The liturgy of God brings into being a community, and investigation of that liturgy must start with that community. It must follow the conversation between God and his community that is set out in the Scriptures, and in the tradition formed by them. It must continually resort directly to the Scriptures. It must understand that that community is continually refreshed by God’s Spirit, the Spirit who replies to God with prayer and thanksgiving. It is not the task of theology continually to distinguish between Scripture and tradition, or between liturgy and Scripture, but rather to deny the legitimacy of that border, continually to cross it and transport its goods back and forth between doctrine and liturgy and Scripture. It must understand that words are in the service of works, and the works are in the service of the community, that is to say of loosing the captives and binding them into the community of God, securing their place in plurality, and the works are themselves adopted by the Spirit and reintegrated into the words of God. Christian theologians are committed to listening to not merely the exegetes of the last forty years, or two centuries, but of twenty centuries. Liturgical studies must be continually disciplined by exposure to Scripture – and be understood as first intervention in the world and address and to the world. Then it must be understood in terms of (secular) political philosophy, a step seldom seen.
God is in response
God is responsive. He responds to our response. He does not give us more than we can take, but loads us only with one new skill at a time. Each skill we receive from him will make us more competent at passing on what we have already received from him, and in return to ask him for what he has to give next. He does not give us so much at once that we could suffer injury from it. These are holy things – they burn, caustic, purify, are corrosive. He does not give us the whole bible or knowledge of God at once. God hides himself from us, and hides us from one another, to let us appear one at a time. God hides the greater part of reality from us, and protects us from it. For this reason we have none of the straight account of God demanded by the autonomous observer. Those looking for knowledge of him will certainly never be rewarded with it. There is no pure information about God but only case studies of his interventions – not his solutions, but of the questions raised by these interventions– and by the records of these encounters.
The Scriptures and their (theologian) writers intend to teach us how to make our appeal to God. They show us how to solicit God, to ask him why he delays, or why he seems not to protect the people who know his name or save anyone from their trouble. The Scriptures oblige us to ask why the story of Israel and Israel’s king goes so wrong. We learn it is in order that we should learn Israelite-survival skills and God-relationship that God has made a demonstration of them. Then we will not taunt them or their God for everything going wrong, but praise them for bringing us up, and by this very discipline (and mixture of threats, bluff and praise) integrate us into them. But we could also say that it is God who intends that we should learn and practice these practices of interrogating God. We have this narrative tension in order to tighten the wine-press, to increase the tension to breaking point to squeeze out few more, to convert the very last of the rich and rebellious (Gentiles) to the poor and humble (Israelites). There is no single finite lesson in Scripture. It has to give us something to chew on and take apart, and to decide which way to take it, how to read it. A story that offers us no mental work, no ambiguity, is not a story. This is the reason for narrative tension. All these illustrations, parables and case-studies are intended to develop our analytic-diagnostic skills. The point of any course is to develop skills, chief amongst which is seeing the complexity of life, the possibility of arguing for the other side. We are to learn to discriminate in order that we can extend the real otherness – holiness – God intends for each. There is therefore no single exhaustive reading of Scripture: each passage is altered by passages around it, and this is altered by the liturgical context in which it is read and the state of the community that reads it.
The eucharist makes the sociality of the Christian community. It is God’s act of providing and caring for it that holds open the Christian community, and makes that community prevent the implosion and collapse of the world. It is the prevention of homogeneity. This is not representation of something that was already there (although it is remembering the past and non-negotiable event of the cross). Rather it is now the speech-act and speech-event of God who in this instantly brings into being something new, here supplying being (sociality) where before there was none, here out of this bread creating this community, making these people persons where before there was no personhood and freedom, but only indistinguishable stuff, nature, substance.
7. The liturgy drives theology
Christian theology is the liturgy’s own self-maintenance service. It responds to our performance of the liturgy. It is for the sake of the liturgy that we attend to what theology says. It comments on our singing and shows us how to improve our performance of it, how to drop every inhibiting habit and become progressively freer and more informed by the liturgy.
