Commodification And The Performative Sign in the Eucharistic Ethics of Luther and Calvin

Commodification And The Performative Sign in the Eucharistic Ethics of Luther and Calvin Abstract This article calls attention to the need for an ethics of representation. The practical power of signs, symbols and images is obvious all around us. It is pre-eminent in the economy, which has undergone a process of financialization to the extent that it is now dominated by the performative financial signs known as ‘derivatives.’ In early modern Europe, at the dawn of capitalism, people engaged in an extended debate about the ethics of performative representation. That discussion focused on the Eucharist, but this article demonstrates that it was also concerned with the psychological effects of commodification. Such controversies should be interpreted in the light of the twenty-first century economy, in order to elaborate a moral response to the autonomous practical power of representation. This article considers the Eucharistic theories of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin as an initial, partial attempt to develop an ethics of representation for the twenty-first century. i. towards an ethics of representation Perhaps the twenty-first century's most glaring ideological deficiency is the absence of a viable ethics of representation. The practical power of representation—signs, symbols, images, icons—in today's society seems clear enough. In fact, it might be called the definitive characteristic of our age. This is not just a matter of the proliferation of technological media of representation. Questions of image, perception and spin threaten to displace logic and reason from politics, philosophy, psychology, and even from everyday life. The position that representation determines reality—that signs create rather than represent their meanings—is becoming widely accepted among post-foundationalist thinkers throughout the disciplines. Most portentously, the dominance of the economy over society, the concomitant financialisation of the economy itself, and the evolution of financial value into non-material, abstract signs all reflect the postmodern potency of representation. Yet we lack an ethical vocabulary to discuss this performative power of symbols. This deficiency is felt especially sharply when, as in the recent crises caused by the effects of ‘derivative’ financial symbols within the economy, the practical power of representation has a clearly deleterious impact on the real world. The vast and unprecedented influence of speculative derivative instruments poses the question of whether financial signs ought to exercise objective power, and raises the issue of how they can do so.1 Speculative derivatives do not acquire their value from any reference to useful commodities; they are derived purely from their relations to other financial instruments. So the rise of financial derivatives also returns us to ancient questions regarding the moral status of efficacious symbols. In the history of theology and philosophy, the attribution of practical power to symbols has generally been recognised as idolatrous or magical thinking. It is hard for professional economists to depart from the conventions of their discipline and include ‘exogenous’ factors in their analyses, theological ethics least of all. But that should not prevent us from applying ethics to economic phenomena; on the contrary, it suggests that the economists’ limited theoretical conception of their field no longer reflects the range and influence of its empirical condition. As Norman Macintosh commented in 2003, traditional economic paradigms are not appropriately adapted to the financialised world: In this hyperreal capital market, there are no underlyings from which the market price of financial instruments, such as derivatives, are derived. What is required to make sense of this strange situation, then, is a paradigm shift of some sort, such as adopting a linguistic perspective. Economic theories and scientific positivism, valuable for making sense of the production order, seem to be out of touch with the changing nature of today’s financial world.2 The sacramental controversy caught and held the European public’s attention during what was arguably the last historical era when it was possible for ordinary people to perceive the ethical implications of representation. It raised the question of how representation can cease to be merely referential and become efficacious, or performative.3 Can signs alter the condition of the human mind, or even of the objective world? How do they do so? To what extent should they be allowed to do so? In their twentieth-century, secular form these questions were discussed in such works as J.L. Austin’s How To Do Things With Words (1961). Austin distinguished between ‘denotative’ phrases like ‘the cat is black’, which purport to describe an extra-linguistic state of affairs, and ‘constative’ phrases like ‘I name this ship’ or ‘I promise to pay’, which actually carry out the action they name. J.R. Searle reached similar conclusions in Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969). The work of Searle and Austin placed what Searle called performative or ‘illocutionary’ statements at the centre of Anglo-American ‘speech act theory’. Unlike the Anglophones, Continental theorists of performative representation tend to emphasise the radical social and political implications of their ideas. Derrida’s influential deconstruction of Austin’s work, and his dispute with Searle in Limited, Inc., angered the Anglo-Americans by pushing their ideas to their ontological conclusions, so that the idea of logos—of objective truth itself—seemed to come under attack. Continental post-structuralism and Anglo-American neo-pragmatism are both forms of ‘post-foundationalist’ theory, which claim that no words are merely descriptive, and that by making any utterance at all we are unavoidably doing something. Such readings in turn provided the basis for an entire politics of performativity that has had a considerable impact throughout the Western world. Theorists of performance like Judith Butler and Donna Haraway have become public intellectuals, enjoying a wide reputation beyond the academy. The concept of ‘hyper-reality’ has passed into the demotic vernacular, conveying the sense that representation does not designate but actually constitutes human experience. Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. This rise to cultural prominence of performative signs marks an epochal departure in Western thought. A challenge to referentiality is a challenge to logos. When signs were seen to be efficacious in themselves, the ancient and medieval worlds regarded them with suspicion, generally designating them as magical and demonic. The sacraments were sacred because they were exceptions to this rule. Unlike the icons and images of the magician, whose efficacy was illusory, the sacraments achieved an objective effect in the real world. The Catholic Encyclopedia summarises the canonical view of the Eucharist as a performative speech-act: The total conversion of the substance of bread is expressed clearly in the words of Institution: ‘This is my body.’ These words form, not a theoretical, but a practical proposition, whose essence consists in this, that the objective identity between subject and predicate is effected and verified only after the words have all been uttered, not unlike the pronouncement of a king to a subaltern: ‘You are a major’, or, ‘You are a captain’, which would immediately cause the promotion of the officer to a higher command. When, therefore, He Who is All Truth and All Power said of the bread: ‘This is my body’, the bread became, through the utterance of these words, the Body of Christ; consequently, on the completion of the sentence the substance of bread was no longer present, but the Body of Christ under the outward appearance of bread.4 The question at issue in the Reformation controversies was the source of this performative power. Did it derive directly from the logos, or was it inherent in the sign? Was priestly mediation a necessity? Was the volition of the communicant a pertinent factor? The answers one gave to such questions determined one’s view of representation in general, and of the individual self, as well as for the relations between the two. This in turn held profound implications for what we would now call ‘politics’ and ‘economics’. Because they were aware of the inter-relations between these ‘spheres’ of society—or rather because they did not conceive them as different spheres—the people of early-modern Europe debated the semantics of the sacraments with a passionate intensity that did not stop short of continental warfare. The term sacramentum was coined by the second-century Latin Father Tertullian, who used it to translate the Greek mysterion. This latter word originally referred to the esoteric knowledge imparted by pagan mystery cults, and it usually designated a magical icon or image. It retained much the same sense when imported into Christian discourse. Tertullian found sacramentum an appropriate equivalent for mysterion because of its additional legal implications: it could refer to an oath sworn in court, or to a soldier’s declaration of fealty, as well as to the external sign of such an oath—usually the brand or tattoo that marked a legionnaire’s body. Such signs were legally enforceable and thus objectively efficacious in the same way as Tertullian understood the sacramental food to be efficacious. By the fourth century, both the Greek and the Latin were being used to designate specifically Christian liturgical signs such as Baptism and the Eucharist.5 In this tradition, a sacrament is the paradigm of a performative image. As Thomas Aquinas put it: ‘the sacraments of the New Law cause grace’.6 The Council of Trent pronounced: ‘a sacrament is a thing subjected to the senses, which has the power not only of signifying but also of effecting grace’.7 This understanding of the sacraments remains current in most Christian confessions today. The Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae declares ‘Sacramenta sunt signa efficacia gratiae’,8 which is translated into English as ‘the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace’.9 Paul Tillich echoes this interpretation when he announces that: ‘Christian liturgy, at the center of which lies the Eucharist, is irreducibly performative … .’10 The Eucharist allowed believing participants to experience a substantial, spiritual essence underlying physical appearances. The bread and wine made the logos objectively present in the mind of the communicant. But how? The parties to the dispute can, without undue simplification, be divided into ‘symbolists’ and ‘realists’. Over ten centuries the discussion veers between those who claimed that the bread and wine are commemorative symbols of Christ’s body and blood, and those who held that Christ is physically and literally present in the sacramental signs. Breaking with the naïve realism of the early Patriarchs, Augustine’s Neoplatonism conceived the sacramental sign (signum) as ‘participating in’ its prototypical referent (res) without being identical with it. This prepared the way for the first fully ‘symbolist’ account of the Eucharist, which was formulated by Berengar of Tours, whose doctrine was anathematised at the Council of Rome in 1050. Berengar did not deny the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, but he held that this presence depended on faith in the recipient. In contrast, the victorious party, headed by Pope Leo, held that the actions of the priest effected an objective change, a transubstantiation, altering the essence or substance of the bread and wine, although their appearances or accidental forms remained unchanged. This doctrine was affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: [Christ’s] body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into the body and blood … . Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained … .11 The exclusive right of the ordained clergy to administer the Mass was thus a central element in the dispute from its earliest stages. It remained a prime target of heretical sects like the Albigenses and Waldenses throughout the Middle Ages. Long-standing controversies like the railing off of altars or the withholding of one kind from the laity were rooted in efforts to bolster or diminish priestly authority. From the symbolist perspective, the belief that the priest effects a transubstantiation by his incantatory words or ritualistic actions seemed dangerously close to magic. This was the oldest and most dangerous charge laid against Christianity. It was the blasphemous assumption made by Simon Magus when he offered to buy the disciples’ healing power for money. Unlike genuine miracles, magical power can be exchanged; it is susceptible to commodification. ii. martin luther: against the commodification of ritual As Simon Magus realised, the ritualistic labour of the magician acquires a financial value at the same time, and to the same degree, as it imposes a performative power upon signs. According to Luther, the consequent tradition of simony had sunk deep roots in the church. He was convinced that the Catholic understanding of the Mass was magical, because the exclusive right of the priesthood to administer the sacrament led directly to the idolatrous confusion of sign and referent. As he put it in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520): We priests are so mad that we arrogate to ourselves alone the right of secretly uttering the words of consecration … . Under the influence of some superstitious and impious notion we do reverence to these words instead of believing them.12 To ‘reverence’ the Words of Institution rather than ‘believe’ them was to focus on the sign to the exclusion of the referent—the paradigmatic error of magic and idolatry. It was to forget that the words had a meaning, a referent, which consisted in the promise of salvation. The magical, fetishistic attitude to the priestly labour of the Mass therefore became, for Luther, the paradigm of works righteousness in general. Works righteousness was the inevitable result of idolatry, the worship of ‘the works of men’s hands’, and the sin from which all other sins grew. From Luther’s perspective the most objectionable consequence of this conception of the Mass was that it became exchangeable—it could be performed on behalf of people other than the direct recipient. In the words of the Council of Trent: ‘If any one saith, that the Mass … profits only the recipient, and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.’13 As Luther pointed out, this view of the Mass as a ‘finished work’ (opus operatum) which took its efficacy from the priest’s actions (ex opere operato) laid the ideological foundation of an entire ecclesiastical market economy: there is no opinion more generally held or more firmly believed in the church today than this, that the mass is a good work and a sacrifice. And this abuse has brought an endless host of other abuses in its train, so that the faith of this sacrament has become wholly extinct and the holy sacrament has been turned into mere merchandise, a market, and a profit-making business. Hence participations, brotherhoods, intercessions, merits, anniversaries, memorial days and the like wares are bought and sold, traded and bartered, in the church. On these the priests and monks depend for their entire livelihood.14 Once reified into an opus, the Mass could remit the punishment of sins for offenders who were not present, or even aware of the sacrifice made on their behalf. This belief inspired the bestowal of ‘mass-stipends’, whereby priests were paid money for performing Masses on behalf of the absent or the dead, on the assumption that the efficacy of their ritualistic actions was transferrable in symbolic form. Luther explained the logical consequence of this doctrine in his Commentary on Galatians: The pope has taken away the true use of the Mass and has simply turned it into merchandise that one must buy for the benefit of another person. There stood the Mass priest at the altar, an apostate who denied Christ and blasphemed the Holy Spirit; and he was doing a work not only for himself but for others, both living and dead, even for the entire church, and that simply by the mere performance of the act.15 Luther agreed with the Catholics that Christ’s body was physically present in the bread and wine: he interpreted the image ‘hic est meum corpus’ as a metonomy, on the grounds of Christological uniquity. His difference with the Catholics concerned the manner of its efficacy (modus efliciendi). The church claimed that the priest himself performed a transubstantiation, but Luther claimed to have uncovered the base motive behind this fetishisation of ‘works’. As an opus that could only be performed by a priest, the Mass represented alienated labour-power that could be exchanged for money: it became a commodity. As Luther explains in The Babylonian Captivity, the Mass: has been converted by the teaching of godless men into a good work, which they themselves call an opus operatum and by which they presumptuously imagine themselves all-powerful with God. Thereupon they proceeded to the very height of madness, and having invented the lie that the mass works ex opere operato, they asserted further that it is none the less profitable to others, even if it be harmful to the wicked priest celebrating it. On such a foundation of sand they base their applications, participations, sodalities, anniversaries and numberless other money-making schemes.16 Rather than its efficacy being contained in the material action, Luther argued that the sacrament worked ‘by virtue of the agent’: ex opere operantis. Although Christ’s body was physically present in the sacramental food, the subjective condition of the communicant was therefore an indispensable condition for the Mass’s efficacy, for although it was objectively present, not everyone could perceive Christ’s body in the sacramental signs. From the ‘Papist’ perspective, this doctrine was an obstacle to the commodification of the Mass. Luther was only too well aware that, by attacking the idea of the sacrament as an opus operato, he was destroying the conceptual source of the church’s financial wealth: But you will say: How is this? Will you not overturn the practice and teaching of all the churches and monasteries, by virtue of which they have flourished these many centuries? For the mass is the foundation of their anniversaries, intercessions, applications, communications, etc.—that is to say, of their fat income. I answer: This is the very thing that has constrained me to write of the captivity of the Church, for in this manner the adorable testament of God has been subjected to the bondage of a godless traffic … .17 The connection between magic and commodification had been the spark that fired Luther’s original protest against indulgences. According to the concept of ‘works of supererogation’, stored-up good works performed by the saints formed a repository of labour-power that could be released in symbolic, financial form and sold as indulgences for money. The penitential labour required to ameliorate the soul’s condition in purgatory could be replaced by a performative token—a certificate of indulgence. Luther denounced this doctrine as works righteousness, claiming that it made a fetish of human activity and projected it onto the efficacious power of signs.18 In Luther’s anti-indulgence rhetoric, the secular and the ecclesiastical markets are indistinguishable. The indulgence-selling campaign of Johann Tetzel, which initially outraged Luther, was administered in the German lands by the banking house of Fugger, which naturally also received a handsome share of the profits. Luther’s fateful audience with Cardinal Cajetan actually took place in Jakob Fugger’s Augsburg residence. Secular and ecclesiastical commodification thus converged strikingly in the sale of indulgences, and this merger shaped Luther’s theory of ecclesiastical commodity fetishism. As he expostulated in his Appeal to the German Ruling Class (1520): the business is now to be transferred, and sold to Fugger of Augsburg. Henceforward bishoprics and livings for sale or exchange or in demand, and dealings in the spiritualities, have arrived at their true destination, now that the bargaining for spiritual or secular properties has become united into a single business. But I would like to hear of a man who is clever enough to discover what Avarice of Rome might do which has not already been done. Then perhaps Fugger would transfer and sell to someone else these two lines of business which are now to be combined into one.19 In The Babylonian Captivity Luther carefully details the psychological homology between the idolatry of sacramental signs and the fetishisation of financial signs. Alluding to the biblical declarations that ‘covetousness is idolatry’, he claims that, correctly interpreted, sacramental idolatry is itself a sign of its financial equivalent. Why, he asks, is the sign of the sacrament in both kinds withheld from the laity? For in every sacrament the sign as such is of far less importance than the thing signified. What then is to prevent them from conceding the lesser, when they concede the greater? I can see but one reason; it has come about by the permission of an angry God in order to give occasion for a schism in the Church, to bring home to us how, having long ago lost the grace of the