Symposium Introduction

I’ve received a lot of financial advice and financial promises from Christian preachers over the last few years. Most of them come from so-called “progressive” churches. More than one pastor has quoted John 14:2, saying I should look forward to having my own mansion (or two!) in heaven. They also make sure to tell me—in the same sermon—that being a “child of the king” means that I, too, am royalty, and so I should expect an abundance of riches and glamour in the world to come. Countless other pastors have reminded me to be a “good steward” of what God has given me. What that means, I soon find out, is to invest in a 401K and, therefore, root for multinational corporations to triple their profits by the year 2049. “Don’t forget to buy a home,” the pastor adds, “so you can hand it down to your kids.” Here, then, the Christian gospel is not about the abolition of wealth, but its accumulation. It’s not about the abolition of inheritance, but making sure my children are comfortable. It’s not about the rejection of power and privilege; it’s about kings, queens, and mansions with many rooms.

According to Vincent Lloyd, the Black theological tradition has always been uniquely positioned to expose the idolatrous roots of these prosperity gospels. “What white churches proclaimed as theological,” he writes, “was actually the interests of white Americans dressed in religious language.”1 Saidiya Hartman, while not necessarily identifying with any traditional religion, continues this idolatry critique in her recent book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Meditating on the experiences of a young urban Black couple at the beginning of the twentieth century, Hartman observes:

Aaron and Eva wanted nice things like everyone else, but like most black folks they didn’t adore property, believe in it as a principle like freedom or love or Jesus, or idolize and worship it like white folks did. What Aaron and Eva esteemed was autonomy, what they sought was an escape from servility. Owning things, land, and people had never secured their place in the world. They didn’t need others beneath their feet to establish their value. For white folks—settlers and masters and owners and bosses—property and possession were the tenets of their faith. To be white was to own the earth forever and ever. It defined who they were and what they valued; it shaped their vision of the future. But black folks had been owned, and being an object of property, they were radically disenchanted with the idea of property.2

For Hartman and Lloyd, it’s almost impossible to separate the idol of property from the idol of whiteness. We cannot discuss one without the other. But what’s worth noting in the above discussion is that not only do preachers commonly use financial metaphors to spread their (white, capitalist) gospel; critical theorists often resort to theological language to indict structures of racial capitalism.

Devin Singh’s profoundly important book, Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West, provides readers with invaluable tools to help us understand why it’s so hard to talk about God without talking about money, and why it’s so hard to talk about money without talking about God. In the symposium’s first essay, Alberto Toscano engages Singh’s rich exploration of “God as a predatory lender, the Messiah as a minted coin, [and] a Roman tax census as the sine qua non of incarnation.” Whereas Toscano focuses his analysis on ideology, sovereignty, and the way “money is bound to the state,” Danube Noel Johnson draws on Jacques Derrida to inquire “about the status of religious and racial difference” found in Singh’s theoretical scheme. Worried about the “dubious projects of conversion” often funded by Christian theology, Johnson invites Singh and his readers to consider what type of “currency,” human or divine, is afforded by God to non-Christian subjects.

In our symposium’s third essay, Heather Ohaneson asks whether we can properly view “soteriology is fundamentally economic in nature,” and, more broadly, whether a foundational metaphor exists at all for Christianity. While Ohaneson wonders if other metaphors might prove more foundational or generative than monetary ones, Sean Capener draws on Aristotle to assess how analogy operates as a “technique of thought” in Singh’s theoretical framework. If the goal is “to think against the divinization of coin, against the moral force of debt-slavery,” Capener concludes, “what does such a practice look like? And what force do we ascribe to analogy?” Finally, in the symposium’s fifth and final essay, Elettra Stimilli highlights Singh’s sophisticated engagement with critical theory, and asks how a more explicit Marxist or Foucauldian framework might help us better understand both the valorization of capital and the complex relations between state sovereignty and economic-governmental power.


  1. Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd, Race and Secularism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 12.

  2. Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (New York: Norton, 2019), 270.

Alberto Toscano

Response

Divine Ideology

God as a predatory lender, the Messiah as a minted coin, a Roman tax census as the sine qua non of incarnation—to read Devin Singh’s Divine Currency is to be transported from our commonplace assumptions about the nexus between Christianity and economics into a world, that of late Antiquity, both wonderfully unfamiliar and uncannily resonant with our own. Though Singh pays tribute to his major genealogical precursors, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, his monetary correctives to their influential perspectives on pastoral governance and oikonomia are at times quietly devastating, demonstrating that neglecting the orientation of patristic texts towards the real economy, mediated by the reality and representation of Empire, issues into at best truncated portrayals of the theological elements redeployed in later dispositifs of rule.1

Through his fine excavations and expositions of theological texts rarely considered in contemporary debates on monetary power, Singh estranges our tendency to presentism, forcing us to contemplate the often inconspicuous but consequential afterlives of late Antiquity in our amnesiac moment of crisis and circulation. Whilst Divine Currency is a conceptually assured and sophisticated book, it is also grounded in the patient deployment of historical knowledge and philological method, thereby eschewing a widespread tendency, when it comes to “economic theology,” to convert the various entanglements of money and religion into so many proofs of an overarching philosophy of history, be this a linear tale of secularization or a Heideggerian destruction/deconstruction of Western metaphysics.

This is made possible, at least in part, by Singh’s emphasis on the political contingencies of monetary form (a by-product of a sovereignty theory of money which may, as I will suggest below, also be fruitfully interrogated), as well as by his insistence that we always attend to the shaping pressures of the “real economy” on Christianity’s metaphorical repertoire. This means that notwithstanding an emphasis on the transfers and continuities evinced by money’s theological incarnations into a putatively profane present, Divine Currency does not require (unlike, say, Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory) a speculative belief in the persistence of the same paradigm, machine or dispositif across vast swathes of time, not to mention discontinuous modes of production or regimes of government.2

Singh’s meticulous forays into key episodes in the elaboration of a theological discourse on (and through) money in imperial Christianity is particularly welcome in its ability to track what he refers to as “a potent and rich web of conceptual tropes and impressions operating in the interstices between theological discourse and the socio-political imaginary” (124–25). Singh opts for an approach to monetary history that emphasises its political over-determination, thereby departing from classical political economy and traditional Marxism’s tendency to see monetary exchange as a material premise for state power, and not vice versa—a choice that chimes with the crucial place in late Antiquity of religiously-invested political power in the minting, legitimising and circulating of currency. And yet much of his approach could also be regarded as a nuanced corrective to the repudiation of historical materialism evident in Agamben’s genealogy of the onto-theology of oikonomia or Foucault’s account of pastoral power, both of which appear to scant the influence of material economic life on the history of political rationalities and metaphysical constructs alike. That much is hinted at in Singh’s own choice of words, as when he writes (my emphasis) of “a historical material dialectic between theological models and socio-political practice” (84).

And while Singh’s book is a powerful refutation of the early Marx’s perfunctory declaration, according to which “‘Christianity’ has no history whatever and . . . all the different forms in which it was visualised at various times were not ‘self-determinations’ and ‘further developments’ ‘of the religious spirit,’ but were brought about by wholly empirical causes in no way dependent on any influence of the religious spirit,”3 Divine Currency is also a compelling contribution to that much-maligned domain of inquiry, the theory of ideology. Elaborating upon Eusebius’s powerful theological synthesis of money and Empire, the following passage crystallises the core elements of Singh’s own account of the operations of ideology, in which the play of metaphor4 looms large:

Political and economic practices taken as commonsensical provide an orienting logic, as socio-political acts become theological metaphors. These metaphors accomplish the work of providing conceptual content to describe divine activity and to argue doctrinal points of view. Once wedded to transactions of cosmic significance, this theopolitical nexus can act back upon and legitimate the political sphere. . . . [Eusebius] arrived at the fact that monarchy was the divine form by first observing that earthly monarchy was the best way to maintain power and peace. He could then project this earthly political ideal upon God, suppress the dialectic, and act as if God were his conceptual starting point, moving in downward legitimation from heaven to earth, “ascribing monetary actions to God” . . . these widespread imperial practices . . . remain as potent ideological reserve. (125)

Eusebius is figured here enacting the classic gestures of ideology—projection, legitimation, concealment—and yet we could say that what, in a lovely turn of phrase, Singh terms the suppression of the dialectic, is also the foreclosure of another dialectic, namely the one operating between sociopolitical acts of commercial exchange and the sovereign issuance of currency (fiat money), on the one hand, and the domain of production, on the other. This dialectic, the one preoccupying Marxian accounts of the ways in which money’s power as a “real abstraction” consecrates the separation of intellectual and manual labour, is largely absent from Singh’s account.5

One is left to interrogate, or imaginatively reconstruct, how, for instance, this incisive account of the monetary dimension of Christian imperial ideology could be brought into dialogue with classically historical-materialist studies of the mode of production and forms of exploitation operative over the same historical span. It would be fascinating to connect, for example, the ways in which the metaphor of the Son of God as a coin “proves itself repeatedly useful in imperial attempts at consolidation of power” (130), with how fourth-century Christianity was also shaped by dynamics and conflicts in the domains of exploitation, in other words by “class struggles” surely not irrelevant to the mutations in imperial practice.

As Perry Anderson remarked in his classic study of the political-economic crisis of Antiquity, “The new coinage inaugurated by Constantine combined an elite gold standard for the use of the State and the rich, with constantly depreciated copper units for the needs of the poor, without any intervening scale of denominations between the two, so that virtually two separate monetary systems were created—a faithful tally of the social polarization of the later Empire.”6 Not only was this state riven, even in its monetary forms, by class, it was also materially grounded in slavery:

The permanent and direct use by the Roman State of slave-labour—a structural feature which lasted right down and into the Byzantine Empire—was one of the central pillars of the political economy of late Antiquity. The infrastructure of slavery found one of its most concentrated expressions within the imperial superstructure itself. . . . The imperial mints and textile factories (providing uniforms for the state apparatus, mandatory for civilians as well as military from Constantine onwards) were staffed with state slaves; so was the huge corps of manual labourers in the cursus publicus or imperial postal service, which provided the central communications system of the Empire. The weapons establishments were maintained by hereditary workers with military status, who were branded to prevent escape from their condition.7

Whatever the hermeneutic force of a theory of monetary metaphorics articulated around the nexus of imperial power and its theological legitimation, attention to the faultiness of class within the state itself, as evidenced by Anderson, is a necessary complement to Singh’s brilliant account, and especially necessary to cash in the promissory notes of a non-reductive theory of ideology. Such a theory will also require purposeful immersion into the vexed question of money’s role as a “real abstraction”—a theme tangentially present in Singh’s book through his use of the compelling work on money and Ancient Greece by Richard Seaford (which inherits a problematic formulated in more explicitly Marxist terms by George Thomson and Alfred Sohn-Rethel).

The French economist Michel Aglietta has recently made explicit the nexus between abstraction and the kind of political theory of money advocated by Singh in a lucid formulation: “Hierarchical confidence—the belief in a social form of sovereignty deposited in the state—is tested and experienced in exchange, in the unconditional acceptance of minted money. The invention of minting had enormous political implications. The most important of these, in the long term, was the advance of abstraction, through which the state united society by settling the social debt.”8 And yet, we may ask whether this nexus of sovereignty, money and abstraction doesn’t also risk a foreclosure of the kind of class struggles within the money form itself indexed by Anderson.

Or, we may take another tack, and locate in money a strategic instrument of conflict much more than a pacifying logic of abstraction. This was the direction briefly taken by Foucault in his first lecture course at the Collége de France—and abandoned by the time he undertook his explorations of patristic and pastoral literatures, which Singh rightly takes to task for their elisions of the material economy. In his Lectures on the Will to Know, Foucault intervened into the complex debates into the institution of money among classicists and historians of the economy. What is particularly striking in these lectures is Foucault’s effort to go against the grain of a mercantilist thesis of the commercial origin of money, as a function of representation and measure of exchange, and his countervailing effort to link money to political power and socioreligious logics of sacrifice, simulacra and substitution. For Foucault, “there is money when the same object is both sacrifice and tax, salary of the poorest and ritual redistribution, part of the temple or of fire and constraint or plunder by power, magical reinvigoration of the social body and everyday activity of potters at their wheels.”9

This plurality of uses and practices is also a plurality of origins and institutions—in Lydia, money is bound to the state, in Phoenicia to commerce, in Athens to class struggles and debt. Above all, the “beginning of money is not a solemn origin which would already inscribe within it its mercantile and metaphysical nature”—a powerful warning against any absorption of monetary genealogy into a philosophy of history. Genealogy, in Foucault’s rather ultra-left Nietzscheanism of the early seventies, is a matter of struggle, and the same goes for money: “What is inscribed in the monetary seal [marque]—in these figures which are the horse in Corinth, the turtle in Aegina, and soon thereafter the owl in Athens—what is inscribed in it is not the sign, in its general semiological nature, but a struggle for and around political power: it is a displacement, conservation and reinforcement of that power.”10 Irrespective of Foucault’s polemics against the conventional conception of ideology (precisely as sign and representation), I think these insights from his Collège de France lectures resonate with Singh’s conception of ideology as steeped in the work of metaphor (which is, after all, a work of transport, transference, transcoding). Money, for Foucault, is “power conserved and displaced: the metathesis of power.”11

Such a conception of money would also require reconfiguring the theory of ideology not as one of the vertical determination of the political by the economic, or the framing of the latter by the former, but as the displacement between them. Or, in Foucault’s words: “The economic and the political are linked, but they lag with relation to one another [décalés l’un par rapport à l’autre]: their dependence is masked and the monetary sign is the instrument, at one and the same time, of their dependence, their lag, and the occultation of this lagged dependence.”12


  1. Singh pointedly speaks, for instance, of Agamben’s “failure to highlight the explicitly financial and properly economic trace that remains in much discourse about oikonomia in ancient and patristic contexts” (141).

  2. For further philosophical and methodological reflections on the limits of Agamben’s work, which to my mind complement Singh’s historical critique, see my “Divine Management: Economy and Secularization in Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory,” Angelaki: Theoretical Journal of the Humanities 16.3 (2011) 125–35, and Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2017), 225–33.

  3. Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels), The German Ideology (New York: Prometheus, 1998), 166.

  4. It could be very fruitful in this regard to bring Singh’s work into dialogue with Enrique Dussel’s fascinating study of the place of theological metaphors in the writings of Marx: Las metáforas teológicas de Marx (Estella: Editorial Verbo Divino, 1993).

  5. For more on real abstraction, see my “The Open Secret of Real Abstraction,” Rethinking Marxism 20.2 (2008) 273–87.

  6. Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (London: New Left, 1974), 93.

  7. Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, 81 and n41.

  8. Michel Aglietta, Money: 5,000 Years of Debt and Power, trans. David Broder (London: Verso, 2018), 93.

  9. Michel Foucault, Leçons sur la volonté de savoir. Cours au Collège de France. 1970–1971, suivi de Le Savoir d’Oedipe (Paris: Gallimard/Seuil, 2011), 131 (my translation).

  10. Foucault, Leçons sur la volonté de savoir, 133.

  11. Foucault, Leçons sur la volonté de savoir, 132. Metathesis designates the transposition of sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence.