Theology is the sociology of the people of the first morning. It is the ethnology of that ethnic group, that becomes visible early on Sunday mornings. This group appears to the world on Sunday morning. In fact the meeting of this group is never interrupted by any other time. Their meeting is one single meeting, unbroken by any other event. It is this meeting that generates all the time that the world understands as the rest of the week. But the days of the week are down-time, in which the world is protected from gathering call of God so it is not exhausted by it. All weekly time is given so the world can recover from the shock of the sight of all God’s people and of all creation gathered and made one – of this preview of the coming gathered world. The Sunday morning ethnic group exists in two modes, visible to the world, and invisible to the world. It has an attack mode and a rest-and-recuperation mode. In the week it is in attack mode, out on patrol or arrayed in its battle stations in the wilderness, no man’s land. On Sunday morning it is debriefed, rested and re-supplied before being sent back out again. This Sunday morning sets out all the things the following six days could be.
The liturgy of the Son is curative. It articulates the recovery of sensation. It drives the improvement of our better performance. We become better transmitters of what we have received. The propositions of the liturgy and the Christian doctrines that derive from them are not about a set of propositions (only). It is about an announcement about the restoration of power, this announcement speeds up the new take-up of this power, and is itself a function of this restoration of power. This announcement is reinforced by a re-statement every week. Each week in the divine service the announcement is re-stated to the world in each particular way that will serve to disable and neutralise all the vicious and destructive statements the world makes about itself. The set of propositions has to be guarded, and has to be discussed publicly regularly to this set of propositions in good working order. The liturgy removes all the tics of the pagans from us: it strips and de-bugs us and installs in us a new less autistic action.
The company of heaven is the train and procession that accompany the Son, and which he regards as his own body, inseparable from himself. Their service started long before we arrived. This crowd in heaven is already looking forward to our coming, and are already celebrating our coming. Their celebration spills over to us. Their acclamations are in the liturgy every Sunday. In the eucharistic community that stands around the throne we see the whole audience and company brought into being by the speaking of God. They are words of God now freed to become also hearers of God. They are the witnesses that the Word of God establishes for himself. They are the witness and testament that is both old and new, original and ever-renewed. We have said that the company of heaven is the speaker of the Church, and that the Church is the speaking, speech-act, of this company. Now we can put this the other way around.
The Church in liturgy and doctrine is the first and only native speaker of the language of the company of heaven, interpreted to us by the communion of saints. The Spirit is that language. The Spirit speaks many languages. By speaking them the Spirit sustains these languages and the language groups that inhabit them. Theology is a maintenance regime that keeps the liturgy as a functioning language and so preserves for those speakers that the liturgy animates and brings into being, the possibility of reaching one another, and of bringing one another to the attention of God. Our liturgical bringing one another to the attention of God is the mode by which God draws our attention to one another. It is because we are forced to pray, and to do so for one another, that others are forced on our attention in the first place. It is in having our attention drawn to one another that we return to God, via one another, the being God has given us for this purpose. It is in returning thanks to God for others that these others come to be. Thanksgiving is drawing one another into being.
The liturgy is a maintenance regime. It maintains the language by which I reach you and you respond to me. Let us take this to be the English language in this case. It preserves for the speakers of this language the possibility of reaching one another. It is for the sake of the English language, and for all who can reach each other only within this language, that we attend to what they say in heaven, as it is audible in the Sunday morning liturgy. English is a pidgin version of the Sunday morning liturgy, as the Sunday morning liturgy is itself a pidgin version of Spirit, the language of heaven. The company of heaven can speak such pidgin languages with fluency. By speaking it, to us, to God, to God with us and for us, they maintain this as language in which the Father hears and attends to the Son. The company of heaven is not in the least cramped by their willingness to speak our language as the mode of speaking their language. They glorify God without loss even in the most debased dialect; that company speaks all dialects, remembering vanished languages and those not yet spoken.
Most of the liturgy is hidden from us. It is right in front of us, but, entirely closed to us. It simply goes over our heads. We do not have the skills of the Spirit to receive what is being broadcast. We have been reduced from a complex functionality to a simpler. The catechumens leave for their own safety, because they are not yet ready to withstand what follows. Christ is not present to them. For their sake he holds himself aloof from them, from us. Most contemporary Christians are held outside the door, unable to receive what is happening in front of them. They have not properly come into the building, but remain onlookers. They want to be in, but without prejudicing their freedom to stay outside at the same time. It is God’s protective mercy to them not to let them in.
