“The Two Parts of the Church”
By Antonio Socci
Excerpted from Il Dio Mercato, La Chiesa, e L’Anticristo
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino
And Reprinted with permission from his FB page
In September 2013 – only seven months after the resignation of Benedict XVI – Giorgio Agamben published a book with an eloquent title: Il Mistero del male. Benedetto XVI e la fine dei tempi [The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End Times] (Laterza, 2013).
This philosopher’s interpretation of the event of the “resignation” made in the heat of the moment is surprising. It refers back to the question of the Antichrist and the kathécon. (We shall later see that other thinkers such as Mario Tronti and Massimo Cacciari have interpreted the “resignation” of Benedict XVI in this apocalyptic key; however they are coming from a Marxist point of view.)
But let’s begin with Agamben. He focuses on an old essay written by the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger on the 4th-century theologian Tychonius who, commenting on the Book of Revelation, does not place Jerusalem and Babylon in opposition to one another (as Augustine would do, subsequent to Tychonius, in his famous work The City of God), but rather proposes that Jerusalem includes Babylon within itself.
Ratzinger wrote: “It thus follows that the Antichrist is a part of the Church, it grows in her and with her up until the great discessio, which introduces the definitive revelatio,” that is, the return of Christ and the universal judgment.
Ratzinger observed that “his doctrine [that of Tychonius] is objectively completely Catholic” and he demonstrated that it was instead Augustine who distinguished two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon, the “city of God” and the “earthly city” (that of the devil).
The young theologian Ratzinger added: “Augustine objected against Tychonius’ concept of the Church, saying that the separation [discessio] between Christ and the Antichrist will not occur only in the end times, but is already fundamentally present now.”
After recalling this old essay written by the future pope, Agamben notes that “during the General Audience on April 22, 2009, […] before placing his pallium on the tomb of Celestine V, Benedict XVI made a new reference to the figure of Tychonius regarding the way in which we ought to understand ‘the mystery of the Church’ today.”
On that occasion, Pope Benedict XVI explained Tychonius’ thought in these words:
In his commentary he sees the Apocalypse above all as a reflection of the mystery of the Church. Tychonius had reached the conviction that the Church was a bipartite body: on the one hand, he says, she belongs to Christ, but there is another part of the Church that belongs to the devil.
The fact that Tychonius’ thesis now receives the sanction of the bishop of Rome, who calls him a “great theologian,” is certainly not a matter of indifference. What is in question is not only the thesis of the two-part body of the Church; what is also in question is above all the ecclesiological implications of this teaching, that is, the “great discessio,” the great separation between evildoers and the faithful – between the Church as the body of the Antichrist and the Church as the body of Christ – which much take place in the end times. Seen from this perspective, the abdication [of Benedict XVI] cannot fail to evoke something like a discessio, a separation of the beautiful Church [Ecclesia decora] from the “dark Church [Ecclesia fusca],” and yet Benedict XVI knows that this can and must happen only on the eve of the second coming of Christ.
Then Agamben adds:
The [contemporary] Church has long since closed its eschatological office; but the decision of Benedict XVI [to resign] shows that the problem of the last things continues to act underground in the history of the Church. […] What interests the Apostle Paul [in 2 Thessalonians] is not the last day, not the end of time, but rather the end times [the times immediately preceding the end]. […] And one of the theses of Tychonius’ Commentary on the Book of Revelation, which Benedict XVI knew well, was that the prophecies of the Book of Revelation do not refer to end of time but rather to the condition of the Church in the interval between the first and second coming of Christ, that is, in the historical period which we are still living now. […] If we situate this understanding of Benedict XVI in the context of the situation he personally faced as pope, the “great refusal” of Benedict XVI is far from a reference to a future eschatological schism: his “refusal” recalls, on the contrary, that it is not possible for the Church to survive if it passively defers the solution of the conflict that tears apart the “two-part body” to the end of time.
And thus we arrive at the “resignation” of Benedict XVI.
ORIGINAL FOOTNOTES BY SOCCI From 2 Thess 2:6-7: “But the one who restrains is to do so only for the present, until he is removed from the scene.” The kathécon is the “one who restrains” the anomos, the “lawless one” before the Second Coming of Christ.