  12. Foucault, Leçons sur la volonté de savoir, 134.

  • Devin Singh

    Devin Singh

    Reply

    The Monetary Politics of Class Struggle

    I am grateful to Alberto Toscano for this trenchant, eloquent, and finely textured analysis. He rightly zeroes in on both the lacunae I sought to fill in the analyses by Foucault and Agamben and the lacunae that remain due to my choice to make state theories of money and neo-chartalism the governing frameworks for analyzing the operations of money in antiquity. On one hand, I have attempted to rectify the non-materialist economic genealogies set forth by these two influential thinkers, and also sought to challenge a popular understanding of money as merely a medium of exchange. On the other, devoting significant attention to the political context and institutional frameworks in which money operates has led me to undertheorize its relation to forces of production and to the slave economy, in particular.

    My opting for state theories of money is partly a reaction to my Anglo-American context, where economic departments and policy are dominated by neoclassical presuppositions that minimize the role of money in their models of exchange and diminish the place of the state in their depictions of money’s function. This coincides with the neoliberal agenda of privatization and its ideology of free markets. Money’s links to state power and the political realm threaten the fantasy of spontaneous and freely-constituted realms of commercial exchange. Yet this view has such appeal and has enjoyed such simplistic deployment that it has become the commonsense perspective, such that any person on the street will generally offer up a version of neoclassical monetary theory when asked what money is and does. My effort was in part an insistence that whenever money is considered, its links to sovereignty, political institutions, and the force of law must also remain central.

    My approach was also shaped by my impression that orthodox Marxist approaches tend to undertheorize money, privileging the exchange and fetishism of the commodity form as well as labor theories of value in ways that render money merely an abstraction. (Surely, money is abstraction, but it is more than this. I expand on these concerns in my response to Elettra Stimilli.) Such traditional Marxist analyses also tend to view the state merely as an agent of capital, a tool of the capitalist class. (Surely, it is this, but also more.) I am also wary of certain post-Marxian analyses that celebrate (à la Hardt and Negri) the fluidity of global capital as so untethered from state oversight and politicized pathways so as to undermine state sovereignty and usher in a utopia of global anarchic communion.

    These intuitions and contextual concerns help explain my decision to emphasize money as a political project. They do not, of course, excuse the gaps left in my analysis. So, what links might we explore between the state theory of money and concerns about the division of labor in antiquity, its slave economy, debt, and the forces of production? And how, then, do we figure theology and ideology in this relation?

    Toscano is right to indicate class difference and struggle as central to the tale. For, the story I told about sovereignty was not as finely grained as it could have been: while I discussed state management of governed bodies, this may at times have come across as a political class ruling over the undifferentiated masses via governmental institutions. I might have lingered on the important triangulations between the aristocracy, state officials, and laboring classes. While the interests of the former two classes were often aligned, my own insistence on the distinctiveness of the political realm is attenuated if I collapse them, risking a return to the problematic reduction of the political to the economic.

    In fact, the agonism between the state and aristocracy is deeply bound up with the origins and ongoing deployment of money. While money is a tool of sovereignty that instantiates its rule in a given territory—a governance that is felt on the ground by the working classes through the cyclical coercions to labor and consume—it is also a fulcrum of control either of or by the aristocratic class, depending upon the moment of analysis. As Toscano intimates, the Athenian story of money’s origins includes apparent state efforts to counterbalance the power of the aristocracy by using money to incorporate the (albeit land-owning and male) masses into the political process through a system of counting and representation we have come to call democracy.

    Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that the sovereignty that I traced, which is worked out through money on the bodies of the governed, manifests most clearly in the slave class, those with the least agency in the hierarchies of control marked by money. Counterintuitively, the class most affected by the power dynamics of money had no access to it, save when slaves acted as proxies for their masters in financial dealings. There is no doubt a resonance here with homo sacer that requires exploration, for as this included exclusion grounds the realm of law and the political, the slave as excluded from monetary economy grounds it and enables it to function. There may also be important links here with the representational assumptions of incarnation: whereas I highlighted the coin’s representation of the emperor as conceptually parallel to the divine Son’s (and Christ’s) representation of the Father, we must also consider how the slave’s representation of the master (a prevalent Pauline, Johannine, and Synoptic trope) qualifies both of these economies of signification.

    As I did explore, Gregory of Nyssa’s concerns over debt slavery touch on these matters, and his (and many others’) use of liberation from debt servitude (manumissio, redemptio) as a central metaphor for salvation places both debt and slavery at the heart of Christian doctrine and its effects. That many were drawn into slavery due to debt also signals money’s role in displacing sovereign debt onto the populace as a means of control. Money mediates and materializes this displacement that Toscano rightly invokes, this interstitial lag between the political and economic.

    This monetarily managed rupture or distance between the political and economic is another reason why the monetary resonances with incarnation are so striking: incarnation theorizes the relation between the sovereign providence of God and the governed destiny of the created order (a political register), while doing so explicitly by means of an economy (oikonomia), both in the sense of pragmatic management and stewardship and of an exchange and payment. Theories of incarnation (unwittingly?) take up this lag, this gap between the political and economic, and mediate it by way of monetary metaphor. Incarnation thus also becomes implicated in discussion of analogy and apophasis, as it seeks to negate or repress its mediation of an unbridgeable divide (see response to Capener). It is at once unsurprising and utterly astonishing that money, debt, and slavery are thus bound up with incarnation, as a type of ideology par excellence. Here monetary theology grapples, by way of idealized projection on the screen of the sacred, with the repressed fissures in sovereign attempts to consolidate economic forces that are both sovereignty’s constitution and its undoing.

Danube Johnson

Response

Problems in Conversion

Oikonomia, Flesh, Currency

It is with great enthusiasm and gratitude that I join this conversation to reflect on Professor Devin Singh’s timely and thought-provoking work in Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West. In it, Singh performs the much-needed task of establishing a vocabulary for the conceptual-historical connections between Christian theology and monetary economy in the West. Singh notes that his book, though bearing witness to early Christian sources like Eusebius and Gregory of Nyssa, is “situated among modern inquiries into the sources of a theopolitical imagination and respond[s] to claims about modern economy’s theological provenance.” This study is carried out to construct “a theoretical schema for thinking about discourse on the divine relation to monetary economy.”

For Singh, a helpful conversation partner towards this transhistorical end is Giorgio Agamben, and his conceptualization of oikonomia in The Kingdom and the Glory. Agamben uses oikonomia—“the government of men” or simply, “economy”—to venture “an inquiry into the genealogy . . . of power in the West.” Oikonomia here is the name given to God’s providential activity in the world. Singh’s proposed intervention is to expand oikonomia to include what he finds to be a notable absence in Kingdom: namely, a consideration of monetary economy, and its entanglement with the development of fundamental Christian theological principles.

The theoretical schema proffered in Divine Currency is as follows: Singh looks to early patristics to theorize “God as an economic administrator accomplishing redemption through Christ as currency.” The stakes of this theoretical intervention are articulated thus: “Opening up the financial traces in oikonomia thus attunes us to the monetary economic forces at work in forging a set of fundamental and enduring claims about divine sovereignty over history and about God’s nature, identity, and work in redemption.” The relationship posited between monetary economy and theology is reciprocal: “If money lends its logic to the structuring of theology, God-talk repays by offering its prestige and sacred power to the world of exchange.”

While aiming to intervene into and expand upon Agamben’s conceptualization of oikonomia, Singh makes it clear that oikonomia maintains the same providential goal in his work as it has in Agamben’s configuration—namely, “the salvation of the world.” Therefore, monetary oikonomia is conceived of here as “strategic silences, apparent deception, and guile” which are “valid elements of an economy, given its benevolent ends,” those benevolent ends being salvation.

I am of the (admittedly cynical) suspicion that structural inequity is a necessary condition of possibility for any “benevolent” act. It is from this suspicion that I’d like to pose a few questions about the status of religious and racial difference within the theoretical scheme offered in Divine Currency. With the following questions, I hope to spur continued conversation, as the theoretical blueprint Singh provides us with will no doubt become a guide for future scholarship on Christianity and monetary economy: If we are to theoretically frame historical moments within Western monetary economy as “discourse about God’s management toward salvation and governance through incarnation,” how would this schema handle non-Christian participation in monetary economies of the West? If we are to make “homologous” analyses of the relationship between monetary economy and “the Son” as the Christian God’s currency for humanity’s redemption from sin, are non-Christian subjects effectively converted to Christianity within this theoretical schema? Is their money, too, converted into a salvific currency, so to speak? Would their participation in monetary economy be interpreted as a providential, if deceptive, means toward the benevolent end of redemption?

To be clear, in the introduction to Divine Currency, Singh affirms the importance of Jewish and Islamic contributions to monetary economics in the West, his present study is restricted to Christianity notwithstanding. Looking forward to more work of this kind, I wonder if Jacques Derrida’s reading of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice could offer some pathways for thinking about the connections between Christian theology, monetary economy, and religious and racial difference.

In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio, a local merchant, asks for a loan from Shylock, a local Jewish moneylender, so that his best friend Bassanio can travel to the estate of Portia, a Venetian heiress who Bassanio hopes to marry. Despite enduring animus—shall we call it “bad blood”?—between Antonio and Shylock, fueled by Antonio’s antagonism towards Jews in general, Shylock agrees to loan the money on one condition: if Antonio fails to repay the loan, Shylock will receive a pound of Antonio’s flesh as recompense. Not long after accepting the terms and conditions of the bond, Antonio receives word that his ships have capsized before reaching port, and subsequently, his merchandise has been lost. Antonio is unable to repay the loan. In the meantime, Bassanio is successful in gaining Portia’s affection, but upon hearing the news that Antonio cannot repay the loan, he rushes back to Venice to try and save Antonio’s life. A trial is convened to settle the dispute and by the end of it, Shylock is not only compelled to forgive Antonio’s debt, he is (not coincidentally) compelled to convert to Christianity as well.

Derrida, for his part, takes the fundamental issue at stake in The Merchant to be the exemplary, but entirely common, way in which “the monetary sign” represents an “impossible translation,” or conversion (since “all translation is a conversion”) from flesh to money. In true deconstructionist fashion, Derrida claims that the incalculability of flesh makes its monetary exchange-value fraught and arbitrary. For him, the impossible conversion from “original, literal flesh” to the “monetary sign” is “not unrelated to the Jew Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity, since the traditional figure of the Jew is often and conventionally situated on the side of the body and the letter . . . whereas St. Paul the Christian is on the side of the spirit or sense, of interiority, of spiritual circumcision.”

Throughout the trial, Shylock maintains again and again that he is bound by the oath—he is bound to the letter—that he took in his agreement with Antonio. Portia, who has disguised herself as an expert jurist in the court, begs Antonio to confess that he did indeed agree to the bond with Shylock. She obliges Shylock to forgive the debt because Antonio has confessed: “Then must the Jew be merciful,” she orders. Shylock refuses yet again and Portia goes on to deliver a speech—a sermon?—to compel the resistant Shylock: She argues that while justice to the oath is what Shylock seeks, justice should not be Shylock’s only goal. Rather, she argues that mercy, which is “enthroned in the hearts of kings” and is “an attribute to God himself,” should always “season” justice: “Therefore, Jew / Though justice be thy plea, consider this / That, in the course of justice, none of us / Should see salvation. . . .” In effect, Portia’s rebuke of Shylock’s case exposes an irreconcilable difference of obligation that falls precisely along the lines of which Derrida speaks: To Portia, “The Jew” has mistaken the letter for the Law. “The Jew” must be merciful because mercy—forgiveness of this particular loan, and forgiveness in general—in justice is what occasions salvation. Of course, what Portia compels from Shylock is not a corrective, jurisprudential interpretation of Venetian law, but rather a fundamental conversion that renders his literal oath in Christian terms of salvation. For Derrida, this represents an attempt to “preconvert” Shylock by “persuading him of the supposedly Christian interpretation that consists of interiorizing, spiritualizing, idealizing what among Jews . . . will remain physical, external, literal, devoted to a respect of the letter.”

Shylock, however, is not convinced—he continues to “crave the law.” Portia even offers Shylock three times the amount originally owed, but Shylock refuses—to break an oath would be to perjure himself: “An oath, an oath, I have an oath in heaven: Shall I lay perjury upon my soul? No, not for Venice.” In Shylock’s refusal to translate, to convert the original oath of flesh to the monetary sign, he refuses the Christian’s imperative to “mourn the letter to save the sense.”

Portia concedes, or pretends to concede, to Shylock’s commitment to his oath, on one condition: that if he spills “one drop of Christian blood” as he takes his pound of flesh from Antonio’s body, his property will be confiscated by the Venetian government, as is the law of Venice. At this point, Shylock retracts his commitment to the literal oath, and states that he is willing to have the bond paid to him “thrice and let the Christian go.” Bassanio offers it thus, but Portia now refuses this compromise. Shylock then offers to “let the Christian go” if only he is paid the original amount of debt, and Bassanio agrees, but Portia dismisses him again(!): “He hath refused it in the open court: He shall have merely justice and his bond.” Without mercy, so to speak, Portia doubles down on Shylock’s condemnation. She announces furthermore that Shylock has violated a serious law of Venice through his oath: If it can be proven that an “alien” were to either “directly or indirectly” conspire to take the life of a Venetian citizen, said citizen is entitled to half of their wealth, while the other half should be given to the state. Moreover, Shylock’s life lies in the hands of the Duke of Venice, who could either condemn him to death or grant him mercy. Antonio now stands to gain half of Shylock’s wealth, but is willing to forfeit his entitlement on the condition that Shylock converts to Christianity. The Duke chimes in that he is willing to grant him mercy only on this condition as well. Shylock is finally compelled to convert and therefore so, too, is his money. Shylock being spared his life (and perhaps receiving eternal life through conversion!) would no doubt be perceived as a “benevolent” act by the Christian witnesses of this trial.

At the very end of “What Is Relevant Translation,” Derrida writes that even as he tried “resisting this transcription,” or conversion, of flesh to money, “Shylock delivers himself into the grasp of the Christian strategy, bound hand and foot.” Derrida ends his reading by suggesting that the “history of translation and the normative concept of translation” maintains strong traces of Christianity, particularly “through a memory haunted by the body lost yet preserved in its grave, the resurrection of the ghost or of the glorious body that rises, rises again—and walks.”

Derrida’s critique charges us to keep watch over the less-than-obvious in which Christian theology sometimes funds dubious projects of conversion, monetary or otherwise, for the sake of its own preservation. Nevertheless, in essence (if not in letter), Derrida echoes a concern articulated by Singh in Divine Currency: “Might the modern need to drive a wedge so quickly between theology and the monetary economic realm stem in part from their close connection and the apparent scandal this would bring?” I leave us with the question of how we can hold this concern in tandem with attention to the ways that these racial and religious difference have informed, and will certainly continue to inform, the relationship between Christian theology and monetary economy.

  • Devin Singh

    Devin Singh

    Reply

    Conversion, Seizure, and Loss

    My gratitude to Danube Noel Johnson for this intervention on the place of religious and racial others in genealogies of economy in the West, and for this exhilarating reengagement with The Merchant of Venice in terms of these concerns. Merchant provides an excellent window into a later historical moment, with a constellation of factors inherited from the periods I consider. Through the tale, Johnson via Derrida raises a number of important connections between the semiotics of money and its racial and religious politics.

