The Politics of the Body: Liturgy and the Eucharist in the Twilight of Capitalism
This essay attempts to map a precise anatomy of late capitalism’s destructive effects on the human person by way of a review of critiques of capitalism by Graham Ward, Kathryn Tanner, and William Cavanaugh. In dialogue with these theologians, it then advances an account of the Eucharist as a liturgical practice that inscribes a theological anthropology robust enough to counter capitalism’s dehumanizing effects, situated within a new communitarian sociality whose circulation of desire and material goods encourages us to dream beyond our present economic state of affairs.
What then would be the difference and the relation between this religious world and circulation of its desires and the realms of mystification conjured by the dazzling magic of money and “the perpetuum mobile of circulation” that issues from “gold as [society’s] Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of its innermost principle of life?” Graham Ward, “The Commodification of Religion, or the Consummation of Capitalism”
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner
will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 11.27
For five or so years after the turn of the millennium, I watched as my parents, owners of a mid-size manufacturing plant, struggled to live ethical lives structured by the Christian principles of love of God and of neighbor in an industry collapsing under the deadly synergy of rapid technologization and unprecedented outsourcing.1 More, they did so in an economic system that not only failed to encourage and reward their ethical practices but actively discouraged and punished them: the longer my father refrained from laying off assembly line workers for whom he (and other manufacturers in our region) did not have work, the more my mother was strapped to make payroll; the more honest and forthcoming my father sought to be in his business negotiations with the multinational corporations for which his company supplied parts, the more likely his chances of being taken advantage of by them; and so forth. Succeeding in the cutthroat marketplace of global capitalism and living an ethical life characterized by practices of Christian love fluctuated in an inverse relationship.
My parents’ engagement with and struggle against the dehumanizing dynamics of the capitalist market is not simply a cautionary tale about the ethical precariousness of doing business in our contemporary world but a means of foregrounding an important relationship: between Christianity and economic exchange as embodied in actual human lives. In response to recent economic and cultural convergences centered on the global financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement, theologians have increasingly asked what Christianity has to do with the economy.2 Inspired by the example of my parents—which identifies, at the least, a tension between practices of Christian love and contemporary mechanisms responsible for distributing economic “reward”3—I intend to ask a more specific question: what has Christianity against capitalism, and what resources does its theological tradition offer for fostering resistance to the dehumanizing and dematerializing operations of the market?
I will sketch one possible answer to this question by synthesizing several contemporary theological treatments of the relation between the Church’s sacramental life and late capitalism, hoping through the identification and intensification of their key points of intersection to open up new avenues for theological reflection and ecclesial praxis. First, I will attempt to map a precise anatomy of capitalism’s effects on the human person by way of Graham Ward’s analysis of both of the operations named above in relation to Marx’s treatment of the fetishism of commodities in Das Kapital. I will then outline a structural critique of capitalism’s present mode of circulating both capital and desire, following the analyses of both William Cavanaugh and Kathryn Tanner. As we will see, these operations and modes of circulation culminate in a condition to which I will refer as the evacuation of the human, where persons are dehumanized to the point of suffering violence to their bodies and/or their socio-political agency. At this point, I will shift to the second stage of my argument by commending the Eucharist as a technology of the self, or ensemble of subjectivating techniques, capable of contributing to the construction of a personhood or identity resistant to capitalism. I will, in short, suggest that the Eucharist inscribes a theological anthropology with communitarian and gift-giving axes, one that it not only describes but actually claims to effect through the incorporation of the community of the faithful into the transcorporeal body of Jesus Christ. The fragile subject of consumerism, wed to and wounded by the never-ending deferral of its desire from one commodity fetish to another, is displaced by the realization of an eschatological anthropology in Christ through the Eucharist, an operation that, as such a realization, not only makes possible a robust resistance to the death-dealing dynamics of the market but also provides an alternative account of desire, consumption, and circulation. The Eucharistic injunction “This is my body” announces both a micro- and a macropolitics, makes possible not only resistance to capitalism’s effects but also a vigorous critique of its present scheme of distribution—and both in a distinctly theological key.
Evacuating the Human, or What’s the Matter with Capitalism?