sacrament, we contend for the sign, which is the lesser, against that which is the most important and the chief thing; just as some men for the sake of ceremonies contend against love. Nay, this monstrous perversion seems to date from the time when we began for the sake of the riches of this world to rage against Christian love. Thus God would show us, by this terrible sign, how we esteem signs more than the things they signify.20 Those rites and rituals to which no salvationary promise is attached require no subjective faith for their efficacy and are therefore not sacraments, despite the claims of the Roman church. For example, the ceremony of marriage involves a performative statement—‘I now pronounce you man and wife’—that is efficacious regardless of the participants’ attitude towards it. The couple will be objectively married, even if they and the priest all intend them to remain single. Since it does not require subjective faith, Luther does not consider marriage a sacrament. Sacraments, in Luther’s view, are precisely defined by the fact that they require the subjective assent of faith. They can be efficacious only in the kind of subject equipped to offer such autonomous volition. But the false claim that the actions of the priest gave the sacramental sign an independent efficacy allowed the Eucharist to be conceived as an opus and thus exchanged for money. By an identical process of thought, marriage’s status as a performative statement, actually effected by the priestly declaration, logically enables its commodification: the Romanists of our day have … become merchants. What is it they sell? The shame of men and women—merchandise, forsooth, most worthy of such merchants grown altogether filthy and obscene through greed and godlessness. For there is nowadays no hindrance that may not be legalised upon the intercession of mammon … . O worthy trade for our pontiffs to ply … .21 Luther pointed out that, if the Eucharist was conceived as similarly effected by the priest, it would be subject to a similar commodification. The specificity of Luther’s Eucharistic doctrine thus lies in his objection to the fetishisation of priestly labour. He traces all idolatrous belief in performative representation to this fetish. For Luther, the illusion that signs are performative is made possible by a magical attitude to human activity. The Babylonian Captivity explains how works righteousness leads inexorably to the fetishisation of performative representation: if the sacrament confers grace on me because I receive it, then indeed I obtain grace by virtue of my work and not of faith; I lay hold not on the promise in the sacrament, but on the sign instituted and commanded by God. Do you not see, then, how completely the sacraments have been misunderstood by our sententious theologians? They have taken no account, in their discussions on the sacraments, of either faith or the promise, but cling only to the sign and the use of the sign, and draw us away from faith to the work, from the word to the sign.22 Performative representation leads to works righteousness because the power projected onto the sign is human subjective activity in alienated form. The ‘Papist’ error was to assume that the efficacy of the Eucharistic signs is consequent on their embodying the abstract labour-power of the priest. For Luther this kind of fetishised human activity, or works righteousness, can only produce idolatry. In contrast, Luther locates the sacrament’s efficacy in the psyche of the communicant. He nevertheless insisted that Christ was objectively present in the physical body of the signs themselves. By doing so he broke with the Roman church, but also distinguished his own position from the schwarmer of the radical Reformation. iii. john calvin and the performative sign For Karlstadt, Zwingli and other radical iconoclasts, the verb esse in Christ’s phrase ‘Hic est corpus meum’ implicitly meant ‘significat’. They pointed to similar ‘sacramental expressions’ (locutiones sacramentales) in Scripture, where Christ is compared to a rock, a vine, a path and so on. In Of True and False Religion, Zwingli came close to denying the real presence altogether: ‘I have no use for that notion of a real and true body that does not exist physically, definitely and distinctly in some place, and that sort of nonsense got up by word triflers.’ Such sentiments horrified Luther as much as they outraged the Catholics. He castigated the iconoclasts for their belief that the physical destruction of icons could obliterate their power. He pointed out that this assumed that the icons actually possessed this power, and that iconoclasm was thus an especially egregious form of works righteousness: ‘[t]heir idea that they can please God with works becomes a real idol and a false assurance in the heart. Such legalism results in putting away outward images while filling the heart with idols’.23 Luther’s realism and the symbolist interpretations of Zwingli and the iconoclasts formed a dialectical contradiction. Calvin’s Eucharistic theory forged an intellectually coherent synthesis that assimilated performative representation into Protestant hermeneutics. Although he argued that the sacrament represents Christ’s body and blood in a purely symbolic sense, Calvin nevertheless claimed that the logos is objectively communicated. In Calvin’s theory of the Eucharist, the symbolic becomes the substantial. Like Luther, Calvin recognised that the fetishistic form taken by the Roman Mass was determined by its commodification. In order to acquire exchange-value, the Mass had to be conceived as an opus, a sacrificial work that repeated the efficacy of Christ’s original sacrifice. Calvin rails against ‘that opinion with which the Roman Antichrist and his prophets have imbued the whole world, viz., that the mass is a work by which the priest who offers Christ, and the others who in the oblation receive him, gain merit with God …’.24 Priests who conceive of the Mass as an opus are followers of Judas: ‘He sold for thirty pieces of silver: they, according to the French method of computation, sell for thirty pieces of brass. He did it once: they as often as a purchaser is met with.’ Calvin echoes Luther in noting that the commodified Eucharist takes no account of the condition of the individual conscience. He attacked those who sell the Mass ‘to anyone who is willing to purchase their merchandise from them for a price paid’. The abstract subject posited by a commercial transaction obscures the culpability of the individual soul, so that sinners are emboldened to continue in their transgressions by the apparently magical nature of redemption: ‘the only thing which gives them so much courage is, that by the sacrifice of the mass as a price paid, they trust that they will satisfy God, or at least will easily find a means of transacting with him’. The idea that the sacrament would retain its efficacy even for the unworthy was for Calvin unambiguously magical: [The Papists] could not have been so shamefully deluded by the impostures of Satan had they not been fascinated by the erroneous idea, that the body of Christ included under the bread is transmitted by the bodily mouth into the belly. The cause of this brutish imagination was, that consecration had the same effect with them as magical incantation. They overlooked the principle, that bread is a sacrament to none but those to whom the word is addressed just as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but begins to be to us what it formerly was not, as soon as the promise is annexed.25 This ‘spiritual’ efficacy was not derived from the ritual actions of the priest—Calvin concurred with Luther on that point. Unlike Luther, however, Calvin did not conceive of the presence as physical. The sacrament’s efficacy was contained within the bread and wine, without being identical with the physical signifiers: there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ … . That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises.26 Calvin’s Eucharistic theory anticipates the doctrine of ‘transignification’ as it has been developed by recent Catholic commentators, who draw on Saussure’s linguistics to read the sacrament as a sign containing both signifier (the bread and wine) and signified (Christ’s divine nature). As Calvin describes it in the opening chapter of the Institutes, entitled ‘Sign and Thing’, the Eucharist is designed to inculcate the idea that signs can be efficacious in a spiritual rather than a physical manner: But as this mystery of the secret union of Christ with believers is incomprehensible by nature, he exhibits its figure and image in visible signs adapted to our capacity, nay, by giving, as it were, earnests and badges, he makes it as certain to us as if it were seen by the eye; the familiarity of the similitude giving it access to minds however dull, and showing that souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine.27 Failure to understand the nature of the sacrament is evidence that the recipient is unworthy to receive it. The unworthy receive the sign without the referent, and this division robs the sacrament of its character as a sign and turns it into an idol. For Calvin, in contrast, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both real and symbolic—in fact, it is real because it is symbolic, in the sense that its reality consists in the acceptance of the symbolic nature of its truth.28 In Calvin’s understanding, the experience of Christ’s real presence consists in the acknowledgement that symbolic truth can be objective. He carefully positions his doctrine as a middle way between the antithetical readings of the ‘Papists’ and the ‘Sacramentarians’: The Papists confounded the reality and the sign (rem et signum), unbelievers like Schwekfeld and men like him separate the signs from the realities (signa a rebus). Let us preserve a middle position, that is, let us keep the union made by the Lord, but at the same time distinguish between them so that we do not, in error, transfer what belongs to one to the other.29 This attempt to forge a ‘middle position’ earned Calvin the ire of confused opponents from both sides. As an anonymous attack published in Bordeaux in 1577 declared: ‘One minute he is a Lutheran, the next, in contrast, he takes on the personage of a Zwinglian, and like a juggler, a buffoon, now says he is inside, now affirms that he is outside.’30 In fact, however, Calvin was outlining a distinctive third position. For him, belief in the verbal promise, represented in the sacramental sign, constitutes an ‘efficacy of the Spirit’, a meaning that is at once symbolic and real. The metaphoricity of the sacrament, in short, constitutes its efficacy, as Calvin explains in the Short Treatise on the Holy Supper (1540): the communion which