    While I do align with Agamben (and even more so with Mondzain) in noting oikonomia’s self-justification by means of benevolent ends, my attempt was precisely to highlight how this horizon coincides with Christian empire, including its management of “barbarian” others. Johnson is therefore right to suspect that benevolence is linked with inequity, in this case at least. This is made explicit, for instance, in Eusebius’s correlation of Constantine’s economic conquest of non-Roman tribes with Christ’s defeat of demonic forces via the incarnation and subsequent proclamation of the gospel. Through such a parallel schema, the emperor is divinized, non-Christian, non-Romans are demonized, and the incarnation and Christian message are economized. It’s a tidy set of destructive assemblages that transmutes into part of the template for later Christendom: the king rules by divine right, Jews and Muslims are the enemy within and without, respectively, and communion with the church allows for economic participation within the empire.

    Thus, one clue to the positioning of racial and cultural others in this tale I recount emerges in the correlation between the spread of Christian empire, dissemination of the gospel message, and tactics of economic annexation, all of which engage outsiders in an ever-widening purview. For both Eusebius and Gregory of Nyssa, as I illustrate, not to mention Irenaeus and Augustine, economy is a means to describe divine victory over forms of spiritual opposition. Other scholars have also explored the use of ethnicity in Eusebius’s arguments, as well as the forms of supercessionism that emerge in his assertion of Christian triumph as the new Israel. Thus, there are noteworthy elements of early racialization in Eusebius that may coincide with his exaltation of economy, a merger that has taken a nefarious course in the history of European thought.

    As I also explore, this connection between economy and attitude toward outsiders may presage the coincidence in colonialism between economic conquest and programs of coerced religious conversion. Gregory of Nyssa’s ransom account shows echoes of what Eusebius describes, projected more figuratively onto a spiritual plane and made central to matters of salvation. By means of a cosmic exchange, using Christ as currency, which I show turns out to be a predatory loan, Satan as an outlaw or rebellious lord is brought into divine territory and subjugated. Humanity is liberated even is the divine enemy is conquered and his foreign territory annexed. As in accounts of colonization, where an invading or occupying power distributes its currency into a claimed territory and in so doing brings the resident population into exchange relations and eventual obligation, here God annexes or colonizes satanic territory by means of the Christ coin. Thus we see explicit links among matters of salvation and themes of payment, debt, liberation, conquest, and claiming territory. The possibility that these assemblages provide fodder for subsequent colonial projects invites consideration.

    Merchant provides a brilliant interweaving of these themes. One link that I note in the book is the play’s clear deployment of debt as a means of aggression and tactic of control. Antonio, defending his antisemitism, nevertheless entreats Shylock to lend him money. He declares: “If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not as to thy friends, for when did friendship take a breed for barren metal of his friend? But lend it, rather, to thine enemy, who, if he break, thou mayst with better face exact the penalty” (1.3.142–47). Antonio acknowledges that charging interest is antagonistic and that to lend at interest is to declare or reaffirm enmity. Here lending at interest is seen as a rupture of communion and appropriate as a way to treat one’s enemies. As I recount:

    The medieval world included at least one special role for accursed usury or moneylending: Romano-canonical legislation forbade moneylending among Christians, as those considered of the same house, drawing upon the biblical injunction against usury within the people of Israel. Yet moneylending and charging interest with foreigners was permitted. Extending this, medieval thinkers “likened their enemies to foreigners and, in the event of war, considered usury lawful if it would harm the adversary.” Such a posture was codified in law: “Gratian’s Decretium of circa 1140, the die from which Canon Law was cast, employed St. Ambrose’s formula: ‘Ubi ius belli, ibi ius usurae,’ that is, ‘Wherever there is the law of war, there is the law of usury.’” The antagonistic relations of moneylending, seen as a contest of power and domination, are here remarkably brought into and included among the arts of war. (Divine Currency, 203)

    Yet more than merely the antagonistic struggles for indebted supremacy between two individuals, Johnson’s comments help to highlight the broader structural context of economic conquest highlighted in Merchant. Shylock experiences property seizure and forced conversion, losing both his financial and spiritual capital. He is presented with a false choice: he can convert and keep a portion of his property or resist and have it taken. Either way he loses it. For in the former scenario his property equally becomes part of Christendom, to be used by the church and for its purposes.

    Gil Anidjar’s Blood is important here for recalling the intertwined medieval veins of Eucharistic economy and monetary economy, and the quest to keep such bloodlines pure. And as Marc Shell recalls in his studies on money, art, and literature, many medieval European towns issued communion tokens (coins) to parishioners after partaking of the Eucharist. These served as signs that one was in good standing with the church and heavenly host, and thereby in good standing with the town and its conduits of commercial exchange. Exclusion from communion meant economic exclusion. Such conditions could not be remedied by religious outsiders save by conversion.

    And yet, conversion, if read merely in terms of monetary convertibility, is misleading. Just as Derrida’s reading reminds us that religious conversion in such cases, as a kind of translation, is really loss and a kind of treason (traduttore, traditore), forced conversion, such as that experienced by Shylock, is also itself a seizure of property or an expropriation of capital. Shakespeare’s disclosure, witting or not, is that Shylock’s religious and financial forfeitures mirror each other. Conversion belies the possibility of convertibility and shows it rather as loss, raising questions about the possibility of just transmissions of capital at all.

    In these ways, Merchant provides a prescient reading of primitive accumulation, as a complex process in part practiced at home and abroad, in ways that reflect and reinforce each other. The tactics used by the church and European powers during early colonization were those honed for centuries upon outsiders within the social body at home. Punitive experiments on racial and religious others at home could be carried out with wanton abandon in the distant colonies. And likewise, the violence waged on brown and black bodies in the colonial periphery was brought home and used against perpetual foreigners within the coalescing European social body. When the admixtures of religious discourse about salvation melded with holy toil for the state of one’s soul, labor that accumulated to the benefits of the overseer, this recipe could then be deployed on any recalcitrant workers inside the empire.

    The false choice presented to Shylock would be the one presented to peasants and serfs: your property and land are already forfeit, resist inclusion in this holy economy of labor and lose your livelihood, or agree to participate in this salvific exchange and render what you have as an offering to the master in the form of wage labor. In this sense the unfree choice offered by Portia to Shylock presages the coercive freedom of capitalism: even though you really have no alternative, exult in your glorious freedom to choose to labor for wages, and be thankful for this blessing granted to you, living in this greatest of times in history. Despoliation, pillage, coercion, expropriated and exploited labor are all signaled in this set of dramatic exchanges in the play.

    But in the ongoing historical material struggle, first as tragedy, then as farce, the coopting party becomes coopted: whereas the church exerted its right of privilege to possess the property of the Jew as resident alien, the secular powers would exert their authority to appropriate the property of the church (and the term “secularization” would come to designate originally this property transfer). Therefore, and again, Shylock’s conversion is none whatsoever but is rather a loss of faith, a violent, nonconsensual transfer from faith tradition to none, as the processes of early capitalism and secularization would later perform, in their own new and yet reduplicated tale of contracts and oaths, debt transfers, joint ventures, profits and losses, and bad faith.

Heather C. Ohaneson

Response

Warp and Woof

Response to Devin Singh’s Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West

Reading Devin Singh’s critically framed yet patristically driven book Divine Currency spurred my thinking in at least the following ways. It served to underscore the importance of the literalism of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation (however much Christ was like currency, Christ came as a human being); caused me to revisit a knotty topic in light of the veil of Christ’s humanity (the possibility of divine deceit); and led to what was, for me, a theological frontier (in the form of the questions, What does the devil know? and Does the devil have rights?). I will touch upon each of these areas, thanking Singh for his intellectually generative work and the conversations, which it is stirring—all the while recognizing that my response may represent a woof to his warp. My interests may at points run counter-directionally to his, but I hope that they do so in a way that adds texture to the dialogue.

1. Metaphorical Currency, Literal Flesh and Blood

First, Singh’s argument inadvertently impressed upon me the significance of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. The more that Singh stressed the economic nature of certain metaphors that pervade early Christian thought and seep into the history of Western governmentality, the more I wanted to emphasize the metaphorical quality of the ideas. Singh sets out to prove that the theological expressions for redemption are shot through with “monetarily inflected” ideas—perhaps, a fortiori, his goal is to show that soteriology is fundamentally economic in nature (75).

I should be clear that Singh is careful in the introduction to his study to specify that speaking of Christ as coin is to exercise metaphor (20). The repeated wandering of my mind away from financial thoughts and governmental realities back to one form of christological thinking does not demonstrate a weakness in Singh’s arguments. Indeed, I find much in Divine Currency successful and engaging.

For example, Singh’s treatment of permutations of oikonomia, incarnational governance, and political governance in the first chapter, “Incarnation and Imperial Economy,” is innovative and illuminating. His uncovering of the relation between God’s sovereignty and household management leads one to recognize that, in managing the household of the cosmos, God seeks increase and profit (37–38). Similarly, it behooves readers to attempt to understand how, over and above prudence, shrewdness is part of stewardship (34–35). Moreover, his argument that “claims about Christ being a compensation or ransom for sin invoke . . . an entire network of rule and authority that is carried out in part through economic administration” is largely convincing (39). Recognizing the incarnation as a two-way theopolitical zone may yield enhanced understanding of aspects of the incarnation itself. And Singh’s astute treatment of the dialectical movement of legitimation—the way that “such structures [as ecclesial hierarchy and its bureaucratic channels] are in turn in continual interchange with state political institutions, with each informing the other as model” (77)—deserves the admiring attention of historians, economists, and political theologians alike. Nevertheless, the bottom-line effect of Singh’s reflections on the relationship between Christ and currency for this reader was a surprising realization that sin was not resolved with an actual monetary payment.

Christ may be the coin of God insofar as God’s image marks him and insofar as he serves to extend the domain of God’s power (see esp. 105, 131, 232n33, 84, 113–15), yet the Christian tradition upholds that Christ effected a ministry of presence when he came as a human being (“And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . .” [John 1:14 NRSV]). Perhaps in another universe —I write this modally, not sarcastically—God converts creaturely disobedience into a financial cost that God then cancels outright or repays in an impersonal manner with coins, banknotes, check, plastic, or some other monetary medium of exchange, but according to Christian theology, redemption comes through human sacrifice. The author of 1 Peter in particular is at pains to say that God did not restore humanity through silver or gold. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Pet 1:18–19). Whereas the primary idea here, in the biblical text, seems to be that the material of redemption matters—the contrast between Christ’s blood and the perishability of profane metal implies that the value of Christ’s blood is linked to its eternal power, which far outlasts and outstrips the most durable earthly substances—Singh marshals the passage to support his view concerning the esteem of metals in antiquity. Thus, buried in an endnote, the single reference to this verse in Divine Currency comes in the context of a discussion of metallurgy and the demiurge, and reads: “The language of refining metals is also taken up by early Christian thinkers to describe the purity of faith and moral standing before God (1 Peter 1:19; Rev 3:18)” (226n47). This is one instance where I think that Singh misses or bends the point, as his economic hammer searches for Christian nails. I wish that he had acknowledged 1 Peter 1:18–19 and its focus on flesh in his main account of the Christian coinage metaphor.

2. The Veil of Humanity as Divine Deceit

Second, Divine Currency directed me to the problem of divine deceit—its possibility and potential purpose. Christ’s humanity is central to the trick that God plays on the devil for redemptive ends. As it turns out, Christ’s fleshliness is misleading. This claim appears in chapters 5 and 6 (“Redemptive Commerce” and “Of Payment, Debt, and Conquest,” respectively), where Singh builds on analysis in earlier chapters of the mutual influence of church and state around such aforementioned themes as household management and royal currency.

Shifting away from Eusebius, a patristic conversation partner in the first three chapters, Singh draws primarily on Gregory of Nyssa to discuss the duplicitous nature of the exchange between God and the devil. As Gregory of Nyssa himself introduces the quandary: “For in a way it was a fraud and deception for God, when he placed himself in the power of the enemy who was our master, not to show his naked deity, but to conceal it in our nature, and so escape recognition” (“Address on Religious Instruction,” 302).

As this largely Nyssen interpretation of salvation was new to me, I needed to reconstruct the church father’s account of the role of deception in redemption. Here is his logic of the ransom act, as I understand it via Singh: the devil deceives humanity, enticing people to sin (Singh, 152). Human beings take the bait, but do so freely, and so are responsible for their fall into sin. The consequences—for human beings and for the devil—are just. Singh writes in what are my favorite lines of the book: “It does not matter that the bait is a deceit. To bite is a free choice” (153). Biters beware! You are on the hook for what you choose. Having taken human beings captive, the devil now owns them.1 God is not unjust and so God does not merely seize the captured ones, reclaiming them for Godself. Apparently, there are rules to the economic game, and God follows them. Perhaps God even owes (!) the devil certain behavior. As Singh explains, “God does not force the release of enslaved humanity, for this would give Satan a right to cry foul, since his ownership of humanity was fitting, given their initial folly” (154). However, in God’s goodness, God does not leave humanity enslaved to the devil. The solution entails godly deceit. The devil reaps what he sows in that God deceives him, the deceiver. This is an echo of the measure-for-measure punishment that the ruse-prone Jacob receives at the hand of Laban in Genesis 29 (Shemesh, 84), and the measure-for-measure rewards that the Hebrew midwives and Rahab receive.2 The implication is that if the devil had been truthful, he would have been dealt with truthfully. “As there is a logic and order to redemption, there is a logic and order to the initial process of enslavement. God’s fair measures to counteract this tyranny will match in inverse fashion the steps taken to bind humanity” (Singh, 153). What form does this deception take? An economic one, of course. It is a cloaked payment, a gleaming coin that is also a metallic hook (184, 156–57; cf. 99–100 on how the earthly emperor Constantine exerts his power and grows his kingdom by the gracious redemption of enemies’ lives with money). The devil, who lacks the understanding of Christ’s true nature, finds Christ’s miracle-working power alluring. “The virtues and miracles of Christ tantalized the devil for the power he in turn would acquire in claiming Christ as his own” (156). Disguising the full power of Christ’s divinity enables God to overpay the devil with the Christ coin, putting the devil in God’s debt in a way that is ultimately salutary (158–59, 203). Once the transaction is completed, enslavement is reversed in two senses: the slaveholder becomes the slave, and slavery becomes freedom.

Certainly, this is divine deceit framed in the best possible light. Indeed, Singh repeatedly notes that early church fathers were unperturbed by the possibility that God practiced subterfuge (see, e.g., 39, 161, 164).3 Instead, they were troubled by the way that the devil was treated as a suitable trading partner with the God. In this extremely optimistic vein, i.e., free of any associative worry that a god who deceives enemies may lack trustworthiness among friends, this passage from “An Address on Religious Instruction” expresses the admirability of a God who deceives:

For [the devil] who first deceived man by the bait of pleasure is himself deceived by the camouflage of human nature. But the purpose of the action changes it into something good. For the one practiced deceit to ruin our nature; but the other, being at once just and good and wise, made use of a deceitful device to save the one who had been ruined. And by doing so he benefited, not only the one who had perished, but also the very one who had brought us ruin. For when death came into contact with life, darkness with light, corruption with incorruption, the worse of these things disappeared into a state of nonexistence, to the profit of him who was freed from these evils. (Gregory of Nyssa, 303, emphasis mine)

Gregory of Nyssa moves beyond justifying godly deception to celebrating it, and issues a claim about the power of motivation along the way. The goodness of God’s intention in tricking the devil leads to a reevaluation of the action itself—a “redemption” of deceit, even. This is not merely a pain/pleasure calculus. In other words, Gregory of Nyssa does not advance a proto-utilitarian argument that the number of souls freed through deceptive means warrants deceit. Rather, divine deceit is justified because it stems from God’s desire to save the devil. The scholar Marion Grau also embraces divine deception as positive. According to Grau, God is a better, more successful deceiver than the devil (Singh, 183–84). I am eager to read more of Grau’s work, thanks to Singh.

