Monthly Archives: December 2013

From Unity to Unanimity in St. Cyprian

****Except from a larger treatment of Cyprian and Augustine***

From the beginning of De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, Cyprian identifies the body of Christ as one of the central images of the Catholic church. Already in section 4, Cyprian writes, “if a man does not hold fast to this oneness [unitatem] of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the Church, has he still confidence that he is in the Church, when the blessed Apostle Paul gives us this very teaching and points to the mystery of Oneness [unitatis] saying ‘One body and one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God’?” Here, Cyprian directly associates Paul’s language of the “body” with the language of unitas. Yet, while such a connection between the body and unity is shared in common with nearly every commentator, including Augustine, Cyprian offers a unique understanding of the nature of this unitas.

In order to understand the way in which Cyprian’s conception of the body is connected to his understanding of doctrinal uniformity (unanimity), it is necessary to examine some of the related terminology. In De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, Cyprian employs a wide array of interrelated terms in order to express his notion of unity—including: unitas, concordia/discordia, pacem, unanimis, and consentio/dissideo—the entirety of which must be put into play if the subtlety of his notion, and its divergence from Augustine is to be revealed with requisite clarity.

The clearest exposition of this notion of unity as unanimity can be found in twelfth and thirteenth sections of De ecclesiae catholicae unitate designated in the Newman edition by the subtitle “’Two or three gathered in my name’: unity recommended, not sectarianism.” In these sections, as the title indicates, Cyprian is primarily concerned with offering an exegesis of Matt. 18.19-20: “truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” For Cyprian, the exegetical center of this passage is to be found in the “agree on earth” [συμφωνήσωσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς], through which the two former instances of the “two or three” [δύο ἢ τρεῖς] are to be interpreted and limited. As he writes, “For Our Lord was urging His disciples to unanimity [unanimitatem] and peace [pacem] when He said: ‘I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything whatsoever you shall ask, it shall be done for you by my Father who is in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am with them.’ —showing that it is not the number but the unanimity [unanimitatem] of those praying that counted most.”
Two points are essential to this exegesis: first, is the linguistic shift from unitas to unanimis. While certainly these terms are not unrelated, both referring fundamentally to a coming together, they do nevertheless bear quite distinct connotations. Whereas the former is a broader term which often connotes a mere numerical unity, the second more directly connotes a conformity of opinion, as the English equivalent “unanimous” indicates. Thus, second, having slipped from the broader unitas to unanimis, it is unsurprising that the numerical coming together of the “two or three,” the gathering [συνηγμένοι], is relegated to a secondary role, beneath the primacy of the “agree on earth,” understood by Cyprian in dogmatic/doctrinal terms. The dogmatic nature of this concern can be seen in Cyprian’s assertion that “Our Lord is speaking of His Church, … He is telling those who are in the Church, that if they are of one mind [si ipsi concordes fuerint]…” Thus, for Cyprian, the impetus of this passage is a call to agreement [concordes fuerint] primarily, and a call to physical or ecclesial gathering [συνηγμένοι] only tangentially. “Corruptors and false interpreters of the Gospel,” he insists, “quote the end [οὗ γάρ εἰσιν δύο ἢ τρεῖς συνηγμένοι … ἐκεῖ εἰμὶ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν] and ignore what has gone before.”

In this way, Cyprian has not only transitioned from unitas to unanimis, but further, from unanimis to concordia. This transition is made explicit below, where Cyprian continues his exegesis, writing:

“He [Jesus] condemns the discord [discordiam] of the faithless; and with His own lips He commends concord [pacem] to His faithful, by making clear that He is with two or three who pray in harmony [unianimiter], rather than with an number of dissenters [dissidentibus pluribus], and that more can be obtained by the united [concordi] prayers of a few than by the petitioning of many who are in disagreement [discordiosa].”

Cyprianic unity, can thus be seen as to primarily revolve around the suppression of dissidence and disagreement. And lest this dissidence be understood in overly schismatic terms (as a breaking of communion, rather than primarily as doctrinal dissonance), Cyprian writes elsewhere that “Our Mother should have the happiness of clasping to her bosom all her people in one like-minded body [consentientis populi corpus unum].” Thus consentio, agreement or assent, joins unanimis and concordia, further cementing the largely doctrinal bent of Cyprianic unitas.

Of course, this is not to say that Cyprian is unconcerned with a break in unity that extends beyond doctrine, but simply, that he understands such schismatic breaks to presuppose the former doctrinal break. Said conversely, for Cyprian, ecclesial unity presupposes doctrinal unity, presupposes a “like-minded body.” This notion, that the gathered unity of the church presupposes a doctrinal unity, can be clearly seen in Cyprian’s account of the emergence of schism. For Cyprian, it is the break of unanimis/concordia/consentio which corrupts the flesh of the body of Christ. In language that is simultaneously violent and medical, Cyprian insists that dissent is a disease or a cancer which violently tears apart the internal organs of the church. “God is one, and Christ is one, and his church is one; one is the faith and one the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body,” Cyprian writes, “that unity cannot be split; that one body cannot be divided by any cleavage of its structure, nor cut up in fragments with its vitals torn apart.” Of course, “cannot” should not here be taken as possibility, but rather, colloquially equivalent to “should not” or “must not.” For De ecclesiae catholicae unitate in its entirety is premised upon the recognition that such schism is a distinct possibility. Rather, the implication of this passage is not that the church cannot break, but that it cannot fragment and survive. “Nothing that is separated from the parent stock,” Cyprian insists, “can ever live or breathe apart; all hope of its salvation is lost.”

