Posted by: rogermitchell | October 7, 2017

The Kingdom and the Glory: two final chapters!

Despite not yet having completed my posts on Agamben as promised, the keen prophetic insight of his work has continued to illuminate my thought and practice over the intervening weeks. This has included another exciting theology dig at Ashburnham Place, a prayer event for Europe on the rock of Gibraltar and a varied week of events with our friends in Mississauga, Canada. So I’m more convinced than ever that my attempts to make his work accessible as tools for penetrating the contemporary crisis of the West to deep thinking folk is seriously worthwhile.

Chapter 7 is entitled “The Power and the Glory” and takes the distinction in the way the early church theologians configured angels a step further. You may remember from the previous post on Chapter 6 that Agamben notes a division between the angels of worship and the angels of government that parallels the divide between the traditions and rituals of government on the one hand and the practice of government on the other. The former are raised above law and democracy and therefore out of reach of the supposed instruments of political transformation and change, and yet the latter are legitimated and seemingly made permanent by them. In the same way that Agamben emphasises Paul’s argument that the law is de-activated and fulfilled by the potential power of love that lay behind it, (remember his emphasis on the function of  katargēsis in The Time That Remains), Agamben argues that the bipolar operation of the angels is likewise resolved. In this way, as he puts it, “Pauline Messianism …acts as a corrective to the demonic hypertrophy of angelic and human powers”  and reconciles them to God. The way that the incarnation works is to bring to an end the law and the understanding of the angelic that upheld the law, but to draw through the potential loving purpose that lay behind them. Thereby the fullness of divine intention, in Thomas Jay Oord’s terms “essential kenosis,” or what I call the kenarchy of God, is established.

In chapter 7 Agamben takes this a step further with recourse to what he  regards as a ground breaking essay by Erik Petersen entitled Heis Theos. Agamben regards this as “a sort of Political archaeology of liturgy and protocol,” or “an archaeology of glory. ” (It’s worth noting here that this was written before Petersen’s conversion to Catholicism, and that Petersen’s own biographical journey may help explain the at times seemingly self contradictory positions within his developing thought, to which I have referred in earlier posts). The radical insight of this early essay of his, is the disclosure that a genre of acclamation that includes early Christian acclamations such as “There is one God and Christ (Heis Theos kai Christos) was basic to the ancient world.  This genre had profound political importance in that it expressed “the people’s consensus” and in so doing provides the “essential link that unites law and liturgy.” That’s to say it reveals the practical link between the two parts of the bipolar structure of sovereignty and praxis which legitimate and paralyse our contemporary Western states.

Agamben then notes the way that Carl Schmitt refers to this work by Petersen to make the point that the original phenomenon of all political communities is not the vote but acclamation. The fundamental point being made by all three thinkers here, Agamben, Petersen and Schmitt, is that it is scientific fact that acclamation precedes the ballot in impact and importance. In my view this is of enormous significance. It discloses the source of a core problem for our western representative democracies. Namely the hidden assumptions about the primary role of sovereign power, status and money that universal suffrage appears to leave unchanged are upheld by acclamations that constitute the rituals that surround the institutions of state, education, religion, sport, entertainment and so on. These liturgies have far greater influence than any party manifestos and elections.

To recognise the power of contemporary socio-political ritual is to discover a key to accessing the deep structure of the western world.  Agamben proceeds to draw on the work of Andreas Alföldi, Ernst Percy Schramm, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and particularly Ernst Kantorowicz to trace the clear imperial function of the genre. However, while affirming that acclamation has this imperial role, Agamben disagrees with what he calls “Petersen’s antimessianic strategy” that assumes that the people of God continue to carry this legitimating function of acclamation. Rather Agamben’s application of the word katargēo to show how the new humanity renders inoperative the ambiguity of the angelic function at the end of Chapter 6 continues to point the way forward into the final chapter. As he puts it “Paul’s Messianism must be seen from this perspective.” For there is an end to the politically legitimating function of acclamation too in the life and function of the the new humanity.  This has significant implications to the nature of spoken and sung worship, a lot of which still consists of imperial acclamations about God that continue to have the effect of subliminally maintaining the paralysing social order under which we live. The final chapter will hopefully disclose the messianic strategy for undoing the closed system of power and glory that holds our Western governments in thrall.



  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

  2. you are so welcome!