This foray into God’s dealings with the devil leaves me with inchoate speculations as well as a number of questions.

Among the worries that arise from thinking about God as dissembling at all, I foresee the following: Especially if one associates deceit closely with falsehood and lying,4 one might think that deceit is inherently wrong and that it is therefore unbecoming of or impossible for God to exercise. (Indeed, the God of the Bible may be expected to be distinguished from the Olympian gods in avoiding the strategy of deception [Constas, 241]). One may be concerned that God’s deceit would not end with the devil but would extend to human beings: and how would one know if one were deceived by God? Further, one might expect divine deceit to call forth human deceit, legitimizing similar practices among human beings, especially if there is something about monetary dealings that lend themselves to trickery.5 (On how moneylending lures people into the trap of compound interest, see Singh, 163).

Is any instance of divine deceit justified regardless of its intention or effect, merely insofar as the subversion is God’s? How does deception relate to falsehood, disguise, and hiddenness?6 Are there other ways that God deceives the devil?7

Presumably, Gregory and other church fathers understand the devil to be ignorant, not stupid; a possible implication of their accounts is that the devil would not have made the deal to accept Christ, if the devil had known Christ’s true identity. Such a theory would justify and even necessitate deceit on God’s part. I could imagine a different scenario, however, in which the devil is portrayed as knowing yet akratic—let’s say the devil were cognizant of Christ’s divinity; even with that knowledge he might be dominated by his own weakness of will, unable to resist the temptation of “acquiring” Christ in the short term, despite the consequences and conquest to follow.

Notice that the problem of divine deceit disappears when the ransom theory shifts to debt forgiveness. Singh writes, “In the earlier authors of the ransom tradition that I consider here, this exchange is ultimately duplicitous and involves subterfuge. In its development in later medieval context, however, with a thinker like Anselm, ransom or satisfaction have become fully legitimated forms of exchange, ones that are rightfully due the offended Lord if justice is to be served” (144–45). Several things shift with Anselm and his medieval ilk. God, not the devil, is the one owed payment for sin. This change erases both the need for subterfuge and the notion that the devil has rights: If the Christ currency does not go to the devil, the devil does not need to be deceived. At the same time, the theologian is freed from having to accord the devil rights in an economically fair dealing. The Anselmian approach creates other knots, however, including a puzzle that Origen anticipated, namely, why would God accept Jesus’ soul as ransom?

3. Did the Devil Know That Christ Was God? Concomitantly, Does the Devil Have Rights, Including the Right to the Truth?

Third, Singh’s engagement with church fathers, and with Gregory of Nyssa in particular, introduced me to the idea that the devil did not know Christ’s nature. That thought, which struck me as strange, invited me to consider the devil’s epistemic state. Approaching the question theoretically, one may ask what kind of knowledge the devil has or could have. Does evil have a bearing on what one can know? If, for Augustine, evil diminishes one ontologically (City of God, XII.7, pp. 479–80), then are there theologians who argue that evil causes one to shrink epistemically? Is it impossible for the devil to know the good and, by extension, Christ? Or is the devil’s evil nature tied to the devil’s knowing rejection of the good? What do the biblical scenes of Job 1–2, where ha Satan speaks with God, and Matthew 4, where the diabolos taunts Jesus as the “Son of God,” indicate about either the content or the source of such a (diminished) being’s knowledge? Further, does the notion that the devil was able to be tricked about the divinity of Christ reflect anything about the development of Christology in early Christianity? Lastly, if the devil represents a fallen angel, how does the devil compare to other angelic beings, which certain philosophical traditions uphold as rational?

In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant is careful to refer to “rational beings” as opposed to “human beings,” leaving room within the category of rational beings for angels. If, because of their dignity, autonomy, and freedom, rational beings have a right to truth, are angels also entitled to the truth? Would the devil qua rational angel be entitled to the truth, and therefore empowered in dealings with God (i.e., in having a claim to the truth)? Or is the devil not only epistemically compromised but also supremely irrational—the antichrist as anti-logos—in which case he would be excluded from a kingdom of ends, and any worry of divine deceit would dissolve?

Unsurprisingly, the issue of diabolic rights is not framed in terms of reason but in terms of the economy in Divine Currency. To whatever extent God owes the devil something, it is as an economic trading partner. There are ways to wiggle out of the seeming limitations of exchange contracts, though. Thus, Singh deftly counters the concern of Gregory of Nazianzus that “God seems constrained by the devil’s (economic) desires, for the devil can appeal to the ‘just’ dynamics of monetary economy to ensure fair dealings” (170; cf. 154) with the reminder that “economies are anything but neutral” (171). The activity of exchange leaves plenty of room for struggle, including, perhaps, the combative tactic of deceit. It may be wrong to deceive the devil when the devil is conceived in terms of rationality but appropriate to deceive him within a theopolitical power struggle over souls and salvific territory. Or, as mentioned above, one can follow Anselm in refusing to think of God as deigning to exchange with the devil, reconceiving ransom as satisfaction.8

Conclusion: The Philosophy of First Metaphor; or, What Are the Limits of Economic Metaphors in Christian Theology?

Finally, I am left to wonder about metaphor itself. Is there a foundational metaphor for Christianity? For Western societies? Jesus’ blood may be a currency, but money is thought to circulate like blood. Is blood, then, more basic?9 Would Singh’s argument about the influence of divine oikonomia on Western governmentality carry over to a Christian influence over Western medical traditions, if salvation is fundamentally about healing?

The principle not of first philosophy but of first metaphor speaks to the essence of redemption. Is redemption fundamentally economic in nature or not?

A particularly striking passage in the chapter “Redemptive Commerce” signals the primacy that Singh affords economic thought. Building on Schmitt, Agamben, and Dotan Leshem’s work on the theme of exception, Singh starkly identifies unconditional debt forgiveness as the founding exception in Christian thought. He points to the reign of the economic, writing:

This transactional pattern and foundation signal a more basic inability in Christian thought to successfully integrate a notion of unconditional debt forgiveness as the ultimate divine exception. Despite resources available in preceding Second Temple Judaic tradition, and despite strands of such thinking in early Christian communities, coalescing orthodox thought resisted construing salvation as simple debt forgiveness or cancellation. Instead, orthodoxy insisted on the necessity of some mechanism—whether ransom, sacrifice, or atonement—to make possible and justify the cancellation of humanity’s debt and consequent liberation. In other words, the pure state of exception wherein God accepts sinners without condition was deemed unacceptable. A price had to be paid. In this sense, for Christianity, economy is victorious even over the exception. Moments of exception in ensuing tradition—such as pastoral exceptions to canon law—will always have this prior and undergirding theological and economic ground, one that I claim is articulated most clearly in ransom theories. Exception is made possible by the founding exchange. (143, original emphasis)

According to Singh’s reading, it is this exception of redemption by way of ransom that enables strategic diversions from canon law. The economic nature of this Christian exception should, by Singh’s lights, be kept in view in later analyses of governmentality. But what if the founding exception can be conceived in terms other than economic?

Indeed, alternate metaphors are available, particularly when one moves away from the ransom mechanism to sacrifice and atonement. In the introduction to Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity, David Downs briefly lists a number of ways of conceptualizing almsgiving and sin that go beyond the economic. “Basil here promotes what has been called ‘redemptive almsgiving’—namely, the notion that providing material assistance to the needy does something to reckon with sin, whether charity is understood to cleanse, extinguish, redeem, cover, or destroy sin” (Downs, 4, emphasis mine). And in a footnote, he continues: “The nature of what merciful care for the poor is said to do to ‘sin’ in biblical and patristic sources depends largely on the metaphor(s) employed to represent ‘sin.’ Is sin a burden, a stain, a debt, an illness, a stumble, a rebellion, a captivity, or a cosmic power?” (Downs, 4n6). Redemption and debt are mentioned in these conceptual lists, but they are included alongside potential schemas that are non-economic. When understood through the lenses of cleansing and illness, for example, almsgiving and sin are matters of sanitation and health. Jesus’ blood and the acts of charity that Jesus inspires, then, are effective not in terms of currency but in terms of purity and wholeness. Or fire might be the operative metaphor, in which case sin is extinguished and hell is escaped through atonement.

What is at stake in that difference? When people experience the restoration of value in life apart from financial gain—when good is brought forth from bad in a recognizably redemptive way without anyone paying for anything (or deceiving anyone, for that matter)—is something inherently economic at work? What about forgiveness? Is forgiveness thinkable apart from debt and debt apart from oikonomia? How are we to comprehend the opheilēmata of Matthew 6:12? Is moral debt financial? Is there a kind of non-financial debt that is also, as Kant insists, non-transmissible?10

In sum, these are the large questions that loom for me after reading Divine Currency: Are economic metaphors central to Christian theology? Are they read as central because of the obvious importance of the economy in political governance today? What are the limits of Christian theology’s economic metaphors? Is there non-economic redemption? Is spiritual redemption entirely non-economic? What is at stake here, theologically or in the political history of the West, either way?

 

Works Cited

Anidjar, Gil. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Augustine. City of God. Translated by Henry Bettenson. London: Penguin, 2003.

Constas, Nicholas P. “The Last Temptation of Satan: Divine Deception in Greek Patristic Interpretations of the Passion Narrative.” Harvard Theological Review 97.2 (2004) 237–74.

Downs, David. Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Forsyth, Neil. Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Gregory of Nyssa. “An Address on Religious Instruction.” Translated by Cyril C. Richardson. In Christology of the Later Fathers, edited by Edward R. Hardy, 268–328. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated and edited by Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

———. Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Translated and edited by Allen Wood and George Di Giovanni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

McGinn, Bernard. “Vere tu es Deus Absconditus: The Hidden God in Luther and Some Mystics.” In Silence and the Word: Negative Theology and Incarnation, edited by Oliver Davies and Denys Turner, 94–114. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Shemesh, Yael. “Lies by Prophets and Other Lies in the Hebrew Bible.” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 29.1 (2002) 81–95.

Singh, Devin. Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.


  1. I do have questions about the notion that the devil owns sinful human beings. How is it that sin causes people to belong to the devil or become indebted to the devil? Origen suggests that it is because they are participating in his economy, circulating his currency of vice: violence, greediness, etc. (Singh, 147). This position raises several issues. Does a person redeemed by Christ’s payment to the devil reenter into a transaction with the devil each time he trades in vice, making him simul justus et peccator à la Luther? Who is the offended party when a person sins? If it is God (in the manner of Ps 51:4, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned . . .”), then it would seem that the recompense for sin is rightfully God’s. A move toward this view is made in medieval theology, as mentioned below.

  2. In Exod 1:15–21, Hebrew midwives lie as part of their efforts to allow Hebrew women to have families; in turn, they are granted families of their own by God. Similarly, Rahab and her family receive amnesty after Rahab aids spies in Jericho. For the sparing of lives, their lives are spared. See Joshua chs. 2 and 6.

  3. In his book on Satan, Old Enemy, Neil Forsyth lists Irenaeus, Origen, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, and Jerome as all believing that the New Testament texts implied that ransom was paid to the devil (337–38; this passage is referenced in Singh, 240n28). From what I gather from Singh (144–45), Anselm is the thinker whose views serve as the inflection point on this topic in the Middle Ages.

  4. See Shemesh, “Lies by Prophets and Other Lies,” 87n27.

  5. Singh addresses the issue of emulation not with respect to deceit but with respect to financial exchange; he does so in a somewhat surprising way, backing away from the possibility of ecclesial and political imitation of divine exchange before doubling down on it as probable. He writes, “In terms of earthly imitation, God’s participation in the devil’s demands for payment need not validate the use of monetary transactions or economic conquest any more than Christ’s submitting to the cross valorizes crucifixion. In other words, divine accommodation and conformity to the strictures of financial exchange do not necessarily endorse these practices as an ideal pattern to emulate. Yet the transposition of such models onto earthly practice is not only possible but likely. . . . Divine activities present themselves with a kind of irresistible force and allure within ecclesial tradition, compelling duplication or at least serving as the horizon against which human activities are measured” (191, emphasis mine). Thus, one area in which Singh’s analysis might be pushed forward is in identifying and expounding upon where deceit—sanctioned in imitation of God’s dealings with the devil—is found in the history of the church and Western governance.

  6. In quite a different context, Søren Kierkegaard, writing as Johannes Climacus, denies any deceit on Jesus’ part with respect to his incarnation. Distinguishing between the historical moment, which is a paradoxical point of departure for eternal happiness, and the occasion, which is the Socratic, temporal basis for recollection, he states: “Yet the servant form was no deception, for if it were, then that moment would not be the moment but an accidentality, a semblance, which, in comparison with the eternal, infinitely vanishes as an occasion” (Philosophical Fragments, 63). Cf. Bernard McGinn on Luther’s commentary on Isa 45:15, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”

  7. Whereas Gregory of Nyssa locates the deception in the “camouflage” of Christ’s human nature, the scholar Neil Constas points to aspects of the Passion Narrative (namely, Christ’s agony in Gethsemane and his suffering on the cross) as the “crucial events in this drama of deception” (Constas, 237).

  8. As Forsyth relays it: “The ransom theory accorded too much power to Satan by allowing him rights over man, and thus threatened a dualist heresy, so he reassessed the theory of the redemption and evolved the idea, even more akin perhaps to the underlying Marcionite doctrine of a Just God, that the two figures involved in the exchange were not God and Devil but Son and Father, two manifestations of one godhead. Thus the sacrifice became not ransom, such as one pays to a rival power, but satisfaction, such as one pays to Justice” (Forsyth, 338; referenced in Singh, 240n28).

  9. One is reminded here of Gil Anidjar’s book, Blood: A Critique of Christianity, discussed in a previous Syndicate symposium (https://syndicate.network/symposia/theology/blood/).

  10. Referring to radical evil, Kant states in Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason that “so far as we can judge by our reason’s standard of right, this original debt . . . cannot be erased by somebody else. For it is not a transmissible liability which can be made over to somebody else, in the manner of financial debt (where it is all the same to the creditor whether the debtor himself pays up, or somebody else for him), but the most personal of all liabilities” (6:72, p. 89, original emphasis). Unwilling to understand grace as compatible with moral rigor, Kant posits two forms of obligation, only the first form of which (“transmissible liability”) is likened to financial debt. Thus, forgiveness is one thing at stake in the difference between economic and non-economic metaphors.

  • Devin Singh

    Devin Singh

    Reply

    Of Literal Metaphors and Sacrificial Economy

    I appreciate Heather Ohaneson’s rich response and efforts to venture into the weeds of scriptural interpretation and grapple with hermeneutical theory, considering the broader implications for theology and philosophy. Ohaneson brings several challenges to my exploration of economic metaphors in theology: she reasserts the literal over the metaphorical; enters into the play (and battle) of mixed metaphors that characterize scriptural and theological tradition; and questions the presence or significance of economic metaphors at all.

