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Just one thing?

As one might expect, the teaching of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is heavy in its emphasis on the church as the body of Christ. In its discussion of the totus Christus, and the nature of Christ’s headship over the body there are several sources sited: Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and . . . Joan of Arc?

Indeed. Not only is Joan of Arc quoted, she is quoted as summing up “the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer”:

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.

Now obviously I don’t want to make a statement by Joan of Arc out to be the height of Roman Catholic theological sophistication regarding the nature of the totus Christus. However, the Catechism clearly says that it sums up the teaching of the doctors and the sense of the faithful. As such this seems utterly inadequate and, in fact, an outright contradiction of the New Testament’s way of talking about Jesus and the church. Whatever the relation, Jesus and the church certainly are not “just one thing.”


  1. Derek wrote:

    Yeah, this is way too extreme. How can the church be called to repentance by the Triune God if the church actually is God? It seems unlikely that God would be calling himself to repent.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:07 am | Permalink
  2. Zack Allen wrote:

    Not disagreeing with you, but is ‘the church’ or the world called to repentance? Just thinking in terms of before and after and how that might affect the way one sees this.

    Anyway, the context of Joan’s quote might shed some light on what she was trying to communicate. For instance, while this appears to be grossly simplified, isn’t the Church called ‘the Body of Christ’? Aren’t we supposed to be like one big Jesus in the world?

    Now this is not likely what Joan (or the Catholic church) had in mind, but were more likely speaking within the context of the union or marriage of Christ and His Church, that we become ‘one flesh.’ Again though, that before and after thing comes into play.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  3. Evan wrote:

    Moreover, it seems to contradict even the most conservative appropriations of Lumen Gentium 8. This seems to be an entirely different ballgame than even debating whether the Church of Christ “is” or “subsists in” the Catholic Church. The statement is one of equivalence between Christ Himself and the Church.

    To be charitable, it does seem that the contribution from Joan of Arc might be edifying on the level of mysticism… but one also needs to ask the question of how this genre should be rightly appropriated in a catechetical context. Again to be charitable, this strong statement of unity seems to be qualified by para. 796… but with Joan advising us not to “complicate the matter”, it would seem quite possible for someone so inclined to pit para. 795 against para. 796, and with some interpretative justification.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:16 am | Permalink
  4. The quote from Joan of Arc is representative of the way that Roman Catholic theology really does tow the line, too closely in my opinion, of downplaying the distinction between Christology and ecclesiology.

    Roman Catholic doctrine on this point reflects a confusion, I believe, between God being immanent in Christ and immanent in his church. You see this over-emphasis of the church’s union with Christ played out in LG 12, and also reflected in the use of the anologia entis found in such contemporary RC theologians as Romanus Cessario.

    It’s helpful to remember Barth’s distinction, though: it pleased God, in his freedom, to be “immanent in [the Church] only as He is transcendent to it.” It’s only when we forget the transcendence, if even for just a moment, that the Head/body distinction is collapsed.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  5. Bob wrote:

    The above thought still tempts me to keep considering the RCC. The Incarnation of God in human Jesus the RCC believes it is a continuation of the Incarnation. Protestants can claim for themselves the same idea, without the Magisteriam and hierarchy. So when the RCC speaks God is speaking. Protestants put the speaking of God in the Scriptures.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 6:34 am | Permalink
  6. Matt wrote:

    I don’t see how this sort of neat identification doesn’t simply imbue every immanent act of the Church with the intractable force of direct divine approval. It seems some ontological suspension between the Church and Jesus Christ is necessary for us to be able at all to speak meaningfully in the language of faithfulness. Can the Church be thought ‘faithful’ to any greater or lesser degree in any of its actions if its ‘being’ simply is the same as Jesus Christ’s?

    As an honest (perhaps misguided) question from someone not well versed in Catholic ecclesiology, what shape does the analogia entis typically take in Catholic thinking about the ontological relation of Christ to the Church? Probably way too general of a question, but it just seems like thinking participation would require a more complex account of that relation even in Catechism than what is offered here.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  7. Thomas wrote:

    The Catechism makes the distinction between God and the Church. Halden took the quote out of context; if you look literally either one line up or one line down from the paragraph on Joan of Arc you can see that they make a distinction, using the appropriate Pauline imagery (so the suggestion that the Catechism uses the quote to make Christ and the Church one thing is, viewed in context, rather stupid).

    The aspect of the quote functions as a summary of other quotes talking about one of the many images of Christ and the Church: namely that the image of the Church as the body of Christ indicates a unity between the two (much as our souls are united with our bodies) that should not be understood in an overly rationalistic way. That image necessarily involves not only the idea of unity, but the distinction between the head and the body, meaning that the two are not simply one thing. To read it any other way is extremely contentious. Halden’s reading it not as a summary, but as a negation of all the other relevant material immediately preceding and following it.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  8. Chris Donato wrote:

    I’m pretty sure Catholic dogma articulates and organic (ontological) unity between Christ (the head) and his church (the body). Taking the bodily metaphor as our cue, we can see how one could say a head and its body make up “one thing.”