Capitalism’s effects on the human person must be examined in relation to the process of reification effected by commodity fetishism. Psychoanalytic theorist Cornelius Castoriadis provides an account of reification as an operation intrinsic to capitalism but with an ironic twist:
Reification, the essential tendency of capitalism, can never be wholly realized. If it were, if the system were actually able to change individuals into things moved only by economic “forces,” it would collapse not in the long run, but immediately. The struggle of people against reification is, just as much as the tendency towards reification, the condition for the functioning of capitalism. Capitalism can function only by continually drawing upon the genuinely human activity of those subject to it, while at the same time trying to level and dehumanize them as much as possible.4
Graham Ward clarifies Castoriadis’s account by explaining that reification, or that process by which human subjects are turned into objects or “things moved only by economic ‘forces,’” catches capitalism in a paradox. Commodity exchange alienates the products of human labor from the producers themselves, who are objectified and made equivalent to their labor-time. But for the process of commodification to work, there must be producers whom capitalism can continue to alienate—the very producers whom the process of commodification continually strives to reify.5 The system seems caught in a fatal contradiction or, at least, under the threat of immanent collapse, for the capitalist mode of production requires the human beings it continually dehumanizes to, against all odds, remain human. This resistance is presumably made possible by what Castoriadis refers to here as “the genuinely human”—to that essential ontological quality which constitutes the human as such, safe from the reifying processes of the economic production and exchange because exterior to them. As Ward observes, however, Castoriadis himself does not actually have any account of the human outside the changing flows of culture; according to his Lacanian psychoanalytic account, “what is human is a social fabrication [constructed of materials belonging to] a ‘radical imagination’ … or ‘incessant flux through which anything can be given.’”6 Thus, the only possible resistance is not to be found in an appeal to “the genuinely human” but, rather, in the creation of an alternative, counterhegemonic construction of the human. Following Ward, I would consider the upshot of this construction its resistance to the dehumanizing effects of reification rather than its circumvention of the immanent collapse of the capitalist system—which would not be worth saving on its own terms anyway. And as we will see, Ward, pace Castoriadis, feels that collapse does not, in fact, inevitably follow from the complete reification of the human and that actually we are now seeing the effects of this strange operation as it nears its completion.7
The alienation of labor, which results in the reification of human persons, aims ultimately at the production of commodities, a process that dematerializes material reality by translating material goods into the dazzling realm of exchange-values. Ward, following Marx’s Das Kapital, argues that the
process of commodification fosters a tropology, a worldview dominated by various forms of figurative representations, theatrical spectacle, or what Marx calls “personifications” that float free from and veil material reality, transposing the world of material and natural forces into a highly wrought allegory controlled by capitalist hoarding.8
This work of demystification is made even more difficult due to what Ward terms “circulations of desire,”12 which according to William Cavanaugh’s analysis of contemporary consumerism, are endlessly deferred. Cavanaugh relates, “Not only do we seek to leave behind the bodily labor that goes into making things [but] consumerism represents a constant dissatisfaction with particular material things themselves, a restlessness that constantly seeks to move beyond what is at hand.”13 This reading of desire relies on Cavanaugh’s analysis of human freedom. Taking the work of Milton Friedman as an exemplary case, Cavanaugh defines the freedom of the free market as “the insistence that exchanges be voluntary and informed,”14 a negative conception of freedom as only “freedom from the interference of others, especially from the state.” This leads Cavanaugh to conclude that the “free market has no telos … no common end to which desire is directed,” for a common end would, presumably, constrain the negative freedom of the market and thus violate its governing principles.15 This means that the economy lacks any evaluative mechanism by which to adjudicate the quality of its desire—or even to determine if this desire is truly free. Free market desire, by Cavanaugh’s account, is literally a desire for everything and thus, in effect, for nothing.16 The subject of late capitalism is wounded by the never-ending deferral of its desire without a telos, floating from commodity fetish to commodity fetish in an economic system structured, as stated above, on processes of dehumanization and which, per Cavanaugh, can never provide ultimate satisfaction: “that’s why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism.”17
The circulation of these commodity fetishes is governed by capitalism under the rubric of private property. By Kathryn Tanner’s analysis, the conceptualization of exclusive property rights follows from a particular understanding of the human as, in some sense, owned by the self:
Exclusive property rights to one’s person and capacities become the means of justifying all other forms of exclusive property—that is, property in material possessions. If one’s labor is one’s private or exclusive property, then so too is what comes to one through its use—the wages of that labor and, indirectly, what one purchases with them. One has rights of exclusive possession to what one has worked for.18