    “Perhaps in another universe,” Ohaneson asserts, “God converts creaturely disobedience into a financial cost that God then cancels outright or repays in an impersonal manner with coins, banknotes, check, plastic, or some other monetary medium of exchange, but according to Christian theology, redemption comes through human sacrifice.” In other words, this book explores an alternative or subsidiary world of economic concepts and metaphors in the story of redemption. But there is one primary tale of salvation in Christian theology (capital T?) that is noneconomic and deals with sacrifice.

    Ohaneson here appears to depart from a tradition in theological inquiry—not to mention the critical study of religion—that maintains that there is ambiguity and multiplicity in the stories of Christianity. Instead she asserts one option as dominant and authoritative. More than this, in a striking quest for the Real, she elevates the metaphor of bloody, fleshly sacrifice (yes, metaphor, to which I will return) as the literal, and hence, preferable, salvation story, above supposedly secondary, metaphorical or figurative possibilities such as payment or exchange.

    My exploration of economic imagery and tropes provides a stark relief before which it emerges clearly for her that “sin was not resolved with an actual monetary payment . . . [but rather that] redemption comes through human sacrifice” (emphasis added). Her intervention raises a number of interesting and thorny issues that have vexed interpretive strategies for centuries. In what sense is sacrifice more actual and literal, and hence (presumably) closer to the truth? Why is the literal to be preferred over the metaphorical at all? What Ohaneson appears to mean is that there was a historical person, Jesus, who was human and died a human death. Jesus was literally (i.e., materially) human and his death actually (i.e., empirically, historically) happened.

    To say that the sacrifice of Christ saved humanity literally and not metaphorically appears to confuse the literality of a historical event of a killed human (if we assume the historicity of this tale) with a cosmic, moral, and spiritual interpretation. In plain terms, what could it mean to say that humans are literally saved by the blood of Jesus? To say that blood or human sacrifice remove sin can mean nothing, literally. Rather, this too is metaphor, and the story of sacrifice (which, yes, has plenty of “real,” material, historical rituals to look to) is another metaphorical or figurative attempt to explain the mystery of salvation. Christian language around the sacrifice narrative is intentionally and boldly symbolic and typological, drawing on scapegoat imagery and using the powerful metaphor of a spotless lamb to describe Christ, for instance.

    Thus, hermeneutically speaking, it is no more of a stretch to claim that, within the mysterious relations between God and creation, there exist processes that can be described in economic terms (keeping tallies, running up and discharging accounts, calling in payments or forgiving them, etc.) as it is to describe these God-world relations in terms of Neolithic cult practices like killing animals, smearing their blood on things, and declaring those things now somehow clean or sacred. Both descriptive frameworks involve the metaphorical and figurative and both were used extensively in Jewish and Christian thought. To say that the killing and bloodshed of Christ “more literally” saves humanity than his being offered as a payment just doesn’t make sense linguistically or conceptually. Jesus was literally killed on the cross. He was not literally sacrificed. No sacrifice has ever been literal.

    But, Ohaneson might object, it still matters that “however much Christ was like currency, Christ came as a human being.” To which I would respond that it only matters that Christ came as a human in this case because we have constructed a prior metaphorical framework (i.e., his bloody, human death somehow “saves” us humans) and retrojected it back onto his existence. We would not be asserting that his human life, ministry of presence, and historical, material death matter (in the terms of this discussion) without the prior, governing, metaphorical framework of sacrifice as efficacious. The literality of Christ’s flesh and blood, therefore, cannot be used as leverage to re-center sacrifice. If anything, the influence works the other way.

    Furthermore, the metaphor of sacrifice has long since been unsettled and deconstructed by feminist and womanist theologians for the ways it, too, like parallel economic metaphors of payment, imports its own troubling register, which includes violence, surrogacy, and child abuse. Sacrifice gives us no easy escape from metaphor, nor from the problematic effects of a freighted set of images and practices used to describe something that happens cosmically. Ohaneson’s option merely leads us into another set of concerns. These arise from the necessary process in theology of taking material objects and historical events (whether money, blood, or ritual killing) and projecting them onto a spiritual plane to speak of other things in an indirect way. Much of the effort in recent constructive theology is not to swap metaphor for literality but rather, after recognizing that escape from metaphor is impossible, to seek to purify the metaphors used in light of their social consequences.

    In focusing on sacrifice, Ohaneson is right to intuit its proximity to the economic tale I have told. As I am exploring in future work, it is the weaving and blending together of these two metaphors, sacrifice and payment, that creates a new amalgam of concerning implications. Most of the NT writers and many patristic thinkers move seamlessly from talk of Christ as a sacrificial offering to Christ as payment, ransom, or recompense. Thus, the already troubling metaphorical register of sacrifice—with its baggage of suffering, pain, bloodshed, and surrogate death—is overdetermined by economic categories of value, measure, transaction, and ownership. This sets the stage for the historical legacy of assuming that suffering and pain might be compensatory, might pay back something, might work off a debt. In short, this merger contributes strongly to carcerality in the Christian imagination as it develops in the Middle Ages and modern Europe.

    Yet, even if Ohaneson concedes that sacrifice, like payment, remains a metaphor, her response raises another objection. She is unconvinced that the economic metaphors matter as much as the sacrificial ones. Sacrifice, for her, remains predominant. On some level, this is an aesthetic difference that is challenging to resolve. We are looking at similar bodies of material and making a judgment as to what elements matter or assert themselves more. Which metaphors do we prioritize and how do we rank them? The criteria cannot be simply quantitative. Even though I think I have provided a large number of examples of impactful economic metaphors in the text, Ohaneson remains unconvinced that they bear much on the story of salvation or its social effects, and amassing more of them won’t likely change her judgment. (And to be clear, mine was never an argument that economic metaphors matter more or should be the governing trope for salvation. Rather, I brought into the light what I believe to be potent and abiding tropes that have not been adequately considered, even though their theological and social effects have been quite wide ranging.)

    Ohaneson asks: “Jesus’ blood may be a currency, but money is thought to circulate like blood. Is blood, then, more basic?” I would contend that no metaphor is “more basic” than any other. What would it mean to assert one metaphor over another as foundational? Rather, there are metaphors we (and our communities) pick and prioritize for various reasons. They may be more salient for us given our personal experiences and/or because of our historical moments and social contexts. Each metaphorical option has been prioritized and vaunted in various historical periods. This is why soteriology, as is often observed, has never been codified into a singular theory in the way of other foundational doctrines such as the trinity or hypostatic union (which are, of course, also contested, despite the conciliar statements). Studies in salvation theory note the shifting metaphors and schemas across history, from ransom and conquest, to satisfaction and sacrifice, to imitation, to penal substitutionary atonement, to epistemic healing or enlightenment, to liberation, to relational restoration, etc. All these options and more have presented themselves to Christian communities over the centuries as the best descriptions of what salvation means and how it is accomplished, making Ohaneson’s prioritization of sacrifice here appear arbitrary.

    In this vein of asserting a sacrifice of flesh and blood over monetary payment, Ohaneson raises questions about metallurgy and matters of the flesh in 1 Peter. My reference to this passage provides apparently shaky grounds for my case that the language of precious metals permeates Jewish and Christian notions of value and language of salvation. With my broad economic brush, or in this case “hammer” (a nice allusion to the context of metallurgy), I am making economy appear more important than it is. Ohaneson’s concerns provide a helpful case to consider many of the above issues of sacrifice, money, and metaphor. They also allow me to expand on matters mentioned only in passing in my book that I take to be subsidiary. For the language of metallurgy on its own need not be monetary, but it provides background for the use of monetary economic language of coins, minting, value, and exchange that I do make central.

    For background context to this passage we could cite any number of examples from the Hebrew Scriptures where the language of refining precious metals is used to describe testing faith or improving moral character: “I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy” (Isa 1:25); “See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity” (Isa 48:10); “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will now refine and test them, for what else can I do with my sinful people?’” (Jer 9:7); “And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (Zech 13:9); He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal 3:3); “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Prov 17:3). It is generally agreed that the purposes of refining gold and silver in such cases is to attain adequate purity and weight for coinage and trade (as bullion), and for enduring ornamental and practical use, all matters of value. These examples assume the process as commonplace and do not contest it as profane but use it as an analogy and metaphor for purifying and strengthening the faith of God’s people.

    Paul in his letter to the Corinthians takes up this language, positively exalting the value, purity, and endurance of precious metals as an apt metaphor for works of faith: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:12–14). The Pauline author to Timothy reminds him: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:20–21). Here, too, precious metals are used positively to create metaphors for godly living.

    In 1 Peter, then, the author draws on this broad heritage of metallurgic discourse to encourage believers to endure the fire of persecution “so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7, emphasis added). Even though gold is perishable, it passes the test by fire and is refined and purified. It is also precious. This is all a positive valuation. Faith is more precious. Yet faith is also perishable—hence the need for this entire epistle exhorting believers to remain steadfast and not fall away. The logic is clear: both gold and faith are precious yet perishable. Yet even gold can withstand the test of fire and come out in purer form. If faith is more precious than gold, how much more should it also withstand the test of fire (persecution and suffering) and come out having been refined, purified, and strengthened. Make sure, then, that your faith is imperishable.

    The point here is not a denigration of metals or money to assert faith. The author accepts that these metals are valuable and uses them as a launching pad to stress how much more valuable pure faith is. The logic of metallurgy forms the basis of exalting faith: faith is to be tested and purified, like these metals; it is to be prized and treasured, like these metals; and it pays off in the end, like these metals, even more so, since they will eventually perish but true faith will not. By stressing that “the language of precious metals was taken up in theology” I mean both that it was adopted and that it was used to ascend up a hierarchy of value: prized metals offer a ladder rung up to more exalted values, making them necessary and included steps in the process, ones that continue to provide their value-laden support and gleaming patina for other, even shinier virtues. This is an example of how metaphor structures theology, and the opposition Ohaneson inserts between the two (flesh vs. metals), which is symptomatic of a common sentiment that I question in the book, is not how the logic is working in this case. To turn the language of metallurgy back onto theology: theology cannot be refined and purified out of its use of precious metal and monetary language here.

    This ranking of precious metals and even more precious faith is the immediate context to the verses Ohaneson singles out: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1:18–19, emphasis added). We know now that the author accepts the common view that silver and gold are precious, and that their purification provides an apt metaphor for testing faith. Ohaneson adds the term “profane” to the description of the metals as perishable, which is telling. I do not see the author use this term here; it appears that Ohaneson has inserted this value judgment, dichotomy, and opposition between profane money and sacred flesh and blood. Here it allows her to read the author as morally or theologically opposing the former and prizing the latter.

    Yet, what this passage does instead is to contend that Christ’s blood was more valuable than any earthly thing, even than valuable (if perishable) silver or gold, and more efficacious to ransom or purchase humanity. Within the realm and language of economic value, the author asserts Christ’s blood as the ideal currency. This is not an exaltation of flesh or blood itself to the denigration of money; it is praise to Christ’s blood specifically as the best kind of money. This is a clear example of the tendency I noted of blurring metaphors of sacrifice with payment. Christ is metaphorically a spotless lamb, and the way the author makes sense of how a spotless lamb’s blood could have any bearing on us as humans is to switch to the register of monetary economy and describe a purchase, a redemptive payment or exchange, where Christ’s bloody currency is given to secure humanity’s release. Beyond simply a case for the prevalent use of metallurgic imagery in theology, this passage turns out to be a rather striking endorsement for the use of metaphor (both sacrifice and payment) and the interweaving of the two. Indeed, in this case, the economic trajectory proves necessary and determinative for making sense of the sacrificial. Not only is the preciousness of silver and gold needed to grasp the greater preciousness of Christ’s blood (using economic scales of comparison), but the idea of payment and ransom exchange is needed to even make sense of what Christ’s blood accomplishes. In this case, I would dare to say, economy is victorious even over sacrifice.

Sean Capener

Response

When Is an Analogy More than a Metaphor?

Allow me to risk sounding a bit polemical. If Devin Singh’s incisive study is any guide, then despite frequent protestations and popular bromides to the contrary, Christians love money. This isn’t to say that Christians are especially prone to avarice; that would be to move far too quickly from money to Mammon. It’s to speak of a love of money, rather, which finds no contradiction in even the highest poverty. To say that Christians love money is, in other words, to say that Christians have a peculiar fascination with the form of mediation offered by the money sign. Whether rich or poor, powerful or meek, Christians find themselves again and again making recourse to the language of economy and the logic of debt in order to find a store of images which can circulate the “good news” of redemption, can measure and assess its value, and can articulate the logic of its management in the present age. What I’m interested in, then, is how, exactly, one tracks the significance of this sort of use of economic images on concepts. Or, to put it another way, I’m interested in the consequences his study implies not only for our understanding of the historical relationship between Christianity and economy, but for our understanding of the mode of thought that would be required in order to say “no” to the divinization of finance. If, as Singh’s account suggests, financial imagery is transferred to theology and if, in turn, theological significance is also transferred to finance, is there significance in the specific form of mediation that this transfer takes? Does saying “no” to this relationship depend on the ability to say no to certain habits of thought?

Through the bulk of Divine Currency, our primary cipher for thinking this money-love as a medium for theological-political exchange is the fourth-century bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, read through his employment of the conceptual grammar of oikonomia. The emphasis on economic management, and on a figure in close proximity to Constantine’s imperial court, should be understood in part as a response to recent contributions—especially by Giorgio Agamben and Dotan Leshem—to both an Arendtian genealogy of economy and a Schmittian genealogy of sovereignty.1 This discussion of a genealogy of economy, notoriously, never seems to make contact with concrete economic forms and arrangements: that is to say, with the management of money and debt.2 And so, Eusebius is something of a strategic—if eyebrow-raising—choice here: a figure explicitly excluded from consideration as a representative of orthodox Christianity by Erik Peterson in his own polemical engagement with Schmitt on the question of Christian political theology, but one who affords Singh the opportunity to connect “metaphorical” and “literal” theological economy.3 For Eusebius, in other words, money’s establishment by sovereign power and its use for economic governance “meet” in the twin figures of God and Constantine. Towards the end of Divine Currency, however, Singh shifts his attention. Where the first four chapters of the book center on Eusebius, articulating an archaeology of the logic of economic governance, the book turns, in its last two chapters, away from this focus: to Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen, from economic governance to the economy of salvation. Or: from the art of oikonomia to the logic of debt. And, in making this turn, he shifts attention away from the assumptive logic animating the Arendtian-Schmittian question.

The lynchpin of this move—the figure that motivates the treatment of these two paradigms together—is the figure of Christ as divine coin. That is: the guiding image by which divine and imperial economies can be articulated together with the economy of salvation is the image of Christ himself as currency. Christ, after all, incarnates value. In Christ the infinite, if abstract, value of divinity is “concretized” in a human person, converted into tender payable for the debts of humankind. Christ also, like a coin, bears the imprint of the sovereign whose decree marks this particular currency as the standard for all others within his territory. In Philo and Tertullian for instance, humans are coins, minted in the image of the Son, which marks humanity in turn as “God’s coin,” distinct from the currency of a competing sovereign (111). Thus, when we pass from one sovereign realm to another—from debt-slavery to the devil to the economy of salvation—we’re “reminted” in the image of Christ: recalling the practice by which a sovereign “remakes” monetary authority in a newly conquered city. Christ is the “type” and “die” after whose image humans are recast (122). And so it’s by reference to the form of financial mediation offered by the figure of Christ—Jesus, the divine currency—that the pastoral management of the church can be linked to the sovereignty of God, and that the salvific force of this whole economy can be explained in terms of a transfer of debt.

