Posts Tagged ‘theopolitical’

Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarreled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of [Thomas] Carlyle – the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on governments at all, its comment must be this – that the man should rule who does not thing that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it mean this – that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t. (220-221)

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Nolo episcopari, Latin, lit., “I do not wish to be bishop”.

So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (1.23-26)

The Acts of the Apostles

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pentecost (1308)

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Paul was not just an itinerant preacher, but also a pastor. He was, nevertheless, a preacher — a proclaimer of the good news of God’s intervention in human history through Jesus Christ. This good news was not a private message of personal salvation, though it included the salvation of individuals. It was a political announcement, or better a theopolitical announcement (politics involving God), that challenged–and challenges–the very core of how people relate to one another in the real world. (41)

If God’s salvation, including peace and justice, comes through Jesus, then it does not come through Caesar–or any other political or imperial force or figure. This does not mean that Paul’s gospel was political neither than religious; it is just that the two were inseparable. Words like justice (or righteousness), salvation, savior, peace, church (or assembly), gospel and, or course, Christ (Messiah) were–and are–both political and religious because they had to do with how people relate to both God and others in the real world. Paul’s gospel, therefore, is theopolitical. (44)

Because the gospel is about God’s dramatic, cosmic, benevolent intervention, it is not merely a message about personal salvation, as so many perversions of the gospel imply. To be sure, Paul’s gospel calls individuals to a right relationship with God, but it calls them into a community where right relationships with God and with others — both insiders and outsides — are taught, learned, and practiced. Those who believe Paul’s gospel are not fire and foremost invited to eternal life when they die (though that is included: Rom 5:21; 6:22-23), but to a new life in this world under the sway of a new lord and savior in the company of like-minded companions (Phil 1:27-2:16). Hence the adjective “theopolitical” to describe the gospel, meaning a narrative about God that creates a public life together, a corporate narrative, that is an alternative to the status quo in the Roman Empire, the American empire, or any other body politic. (45)

Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul

adj., or or relating to politics involving God; of a narrative about God creating a public life together

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in Città or “Effects of Good Government in the City” (c. 1338-40)

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