Private property is, then, the micro-institution that structures the negative freedom of the market analyzed by Cavanaugh, here construed as a kind of reward or exchange for the use of one’s labor or capacities, which is itself one’s own private property. In this way, private property and the market appear to be natural, built into our very subjectivity and merely organized by human beings into financial markets, institutionalized forms of otherwise natural social relations.19 But as we saw by way of Ward’s analysis of Castoriadis, “the genuinely human” is a social construction and not a natural given accessible outside the imaginary of culture. So too is private property, rooted as it is in an account of the human, “a very particular sort of social institution,” one that Tanner argues “creates the very conditions of scarcity that lie behind the competitive fights of capitalism.”20 In brief, Tanner contends that “property as an exclusive and unconditioned right to use and dispose of what one possesses” creates a competitive economy in which, because what one possesses by definition cannot be possessed by another, fabricates scarcity as a function of the ever-increasing accumulation of this property by a select few, yielding “unequal distributions of wealth to the point where … having money or lacking it tends, in short, to become a cumulative condition.” Those who have accumulated substantial economic capital can—by way of market investments, the wielding of political power, ownership of the means of production, and so forth—use their store to accumulate even more property, whereas those with less capital are rendered permanently vulnerable.21 Poverty so conceived takes the shape of human beings without capital who subsist in a network of other human beings without capital—a condition that perpetuates itself without much or any hope of interruption and to which the ideology of the so-called “American dream” serves as a frighteningly effective distraction.22 Indeed, property ownership as an extension of a more fundamental ownership of oneself seems to culminate in this very condition: the commodification of the human now rendered a “mere repository of labor or talents susceptible to use by others for their own ends.”23
With this we have returned to the alienation of labor, the reification of human persons, the dematerializing effects of commodity fetishism, and the perpetual deferral of market desire—all of which compose a deadly synergy characteristic of late capitalism to which I will refer as the evacuation of the human. Indeed, this is the condition which Ward, pace Castoriadis, thinks not only possible but nearing completion in the present. His prophetic words wax apocalyptic:
My analyses of Marx’s account of the operations of capitalism suggest [Castoriadis] is mistaken: everything is already commodified and all things already compose a virtual reality within the circulations of capitalism. No ‘genuinely human activity’ can be located within the order of simulation and simulacrum; a genuine and material sociality is still to be founded and is continually deferred.24
Ward’s account of never-ending simulacra is echoed in Cavanaugh’s deployment of Fredric Jameson in analyzing the “Campbell soup-can art” of Andy Warhol: “As Jameson observes, Warhol’s art should be a powerful political critique of commodity fetishism. The fact that it is not makes it postmodern. Even the critique of commodities has itself become a commodity.”25 These are the conditions which make possible unprecedented levels of wage slavery;26 which short-circuit the efficacy of so-called postmaterial practices by rendering them commodities before they can even begin to level a critique of capitalist practices of consumption;27 which render nearly impossible the conceptualization of an “outside” to the market or the imagining of alternatives to its mode of production or schemes of distribution:28 late capitalism has evacuated the human with startling effectiveness. The Church must respond to this evacuation not only by rallying its moral vocabularies to condemn its violent and anesthetizing effects but by giving its own account of the human, by deploying “theologies that advance alternative socialities and ways of being human that are not merely human.”29 And if a counterhegemonic theological anthropology is to have any success re-investing the human with meaning, it must sufficiently address the following two capitalist subjectivities observed by Ward, in addition to that of those who suffer violent inequality such as the homeless: “a new class of slaves, laboring for minimum-level wages in the multiplicity of service industries, and a new class of somnambulists surfeited with shopping and anesthetized with entertainment … profoundly forgetful of civic responsibilities and the proliferating needs of the disadvantaged.”30 These three—the homeless, the slave, and the somnambulist—represent the human consequences of late capitalism to which we must now respond.
Having, then, sketched the contours of capitalism’s twin operations of dehumanization and dematerialization; outlined a systemic critique of its present mode of circulating desire and resources and of the fundamental term on which these circulations are structured, private property; and gestured toward the consequences of this deadly synergy in evacuating the human of meaning; let us turn more directly to the Church, that sacrament31 whereby the world comes to know itself as the location “of a promised and operative reconciliation; a resurrection life not just beyond this world in some post-mortem realm but in this world as this world’s concealed [mysterion] reality.”32 In particular, let us turn to the Church’s liturgical life, to that which both proclaims and embodies its doxa and provides hope thereby for resistance to these, our stately cultures of death which sparkle.
The Body of the Church and the Politics of the Eucharist
To rectify the failure identified by Siobhán Garrigan of the “turn to praxis [in liturgical theology] to say how worship experience can be accessed except, paradoxically, as text,”33 I will employ Michel Foucault’s concept of technologies of the self, those
technologies … which permit individuals to effect by their own means, or with the help of others, a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.34
Lest one think that Foucault is, here, entirely out of character with the rest of his oeuvre— suggesting some sort of pure space within which individuals can make of themselves whatever they like—it is important to keep in mind that technologies of the self “hardly ever function separately” but are, rather, implicated in a complex interrelation between three other types of technologies Foucault labors to identify: “technologies of production … technologies of sign systems … [and] technologies of power.”35 To focus on specific technologies of the self is to discern precisely what kind of self is being constructed in and through a particular practice (practices which, in the case of our investigation, are liturgical) without ever assuming that the practice (or the self) is self-enclosed or absolutely free—secluded, in other words, from the operations of production, signification, and power which, again, Foucault suggests are concomitant with technologies of the self.
