One City, Or Two?

Okay, I will continue with the review of Cavanaugh’s book, Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church. It looks like I’ll probably do this one chapter at a time.

Cavanaugh (who is listed on the back of the book as “a senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and professor at DePaul University,” so it is probably safe to assume he is a Roman Catholic, though he may not be) begins chapter two speaking about unity. In particular, the Christian desire for unity and what that unity becomes “when the longing for participation in God and the eschatological framework is lost.” Cavanaugh writes:

In Christian thought, the gathering of the many into one is not accomplished by an act of binding one to another. In the body of Christ, the many are gathered into one by means of each one’s participation in the head of the body, who is Christ. [Come on Lutherans, how is this done? BAPTISM! Thank you.] The body of Christ has a transcendent reference, which, according to Paul, allows for diversity within unity (1 Cor. 12), since the interval between each one and God allows for a diversity of ways of participation within God’s life. (p. 47)

At this point, I’d add, or say, that the reality of the call of diverse people with diverse talents and so forth is proof itself of the diversity within unity of the church. But no matter, let’s let Cavanaugh continue:

How will a modern liberal nation-state resolve the question of the one and the many in the body if participation in Christ is no longer the common goal? Liberalism is said to allow for a greater pluralism of ends: there are no longer two cities–the followers of Christ and the “world”– but one city with a diversity of individuals, each with the freedom to choose his or her own ends, whether to worship no god, one god, or twenty. But the longing for unity persists, along with the fear that diversity will produce conflict and tear the body politics apart. In the absence of a transcendent telos, plurality is not simply a promise but a threat, one that must be met by an even greater pull toward unity. But what could be the source of unity in a nation-state of diverse ends without a transcendent reference to participation in any single god? It can only be that the nation-state becomes and end in itself, a kind of transcendent reference needed to bind the many to each other. (p. 47)

At this point, Cavanaugh’s theocentrism — and unadulterated Christian view — becomes clear. No doubt there are philosophers, religious and secular, who would square this circle without any reference to God (and who would even argue the need for a transcendent meaning in organized human communities) or Christ. I will grant that. But I do believe Cavanaugh is correct here, however, when he posits that the nation-state has become its own transcendent meaning absent other meaning with the ability to compel or coerce adherence. This is especially true in the American context.

Cavanaugh then harshly examines the views of Martin Marty, describing Marty as believing there is only one public square in America, and too close an adherence to specific religion (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses) create a dual loyalty that endangers the public square. In the liberal state, the state comes first, creating space where many voices — secular and religious — can speak and contribute to the common good. But for Marty, pluralism requires surrendering some of religion’s truth claims to the state, in order for a civil civic space to exist:

The basic assumption is that the nation-state is one city, within which there is a division of goods and a division of labor, and these follow certain well-worn binaries: civil society and state, sacred and secular, eternal and temporal, religion and politics, church and state. (p. 49)

And the discussion of these things is neither reasoned nor reasonable as John Courtney Murray would have it. Pluralism is an insoluble problem and in the American context has found its solution in the nation-state itself:

The nation-state is made stronger by the absence of shared ends, and the absence indeed of any rational basis on which to argue about those ends. In the absence of shared ends, devotion to the nation-state as an and in itself becomes more urgent. The nation-state needs the constant crisis of pluralism in order to enact the unum. Indeed, the constant threat of disorder is crucial to any state that defines its indispensability in terms of the security it offers. Pluralism will always be a crisis for the liberal state, and the solution to the crisis is to rally around the nation-state, the locus of a mystical communion that rescues us from the conflict of civil society. (p. 53)

In casting itself as “one people,” the leaders of the nation-state must always disguise the “sinister reality” of what it is the state does — and the primary sinister reality is that violence, Cavanaugh writes. In fact, Cavanaugh goes as far to describe the American attachment to war as a kind of blood sacrifice to and of American nationalism (which itself has religious qualities). Religion is dangerous, Cavanaugh writes, because it challenges the primary loyalties to the nation-state itself and encourages more specific loyalties:

“Religion” in public is dangerous because it tries to impose unity on plurality. At the same time, however, religious and lethal devotion to the unity of the nation-state itself is assumed to be a normal part of one’s civic duties. Plurality is desirable only at the level of civil society and only as long as it does not interfere with the sacred duty to stand together at the level of the state. There is only one temporal city. The church may jealously guard its sacred space within that city, but it may not demur from the state’s monopoly on violence. (p. 55)

At this point, Cavanaugh wanders into territory first explored by Augustine. Are there two cities, a City of God and a City of Man, or is there only one city? Cavanaugh states the problem is one of space — both the City of God and the City of Man are seen to share the same space. How to divvy that space up, to delineate it? The Constantinian solution was to have the church use the state to rule the city. The solution proposed by Martin Marty is for the church to place itself “within the city but outside the state” because it’s the state’s job to rule the city. And so, we moderns examine the matter by trying to figure out how the two — the church and the state — share the city. Because there’s only one city.

But what if there isn’t only one city? Cavanaugh writes:

Augustine has no theory of church and state, no spatial carving up of one society into spheres on influence. There is no sense that there is a single public square in which the church must find its place. Augustine complexifies space by arguing that the church itself is a kind of public; indeed, it is the most fully public community. The city of God has to do with ordering matters that are considered public, because the city of God makes use of the same temporal goods as does the earthly city, but in different ways and for different ends. There is no division between earthly goods and heavenly goods, secular and sacred; there is no sphere of activities that is the peculiar responsibility of the earthly city. The city of God, therefore, is not a part of the larger whole, but is a public in its own right. (p. 57)

The people living in the earthly city do share an end — love of self and the contempt of God. And the unity created in the earthly city is not a real unity, “but a false order, a restraint of vice through vice.” The city of God exists within the earthly city as a mere wanderer, using that city’s order to its benefit as the church continues its journey through the world.

Cavanaugh writes that Augustine doesn’t so much place the two cities in space, rather he places them in time:

The reason Augustine is compelled to speak of two cities is not because there are some human pursuits that are properly terrestrial and others pertain to God, but simply because God saves in time. Salvation has history, whose climax is in the advent of Jesus Christ, but whose definitive closure remains for the future. Christ has triumphed over the principalities and power, but there remains resistance to Christ’s saving action. The two cities are not the sacred and the profane spheres of life. The two cities are the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God. (p. 59-60)

The church is a witness to the already in the midst of the not yet. The church is the witness to the triumph of Christ in the midst of the brokenness of humanity. The church is eternal, the nation-state is temporary. It has already met its end in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has reconciled the entirety of God’s creation. The crucifixion is an act in the not yet, but the resurrection (to which we are all joined in baptism!) is the already, and the already is what is truly real. The not yet is still apparent, but it has no permanent meaning in the face of the already. Cavanaugh also describes the two cities as “performances” — they are verbs rather than nouns — without clearly defined boundaries:

The task of the church is to interrupt the violent tragedy of the earthly city with the comedy of redemption, to build the city of God, beside which the earthly city appears not to be a city at all. (p. 63).

And so onward, to chapter three.

2 thoughts on “One City, Or Two?

  1. Problem: the two cities are both “already” in Augustine. Reading books 11-19, it becomes very clear that he’s echoing the solution to the Donatist controversy: the church on earth is a corpus permixtum where the pure and sinners are inseparably bound together. The chiaroscuro of beauty and wickedness in the world is beneficial because it makes the good more beautiful by contrast. And this entire dilemma is contained already in Adam. And yet it remains clear through the same span that for Augustine it is only the separation that is “not yet” — the weeding is done in death and reward or punishment. It’s very Matthean “weeds and wheat” stuff. Donatus’ problem was that he insisted on making the separation here and now.


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