we have in the body and bloody of Jesus … is a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore figured to us by visible signs, according as our weakness requires, in such manner, nevertheless, that it is not a bare figure but combined with the reality and substance. It is with good reason then that the bread is called the body, since it not only represents but also presents it to us.31 This is the figural, ‘spiritual’ hermeneutic sense that Paul opposes to the literalistic ‘letter’ of the law when he declares: ‘the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life’. This is what Calvin means when he describes Christ’s working in the sacrament as ‘an efficacy of the Spirit, by which he fulfills what he promises’.32 The sacrament reminds the believer of essence underlying appearance, and of the spiritual truths concealed beneath the visible signs of empirical reality: I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. … The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present.33 By learning to view corporeal bread and wine in a figurative, or spiritual sense, we allow them to have a spiritual effect: ‘by the corporeal things which are produced in the sacrament, we are by a kind of analogy conducted to spiritual things’. Calvin has divided the sacrament into the ‘signifier’ (the word or icon) and the ‘signified’ (the concept). The ‘signified’ is part of the ‘sign’, and is not to be confused with the ‘referent’. Thus, in the sign ‘cow’, the signifier is the letters C, O and W arranged in this particular form; the signified is the idea evoked by that word in the mind. These two elements together constitute the ‘sign’. Although the signified is objectively present within the sign, it is possible to ignore it— just as it is possible to hear the word ‘cow’ and think of an elephant. Quoting Augustine, Calvin asserts that: ‘In the elect alone, the sacraments effect what they figure.’ Because the presence is conceptual rather than physical, a sacrament only works if it is acknowledged as working: ‘The bread is not a sacrament to itself, but to those who receive it’. Calvin’s position might appear to recall Zwingli’s, as expressed in statements like: ‘We believe that the true body of Christ is eaten in the communion, not in a gross and carnal manner, but in a sacramental and spiritual manner by the religious, believing and pious heart.’34 Both note that only the believer is able to perceive the logos within the sign, but for Zwingli that is a psychological action and not caused by the tokens themselves. The difference is that for Calvin the efficacy resides in the signs. In other words, the symbolic becomes substantial. Representation becomes reality. Calvin explains his difference from the Zwinglians thus: According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith; or, if you will have it more clearly, according to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith.35 When Calvin says that the sacrament is ‘eaten by believing’, he indicates that its effect is just as objective in the soul as the effect of food on the physical body—and this despite the fact that Christ is not physically but only symbolically present. It is in this sense, I think, that Calvinism expresses the ‘spirit of capitalism’. Max Weber’s famous phrase has often been criticised, because he located its emergence in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, where actual, empirical capitalism was practically non-existent. However, Weber was not interested in capitalism’s empirical manifestation, but in the birth of its ‘spirit’ (the German word Geist also means ‘essence’ or ‘soul’). Weber found this ‘spirit’ struggling to consciousness in the mind of Benjamin Franklin, expressing itself in such declarations as ‘time is money’, and ‘money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more’. The equation of ‘time’, of human life itself, with its symbolic representation in financial form, and the attribution of subjective agency to this alienated symbol, provide the true psychological preconditions of capitalism. The groundwork for this attitude to the self and to representation was laid in the sacramental controversies, and the message it inculcates— that symbols contain performative power— is now instinctively accepted by millions of people to whom the name of Calvin is unknown. REFERENCES Footnotes 1 As Thomas Lagoarde-Secot noted in 2016: ‘Over the past three decades, speculative transactions have skyrocketed across a wide spectrum of financial products … the notional value of annual over the counter (OTC) derivative transactions has increased tenfold between 1998 and 2014.’ ‘Financialization: Towards a New Research Agenda’, International Review of Financial Analysis 51 (May 2016) 113–23, 115. 2 Norman Macintosh, ‘From Rationality to Hyperreality: Paradigm Poker’, International Review of Financial Analysis 12.4 (2003) 453–65, 455. 3 The efficacy of sacramental signification has been discussed by several recent theologians, notably Louis-Marie Chauvet in Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. Patrick Madigan SJ and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, PA: The Liturgical Press, 1995). See Mervyn Duffy, ‘How Language, Ritual, and Sacraments Work: According to John Austin, Jürgen Habermas, and Louis-Marie Chauvet’ (Rome: Gregorian University, 2005) and Jason Del Vitto, Encountering Eucharistic Presence Within a Postmodern Context: A Dialogue Among Chauvet, Schmemann and Zizioulas (Pittsburgh, PA: Dusquesne University Press, 2013). Other volumes reflecting on the postmodern convergence of philosophy and theology include Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart (eds), Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005) and Paul Matthew Burgess, Play, Metaphor, and Judgment in a World of Signs: A Peircean Semiotic Approach to Christian Worship (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1991), p. 87. Burgess bases his reading of the sacraments on the semiotics of C.S. Peirce which, as he notes, ‘offers a general frame-work for … relating these understandings and their objects to specialized areas of study at a far distance from theology’. For literary approaches to sacramental signs, see Mark Sweetnam, ‘Hamlet and the Reformation of the Eucharist’, Literature and Theology 21.1 (2007) 11–28, Regina Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism (Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008) and Ryan Netzley, Reading, Desire and the Eucharist in Early Modern Religious Poetry (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2011). 4 The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.html. Retrieved 08/29/17. 5 See Edward Foley, From Age to Age: How Christians Celebrated the Eucharist, revised and expanded edn (Collegeville, PA: The Liturgical Press, 2008). 6 Mary T. Clark, An Aquinas Reader (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 485. Emphasis added. 7 Cit. Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics, p. 7. 8 Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae (CCE) (Vatican City: Vatican, 1997) no. 1131. 9 Cit. William P. O’Brien SJ, ‘The Eucharistic Species in Light of Pierce’s Sign Theory’, Theological Studies 75 (2014) 74–93, 75. See also Andrew Robinson, God and the World of Signs: Trinity, Evolution, and the Metaphysical Semiotics of C.S. Peirce (Leiden: Brill, 2010). 10 Paul Tillich, The Meaning and Justification of Religious Symbols, in Sidney Hook (ed.), Religious Experience and Truth (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 23. 11 Cit. Phillip Kennedy, Christianity: An Introduction (New York: Taurus, 2011), p. 129. 12 Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim (eds), Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder and Staughton, 1896), p. 323. 13 Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, can. III, cit. Catholic Encyclopedia. 14 Martin Luther, Works, Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (eds), (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1959) XXVI, 135. 15 Ibid. 16 Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, trans. A.T.W. Steinhaeuser (Philadelphia, PA: A.J. Holman Company, 1915), p. 207. 17 Ibid., p. 209. 18 It originated in the customs of criminal law, whereby financial restitution might be accepted as compensation for punishment of an offence. See Philip Schaff, ‘The Eucharistic Controversy’, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, Modern Christianity. The German Reformation (Electronic Version, Christian Classics Ethereal Library), sections 103ff. 19 Martin Luther, An Appeal to the Ruling Class of German Nationality (1520), in John Dillenberger (ed.), Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 470. 20 Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, trans. Steinhaeuser (1915), p. 181. 21 Ibid., p. 262. 22 Ibid., p. 229. 23 Martin Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets (1925), in Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen (ed.), Theological Aesthetics: A Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), p. 132. 24 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Henry Beveridge (Woodstock, ON: Devoted Publishing, 2016), p. 615. 25 Ibid., p. 596. 26 Ibid., p. 594. 27 Ibid., p. 590. 28 Thus in ‘The Eucharist in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin’, Perichoresis 8.2 (2010) Dan Botica concludes that Calvin views the Eucharist as an ‘analogy’, and therefore as objectively true in the ‘spiritual’ sense. On the performative in Calvin, see Melvin Tinker, ‘Language, Symbols and Sacraments: Was Calvin’s View of the Lord’s Supper Right?’. More generally, see Robert Corrington, A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Stephen Moore, Post-structuralism and the New Testament: Derrida and Foucault at the Foot of the Cross (Kitchener, ON: Augsburg Fortress, 1994). 29 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 564. 30 Cit. Ann W. Ramsey, Liturgy, Politics and Salvation: The Catholic League in Paris and the Nature of Catholic Reform, 1540–1630 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), p. 38. 31 John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Holy Supper, in John Dillenberger (ed.), John Calvin: Selections From His Writings (Saarbrücken: Scholars Press, 1975), p. 515. 32 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Beveridge (2016), p. 594. 33 Ibid. 34 Huldrich Zwingli, ‘Confession to King Francis’, cit. Schaff, History of the Christian Church Volume VI (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), p. 677. 35 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Beveridge (2016), p. 592. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Literature and Theology Oxford University Press