Taking inspiration from Foucault’s analysis in Discipline and Punish of how differing modes of performing public punishment constructed different forms of subjectivity subject to that punishment, Mark Jordan remarks “that liturgy asks the participants to perform certain identities after and outside any particular rites—in the church, the family, the world.”36 That is, liturgical subjects do not cease to be such simply because the “performance” of liturgy is over; the operations of these ritual technologies of the self have lasting implications and are capable of producing subjectivities robust enough to challenge other cultural productions. To trace these operations is to examine liturgy as one of Christianity’s “technologies for the forging of persons as social and theological agents.”37 In such an analysis, I am, pace Foucault, assuming that any liturgical technology of the self is such not only by virtue of the human being’s freedom to shape her or his own self through the various techniques embedded in a liturgical celebration but also by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers the liturgy and is also, therefore, intimately involved in the shaping of subjectivities thereby.38 This is not to say that the Holy Spirit’s work simply cancels out human agency as Foucault accounts for it but, rather, to follow Karl Rahner in saying, “closeness and distance, or being at God’s disposal and being autonomous, do not vary for creatures in inverse, but rather in direct proportion.”39 This makes possible the querying of Foucault by the theologian as to whether any technology of the self—not simply those embedded in liturgical practices—can ever be entirely evacuated of the Holy Spirit’s presence or the operation of supernatural grace, especially if the ultimate aim of such technologies is, “to transform [oneself] in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.”40
With this in mind, we turn to the Eucharist itself as a particularly important ensemble of Christian technologies of the self. To begin to speak of the Eucharist at all is to enter precarious ecumenical territory and to risk at every turn the alienation of potential allies who may not share all of one’s Eucharistic commitments. Though I speak as an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian and will for this reason focus on Eucharistic theologies coming out of Catholic and High Anglican traditions, I hope that the principles of Eucharistic embodiment and relationality I identify here and which I think constitute in outline a liturgically-instantiated theological anthropology will find ecclesial application beyond just Anglicanism or Catholicism, if not every point of the account of Eucharistic presence employed therein. It is offered, too, in the hope that theologians of all perspectives will continue to advance their own accounts of the intersection between liturgy and economics with which this essay is concerned—and that from this dialogue will rise new avenues for ecclesial and theological collaboration. As a participant in this dialogue, however, I admit to intending an implicit critique of ecclesial traditions which evacuate the body of meaning as insufficiently equipped to resist the nihilistic metaphysics of capitalism sketched in the first half of this paper. I, moreover, intend an explicit critique of many aspects of the present form of Eucharistic practice in my own Anglican tradition in order to more fully align the physical rite with what I see as the heart of the sacrament it purports to make available. What follows is, therefore, as much a vision as a description. In brief, I contend that the Eucharist forms theological agents that circumvent the evacuation of the human by way of three critical operations, which it is the labor of the remainder of my essay to explain: a re-materialization of social reality capable of grounding resistance to the vain simulacra of finance-driven capitalism; a re-humanization effected by the realization of an “eschatological personhood”41 in Christ; and a re-distribution or alternative circulation of the goods of creation, orientated toward the Good. To invoke St. Paul, then, the theological task here becomes one of properly discerning the Body.
