Liturgia and the Modern State

In the last years I had focused my investigation first on law and then on theology. Why? The first answer, which is obviously a "joke" corresponds to the catastrophy in the history of translation, yes a in the discussion says that deconstruction could be thought as a kind of liturgy: but he calls this a joke, of course, but as he says "but every joke has a serious core", would be, because these are the only two fields in which Michel Foucault did not work. The second answer, apparently more serious, but every seriousness has a core of "mockery", would be, because I wanted to understand, what is politics? And I had the impression that in the juridical and theological spheres, what in political philosopohy presents itself as the arcanum imperii – the mystery of power – becomes clear and even acquires a kind of "transparency". For the two past years I have concentrated my investigations upon liturgy.
This should not be surprising because liturgy is in theology what ontology or metaphysics are in philosophy. Il theologia prima, as theologists say like ontology is philosophia prima.
On the other hand it seemed to me that only if I could understand what is a liturgical act, I could answer to Arendt's question: What does it mean, to act politically? As a matter of fact the proximity between liturgy and politics is implicit in the very term liturgia. The Greek term liturgia comes from laos (people) and ergon (work) and it means therefore literally public action, activity done for the people. In Athens liturgia designated the activity, the works that the citizen who had a certain income where obliged to do for the city. For instance to organize the public games, gymnasiarchia, or public feast, corrigia, and in case of war, to arm a ship, trierarchia.
"As you know the history of a term coincides with its translation. " And in this perspective I would just underscore, the crucial importance of two moments in the history of the term liturgia. The first one were when the Alexandrinean rabbis who translated the bible in(to) Greek chose the term liturgia to translate the Hebrew shir d, which meant the cultic activity in the temple. I do not have the time here to dwell on the reasons that pushed the rabbis to chose a political term for naming the cultic activity.
The second moment, even more significant, was when the Latin Christian fathers, especially Ambrosius (because he was the first), chose the Latin term officium (office) to designate in the same sense, as a translation of liturgia, the cultic practice of the priest.
The importance of this event for Western culture could not be overrated. One of the catastrophic consequences of this translation with the term office was the entering (entrance) of duty in the sphere of morals. A real catastrophy for Western ethics. Officium was often translated as duty. It is not really duty in Latin, but it was often translated as duty.
But let me begin my summary genealogy of liturgy, choosing a place in Germany in the 1920's, the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach. Here, in the same years as Marcel Duchamp is working to his Grand Verre and Martin Heidegger is preparing his masterpiece, an unknown monk, Odo Casel, works on the birth of what was to be called die liturgische Bewegung, the liturgical movement. The first twenty years of the 20th century had been called the age of movements. Not only on the right, as well on the left of the political scene the parties are replaced everywhere by the movements. But in every field - literature, arts - the movements take the place of schools and institutions. (You'll remember when in 1914 Freud had to find a name for what he was doing, he thought first "Psychoanalytical school?", no? Then he choose psychoanalytical movement.) We still lack a serious investigation of that phenomenon, why the term movement acquires suddenly such a power.
Let's go back to Odo Casel. In 1918 he made his dissertation at the university of Bonn, it was written in Latin and the title was De Philosophorum Graecorum Silencio Mystico – On the mystical silence of Greek philosophers. Here we find more or less clearly stated the two fundamental thesis that will guide his future investigations. First: The pagan mysteries were not a secret doctrine, which could be said, but was forbidden to debouch. Pagan mysteries were a praxis, an action (dromena) that were able to enact the salvation of " those, who take part in them." herein the "agent here is reintroduced into the relation"
Secondly, there is a generic continuity between pagan mysteries and Christian liturgy. "Christian liturgy is a mystery in the same sense, it is a praxis, an action". I would just suggest that this thesis, especially in the context of Germany at that moment, could have antisemite implications. Because it implied that Christian liturgy did not have its origin as really it had from the Jewish synagoge, but from the pagan mysteries.
But let's dwell on what was to be the core, the conclusion of all Casels scholarly and philological investigation. According to Casel the church is not a community of believers, who share a certain set of dogmas and creeds. Christianity in its core is not defined by a doctrine but by yet i think it is also connected to an idea of werklosigkeit in specific, peculiar way namely that what is put into effect is not a werk, ergon, but the effects; the baptism, the sacrament, etc that is also at the same time based on the idea that what happens is only enacted due to "an action, a praxis. That is to say by the participation in a cultic activity" of course this seems directly connected to idea of movements agamben brings up during the text, in the liturgical mystery. That means in Casel's words that "Christianism is not a doctrine but a mystery." If mystery is the proper name of the actions of the priest, and more generally of Christian praxis, then I had to understand and define the main features of this praxis. "What is a liturgical mystery, considered as the very paradigm of human praxis?"
