For all of Badiou’s aspirations to novelty, he falls into some very old early modern canards in his discussion of Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism .

How, he asks, “does genuine saintliness . . . bear the ordeal of a History that is at once fleeting and monumental, one in which it constitutes an exception rather than an operation?” It only happens if saintliness hardens itself “by becoming authoritarian and organized” (38).

Saints elude definition and fixity; they are responsive to the Event. Once the Event hardens into an order and an organization, we have moved from saints to priests.

This is a betrayal of Paul, and “the traitor is Saint Luke, in whose account of Paul “the saint [is] erased by the priest.” Badiou seems to think that this is virtually inevitable: “A saintliness immersed in an actuality such as that of the Roman Empire, or equally, that of contemporary capitalism, can protect itself only by creating, with all requisite severity, a Church. But this Church turns saintliness into priesthood” (39).

We can find this in Weber, and behind him Kant, and behind him the Deists, and behind them some of the leaders of the Reformation era. One might have thought that, five centuries on, anti-clericalism had reached its use-by date.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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