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Just one thing, ctd.

My quote earlier from Joan of Arc about how Christ and the church are “just one thing” and “we shouldn’t complicate the matter” brought up the question of how some of the other quotes from the same section of the Catechism might qualify and illuminate that sort of crude language. Well, here they are (emphasis mine):

Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man…. The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does “head and members” mean? Christ and the Church. (Augustine)

Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself. (Gregory the Great)

Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person. (Aquinas)

Now, clearly all of these quotes use far superior language and employ greater sophistication than the quote from the Maid of Orleans. However, I don’t see how they amount to anything much different. To say that the church and Christ are “one person”, even one “mystical” person (definitely not a distinctly Pauline iteration of body of Christ language there), seems to posit a form of unity that is far too conflating. If Christ and the church are “one person” the very notion of distinguishing between the action of the church and the action of Christ is lost, thus rejecting the biblical notion of Jesus as the one who saves, who is the “one mediator between God and humankind” (1 Tim 2:5).


  1. Thomas wrote:

    The Catechism makes the distinction the same way that Paul does: Christ is the head, the church the body. That’s the distinction with that particular imagery, which is mentioned explicitly in almost all of the quotes above. However, that imagery has a unity inherent to it too: a head and a body belong to the same person, and this is the emphasis of the Scriptural imagery itself.

    You’re right that this throws the balance a bit more towards the unity than towards the distinction between created and uncreated being. That’s why immediately after this section, the Catechism proceeds balance this by saying that inherent to the unity of Christ and the church is “the distinction of the two within a personal relationship” by the image of the church as bridegroom and Christ as bride, then the Holy Spirit as the soul and the Church as the body, and so on. I think the difference between God and what participates in God as created is sufficiently made.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    A lot of the arguments you are making have the same form of: “But if God is one… how can there be a Trinity?!?!?! Those Christians are so dumb.”

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    But when the meaning of “head” and “body” is determined by the conception of the church and Christ as “one person”, a step beyond Paul’s language is being made that is open to question (see, for example Markus Barth’s commentary on Ephesians which bears this out). I certainly have no problem talking about the head and the body. It’s how we interpret all those terms that makes the difference.

    But there simply is no way that the church can be “one person” and also be “two within a personal relationship.” I’m not denying that the Catechism says both. But to say both is simply a contradiction. To hide it under the rubric of “mystery” will not suffice.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    That’s a rather absurd caricature, and I think you realize that.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  5. Evan wrote:

    I don’t know about that… there’s a much clearer ontological distinction that needs to be made between God and the Church than between God in Godself. A trinity can exist in unity precisely because some of these distinctions do not apply to the Godhead.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  6. Evan wrote:

    (btw, my above response is to Hill, not Halden)

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:


    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  8. Thomas wrote:

    The different images are obviously being used analogically. I cannot see how the language of head and body could not but denote the unity of a human being. Paul doesn’t seem to invoke decapitated head floating around away from the body, nor (though this is less absurd) the head of an animal in relation to its body. A head and a body are united in a person, and that unity is inherent to Paul’s injury. However, the Catechism distances itself from an understanding this unity in an ordinary sense, which is why it speaks of a “mystical person”.

    Since the Catechism is speaking in terms of image and analogy, the images have some shortcomings, and have to be balanced by others. That’s explicitly acknowledged in the section immediately after, on the bridegroom. That imagery, also developed from Scripture, tends to balance the bodily imagery. Within this analogical framework, drawn pretty directly from Scripture, there’s no need to construe the personal unity of the head and the body as inconsistent with the difference that exists in a marital relationship, especially when the whole point is to balance the Scriptural imagery so one doesn’t overrun the others. The overriding theological concern is to understand unity and difference in terms of analogies Scripture offers.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  9. Thomas wrote:

    Paul’s “injury” should be Paul’s “imagery”. I’m mixing torts with theology.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    My point is that “head”, throughout the NT does not always mean “a human being’s head.” According to Paul the husband is the “head” of the wife “just as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph 5:23), God is also the “head” of Christ (1 Cor 11:3), Christ is likewise the “head over all things” (Eph 1:22), and Christ is the “head of every ruler and authority” (Col 2:10).