The Eucharist, that sacrament which makes the Church, is described by Ward as a three-fold movement of “fracture, union and dispersal.”42 The first of these announces the embodiment of an alternative social order such that the material world, de-materialized by the alienation of labor and processes of commodification, becomes the location of an operative and redeeming grace. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic fracture occurs between the completion of the Lord’s Prayer and the ministration of the elements to the faithful. By Ward’s account, “the priest holds the wafer over the chalice of wine and breaks it into two saying: ‘We break this bread to share in the Body of Christ.’ The congregation [responds] with: ‘Though we are many we are one body because we all share in one bread.’”43 In this liturgical exchange—our first liturgical technology of the self—we approach the heart of Eucharistic embodiment, the dynamic inter-materialization of both corpus mysticum and corpus verum, or the “mystical body” and the “true and knowable body.” To explain: Cavanaugh relates that in his magisterial study of medieval Eucharistic thought, Henri de Lubac identifies three bodies of Christ: “(1) the historical body, meaning the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, (2) the sacramental body, or Christ as present in the Eucharistic elements, and (3) the ecclesial body, that is, the church.” Early Eucharistic theologies classified the sacramental body as corpus mysticum and the ecclesial body as corpus verum; these two maintained a close relation as liturgical instantiations of the historical body, separated from the corpus verum of the Church by a stretch of time traversed through the consumption of the corpus mysticum of the Eucharist:
The Eucharist and the church, both of which are understood by the term communio, are together the contemporary performance of the historical body, the unique historical event of Jesus. Christians are the real body of Christ, and the Eucharist is where the church mystically comes to be. The church and the Eucharist form the liturgical pair of visible community (corpus verum) and invisible action or mystery (corpus mysticum) which together re-present and re-member Christ’s historical body. The gap is a temporal one. The link between past event and the present church is formed by the invisible action of the sacrament.44
The traditional relationship between corpus mysticum and corpus verum has been reversed in contemporary Eucharistic thought, however: “signified and signifier have exchanged places, such that the sacramental body is the visible signifier of the hidden signified, which is the social body of Christ.”45 Cavanaugh, following de Lubac, argues for a return to the traditional understanding, noting how conceiving of the Church as corpus mysticum has not only failed to increase the profundity of the ecclesial body but has actually served to explain away the Church’s retreat from the political realm simultaneously with an increasing focus on its institutional forms, along the lines of “New Christendom” ecclesiology.46 The upshot of such a restoration for our own discussion is its capacity to restore the dignity of material reality, to weight the material with sacramental meaning. It is worth remembering that “transubstantiation” is one of Marx’s favorite terms for describing the process of commodification,47 but whereas this operation arguably transubstantiates a material good into the immaterial sparkle of exchange-value—a transubstantiation out of the material, as it were—Eucharistic transubstantiation suggests an alternative movement. Material gifts of bread and wine, broken and lifted up, become a body, the corpus mysticum which when consumed by the faithful consumes the faithful, incorporating them into the corpus verum, the true and actual body of Jesus Christ.48 The Eucharist so conceived is, thus, the accomplishment of a “material sociality,”49 an organic, transcorporeal body of inter-relationships realized not simply as text but as tissue. The technology of the fraction anthem—invoking, describing, and affirming these effects of transubstantiation—thus announces what Cavanaugh refers to as “the church’s counter-imagination to that of the state.”50
The second of the three Eucharistic technologies—union—re-humanizes the weak subjects of late capitalism by realizing in them an eschatological personhood, accomplished by the collapse of secular time and the incorporation of the faithful into Christ. In treating the unique temporality instantiated by the Eucharistic feast, Cavanaugh reminds us that real presence cannot be understood on the lines of “God in a can,” which would render the body of Christ an object among objects. Instead, he recommends Jean-Luc Marion’s construal of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which understands presence in explicitly temporal terms:
Christ’s presence in the Eucharist … is not the presence of the here and now, the ordinary conception of time, but is rather the present, meaning “gift,” of Christ’s self in a way that encompasses the whole Christ, past, future, and present … by embodying the three temporalizations implicit in 1 Cor. 11:26: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”51
“Eucharistic time” so conceived is the gift of a new temporality made possible by Christ’s historical sacrifice and situated within an eschatological horizon: the Eucharistic past opens up the Eucharistic present toward an eschatological banquet of which the Eucharist is always already a “foretaste.” Cavanaugh clarifies that “the present, then, is not a self-sufficient reality” but, rather, a “borrowed time … always oriented by the past and straining towards the future.”52 So much for the present moment so worshipped by carpe diem consumer marketing structured by scarcity (because only the first ten callers will receive this special offer), or the triumphalist tones of the so-called “end of history” lauded by neoliberal economists. The eschatological temporality of the Eucharist both short-circuits the possibility of any human self-satisfaction and makes possible utopian dreams that can draw us beyond the status quo without succumbing to what Terry Eagleton calls an “extraordinarily Pollyannaish view of human progress.”53 This becomes clear as well in the dynamic relationship between corpus mysticum and corpus verum. For Marion, “the consecrated host is the very flesh of Jesus Christ, truly edible, but it is ‘mystical’ flesh because it defies confinement to a readily available here and now”; the purpose of this presence is clearly not some God-in-a-can scheme but, rather, “the building of the true body of Christ in time, his corpus verum, which the church both is and is meant to be.”54 Consumption of the elements (and, per Cavanaugh, being consumed by them) is that liturgical technology whereby one realizes the peculiar kind of union announced in the fraction anthem and the breaking of bread, a union that infuses the temporal with the eternal and surfaces the eschatological dynamism at the heart of time. The faithful, as the transcorporeal body of the Messiah in this world, are rendered eschatological persons. As Ward states suggestively, “it is scandalous that we walk down our Market Streets, our Seventh Avenues, and our Tottenham Court Roads as Christ walked. But this is the corollary of our eschatological humanism [which] situates Christians in a place beyond the times and spaces of a particular environment.”55 Incorporation into Christ’s corpus verum thus weights human action with cosmic significance, reverses processes of dehumanization by resisting the social atomization which is the condition of the possibility of reification, and orientates human desire toward the coming of a Kingdom whose fruits have already been tasted.
