Radical Orthodoxy – Altera Civitas

Milbank argues that theology is itself a social science, and the queen of the sciences for the inhabitants of the “other city,” the city of God, the altera civitas. This is the city which itself is in pilgrimage through this temporary world. This city has (or should have) its own social science because it has it own theology, and should not “borrow from elsewhere a fundamental account of society or history, and then see what theological insights will cohere with it.”[i] In other words, Milbank denies that Christian theology and practice should adopt, face value, the conclusions of modern social theory, political theory, history, and so on. This is not to say that such conclusions should be ignored or discarded altogether, but it means that they are to be carefully assessed and revised, for they are the result of methodologies that are not neutral – and the presuppositions informing such methodologies are incompatible with a Christian view of the world, of ultimate reality, of ethics, etc.

Therefore, “it is theology itself that will have to provide its own account of the final causes at work in human history, on the basis of its own particular, and historically specific faith.” Milbank goes on to argue that there can be a “distinguishable Christian social theory because there is also a distinguishable Christian mode of action, a definite practice.”[ii] In this sense, ecclesiology is also a sociology, but Milbank argues that this is not a “Christian sociology” in the sense of “Christian mathematics,” but in the sense that such ecclesiology/sociology adopts the vantage point of a distinct society with all its unique presuppositions – the Church. Again this is not to say that sociology becomes a branch of systematic theology, but rather that “all theology has to re-conceive itself as a kind of Christian sociology” whose task is to tell the Christian mythos, logos and praxis in such a way that this will be “strange” to the secular mind.

This means that this Christian theology/sociology will ask, like Hegel, how Christianity has affected human reason and practice, and not treat them as ahistorical universals. [iii] That is to say, it will seek to define “a moral practice embedded in the historical emergence of a new and unique community.” There are four main tasks that this Christian theology/sociology will have to perform in order to fulfill its goal: it has to provide a “counter-history,” a “counter-ethics,” a “counter-ontology” and again a critical “counter-history” of the Church herself. I will address each one in turn, concentrating specially on the first two.

See Also:

Radical Orthodoxy – A Theological Vision

Radical Orthodoxy – Reason and Revelation

Radical Orthodoxy – Metanarrative Realism

Radical Orthodoxy – Counter Ethics

Radical Orthodox – Conclusion


[i] Milbank, Theology & Social Theory,  382

[ii] Ibid.,  382

[iii] Ibid.,  383

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3 comments on “Radical Orthodoxy – Altera Civitas

  1. […] Radical Orthodoxy – Altera Civitas (luminousdarkcloud.wordpress.com) […]

  2. […] Radical Orthodoxy – Altera Civitas […]

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