Commodification And The Performative Sign in the Eucharistic Ethics of Luther and Calvin

Literature and Theology , Volume Advance Article – Nov 13, 2017

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Abstract This article calls attention to the need for an ethics of representation. The practical power of signs, symbols and images is obvious all around us. It is pre-eminent in the economy, which has undergone a process of financialization to the extent that it is now dominated by the performative financial signs known as ‘derivatives.’ In early modern Europe, at the dawn of capitalism, people engaged in an extended debate about the ethics of performative representation. That discussion focused on the Eucharist, but this article demonstrates that it was also concerned with the psychological effects of commodification. Such controversies should be interpreted in the light of the twenty-first century economy, in order to elaborate a moral response to the autonomous practical power of representation. This article considers the Eucharistic theories of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin as an initial, partial attempt to develop an ethics of representation for the twenty-first century. i. towards an ethics of representation Perhaps the twenty-first century's most glaring ideological deficiency is the absence of a viable ethics of representation. The practical power of representation—signs, symbols, images, icons—in today's society seems clear enough. In fact, it might be called the definitive characteristic of our age. This is not just a matter of the proliferation of technological media of representation. Questions of image, perception and spin threaten to displace logic and reason from politics, philosophy, psychology, and even from everyday life. The position that representation determines reality—that signs create rather than represent their meanings—is becoming widely accepted among post-foundationalist thinkers throughout the disciplines. Most portentously, the dominance of the economy over society, the concomitant financialisation of the economy itself, and the evolution of financial value into non-material, abstract signs all reflect the postmodern potency of representation. Yet we lack an ethical vocabulary to discuss this performative power of symbols. This deficiency is felt especially sharply when, as in the recent crises caused by the effects of ‘derivative’ financial symbols within the economy, the practical power of representation has a clearly deleterious impact on the real world. The vast and unprecedented influence of speculative derivative instruments poses the question of whether financial signs ought to exercise objective power, and raises the issue of how they can do so.1 Speculative derivatives do not acquire their value from any reference to useful commodities; they are derived purely from their relations to other financial instruments. So the rise of financial derivatives also returns us to ancient questions regarding the moral status of efficacious symbols. In the history of theology and philosophy, the attribution of practical power to symbols has generally been recognised as idolatrous or magical thinking. It is hard for professional economists to depart from the conventions of their discipline and include ‘exogenous’ factors in their analyses, theological ethics least of all. But that should not prevent us from applying ethics to economic phenomena; on the contrary, it suggests that the economists’ limited theoretical conception of their field no longer reflects the range and influence of its empirical condition. As Norman Macintosh commented in 2003, traditional economic paradigms are not appropriately adapted to the financialised world: In this hyperreal capital market, there are no underlyings from which the market price of financial instruments, such as derivatives, are derived. What is required to make sense of this strange situation, then, is a paradigm shift of some sort, such as adopting a linguistic perspective. Economic theories and scientific positivism, valuable for making sense of the production order, seem to be out of touch with the changing nature of today’s financial world.2 The sacramental controversy caught and held the European public’s attention during what was arguably the last historical era when it was possible for ordinary people to perceive the ethical implications of representation. It raised the question of how representation can cease to be merely referential and become efficacious, or performative.3 Can signs alter the condition of the human mind, or even of the objective world? How do they do so? To what extent should they be allowed to do so? In their twentieth-century, secular form these questions were discussed in such works as J.L. Austin’s How To Do Things With Words (1961). Austin distinguished between ‘denotative’ phrases like ‘the cat is black’, which purport to describe an extra-linguistic state of affairs, and ‘constative’ phrases like ‘I name this ship’ or ‘I promise to pay’, which actually carry out the action they name. J.R. Searle reached similar conclusions in Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969). The work of Searle and Austin placed what Searle called performative or ‘illocutionary’ statements at the centre of Anglo-American ‘speech act theory’. Unlike the Anglophones, Continental theorists of performative representation tend to emphasise the radical social and political implications of their ideas. Derrida’s influential deconstruction of Austin’s work, and his dispute with Searle in Limited, Inc., angered the Anglo-Americans by pushing their ideas to their ontological conclusions, so that the idea of logos—of objective truth itself—seemed to come under attack. Continental post-structuralism and Anglo-American neo-pragmatism are both forms of ‘post-foundationalist’ theory, which claim that no words are merely descriptive, and that by making any utterance at all we are unavoidably doing something. Such readings in turn provided the basis for an entire politics of performativity that has had a considerable impact throughout the Western world. Theorists of performance like Judith Butler and Donna Haraway have become public intellectuals, enjoying a wide reputation beyond the academy. The concept of ‘hyper-reality’ has passed into the demotic vernacular, conveying the sense that representation does not designate but actually constitutes human experience. Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. This rise to cultural prominence of performative signs marks an epochal departure in Western thought. A challenge to referentiality is a challenge to logos. When signs were seen to be efficacious in themselves, the ancient and medieval worlds regarded them with suspicion, generally designating them as magical and demonic. The sacraments were sacred because they were exceptions to this rule. Unlike the icons and images of the magician, whose efficacy was illusory, the sacraments achieved an objective effect in the real world. The Catholic Encyclopedia summarises the canonical view of the Eucharist as a performative speech-act: The total conversion of the substance of bread is expressed clearly in the words of Institution: ‘This is my body.’ These words form, not a theoretical, but a practical proposition, whose essence consists in this, that the objective identity between subject and predicate is effected and verified only after the words have all been uttered, not unlike the pronouncement of a king to a subaltern: ‘You are a major’, or, ‘You are a captain’, which would immediately cause the promotion of the officer to a higher command. When, therefore, He Who is All Truth and All Power said of the bread: ‘This is my body’, the bread became, through the utterance of these words, the Body of Christ; consequently, on the completion of the sentence the substance of bread was no longer present, but the Body of Christ under the outward appearance of bread.4 The question at issue in the Reformation controversies was the source of this performative power. Did it derive directly from the logos, or was it inherent in the sign? Was priestly mediation a necessity? Was the volition of the communicant a pertinent factor? The answers one gave to such questions determined one’s view of representation in general, and of the individual self, as well as for the relations between the two. This in turn held profound implications for what we would now call ‘politics’ and ‘economics’. Because they were aware of the inter-relations between these ‘spheres’ of society—or rather because they did not conceive them as different spheres—the people of early-modern Europe debated the semantics of the sacraments with a passionate intensity that did not stop short of continental warfare. The term sacramentum was coined by the second-century Latin Father Tertullian, who used it to translate the Greek mysterion. This latter word originally referred to the esoteric knowledge imparted by pagan mystery cults, and it usually designated a magical icon or image. It retained much the same sense when imported into Christian discourse. Tertullian found sacramentum an appropriate equivalent for mysterion because of its additional legal implications: it could refer to an oath sworn in court, or to a soldier’s declaration of fealty, as well as to the external sign of such an oath—usually the brand or tattoo that marked a legionnaire’s body. Such signs were legally enforceable and thus objectively efficacious in the same way as Tertullian understood the sacramental food to be efficacious. By the fourth century, both the Greek and the Latin were being used to designate specifically Christian liturgical signs such as Baptism and the Eucharist.5 In this tradition, a sacrament is the paradigm of a performative image. As Thomas Aquinas put it: ‘the sacraments of the New Law cause grace’.6 The Council of Trent pronounced: ‘a sacrament is a thing subjected to the senses, which has the power not only of signifying but also of effecting grace’.7 This understanding of the sacraments remains current in most Christian confessions today. The Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae declares ‘Sacramenta sunt signa efficacia gratiae’,8 which is translated into English as ‘the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace’.9 Paul Tillich echoes this interpretation when he announces that: ‘Christian liturgy, at the center of which lies the Eucharist, is irreducibly performative … .’10 The Eucharist allowed believing participants to experience a substantial, spiritual essence underlying physical appearances. The bread and wine made the logos objectively present in the mind of the communicant. But how? The parties to the dispute can, without undue simplification, be divided into ‘symbolists’ and ‘realists’. Over ten centuries the discussion veers between those who claimed that the bread and wine are commemorative symbols of Christ’s body and blood, and those who held that Christ is physically and literally present in the sacramental signs. Breaking with the naïve realism of the early Patriarchs, Augustine’s Neoplatonism conceived the sacramental sign (signum) as ‘participating in’ its prototypical referent (res) without being identical with it. This prepared the way for the first fully ‘symbolist’ account of the Eucharist, which was formulated by Berengar of Tours, whose doctrine was anathematised at the Council of Rome in 1050. Berengar did not deny the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, but he held that this presence depended on faith in the recipient. In contrast, the victorious party, headed by Pope Leo, held that the actions of the priest effected an objective change, a transubstantiation, altering the essence or substance of the bread and wine, although their appearances or accidental forms remained unchanged. This doctrine was affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: [Christ’s] body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into the body and blood … . Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained … .11 The exclusive right of the ordained clergy to administer the Mass was thus a central element in the dispute from its earliest stages. It remained a prime target of heretical sects like the Albigenses and Waldenses throughout the Middle Ages. Long-standing controversies like the railing off of altars or the withholding of one kind from the laity were rooted in efforts to bolster or diminish priestly authority. From the symbolist perspective, the belief that the priest effects a transubstantiation by his incantatory words or ritualistic actions seemed dangerously close to magic. This was the oldest and most dangerous charge laid against Christianity. It was the blasphemous assumption made by Simon Magus when he offered to buy the disciples’ healing power for money. Unlike genuine miracles, magical power can be exchanged; it is susceptible to commodification. ii. martin luther: against the commodification of ritual As Simon Magus realised, the ritualistic labour of the magician acquires a financial value at the same time, and to the same degree, as it imposes a performative power upon signs. According to Luther, the consequent tradition of simony had sunk deep roots in the church. He was convinced that the Catholic understanding of the Mass was magical, because the exclusive right of the priesthood to administer the sacrament led directly to the idolatrous confusion of sign and referent. As he put it in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520): We priests are so mad that we arrogate to ourselves alone the right of secretly uttering the words of consecration … . Under the influence of some superstitious and impious notion we do reverence to these words instead of believing them.12 To ‘reverence’ the Words of Institution rather than ‘believe’ them was to focus on the sign to the exclusion of the referent—the paradigmatic error of magic and idolatry. It was to forget that the words had a meaning, a referent, which consisted in the promise of salvation. The magical, fetishistic attitude to the priestly labour of the Mass therefore became, for Luther, the paradigm of works righteousness in general. Works righteousness was the inevitable result of idolatry, the worship of ‘the works of men’s hands’, and the sin from which all other sins grew. From Luther’s perspective the most objectionable consequence of this conception of the Mass was that it became exchangeable—it could be performed on behalf of people other than the direct recipient. In the words of the Council of Trent: ‘If any one saith, that the Mass … profits only the recipient, and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.’13 As Luther pointed out, this view of the Mass as a ‘finished work’ (opus operatum) which took its efficacy from the priest’s actions (ex opere operato) laid the ideological foundation of an entire ecclesiastical market economy: there is no opinion more generally held or more firmly believed in the church today than this, that the mass is a good work and a sacrifice. And this abuse has brought an endless host of other abuses in its train, so that the faith of this sacrament has become wholly extinct and the holy sacrament has been turned into mere merchandise, a market, and a profit-making business. Hence participations, brotherhoods, intercessions, merits, anniversaries, memorial days and the like wares are bought and sold, traded and bartered, in the church. On these the priests and monks depend for their entire livelihood.14 Once reified into an opus, the Mass could remit the punishment of sins for offenders who were not present, or even aware of the sacrifice made on their behalf. This belief inspired the bestowal of ‘mass-stipends’, whereby priests were paid money for performing Masses on behalf of the absent or the dead, on the assumption that the efficacy of their ritualistic actions was transferrable in symbolic form. Luther explained the logical consequence of this doctrine in his Commentary on Galatians: The pope has taken away the true use of the Mass and has simply turned it into merchandise that one must buy for the benefit of another person. There stood the Mass priest at the altar, an apostate who denied Christ and blasphemed the Holy Spirit; and he was doing a work not only for himself but for others, both living and dead, even for the entire church, and that simply by the mere performance of the act.15 Luther agreed with the Catholics that Christ’s body was physically present in the bread and wine: he interpreted the image ‘hic est meum corpus’ as a metonomy, on the grounds of Christological uniquity. His difference with the Catholics concerned the manner of its efficacy (modus efliciendi). The church claimed that the priest himself performed a transubstantiation, but Luther claimed to have uncovered the base motive behind this fetishisation of ‘works’. As an opus that could only be performed by a priest, the Mass represented alienated labour-power that could be exchanged for money: it became a commodity. As Luther explains in The Babylonian Captivity, the Mass: has been converted by the teaching of godless men into a good work, which they themselves call an opus operatum and by which they presumptuously imagine themselves all-powerful with God. Thereupon they proceeded to the very height of madness, and having invented the lie that the mass works ex opere operato, they asserted further that it is none the less profitable to others, even if it be harmful to the wicked priest celebrating it. On such a foundation of sand they base their applications, participations, sodalities, anniversaries and numberless other money-making schemes.16 Rather than its efficacy being contained in the material action, Luther argued that the sacrament worked ‘by virtue of the agent’: ex opere operantis. Although Christ’s body was physically present in the sacramental food, the subjective condition of the communicant was therefore an indispensable condition for the Mass’s efficacy, for although it was objectively present, not everyone could perceive Christ’s body in the sacramental signs. From the ‘Papist’ perspective, this doctrine was an obstacle to the commodification of the Mass. Luther was only too well aware that, by attacking the idea of the sacrament as an opus operato, he was destroying the conceptual source of the church’s financial wealth: But you will say: How is this? Will you not overturn the practice and teaching of all the churches and monasteries, by virtue of which they have flourished these many centuries? For the mass is the foundation of their anniversaries, intercessions, applications, communications, etc.—that is to say, of their fat income. I answer: This is the very thing that has constrained me to write of the captivity of the Church, for in this manner the adorable testament of God has been subjected to the bondage of a godless traffic … .17 The connection between magic and commodification had been the spark that fired Luther’s original protest against indulgences. According to the concept of ‘works of supererogation’, stored-up good works performed by the saints formed a repository of labour-power that could be released in symbolic, financial form and sold as indulgences for money. The penitential labour required to ameliorate the soul’s condition in purgatory could be replaced by a performative token—a certificate of indulgence. Luther denounced this doctrine as works righteousness, claiming that it made a fetish of human activity and projected it onto the efficacious power of signs.18 In Luther’s anti-indulgence rhetoric, the secular and the ecclesiastical markets are indistinguishable. The indulgence-selling campaign of Johann Tetzel, which initially outraged Luther, was administered in the German lands by the banking house of Fugger, which naturally also received a handsome share of the profits. Luther’s fateful audience with Cardinal Cajetan actually took place in Jakob Fugger’s Augsburg residence. Secular and ecclesiastical commodification thus converged strikingly in the sale of indulgences, and this merger shaped Luther’s theory of ecclesiastical commodity fetishism. As he expostulated in his Appeal to the German Ruling Class (1520): the business is now to be transferred, and sold to Fugger of Augsburg. Henceforward bishoprics and livings for sale or exchange or in demand, and dealings in the spiritualities, have arrived at their true destination, now that the bargaining for spiritual or secular properties has become united into a single business. But I would like to hear of a man who is clever enough to discover what Avarice of Rome might do which has not already been done. Then perhaps Fugger would transfer and sell to someone else these two lines of business which are now to be combined into one.19 In The Babylonian Captivity Luther carefully details the psychological homology between the idolatry of sacramental signs and the fetishisation of financial signs. Alluding to the biblical declarations that ‘covetousness is idolatry’, he claims that, correctly interpreted, sacramental idolatry is itself a sign of its financial equivalent. Why, he asks, is the sign of the sacrament in both kinds withheld from the laity? For in every sacrament the sign as such is of far less importance than the thing signified. What then is to prevent them from conceding the lesser, when they concede the greater? I can see but one reason; it has come about by the permission of an angry God in order to give occasion for a schism in the Church, to bring home to us how, having long ago lost the grace