 This essay was republished as the first chapter of Il nuovo popolo di Dio [The New People of God] (Queriniana, Brescia 1992). Tychonius (alternatively Ticonius) was an African Donatist writer of the late 4th century whose thought is incorporated into the writings of Augustine and also the Venerable Bede. His best-known work is “Seven Rules of Interpretation [of the Bible]” which are quoted and explained by Augustine in De doctrina Christiana III, 30-37. Tychonius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse is now lost (it is quoted by Bede in his Explanatio apocalypsis, PL XCIII, 130-134). It is believed that Augustine’s Commentary (PL XXXV, 2415-52) is a modified version of Tychonius. The late 5th-century writer Gennadius says of Tychonius, “He flourished at the same time as Rufinus; in the reign of Theodosius and his son,” thus dating his writing to somewhere between 379 and 423.
 Ibid., p. 20. The Latin word discessio means a separation or division, meaning a great cleavage or cutting in two. It also has the sense of withdrawal.
 Ibid., p. 24.
 Ibid. p. 23.
 From Benedict XVI’s General Audience of April 22, 2009 (the rich depth of the teaching of Benedict’s general audiences on the Fathers of the Church is astonishing when compared to the content and style of the Bergoglian magisterium):
“Ambrose Autpert’s most important work is without a doubt his commentary on the Apocalypse [Expositio in Apocalypsim] in 10 volumes: this constitutes, centuries later, the first broad commentary in the Latin world on the last book of Sacred Scripture. This work was the fruit of many years’ work, carried out in two phases between 758 and 767, hence prior to his election as abbot. In the premise he is careful to indicate his sources, something that was not usual in the Middle Ages. Through what was perhaps his most significant source, the commentary of Bishop Primasius of Hadrumetum, written in about the middle of the sixth century, Autpert came into contact with the interpretation of the Apocalypse bequeathed to us by Tychonius, an African who lived a generation before St Augustine. He was not a Catholic; he belonged to the schismatic Donatist Church, yet he was a great theologian. In his commentary he sees the Apocalypse above all as a reflection of the mystery of the Church. Tychonius had reached the conviction that the Church was a bipartite body: on the one hand, he says, she belongs to Christ, but there is another part of the Church that belongs to the devil. Augustine read this commentary and profited from it but strongly emphasized that the Church is in Christ’s hands, that she remains his Body, forming one with him, sharing in the mediation of grace. He therefore stresses that the Church can never be separated from Jesus Christ. In his interpretation of the Apocalypse, similar to that of Tychonius, Autpert is not so much concerned with the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time as rather with the consequences that derive for the Church of the present from his First Coming, his Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And he speaks very important words to us: in reality Christ “must be born, die and be raised daily in us, who are his Body” (In Apoc., III: CCCM, 27, p. 205). In the context of the mystic dimension that invests every Christian he looks to Mary as a model of the Church, a model for all of us because Christ must also be born in and among us. Under the guidance of the Fathers, who saw the “woman clothed with the sun” of Rv 12: 1 as an image of the Church, Autpert argues: “the Blessed and devout Virgin… daily gives birth to new peoples from which the general Body of the Mediator is formed. It is therefore not surprising if she, in whose blessed womb the Church herself deserved to be united with her Head, represents the type of the Church”. In this sense Autpert considers the Virgin Mary’s role decisive in the work of the Redemption (cf. also his homilies In purificatione S. Mariae and In adsumptione S. Mariae). His great veneration and profound love for the Mother of God sometimes inspired in him formulations that in a certain way anticipated those of St Bernard and of Franciscan mysticism, yet without ever deviating to disputable forms of sentimentalism because he never separates Mary from the mystery of the Church. Therefore, with good reason, Ambrose Autpert is considered the first great Mariologist in the West. He considers that the profound study of the sacred sciences, especially meditation on the Sacred Scriptures, which he describes as “the ineffable sky, the unfathomable abyss” should be combined with the devotion that he believed must free the soul from attachment to earthly and transient pleasures (In Apoc. IX). In the beautiful prayer with which his commentary on the Apocalypse ends, underlining the priority that must be given to love in all theological research, he addresses God with these words: “When you are intellectually examined by us, you are not revealed as you truly are: when you are loved, you are attained”.
Giorgio Agamben, Il mistero del male. Benedetto XVI e la fine dei tempi, Laterza, Roma-Bari 2013, Kindle position 163, 170.
Ibid., Kindle position 170-177, 184, 192.