The word-generating words of God
God binds us up into his act. His act opens us out. It speaks what had never previously been spoken or heard. His voice creates us first as words uttered, then as words uttering words. We are the words who create new words. The praying of the Son creates us first as the words he prays, and then creates us as those who may utter those pleas, as pray-ers. This acting of his makes actors of us. The words of God coalesce to form our actions, and as these actions of ours coalesce they form agents. Agents are formed by words, indeed are accumulations of words. These words from God remain the words of God. They are acts that start his, and remain his, while they also become our acts. Words coalesce to create the speakers who can speak them, so persons are accreted acts of speech. As these actions act, so we are gathered and become the accumulated, integrated, animated utterances of God. The vocalisations of God do not remain words alone, but become speakers and thanks-givers. By the Spirit we are the vocalisations of the Son asking and giving thanks to the Father.
But this is not about speech only, but about acts and action. We do not even come into our own bodies without the body-creating word of God. Like a stroke victim the movement of my limbs is not under my control. I cannot raise my hand to touch or greet you or provide you with what you need. I cannot reach you through my body. But through the speech-act of God I gain a body and in it the ability to reach you. The movement of the liturgy is the informed and directed power that gradually teaches me the use of my limbs and gives me back a whole world of inter-bodiliness. The liturgy fills me and teaches me to stretch and bend, to serve and give thanks. By it I gradually cease to be disembodied, frozen and idle. I gain an interface with you and you with me. The Christian community takes on the weight of the mesmerised and paralysed world and to bear its resistance caused by its delirium, hallucination and dread. The world is unable to shake itself free from the prospect of or from its own endless delicious narration of imminent disaster, the frisson of the horror story it lives on. They are delinquent, disturbed, unstable, traumatised, locked into covenants of self-harm.
The communion of saints represents us in heaven. They sustain for us what being we have there. They are led by the Son in praying us into being. They ask God that we be made complete and be given to them. They ask for us, and their asking for us, and the Father’s approval of their request, is all the being we have. They not only pray us into existence, but pray us into being social and vocal. All the life we are given is the life they receive from the Son, and that life consists in looking forward to, and asking for, what it is still lacking. We will become as adept as seeking from the Son as he is adept at seeking from the Father. We have said that we are to make requests. We are to be askers. Asking and thanking is the whole form of the action and the life given to us. We are to ferry requests and answers, and to make requests for those who do not make requests for themselves, because they have not heard that there is anything to be wished for or anyone to ask. They must be told: they cannot be kept in ignorance any longer. They must be released.
We are prayed into praying. We are taught to pray for our release and to do this by giving thanks for and already beginning to celebrate that release. Our prayer for freedom is the acoustic accompaniment of the arrival of our freedom. Our asking the Father for what we have just received is the beginning of our taking up what we have received. This thankfulness is the beginning of our receipt of and joy in what we have received, and of our comprehension of it, our involvement in it and employment by it. The very act of our praying is the outworking of God’s act in releasing us. Now we are praying not to the many non-gods, but to the one God. We are shaken free of the idols and their falsehoods. We are shaken, and they tumble out of us. The speech by which we confess that Jesus is Lord is sound of the all the other lords and parasites tumbling out of us. Our praying explicitly using the name the one God has given, indicates that the process of release has been underway for some time. Our consciousness of this name is a late stage in this process.
We come into time
The liturgy is bringing a people into being. The exchange of the Father and the Son calls them together. Our own competing projects and times are interrupted by the liturgy. The liturgy is the fullness of time, making itself felt, as this event of public speech. All past and all future meet and combine here as Sunday morning. Sunday morning makes audible all time, brought together into a single well-ordered conversation. All other weekday time is time fragments, times not yet integrated into perfect time.
On Sunday morning all times, past and future, make themselves present. They individuate themselves enough to become audible to us. The fullness of time bulges out into our worldly time. All times, reconciled and united, together expand into the world to make this time. Sunday morning is a thinned and serial form of eschatological-eucharistic time, made by eschatological time. It is a more densely formatted and properly ordered version of ordinary time. The eucharistic service is the piece-meal and serial rehearsal of the fullness of time. It is not limited by time. Rather it limits itself and presents itself to us in this serial form. It does this in order to ready us for increasingly thick and strong doses of this time. It sorts our chaotic poorly ordered time into its good order of speech and response. In it past and future, time taken and time not yet taken, are matched and married up. They are reconciled.
