Text and Society

Text and Society July 28, 2017

Orthodox theologian Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Orthodoxy & Political Theology) follows Erik Peterson’s analysis in Monotheism as a Political Problem. Peterson critiques the “political Arianism” in patristic imperial apologists like Eusebius, a position that treats the emperor as an emanation from God, like the not-eternal Son. Peterson “suggests that the authentic political teaching of Christianity—based, as it is, on the Trinity—should actually undermine the unholy union of religion and politics” (31).

Political Arianism forgets that “the very being of God is communion and love, that the Trinitarian God himself exists only as an event of communion and love” (36). Instead of underwriting human autonomy and political power, human beings are constituted “by the call to a relationship and communion with the Trinitarian God.” In place of egotism and narcissism, Trinitarian theology proposes an anthropology directed to the other. Not autonomy but allonomy (the term is from Thanos Lipowatz, 37).

Kalaitzidis follows with this salutary reminder (targeting John Zizioulas and especially Christos Yannaras): “as important and fundamental as Trinitarian and incarnational theologies are—inasmuch as they are the most decisive hermeneutical keys for working out an authentically Christian response to contemporary political challenges—we are unfortunately forced to admit that even these cannot automatically prompt their social enactment.” If there was an easy path from Trinitarian dogma to a Triunely-formed society, we’d have seen it. For all the gains of patristic Trinitarianism, though, it didn’t give birth immediately and painlessly to “a society based on love, justice, democracy and freedom.” In short, “textual truth does not necessarily result in social renewal” and all “facile attempts to move . . . from theology/ecclesiology and worship to the realm of culture/politics and state should be treated with suspicion” (38–39).

We have to grasp both sides of this: Trinitarian theology is essential to a Christian politics; yet we must beware of “facile” attempts to build bridges from Trinitarian theology to political practice.


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