Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Body of Christ


Part of Maria's query involves our relationship to the body of Christ, as indicated here:

Yet we are the body of Christ. No part of the body can exist without the others says St. Paul. We are the light of the world says Jesus. Christ has no body but ours says St. Teresa.

In the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Sign of the Four, Holmes once said to Watson "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improblable, must be the truth." Several centuries later, Mr. Spock said this to Scotty in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country while trying to find evidence that would exhonerate Capt. Kirk (making the claim, incedentally, that he was quoting an ancestor of his). All in all, its a pretty good rule of thumb. We know that we ourselves do not have a divine nature (from the previous post), so now what remains is the question of how we can be members of the body of Christ.

The first thing to be mindful of is that the fact that we are the body of Christ is almost always expressed with the word "mystical" in front of it, indicating something of a mystery. The exact and precise nature of it is not known, although certain things about it can be deduced. Unless a council or pope decides to comment further on this in an infallible manner, the mystery of it all is quite likely here to stay.

I am by no means a trained or expert theologian. If you want a more professional opinion, I would suggest going to EWTN or Catholic Answers. Lord knows they're a lot better at this than I'll be for a very long time, if ever. It seems to me, though, that what St. Paul and others who refer to the Church as the body of Christ (and if you look at Colossians 1, it does become clear that the Church is what St. Paul is describing by that phrase) are trying to express is that the Church is united in a very special way, not just to its members, but also to Christ Himself. She is a living institution. Christ did not just wind her up like a clock and let it tick, but constantly guides and sanctifies her through the Holy Spirit. Through membership in the Church, we "partake in the Divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4) This would not indicate that divinity is naturally a part of our essence, but that God, for the sake of our santification and out of His infinite love and mercy, allows us to partake of His own essence, which is divine, so that we may be perfected and made worthy to be called His children.

I have given the matter of just how God makes this occur quite a bit of thought, and no matter what explanation I think of, there is one constant in every variation: the sacraments. However this wonderful mystery occurs, it is almost certainly done through the exemplars of Christ's love, the seven sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which St. Paul called "a sharing in the body of Christ" (1 Cor. 10:16). And that is about as far as my own limited skills take me in attempting to explain the matter.

Now, like the true Thomist that I am, comes everybody's favorite part, the "reply to the objections", as it were.

I think I'll address sentence three of that paragraph first. To put it bluntly, that has nothing to do whatsoever with the issue.

The line from St. Teresa is actually a misquote. It should actually read: “Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours." (emphasis added) With that, the meaning of what she said becomes fairly clear, that we must carry on the work of Christ here on Earth because He is not here, or in other words "As the Father sent me, so I send you."(Jn. 20:21)

With regards to the St. Paul quote, I used a concordance, I used the Douay-Rheims search engine, and with neither could I find that particular arraingement of words. 1 Corinthians 12 perhaps comes the closest (though there were many like it), saying "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink. For the body also is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" In this, St. Paul is speaking of the necessity for unity among the early Christian communities, and of the importance of using the diversity of gifts and talents the people have for the common good, and not solely their own.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam+

"If I have taught anything false, I leave correction of it to the Roman Catholic Church."
-St. Thomas Aquinas, In Articulo Mortis

Clarification: Ok, I've been getting a few comments and questions about the post as of late, so I'm going to make a clarification on the matter, lest I be known as a heretic. The post is loosely based on the layout of any given article in Aquinas' Summa. First the opposing arguments, then the main argument, then responses to the arguments presented. For me, the main argument, the corpus, occurs after the block quote of Maria and ends with me saying "And that is about as far as my own limited skills take me". So the majority of my thoughts on the Mystical body of Christ are contained there. With the rest, I am responding to her own arguments, which do, yes, focus exclusively on one particular facet of the MBOC (and then mis-interprets the aspect). Such is the nature of errors, that all truths about a thing are not balanced, and are the meanings likely distorted. Were I Aquinas, I probably could have (and should have) presented an array of arguments which brought out more than one aspect of the doctrine, but alas, I am merely David. Many apologies about the confusion.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

The danger is that you reduce the meaning of "Body of Christ" as applied to the Church to a mere figure of speech. It seems altogether too pedestrian to speak of us doing Christ's work, etc., etc.

The Church is the MYSTICAL Body of Christ. We are conformed to and joined with Christ in an intimate and unfathomable sense; the Pope on Corpus Christi spoke of Christ absorbing us when we receive him in Communion. We are knit to His very self and to each other as well. In consuming Him, we are consumed.

I don't say you are wrong at all, just that you miss something essential that is not easy to dogmatize, but is nonetheless of the essence of the Faith.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger David said...

good catch. It certainly was not my intention to reduce it to a figure of speech, and certainly agree with you that the body of Christ is more than doing Christ's work (fine work though it is).

Many thanks,

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Handsome is as handsome does! I'm going to resolve to take the next criticism that comes my way as generously as you took mine...

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