there is a double link now, or so, which I cannot quite get together, cause somewhere else a. says, his writing would not be a negative experience of that, what cannot be said, the borders or abysall ground of language and so on, but then again he introduces with the topic of the voice this emptiness at the centre of his writings as something that cannot be written
Let's take Casel's 1928 essay on Mysteriengegenwart (Mysteric presence). According to Casel liturgical mystery is not a representatio, representation, but a presentatio, a presentation. In the liturgical mystery we witness the real, effective presence of what is symbolized in it. "The expression mysteric presence (Mysteriengegenwart) is a tautolgoy because a presence belongs constitutively to mystery." Casel was a philologist. In that perspective he had an incredible amount of investigations on the history of liturgy. And especially he concentrated on the patristic and scholastic theory of sacraments. Of course sacrament is the very centre of the christian liturgy. According to this theory the sacrament is a very peculiar activity. hm i wouldn't say that this is a shortcoming of language, rather the opposite it is where what is spoken becomes the deed "The sacraments "efficiunt quod figurant", realize, enact what they mean." You immediately see that the first definition of a performative act, of a speech act, was elaborated in the theory of sacraments. The sacraments realize what they mean. The sacrament is a sign, but the particularity of that sign is that it realizes what it means. The theory of the speech act was first elaborated to explain the peculiar nature of the sacramental action.
The historian of religion (Guy) Stroumsa has an interesting theory in which he opposes what happened in Judaism to what happened in Christianity: while after the destruction of the temple the rabbi spiritualized the liturgy and substituted the talmud thora, the study of the thora to the ritual accomplishment of sacrifices in the temple, Christianism is still centred on sacrifice. But it is a peculiar sacrifice, immolazio incruenta (without blood shedding), a mystery in which Christ, Christ's passion and death is present – is made present. But it is present not as a historical presence but in its effects, in its effectuality and efficacy. In so far as it operates the redemption from sin. Let's continue our analyses of this peculiar praxis which is the liturgical mystery. One of the main consequences of its performative nature, is the elaboration of the distinction between opus operatum and opus operantis. According to theologians opus operatum names the sacramental action in its performative effectualities according to which it will produce certain effects. It will produce in any case the effects. Opus operantis named the act in so far as it is enacted by a certain subject, a certain agent, the priest which has certain moral and physical qualities. The origin of this theory was in the 3rd century controversies on the validity of baptism. The problem was, if the priest who administrates the baptism is a murderer or apostat or whatever is the baptism valid? There was a big discussion but then the church decided that independently of the moral character of the priest, the baptism is in any case valid. So imagined: If we suppose that the priest had the intention to rape a woman and then he baptized her with this intention, in any case, the baptism is valid. As a matter of fact the only case in which the baptism is not valid, is, if the priest is joking. That’s the only cause that can nullify a baptism, a sacrament. So it’s a strange theory, it was meant to ensure the validity, the effectuality of the sacramental liturgy without any reference to the agent.
When I was working on this theory I wondered what was the origin, who invented this theory, it was never mentionned. Yes sometimes a certain theologian was mentionned, but never a reference to the text. So the person who invented this theory was Petrus (Pierre) de Poitier, a 13th century theologian who was one of the three labyrinths of France as they were called, Petrus Abaellardus and Petrus Lombardus. This theory which became after the paradigm of the praxis of the priest was first invented for the action of the devil. The idea was this: The devil is also a servant of God, and God therefore approves his works, but he will not approve the opera operantia, the works by means of which he has acted, because they were always bad. He only approves the opera operata, the effects of the action. Imagine how embarassing for theologians should be the fact, that the paradigm that would act as the ground for the praxis of the priest was first elaborated for the action of the devil. This is really an irony of history.
I would like to underscore the peculiar status of subjectivity in this context. The priest is just (...) a living instrument, instrumentum animatum of a mystery that transcends him. And yet, in so far as he is a minister, he is the agent, he enacts the sacramental action that without him could not become real and effective. This paradoxical practice is what the theologians called the officium, the office. I think you are aware of the enormous influence that this practical paradigm exerted on Western culture. The paradigm of the holy office is the same as the paradigm of the civil office. The officer and the clergyman are just on the same status.
