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Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) [Paperback]

By William T. Cavanaugh (Author)
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Item description for Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) by William T. Cavanaugh...

In this engrossing analysis, the author contends that the Eucharist is the Church's response to the use of torture as a social discipline. The author develops a theology of the political which presents torture as one instance of a larger confrontation of power over bodies, both individual and social. He argues that a Christian practice of the political is embodied in Jesus' own torture at the hands of the powers of this world. The analysis of torture therefore is situated within wider discussions in the fields of ecclesiology and the state, social ethics and human rights, and sacrament theology. The book focuses on the experience of Chile and the Catholic church there, before and during the military dictatorship from 1973-1990. The book uses this example to examine the theocratic bases of 20th century 'social Catholicism' and its inability to resist disciplines of the state, in contrast to a truer Christian practice of the political in the Eucharist. 286 page softcover from Blackwell Publishers.

Publishers Description
In this engrossing analysis, Cavanaugh contends that the Eucharist is the Church's response to the use of torture as a social discipline.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) by William T. Cavanaugh has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Christian Century - 10/19/2010 page 35

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wiley-Blackwell
Pages   288
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.09" Width: 6.02" Height: 0.88"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 14, 1998
Publisher   Wiley-Blackwell
Series  Challenges in Contemporary Theology  
ISBN  0631211993  
ISBN13  9780631211990  

Availability  0 units.

More About William T. Cavanaugh

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William T. Cavanaugh is director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University. His other books include Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.

William T. Cavanaugh currently resides in St. Paul. William T. Cavanaugh was born in 1962 and has an academic affiliation as follows - University of St Thomas University of Manchester University of Manches.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > South America > Chile
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Catholic
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Religion

Reviews - What do customers think about Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology)?

Perhaps the most important book on Ecclesiology in recent times.  May 29, 2008
This remarkable book has forever changed the way I view the Church, the State, the Eucharist, Torture, and how they all relate.

William Cavanaugh's dissertation takes the form of a historical case study of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile during the Pinochet regime. He begins by dicussing how torture and disappearance[1] are ecclesiological problems. What he means is that torture and disappearance are not merely horrible abominations enacted upon individuals, but are violence enacted upon social bodies. Who are the victims of torture and disappearance? In once sense, it is those who have been tortured and disappeared, but in another it is all of those who dwell in the society in which this is taking place. This is because torture and disappearance are actions that can happen to anyone at anytime, so all people are kept in fear and an anxiety.

The idea of torture is perhaps the most effective generator of fear, since torture reaches to the very limits of horror, turning the body against the person to such an extent that death become desirable. Fear of torture, fear of death, were concrete fears that only began to articulate the hidden anxieties which lurked beneath the surface of Chilean society. (p. 47, emphasis added)

In this way, torture is liturgical:

Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state's power is manifested in its most awesome form. Torture is liturgy...because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship to that mysterious power. (p. 30, emphasis original)

So Cavanaugh argues that in Chile, torture was an act of violence upon the imaginations of the society. The society as a whole was made to take on the imagination of the state and forget all other narratives.

How Did the Church in Chile respond to these attacks?

Cavanaugh says that the Church in Chile had a deficient understanding of ecclesiology, which led to it being totally unprepared to deal with the violence of the regime. He argues that the Church had allowed itself to be relegated to a private "spiritual" sphere. They viewed the human being as being under two divinely sanctioned authorities, the Church (in regard to spiritual matters) and the State (in regard to social matters). When the state launched attacks upon the imaginations of the people of Chile in the form of torture and disappearance the Church was forced to respond to a state that was refusing to live by the bifurcation that their ecclesiology demanded. "Chapter 2 describes how ill-prepared the official church was to meet this strategy, since its own ecclesiology had already, in effect, disappeared the church as a social body." (p. 120)

So the church's response was to try and recapture its political and social aspects. The church learned how to be oppressed and give voices of dissent to the oppressors. The church began to tell a different story from that of the state, a story that gave the people a new imagination.

Cavanaugh offers several examples of how the church in Chile learned to do just this in the midst of their oppression. Specifically, he focus his study on the Eucharist as the church's response to torture.

"The Eucharist , as the gift which effects the visibility of the body of Christ, is therefore the church's counter-imagination to that of the state." (p. 251)

"The Eucharist is the promise and demand that the church enact the true body of Christ now, in time. Worldly kingdoms have declared the Kingdom of God indefinitely deferred, and the poor are told to suffer their lot quietly and invisibly. In the Eucharist the poor are invited now to come and feast in the Kingdom. The Eucharist must not be a scandal to the poor. It demands real reconciliation of oppressed and oppressor, tortured and torturer. Barring reconciliation, Eucharist demands judgement." (p. 263)

The church in Chile was unable to adequately respond to the abuses of the regime because of its faulty ecclesiology. But after a time the church found within its own structures and liturgy the tools necessary to respond to the actions of the state by proclaiming a parallel narrative. The church learned that it can not separate between the spiritual and the social, between the ecclesial and the political.