of the sacrament, we contend for the sign, which is the lesser, against that which is the most important and the chief thing; just as some men for the sake of ceremonies contend against love. Nay, this monstrous perversion seems to date from the time when we began for the sake of the riches of this world to rage against Christian love. Thus God would show us, by this terrible sign, how we esteem signs more than the things they signify.20 Those rites and rituals to which no salvationary promise is attached require no subjective faith for their efficacy and are therefore not sacraments, despite the claims of the Roman church. For example, the ceremony of marriage involves a performative statement—‘I now pronounce you man and wife’—that is efficacious regardless of the participants’ attitude towards it. The couple will be objectively married, even if they and the priest all intend them to remain single. Since it does not require subjective faith, Luther does not consider marriage a sacrament. Sacraments, in Luther’s view, are precisely defined by the fact that they require the subjective assent of faith. They can be efficacious only in the kind of subject equipped to offer such autonomous volition. But the false claim that the actions of the priest gave the sacramental sign an independent efficacy allowed the Eucharist to be conceived as an opus and thus exchanged for money. By an identical process of thought, marriage’s status as a performative statement, actually effected by the priestly declaration, logically enables its commodification: the Romanists of our day have … become merchants. What is it they sell? The shame of men and women—merchandise, forsooth, most worthy of such merchants grown altogether filthy and obscene through greed and godlessness. For there is nowadays no hindrance that may not be legalised upon the intercession of mammon … . O worthy trade for our pontiffs to ply … .21 Luther pointed out that, if the Eucharist was conceived as similarly effected by the priest, it would be subject to a similar commodification. The specificity of Luther’s Eucharistic doctrine thus lies in his objection to the fetishisation of priestly labour. He traces all idolatrous belief in performative representation to this fetish. For Luther, the illusion that signs are performative is made possible by a magical attitude to human activity. The Babylonian Captivity explains how works righteousness leads inexorably to the fetishisation of performative representation: if the sacrament confers grace on me because I receive it, then indeed I obtain grace by virtue of my work and not of faith; I lay hold not on the promise in the sacrament, but on the sign instituted and commanded by God. Do you not see, then, how completely the sacraments have been misunderstood by our sententious theologians? They have taken no account, in their discussions on the sacraments, of either faith or the promise, but cling only to the sign and the use of the sign, and draw us away from faith to the work, from the word to the sign.22 Performative representation leads to works righteousness because the power projected onto the sign is human subjective activity in alienated form. The ‘Papist’ error was to assume that the efficacy of the Eucharistic signs is consequent on their embodying the abstract labour-power of the priest. For Luther this kind of fetishised human activity, or works righteousness, can only produce idolatry. In contrast, Luther locates the sacrament’s efficacy in the psyche of the communicant. He nevertheless insisted that Christ was objectively present in the physical body of the signs themselves. By doing so he broke with the Roman church, but also distinguished his own position from the schwarmer of the radical Reformation. iii. john calvin and the performative sign For Karlstadt, Zwingli and other radical iconoclasts, the verb esse in Christ’s phrase ‘Hic est corpus meum’ implicitly meant ‘significat’. They pointed to similar ‘sacramental expressions’ (locutiones sacramentales) in Scripture, where Christ is compared to a rock, a vine, a path and so on. In Of True and False Religion, Zwingli came close to denying the real presence altogether: ‘I have no use for that notion of a real and true body that does not exist physically, definitely and distinctly in some place, and that sort of nonsense got up by word triflers.’ Such sentiments horrified Luther as much as they outraged the Catholics. He castigated the iconoclasts for their belief that the physical destruction of icons could obliterate their power. He pointed out that this assumed that the icons actually possessed this power, and that iconoclasm was thus an especially egregious form of works righteousness: ‘[t]heir idea that they can please God with works becomes a real idol and a false assurance in the heart. Such legalism results in putting away outward images while filling the heart with idols’.23 Luther’s realism and the symbolist interpretations of Zwingli and the iconoclasts formed a dialectical contradiction. Calvin’s Eucharistic theory forged an intellectually coherent synthesis that assimilated performative representation into Protestant hermeneutics. Although he argued that the sacrament represents Christ’s body and blood in a purely symbolic sense, Calvin nevertheless claimed that the logos is objectively communicated. In Calvin’s theory of the Eucharist, the symbolic becomes the substantial. Like Luther, Calvin recognised that the fetishistic form taken by the Roman Mass was determined by its commodification. In order to acquire exchange-value, the Mass had to be conceived as an opus, a sacrificial work that repeated the efficacy of Christ’s original sacrifice. Calvin rails against ‘that opinion with which the Roman Antichrist and his prophets have imbued the whole world, viz., that the mass is a work by which the priest who offers Christ, and the others who in the oblation receive him, gain merit with God …’.24 Priests who conceive of the Mass as an opus are followers of Judas: ‘He sold for thirty pieces of silver: they, according to the French method of computation, sell for thirty pieces of brass. He did it once: they as often as a purchaser is met with.’ Calvin echoes Luther in noting that the commodified Eucharist takes no account of the condition of the individual conscience. He attacked those who sell the Mass ‘to anyone who is willing to purchase their merchandise from them for a price paid’. The abstract subject posited by a commercial transaction obscures the culpability of the individual soul, so that sinners are emboldened to continue in their transgressions by the apparently magical nature of redemption: ‘the only thing which gives them so much courage is, that by the sacrifice of the mass as a price paid, they trust that they will satisfy God, or at least will easily find a means of transacting with him’. The idea that the sacrament would retain its efficacy even for the unworthy was for Calvin unambiguously magical: [The Papists] could not have been so shamefully deluded by the impostures of Satan had they not been fascinated by the erroneous idea, that the body of Christ included under the bread is transmitted by the bodily mouth into the belly. The cause of this brutish imagination was, that consecration had the same effect with them as magical incantation. They overlooked the principle, that bread is a sacrament to none but those to whom the word is addressed just as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but begins to be to us what it formerly was not, as soon as the promise is annexed.25 This ‘spiritual’ efficacy was not derived from the ritual actions of the priest—Calvin concurred with Luther on that point. Unlike Luther, however, Calvin did not conceive of the presence as physical. The sacrament’s efficacy was contained within the bread and wine, without being identical with the physical signifiers: there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ … . That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises.26 Calvin’s Eucharistic theory anticipates the doctrine of ‘transignification’ as it has been developed by recent Catholic commentators, who draw on Saussure’s linguistics to read the sacrament as a sign containing both signifier (the bread and wine) and signified (Christ’s divine nature). As Calvin describes it in the opening chapter of the Institutes, entitled ‘Sign and Thing’, the Eucharist is designed to inculcate the idea that signs can be efficacious in a spiritual rather than a physical manner: But as this mystery of the secret union of Christ with believers is incomprehensible by nature, he exhibits its figure and image in visible signs adapted to our capacity, nay, by giving, as it were, earnests and badges, he makes it as certain to us as if it were seen by the eye; the familiarity of the similitude giving it access to minds however dull, and showing that souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine.27 Failure to understand the nature of the sacrament is evidence that the recipient is unworthy to receive it. The unworthy receive the sign without the referent, and this division robs the sacrament of its character as a sign and turns it into an idol. For Calvin, in contrast, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both real and symbolic—in fact, it is real because it is symbolic, in the sense that its reality consists in the acceptance of the symbolic nature of its truth.28 In Calvin’s understanding, the experience of Christ’s real presence consists in the acknowledgement that symbolic truth can be objective. He carefully positions his doctrine as a middle way between the antithetical readings of the ‘Papists’ and the ‘Sacramentarians’: The Papists confounded the reality and the sign (rem et signum), unbelievers like Schwekfeld and men like him separate the signs from the realities (signa a rebus). Let us preserve a middle position, that is, let us keep the union made by the Lord, but at the same time distinguish between them so that we do not, in error, transfer what belongs to one to the other.29 This attempt to forge a ‘middle position’ earned Calvin the ire of confused opponents from both sides. As an anonymous attack published in Bordeaux in 1577 declared: ‘One minute he is a Lutheran, the next, in contrast, he takes on the personage of a Zwinglian, and like a juggler, a buffoon, now says he is inside, now affirms that he is outside.’30 In fact, however, Calvin was outlining a distinctive third position. For him, belief in the verbal promise, represented in the sacramental sign, constitutes an ‘efficacy of the Spirit’, a meaning that is at once symbolic and real. The metaphoricity of the sacrament, in short, constitutes its efficacy, as Calvin explains in the Short Treatise on the Holy Supper (1540): the communion