Posted by: rogermitchell | October 23, 2017

The Final Chapter: “The Archaeology of Glory” (i)

In the previous post Agamben made the crucial claim that glory, understood in terms of acclamation and ceremony, is more significant in impact than any ballot. It follows that the challenge of the new politics is to reinvest glory with love and transform the economy of government by it. In this final chapter Agamben examines the outworking of glorification from the gospel era onwards until today.  He begins by distinguishing his understanding of glory from Balthasar’s attempt to rescue the concepts of lordship and sovereignty from the sphere of government by transferring them into the sphere of beauty.  I draw positively on this move by Balthasar in my chapter “Authority Without Sovereignty” in Towards a Kenotic Vision of Authority in the Catholic Church I suggest there that his recognition of the need to proceed beyond truth and goodness to beauty marks his insight into the consequence of a historical subsumption of the first two transcendentals. 

However I now think that Agamben is right in affirming that biblically “glory” (Hebrew kabhod; Greek doxa), is never primarily to be understood in an aesthetic sense. Its true reference is to the impact of the real presence of God upon persons.  As such its implications are properly political. As he goes on to underline, in the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament this is even clearer, and from being “an element external to God,” glory becomes “an expression of the internal relations of the Trinitarian economy” (p. 201). Referencing the gospel of John, and the writings of Origen, Augustine and Moltmann, Agamben reaches the conclusion that “the economy of glory can only function if it is perfectly symmetrical and reciprocal. All economy must become glory, and all glory become economy” (p. 210).

This presents us with the core political challenge of the chapter, and indeed of the book. Namely, how to achieve the demystification of being and doing in the operation of glory and power, kingdom and government, economics and politics? That is to say, how can we live in the good of the oikonomia of the mystery “now made known” in the incarnation? Agamben recognises the difficulty of this, and the paradoxes through which  theologians have prioritised glorification over glory. He exposes Barth as the precursor to Balthasar’s attempt to aestheticise glory, and regards this as a reduction of creatures to their glorifying function reminiscent of behaviour demanded of their subjects by the profane powers in Byzantium and even Germany in the 1930s. 

Agamben similarly roots Ignatius Loyola, and the Jesuits’ universalising mission, in the three fold paradox of glory whereby glorification inevitably displaces glory.  He sets the paradox out as follows:

i) glory is the exclusive and eternal property of God that no-one and nothing can increase, yet glory is the glorification that all creatures owe God and is demanded by him from them;

ii) glory is the hymn of praise that creatures owe God, and is nothing but the necessary response that the glory of God awakens in them;

iii) everything God does in creation and redemption he does only for his glory, and yet we owe him gratitude and glorification for it all.

In sum there is no moral substance to God’s glory beyond the fact that he has created and redeemed everything. Summarising this position from the writings of Jesuit theologian Leonard Lessius (1692), Agamben remarks that he “ruthlessly sacrifices to the logical coherence of this vainglorious God the idea of God’s love for his creatures” (p. 218).

Agamben then exposes two crucially different trajectories in the understanding of human participation in the divine good. Is it participation in the beatific vision that he identifies with Aquinas and the Dominicans, or is it engagement in the outworking of the love of God as represented by Bonaventure and the Franciscans? Agamben suggests instead, drawing on the work of Eric E. Mascall, (1951), that praise provides a third alternative trajectory, in that it provides a kind of acclamation that has a “sense and value that escape us and that we should pursue” (p. 222). He then looks at the acclamations of the Te Deum and Gloria and explores the radical possibility, with recourse to Marcel Mauss’s and Durkheim’s work on prayer, that perhaps the divine, contrary to the threefold theological paradox above, is actually sustained by glorification.

Agamben then reminds us of the overall purpose of his enquiry which in the end is to answer the question “In what way does liturgy ‘make’ power?” (p. 230). How do we bring together the glorious being of God and his praxis, his kingdom and government, in a way that shifts the deep structure of society and transforms it? There follows an exploration of the role of amen as an acclamation in this third sense of sustaining God and a recognition that Jesus himself initiated something like a self-conscious transformation of acclamation into affirmation. The implications of this are of crucial importance and will be the substance of my final post on The Kingdom and the Glory.`




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