    As such, demoiselle isn’t too far off the mark, she just oversimplified it and, as Halden suggests, is utterly inadequate.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  9. Evan wrote:

    I’m just off of reading Mike Allen’s The Christ’s Faith, so this is on my mind… it doesn’t seem obvious that identification with Christ negates the possibility of faithfulness for the Church, so long as one affirms the faith of Christ in God. In fact it could be argued that the Church’s faithfulness finds its source in Christ’s own faithfulness. Not that Allen would necessarily defend this position (nor I) on the Church, but it seems that the christological affirmation could be employed for the purpose of protecting against your ecclesiological concern.

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


    “Now obviously I don’t want to make a statement by Joan of Arc out to be the height of Roman Catholic theological sophistication regarding the nature of the totus Christus.”

    I accounted for what you speak of. That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss the quotes in the catechism or that their phrasing is unimportant. The fact that this sort of language is even acceptable as a crude way of speaking is not unimportant.

    But of course I realize that you kind of have to defend the catechism, whereas I am open to approaching it critically, so obviously our hermeneutics will be a bit different.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  11. This is a major dividing line between Protestants and Catholics, directly related to the role between Scripture and [T]radition. The RCC has developed an ecclesial ontology that effectively allows it to redefine truth with commentary. On the flip side, the Protestant insistence that the church’s own proclamation is subject to the phenomenon of Scripture presupposes a distinction between the head and the body.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  12. Derek wrote:

    I would say both. There have been plenty of times in it’s history that the church needed to be called by God to repentance. To speak in quasi-Barthian terms, God must be free to judge both the church & world, since most of the time they need it.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Especially in light of the fact that Israel is always called to repentance and the church stands in some measure of continuity with Israel as “the people of God.” To say that the church is not called to repentance when Israel is constantly so called seems to me to be a pretty malignant form of supersessionism.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  14. Derek wrote:

    To flip the coin, can anyone argue that a clear distinction (however one formulates it) didn’t exist between Yahweh & his people? Doubtful. So while the incarnation is a “game changer,” it would seem to naturally follow that a similar separation would exist between God & his church.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    Yes, there is certainly union (though in Israel it is much more of an eschatological hope), but it is always a union in distinction. The presence of Yahweh in the tabernacle and as the pillar of cloud seems to me to bear this out. Whatever the relationship between God and his people, they certainly don’t become one subject.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  16. Derek wrote:

    I think I see where you’re headed Halden. Are you saying that there is a analogia relationis between Yahweh/People of God & Jesus/Body of Christ(Church)?

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  17. Aric Clark wrote:

    We protestants are so determined to keep Christ in heaven that we’re unnecessarily suspicious of all sorts of good ideas like “the Body of Christ” actually meaning what it sounds like it does, or theosis/divinization, participation… etc…

    If JC is alive, risen, really returned from the grave and not in some spiritual sense, but in a concrete apprehensible manner – how does one talk about that without employing some of these metaphors? What use is the Church if it isn’t in some sense, the actual presence of Christ on earth?

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    Nobody has a problem with employing the metaphors themselves. Its just important to study them and interpret them rightly in light of the message of the gospel. Transferring Christ’s subjectivity to the church (what is what we get if they are “one person”) simply runs contrary to the whole way the NT talks about salvation.

    And keeping Jesus locked in the church strikes me as more worrisome that recognizing that he is in heaven, exalted over every authority and power — including the church!

    And btw, theosis doesn’t scare me. We get along fine.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  19. Aric Clark wrote:

    Doesn’t Christ transfer his subjectivity in some sense to his disciples at Pentecost? Isn’t that what receiving “His” spirit means? That we are in a pretty literal sense an extension or continuation of his ministry? I don’t think it is contrary to the way the NT talks about salvation to say that Peter and Paul and the others understood themselves to be doing Christ’s work, in his place, in some way filled with or participating in his essence.

    And who’s talking about “locking” Jesus in the church? To say Jesus & the church are united doesn’t preclude Jesus being elsewhere in addition. He is God. Catholics recognize that Christ can and does work outside the church. They merely claim (reasonably I think) that he definitely does work within and through the church.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    And likewise no one is “determined to keep Christ in heaven”, so lets stop with the emotive caricatures.

    There’s nothing about the giving of the Holy Spirit that implies that the church is one subject with Christ. The Spirit is given so that the Apostles “receive power” precisely to be Jesus’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). That’s what Peter and Paul understood themselves as doing, as bearing witness to the fact that “God raised him up” (Acts 2:24, 32).

    In fact, as long as we’re looking at Acts, it merits mentioning that the Apostles specifically claim therein Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God has announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). All throughout Acts, and the rest of the NT the message of salvation points back to the cross and resurrection as the event of our salvation. To be sure we bear witness to that in word and deed, are empowered by the Spirit to do this, and in so doing are given to participate in God’s life (theosis), but that is not the same thing as the church being one subject with Christ in any way.

    If the church is one subject with Christ there’s really no way to say that it is not the subject of salvation, and thus end up at best semi-pelagian. That’s why these distinctions are important. Not keep Jesus locked up somewhere, but to avoid idolatrous claiming that we are supposed to be doing the work that God in Christ has already done, which only can receive in gratitude (eucharistia).