    It seems to me patently obvious that “head” is a fairly polyvalent term here, and within that, the notion of “head as physical human head” seems the least likely. It nearly always seems to refer to authority, lordship, preeminence, distinction, rather than a sort of seamless organic conflation.

    I will be blogging more on this issue in particular, though, so stay tuned.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  11. Thomas wrote:

    I’ll stay tuned. I would think that the way in which one is the “head” of another is traceable back to the relation a head has to a (human) body, being the locus of reason and directing the body accordingly. I’m not sure that I could argue all that well for this to always be the case, but I would think at least in those cases where the head is spoken of in relation to the body this would be true.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    I think that especially Eph 5:23, which claims that husbands are heads of their wives “just as” Christ is head of the body, problematizes that way of approaching the image, since I seriously doubt Paul was intending to say that husbands and wives are one subject with the wife somehow as the subject’s “body.”

    But that being said I have more reading to do on the nature of the Pauline metaphor before I write more on it.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  13. Chris Donato wrote:

    Gents: perhaps it might prove useful to slog through this post on the subject from a Catholic perspective.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  14. Theophilus wrote:

    We certainly don’t assume that head-and-body language about marriage means that a husband and wife constitute one person, even if we do use the language of “one flesh”. I don’t see why the Christ-and-church relationship is any different, given the popularity of the marital metaphor for the God-and-his-people relationship.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  15. A caricature, yes, but not really absurd: it’s pretty superficial to judge that maintaining that the church is both one with/in Christ and at the same time distinct from Christ is “simply a contradiction.” Obviously there’s some kind of contradiction here, but it’s worth considering that this may be the generative kind (like God’s triunity) rather than the falsifying kind. If your argument is that identity language has tended to underplay the distinctiveness of Christ’s action (or of the church’s evil), then I’d think that’s plausible—but that critique would have to be specified internal to the construal of Christ and the church as in some sense coincident. If your argument is that some kind of logico-metaphysical fallacy is being committed here, then I really do you’re making an argument of the form Hill mentioned: reacting against a paradoxical claim with a simple (but metaphysically-loaded) claim of ‘common sense.’

    I think Evan’s point that the kind of “contradiction” in God’s triunity needs to be different in kind than the “contradiction” between unity with and distinction from Christ is right (as, I’m sure, would Hill), but that still doesn’t mean there’s no conceivable form of contradiction that’s appropriate in this case.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I agree, with the specification that speaking of the church and Jesus as “one person” is not “conceivable form of contradiction that’s appropriate in this case.”

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  17. Thomas wrote:

    Well, it’s an analogy of an analogy, so it’s reasonable to think that the husband and wife image is more removed from the nature of a person’s head to a body than is the image of Christ and the Church. However, given the language that married partners are “one flesh”, it seems reasonable that the analogy of marriage might regulate any excessive emphasis on unity in the analogy of the head and the body, and that’s the approach the Catechism takes.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  18. Re: Thomas and other Catholics…

    The point Halden makes about distinguishing between the action of Christ and the action of the Church still stands. We can talk all day long about whether this is a metaphor or analogy or what have you, but the way it works out is this: the RCC ends up positing itself as an historical extension of the incarnation that participates in the offices of prophet, priest, and king such that this mediatorship which Halden says belongs to Christ ends up becoming the Church’s responsibility in part.

    It looks like ‘ecclesiological synergism’ for lack of a better term. That’s my understanding of Rome’s teaching, and it could be wrong. But if I’m right here, I think Halden’s concern is still valid because of the way this identity between the head and the body works itself out in Rome’s theology.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  19. Dom wrote:

