Category Archives: secularization

The Kings Two Bodies, E. Kantorowicz’s Political Theology

Thoughts thus far after having intermittently read 300 + pages of E. Kantorowicz’s TKTB:

1. Political theology is understanding how theological concepts are de-sacralized and then re-sacralized in an analogous/analogical sense (not the Thomist kind, mind you!) by politics and/or the study of statecraft.

2. Political theology is NOT public theology as it is popularized today.

3. One can really sense E. Kantorowicz engage Carl Schmitt here as a conversation partner (well, not in the literal sense, since they weren’t contemporaries). Having read Schmitt ahead of E. Kantorowicz eight years ago, the infamous Nazi constitutional theorist makes more sense to me now. I also understand Dutertismo better, seen from the lenses provided by E. Kantorowicz, Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben (ha!)

4. Reading through E. Kantorowicz’s chapters on the Christ-Centered Kingship, the Law-Centered Kingship and the Polity-Centered Kingship: Corpus Mysticum, I can argue from Dooyeweerdian eyes that what he discusses in these chapters is really what we mean by disciplinary differentiation, if in a rough way. Thus:

Ch. 1: the phrase ‘body politic’ often used by later philosophers (Locke and Hobbes, for instance) apparently finds root in the metaphysical theory of the King’s two bodies familiar to Tudor jurists — the indivisible body natural and the body politic. The theory itself developed out of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of Christ and the Athanasian two natures. The King is dead, long live the King!

Ch 2. Shakespeare’s King Richard II illustrates the tensions and breakdowns of the theory in a subversive era.

Ch 3. In the Norman tracts, the theory gets further traction, the King becoming, as it were, an imitation of Christ on earth, under the notion of germina persona (something like the Lord President today who could do no wrong for that reason!). It is a liturgical kingship, the earthly ruler as christomimetes, the impersonator and actor of christ no less than priest or bishop celebrating the Eucharist.

Ch. 4 It gets more interesting for lawyers like me — the ground now shifts from liturgy to law, as the King becomes the epitome of equity and justice (as the canon lawyers take over, with their familiarity with Roman and ecclessiastical law). Thus the maxim the King is above the law, but is neverthless servant of the Law. The terms necessarily change –it is now a discussion between privata voluntas and persona publica (or private will as against public person).

Frederick II is its poster boy.

So this secularization is to be taken mostly in a positive sense, also pace Casanova (secularization as societal differentiation, marking out distinct boundaries for each sphere that is sovereign in its own orbit (Kuyper’s sovereignteit in eigen kring). So theologians shouldn’t take it out on jurists/political scientists/philosophers if their ideas were used by the latter in ways different from theirs. Also, they really shouldn’t wish things were back to the time when theology was the Queen of the Sciences.

5. This is what we otherwise understand to be the analogical moments that Dooyeweerd speaks of in the formation of disciplinary concepts as the various spheres open up in the process of societal differentiation (disciplines borrow from other disciplines in forming concepts, without transgressing the integrity of their own disciplinary concerns).

6. If we follow E. Kantorowicz (who was an atheist, by the way) –and now that we’re marking the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation — there’s not much to the often-repeated thesis that modernity (read as BAD secularization) is the fault of Protestants. Well, he does mention the nominalists here, but only in a very tangential way (take that, Milbank et al.) You can blame Dante for that. Or Marselius de Padua, or the Roman jurists. Or Frederick II. Or Paul of Tarsus. Take your pick.  Heck, Roman Catholicism could very well have bred the seeds of secularization, if we follow Kantorowicz’s account! (For an alternative reading of secularization in the BAD sense, see Dooyeweerd’s essay on the Secularization of Science).

7. I wish this book were one of the assigned texts, along with Harold Berman’s  two volumes on the development of law in the Western tradition, when I was reading legal history in law school.

(Nota bene: This is a slightly revised version of a post I earlier made on my Facebook account).


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Filed under Casanova, Dooyeweerd, Kantorowicz, Politics, reformational philosophy, Religion, secularization