The final Eucharistic technology of the self—dispersal—rehearses the logic of the fracture on a social level, founding an alternative circulation of gifts and goods. The assembled faithful, having consumed the corpus mysticum of Christ and thanked God “for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom,” are dismissed by the Deacon saying, “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”56 The dismissal re-instantiates the mystery of the breaking of the sacramental body by dispersing the ecclesial body for service in and to the world. Like the Eucharistic fracture, it does not obey a secular logic of scarcity but one of superabundance: just as the whole Christ is present in each piece of bread broken and wine sipped, “the Eucharistic We is a pluralised and pluralising body that overspills defined places, opening up another space.”57 As such, the dispersal repudiates the zero-sum game of a capitalism where “there just isn’t enough to go around of all the things that people want or need”58 by establishing and nourishing a new sociality with communitarian and gift-giving axes. If the scandalous identification of Christ with the poor in Matthew 25.40 is taken seriously, and if the Church is really now Christ’s corpus verum, then “the pain of the hungry person [which] is the pain of Christ … is thus also the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ.”59 The result of this complex subjectivity effected by the dispersal is a radical disruption of the logic of private property and the initiation of a new circulation of material goods, which are always already recognized as gifts (as is the whole Eucharistic liturgy):
The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ. We are not to consider ourselves as absolute owners of our stuff, who then occasionally graciously bestow charity on the less fortunate. In the body of Christ, your pain is my pain, and my stuff is available to be communicated to you in your need, as Aquinas says. … In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others.60
Material, spiritual, social, and political resources thus cease to be considered under rubrics of private ownership but, rather, constitute something of the life-blood of the circulatory system of the transcorporeal body of Jesus Christ;61 their just distribution and proper circulation is not just modeled by the fracture and distribution of the sacramental body but is in some sense made the (super)natural mode of being of the ecclesial body and the telos of its desire. Having received all that we are and all that we need through the gift of Christ’s mystical presence at the altar, we performatively realize Christ’s real presence in the world by giving of ourselves to others as Christ continues to give his self to us.62
The Eucharist announces both a micro- and a macro-politics. As an ensemble of subjectivating technologies, it inscribes a theological anthropology robust enough to challenge the evacuation of the human, situated within a new communitarian sociality whose circulation of desire and material goods is orientated toward an eschatological horizon that encourages us to dream beyond capitalism. Where processes of commodification dematerialize reality by transposing it into a dazzling realm of exchange-value, the Eucharist announces and nourishes the materialization of a transcorporeal network of interdependent relationships, the corpus verum of Jesus Christ as Church. Where the alienation of labor reifies human persons, the Eucharist realizes an eschatological personhood that not only restores human dignity but weights human action with cosmic significance. Where free market consumerism’s zero-sum circulation of property perpetually defers human desire and leads to levels of material inequality that do violence to human bodies, the Eucharist realizes a just distribution of goods by refusing the logics of individualism and scarcity and founding a new circulation rooted in mutual abundance, recognizing everything human beings are and have as gifts given by a gracious God for the end of meeting human need. The homeless, the slave, and the somnambulist all find a place at this eschatological feast—more, they find themselves:
So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, you see, is The body of Christ, and you answer, Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true.63
* In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 4.7, I would like to thank Kathryn Tanner, Diana Swancutt, Erinn Staley, and the anonymous reviewer of Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School for their close reading of this paper at various points in its development. It is much stronger for their feedback; all remaining weaknesses are, of course, wholly mine. I also wish to thank the Theology & Poverty colloquium convened in Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 2012 for their spirited discussion of my thoughts here and their responses of both challenge and encouragement. The theological experiment in which I am indulging is propelled in no small part by their own impassioned discussion of the Eucharist, of its centrality to their devotion and their attestation that its effects ramify across the whole of their lives in ways seen and unseen. For this particular conversation I will always be grateful.
1 A recent front-page article in The Atlantic monthly depicts the situation facing American manufacturers like my parents true to experience. See Adam Davidson, “Making It in America,” The Atlantic,January/February 2012, accessed April 15, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/8844/.