    I’m not sure we can even begin to address this without first laying out our ontological definitions. What kind of “person” are we talking about when we make these statements about the head and the body? It seems to me that with the resurrection there is a whole new creation. This mystical person has come into being that is to be the telos of God’s master plan: All things summed up in Christ. In baptism, our “persons” as they were die, and we become a part of this new “person” that is the resurrected Christ, who has ascended to fill all things. We become partakers of the divine nature (didn’t you have a post not to long ago talking about how protestants are afraid of theosis?). It’s a different kind of person than what we were before, to be sure, and it’s a different kind of person than Jesus of Nazareth walking around and feeding crowds and stuff (although I realize you run into some problems there that would have to be flushed out further). Something else I think is important is the way Paul uses the metaphor in Eph 4. The obvious incongruities between the church in its present state and Christ are recognized. So Paul’s understanding of this new “person” is that it is yet immature–childlike. This immaturity is at least partially attributed to the state of unity in the church, but we are to grow into “a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” and the Spirit equips us for this. So it seems like we’re described as the beginnings of this person, who is not yet fully mature (maybe you could even say not yet fully a person?), but this personhood will become more fully realized throughout eternity. What we see now is the eschatological “now but not yet” nature of the body… but the “yet” is coming. Not sure if that was a helpful contribution or if it just makes a muddied mess, but those are my thoughts for now.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  20. Dom wrote:

    BTW, I’m not RC, and definitely not defending Rome’s theology in its fullness here.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  21. Hill wrote:

    But are not husband and wife one flesh? Doesn’t that further complicate things?

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  22. Halden wrote:

    Yes, and that’s exactly what I want to explore more. Obviously the “one flesh” does not mean “one person” but rather a deeply intimate interpersonal union. I think that’s a better way to approach things, especially in light of Paul’s claim that we become “one spirit” with the Lord in the context of marital imagery.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  23. Kampen wrote:

    I think this is a particularly important point. Especially in the Protestant church, having largely rejected any notion of hierarchy in the church. But as you point out, we find this language in Paul. Many of the church fathers also discuss, for example, hierarchies of goods, in Augustine. Christ as “head over all things” is Paul’s proclamation of the Lordship of Christ. Moreover, “hierarchy” should not and need not be rejected as a category.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  24. Aric Clark wrote:

    But if the RCC is prone to making the mistake of too closely identifying the actions of Christ with those of the Church, Protestants are prone to the opposite mistake. Christ clearly does bestow his own ministry and work onto his disciples. They prove this by doing the exact same stuff Jesus was doing in his life after Pentecost. The Church IS supposed to be doing Christ’s work in the world for Christ, on behalf of Christ, perhaps it is not too much of an exaggeration (since we are the recipients of His spirit) to even say as Christ. Protestants are too happy to say “Jesus saved you way back when” and leave it there because for us Jesus is up in heaven, so distant and removed that there is almost no relationship between his work and the work of the Church.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  25. Hill wrote:

    I’m still not sure what you are saying… husband and wife are clearly not the same biological person, and church and Christ are likewise not the same biological person. It seems as thought you are being willfully unimaginative. There is a mystical (and necessarily insufficient) dimension to the language deployed here that I think you are selectively granting or failing to grant depending on how it suits your polemic.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  26. Hill wrote:

    Why is it not ok? They are spoken of as “one flesh” and this clearly doesn’t make sense, either? As I said before, you are deploying a very bizarre and inconsistent critera of “well obviously that makes no sense” when in reality, none of this makes any sense.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:

    I guess what I’m saying is what kind of single subject can a husband and wife be construed as? The only thing I can think of (in my apparently willful lack of imagination) is that they are interpersonally connected in a deeply intimate way. I have no problem saying that about Christ and the church, but using the term “one mystical person” doesn’t seem to illuminate or describe that reality very will since its very meaning is indeterminate, and thus lends itself to becoming shadowy when we try to think seriously about it.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    This inconsistency you allege is not evident to me. I have no problem with the language of “one flesh” because most seem to be fairly clear on its metaphorical nature — its referring to an intimate, sexual relationship. That’s the thing about a metaphor, it indicates something.

    The language of “one person” which is supposed to indicate the nature of the relation between Jesus and a large group of people is unclear, and in my opinion is left purposely that way. Thus the language of “one mystical person” gets to be deployed in this numinous way in which its actual meaning is left obscure even as the doctrine serves the function of ascribing to the action of the church the authority of God himself. We’d have to be blind not to see an ideological element playing a major hand here.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  29. Hill wrote:

    I feel like “one flesh” means something more than “these people have sex.”

