In this brief guide to the history of Christianity and politics, Pecknold shows how early Christianity reshaped the Western political imagination with its new theological claims about eschatological time, participation, and communion with God and neighbor. The ancient view of the church as the “mystical body of Christ” is singled out as the author traces shifts in its use and meaning throughout the early, medieval, and modern periods—shifts in how we understand the nature of the person, the community, and the moral conscience that would give birth to a new relationship between Christianity and politics. While there are many accounts of this narrative from either political or ecclesiastical history, there are few that avoid the artificial separation of the two. This book fills that gap and presents a readable, concise, and thought-provoking introduction to what is at stake in the contentious relationship between Christianity and politics.
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“His reform of the papacy involved relating every part of the Christian society to himself as its head, further centralizing and thus increasing the political power of the papacy. This increased bureaucratic control and central administration, however, came at a price.” (Pages 56–57)
“The most famous image of the controversy immediately followed. It is the image of Henry IV, penitential, without royal regalia, clad in sackcloth, standing barefoot in the snow at Canossa, awaiting absolution from the pope. Henry had quickly realized that being excommunicated had put his cause at a great disadvantage and was willing to fall prostrate before Gregory and to display extreme ‘humility’ in order to change his situation. Though Gregory doubted his sincerity, Henry’s penitential pleas were met with papal absolution. The absolution that Gregory granted to Henry, however, hardly meant the end of the controversy, and both men knew that consequences would follow.” (Pages 57–58)
“The Athenian political vision was clearly theological, as we have seen, but the Roman political vision had related theology and politics in an entirely new way. Now a republic could become a monarchy, and a king could become a god.” (Page 9)
“Participation in a reality given by God began to give way to participation in a reality constructed by human beings out of the consent of individuals.” (Page 69)
“As the empire grew too large, Roman politics became impotent, and the republican ideals became mere political rhetoric for totalitarian power.” (Page 13)
Political theology—thinking theologically about politics and understanding all political thought as first-and-last theological—is a lively field that until now has lacked a lucid and elegantly brief introduction. Pecknold’s book fills that gap, and more: it makes a real theoretical contribution of its own, most notably in its treatment of the migration of the treatment of conscience from church to state, and the effects of that migration on the understanding of freedom, political and otherwise.
—Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, Duke Divinity School
Modern life and thought has a centripetal force, separating into discrete units what should be held together: politics, economics, theology, metaphysics, liturgy, and history. This division of labor creates specialists who can see the units but lack focus for a larger vision . . . In this substantive, readable, brief history of the relation between theology and politics, Pecknold focuses our vision by bringing together his own considerable acumen for both theology and politics. This comprehensive work shows connections that only someone of his breadth of knowledge could see. The result is a first-rate work that sets the bar for political theology.
—D. Stephen Long, professor of systematic theology, Marquette University
If it is true that ‘youth is wasted on the young,’ then to restrict this so-called primer only to beginning learners or students would be wasteful in the extreme. This is a first-rate book, a serious and fascinating work on theology and politics that masquerades as a gateway resource. Yet it also succeeds as an outstanding introduction—readable without being simplistic, engaging key voices and eras in the long interaction between Christianity and politics. I can’t wait to use this book with students, both to give them a solid grounding in key ideas and sources, as well as whetting their appetites for joining in these crucial conversations and debates. Anyone with an interest in the church and politics will benefit from this book.
—Michael Budde, professor of political science, DePaul University
At last I have found a textbook for my undergraduate course on Christianity and Politics! Pecknold’s book is brief and crystal clear, ideally suited to supplement primary source readings in an introductory class. This book helps the student grasp the sweep of Christianity’s political history in a relatively few deft strokes. The broad-brush approach does not mean the book is simplistic, however. To the contrary, Pecknold’s analysis is insightful, engaging, and at times contentious. Pecknold shows how theological concepts like ‘mystical body’ have wandered in and out of different political arrangements. In so doing, he shows students how church history and political history are not two separate subjects but one, and a fascinating one at that.
—William T. Cavanaugh, professor of theology, St. Thomas University