Agamben ( Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty ) says that the “insubstantiality of the priest, in which ontology and praxis, being and having-to-be enter into an enduring threshold of indifference, is proven by the doctrine of the character indelebile that confirms priestly ordination starting with Augustine” (87). The character has no “substantial content” and yet this “cipher” is determinative for the priest’s being a priest: the character is the invisible, indelible mark left behind by ordination. Priesthood is thus “not a real predicate but a pure signature.”

As throughout his book, Agamben thinks that the theology of priestly being overflows into general ontology, thusly: “Hence the tendentially vanishing quality of the subject whom the signature marks and constitutes. Since he has to be what he does and does what he is, the subject of a liturgical act is not truly a subject,” adding that this is evident in the theological explanation of opus operatum : The work worked works because the work is actually done by someone other than the priest, “namely Christ” (88). Thus the priest dissolves “himself entirely into a liturgy.”

Agamben must be onto something, as were those scholastic who developed this whole theory, because, if Agamben is right, they simply circle around back to Paul: “It is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”