Divine Currency
The Theological Power of Money in the West
Devin Singh

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Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Introduction
chapter abstract

The introduction situates the study amidst current inquiries into religion and economy. It explains why such works are often impressionistic, reactionary, or lacking in sustained analysis of real relationships between theological discourse and monetary practice. It claims that a genealogically and historically informed approach improves the current conversation, which is dominated by allusive explorations of the supposed affinities between theology and the market. It also makes the case that a political dimension to the study of money is needed in order to link the investigation to current inquiries into political theology. It briefly introduces studies of the links between economy and Christian thought by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, explaining how this study follows their intuitions and noting where it diverges. It explains the importance of metaphor and homology between money and theology and provides an overview of the book chapters.

One: Incarnation and Imperial Economy
chapter abstract

This chapter explains why the Christian idea of incarnation is laden with political and economic themes and why it has validated imperial expansion through economy. It first takes up Giorgio Agamben's recent genealogy of sovereign power and government in the West in The Kingdom and the Glory. Although Agamben explores the idea of economy (oikonomia), he leaves unexamined central economic elements such as the circulation of very real material goods and money, as well as ideas of value, profit motive, and representation. Oikonomia refers concretely to household economies, the financial and administrative governance of cities, and God's providential, economic management of the goods of creation. The chapter then focuses on Eusebius of Caesarea as one key ancient witness, who claims that incarnation is timed to the height of Roman imperial unification to reveal aspects of divine government and economy.

Two: The Divine Economist
chapter abstract

This chapter considers the divine agent or operator of the oikonomia. While Michel Foucault notes the importance of the divine shepherd trope for eventual governmentality, he does not consider God as the economist who validates pastoral and imperial economies. The chapter recovers a theology of the heavenly governor who is also a steward that oversees and allots resources to creation. Eusebius provides a template for God as cosmic steward and economic manager who operates implicitly behind Christian imperial regimes. Exploring the late antique role of bishops as managers of congregations and church funds, the chapter goes on to suggest that this divine economist informs pastoral practice. Such practice is taken up by Constantine and imported into state policy once Christianity becomes the state sanctioned religion. The discussion shows how the divine economist as a submerged trope comes to inform emerging state administration in the West.

Three: The Emperor's Righteous Money
chapter abstract

Through a close reading of his Life of Constantine, this chapter shows Eusebius's attention to imperial monetary economy and his understanding of how money functioned in Constantine's rule. The emperor represents himself and his piety on coinage, much as the Father represents himself in the world through the Son. Eusebius integrates a long tradition of Greek concern about the relationship between money and government, particularly in his critique of tyrants. Constantine's economic generosity means he is not tyrannical and reflects the nature of the economy of the God he serves. Eusebius is decisive in linking an awareness of money's role in sovereignty to language about God's activity in managing creation through Constantine. Because Constantine so closely images what God's reign is like, the emperor's economic administration offers a framework for theological descriptions of God's economic government.

Four: The Coin of God
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the ancient Christian idea of Christ as currency and coin. It shows how minting coins to announce the arrival of a new ruler to the throne is an idea that turns up in Christian talk about the arrival of the divine king. Redeemed humans are described as reminted and refreshed coins, and they signal the kingship of God who coins them. This reveals a submerged idea, operating implicitly in patristic thought, of the divine Son as the minting stamp that impresses the image of God on the coins of humanity. The chapter draws out the implication that, in the incarnation of the Son as Christ, this stamp materializes as the chief coin of the Father. This theology is used theopolitically to enforce imperial power through the use of coin propaganda and monetary policy.

Five: Redemptive Commerce
chapter abstract

This chapter retrieves a central Christian idea of salvation depicted as a ransom exchange, which makes monetary transaction a primary site for conveying how God redeems humankind. Gregory of Nyssa's narrative of a ransom exchange between God and Satan serves as a window into this theological schema. Through close analysis, the chapter shows how he draws on the logic of moneylending as well as ideas of debt slavery, with Christ as the redemptive payment that sets humanity free. According to this central Christian idea, God establishes peace through a form of economic transaction. The chapter concludes by showing that Gregory of Nyssa depicts God as reciprocally entrapping Satan in a form of debt bondage, a depiction that may offer divine valorization of predatory lending practices.

Six: Of Payment, Debt, and Conquest
chapter abstract

This chapter considers the flip side that always accompanies ideologies of peace through economy: the violent imposition of the economy and its use to vanquish opposition and subdue opponents. As Gregory recounts, God undoes the devil's power by means of a ransom payment—which turns out to be more like a loan or even required tax obligation—cancelling this debt over humanity and bringing Satan into submission to God. Satanic territory is colonized through economic annexation by oikonomia. Payment serves divine conquest and resonates with ancient practices of the Roman Empire drawing new lands into its imperial territory by economic means. This theological account provides clues to how monetary and broader economic practices gain a spiritual hue and how the state's use of economy to regulate bodies and populations acquires a type of sacred prestige.

Conclusion: Conclusion
chapter abstract

The conclusion foregrounds questions of genealogy and developing Western legacy. It considers how the ideas discovered in the study—notions of God as an economic administrator and as saving currency—interact with the emerging institutions and ideologies that shape Western imagination. It considers the Reformation, when ideas of spiritual credit, value, and obligation, always related to political and divine authority, may have informed nascent capitalism. Such themes can also be glimpsed in colonial expansion, where the idea of using the economy to overcome opposition and bring supposed salvation to others was centrally operative. The chapter points the way to further research that might trace the various transformations of this fundamental union in Christian thought between a model of God and monetary economy.