The Victorious Sign | Sebastien Milbank


AAs laudable Pratique noted in his article on Good Friday, we all witness Russia’s perversion of Christian theology: “love, of neighbor and of God, is perverted, justifying fascistic bloodshed as a means to conquer an infernal utopia.

And as Pope Francis suggests, many Christians worship “hidden idols” and embrace “crossless” triumphalism. It is a good time, surely, for us to listen to those who attack Christian triumphalism and argue for a more modest Church, safely detached from politics.

Theo Hobson, a liberal theologian and journalist, certainly thinks so. He launched ferocious attacks on Dostoyevsky for his alleged religious nationalism, and on contemporary Christian theologians (including, I tell you, my father) for denouncing rather than defending secular liberalism. He argues that “the dream of theopolitical harmony must be given up, until God brings his kingdom.”

What do Christians celebrate if not triumphalism?

But what do Christians celebrate this Easter if not a form of triumphalism, even “theopolitical harmony”? Not, of course, a blasphemous worship of the state and its ambitions, but rather the eternal victory of the risen Christ over sin, death and hell.

The Resurrection represents the triumph of a cosmic revolt against evil and the tyranny of those who rule the world by force and lies. Satan has been knocked down from his throne. Even though the oppressors hold visible power, they have already been metaphysically defeated.

The Passion and Resurrection of Christ raises the Cross as an inverted symbol, representing the triumph of the victim over the aggressor, of the slave over his master, of the weak over the strong. The instrument of execution and torture has become a sign of eternal victory, bringing hope to every suffering soul.

But this victory, belonging to an invisible and eternal kingdom, surely has nothing to do with the imperial pretensions of what Hobson calls the “Christian theocrats” who wish to bring politics and theology closer together? Shouldn’t Christians embrace the human compromise of secular liberalism and leave the Kingdom of Heaven to the next life?

Consider what kind of faith that would be, and what those like Hobson are asking of us. The victory of Christ can only be fully realized in the eschaton – in the new heaven and the new earth – but the risen Christ was not an abstraction. He was a man of flesh and blood, born of a woman to walk among us again.

If the promise of Christianity were apolitical and entirely otherworldly, it would be a quietist religion offering no visible hope or help to those who groan under the oppression of worldly masters. Perhaps this line of theological argument is starting to sound familiar? It should be – pre-war slave owners used to make such arguments to justify owning, torturing and killing other human beings. They too were good secular liberals.

The hope that Christianity offers to the subjugated is not only otherworldly, but rather offers an immediate and direct remedy for the woes of this world. Its offer is precisely Politics in the classical sense of the world. Christians become members of a political community — the local parish and the universal Church — which treats them as worthy of full human dignity, as future and present citizens of the Kingdom of Christ.

Christians are bound to wait for the Kingdom to come

The first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine, and the Church that embraced him after his victory over his pagan rivals, are seen by many liberal Christians as perverting pure, supernatural Christianity with political power. But when Eusebius praised the “victorious Constantine” and the cross as a “victorious sign,” he was not reducing Christianity to a pagan ode to victory – but rather articulating an already existing Christian theopolitics.

As he notes when speaking of the churches that Constantine built, they are “trophies of his [Christ’s] victory over death. For Eusebius, the physical churches, the empire, the emperor, and the cross itself are all outward signs of a hidden victory over death embodied in the risen form of Christ:

He soon recalled his body from the clutches of death, presented it to his Father as the first fruits of our common salvation, and raised this trophy, proof both of his victory over death and over Satan, and of the abolition of sacrifices. humans. , for the blessing of all mankind.

Although Christians must reject utopianism, the Church is a political community. We are not merely permitted but required to look for visible signs of the coming Kingdom and strive for it in our lives. Without the living and theopolitical hopes of Christianity, the ethical miracle ending such terrible practices as human sacrifice and infanticide would never have happened.

What those like Hobson really demand is not the end of theopolitics, but rather the subordination of Christian theology to the state, no less surely than it is subjugated in Russia. As Hobson writes: “This is not a betrayal of a secular ideology, for the liberal state has Christian roots. This echoes the kenosis of Christ. He wants Christian theologians to baptize liberalism, lending their influence to the triumphant advance of the liberal project.

The problem with this perspective is not that Hobson is wrong to say that liberalism has Christian roots, or even that in some sense Christians should defend liberalism. There is much good in liberalism, and much due to Christianity. the Christians should defend these assets.

The problem is that he thinks we should abandon Christianity altogether as a theopolitical project and hand over the moral authority of the Church to the dubious hands of liberal ideologues. Although Christians do not hold the power of the state at all times and in all places, we are always called to speak truth to power and to govern our communities and ourselves in accordance with the teachings of Christ.

It is precisely as a consciously theopolitical project that the Church (unlike shifting and corruptible secular ideologies) can offer perpetual hope to the victim and the oppressed, and challenge tyrants like Putin. And it is precisely as a form of secularization (and even liberal statism) that Patriarch Kiril gives his unconditional support to a project of mechanized murder against a Christian people in Ukraine.


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