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Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ Paperback – December 7, 1998

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631211990 ISBN-10: 0631211993 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

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"Cavanaugh begins with an engrossing analysis of the dynamics of torture and disappearance as a mode disciplining the body politic. He judiciously uses psychological and social scientific sources without letting them override the theological focus of the book. He then gives an equally engrossing account of the Church in Chile under Pinochet. His analyses both of Maritain and the 'New Christendom' ecclesiology provide as interesting critique of the failures of the Church to respond to Pinochet's repression, while his concluding chapter on eucharistic theology points towards the source of the successful responses made by the Church. Particularly useful and interesting is the way in which eucharistic theology is tied to concrete eucharistic practice. The book is extremely well written and engaging." Frederick C. Bauerschmidt, Loyola Collage in Maryland

"This is a very important book. It should be mandatory reading for anybody concerned with the issue of torture, and will be of vital interest to all those of us involved in Amnesty International and human rights organisations. It has an appeal and a significance far beyond the classroom. Though it is much more theological than Helen Prejean, in its narrative power it has some affinities with Dead Man Walking and will likewise speak to those outside the church." T. J. Gorringe, University of St Andrews

"Torture and Eucharist not only has superb qualities as a textbook, but is an outstanding piece of creative ecclesiology. Drawing on the work of scholars such as Milbank, Hauerwas, MacIntryre and Lindbeck, Cavanaugh moves ecclesiology out of the realm of the abstract ands ideal into the real world where the Christian Church must struggle to witness to the gospel. In doing so he shifts the Church into a new and much more exciting area of inquiry" Nicholas Healy, St Johns University, New York

"Cavanaugh's achievement is remarkable: profound theology linked with interviews and close social analysis, stimulating argument, and a tight yet imaginative writing style. The book deserves a wide audience." L. Gregory Jone The Divinity School, Duke University

"Why read such a book?....Here is authentic background information relating to the possible extradition and further trial of General Pinochet.....Here is reflection on the church's theological temptation to separate soul from body, spiritual from political."Eleanor Kreider, lecturer in Worship and liturgy, RPC Oxford

"The author... offers an elegantly written reflection on Church, Eucharist, and the politics within the context of the Pinochet regime following the overthrow of Allende in Chile."First Things


"This is theology made flesh in the story of Pinochet's Chile....I greatly acknowledge that it is a great measure of the success of the book that it causes such unease."Peter Cornwell, The Tablet

"His analysis is a closely disciplined, well informed study of the self-discernment and conduct of the Roman Catholic Church under the Pinochet regime in Chile...I found this a hard read, but breath-taking. I have not read anything in a long time that so moved, so disturbed, and so educated." Walter Brueggeman, Columbia Theological Seminary, Theology Today

"...the book has broadened my understanding of the theo-politics of torture. Those who are working against the practice of torture will benefit from reading this well-written book." Eleazar S. Fernandez, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Religious Studies Review

"Cavanaugh's book combines narrative and argument, is beautifully written and presents us with a creative ecclesiology." International Journal in Philosophy and Theology

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From the Back Cover

In this engrossing analysis, Cavanaugh contends that the Eucharist is the Church's response to the use of torture as a social discipline. The author develops a theology of the political which presents torture as one instance of a larger confrontation of powers over bodies, both individual and social. He argues that a Christian practice of the political is embodied in Jesus' own torture at the hands of the powers of this world. The analysis of torture therefore is situated within wider discussions in the fields of ecclesiology and the state, social ethics and human rights, and sacramental theology.

The book focuses on the experience of Chile and the Catholic Church there, before and during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, 1973-1990. Cavanaugh has first-hand experience of working with the Church in Chile, and his interviews with ecclesiastical officials and grassroots Church workers speak directly to the reader. The book uses this example to examine the theoretical bases of twentieth-century "social catholicism" and its inability to resist the disciplines of the state, in contrast to a truer Christian practice of the political in the Eucharist.

