"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Like Head, Like Body

The Supper at Emmaus
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1620)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him." (St. Luke 24:31)

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (St. John 15:18)

Those who claim that Christ is "our present experience of life-giving love that transcends the human condition," had they lived in Jerusalem from AD 30-33, would have looked upon the man from Nazareth and seen at most only a rabbi who teaches us about the Christ-experience and through whose illumination we can encounter the Christ-experience. They would have been utterly scandalized by His claim to be God, but more likely they would have treated it as a mere metaphor, or as an invitation to us all to join him in discovering our own inner divine identity. They would have been many things rolled into one: Ebionites, because for them the rabbi from Nazareth was a mere man. They would have been Docetists, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience is not to be identified with any particular human being, though they grant that at one time in history the transcendent Christ-experience was most seemingly present in the rabbi from Nazareth. For them the true universal and timeless Christ-experience did not actually become, and could not become, this Nazarene, but is already subconsciously within every person, to be encountered concretely through inner exploration and deepening self-consciousness. They would have been Nestorians, because for them the teacher from Nazareth came to an inner harmony of self-discovery, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, in which we may encounter within us by transcendental enlightenment the one divine Christ-experience of loving self-awareness. They would have been monophysites, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience has no animal nature or physical body, but is the universal energy of divine love which we encounter within ourselves by abstracting ourselves from matter, the senses and our animal pole. In that way they would have denied Christ's human nature. They would have been monothelitists, for whom the teaching of the rabbi from Nazareth is neither authoritative nor infallible, but through whose enlightenment we too might encounter the all-embracing volitional dynamism of the trans-personal Christ-consciousness. They would have been iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revered His image as entirely missing the point, as mistaking the man for His spiritual message, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the divine Christ-experience.

"If they have called the head of the house 'Beelzebub,' how much more shall they call them of his household?" (St. Matthew 10:25)

"Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." (St. John 16:2)

Those who think that the "holy catholic Church" referred to in the Apostles' Creed is "the invisible communion of all those who believe in Christ" look upon the Catholic Church, and see at most only an institution that teaches men about Christ and through whom people may experience Christ. They are utterly scandalized by the Catholic Church's claim to be the "holy catholic Church" of the Creed, or they treat it as a mere metaphor, a physical example of that creedal ideal toward which we all are striving. They are ecclesial Ebionites, because for them the Catholic Church is a merely man-made institution. They are ecclesial Docetists, because for them the "holy catholic Church" is not to be identified with any particular ecclesial body on earth, though they may grant that at one time in history the "holy catholic Church" was most seemingly present in the Catholic Church. For them the resurrected and glorified Christ did not literally become, and could not become, the Head of the Catholic Church, but is Head rather of a spiritual community to which are invisibly joined all believers by an inner movement of faith. They are ecclesial Nestorians, for whom the Catholic Church developed her own unique spirituality, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, through which we may encounter the message and life of the divine Christ. They are ecclesial monophysites, because for them the "holy catholic Church" is no unified visible hierarchy, identifiable body or particular institution, but is a universal and invisible union of all believing souls with the invisible Christ, a union we encounter not through matter or the senses, but within ourselves through an inner act of the will, a trusting prayer of faith that rests and receives. They treat the Church as having only a spiritual nature, hence an invisible communion of believers united spiritually, not necessarily visibly. By denying the visible hierarchical unity that is essential to a human society, ecclesial monophysitism drops the human nature of the Church, and retains only the divine nature of the Church. They are ecclesial monothelitists, for whom the Catholic Church's binding and loosing, teaching and disciplining are merely that of the will of men, and not also that of the will of Christ Himself, the Head of His Mystical Body. They are ecclesial iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revere the Catholic Church as the living image of Christ the Head as entirely missing the point, as mistaking a merely human thing for the spiritual message it teaches, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the invisible Christ.

"... she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus." (St. John 20:14)

"among you stands One whom you do not know." (St. John 1:26)

Where is Christ's Church? It is right in front of us. We have not recognized it, because her members have no form or majesty that we should look at them. They are in other respects quite ordinary. But there is something unique about Christ's Church, something that characterized the Man from Nazareth:

"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3)

"Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him." (Acts 7:54)

To find the Man from Nazareth, we could have followed the hate, loathing and rage; it would have led us right to Him. Likewise, to find His Body today, follow the same. Notice the direction that the anger and hate are oriented, and follow it to its object.

And they said to him, "Where, Lord?" He said to them, "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered." (St. Luke 17:37)

Cross-posted on Called to Communion