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  21. Matt wrote:

    This actually sort of gets back to the concern I voiced earlier. Another way to address what I was considering with the language of ‘faithfulness’ is to say that preserving some kind of ontological distinction between Christ and his Church is precisely that which is needed to retain language of theosis/divinization. In other words, if there is a simple identification of the living Christ with the existing Church, hasn’t theosis/divinization already been fully achieved and thus negated its own usefulness as a concept? Doesn’t participation demand the acknowledgment that the Body of Christ is a reality created by God which the factical, existing Church is always seeking to embody, or seeking to participate in? Without this recognition, an ecclesiology seems to my mind to leave no need for eschatological hope.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  22. Matt wrote:

    To clarify, the post above was a response to Aric at 11:32am. The ensuing response from Halden might’ve rendered mine redundant. I gotta learn to refresh the page when typing a response. :)

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    No I think you’re point is absolutely right. The more I reflect on the importance of rightly parsing the meaning of the body language, the more i become convinced that it is absolutely necessary to rightly articulate a strong and properly specified theology of divinization.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  24. Aric Clark wrote:

    Fair enough. I’ll try to avoid mere polarization.

    On Pentecost though, I think you make too little of the fact that it is Christ’s Spirit, not just some generic power source. And that “receiving power” and “witnessing” look amazingly like preaching, healing, teaching and suffering persecution in the same manner as Christ. Yes, they proclaim Christ crucified, but they also live and die like Christ, and Jesus himself doesn’t seem to act as though the work is done and all the disciples have to do is spread the word – he indicates that they are and always were part of his project, that he chose them to continue his ministry.

    It’s interesting that you bring it back to salvation. Is salvation the extent of Christ’s work? Is he not the word through whom all things were made and are sustained and will be fulfilled as well? I agree that salvation is centered on the cross and resurrection and in that particular work the church participates only in a secondary sense as witnesses, not as the decisive actors. But I would say that chronologically these come before the church, which begins at pentecost and therefore it is not problematic at all to say that the unity of the church and Christ is something that only became possible because of his actions on our behalf. The church does not save itself, but it exists as Christ’s presence on earth because of Christ’s saving work.

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

    I haven’t gotten to read him yet, but is this the direction Michael Gorman is taking in Inhabiting the Cruciform God?

    I sense the Reformed folks will always smell a nasty whiff of ‘works salvation’ in the language of divinization (excluding more multi-layered Reformed types like Jamie Smith), but I think the theological and devotional life of the Wesleyan and Anabaptist traditions would really profit from exploring it.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    Yes, I agree that the Spirit is always and only the Spirit of Christ. And as such, the shape of the Apostolic witness in and through the Spirit is one of cruciformity. This, though I take to be not because the Apostles or the church are “completing” Christ’s work, but because they, in following Christ, in devoting themselves to living out the commands of “this life” (Acts 5:20). It seems to me that the “continuing” aspect of Jesus’s mission precisely involves proclamation (in word and deed of course!) of the gospel, the story of Jesus.

    I used to wholeheartedly embrace the notion that the church is Christ’s presence on earth. I’m more leary of doing so now because that seems to me to fall into what Paul rejects “We proclaim not ourselves.” To be sure Christ is present through and in the church, but this presence is not the property of the church, something it can claim to possess. That’s why we pray Maranatha! and Veni Spiritus Creator! The presence of God with us, though promised and reliable, is not our possession, not a proprium of the church that we can secure or dispense. Rather we simply lay ourselves empty before it and pray, in faith, that it will come.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  27. Aric Clark wrote:

    I think I can shut up, because the further we go along the more I agree with you.

    I definitely agree that we Christ’s presence is not the property of the church. I think this is the same as what I believe about the Eucharist – I, as a minister, have no magic powers. I cannot compel the bread to become Christ’s body, and I cannot command Christ’s spirit to inhabit the feast. I can however rely on the fact that Christ is present at the feast because he promised it. The same is true of the church. Christ promised to be with us to the end of the age. He promised his spirit and he delivered. He “instituted” the church, he will not abandon it. The church doesn’t control this or own this presence. We are entirely its recipient. Even so it is reliable, because it was promised.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  28. Aric Clark wrote:

    And hence, speaking confidently about, the Church and Christ as one is merited on the basis of that promise.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
  29. Halden wrote:

    Yes, I think we agree in the main about this. Sometime this week I’m going to have some posts going up about the nature of reconciliation in 2 Cor 5 which may get at some of this further.

    I do, as always, appreciate the conversation.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  30. Since you brought up Acts, it is interesting to note that the writer Luke says that his first book (the gospel) was about all that Jesus began to do. He implies that the book of Acts is about what he continued to do. This doesn’t settle anything in regards to distinguishing the body as a different thing than the head, but Acts is certainly about how Christ works through his body.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:55 am | Permalink
  31. roger flyer wrote:

    Your point, not you’re point

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  32. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden, that is

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  33. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Good thing you said something. I had no idea what he meant!

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

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