Posted by: rogermitchell | April 18, 2011

katargēsis (ii): monarchy and the nation state

In the previous post I discussed the apostle Paul’s use of the word katargēsis to explain the way that Jesus fulfilled the law by bringing it to an end. I suggested that the incarnation may be applied to the contemporary Western political system in order to call into question its whole basis in law. I am not saying that there is no useful role for law as a limited tool for safeguarding the primacy of unconditional love, but that the use of law to pave the way for love properly came to an end in Jesus. I then suggested that a contemporary godly politics, or theopolitics, is about swamping law with unconditional love. The practical outworking of this is something that I aim to write about in future posts and explore through a variety of collaborative initiatives.

This understanding of law can, I think, be similarly applied to the other foundations of empire, namely monarchy and temple, which I believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection similarly brought to a final end and fulness. The implications of my thesis is that the miss-marriage of ecclesia and empire by which law came to trump love in the history of Christendom is itself now at its consummation in the current Western political system and that it is also time to call into question the role of the monarchy and the function of the nation state.

Extending the idea of katargēsis to the monarchy and the nation state is far easier to demonstrate with recourse to the Old Testament than the idea that God deliberately embraced law in order to end it. To understand this role for the law is a stretch without the retrospective application of Jesus’ incarnation and his teaching from the sermon on the mount coupled with Paul’s exegesis of Jesus as the end of law. However the idea that God was embracing monarchy only with the intention of abolishing and fulfilling it in Jesus makes sense of the clear warning given by Samuel of the consequences of insisting on a king (1 Sam 8: 5-22). It is borne out by Jesus’ lowly birth and his response to the attempt to make him king by force (Jn 6: 15).

With this in view, monarchy and nation state, like law, need swamping with unconditional love. Like Jesus, we can declare that the kin[g]dom belongs to the poor and the children and favour them over the rich and powerful. We can find loving ways to fulfil the Magnificat (Mary’s song) and help work to collaborate with God in the disestablishment of monarchy (Lk 1:52)  with as much dignity and honour for the families involved as possible, unlike in the past with the French and Russian revolutions. And we can explore ways of disregarding and undermining the unjust structures of the state by extending and recreating ethnic identity by deliberately loving and honouring the poor and immigrants through collaborative power sharing and restoring their access to real wealth particularly in terms of land.

I am well aware that the implications of this are a tad subversive(!), not only for a constitutional monarchy such as ours in the UK, but for the future of the nation state as a model for political organisation and governance. My thesis recognises the constitutional monarchies and republics that undergird the Western nation state as the product of the ecclesia’s embrace of empire, so we cannot simply wash our hands of them. It is also the case that they have provided a better context for love and mercy for the poor than most totalitarian empires. I see transformation by the exercise of kenarchic behaviour from within as the loving way ahead. Nonetheless the call of the ecclesia to such impolitic forms of behaviour are obviously likely to spark plenty of opposition, just as they did for Jesus. The practical outworking of this will also be the subject of future posts and likewise be explored through a variety of collaborative initiatives.



  1. This makes me think of my increasingly subversive role within the academy. I try every way I can to enable my students to learn. I pay them with bonus points for attendance (rather than penalities for non-attendance) because rewards work better than punishment with human animals. I allow them to revise assignments, resubmit them and gain higher grades, literally up to the last minute before I must turn grades into the admin folks. I’ve been known to give an incomplete and then sit down for 5 hours with a non-performing student, work them through enough tutorials that they can pass (he had an alcoholic father who was constantly in need of emergency care). Really.

    I do all that I can to never, never abuse them. You would not believe the stories they tell of teachers marking them down for being a minute or two late (most of these students work, help in their families, or commute long distances) yet they also tell of teachers who habitually arrive 20 to 30 min late for class. I’ve seen all sorts of punitive behaviour from teachers and administrators. I’ll use a bit of tough love when necessary but I do try to love them – overwhelmingly. It can be amusing to watch them try to figure this out. A student will come up to me all anxious that they were unable to get something done. Please can they turn it in late. I smile, ‘of course’. Will they be penalized. ‘No’. There is a bit of shock on their faces and then delight. I talk to them about getting enough rest, enough hours of sleep as that is the key ingredient to learning. I tell them to eat well, socialize and all the things other teachers tell them to put aside in order to learn.

    I find my conversations with other teachers around these topics fascinating. I use science to bolster my arguments and justify my radical and subversive behaviour. And they will go with me so far. The minute I say humans need 8.5 hours of sleep to perform well and that lack of sleep negates learning. Well, that’s too far. Its not the school’s fault the students are tired. They are busy fooling around. Of course what they are busy doing is dealing with an overload of classes (most academic programs have about 50% too much to do in them), an overload of assignments, paid employment, family responsibilities, and commutes. Of course, scientifically we now know that the best way to memorize something is to take a nap after the learning session. I haven’t tried to get that one into a conversation yet!

    Academia thrives on a punitive, institutional model. I constantly find myself constrained by it. But I continue to subvert the normal teaching model. I continue to do all I can to engage and not put obstacles in the way of learning. I try to reward rather than punish. Most of the time it works very well. I’ll be interested to see how long it takes academia to change – after all they are shaping the future.

  2. Love this Roger. Ready for a revolution of love!

  3. a practical example of this is Bill McKibbon’s address yesterday to PowerShift. McKibbon is a Christian and world wide organizer to change the way we live in relationship to each other, the poor, the next generations, and the earth. Powershift is a meeting of young people, climate change activists in Washington DC.

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