2 I think particularly of the Wall Street Dialogues sponsored by Trinity Institute from January 11 through February 15, 2012, which featured the responses of theologians such as Gary Dorrien and Kathryn Tanner to issues raised by Occupy Wall Street, in addition to the continuing work of Occupy Faith. Indeed, the review of recent constructive theological responses to our growing cultural dissatisfaction with the terms of late capitalism (of which Occupy is, to my mind, an especially recent and important manifestation) is in large part the burden of the first section of this paper.
3 Square-quotes are necessary here, for it is, in part, the category of reward that my account of a Christian response to capitalism intends to contest.
4 Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge: Polity, 1987), 16, qtd. in Graham Ward, “The Commodification of Religion, or The Consummation of Capitalism,” in Theology and the Political: The New Debate, ed. Creston Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj Žižek (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 327.
5 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 327-328.
6 Ibid., 328.
7 Ibid., 330.
8 Ibid., 330.
9 Ibid., 330-31.
10 Ibid., 332-34.
11 This follows from epistemological claims I have not the space to justify but only to state as presuppositions. Ward’s own treatment of Castoriadis’s The Imaginary Institution of Society (which draws generously from Lacanian psychoanalysis) in combination with the insights of feminist standpoint epistemology is instructive for me here in understanding the nature of theological arguments and their capacity to participate in contests over public truth and the direction of future cultural change. See Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), particularly chapters 2 and 3. My heavily constructivist account of social relations here may seem at odds with the critique of capitalism as a system of dematerialization. As the rest of the paper attempts to illustrate, however, social constructivism need not be understood as synonymous with dematerialization as Ward understands it; the point is that some constructions uphold the dignity of materiality while others do not, making constructions of the latter kind (for me, the Eucharist) integral to the task of addressing the problems of capitalism.
12 Ibid., 332.
13 William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 48.
14 Ibid., 3.
15 Ibid., 5.
16 Cavanaugh works this out in relation to Augustine’s analysis of his own desire in his Confessions. Ibid., 10-15.
17 Ibid., 35.
18 Kathryn Tanner, Economy of Grace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 35.
19 Ibid., 36-37.
20 Ibid., 38.
21 Ibid., 39.
22 Joe Bageant’s work on the experience of the working class in modern America has been instructive for me here. See his Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (New York: Crown Publishers, 2007), particularly those sections pertaining to what he terms the “American hologram”: 247ff.
23 Tanner, Economy of Grace, 46.
24 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 337, emphasis mine.
25 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 69-70.
26 See Tanner, Economy of Grace, 42-46: “It is easy to suspect that the distinction between one’s person and one’s labor is simply being employed here ideologically to justify a sharper difference, in principle, between working for wages and slavery than the realities of capitalism would support.”
27 See Graham Ward, The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 116: “A postmaterialism simply locked into economic forces that dematerialize the world is ineffective. It remains entangled with modern notions of freedom—political freedom correlated to economic freedom, a freedom that so easily forgets.” I also read Cavanaugh as employing a strategy similar to Ward’s, attempting to root postmaterial practices such as Church Supported Agriculture and Fair Trade in a eucharistic embodiment, cf. Being Consumed,87-88.
28 See Tanner, Economy of Grace, 32-34: “It is the free-wheeling capitalism of today or nothing … we have no idea of what we might replace the present system with, no vision of a different system to spur revision of the present one’s inhumanities.” The work of Slavoj Žižek has also been instructive for me here.
29 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 338.
30 Ward, The Politics of Discipleship, 220, emphasis mine.
31 By referring to the church as sacrament in this way, I intend to invoke the teaching of Lumen gentium as interpreted by Gustavo Gutiérrez: “To call the Church the ‘visible sacrament of this saving unity’ [between God and the human person] is to define it in relation to the plan of salvation, whose fulfillment in history the Church reveals and signifies to the human race.” I should also note that I concur with Gutiérrez’s critique of ecclesiocentrism and intend to presuppose Gutiérrez’s conviction that “[The Church’s] center is outside itself, it is in the work of Christ and his Spirit [and] outside of the action of the Spirit which leads the universe and history towards its fullness in Christ, the Church is nothing.” See his A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. and ed. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1973), 147. Though I will, indeed, attempt to define the Church in more overtly embodied terms than Gutiérrez himself employs, we shall see that the Church as the Body of Christ is always overflowing its boundaries and thus is never directly equivalent to any institution as such.
32 Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 57.