  3. I received the following comments from Andrew McNeil by email, and he had agreed for us to discuss them in the blog. I will respond over the next day or so:

    Really enjoying your series on Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, I’ll definitely be bumping that up my reading list. I was wondering if you could expand a little on how you see the work of Thomas J Oord fitting into things.
    To give you a bit of background, I used to be very enthusiastic about Open Theism but over the years found it increasingly problematic and found other schools of thought to be much more interesting e.g. Radical Orthodoxy … but… I do appreciate Oord’s focus on love and relationality and anytime I have corresponded with him over email I have found him to be charming and thoughtful.
    My main criticisms with Oords work are:

    He seems to misunderstand or be unaware of a lot of contemporary work regarding the things he criticises, such as divine impassibility, creatio ex nihilo, divine temporality.

    If he were more aware of the above then he might find that there are already much better attempts to articulate what he actually wants to achieve, namely a relational loving view of God.

    Take creatio ex nihilo for example. His fundamental reason for rejecting this is to put forwards a theodicy and emphasise God’s relationality with creation. (see But to my mind this doesn’t resolve anything, it just pushes it back one level i.e. even if we say God ‘must’ create, he doesn’t have to create this particular type of world, presumably he could have created a much simpler one with much less scope for freedom and self expression and correspondingly much less suffering. The moral question still remains.
    Worse still, when we bring in the work of someone like John Milbank, we could arguably say that Oord falls into the trap of ontotheology by positing some abstract idea of ‘being’ and then deriving both God and Creation from this. Far from making God more relational this actually creates the ground for the idea of a ‘sovereign’ God over against a passive creation. My inkling is that a lot of the problems about divine action vs human freedom come from this.
    That’s not to say that Milbank’s work is unproblematic, I know that there is a lot of debate about his reading of Duns Scotus and Neoplatonism amongst other things. But it seems to me that in comparison to someone like Milbank, Oords work is really lacking. Admittedly I could be bringing in my own prejudices here as my personal journey was one away from Evangelicalism and so in that respect I view Open Theism as a helpful stepping stone that bridged the gap as it were but I then left behind.
    Anyway, as someone who seems to be clued up on these things I thought you might have some interesting thoughts.
    Best regards,

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for a very encouraging and exciting comment which I will begin to respond to here. Hopefully others will join in too!

    As we will consider in the next and final post on CH8, “The Archeology of Glory,” Agamben makes clear the crucial relationship between the being and doing of God. These two categories are variously described as political and economic, theology and oikonomia, kingdom and government, glory and power. Agamben’s seminal conclusion is that for the economy to function and the paralysis of the contemporary western political system to be unlocked, the relation between these two has to be “perfectly symmetrical and reciprocal.”

    I find Agamben’s conclusion here very exciting, as it concords with the findings of my own research that has two main parts: to explain the displacement of the God who is like Jesus (“If you have seen me you have seen the Father”) by the God who is like Caesar; and secondly to recover the politics that ensues from a God who is like Jesus. Simply put, to recover and configure the politics of love, or what I and various friends call kenarchy. So finding a configuration of the transcendent being of God that concurs with the immanent operation of the doing of God is exactly what I’m after.

    I think it’s important at this point to say here that I’m not primarily a theologian, although for sure I am one, but that I’m first a disciple gripped by an existential encounter with Jesus and his love for his enemies. I have no personal interest in respecting a sovereign, Caesar-shaped God, even if it turned out that one existed. I’d not be on his side. This is emphatically not to say that I am a “confessional” researcher, proof-texting my way through scripture, theology and commentary. But this is more than an academic theological pursuit for me. It is more a moral, practical and political quest. This is not to imply that you or the theologians you reference are purely academic in their interest! But rather to explain why my research is necessarily incomplete, but not I hope, lacking in integrity or academic quality.

    With this said, here are my thoughts in response to your reservations about Tom Oord’s writings:

    You mention his seeming lack of knowledge of contemporary work regarding the things he criticises, such as divine impassibility, creation ex nihilo and divine temporality. You suggest that this work you refer to might provide better attempts to articulate what he actually wants to achieve, namely a relational loving view of God. I think the heart of the matter might be what the latter is understood to mean. You go on to make the point that God could presumably have created a much simpler world with much less scope for freedom and self expression and correspondingly much less suffering. However, this gets to the heart of the matter, “less scope for freedom and self expression” would surely be a world incapable of sustaining human beings in the image of a God who consists in loving trinitarian relationship. It is this requirement that Oord appears to me to be interrogating and responding to, and his concept of essential kenosis encompasses. Divine impassibility and creation ex nihilo seem to me to be in principle impossible to hold together with an unconditionally loving God. However, it would be interesting to know the particular theologians you are referring to. I find questions around God’s temporality another matter, and would love to take discussion on that further if you would like, and if you are happy to spell out more specifically what you are referring to. I don’t think God can be outside of time, but I do think that our human time sits in God’s time which is what Agamben configures as messianic time.