The life of the Son is pure future. He is at once entirely future and entirely present to himself. He is the future supplied to us to fill us, sustain us and propel us. this future breathes itself into us. The future gives us a present. The Future is one of the titles of Christ. We sit at the edge of the well from which time gushes – we have no shortage. The Christians are the coming together and knitting together of many split and scattered times. They are caught and interrupted by the fullness of time. All past and all future meet and mingle here. Sunday morning is all time, come together into a single well-ordered conversation. All other weekday time is broken time. It is the time of the aphasics, a people without concentration or memory. They forget what they were intending to do, and cannot sustain the coherence of their actions.
This time is not uniform, but is a stream of many parallel possible lines of action. The Christians are wrapped up in the re-membering and integrating of many severed and disconnected times into the one time of the company of heaven. They separate this time and that time, time past (which is time vanished and wasted) and time not yet taken up, time still future, time not yet taken. The anamnesis of eucharistic time re-orders and re-members these times, bringing them into their place and into their proper being. From this confluence of times comes their being. The flowing together of time taken and time not yet taken firms up into being, into the being of these people. It forms them. They are its precipitation. And they are also its uttering. They not only are this being, but they are the speaking and articulating of this being. They are it, and they speak it. They are the confluence of times, and they say so. Their saying so is their becoming human, becoming agents and co-respondents.
The fullness of time mediates himself gently to us. We wander in and out of tune. We drift momentarily onto the right waveband and come into tune, and a snatch of us is broadcast. But this is not something that we hear, as though it were incomplete and we were complete. It is rather the other way around. The Son is complete, but we are incomplete. We fizz momentarily into place and into being as we move in or out of reception of him. We are a light that momentarily comes on and off again. We drift in and out of synch, come into tune with reality and drift out again. But Reality himself adjusts us to bring us into tune so we become the amplification and fugue on the whole orchestration. For a moment we are filled with reality, but for a moment, then the moment breaks off again. We are separated from reality by the swirling cloud of all that which is not-yet-in-place. It is a disorderly queue of those things that which are waiting to be assigned their proper function. These moments will come increasingly often, and will last longer and longer until one day they no longer break off. Then they will never allow themselves to be interrupted again. There will be a break-through into uninterrupted time, which is to into eternity, in which he who is all time will segue our times into and out one another so that all our time is perfectly transparent to and co-inherent with his time. This is the perfect synchronization of every time with every other. These moments the elements are coaxed to realise their new-given order as us, as holding together as the lucidity of the mind – or at those moments in which we come to ourselves, and become lucid, and events of lucidity for the world.
The saints take on the trauma of the world.
There is no calling on God without desperation. We have to pursue our lord, to door-step him, hang around the front of his house and consider it a happy place, resist every attempt to be removed. We have wear him down with our pleading, and when he comes out to throw ourselves at his ankles, and hang on. This is the desperation and loss of dignity is he will hear and respond to. We can only quote his words back at him: this is the only ammunition we can use on him. But we are not desperate if we already have our praise and recognition from men. If we are readily given recognition there is no need to look for reasons for the way things are, and why they don’t seem to include us. If we receive an income we don’t need to ask questions, there is no drive to curiosity. If the present and the living give us what you want, and can make us want what they have to give, there would be no need for us to pray. Then there would be no need to go into the library and enquire of the dead and disappeared.
The disciple is a student. He must sit under the discipline of the whole Christian tradition. But he must also endure the discipline of the pagans and learn their tradition. He must for example be a member of the university. He must distinguish the university from the Church, or he will not be able to tell the Church apart from the university. The university is at the service of the Church: it does not know this, but it is, as long as the Church is in service to Christ. In the university we enquire of our intellectual ancestors. We go into the library to learn from the writings of our predecessors. From them we learn what is worth doing and having. The Christian ancestors are the prophets and apostles and doctors of the Church. We ask them, though we do this by consulting their writings rather than by raising our hands and addressing them. We pluck off the shelf the book marked with Augustine’s name, open it, and Augustine’s words pour into us. Augustine tells us what to say, what to look forward to, what to ask for, what to pray. The Spirit drives his words into us and exercise themselves in us; the words given by the Spirit in Augustine’s voice animate us. They are asking from within us, praying out through us. Augustine is the speaking of Christ into us, then through us, and finally explicitly as our words. But in all this Augustine is kept safe from us. We can misuse him and misrepresent him, but by doing so we will injure only ourselves, not diminish his place before God. By this daily exercise of training we hold ourselves ready to oppose all the claims of the daily liturgy.