33 Siobhán Garrigan, Beyond Ritual: Sacramental Theology After Habermas (Burlington: Ashgate, 2004), 39. Garrigan herself offers Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action as the new methodological tool with which to remedy this failure. I should be clear that my use of Foucault here is, therefore, much more inspired by Mark Jordan than by Garrigan herself.
34 Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, vol. 1 of The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. Paul Rabinow. (New York: The New Press, 1997), 225.
36 Mark D. Jordan, “Arguing Liturgical Genealogies, or, The Ghost of Weddings Past,” in Authorizing Marriage?: Canon Tradition and Critique in the Blessing of Same-sex Unions, ed. Mark D. Jordan, Meghan T. Sweeney, and David M. Mellott (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 117.
37 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 335. As stated above, these technologies are one of the key elements of Christianity which, to Ward’s mind, make possible a robust resistance to capitalist processes of dehumanization and dematerialization.
38 That is, I affirm that liturgical textuality is as much an announcement of the working of the Spirit in and through the assembly as it is the means by which these transformations are effected. I do not have the space in this paper necessary to outline the precise contours of the liturgical speech-act which allow for the divine and the human to co-exist and cohere, but only to appeal to the more general non-competitive relationship between divine and human agency before moving on to a closer examination of this mutual operation.
39 Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. William V. Dych (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1978), 226.
40 Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” 225, emphasis mine. I should be clear here that I do not mean to suggest that Foucault himself would follow me in making this move. I am, on the contrary, amending his account of such technologies in the name of a theology that really claims of the human being’s ends the perfection and immortality named here.
41 The term is Ward’s; see his The Politics of Discipleship, 279.
42 Graham Ward, Cities of God (London: Routledge, 2000), 202.
43 Ibid., 152. Ward explains that this is no longer used in the contemporary Roman rite. While the 1979 BCP explicitly calls for the Pascha nostrum as the fraction anthem, the exchange described by Ward would presumably be allowed for under the rubric “In place of, or in addition to, the preceding, some other suitable anthem may be used” (364). Indeed, it is included as an option in the Episcopal Church’s authorized supplemental service book, Enriching Our Worship; see https://www.riteseries.org/brain/eow1/4/74/. My employment of the exchange here is, thus, a tacit endorsement of this substitution or addition, particularly if the Mass is to gain any traction as a technology of the self resistant to the evacuation of the human.
44 William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 212.
45 Ibid., 213.
46 Ibid., 213-21.
47 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 336.
48 I owe the “being consumed” motif entirely to Cavanaugh, who seems to take his inspiration from Augustine: “I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me.” See his Being Consumed, 54-55.
49 Ward, “The Commodification of Religion,” 335. It should be noted that following de Lubac on recovering the original referents of corpus mysticum and corpus verum becomes integral to understanding the Eucharist as founding an alternative material sociality. One of the dangers of equating the sacramental body with the corpus verum is the suggestion of atomization, of spectacle, and thus of a capacity to be commodified. Cavanaugh and Ward both suggest this; see Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 220 and Ward, Cities of God, 180.
50 Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 251.
51 Ibid., 227, emphasis mine.
52 Ibid., 228.
53 Terry Eagleton, Faith, Reason, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 47.
54 Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 228-29.
55 Ward, The Politics of Discipleship, 278-79.
56 For our uses in this paper, I have quoted the 1979 BCP, 366. Like the rest of the Eucharistic technologies of the self under consideration here, the technology of dispersal is employed by a variety of liturgical traditions beyond my own Anglo-Catholicism.
57 Ward, Cities of God, 176.
58 Tanner, Economy of Grace, 37.
59 “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (NRSV). It is worth gesturing toward Matthew’s situating of this passage within a scene of eschatological judgment to help make sense of the dispersal’s intimate connection to the eschatological personhood realized by the union.
60 Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, 56.
61 I owe the inspiration for this image to the Rev. John Tirro, YDS/ISM ’09, “Washed on the Inside,” sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter 2012, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Knoxville, Tennessee.
62 This is my attempt to transpose into a Eucharistic key Tanner’s conception of “God’s own economy,” cf. Economy of Grace, 85.
63 St. Augustine, “Sermon 272,” qtd. in Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, 233.
Justin E. Crisp is a PhD student in Theology at Yale University and a Research Assistant at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. His work concerns the interface between systematic theology and modern constellations of social power, particularly sexuality and political economy. Justin is ordained to the transitional diaconate in the Episcopal Church and is associated with St. Mark’s Church in New Canaan, CT. We thank Deacon Crisp and Cult/ure for their gracious permission to reprint this essay, originally published as “The Politics of the Body: Liturgy and the Eucharist in the Twilight of Capitalism,” Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School 8.1 (Fall 2012), https://cultandculture.org.