Thus for Cyprian, the manner by which schism grows and develops is clear. Schism begins in discordia or dissideo, where is festers in the body of the church, spreading until it is “cut out.” For as Cyprian writes in De lapsis, “he is a poor doctor whose timid hand spares the swelling, festering wound, and who, by letting the poison remain buried deep in the body, only aggravates the ill. The wound must be cut open, the infected parts cut out, and the wound treated with stringent remedies.” Of course, for Cyprian, such “cutting out” of the heretical infection is not the generation of the schism, for already in their discordia and dissideo, these dissenters have committed the sin of schism; “for it is not we who have left them, but they who have left us … they have cut themselves off from the source and origin of [the Christian] realities.”

In this way we have seen that Cyprian’s conception of the the unity of the church, and consequently his interpretation of the body of Christ, is defined before all else by an insistence upon unanimity.

****Except from a larger treatment of Cyprian and Augustine***


The Gift, Christ(mas), and the Claus(e) of Prohibition: Re-membering the Divine Economy of Mary and her Infant King

Forewarning: I do not intend to use this post to propagate some sort of worthless “Jesus is the reason for the season” or “Let’s end the war on Christmas” folly. This is a hermeneutical discourse on the internal paradoxes of the language employed around this holiday and how they present an ethical aporia for, most of all, Christians.

Jesus was born in a feeding trough. What that means is that pigs ate from it. Jesus’s newborn, fragile body was birthed and first laid in a structure made for pig food…as the story goes.

Whether you interpret the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives as literal or symbolic, the symbolic point of reference here is the beginnings of Jesus in poverty. The historical man who came to be propped up as the very incarnation of God in flesh–he dwelt among the lowest and basest of created things. Furthermore, he lived his life touching lepers and hanging out with prostitutes, teaching unconditional love and giving.

That’s right. Jesus taught unconditional love. This means that the Gift, when unconditional, is given without expect of return or reward. There was no prohibition given by Jesus in terms of the Gift. No exception. This is the divine economy: to give on the basis of love for the other alone–worthy in his/her own being as such–without any exceptions or conditions. An impossible and difficult thing to do, but something to be strived for anyway.

Christmas has been proclaimed to be, by many Evangelical Christians, a season for honoring and remembering the humbly-born Christ. But they quickly forget that this humble Christ taught us to practice a divine economy. They claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but they do not celebrate the radical generosity he taught. Sure, they will give nice gifts to family and friends. But only on this occasion, and it is no Evangelical imperative that one should make a regular effort to give gifts of sustenance to the poor.

Evangelicals may claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but it would seem that they believe more strongly in a Santa-figure (as representative of the Divine). Santa’s economy can be summed up by the following lyric: He’s making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. 

Santa’s economy is one of prohibition. Santa’s gift is not unconditional but depends upon whether one obeys the prohibitions given by the Big Other. But Christ’s God, unlike the Big Other, does not give this way. Rather, Christ’s God makes the same rain fall and the same sun shine on both the righteous and unrighteous (Mat. 5:45). Evangelicals tend to see God as the Big Other, rewarding and punishing according to proper faith or deeds.

But this is not what Christ taught. If Evangelicals want to truly proclaim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the solution is not billboards or media annoyance. Rather, they ought to practice the radical hospitality of Jesus and the divine economy he taught. For to remember Christ is to re-member the divine economy that has been broken and obscured by Christendom.

(Then again, when did you ever get coals in your stocking when you were bad? We all know the big secret: Santa doesn’t actually follow his own rules…he gives unconditionally to all. He just says those things to get you to be nice to your brothers and sisters!)

Why Anti-Oedipus is Worth Reading even if you do not reach “Total” Understanding (of it)

Reflections on My Place in Feminism as a Cisgendered Male


About a month or two ago, I was given the opportunity to write a paper examining a social problem or inequality through a specific lens of justice. I chose to examine the problem of gender inequity through the lens of liberation theology—when it all came together I essentially wrote a paper on feminist liberation theology. This was for an intro course, but having recently dove into my own research on feminism and constantly in the theological conversation, I figured it would be a good paper to write in light of my declared majors/minor (Theology and Philosophy, and Gender Studies). I found some great resources (with thanks to Justin for a monumental recommendation) from some incredibly astute Catholic women. This paper in itself was partly me trying to hash out exactly what it means to be a cisgendered male and a feminist (or ally to feminism for those that prefer).

