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The Fullness of Christ: J.H. Yoder – Part VI

8.    Context and Content in  N.T. Preaching. Having sought in vain for a particular concept of preaching to serve as a criterion for church and ministry, let us keep the word as a general label for the varieties of verbal ministry in N.T. times. Only by guess and surmise do we construct a notion...

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Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 23-03-2012


Ensuring Conformity

Churches are possessed of instruments of destruction as well as habits of appropriation. Conformity can be imposed by means of excommuni­cation and interdict, in their varying degrees. It is a mistake to imagine that those devices are obsolete…. The function of excommunications and the interdict is to cut off a person or a community from the professional services of the clergy; they are sacerdotal strikes.

The Roman Catholic Church maintains a blacklist as well. The blacklist applies to books and ideas. The ideas are studied by the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition and, according to their judgment, condemned or proscribed. Books are condemned by the Sacred Congregation of the Index and public notice is given that they are placed in the Index Expurgatorius. Then, without very special permission, no faithful Catholic may read them….

All churches that attain a fixed and infallible revelation, a set of sacred scriptures whose meaning is in the custody of a specially ordained priesthood trained for the purpose and organized in an ecclesiastical hierarchy, require considerable material equipment not only to win greater power but to keep from losing ground. A customary section of this equipment is the machinery of suppressing variations, exterminating differences, keeping the revelation secure from the menace of rivalry …. Churches, as we have seen, are founded on professional priests. They rest upon the establishment of a vested interest in the art of manipulating the supernatural. The products of this art constitute a commodity that churches sell and that they seek, each in its own way, to monopolize ….

How Clergy Developed

The story of the elaboration of the arts and crafts of manipulating the supernatural is like the story of any other enterprise of man that has come down the years as an institution. You begin with a technique in which the house-mother or the house-father or the tribal headman is especially skilled. The technique is a patterned action, involving the formal use of various objects such as we have already observed to be constantly recurrent in the practice of religion. The action is accompanied by incantations, by liturgical formulas, also patterned and highly stylized….

Times come, however, when it is recognized that the familial or tribal technique is inefficacious. A more potent influence in required. Such an influence is the possession of the medicine-man, the shaman, the rhapsodist ….He who is endowed with [this influence], either by nature or by education or by both, signalizes his possession by a special garb and a special way of life. He has his equipment or tools — his tom-tom, his feathers, his crystals, his animal and human bones, his cornstalks and what not. He has his terrible and holy house for them. When he is hired to “make medicine” as a supplement to the priestly activities of the family or tribal head, he brings them out and applies them to the supernatural. For his collaboration he receives payment or a gift …. His living does not yet derive entirely from the exercise of his priestly powers. That supplements his income, and is called on occasionally. Usually he does what his fellow tribesmen do — hunt, fish, fight, cultivate the soil ….

In the public ceremonial, before the public altars, the officiating priest is often a citizen elected by his fellows; more often he is the head of state, or a citizen appointed by the head of the state. Often he is not only king and priest, but in his own turn god, receiving divine honors. This was the case in Ancient Greece, in Asia Minor and Egypt, under the Diadochi, in imperial Rome, in Byzantium, in Russia, in China, and in Japan. So far as public religion is concerned the head of the state and the head of the church are one. The priestly duty is a part of civil duty. There is no segregation of religious labor; there is no person whose vocation is to be a priest and nothing else.

But in the secret cults, in the mysteries, there is. The hierophant, the sanyassin, the prophet, has set himself aside. He is the owner of a secret into which he initiates any who will pay. He is permanently attached to places and temples — like Eleusis, Delphi, Ephesus, Jerusalem. He and those who share the secret with him constitute a brotherhood….

Where church and state are utterly one and government is a “theocracy,” the transmission of the priestly vocation from father to son is not of great importance. Ecclesiastical organization, the forms of church government, the management of the religious economy count for a great deal more. It is natural that for those matters the palm should go to the evolution of the priesthoods in Rome. There the presence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy is first indicated during the third century before the beginning of Christian Era. In early Rome the kings were the priests, and the tradition of the king-priest was continued during the republic, as in Athens. The practice was to appoint the priest of the temple of Janus, King of the holies for certain rites. His wife was “regina.”

The effect was completely to separate religious from civil functions and to enable an independent ecclesiastical organization to take form. This came about by the investment of the College of Pontifices, under the leadership of the Pontifex Maximus, with the management of the religious affairs of the state…. The Pontifex Maximus appointed all the other priests — the flamens or the specialists in temple service, and the augurs, or specialists in the interpretation of omens and the reading of the future. The care and nourishment of the gods, the vegetation and fertility festivals, the rites of the various functional divinities — as Birth, Coming In and Going Out — were all arranged on an elaborate calendar, each divinity having its set feast and day….

