Erik Peterson: Theological Tractates

I picked up this one at Bjärka-Säby, a bit surprised to find it on sale there (anyody know the reason?), since I was then reading Agamben and he engages with Peterson extensively. Besides that, the only thing I knew about Peterson was that he dissed Carl Schmitt and thus motivated him to write Political Theology II.

So, of course one has to say the obvious: Is that enough reason for me to read these writings from the twenties and thirties, that practically no one has bothered to look at since then? Well, almost. Clearly Peterson was on to something, he was doing a kind of semi-political theology well before Moltmann and that generation, and he did it in a way that resembles the kind of political theology done today more than Moltmann. The two most important essays found here: Monotheism as a Political Problem (the one that mentions Schmitt) and The Book on the Angels, are interesting and original, and the latter deals with a theme, angels, that still is very underdeveloped.

Still there are two things that makes reading these texts fruitfully difficult. Firstly, in spite of him having being critical enough of the Nazis for the friendship with Schmitt to end, there is still a Supersessionism here that is strong enough to border on the anti-semitic. It occurred to me while reading that the only theological writings I have read from this period are either short examples of pro-nazi writings, and then Bonhoeffer and Barth who was clearly esceptional. Peterson is probably quite representative here. Still, being strongly influenced by Yoder, it is hard to appreciate such a bias.

The other thing that strikes me is how desperately Peterson wants to be accepted as a catholic theologian – he converted mid-career, and the first texts in this collection are written before that. I guess in reality it was probably his status a lay theologian that was the reason that he never got a position in a catholic university, but it seems he interpreted the situation as him having to prove his worthiness as a true Roman Catholic. That gives the texts a certain sad tinge.

I would like to have a look at Petersons more scholarly writings – he clearly had a deep knowledge of patristics. Sadly, apart from the text on angels and one on Christ as Imperator, those texts are not available here.

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