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  30. Hill wrote:

    Your criteria for what is determinate and indeterminate is baffling to me.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  31. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, me too.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  32. Halden wrote:

    Then tell me what “one mystical person” is supposed to mean.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  33. Matt wrote:

    Aric, this observation is pretty spot on. I actually saw it about an hour ago when I walked out of my office (in the library of a small evangelical university) and saw a young man wearing a shirt reading, “WITHOUT JESUS, I SUCK.”

    This sort of silly humility works pretty well with a soteriology which more or less consists in your name being written in heaven because of what Jesus did, so that way, you don’t have to go to hell when you die (probably in a fiery car crash on your way home from this revival).

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  34. Hill wrote:

    I don’t know if I can do that. But doesn’t the “metaphor” of the head and body presuppose a unity of some kind of personhood? The kind of personhood that has a head and a body?

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  35. Halden wrote:

    Ultimately I don’t think that it does. I don’t think the image of Christ as the head is supposed to be taken as a monopersonal image, despite the fact that this is a live hermeneutical option and enjoys understandable popularity.

    Obviously I have to show why I disagree with this and I’ve actually written a fair bit about it already, but the posts are going to be released over the course of the week. And these conversations are helping me think through those posts and more to follow them.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  36. Hill wrote:

    What in the heck could it possibly mean, though? How is Christ as the head and the Church as the body even meaningful if the body and the head don’t belong to the same person?

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  37. Hill wrote:

    What you are saying here is that the scriptural metaphor itself is problematic.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  38. Halden wrote:

    No, I have no problem with the Scriptural metaphor at all. I just don’t think that what the metaphor is indicating is an image of mystical/physical/organic, monopersonal unity.

    What I’m saying is no more problematic to the biblical metaphor here than claiming that husbands and wives are not literally one piece of flesh.

    But anyways, in brief, the reason I think as I do is because of actually doing (and continuing to do) sustained biblical study on the topic. “Head” and “body” were not terms Paul just came up with out of nowhere, rather they are pregnant with theopolitical meaning. They are deeply rooted in his Greco-Roman context and have connections with modes of Roman political discourse. As I said, I will be writing on this more later, though.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  39. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that the language of “one person” gets deployed in certain strands of the RCC in a deliberately unspecified way in order to shore up the authority of the church, maybe even in the Catechism—I can’t speak to that. But it doesn’t take much reading in the sources you identify (Augustine, Gregory, etc.; actually, this language is pretty important to Michael Sattler too, on my reading) to see that it has a much broader field of meaning as usually used. Specifically, it’s an extension of the idea that Christians are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection—not into death and resurrection in the abstract, but into that crucified and resurrected body. Only in Christ in a strong sense, only in becoming one person with Christ, is there reconciliation of humanity and God, humanity and humanity. Obviously certain metaphysical presuppositions (or are they consequences?) about the person of Jesus quickly come into play here, and you can dispute them if you want—but saying that’s it’s “simply a contradiction” won’t stick, and I’d have to have my eyes opened to a major ideological element in this conception.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  40. Halden wrote:

    But even that “broader field” seems pretty vague to me as to what it’s actually saying and what its metaphysical presuppostions are (and can you tell me where in Sattler you find this, just out of curiosity? I’m quite interested in that.). I appreciate the nuance you’re bringing, but I don’t think that baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection either requires or necessarily lends itself to the notion of us becoming “one person with Christ.” That’s certainly not the only way to conceptualize union with Christ, indeed both Luther and Calvin have extremely strong theologies of mystical union with Christ that, to my reading, avoid claiming identity between Christ and the church.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  41. Hill wrote:

    They may be pregnant with political meaning, but the refer, in the literal sense, to parts of the same body or person. I don’t think that has to mean that they are identical. It clearly doesn’t, but I don’t see the necessity to resist any concept of joint personhood whatsoever.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    But that’s the thing, it isn’t literal. It’s a metaphor.

    Anyway, the reason I don’t believe its possible to identify Christ and the church as the same person is that I don’t really want to be a pelagian. If Christ and the church are the same person, that’s what we get.

