"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).

Monday, January 15, 2018

Foucault on Power and Authority in the Church (III)

When we left off, our author, Steven Ogden, had sketched out the ecclesial problems of sovereignty, power, authority, and the epistemic hubris (and other abuses) attendant upon and resulting from the first three. This section, which I regard as diagnostic, is the stronger of the two in the book. As we move into the second half, offering suggestions for alternative models, the chapters are shorter and woefully underdeveloped.

In the remainder of his book, his burden is to ketch out an alternative vision of the Church as a space of unconstrained freedom. In chapter 5, where this discussion begins, he also resumes his larger ecumenical narrative after an excursus through the Anglican Communion's contemporary polities and politics. In doing so, he explicitly eschews the role of telling others what to do or how to structure their lives, saying instead that he will outline "a suite of catalysts which could enhance ecclesiological reflection and the renewal of authority" (110), these catalysts including "critique, space, imagination, and wisdom."

The chapter begins with a definition of freedom as practice, noting that such practices must be defined anew every generation. Freedom is a gift, Ogden notes, for the service of others. But it is a limited gift, constrained by the incomplete, partial, and transient nature of human life; liberation remains incomplete; it is an eschatological hope only partially realized here and now. As Foucault noted, people can be liberated but not free (cf. Winnicott on this).

The rest of the chapter, like this section of the book as a whole, becomes progressively more circular, repetitive, self-referential, and exhortatory in an almost homiletic mode. In the end it does not really deliver on its promise of a sustained reflection on an alternative model of the Church, saying rather limply on the ante-penultimate page, "with an eye on practice, the focus of this book has been conceptual and theoretical" and denying, in its final line, that "this is not sidestepping the complexity of unresolved problems" though it rather reads like it, alas.

Still, for raising the crucial questions of the corruptions, often unconscious, brought about by notions of sovereignty, and for examining questions of power and authority, as it does so well in the first half, this book has more than demonstrated its importance.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...