If Christians love money, in other words, it’s because by means of the homology between Christ and money we can know something about Christ. But, mutatis mutandis, if this homology makes Christ resemble money, it also makes money resemble Christ. Singh would not be the first to make this connection (even if he has gone further, perhaps, than anyone else so far in furnishing it with direct examples). While he, for instance, briefly discusses Walter Benjamin’s reflections on the symbolic weight of the imagery emblazoned on currency notes (126), he also alludes to an image from Marx that highlights this same question of money—and Christ—as media:

Christ represents originally: 1) men before God; 2) God for men; 3) men to man. Similarly, money represents originally, in accordance with the idea of money: 1) private property for private property; 2) society for private property; 3) private property for society. But Christ is alienated God and alienated man. God has value only insofar as he represents Christ, and man has value only insofar as he represents Christ. It is the same with money.4

Money explains the form of mediation enacted by and as the Second Person of the Trinity—but for Marx, that same logic of incarnation is what, on the other hand, explains the mediation of money. This is a homology then, that’s certainly more than “just” a metaphor. So the question presents itself: just what kind of homology are we dealing with?

. . .

Homology is the index Divine Currency uses to track exchanges between fields. That is: homology names the mechanism by which a conceptual device is converted from currency in one field to currency in another; it marks the movements of an idea’s circulation. In the absence of a stable term through which one might track fluctuations in the value of economic imagery—this is not, pace Agamben, a genealogy of the signature, nor does it presume the stability of the terms “theology” or “politics” in order to track the “secularization” of an idea as it passes from one to the other—the concept of homology supplies Singh with a set of paradigms in terms of which a genealogy can be advanced.5 Homology, he writes, “posits that similarities between two fields can be understood not merely as coincidentally analogous and thematically or structurally similar but as partially the result of actual historical and conceptual interaction between the two spheres” (17–18). Where there are homologues, in other words, there has been contact and transfer. And homology is, notably, opposed to “mere” coincidence or analogy. The difference between the two is epistemically crucial. For while simple coincidence might be rhetorically interesting, it doesn’t—unlike homology—enable a genealogy. It’s the functional identity between the elements of a homology—not exactly a causal relation, but a substantial one nonetheless—that allows Singh to attribute a “literal” rather than “merely” metaphoric or analogical relation between the two.6

That formulation—“mere” or “coincidental” analogy—is worth pausing upon. Specifically: it’s interesting that Singh seems to take “analogy” to be a weaker term than “homology.” Frequent readers of Syndicate will probably be aware that if it’s somewhat polemical to claim that Christians love money, it’s far less polemical to note that Christians have had a deep affinity for analogy.7 Erich Przywara and Enzo Melandri, to vastly different ends, collectively spent a good deal of the twentieth century arguing that analogy was the key conceptual apparatus through which to understand the philosophical and theological development of Latin Christendom.8 Since then, a kind of cottage industry has sprung up around the defense of ontological analogy opposing it to the vicissitudes of a supposedly “univocal” lineage of modern thought. It isn’t until the thirteenth century or so that the doctrine of analogy becomes—in a development borrowed from the Arabic reception of Aristotle’s Categories—an explicitly central theme in Christian theology and philosophy. The conceptual problems for which it comes to stand, however, mark Christianity from the very beginning. And, tellingly, many of these are the same problems to which Singh tells us the image of Christ as divine currency is also a response. By what likeness, for instance, or by means of what term of comparison, can Jesus’ value as God stand in for that of his humanity? By what intrinsic proportion can the goodness of God measure the value of human goodness, without thereby attributing human goodness to God (establishing a univocal relation between the two) or failing to establish any proportion between the two (establishing an equivocal one)?

In fact, if we want to point out the commonality of the problems to which both money (as a technology of power) and analogy (as a technique of thought) respond, we don’t need to look much further than Aristotle. In his reflections on both being (especially in the Metaphysics) and money (especially in the Politics), what confronts Aristotle in both cases is the problem of the establishment of a common measure for things which are, in reality, incommensurate. So, for instance, “being” can’t be said of things in the manner of a genus; it establishes nothing “common” to substances beyond the fact that they are. This is why when Aristotle does affirm the possibility of a “science of being,” this science proceeds, like that of health, on the basis of a proportional analogy, and a doctrine of act and potency.9 And, similarly, when confronted with money’s function as a measure of the relative value of commodities, Aristotle turns to the ability to say or make common measure between incommensurate things—not in virtue to some actual quality common to the things submitted to common measure, but in virtue of the act of making-common.10 And so, in both cases, if there’s something unique (something not merely found in Aristotle) in the Christian approach to money and—or, perhaps as—analogy, it’s not the attempt to thread the needle between equivocity (disenabling common measure) and univocity (locating common measure in the identity of things measured). Instead, one could argue—in a polemical key once again—that the Christian difference has something to do with the divinization of both money and analogy: making God the common measure of both “being” and “value,” and making commensurability a value in itself.11

. . .

Lately, I’ve wondered whether these two habits—the divinization of money and the valorization of analogy—go together. Simultaneously, that means wondering whether it’s possible to resist the affirmation of analogy as a mode of thinking about being. What would be the value (as if saying “no” needed some value outside itself) in saying “no” to the need to be commensurable?12 Remember: the homology—we might even say the analogy—between Christ and coin enables both the images of God and Constantine as economists and the efficacy of the economy of salvation. When Singh turns, at the end of the book, from the art of oikonomia to logic of debt, I think first of all of Anselm of Canterbury’s later account of human redemption. For Anselm, like Nyssa, when we are saved from debt to the devil, this does not entail an exit from the logic of debt. Rather, we are moved from default on our debt to God to good credit. If anyone other than God pays the debt incurred by human sin, in other words, that person would then have the right to call in those debts from humanity in turn. “Man, who had the prospect of being the bondsman of no one except God and the equal of the good angels in all respects,” Anselm argues, “would be the bondslave of someone who was not God and to whom the angels were not in bondage.”13

And so, the analogy between God and humanity takes on salvific, and not merely epistemic importance. It’s an analogy that continues to operate specifically because it takes on the moral force of a debt. But, it also implies certain vicissitudes: to be incapable of commensuration—to fail to rise to the position of a debtor-subject—means to be cast in a position of permanent default. This is, of course, visible in Anselm’s under-studied treatment of angelic default. While salvation is possible for humans by means of the analogy between God and humanity in the currency of Christ, no such option is available for angels. Christ cannot serve as money for angels, in turn, because angels are deracinated. As solitary members of a race unique to each one, there can be neither analogy nor line of descent from one angel to another, and thus no medium through which analogy might be established.14 And so, the failure to rise to commensuration appears in the form of damnation, or permanent default—a permanent default that immediately takes on a quasi-racial character, and one that quickly brings to mind the image of racialized “social death.”15 In Anselm, salvation “needs” analogy, but analogy, in turn, “needs” damnation in order to operate. And so I wonder, conversely: if we want to think against the divinization of coin, against the moral force of debt-slavery . . . what does such a practice of thought look like? And what force do we ascribe to analogy?


  1. See, e.g., Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Chicago: Stanford University Press, 2012), and Dotan Leshem, The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).

  2. Alberto Toscano, for instance, makes this point in his article-length critique of Agamben’s genealogical method. See Alberto Toscano, “Divine Management: Critical Remarks on Giorgio Agamben’s the Kingdom and the Glory,” Angelaki 16.3 (2011) 125–36.

  3. See, e.g., Peterson’s “Monotheism as a Political Problem,” in Erik Peterson and Michael J. Hollerich, Theological Tractates (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011). Singh responds to Peterson’s position at greater length in Devin Singh, “Eusebius As Political Theologian: The Legend Continues,” Harvard Theological Review 108.1 (2015) 129–54.

  4. Karl Marx, “Comments on James Mill, Éléments D’économie Politique,” (1844) Marxists.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/james-mill/.

  5. The concept of the signature is a key methodological idea in Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, justifying the focus on the developments undergone by the term oikonomia itself (in distinction from, say, a genealogy of diverse economic “arrangements”). The concept is further developed in Giorgio Agamben, The Signature of All Things: On Method (New York: Zone, 2010). Toscano’s “Divine Management” raises several issues with the idea of the signature as a supplement to genealogy, arguing that the form of continuity presupposed by the emphasis on signatures itself constitutes a kind of “theological supplement” to the contingency emphasized by a more Foucauldian approach to genealogy.

  6. “Homology acknowledges that both implicit and explicit linguistic and conceptual influence have taken place, while forestalling claims of origin” (18).

  7. On the significance of analogy for Christian theology and metaphysics in particular, I’m thinking for instance of Thomas Joseph White, ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

  8. See, e.g., Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics; Original Structure and Universal Rhythm (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), and Enzo Melandri, La linea e il circolo: studio logico-filosofico sull’analogia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1968).

  9. Aristotle, Metaphysics IV.2, in The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation II (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958), 1584: “So, too, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting-point; some things are said to be because they are substances, others because they are affections of substance, others because they are a process towards substance, or destructions or privations or qualities of substance, or productive or generative of substance, or of things which are relative to substance, or negations of one of these thing of substance itself. It is for this reason that we say even of non-being that it is nonbeing.”

  10. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics V.5 in Aristotle and Roger Crisp, Nichomachean Ethics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 91: “So money makes things commensurable as a measure does, and equates them; for without exchange there would be no association between people, without equality no exchange, and without commensurability no equality. It is impossible that things differing to such a degree should become truly commensurable, but in relation to demand they can become commensurable enough. So there must be some one standard, and it must be on an agreed basis—which is why money is called nomisma. Money makes all things commensurable, since everything is measured by money. Let A be a house, B ten minae, C a bed. A is half of B, if the house is worth, or equal to, five minae; and C, the bed, is worth one tenth of B. It is obvious, then, how many beds are equivalent to a house, namely, five. This is clearly how exchange took place before the existence of money, since it makes no difference whether you pay five beds for a house, or the value of five beds.”

  11. For an even more forceful articulation of the vicissitudes of a Christian insistence on analogizability, see Daniel Colucciello Barber, “World-Making and Grammatical Impasse,” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 25.1–2 (2016) 179–206.

  12. I have in mind certain strands of thought rethinking the traditional “subject” of, for example, antagonism to the value-form apart from the logic of commonality. See, e.g., “A History of Separation,” in Endnotes 4 (London: Endnotes UK, 2015), https://endnotes.org.uk/issues/4/en/endnotes-preface.

  13. Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, in Anselm et al., Anselm: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 270 (I.5).

  14. See Anselm, Why God Became Man, II.21.

  15. Frank Wilderson III, for instance, has discussed the “ruse of analogy” when speaking of the form of antagonism necessitated by antiblackness. For a particularly good treatment of the relationship between debt and analogy, see Daniel C. Barber, “The Creation of Nonbeing,” Rhizomes 29 (2016), http://www.rhizomes.net/issue29/barber.html.

  • Devin Singh

    Devin Singh

    Reply

    When Is Love More than Analogy?

    Sean Capener has made a stunning and clairvoyant set of interventions here. He takes some of the intuitions expressed in Divine Currency and both sheds light on their uninterrogated first principles and also considers their implications for other areas of thought. I would of course agree with Capener that Christians love money in a deep and abiding sense, at the level of thinking mediation and incarnation. I might express it as something like “Christianity exhibits a deep intimacy with money,” both to emphasize the structural nature of the relation (i.e., Christianity as a system of concepts, practices, and institutions) and to distance it from actual postures of desire or affective states of individual practitioners. Whether or not individual Christians exhibit a love of money, the thought systems they inhabit and rituals they enact emerge from this alliance.

    Yet this closeness also manifests in Christian thinking about desire, and so describing this intimacy as love is not inappropriate. Money and economy valence the ways that longing for the kingdom of heaven (and all that is wrapped up with eschatology) are construed. Money becomes the lens for measuring differing regimes of value (e.g., earthly vs. heavenly) and ranking priorities. It is no coincidence that a majority of the parables describing a proper orientation of desire toward the kingdom do not just resort to occasional economic metaphors but are entirely structured by economic imagery and assumptions about value: purchasing a field to acquire a valuable pearl; ordering one’s house to find a precious missing coin; planning well to ensure one has enough oil for one’s lamps; inviting the destitute in to enjoy a lavish feast; using coins received on loan to produce more coins; writing off debt for pennies on the dollar to curry favor. And of course one encounters the recurrent litmus test for rightly ordered desire and prioritization of the kingdom: “go, sell all you have and come follow me.” To read this injunction as a rejection of economy is to miss the ways that it makes economy paramount.

    This economic structuration of desire is a matter that I don’t examine in any depth in the text, but Capener’s comments help me realize how much it inflects at least the direction of my intervention. As I note in my introduction, there is something about the recurrent Christian need to separate the purity of faith from love of money that suggests a rather deep-seated proximity. Yes, there are scriptural indicators of this radical opposition (“you cannot serve God and mammon”). But, as the parables above suggest, this opposition gets immediately tripped up by the extensive use of that which it rejects as the basis for valuing that which it prizes. It’s a messy love affair when I insist that I must “quit you,” and then measure my new love pursuit in terms of you.

    This then makes me think about Capener’s striking insight about the correlation between money and analogy. I think he’s on to something in suggesting that monetary thinking and the valorization of analogy may travel together. And one of the ways they do so is by establishing a particular lens through which to see mediation and representation. If anything, my assertion of homology is an attempt to rematerialize analogy, just as my retrieval of political theories of money is an attempt to move past what I see as ideological mythologies of money as mere abstraction, as an ethereal measure of value or promise, toward recognizing money as a set of material networks set into play by the coordination of sovereign power, centers of capital production and labor exploitation, and communal assumptions about bond and obligation. (For those familiar with Frederic Jameson’s critique of homology in The Political Unconscious and the essays in Postmodernism, I read his target as the Structuralist use of homologues that I also question, and I interpret his historical materialist solution as more akin to what I mean by homology. Although I’m sure my approach is neither historicist nor materialist enough for him.)

    But maybe the Christian proximity to money that drives the desire for rupture and distance from money is also related to the gulf that analogy seeks to maintain. As Capener rightly notes, theology has preferred to speak in terms of analogy. This move seeks to maintain the “infinite qualitative distinction” between God and humanity and use inherently limited language to speak of the limitless. Analogy is said to respect and reiterate that difference while positing a fleeting connection that must always be undone by means of double negation. Perhaps what’s bound up here in this holy respect for distance and difference is in part an echo of the need to set the value of God apart from the realm used as a basis of divine valuation.

    We know that interpretive decisions are linked to postures of desire. (See Denys Turner’s Eros and Allegory, which explores desire in relation to allegory, analogy, metaphor, and other interpretive stances.) If Christian scales of value are so intensely monetized, and if such monetized value is used as a compass point to orient Christian desire heavenward, is analogy the barrier that attempts to screen out such economic traces lest they sully the sacred realm? In this sense the via negativa is not simply trying to cut off the ladder rungs of language in general while ascending up into the holy. It may also be hurriedly trying to burn all the receipts that show evidence of cashing in on monetary metaphors used to determine the value to exceed all values. For analogy is as much an ethical stance as it is interpretive and hermeneutical. Christian theological paeans to analogy assert that its use is as much about morally “right” thinking or “respecting” God’s holiness as it is about epistemological limitations. Analogy’s epistemically ethical function might thus be linked with the injunction toward economic purification, explaining why both represent an “impossible possibility.”