    “Body” was an extremely common metaphor for society in the ancient Mediterranean world. The need to interpret Paul’s use of it as pointing to some kind of mystical monopersonhood of Christ and the church ultimately comes, not from Paul, but from somewhere else.

    And if you want, I will now give you the last word.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  43. Aric, I agree that Protestants are prone to err in the opposite direction. The Church should be doing Christ’s work, performing deeds such that we fade and God shines, so that people glorify the Father (Matt 5:14-16). Since we receive Christ’s Spirit, we know that it is God working in us as we do these things ( Phil 2:13). But even so, we cannot over-emphasize the already. Our flesh still wages war against us (1 Pet 2:11). We’re being conformed, not already conformed, to Christ’s image. It’s pop-evangelicalism that believes salvation consists of a prayer rather than a life of discipleship.

    There can be a relation, but not an equation, between the work of Christ and the work of the church. For as long as there are sinners in the church, there will sin in her work.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  44. Hill wrote:

    No interest in having the last word. I think I’m most interested not in this particular point, but just in how we are to understand “metaphorical” descriptions of divine mysteries, and at what point we ever deploy descriptions that are not metaphorical. In other words, the argument that “this metaphorical understanding of [insert ontologically singular event in the life of God] ought to be replaced by this less metaphorical understanding” itself can function ideologically in supposing that there is some more literal description that captures the reality more effectively. I am quite curious to hear your further exposition, and am confident that it will be edifying. My only point is just that one can have a “thick description” as it were of some sense of shared personhood without ontologically conflating Christ in the church, but these are all semantic points.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  45. It’s interesting that Jesus appears in a vision and asks Saul why he is persecuting him.

    Certainly Jesus isn’t just accusing Saul of hurting his feelings. He seems to be implying that when Saul persecutes the church physically it is Jesus who is the victim.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:09 am | Permalink
  46. halden,
    sure feels like we are arguing sematics and/or rhetorical tropes, when Paul usually connects the body of Christ, certainly with reference to the Spirit, but especially in regard to practices. The unity of Christ and the Church is a sacramental deduction from Christ’s “This is my body.” See also Paul in 1 Cor. 10 and 11. What does it mean to “participate” in Christ.

    It seems that discussion of organic physicality and/or ‘monopersonal identity’ are false starters esp. when Paul is using the “metaphor” firmly established by Stoic/Classical political philosophers to speak of a social collective.

    If Christ can be both divine and human in one person, why can’t the church be Christ, and yet not Christ, in his person? Theosis or not? What is salvation?

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  47. Halden wrote:

    Geoff, I fee like I’ve beat this thread to death and more posts are coming, but let me say that 1) I agree about Paul’s use of the metaphor deriving from the political discourse of his day and I’ll have much more to say on that later as I think that is key; and 2) For me it is not a mater of what Christ “can” or “cannot” be, but what he in fact is, according to the Apostolic witness to his revelation. That’s what I’m trying to explore.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink
  48. I wouldn’t say it’s required, certainly; it’s an image, and no one image is strictly required. I just wanted to say that it can’t be dismissed as just a contradiction, and that it might in some way be fitting. One of the specifications I find most appealing is that it maintains the material body of Christ (transfigured as it is) as the principle of the church’s unity, rather than a wholly immaterial spiritual unity, which is the gnostic impulse I think the ancient formulations were reacting against, or a kind of “unity of purpose” that’s tempting to contemporary Christians. One ethical consequence of this is that adhering to the pattern of Jesus’ life is, as it were, “metaphysically required” for unity with him or with each other.

    That last point is the one I think Sattler presses with special vigor—on my reading, it’s the key distinction he sees between himself and Bucer/Capito. The reason Sattler can’t accept their insistence on “unity in love” over particular ethical disputes (baptism, the sword, etc.) is because the specific unity granted in baptism is unity in Christ’s body, which is simply contradicted when the pattern of imitation is broken. I’m basing this mostly on a (strong, admittedly) reading of his letter to Capito and on the cover letter to the Schleitheim Confession. I’ve got a paper on all this, which, fwiw, I’ll send along.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  49. Halden wrote:

    Thanks, I’ll look forward to that. You need my email?

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

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