which we have in the body and bloody of Jesus … is a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore figured to us by visible signs, according as our weakness requires, in such manner, nevertheless, that it is not a bare figure but combined with the reality and substance. It is with good reason then that the bread is called the body, since it not only represents but also presents it to us.31 This is the figural, ‘spiritual’ hermeneutic sense that Paul opposes to the literalistic ‘letter’ of the law when he declares: ‘the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life’. This is what Calvin means when he describes Christ’s working in the sacrament as ‘an efficacy of the Spirit, by which he fulfills what he promises’.32 The sacrament reminds the believer of essence underlying appearance, and of the spiritual truths concealed beneath the visible signs of empirical reality: I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. … The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present.33 By learning to view corporeal bread and wine in a figurative, or spiritual sense, we allow them to have a spiritual effect: ‘by the corporeal things which are produced in the sacrament, we are by a kind of analogy conducted to spiritual things’. Calvin has divided the sacrament into the ‘signifier’ (the word or icon) and the ‘signified’ (the concept). The ‘signified’ is part of the ‘sign’, and is not to be confused with the ‘referent’. Thus, in the sign ‘cow’, the signifier is the letters C, O and W arranged in this particular form; the signified is the idea evoked by that word in the mind. These two elements together constitute the ‘sign’. Although the signified is objectively present within the sign, it is possible to ignore it— just as it is possible to hear the word ‘cow’ and think of an elephant. Quoting Augustine, Calvin asserts that: ‘In the elect alone, the sacraments effect what they figure.’ Because the presence is conceptual rather than physical, a sacrament only works if it is acknowledged as working: ‘The bread is not a sacrament to itself, but to those who receive it’. Calvin’s position might appear to recall Zwingli’s, as expressed in statements like: ‘We believe that the true body of Christ is eaten in the communion, not in a gross and carnal manner, but in a sacramental and spiritual manner by the religious, believing and pious heart.’34 Both note that only the believer is able to perceive the logos within the sign, but for Zwingli that is a psychological action and not caused by the tokens themselves. The difference is that for Calvin the efficacy resides in the signs. In other words, the symbolic becomes substantial. Representation becomes reality. Calvin explains his difference from the Zwinglians thus: According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith; or, if you will have it more clearly, according to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith.35 When Calvin says that the sacrament is ‘eaten by believing’, he indicates that its effect is just as objective in the soul as the effect of food on the physical body—and this despite the fact that Christ is not physically but only symbolically present. It is in this sense, I think, that Calvinism expresses the ‘spirit of capitalism’. Max Weber’s famous phrase has often been criticised, because he located its emergence in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, where actual, empirical capitalism was practically non-existent. However, Weber was not interested in capitalism’s empirical manifestation, but in the birth of its ‘spirit’ (the German word Geist also means ‘essence’ or ‘soul’). Weber found this ‘spirit’ struggling to consciousness in the mind of Benjamin Franklin, expressing itself in such declarations as ‘time is money’, and ‘money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more’. The equation of ‘time’, of human life itself, with its symbolic representation in financial form, and the attribution of subjective agency to this alienated symbol, provide the true psychological preconditions of capitalism. The groundwork for this attitude to the self and to representation was laid in the sacramental controversies, and the message it inculcates— that symbols contain performative power— is now instinctively accepted by millions of people to whom the name of Calvin is unknown. REFERENCES Footnotes 1 As Thomas Lagoarde-Secot noted in 2016: ‘Over the past three decades, speculative transactions have skyrocketed across a wide spectrum of financial products … the notional value of annual over the counter (OTC) derivative transactions has increased tenfold between 1998 and 2014.’ ‘Financialization: Towards a New Research Agenda’, International Review of Financial Analysis 51 (May 2016) 113–23, 115. 2 Norman Macintosh, ‘From Rationality to Hyperreality: Paradigm Poker’, International Review of Financial Analysis 12.4 (2003) 453–65, 455. 3 The efficacy of sacramental signification has been discussed by several recent theologians, notably Louis-Marie Chauvet in Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. Patrick Madigan SJ and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, PA: The Liturgical Press, 1995). See Mervyn Duffy, ‘How Language, Ritual, and Sacraments Work: According to John Austin, Jürgen Habermas, and Louis-Marie Chauvet’ (Rome: Gregorian University, 2005) and Jason Del Vitto, Encountering Eucharistic Presence Within a Postmodern Context: A Dialogue Among Chauvet, Schmemann and Zizioulas (Pittsburgh, PA: Dusquesne University Press, 2013). Other volumes reflecting on the postmodern convergence of philosophy and theology include Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart (eds), Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005) and Paul Matthew Burgess, Play, Metaphor, and Judgment in a World of Signs: A Peircean Semiotic Approach to Christian Worship (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1991), p. 87. Burgess bases his reading of the sacraments on the semiotics of C.S. Peirce which, as he notes, ‘offers a general frame-work for … relating these understandings and their objects to specialized areas of study at a far distance from theology’. For literary approaches to sacramental signs, see Mark Sweetnam, ‘Hamlet and the Reformation of the Eucharist’, Literature and Theology 21.1 (2007) 11–28, Regina Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism (Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008) and Ryan Netzley, Reading, Desire and the Eucharist in Early Modern Religious Poetry (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2011). 4 The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.html. Retrieved 08/29/17. 5 See Edward Foley, From Age to Age: How Christians Celebrated the Eucharist, revised and expanded edn (Collegeville, PA: The Liturgical Press, 2008). 6 Mary T. Clark, An Aquinas Reader (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 485. Emphasis added. 7 Cit. Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics, p. 7. 8 Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae (CCE) (Vatican City: Vatican, 1997) no. 1131. 9 Cit. William P. O’Brien SJ, ‘The Eucharistic Species in Light of Pierce’s Sign Theory’, Theological Studies 75 (2014) 74–93, 75. See also Andrew Robinson, God and the World of Signs: Trinity, Evolution, and the Metaphysical Semiotics of C.S. Peirce (Leiden: Brill, 2010). 10 Paul Tillich, The Meaning and Justification of Religious Symbols, in Sidney Hook (ed.), Religious Experience and Truth (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 23. 11 Cit. Phillip Kennedy, Christianity: An Introduction (New York: Taurus, 2011), p. 129. 12 Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim (eds), Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder and Staughton, 1896), p. 323. 13 Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, can. III, cit. Catholic Encyclopedia. 14 Martin Luther, Works, Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (eds), (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1959) XXVI, 135. 15 Ibid. 16 Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, trans. A.T.W. Steinhaeuser (Philadelphia, PA: A.J. Holman Company, 1915), p. 207. 17 Ibid., p. 209. 18 It originated in the customs of criminal law, whereby financial restitution might be accepted as compensation for punishment of an offence. See Philip Schaff, ‘The Eucharistic Controversy’, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, Modern Christianity. The German Reformation (Electronic Version, Christian Classics Ethereal Library), sections 103ff. 19 Martin Luther, An Appeal to the Ruling Class of German Nationality (1520), in John Dillenberger (ed.), Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 470. 20 Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, trans. Steinhaeuser (1915), p. 181. 21 Ibid., p. 262. 22 Ibid., p. 229. 23 Martin Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets (1925), in Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen (ed.), Theological Aesthetics: A Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), p. 132. 24 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Henry Beveridge (Woodstock, ON: Devoted Publishing, 2016), p. 615. 25 Ibid., p. 596. 26 Ibid., p. 594. 27 Ibid., p. 590. 28 Thus in ‘The Eucharist in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin’, Perichoresis 8.2 (2010) Dan Botica concludes that Calvin views the Eucharist as an ‘analogy’, and therefore as objectively true in the ‘spiritual’ sense. On the performative in Calvin, see Melvin Tinker, ‘Language, Symbols and Sacraments: Was Calvin’s View of the Lord’s Supper Right?’. More generally, see Robert Corrington, A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Stephen Moore, Post-structuralism and the New Testament: Derrida and Foucault at the Foot of the Cross (Kitchener, ON: Augsburg Fortress, 1994). 29 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 564. 30 Cit. Ann W. Ramsey, Liturgy, Politics and Salvation: The Catholic League in Paris and the Nature of Catholic Reform, 1540–1630 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), p. 38. 31 John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Holy Supper, in John Dillenberger (ed.), John Calvin: Selections From His Writings (Saarbrücken: Scholars Press, 1975), p. 515. 32 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Beveridge (2016), p. 594. 33 Ibid. 34 Huldrich Zwingli, ‘Confession to King Francis’, cit. Schaff, History of the Christian Church Volume VI (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), p. 677. 35 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV, trans. Beveridge (2016), p. 592. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

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