I’ve been reading Erik Peterson’s recently translated essays as part of the “political theology” background to my devil project, and wow, there is a lot of odd stuff in there. For instance, in the essay “What is Theology?” he argues that Christian dogma, insofar as it is a responsible extrapolation (through reasoned argument) of the deposit of Christian teaching entrusted to the Church, makes a “positive legal claim” on humanity. What does this mean?
Dogma is the objective and concrete expression of the way in which God in the Incarnation has physically moved in on humanity. It is so exactly right an expression for this state of affairs that every turn against the dogma, such as, for instance, that which a heretic undertakes, fittingly has its consequence as a punishment imposed on the body of the heretic. The teacher of error, who unlike the heretic does not violate the dogma, but simply teaches falsehood, cannot appropriately like a criminal be punished in his body; one can banish him as a disturber of the peace of the land, but that is something quite different from the punishment of a heretic.
If I’m reading this correctly, it seems as though Peterson is saying, almost as an aside, that of course the Church had the right to torture heretics under the Inquisition. There’s also interesting bits later on about how Protestant Churches could only claim to be “Churches” in the proper sense of the word insofar as they were able to draw on the coersive power of the state to enforce dogma (since presumably they would never have the intrinsic power to punish bodies, given that they cut themselves off from valid apostolic succession).