May the church in America learn this truth as well.

[1] Disappearance, as Cavanaugh defines it, is the apprehension of individuals by the regime without the officers of arrest identifying themselves or giving the specifics of the charges. The individual is then held in custody for an extended length of time without trial or knowledge of when his imprisonment and torture will end.
An unexpected orthodoxy  Feb 3, 2007
When I first heard of this book, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what I would discover within. With its focus on torture in general, and the torture employed by the Chilean Pinochet regime specifically, I was sure that Cavanaugh's work was going to be some form of Liberation Theology. What I was not prepared to find was a work that arrived at many of the same moral conclusions as Liberation Theology, but which transcended this theology's shortcomings precisely because it was so thoroughly orthodox. But that is exactly what "Torture and Eucharist" is.

For Cavanaugh, torture is a kind of "anti-liturgy" employed by the State to divide its social bodies into individual and powerless units. The Christian performance of the Eucharist serves as the ultimate antithesis to this division, uniting the Church's members into one perfect political Body, the Body of Christ. This may initially sound like excessive idealism, but Cavanaugh pulls no punches in critiquing his own communion's failings. Focusing primarily on Jacque Maritain's ecclesiology and "Social Catholicism," Cavanaugh demonstrates how the Church under Pinochet abdicated its responsibility toward the "body," by turning this responsibility over to the State and by claiming jurisdiction only over the "soul". It is this separation of the "physical" from the "spiritual," the "political" from the "theological," that Cavanaugh presents as the primary reason the Catholic Church could offer no systemic resistance to Pinochet's regime. And it is, of course, only the Eucharist that perfectly unites the two realities--the Body which the Church failed to recognize.

The final part of the book contains case studies that demonstrate alternatives to the atomized and scattered ecclesiology of the Church during Pinochet's reign, though exactly how the Church at large could have reacted as the "Body of Christ" remains an open question. But I did not find this to be a shortcoming, as the author is committed to dealing with history, not speculation. Overall, I believe I have encountered in Cavanaugh a brilliant and sincere theologian, worthy of reading multiple times. It is an understatement to say this book gave me many things to ponder, at once disturbing and inspiring, long after I had read the last page.
A Chilean Case Study  Dec 6, 2004
This is a book with a narrow focus taht has far-reaching implications. Cavanaugh examines Chile under the Pinochet regime. This regime used torture as a tool of the state. In essence, torture became a "liturgy" of the state. Unfortunately, the church was not prepared to deal with such a turn of events. That is because the ecclesiology of the church at the time held that the state was to care for the body while the church cared for the soul. This dualism created problems for the church resisting the torture of the state.

It is at this point that Eucharist is suggested as a counter liturgy. Where torture individualizes, the Eucharist creates a social body. Eucharist helps others while the torture only harms. In short, Eucharist provides the means for the church to engage meaninfully the wayward state.

This book says wonderful things about the situation in Chile. It could also have implications in other contexts. What does it mean for the Eucharist to act as a counter liturgy to the litugy of capitalism? How does the building up of a social body in Eucharist allow Christians to deal with the fragmentation of war? There is much more that could be said based on what Cavanaugh does in this wonderful book.
All Belongs to God  Nov 6, 2004
Cavanaugh's book shows what Radical Orthodoxy is all about--he traces some of the myths that drive Western nation-states to medieval theological hiccups; he delves the resources of Christian liturgy for strength to resist the all-envious nation-state; he points to times and places that the Church has really "gotten it right" and taken a stand against the idols and empires in the name of Christian charity.

Best of all, Cavanaugh does it in such a manner that a reader who has trouble with John Milbank's dizzying syntax (and I are one) can make it though his book without having to read each paragraph three times.

For people who suspect that neocon political ideology is more sinister than we've been led to think, and for people who believe that the Peace of Christ is neither utopian dream nor otherworldly sigh but practices through which the gracious Father of the universe, incarnated in the Son and empowering peaceable communities through the Spirit, can redeem, even if incompletely, the world which God so loves.
Beyond liberation theology  Mar 9, 2004
A life-changing book in my development as a convert to Catholicism. Few have ever demonstrated the inherent relevance of the Eucharist in the arena of "worldly" power politics. Cavanaugh revealed to me how Catholics need not look so much outside of doctrinal orthodoxy for a response to secular evils. Rather the transformative power of the Eucharist and the Liturgy is ever yet to be discovered, not just as succor for the soul but also for the nations.

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