Right off the bat, I noted that “I (try to) recognize my own privilege and position in society. What is most important in this paper are not my words, but the words that come straight from women, crying out into the wilderness, wondering when the Promised Land will come, yearning for the coming of the Kingdom. Please refer to the ‘Suggested Reading’ page for a strong female voice on the topics presented and others related.” I really did not want to come off as if it was my voice that needed to be heard, or it was me who was the one liberating women. But what really caught me off guard I never would have seen coming—especially as a sophomore undergrad student.

This semester I became involved with my campus’s club, Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE), and I shared my paper with one of the members of the club (now a friend of mine) because I mentioned it in passing and she was interested in it. About a week later, she asked me if I could share the general overview of the paper, not just once, but twice. Once at her church in Wayne, PA with a small group, the second time at a SAGE meeting. Needless to say, I felt really honored at first, but as I thought about more, I considered the potential for this to go terribly askew. How ironic and unwarranted it felt to be a male sharing to a group of people about feminism (or in this case, feminist liberation theology). Even though I gave an initial “yes” to my friend, I spoke to her and expressed my discomfort. Do I even have a right to do this in a public setting? I am no expert on women’s issues and I certainly cannot speak for the experiences of women—even some women refuse to speak on the experiences of other women (e.g. Adrienne Rich).

My friend consoled me, saying that my gender does not invalidate anything I may have to share. Still, even up to the first presentation, I felt uneasy about it, but since she insisted, I persisted. I made sure I printed out copies of the “Suggested Reading” addendum to the paper to hand out to everyone (you can find these at the end of the article as well). I didn’t want to just leave people with just something a guy shared—I feel all too strongly that we get enough of that everywhere anyways (especially in politics, theology, and philosophy)—I wanted to point everyone (including myself) to what some women are saying.

After sharing the main points of my paper, I opened it up to discussion—specifically not questions to me. I am a big believer in dialectical learning. The discussion took up about the same amount of time as, if not more than, the presentation. I was very pleased with the discussion that followed and some others expressed the same pleasure after the fact.

The second presentation went very much the same as the first. In both instances, I was one of two or three men in a group with more women than men. It was definitely a sobering experience, and it really helped solidify what I tried to do in the paper—find my place in feminism as a cisgendered male. I am not quite sure what I learned, but I’m sure I learned something. If anything, I am duly reminded of what the Paul writes to the Church in Philippi, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:3-7).

I think for a man to have any place in feminism, it must be out of a place of service and humility. We have to sacrifice our own privileged positions and truly learn equality, namely, by listening.

Suggested Reading

•             “The Power of Naming” edited by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza

•             “The Weaker Vessel” by Antonia Fraser

•             “Showings (or Revelations of Divine Love)” by Julian of Norwich

•             “Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education” by Nel Noddings

•             “Sexism and God-talk:  Toward a Feminist Theology” by Rosemary Radford Ruether

•             “Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective– A Theology” by Letty Russell

•             “Latina Feminist Theology: Central Features” Maria Pilar Aquino

•             “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

•             “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” by Rachel Held Evans

New Contributor

As per my effort to expand this blog into a community project, I am very happy to announce a third contributor to The Space Beyond Being: Tom Apostolacus. He writes:

I am a second-year undergraduate student at Eastern University in Saint Davids, PA, double majoring in Theology and Philosophy and minoring in Gender Studies. My academic interests are fairly wide, but I have recently been engaging in a connection between pacifism and Death of God theology. Other academic interests involve feminist theory, queer liberation, existentialism, and anarchy as the coming Kingdom.
I also contribute to an ecumenical theology blog (
In my free time, I enjoy listening to music (e.g. Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, The Chariot, letlive), spending time with close friends, and thinking of puns.

Look forward to his first post in the upcoming days.

The academic ethics of strikebreaking

Very interesting commentary on the UK university strikes, by Steven Shakespeare (author of Derrida and Theology, among other works).

Sauf Le Nom – “Christian”

The designation “Christian” maintains both positive and negative resonances. This is news to no one. Yet, postmodernism’s acute consciousness of language and its value has lead to an odd predicament and tension within the last few years. On the one hand, there are those Jesus-followers of a quite conventional variety, by no means “radical theologians,” who have sought to strip themselves of the label “Christian.” This label, it is contended, is weighed down by both present political and moral connotations and a violent past of such severity, or (from the opposite end of the traditional theology paradigm) the term is not attested to scripturally with the requisite vigor to justify its use. Either way, “Christian” is no longer understood to be a recoverable term [see. e.g. here or here]. Yet, on precisely the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum, we have a wide array of Neo-Marxist materialists (e.g. Badiou and Zizek) clamoring for the title of “Christian” (see: Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, The Monstrosity of Christ, or Paul’s New Moment). This leaves us with an unprecedented paradox. The name “Christian” is becoming the domain of the radical theologian and continental philosopher, at the same time that it is being slowly abandoned by the traditional theist. What does this mean for the future of the “Christian”? Are these perspectives relegated to the fringes of their respective positions, or is “Christian” destined to become the name of the radical theologian and philosopher, abandoned by traditional religiosity?