"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Foucault on Power and Authority in the Church (I)

Ever since reading MacIntyre's After Virtue more than twenty years ago, I have been fascinated with the distinction between power and authority, a distinction which, he says, emotivism obliterates. That fascination led me in part to study the questions of papal power and authority in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy and in several other places.

It was, then, with great interest that I received recently in the mail Steven Ogden's new book, The Church, Authority, and Foucault: Imagining the Church as an Open Space of Freedom (Routledge, 2017), 190pp.

The author is an Anglican cleric in Australia, and much of this book is very focused on Anglicanism in particular, especially in its Australian context. But the author has a way of writing that is genuinely ecumenical without being heavy-handed about it, and thus the reader can easily see many parallels with Catholicism and Orthodoxy, two churches which are even more hierarchical than Anglicanism and which make even 'thicker' claims to authority.

The author's starting premise is that the Church has largely modeled herself (!) on age-old notions of sovereign power which still, often unconsciously, continue to haunt her imagination and inform her structures--a point I suggested recently in this essay where I noted that we need a new reading of Freud's Future of an Illusion to pry us away from an often infantilized ecclesiology with its unconscious imperial assumptions. (If you are going to read Freud's work, the Broadview edition edited by Todd Dufresne is the way to go as its translation is more felicitous than the Standard Edition's and as a bonus contains a number of other related, and often very recondite, essays, including, most significantly, Oskar Pfister's rejoinder "The Illusion of a Future: a Friendly Disagreement with Prof. Sigmund Freud," which Freud himself solicited and then had published in the psychoanalytic journal he founded, thus complicating considerably the picture of Freud as being desperately insecure about his views and very closed to critics.)

Ogden's is a worthwhile and very important study, and I shall be returning to it in the days ahead.

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