“So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive forever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness—those forces are miracle, mystery, and authority. Thou has rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so.” This is an extract from the poem ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The prophetic nature of the poem is indisputable. The Nietzschean death of God is already present in the story of Ivan Karamazov. The Cardinal who is the inquisitor is already engaged in the making of Christendom. Philosophers, theologians historians, novelists, and cultural observers had already made this connection between Christendom and the birth of a new, more secular culture. Indeed, the distinction between Christendom and Christianity can be seen as one of the defining features of the Christian faith in the late modern and postmodern world and is certainly integral for establishing the cultural conditions for radical theology. The imperial religion of Christianity began in the fourth century when Emperor Constantine effectively established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity soon became both the dominant and official religion of the Roman Empire and, with the possible exception of the few hangers-on such as the desert monks and a select group of monastics, the Christian church fully embraced its newfound alliance with the powers that be. By wedding the church to the Roman Empire or, more broadly, with Western culture, the Constantinian revolution successfully harnessed the three powers identified by Dostoyevsky by adding the authority of the state to that of the church’s already firm grasp on miracle and mystery. The glory of the church was built on its rejection of Christ as the persecuted became the persecutors and the servant the new lord and master. From death, to resurrection, to exaltation— here we have the death of God in Christ twice over. The inquisitor further says:
“We are not working with Thee, but with him—that is our mystery. It’s long—eight centuries—since we have been on his side and not on Thine. Just eight centuries ago, we took from him what Thou didst reject with scorn, that last gift he offered Thee, showing Thee all the kingdoms of the earth. We took from him Rome and the sword of Caesar, and proclaimed ourselves sole rulers of the earth, though hitherto we have not been able to complete our work. But whose fault is that? Oh, the work is only beginning, but it has begun. It has long to await completion and the earth has yet much to suffer, but we shall triumph and shall be Caesars, and then we shall plan the universal happiness of man.”
The glory of the church was built on its rejection of Christ as the
persecuted became the persecutors and the servant the new lord
and master. From death, to resurrection, to exaltation—
here we have the death of God in Christ twice over.
It was a devil’s bargain that gave the leaders of the church the needed authority not only to define orthodoxy but also to enforce their vision of the church’s proper uniformity and homogeneity. Through this newly established framework of canon, creed, and ecclesiastical authority, the world could now be made in the image of the church; the kingdom of God would now finally come. In the process, Christendom is revealed as “no more than a phase in the history of Christianity, and it represents only one out of many possible relationships between church and society. Yet in Western Europe this phase lasted for more than a thousand years, and we are still living in its shadow.”
“Man has a tendency to invert the situation. Just as a dog which is compelled to walk on two feet has every instant a tendency to go again on all four, and does so as soon as it sees its chance, waiting only to see its chance, so is Christendom an effort of the human race to go back to walking on all fours to get rid of Christianity, to do it knavishly under the pretext that this is Christianity, claiming that it is Christianity perfected,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard. “There are two sorts of Christianity. No, I confront them with the unaltered conviction that the Christianity of the New Testament is Christianity, the other being a knavish trick, and that they no more resemble one another than a square resembles a circle.” Our Christianity therefore, the Christianity of ‘Christendom’, takes this into account; it takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox. That is, it transforms Christianity into something entirely different from what it is in the New Testament. The Christianity of us men is to love God in agreement with other men, to love and be loved by other men. Theology needs deconstruction of both body and soul in the light of the new Testament.