    Capener’s invocation of Aristotle thus implicates not only the Metaphysics and Politics but the Ethics, since both desire’s orientation and the horizon of the highest good remain central in emerging Christian reflection. It’s also noteworthy that in the Ethics, as cited by Capener, the philosopher claims: “It is impossible that things differing to such a degree should become truly commensurable, but in relation to demand they can become commensurable enough” (emphasis added). Modern economists will see in this a justification for their theories of marginal utility and consumer demand. But what this signals to me is an acknowledgment of desire as bound up with monetary valuation and the need for measure. Desire is what creates commensurability here. For Aristotle’s anxiety is not simply the capacity for money to usurp all other gauges of value and measure and so become the transcendent standard, but also the capacity for money to fuel limitless desire. It thus disrupts the equanimity of proportional living in terms of both epistemological concerns of assessing rightly and ethical concerns of aligning desire according to a virtuous telos.

    As Capener notes, my opting for homology departs from the well-worn theological path of analogy. On one hand, my invocation of homology works at a different level than analogy: rather than describing the interaction between finite language and the sphere of the infinite, I sought to map the interaction between two finite linguistic and conceptual fields: theology and economics. One might say I was moving laterally and horizontally rather than vertically. In this sense, one could keep one’s commitments to analogy and still entertain and even accept the activity of homology as I outline it. In this scenario, the analogically constituted language of theology, speaking of what it cannot capture (vertical), interacts homologically with economic and explicitly monetary language (horizontal), shaping the development of both discourses.

    On the other hand, the implication of my claims is that even ostensibly analogical language has material traces and consequences. This means that our language about God, despite technical protestations about difference and negation, tends to ossify and ramify, that the general course theological language takes is to contribute to fixed and enduring understandings of the divine that then become building blocks for both elaborations within theology and conceptual scaffolding in other fields. For instance, depicting divine relation to the cosmos as governance and describing such governance as faithful and trustworthy lent a certain conceptual energy and imaginative possibility to the new, early modern fields of natural sciences that conceived of planetary processes as regularized and hence predictable. The market could then also be theorized not only as predictable and regulated according to its immanent laws, but also depicted as an entity in itself. The material consequences thus included the materialization of the market and its various afterlives.

    Capener’s insights press this further. It may be that the material consequences of analogy that I capture in homology reflect more than the general tendency of all thought to reify and be treated as substantive (ousia). (See Marc Shell’s interrogation of Plato along these lines in Economy of Literature.) If analogy is monetary, these consequences are material, in the stronger sense as intrinsic. If the incarnation manifests Christ as pure value, more precious than gold or silver (see response to Ohaneson), the irruption of this more-than-monetary realm of the Son into the immanent sphere of material exchanges will always issue in this new and precious coinage, so long as the terms are established as they have been in theology. And these terms were inherited from traditions that long preceded Christianity. Thinking against monetary analogy would require thinking against the terms of mediation and representation as they have dominated philosophical thinking since coins entered the Athenian polis and agora two and a half millennia ago.

Elettra Stimilli

Response

Commentary on Divine Currency

In his book Divine Currency, Devin Singh proposes an interesting analysis of the theological origins of Western economy. I will approach this work by way of two authors which I consider fundamental for this research: Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben.

In his lectures at the Collège de France during the second half of the 1970s, Foucault began an inquiry into Western “techniques of government,” the result of a profound transformation of centralized forms of power that characterize modern state sovereignty. His interest in these studies aims to go back to the matrix of neoliberal politics whose power and considerable danger he was the first to have identified. The resonance of this research has been great in recent years. Attracting particular interest was the fact that Foucault discerned in Christian pastoral power the “prelude” to the administrative and decentralized form of government that has taken hold with neoliberalism. A new field of study developed in this direction, which has contributed to the reconsideration of the relationship between religion and politics in the West.

In this sense, the work conducted by Giorgio Agamben in Il Regno e la Gloria (2007) (The Kingdom and the Glory [2011]) has been particularly relevant. Here he explicitly expresses the intention to supplement the Foucauldian analysis by introducing a new field of research—“economic theology.” Oikonomia is the theological concept that Agamben recovers in order to look, along the lines of Foucault, into the Christian matrix of governmental power that lies at the origin of contemporary neoliberal politics. Oikonomia is the Greek word used by the first church fathers to simultaneously define the economy of redemption—the divine plan of world government—and the Trinitarian economy—the way in which God manages intra-divine life within the Trinity.

These assumptions are the point of departure for Devin Singh’s study which, from the beginning, aligns itself with the work conducted by Agamben. The tension between sovereignty and economic governance identified by Foucault is traced back by Singh, alongside Agamben, to a theological origin: the idea, elaborated within the Trinitarian debates of the first centuries of Christianity, of the divine as interpreted simultaneously through the transcendent figure of the monarch—the Father—and through his incarnation directed at the immanent governing of the world—the Son.

Although fundamental in deepening the perspective opened up by Foucault, however, Agamben’s work, for Singh, displays a “lacuna,” which Singh intends to fill by salvaging the properly economic and financial value of Christian oikonomia. I find that this is a truly important aspect which deserves to be discussed.

Singh’s intention is to develop the idea that Christ is “God’s currency” as “ransom” for humanity’s sins, a central question of Christian doctrine and of the process of redemption elaborated by Christianity which explicitly places theological discourse within a strictly economic context. Despite having brilliantly recovered the theological concept of oikonomia, there is no doubt, nevertheless, that Agamben emptied it of its properly economic meaning, Singh claims. Therefore, on one hand, it seems to me that Singh succeeds in highlighting in this way the material level of economy; on the other hand, however, one cannot help but notice that the premise of his analysis is the idea that monetary acquisition has in itself to do with a “spiritual quest.” From my point of view, this aspect offers the possibility to open an interesting discussion on the potentiality of a comparison between the perspective followed by Singh and the Marxist reading of economic phenomena through the classical categories of “structure” and “superstructure.”

Going back to the Christian origins of Western economy does not, I believe, contradict in itself Marxist discourse. Moreover, it was Marx himself who equated the transformation of money into capital with the same intra-divine genesis and to the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son. Yet it certainly does not appear that the Marxian categories of “structure” and “superstructure” can be applied literally to the investigation conducted by Singh. Perhaps they can be utilized, but within a more complex internal dialectic which takes into account in a different way the superstructural elements that form an intimate part of the economic processes themselves, as it emerges, for instance, from the alternative Marxist approach proposed by Walter Benjamin. It is not by chance that, in the fragment Capitalism as Religion from 1921, Benjamin identifies a strong nexus between capitalist economy and the Christian religion.

Marx is almost not taken into consideration at all in Singh’s book. Only once is he cited marginally in a footnote. Why? Perhaps because, ultimately, the structural elements linked to production are privileged in the Marxist approach while money appears to assume a secondary role? However, we should not underestimate the fact that the Marxist theme of valorizing capital is intimately connected to financial processes, an aspect which problematizes the very role attributed to money in the classical Marxist approach. I believe, then, that it could be interesting to trace back Singh’s analysis of the Christian origins of economy to a “non-orthodox” Marxist framework, with particular attention to the idea of Christ as “God’s coin,” which he brilliantly brings to light. This will allow us to perhaps bring into focus in a much sharper way the emancipatory potential inherent in economic dynamics.

The central fact for Singh is that, theologically, Christ as “God’s coin” is not conceived of in merely instrumental terms. That is, this is not about a simple means of exchange. The “ransom” that he paid to redeem the sin of humanity is not simply understood in terms of a zero-sum payment. What is at stake is rather a form of obligation, a way of confirming a bond towards God that ends up assuming a debt that cannot ever be repaid in full. In this sense, the Christian oikonomia is also at the origins of a form of power that subdues even if it presents itself as a liberation (from sin) and therefore as an expression of freedom. This is presumably the reason why, within a dynamic of domination of this type, it is not easy to clearly identify loopholes for potential forms of emancipation. This becomes particularly evident in the moment in which it becomes easier to identify a nexus between this process and current neoliberal politics, essentially based in forms of indebtedness from which, in fact, it appears impossible to liberate oneself. I wonder whether this difficulty is not accentuated in the case of Singh due to the excessive emphasis that he attributes to theological elaborations within the experience of the Christian life, to Christian metaphysical formulations—in this sense, in line with the analysis conducted by Agamben—rather than turning to religious practices, to the behaviors that characterize the life in Christ.

The conceptual parallel between Christology and monetary economy investigated by Singh for the purpose of enhancing Agambenian discourse on Christian oikonomia is surely effective for focusing on strictly economic aspects of the theological approach. Christ theologically understood as “God’s coin” expresses the materialization of a transcendental value, its representation produced within the Trinitarian debate of the first centuries of Christianity on God’s relation to himself and to the world. Christ as a divine coin turns out to be a crystallization of certain power relations, of specific forms of authority and of control present in economic exchanges, different from—but nevertheless connected to—the forms that emerge from discussions focused on defining the field of divine sovereignty. Christ is the sign and representation of divine sovereignty just as money is of state sovereignty. As money, Christ has the capacity to circulate and to become incarnate in the world. In this sense, following Agamben, Singh highlights the nexus between the Trinitarian elaboration of late Christian antiquity and the formation of state sovereignty in the modern era. However, in line with Foucault’s studies, I believe that a profound difference exists between the conceptualization of modern sovereignty and the forms of economical government, a diversity that perhaps should be taken more into consideration. For Singh, there is a tension at play between the two areas. I wonder, however, if it is more than just a “tension.” In any case, I believe that Foucault’s perspective is different.

In general, I believe that what is important, for Foucault, in Christianity, is not so much the established forms of its earthly dominion or its relation to political power or, still yet, its theological elaborations, but above all the fact that it knew how to govern people “omnes et singulatim,” exercising a global dominion capable of individualizing itself in the most intimate and everyday lives of all. The point, then, for Foucault, is to bring into focus, within Christianity, the capacity to invent a new technique of power—defined as “governmental power”—the peculiarity of which is given by the fact that it is founded not so much on a relation of submission, but rather on a bond which establishes itself on the basis of a free and governed “self-conduct.” It is about a power that does not aim at obligating individuals to perform specific actions, but rather to determine the relationship that they have with themselves.

Particularly in the 1978 lecture, while recalling the intersection of pastoral power and political state power, Foucault nevertheless wants to underscore the heterogeneity of these two modes of governing, which he sees as one of the characteristics of the Christian West. The analytics of the pastorate is in this way conducted with the intention of identifying a technique of government radically distinct from sovereign power and, in that sense, heterogeneous with respect to the theological-political logics on which the latter is founded—a technique that would instead be connected to the logics of oikonomia, as it emerges, for example, in Agamben’s discourse.

It appears, then, that the Foucauldian genealogy of modern governmentality—the analytics of the Christian pastorate—is fundamentally designed to stress the discontinuity between state sovereignty and economic-governmental power, rather than a necessary relation between the two areas. I believe that this is a point worth reflecting on, keeping in mind the fact that the Foucauldian analysis is aimed at understanding the peculiar form of government at the basis of new neoliberal politics. This, as it has been said, is the horizon from within which Foucault identifies in “Christian pastoral power” the prototype of economic-governmental power whose highest expression would be neoliberalism. The unprecedented demand for freedom on which the most formidable neoliberal politics are founded, for Foucault, is the expression of a non-constraining but all the more capillary and efficient mode of domination. Assuring maximum freedom for everyone in the form of self-control and an investment in individual capacities and attitudes, neoliberal governmentality is characterized by giving form to a domination that guarantees maximum efficiency with minimum possible constraint. The exercise of power and the free capacity of everyone to give form to one’s own life and to invest in one’s own competencies become intertwined to the point of becoming almost identical, as has in fact happened with the most aggressive of neoliberal politics.

This is, then, the horizon within which I ask myself whether, in addition to Christian theological dynamics, it would not be useful to further examine the practices associated with them—the ones that Max Weber was the first to define as “life conduct” (Lebensführungen), as was the case with the “Protestant inner-worldly asceticism” identified by Weber as being at the origin of the capitalist economy. It is perhaps possible to also identify in this direction new emancipatory dynamics—or, as Foucault defines them, “counter-conduct” internal to the forms of economic government themselves, but potentially liberating precisely because they contrast totally with them.

Translated by Ana Ilievska, University of Chicago

  • Devin Singh

    Devin Singh

    Reply

    Money, Genealogy, and Governmentality

    In this incisive analysis, Elettra Stimilli raises important concerns about the relation of my inquiry to Marx, as well as the compatibility of my project with the Foucauldian themes I invoke. How do we think the money form in relation to forces of production and capital, and what are the connections to the theological ideas I explore? Have I privileged sovereignty in a manner ultimately incompatible with a Foucauldian genealogy and does the turn to governmentality and biopolitics disrupt the politicized notion of money that I deploy? Where do we situate practice and notions of self-governance amidst this focus on theological doctrine and metaphysical speculations?

    Marx is both everywhere and almost nowhere in this study. On one hand, Marxist intuitions have thoroughly saturated my approach, from a materialist sensitivity and an interest in “economy proper” to questions of fetishism, abstraction, hegemony, systems analysis, and liberation. It was Marx’s critique of fictitious capital that influenced my early foray into finance capitalism, Frankfurt School approaches to cultural and ideological criticism that clued me in to money’s representational role, and neo- or post-Marxian ideas of the political economy of the sign that elevated for me money’s hermeneutical operations—all of which determined the course this book would take. On the other hand, I barely touch on Marx save for passing footnotes.

    As Stimilli rightly suspects, this is partly due to a Marxist focus on the realm of production, for which money becomes a secondary signifier. In many Marxist approaches, money is reduced to a proxy for exchange value, reduplicating (of course with important nuances and critical challenges) neoclassical models that make money merely a facilitator for the apparently more basic and “real” economy of barter-like commodity exchanges. Exchange value and the commodity form, rather than money, become the site of analysis for their occlusion of labor power. Money is read primarily as a tool to command labor. While it is surely this, and Marxist theory is right to challenge money’s centrality in the exploitative wage relation, money’s ability to serve this purpose requires prior constitution as a sign, institution, and set of norms politically established and enforced by sovereign power. More than this, money’s role as a sign should not be misread as merely a representative for supposedly fundamental market dynamics. Monetary semiotics are constitutive. Money makes markets. Analyzing the commodity form without analyzing the money form as co-originary and not simply a signifier is to miss this crucial dynamic.

    My direction in this book is no doubt also partly a reaction to the ways theologians have glommed onto Marxist language about fetishism and jumped to the typical hand-wringing about the idolatry of money from which I sought to depart. This tends to align with what I see as a fetishization of abstraction—the quick move from money as abstraction to something like money as illusory, and then on to dismissing money as an idol, one from which one needs simply to turn away. Reflection on money suddenly becomes relegated to internal and individualistic postures of worship and devotion.

