Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty

Synopsis

In this follow-up to The Kingdom and the Glory and The Highest Poverty, Agamben investigates the roots of our moral concept of duty in the theory and practice of Christian liturgy. Beginning with the New Testament and working through to late scholasticism and modern papal encyclicals, Agamben traces the Church's attempts to repeat Christ's unrepeatable sacrifice. Crucial here is the paradoxical figure of the priest, who becomes more and more a pure instrument of God's power, so that his own motives and character are entirely indifferent as long as he carries out his priestly duties. In modernity, Agamben argues, the Christian priest has become the model ethical subject. We see this above all in Kantian ethics. Contrasting the Christian and modern ontology of duty with the classical ontology of being, Agamben contends that Western philosophy has unfolded in the tension between the two. This latest installment in the study of Western political structures begun in Homo Sacer is a contribution to the study of liturgy, an extension of Nietzsche's genealogy of morals, and a reworking of Heidegger's history of Being.

Excerpt

Opus Dei is a technical term that, in the tradition of the Latin Catholic Church that starts from the Rule of St. Benedict, designates the liturgy, that is, “the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ…. In the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members” (Vatican Council II, Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, December 4, 1963).

The word liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia, “public services”) is, however, relatively modern. Before its use was extended progressively, beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, we find in its place the Latin officium, whose semantic sphere is not easy to define and in which nothing, at least at first glance, would seem to have destined it for its unusual theological success.

In The Kingdom and the Glory we investigated the liturgical mystery above all in the face it turns toward God, in its objective or glorious aspect. In this volume our archaeological study is oriented toward the aspect that above all concerns the priests, that is, the subjects to whom belongs, so to speak, the “ministry of the mystery.” And just as in The Kingdom and the Glory we sought to clarify the “mystery of the economy,” which theologians had constructed by reversing a Pauline expression that was clear in itself, here it is a matter of tearing the liturgical mystery out of the obscurity and vagueness of the modern literature on the subject, returning it to the rigor and splendor of the great medieval . . .

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