The divine liturgy keeps us immune to the daily liturgy
The news and entertainment service of the media is the liturgy of the pagan tradition. Entertainment, instant, constant and inconsequential, is the mode of pagan religion. It is full of gaiety and carelessness, but is The Media tells us who we are. It present us with stock figures, narratives, crises and outcomes. It provides a stream of events that reproduce all the moments of the Western tradition, played out in differing modes – epic, comic, romantic, deathly. It continually re-runs these moments as the whole truth. We can summarise Western history as a series of attempts to provide enlightenment and secularisation, that provide more and more simplifications, less demanding lessons that give us smaller truths, fragments and half-truths that none of us can piece together. All together the whole media show represents our capitulation to the still light bright homogenous light of Apollo, celebrated by Parmenides. It reduces everything to everything else, closing down brings everything to a monism. Fearing it cannot succeed they bring every project to a close. It asserts that we already know all there is to know, and that we are already competent to act for ourselves. This enlightenment is a self-inhibiting educational regime. It cannot make the first and essential confession that we do not know all there is to know. It cannot concede that we are under the discipline of what we do not know. This modern liturgy and its regime offers to take us somewhere, but it knows nowhere that is not already visible. It promises a journey but can produce only a re-arrangement of formulae within the existing vocabulary. It prevents its students from graduating from elementary to more demanding truths. It teaches them to filter out what we do not immediately recognise, and to shy away from difficulty. It is a programme of curiosity-reduction and a palliative for minds agitated by complexity. This enlightenment is a dimming and darkening. It is the triumph of visualisation – it is the claim that it shows us everything and we can see it for ourselves, that there is nothing that it cannot put on a screen, without shadow, or difficulty of access, or any learning process that would demand ontological changes of us. the modern liturgy of the media is the triumph of the bright light of Apollo.
The divine liturgy that makes itself heard in the assembly of the Church is an antidote for what passes for news and for service in the world. The liturgy is a news service in that it tells gives us the ability to hear and receive what is new. It renews its hearers. It is true enlightenment, real education, and hard information. It is a digest of the news exchanged between the Son and the Father. The liturgy broadcasts us news about the labouring and misery of the world: it opens our voices and eyes to this misery, and it makes us participate in this misery. In comparison the news service provided by the Media is an anti-liturgy.
Making responses and requests
Praying to the God of gods is the action of the Son. Our being drawn into this action makes us the Church. We might say that praying to the God, like going to the court of final appeal, should be attempted only when all lower courts have been appealed to and other avenues been exhausted. It will do us no good to call that name when we mean to ask it to support some project of our own, or make a request that should be directed only to some subordinate name. To treat the high God as though he were some authority we could co-opt is foolish, and trespass against the third commandment. In fact, we are commanded to pray to the God of gods not only as last resort, but at all times.
The saints are teachers and prophets to the society they are set in. They are to warn their society of the dangers of its inaction. They urge the people of this world not to be so helpless and reactive, not to be pushed around or manipulated through their passions. We have to unlearn the patterns familiar to us, that we think are essential to us, and how not to make the automatic deference to the anonymous powers we know through familiar institutions.
We have to cease to feel their necessity and naturalness of their pleading voices. We have to learn how not to hear them, both to name them for the first time, and how to cease to pronounce their name. The saints are commissioned and sent out to open everywhere a crisis of identity and to demonstrate to the world that it does not yet know what it will be. They are to increase the discomfort of the world and keep its wounds open. It is to prevent the world from sheltering from the pain of the question of identity under any particular local overlord or regime. The Christian community that does this will be exposed to the ferocity of every local overlord. This we call Christian discipleship or suffering. We are stirrers-up. We bring no premature peace, until the world takes the one peace given by God.