"There is an action which is due, which is good and efficacious in itself with no respect for the moral status of the agent but nevertheless the agent is essential not as a body or a person, but only in so far as he has the power and the legitimation for acting, only insofar as he excerts a certain function." This is a transformation of the paradigm of the human praxis that is implicit in this model. But this implies also an equal transformation in ontology. Heidegger in his lessons in 1941 on The Metaphysics as the History of Being had analyzed the ontological transformation implicit in the translation of the greek term energeia into the latin term actualitas which will become Wirklichkeit. Heidegger points out the Roman origin of this transformation and also mentions the Roman church, but these indications remain vague and Heidegger limits himself to evoke „the biblical christian fate in creation“. My investigation shows that the first latin translation of the greek term energeia is not actualitas which is a part of a late scholastic terminology but effectus, efficenzia, efficacy. Terms that appear around the first half of the 3rd century, invented by christian theology. The locus of the ontological transformation that will become evident in this model is not of fate in the creation but the liturgy and the theory of sacraments. While energeia was for Aristotle a mode of being, a dwelling in the presence grounded on the model the ergon, the work, now being becomes a Wirklichkeit, a praxis, an activity, a peculiar activity, an effectuality, a praxis which coincides with its effects. It completely changes the model of Being. But I think that this is still our way of understanding what Being is, we have no representation of Being other than this Wirklichkeit or realitas.
Let me conclude evoking the historical context in which the liturgical movement was located. Is it by chance that the work and development of the liturgical movement in the church coincide with an unprecedented development of the liturgical and ceremonial aspects of profane power? Thus in the same years we witness first in fascist Italy and then in Nazi Germany the elaboration of political rituals where the presence of a conscious liturgical element is evident. The analogy is not only formal. Not only the technical element indespensable to every liturgy the so called doxology or acclamation is retaken and reactualized by state power, but as Kantorowicz has shown in his book called Laudes Regie there is a continuous exchange between the acclamations of the church and state power. Kantorowicz describes the history of a specific acclamation: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. (Christ wins, Christ reigns, Christ commands.) As soon as Pius XI is elected pope in 1922 the same year when Mussolini takes power in Italy he intended to face the new energy in politics initiating a feast he called Christus Rex, Christ the king, and reactualized the old doxology. But what Kantorowicz showed is, that a few years after we found this doxology, this acclamation of the church shifting into the realm of fascist rituals, and it will be used mixed with the name of Mussolini: Mussolini wins (reigns, commands). And we will also find that during the spanish civil war used by fascist militants.
But also Carl Schmitts theory of the Führertum, where the Führer is conceived not simply as a symbol, but as enacting and realizing "the immediate presence/Gegenwart of the German people", corresponds exactly to Casels theory of the mysterium of the (presence) Gegenwart of christ in the sacrament. And in the first half of the 20th century liturgy is everywhere I think. Not only where you can expect it, like in Stefan George and the poetical circle or in Ludwig Klages Kosmischer Runde but also where you had not expected it as in Georges Batailles group Acéphale and the Collège de Sociologie, where we can see apparently serious french intellectuals celebrate a nightly ritual called L'experience de la joie devant la mort... Benjamin raising his arms to the sky saying: Vous travaillez pur le fascisme./You're working for fascism.
But the same in the domain of art: There is a strict link between avantgarde practices and liturgy. Hugo Balls evolution from the creation of Dadaism to Byzantine christianity (that is the title of his 1923 book) is extraordinarily significant. I think it would not be incorrect to say, that the overcoming of artistic creation pursued by dadaism and avantgarde pointed in the direction of a purely liturgical gestuality. Whose ultimate consequence is the role of performance in contemporary art. I think that we cannot understand what is a performance in contemporary art if we do not understand that it is a liturgical practice. A purely liturgical practice with all the characteristics of the performance (that) we saw.
"I think that perhaps the first half the twentieth century is not only the age of movements, but also the age of liturgy." And perhaps we still live in this legacy. If we go back now to the history of the Church, we see that in 1947 – after the huge crisis of the 2nd world war – the pope Pius XII presents the encyclical Mediator Dei on liturgy precicely, where Casels theory was confirmed and the celebration of the liturgical mystery is defined as "the supreme activity of the Church".
But if we ask now what ist he ultimate nature of this mystery, what is this liturgical mystery conceived as the "suprime activity of the church" and then as the supreme activity of men? The answer I think can only be political.
In 1935 the theologian Erik Peterson, the same who engaged in the 30s debate with Carl Schmitt on political theology, wrote a book in which he states that beyond any doubt the liturgy of the Church has an original relation – eine ursprüngliche Beziehung – with the political sphere. In any case the hypothesis with wich I would like to conclude is that this liturgical paradigm of praxis has excerted a decicive influence on both ethics and politics of Modernity. "In this sense I would suggest that the Western conception of ethical and political action has been shaped by the idea of office, officium." And perhaps we can’t really understand Eichmanns case without the reference to this idea of an office, of an officium. This is why – following a methodological principle that I firmly hold, according to which archaelogy is the only way to have acces to the present I am now deeply engaged in an archaelogy of the office.