In this post I want to summarize three practices described by Cavanaugh that allowed the Chilean church to become visible, claim martyrs, create solidarity, and mobilize resistance to the state. The last of these practices--Eucharistic discipline--is the reason why I'm doing this series, to wrestle with Cavanaugh's argument about the need for denying communion to certain individuals.
So what are practices by which the church becomes visible?
1. Providing tangible support and relief for those victimized by the state
This seems obvious, but the key is to do this visibly and institutionally. In response to the torture and other state abuses the church in Chile established institutions that guided efforts to help and support the victims. These institutions became rallying points for those wanting to come together and resist the state. As Cavanaugh describes it:
Offering a wide range of programs covering legal and medical assistance, job training, soup kitchens, buying cooperatives, assistance to unions and more, these organizations became the focus of church resistance to the regime...the church provided a space in which organization could take place and social fragmentation could be resisted....Cavanaugh describes this action as Eucharistic in that it allows the persecuted body of Christ to come together and be visibly recognized by ts members and the onlooking state.
[These] organizations help to "knit the people together"...The church in Chile resisted [the] strategy [of the state to disappear the church by isolating individuals from one another] precisely by knitting people back together, connecting them as members of one another.
2. Subversive street liturgy
The state wanted to keep its activities out of the public view, to disappear the bodies. Resisting this, the church wanted to make the tortured bodies visible. This was accomplished in Chile by the Sebastian Acevedo Movement against Torture. Members of the movement would appear in a public place, perform a subversive act of liturgy, and then melt away. Sort of like a flash mob. Cavanaugh describes an example:
On September 14, 1983, a group of seventy nuns, priests, and laypeople appeared suddenly in front of the CNI clandestine prison at 1470 Borgono Street in Santiago [where most of the torture occurred] and unfurled a banner: A MAN IS BEING TORTURED HERE. They blocked traffic, read a litany of regime abuses, handed out leaflets signed "Movement against Torture," and sang.Subversive street liturgy made the tortured body of Christ visible and made martyrs of previously anonymous victims:
Suddenly the invisibility under which the torture apparatus operates are shattered, interrupting its power. In an astonishing ritual transformation, clandestine torture centers are revealed to the passerby for what they are, as if a veil covering the building were abruptly taken away. The complicity of other sectors of the government and society is laid bare for all to see. The entire torture system suddenly appears on a city street. Techniques of torture are detailed, places of torture identified, names of victims and names of those responsible--including sometimes the names of the immediate torturers themselves--are made publicly known. Victims are thus transformed into martyrs, as their names are spoken as a public witness against the powers of death.3. Eucharistic discipline
The final practice of making the body of Christ visible is the reason why we are doing this series. Specifically, one way the church resisted torture in Chile was denying communion to those involved with the torture program. The Eucharist was denied to torturers as they were excommunicated. This action drew a sharp line between the torturers and those being tortured. And in drawing this line the church clarified where the persecuted body of Christ was located. The body of Christ was visibly aligned with the victims over against the excommunicated torturers.
Cavanaugh making some of these points:
Unity in the church is much more than agreement on doctrine or the general ability of the members of the church to get along, nor is it just participation in a common project or community. It is participation in Christ, and so requires a narrative display of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unity is based on assimilation to Christ, and so the unity and the identity of the church are the same issue. Jesus was tortured to death. Tortured and torturers in the same church therefore threaten the transparency of the church as the body of Christ.I think you can see Cavanaugh's argument. If the church is to stand in solidarity with the victims of torture, claiming these bodies over against the state, a line needs to be drawn between the tortured and the torturer. Eucharistic discipline draws that line and, thus, makes the persecuted body of Christ visible.
The gravity of an offense is often invoked in separating ordinary sins from sins meriting excommunication. I would argue that this not be understood as simply a matter of degree but of kind. In other words, excommunication is not reserved for those individuals who simply outdo the rest of the church's ordinary sinners in the number or degree of their sins. Excommunication is better understood as applicable to those kinds of sins which impugn the identity of the body of Christ. Excommunication, by definition, is for ecclessiological offenses. If, as I have already argued, the excommunicated person puts herself outside the church in the very act of her sin, then the sin itself must be construed as a sin against the body of Christ. I am arguing, then, that the use of excommunication should not be extended, but rather limited to those sins which threaten the very visibility of the body of Christ.
...If anyone is to "discern the body," then it must become visible in present time. [It was the effect] of some state disciplines [under Pinochet] to render the church invisible, to "disappear" the body of Christ. The Eucharist, as the gift which effects the visibility of the true body of Christ, is, therefore, the church's counter-imagination to that of the state. Formal excommunication makes the church visible, if only temporarily, by bringing to light a boundary between church and world which those who attack the church have themselves drawn.
...If Eucharistic discipline is rightly understood, then excommunication does not rend the unity of the church, but makes visible the disunity and conflict, already so painfully present, between the body of Christ and those who would torture it. Only when this disunity becomes visible can real reconciliation and real unity be enacted.
...In the Eucharist the poor are invited now to come and to feast in the Kingdom. The Eucharist must not be a scandal to the poor. It demands real reconciliation of oppressed and oppressor, tortured and torturer. Barring reconciliation, Eucharist demands judgment.
In the next post I'll share some of the caveats Cavanaugh shares about excommunication (and some of these can be discerned in his quotes above) and locations where his analysis bumps up against the arguments I make in Unclean.