The book as a whole ties eucharistic theology to concrete eucharistic practice, showing that the Eucharist is not a "symbol" but a real cathartic summary of the practices by which God forms people into the Body of Christ, producing a sense of communion stronger than that of any nation-state.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (December 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631211993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631211990
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By John Montag SJ on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Cavanaugh starts from the premise that 'torture is not a merely physical assault on bodies but a formation of a social imagination'--the vision that organizes the members of a group. On the one hand, Christianity has the Eucharist as its way to form the 'social imagination' for true community; on the other, the modern state (especially in its more totalitarian extremes, but even in its more tolerant, liberal exemplars) has the effective tool of torture as 'a kind of perverted liturgy', forming its members into 'an atomized aggregate of mutually supicious individuals'.
Hence the title, and Cavanaugh's intention 'to display a kind of Eucharistic counter-politics which forms the church into a body capable of resisting oppression'--an alternative to the violence so rampant in the world today. For Cavanaugh, the Body of Christ stands as the only genuine alternative, and torture-as-liturgy can be instructive (a sort of diabolical mirror) for building up the Body of Christ.
The best thing about this book is the way it kneads an astute, truly orthodox theology into the mass of the day-to-day politics of Pinochet's Chile. Cavanaugh not only illuminates unflinchingly many of the horrors of that place and time, but opens up fertile perspectives for the whole church on Eucharistic theology and ecclesiology, areas long hide-bound by a certain naive obliviousness to politics and the narratives of living faith.
Few works of academically rigorous theology interrogate one's hopes, dreams and desires as deeply as this one does. One comes away from the reading with a sense of caution, a much more sophisticated political perspective on both ecclesiology and Eucharist, and a new flame in the heart.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Nathan P. Gilmour on November 6, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cavanaugh's book shows what Radical Orthodoxy is all about--he traces some of the myths that drive Western nation-states to medieval theological hiccups; he delves the resources of Christian liturgy for strength to resist the all-envious nation-state; he points to times and places that the Church has really "gotten it right" and taken a stand against the idols and empires in the name of Christian charity.

Best of all, Cavanaugh does it in such a manner that a reader who has trouble with John Milbank's dizzying syntax (and I are one) can make it though his book without having to read each paragraph three times.

For people who suspect that neocon political ideology is more sinister than we've been led to think, and for people who believe that the Peace of Christ is neither utopian dream nor otherworldly sigh but practices through which the gracious Father of the universe, incarnated in the Son and empowering peaceable communities through the Spirit, can redeem, even if incompletely, the world which God so loves.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Tedd Steele on December 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a book with a narrow focus taht has far-reaching implications. Cavanaugh examines Chile under the Pinochet regime. This regime used torture as a tool of the state. In essence, torture became a "liturgy" of the state. Unfortunately, the church was not prepared to deal with such a turn of events. That is because the ecclesiology of the church at the time held that the state was to care for the body while the church cared for the soul. This dualism created problems for the church resisting the torture of the state.

It is at this point that Eucharist is suggested as a counter liturgy. Where torture individualizes, the Eucharist creates a social body. Eucharist helps others while the torture only harms. In short, Eucharist provides the means for the church to engage meaninfully the wayward state.

This book says wonderful things about the situation in Chile. It could also have implications in other contexts. What does it mean for the Eucharist to act as a counter liturgy to the litugy of capitalism? How does the building up of a social body in Eucharist allow Christians to deal with the fragmentation of war? There is much more that could be said based on what Cavanaugh does in this wonderful book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Lawson on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
This remarkable book has forever changed the way I view the Church, the State, the Eucharist, Torture, and how they all relate.

William Cavanaugh's dissertation takes the form of a historical case study of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile during the Pinochet regime. He begins by dicussing how torture and disappearance[1] are ecclesiological problems. What he means is that torture and disappearance are not merely horrible abominations enacted upon individuals, but are violence enacted upon social bodies. Who are the victims of torture and disappearance? In once sense, it is those who have been tortured and disappeared, but in another it is all of those who dwell in the society in which this is taking place. This is because torture and disappearance are actions that can happen to anyone at anytime, so all people are kept in fear and an anxiety.

The idea of torture is perhaps the most effective generator of fear, since torture reaches to the very limits of horror, turning the body against the person to such an extent that death become desirable. Fear of torture, fear of death, were concrete fears that only began to articulate the hidden anxieties which lurked beneath the surface of Chilean society. (p. 47, emphasis added)

In this way, torture is liturgical:

Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state's power is manifested in its most awesome form. Torture is liturgy...because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship to that mysterious power. (p.
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