Chapter 7 A Tortuous Boundary: Polis, Civil Religion, and the Distinction between the Sacred and Profane

In: Theology and the Political
Pavlo Smytsnyuk
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This essay argues that the central question of political theology (understood in Schmittian terms) is the extension of the structural identity of the theological and the political. Through a critical engagement with the Greek Orthodox theologian, Christos Yannaras, this essay reflects on the possibility of a renewed articulation of the sacred and the profane. First, I present Yannaras’ critique of the concept of ‘religion,’ particularly its egocentric and individualistic components and his argument that, from a theological point of view, the mission of the church is political. For Yannaras, Christianity transcends all natural necessity, including ‘religion.’ His theological ideal is the event church, understood as a mode of existence, which consists of communal search and verification of truth. The latter is understood by Yannaras as ‘political,’ which refers to the Hellenic experience of the polis. Second, drawing on Yannaras, I address the following questions: What kind of ‘political’ is the church? If polis, a ‘secular’ entity, can serve as the model of Christian life, then why should civil religion (also a ‘secular’ entity) constitute a betrayal of the church’s mission? Can there be a ‘non-religious’ (in Yannaras’ sense) church at all? Third, I explore whether Yannaras’ articulation of the continuity of church and polis might benefit from being pushed further, towards the recognition of semina verbi outside of the Hellenic ethos. Finally, I propose a renewed articulation of the sacred and profane, according to which the line of separation between the sacred and the profane lies not between the religious and secular spheres (as defined by the Enlightenment) but within each of these spheres, concluding with the consequences of such a re-articulation for the mission of the church.

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Theology and the Political

Theo-political Reflections on Contemporary Politics in Ecumenical Conversation

Series:  Theology and Mission in World Christianity, Volume: 16


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