Archive Civic Polity Peter Escalante

Iconoclasm and Freedom

“In law and theology, the arcanum imperii becomes transparent”- Agamben goes on to say that worship is to theology what metaphysics is to philosophy. He offers here some characteristically illuminating reflections on the liturgical foundations of polity, though his focus is on unreformed examples. But we might ask: what is the radically evangelical act of worship which has the power of founding polities?

The answer, of course, would have to be the same as the answer to the question of the nature of Biblical worship. Calvin’s famous maxim has it that all wisdom reduces to knowledge of self and knowledge of God; but he just as famously said that the heart is an idol factory. Thus the part of the act of worship which is first in practical order is preparatory and negative, the act of radical iconoclasm; but this is motivated by and ordered to what is primary in intent and final in execution, the act of glorifying God. The first phase of the act strips the heart of its excrescences, and makes it free to be a site of Spirit and mirror of God’s own word and glory; the second and essential phase offers to God that reflected word and glory. Hence the preeminent role of the Psalter among the Reformed. Since spiritual worship free of invented mediations and representations can “take place” but cannot divide place, can summon but cannot subjugate, the political order which arises¬† from such a liturgy is free.

Of course, nothing in human affairs happens of necessity- politics, like life, is an art; and too, both the heart and the commonwealth are ever in need of reformation, and nothing in this world is ideal. But nevertheless, the pattern of polity traced out in spirit by truly evangelical worship is a pattern of freedom and peace.

By Peter Escalante

Peter Escalante is a founder and editor of The Calvinist International. He holds a MA in Philosophy.