    Ironically, this ends up being miles away from Marx. Theologians prone to this common move should recall that, for Marx, money is a material abstraction. It is not an illusion or a wispy spirit to be whisked away. Nor is it primarily about an individual posture of fetishism, which quickly gets theologized as false worship in a narrow, personal or even congregational sense. So, while resources absolutely exist within Marx to read money as a system, structure, and institution, these conversations are more developed in economic sociology (itself an inheritor of certain Marxian presuppositions), which is why I engage it more centrally. I absolutely agree with Stimilli that heterodox Marxisms offer promise for new reflection on money, and their relevance for theology deserves attention.

    My emphasis on the material structures and systems of money, ones that I claim are politically established and enforced, then raises questions about how this sits with Foucault’s apparent turn away from sovereignty and to governmentality. If money is linked to sovereignty, as I claim, what are we to make of sovereignty’s apparent demise in contrast to monetary persistence and preponderance? In my reading, Foucault allows for the continuation of sovereignty, of forms of law and state-led coercive violence, if in modified form. Although he argued for a shift in emphasis toward decentered and internalized modes of control, he never stopped speaking of sovereignty, at times using it almost interchangeably with governance. State, sovereignty, and law require continued consideration. What needed to change were methodologies that assume a central, personal, agentive force behind sovereignty, and that neglect power’s diverse alternative manifestations. The point was not to excise sovereignty, just to model it differently.

    Even if we accept the contested assertion about the modern eclipse of sovereignty, key nodes of power like the state and national banks remain, as creators of money. Means of both direct and indirect enforcement and discipline bear consideration. If money represents a persistent point of contact between political sovereignty and the economic realm, this may be in part why money has been subject to such instability and various transformations in its history. As new forms of governmental reason develop, many of which deal directly with sovereignty’s response to the growing centrality, importance, and apparent “disembedding” of the economy, money, as an index of this ongoing link, exhibits volatility and change. There is something about this interaction and convergence between the political and economic that money captures, representing the aims and attempts by sovereign power to give order to an apparently anarchic realm of productive life. Thus, money remains an important yet underexplored element in the very transformations Foucault highlights. Foucault’s early reflections on money (as Toscano’s response reminds us) as a mediation of the slippage and lag between the political and economic suggest that money serves as a critical lens through which to think the shifts in power that his oeuvre outlines.

    Money mediates the interface of political sovereignty, diffuse governmentality, and the economy in at least two ways. First, money appears when state authority enters into economic exchanges with the governed, with its constituted political space. In exchange for goods and services the state issues money, allowing governed subjects to take on state debt and obligation. Second, money exists in the incursion of law and legality, as sovereign power regularizes and normalizes exchange encounters through money as an accounting mechanism, and enforces such a standard through the disciplinary coercion of tax obligation. That I have just employed terms such as law, discipline, and norm intentionally draws on three distinct logics that Foucault heuristically separated to emphasize that money is involved in all such spheres. We cannot say that money is only a product of sovereignty and neglect its biopolitical and governmental function in circuits of discipline and regulation. It at once manifests law, such as tax obligation, discipline, in the formation of value systems and embodied exchange practices, and regulative norm, permitting general market assessments, demographic growth analyses, and macroeconomic adjustments. Money continually crosses and transcends these divides between the political and economic, as well as the various new patterns and mechanisms that emerge in the interstices.

    Money facilitates sovereign control at a distance by modifying our subjectivities, such that our means of evaluating reality and hence our horizons of possibility are monetized. Once the sovereign accounting method and the standardized logic of exchange that it facilitates have been disciplined into our bodies and psyches, we can self-regulate and maximize our freedom as an expression of such exchange capacities. Biological productivity can be channeled in ways useful to sites of sovereign power, as the neoliberal money economy can now work with the benign language of incentive. Money can thus remain an extension of sovereignty even while inhabiting the set apart and distinctive world of biopolitical governmentality.

    Money may also serve the interests of sovereignty by depoliticizing issues, relocating threats to power articulated in the political and legal spheres to a “neutral” economic realm. Rather than articulated as blatant laws of obedience and honor, mechanisms of control can be advanced at the level of practices oriented toward economic productivity. What might have once been articulated as debt or obligation to the sovereign, a call to obey, can now through money take on a discourse of debt to oneself, to maximize one’s potential by, for instance, externalizing one’s labor power. So much of the “care for the living” that characterizes modern biopolitics requires an economic dimension, since everyone must undertake at least the most basic exchanges in order to survive. Since these exchange economies are governed by money, sovereign power can cull the benefits of biopoliticized society.

    This takes us to the level of practice that is of central concern for Stimilli, and rightly so. She returns us to Weber’s world of the Protestant ascetic and the communal disciplines that were said to catapult capitalism into prominence. First, we should recall that Weber’s study was one of both ideas and practices. We cannot understand Baxter’s rigorous devotional practices and self-discipline without also understanding the Reformed theological emphasis on election and predestination. Second, we should acknowledge that Weber’s utterly important study was profoundly lacking in attention to the political. It rendered a tale of capitalism focused on individual and small-scale communal piety and practice, and offered little guidance on the religious relation to the institutions of capitalism that Weber explored brilliantly elsewhere. Third, we might consider that the nexus of theology, practice, and economy that Weber highlighted did not erupt from nowhere in the 1500s. Although of course Weber knew this, his legacy has led to a privileging of the Reformation as the moment when theology and economy coincided, often seen as the point of “decline,” full of “unintended” consequences.

    In an attempt to show that these links are much more perennial, to keep in view the economic importance of political institutions, and to resist a rather naïve theological triumphalism and fetishization of orthodoxy, I turned to late antiquity and the origins of institutional Christianity. I endeavored to remain materialist in noting the concrete networks traversed by money and the administrative institutions (both political and ecclesiastical) that are implicated by it. I recalled significant practices such as the preaching of the bishops to create the category of the poor, the centrality of almsgiving and forms of asceticism, and the place of pastoral accounting and stewardship practices. Nevertheless, the emphasis remains strongly on theological models and concepts, complementing what I see as a number of key studies (e.g., Peter Brown) that do make early Christian economic practices more central. Certainly it is possible that my focus on theology and metaphysical claims obscures the trajectories of resistance that a turn to practice could unveil. My hope is rather that it motivates studies of what meaningful, liberatory counter-conduct might actually look like in light of theological models chastened by their material realities and economic implications, in short, by the practices that have shaped them and that they have helped to shape. Articulating practices that resist easy appeals to a transcendence free from economy—or even a transcendence of pure or sacred economy—remains an exciting territory to be traversed.

    • Devin Singh

      Devin Singh

      Reply

      Money, Genealogy, and Governmentality

      In this incisive analysis, Elettra Stimilli raises important concerns about the relation of my inquiry to Marx, as well as the compatibility of my project with the Foucauldian themes I invoke. How do we think the money form in relation to forces of production and capital, and what are the connections to the theological ideas I explore? Have I privileged sovereignty in a manner ultimately incompatible with a Foucauldian genealogy and does the turn to governmentality and biopolitics disrupt the politicized notion of money that I deploy? Where do we situate practice and notions of self-governance amidst this focus on theological doctrine and metaphysical speculations?

      Marx is both everywhere and almost nowhere in this study. On one hand, Marxist intuitions have thoroughly saturated my approach, from a materialist sensitivity and an interest in “economy proper” to questions of fetishism, abstraction, hegemony, systems analysis, and liberation. It was Marx’s critique of fictitious capital that influenced my early foray into finance capitalism, Frankfurt School approaches to cultural and ideological criticism that clued me in to money’s representational role, and neo- or post-Marxian ideas of the political economy of the sign that elevated for me money’s hermeneutical operations—all of which determined the course this book would take. On the other hand, I barely touch on Marx save for passing footnotes.

      As Stimilli rightly suspects, this is partly due to a Marxist focus on the realm of production, for which money becomes a secondary signifier. In many Marxist approaches, money is reduced to a proxy for exchange value, reduplicating (of course with important nuances and critical challenges) neoclassical models that make money merely a facilitator for the apparently more basic and “real” economy of barter-like commodity exchanges. Exchange value and the commodity form, rather than money, become the site of analysis for their occlusion of labor power. Money is read primarily as a tool to command labor. While it is surely this, and Marxist theory is right to challenge money’s centrality in the exploitative wage relation, money’s ability to serve this purpose requires prior constitution as a sign, institution, and set of norms politically established and enforced by sovereign power. More than this, money’s role as a sign should not be misread as merely a representative for supposedly fundamental market dynamics. Monetary semiotics are constitutive. Money makes markets. Analyzing the commodity form without analyzing the money form as co-originary and not simply a signifier is to miss this crucial dynamic.

      My direction in this book is no doubt also partly a reaction to the ways theologians have glommed onto Marxist language about fetishism and jumped to the typical hand-wringing about the idolatry of money from which I sought to depart. This tends to align with what I see as a fetishization of abstraction—the quick move from money as abstraction to something like money as illusory, and then on to dismissing money as an idol, one from which one needs simply to turn away. Reflection on money suddenly becomes relegated to internal and individualistic postures of worship and devotion.

      Ironically, this ends up being miles away from Marx. Theologians prone to this common move should recall that, for Marx, money is a material abstraction. It is not an illusion or a wispy spirit to be whisked away. Nor is it primarily about an individual posture of fetishism, which quickly gets theologized as false worship in a narrow, personal or even congregational sense. So, while resources absolutely exist within Marx to read money as a system, structure, and institution, these conversations are more developed in economic sociology (itself an inheritor of certain Marxian presuppositions), which is why I engage it more centrally. I absolutely agree with Stimilli that heterodox Marxisms offer promise for new reflection on money, and their relevance for theology deserves attention.

      My emphasis on the material structures and systems of money, ones that I claim are politically established and enforced, then raises questions about how this sits with Foucault’s apparent turn away from sovereignty and to governmentality. If money is linked to sovereignty, as I claim, what are we to make of sovereignty’s apparent demise in contrast to monetary persistence and preponderance? In my reading, Foucault allows for the continuation of sovereignty, of forms of law and state-led coercive violence, if in modified form. Although he argued for a shift in emphasis toward decentered and internalized modes of control, he never stopped speaking of sovereignty, at times using it almost interchangeably with governance. State, sovereignty, and law require continued consideration. What needed to change were methodologies that assume a central, personal, agentive force behind sovereignty, and that neglect power’s diverse alternative manifestations. The point was not to excise sovereignty, just to model it differently.

      Even if we accept the contested assertion about the modern eclipse of sovereignty, key nodes of power like the state and national banks remain, as creators of money. Means of both direct and indirect enforcement and discipline bear consideration. If money represents a persistent point of contact between political sovereignty and the economic realm, this may be in part why money has been subject to such instability and various transformations in its history. As new forms of governmental reason develop, many of which deal directly with sovereignty’s response to the growing centrality, importance, and apparent “disembedding” of the economy, money, as an index of this ongoing link, exhibits volatility and change. There is something about this interaction and convergence between the political and economic that money captures, representing the aims and attempts by sovereign power to give order to an apparently anarchic realm of productive life. Thus, money remains an important yet underexplored element in the very transformations Foucault highlights. Foucault’s early reflections on money (as Toscano’s response reminds us) as a mediation of the slippage and lag between the political and economic suggest that money serves as a critical lens through which to think the shifts in power that his oeuvre outlines.

      Money mediates the interface of political sovereignty, diffuse governmentality, and the economy in at least two ways. First, money appears when state authority enters into economic exchanges with the governed, with its constituted political space. In exchange for goods and services the state issues money, allowing governed subjects to take on state debt and obligation. Second, money exists in the incursion of law and legality, as sovereign power regularizes and normalizes exchange encounters through money as an accounting mechanism, and enforces such a standard through the disciplinary coercion of tax obligation. That I have just employed terms such as law, discipline, and norm intentionally draws on three distinct logics that Foucault heuristically separated to emphasize that money is involved in all such spheres. We cannot say that money is only a product of sovereignty and neglect its biopolitical and governmental function in circuits of discipline and regulation. It at once manifests law, such as tax obligation, discipline, in the formation of value systems and embodied exchange practices, and regulative norm, permitting general market assessments, demographic growth analyses, and macroeconomic adjustments. Money continually crosses and transcends these divides between the political and economic, as well as the various new patterns and mechanisms that emerge in the interstices.

      Money facilitates sovereign control at a distance by modifying our subjectivities, such that our means of evaluating reality and hence our horizons of possibility are monetized. Once the sovereign accounting method and the standardized logic of exchange that it facilitates have been disciplined into our bodies and psyches, we can self-regulate and maximize our freedom as an expression of such exchange capacities. Biological productivity can be channeled in ways useful to sites of sovereign power, as the neoliberal money economy can now work with the benign language of incentive. Money can thus remain an extension of sovereignty even while inhabiting the set-apart and distinctive world of biopolitical governmentality.

      Money may also serve the interests of sovereignty by depoliticizing issues, relocating threats to power articulated in the political and legal spheres to a “neutral” economic realm. Rather than articulated as blatant laws of obedience and honor, mechanisms of control can be advanced at the level of practices oriented toward economic productivity. What might have once been articulated as debt or obligation to the sovereign, a call to obey, can now through money take on a discourse of debt to oneself, to maximize one’s potential by, for instance, externalizing one’s labor power. So much of the “care for the living” that characterizes modern biopolitics requires an economic dimension, since everyone must undertake at least the most basic exchanges in order to survive. Since these exchange economies are governed by money, sovereign power can cull the benefits of biopoliticized society.

      This takes us to the level of practice that is of central concern for Stimilli, and rightly so. She returns us to Weber’s world of the Protestant ascetic and the communal disciplines that were said to catapult capitalism into prominence. First, we should recall that Weber’s study was one of both ideas and practices. We cannot understand Baxter’s rigorous devotional practices and self-discipline without also understanding the Reformed theological emphasis on election and predestination. Second, we should acknowledge that Weber’s utterly important study was profoundly lacking in attention to the political. It rendered a tale of capitalism focused on individual and small-scale communal piety and practice, and offered little guidance on the religious relation to the institutions of capitalism that Weber explored brilliantly elsewhere. Third, we might consider that the nexus of theology, practice, and economy that Weber highlighted did not erupt from nowhere in the 1500s. Although of course Weber knew this, his legacy has led to a privileging of the Reformation as the moment when theology and economy coincided, often seen as the point of “decline,” full of “unintended” consequences.

      In an attempt to show that these links are much more perennial, to keep in view the economic importance of political institutions, and to resist a rather naïve theological triumphalism and fetishization of orthodoxy, I turned to late antiquity and the origins of institutional Christianity. I endeavored to remain materialist in noting the concrete networks traversed by money and the administrative institutions (both political and ecclesiastical) that are implicated by it. I recalled significant practices such as the preaching of the bishops to create the category of the poor, the centrality of almsgiving and forms of asceticism, and the place of pastoral accounting and stewardship practices. Nevertheless, the emphasis remains strongly on theological models and concepts, complementing what I see as a number of key studies (e.g., Peter Brown) that do make early Christian economic practices more central. Certainly it is possible that my focus on theology and metaphysical claims obscures the trajectories of resistance that a turn to practice could unveil. My hope is rather that it motivates studies of what meaningful, liberatory counter-conduct might actually look like in light of theological models chastened by their material realities and economic implications, in short, by the practices that have shaped them and that they have helped to shape. Articulating practices that resist easy appeals to a transcendence free from economy—or even a transcendence of pure or sacred economy—remains an exciting territory to be traversed.

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