8 Political Theology versus Theological Politics
patristic learning and, moreover, a Roman Catholic convert; this fact is noteasy to swallow, but in the end Peterson’s obscurity might be due only to thespecialized expertise needed to follow his argumentation. By any standard, hehas been neglected in recent discussions. However, those who venture to fol-low his thought will be rewarded for their efforts, since Peterson’s engagingideas can inspire some potent alternatives based on (patristic) theology againstrecent suggestions about political theology.
Schmitt’s Political Theology
As is well known, the brilliant constitutional lawyer and legal theoreticianCarl Schmitt (1888–1985) reintroduced the term
into mod-ern discourse in 1922, when he became professor of civil law at the Uni-versity of Bonn.
Schmitt was a highly problematic personality, an avowedRoman Catholic, who at the same time earned well-deserved notoriety for hispro-Nazi allegiances after 1933. In the third chapter of
Four Chapters on theConcept of Sovereignty
rst volume of his
Schmittdeclared with masterful succinctness that “all signi
cant concepts of the mod-ern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only becauseof their historical development—in which they were transferred from theologyto the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God becamethe omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their
As Schmitt later explicitly said in the second volume of
,he did not mean to touch on any theological doctrine or dogma but wanted tomake a scienti
cally based theoretical statement that was also relevant for thehistory of ideas.
Der Monotheismus als politisches Problem: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der politischenTheologie im Imperium Romanum
(Leipzig: Hegner, 1935), Peterson credited Schmitt with the intro-duction of this term, as opposed to, for example, Alois Dempf, who credited Peterson with it. SeeBarbara Nichtweiß,
Erik Peterson: Neue Sicht auf Leben und Werk
, 2nd ed. (Freiburg im Breisgau:Herder, 1994), 811; and Carl Schmitt,
Die Legende von der Erledigung jeder politischen Theolo-gie
, vol. 2 of
(Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1990), 21–23.2. Carl Schmitt,
Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität
, vol. 1 of
,6th ed. (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1993); Schmitt,
Political Theology: Four Chapters on theConcept of Sovereignty
, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985). All quotationsare from this translation.3. Schmitt,
, 36; my emphasis.4. Schmitt,
, 22. Already in his preface to the second edition of
in1933, Schmitt explicitly approves historical research supporting his ideas about the genesis of mod-ern secular politics. This work was brilliantly accomplished by Ernst H. Kantorowicz,
The King’sTwo Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,1957). I analyze the intricate relationship of Kantorowicz and Schmitt in some detail in “CarlSchmitt and Erik Peterson on the Problem of Political Theology,” 32–37.