    You suggest that things are even worse with respect to Oord’s writings when compared to John Milbank and other Radical Orthodox theologians. You recognise that some find difficulty with respect to Milbank’s criticism of Duns Scotus but seem at ease with his objections to onto-theology. I try and deal with this in the first chapter of “Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West.” I’m not sure whether you are familiar with this or not. Simply put, I have big problems with Milbank. I can’t see the problem with onto-theology, it doesn’t have to be a muddle to introduce issues of being into theology, as long as we are clear what we are doing. The reason that he is against it is that he regards the work of Duns Scotus and the univocalists to constitute a kind of lapsis or fall of the church. I place this back with Eusebius and co and regard the univocalists as friends of the gospel. I too have found some aspects of Radical Orthodoxy immensely helpful. However, their tendency to obscure the immediacy of revelation with ritual, tradition and liturgy necessary to an equivocal understanding of God requiring a professional class to mediate it, seems to me to end up legitimating the ecclesiastical hierarchy, mystifying incarnation and sustaining precisely the being/ doing separation that Agamben here in The Kingdom and the Glory is seeking to undo.

    Probably enough to be going on with….

    Peace and love

  5. Hi Roger,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful insights. I would definitely agree with you that Milbank et al assume an awful lot of background knowledge and in this respect it would be fair to accuse Radical Orthodoxy of being somewhat elitist. I suspect part of the reason for this is that a lot of the texts they explore are themselves notoriously convoluted (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger etc.) so maybe (and it’s a big maybe) they can be forgiven for this.

    On second thoughts I think I was being too harsh on Tom in saying he doesn’t understand the things he critisises. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that I don’t think he takes into account the framework of thought that his thinkers are using when making his criticisms. He is very harsh on Aquinas for example ( and yet I would think that Aquinas’ view of God as the only thing whose essense and existence coincide does indeed give us a God who’s being is identical to his doing and, if we agree that God’s nature is love, allows us plenty of scope to explore the kind of political praxis I think we’re all looking for.

    Maybe it would be helpful if I briefly elaborate on your comment that ‘“less scope for freedom and self expression” would surely be a world incapable of sustaining human beings in the image of a God who consists in loving trinitarian relationship.’

    Yes, I completely agree. The key point however, and I think this is the same whether we take it in it’s moral or existential guise, is whether or not a world with human beings is an entirely gratuitous gift or whether it is a necessary given (because God must create, and God must create humans with all the suffering this entails). In this respect divine impassibility is more about God’s essential relationship to suffering and thus violence. I think here the point that someone like John Milbank is trying to make is:

    1) If we affirm an experience of suffering as existing in the eternal life of God then we allow an ontological space for violence as in some way necessary and foundational.
    2) This means that God is unable to redeem us by transforming our condition, because he essentially experiences the same condition. This means that we are unable to practice a prophetic politics of peace because such a politics doesn’t exist. Instead purely human goals such as progress and the quest for the perfect city become absolute.
    3) It also makes sacrifice and evil the essence of virtue by celebrating it as an occasion for heroism. This can be seen in two extremes, firstly with contemporary Evangelical ideas of Penal Substitution and on the other end of the spectrum with ‘weakness of God’ theologies such as John Caputo.

    The crucial point is that suffering isn’t redemptive in and of itself, rather it expresses God’s commitment to continue giving even under terrible circumstances.The difference is basically one between saying God’s goodness and power are shown through a refusal of violence and weakness, or saying God is good because he is weak. At this point we would have to ask does this mean that God is indeed unaffected by human suffering etc. Milbank would argue No because of the incarnation and the two natures of Christ etc and this actually brings us back to the discussion of Creatio ex nihilo because we are effectively dealing with the same fundamental theme.

    In terms of the theologians who best work this out in detail I would say that Catherine Pickstock’s Repetition and Identity is really good, although it’s an extremely difficult book!( and in the Orthodox tradition Sergei Bulgakov is supposed to be very good (although I must confess at the moment I’m not very familiar with a lot of his work)

    If I talk about talk onto-theology and temporality I think this comment will never end and I don’t want to completely take over the discussion so I’ll just finish by saying that in terms of questions about temporality I find Marcus Pound to be really interesting:

    Love and Peace right back at you,


  6. Hi Roger, I found this paragraph on Peter Leithart’s Patheos blog and thought it worth sending to you. It comes from a longer piece on the Trinity.

    “Love is the organizing principle of the world, and any community without love is out of sync with the ways of the world. Any political or economic system that excludes love is perverse. Any economic system that creates a zone of giftlessness, of loveless competition, fails to reflect the economy of God, which reveals the God who not only shows Himself to be, but is love.”

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