Church Joined To State

The accretion of civil power to religious functions by which autonomous churches develop into ecclesiastical states turns upon the possession of great ,properties and the consequent tasks of administration…. The larger the scope and the greater the variety of the secular interests of its possessions, the more civil power a church requires, and the more certain it is to become a church-state.

The Christian Church in Rome began as an autonomous religious association in competition with the state and treated by the state as a competitor. In the course of time, through the idiosyncrasy of Constantine’s temperament and the fortunes of war, it became the state- church of the empire. Constantine endowed the priesthood with large properties and clothed them with many privileges over other citizens and ministers of rival cults. He devoted the power of the state to suppress and exterminate the rivals. His successors shut down the great schools at Athens, Alexandria, Pergamos and elsewhere, and gave the Christian Fathers control of education throughout the empire. But for long the civil power allowed them no liberties of independent civil or even theological government. Constantine himself decided dogmas and set rules of faith. The priesthood were under the imperium, and they jolly well knew it.

In Byzantium, where the civil government was continuous, the Christian cult remained a state-church. The Czar of all the Russians succeeded the emperor of Byzantium as the head of the church when the empire was destroyed, and remained the head until czardom was destroyed. In Rome, however, civil government became intermittent and for a period was entirely suspended, while the church continued not only as the state-church but as the administrator of the total economy of the lives of thousands of men and women on its estates. When the civil power lapsed the church became the civil power.

And therewith the old order of values, the values that had prevailed in the classical world, was overturned. In that world the church existed for the sake of man …. But with the accession of the Roman bishopric to civil power, the ecclesiastical organization became the end, and the community the tool. Man was made for the church, the view was, not the church for man. A claim was set up to the complete and exclusive submission of all men to the authority and discipline of the priesthood. This claim, through all the chances of fate and fortune, has never been relinquished. It is made as absolutely by the present pope as it was by any of his predecessors. It is effective in the degree in which it is sustained by property ….

Intimidation, Property And Power

In the warfare which the church-state conducts against the state, the ecclesiastical organization would seem to have certain initial advantages…. The advantages derive from the commerce in the supernatural which it is believed that the priesthood [clergy] alone can successfully conduct. Rivals in commerce keep springing up continually. A church is challenged at every point — on the nature of the gods, on the methods of reaching them, on what they do for and to men, on the life after death, and so on. Variation on a minute point of ritual is enough to make a sect and to establish a heresy: whether the robe of the priest shall be red or yellow, whether a benediction shall be made with two fingers or three, are typical issues on which the formation of new religious groups turn.

The standardization of a creed, its vindication as immutable and infallible, require time and power, and power rests on property and is exercised as police-power. It is of the same nature and works in the same way as the power used to enforce any secular regulation. It is a definite material agency. It takes possession of the bodies of heretics and inflicts hurt on them, either through imprisonment and torture, or through the withdrawal of needful or strongly-desired goods. Conformity can be coerced; and coercion of heresy is the essential task of the police-power of ecclesiastical government…. [Machiavelli’s] great exemplar of ecclesiastical statecraft is Pope Alexander VI, “who of all the pontiffs that have ever been, showed how a pope with both money and arms was able to prevail.”

This sentence sums up the secret of power, not merely of ecclesiastical organizations, but of all societies that seek lastingly to prevail. The revelations of your Ghandi, your Savonarola, your Dowie, your Buddha, your Lao-Tze, your Paul, endure so long as their personal contagion lasts; after that, unless their disciples and followers have obtained property and power, their message is lost. The difference between the few successful cults and countless defeated and forgotten ones is — money and arms; in modern dissenting communities, money and property. Only with these can an ecclesiastical society maintain its monopoly of the secrets of salvation, and vindicate its claim against perennially new competitors in the sight of the seekers after salvation….

A scheme of salvation existing only in formula and not materialized in vehicles of power that can render it visibly manifest and physically enforce it, fades into this air ….The word of the master …is dissipated in the disputes of the disciples … until one of the disputing heirs of the master, getting property and power behind his propaganda, establishes that as the authentic right view of the magisterial revelation; and by means of his property and power vindicates it with exterminative thoroughness against competing alternatives. This is what, in the beginning, Catholicism did with challenging heresies…. This is what the various Protestantisms in their turn, after they had successfully established themselves, tried to do….

By Dr. Horace Kallen, a disciple and interpreter of William James, was a lecturer at The New School for Social Research and the author of Culture & Democracy in the United States & Zionism & World Politics.

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