William T. CAVANAUGH, Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011. 200 pages. $18.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-6609-7.
Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560

William T. Cavanaugh, senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University, has previously contributed works dedicated to the myths associated with religious violence, and economics and the Christian desire. In his latest work, Cavanaugh argues that although there has been a decline in religion in the West, the public devotion once attributed with Christianity has migrated to a new realm created by the nation-state. Cavanaugh further admits that the “purpose in [writing] this book is to help Christians and others to be realistic about what we can expect from the ‘powers and principalities’ of our own age, and to urge them not to invest the entirety of their political presence in these powers” (3). What stands out the most regarding Cavanaugh’s latest volume, is the inherent power of the nation-state to manipulate disgruntled individuals away from the Church, causing a dependence upon the state that borders upon idolatry.

The thesis of this book concerns the church practices which resist the “colonization” of the Christian “imagination” by a nation-state which seeks to subsume all other attachments to itself. Cavanaugh readily admits the importance of creating “forms of local and translocal communit[ies] that disperse and resist the powers invested in the state and corporation” (5). His hope that this latest publication will restore Christian micro-politics from a grass roots level succeeds to a great degree. It is also interesting to note that Cavanaugh does not account for those who turn away from both religion and the nation-state. Although this classification of people may belong to a church or state, it is in name only; they simply drop out of existence.

Migrations of the Holy is logically organized into nine chapters, with sections dedicated to the negative dominance of the nation-state, identity and mobility in the modern era, the Church as political, and an examination of the sinfulness and visibility of the Church. The first three chapters explore the thought processes which culminate in the nation-state. Cavanaugh adds that Chapter One “examines the history of the modern state and modern nation-state, arguing that neither state nor nation is natural or essential for the promotion of the common good” (5). The second chapter views unity and pluralism of the modern-nation state in light of Augustine’s City of God, calling for a more radical form of political pluralism. The next chapter seeks to deal with our movement and identity as controlled in the modern world. Chapters Four and Five seek to show the United States in the context of a liberal social order which creates its own secular idols. The last four chapters speak of the Church as a public, political space, and it is within these final chapters where Cavanaugh makes an effective contribution concerning an ideology of how the Church should imagine its own political presence in ways that reflect the power found in Christ’s crucifixion. In Chapter Seven, “The Church as Political,” Cavanaugh relates that as part of a complete theological understanding of the church, we must negate the political marginalization of the church. We should consider that “ecclesiology must acknowledge the political implications of two crucial theological data: 1) there is no separate history of politics apart from the history of salvation; and 2) the church is indispensible to the history of salvation” (124). To this end, Cavanaugh teaches that most political theologies do not consider the notion that salvation history has been privatized, “but they nevertheless endorse the relative autonomy of politics from theology and make the influence of the church on politics indirect” (131). It is here that we must begin to emphasize the various claims of church authority over the temporal, based upon the historical notion that the church once possessed direct political authority over the nation-state.

Cavanaugh’s latest work should be received with praise for both its insight and wit. It is highly recommended for students of Church-state relations, or those inclined to study political science. This volume should also be read in light of Cavanaugh’s last publication, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. In viewing these two works as one, one will have a greater appreciation for the reasons behind the division of Church and state, especially the materialistic impulses that drive the consumer mentality.


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