Editorial - Where Is Christ’s Body?

Charles Darwin was born on 12th February 1809 and, for our Spring 2009 issue, Dominic Kirkham has written a bicentennial reflection on How Darwin Changed My Life. Around the time of Darwin’s birth, the poet Coleridge wrote in an essay for his friend the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson: ‘A male and female tiger is neither more nor less whether you suppose them only existing in their appropriate wilderness, or whether you suppose a thousand pairs. But man is truly altered by the co-existence of other men; his faculties cannot be developed in himself alone, and only himself. Therefore the human race, not by a bold metaphor, but in sublime reality, approach to and might become, one body whose head is Christ (the Logos).’

The question for this issue of Sofia is ‘Where is Christ’s body?’ At the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus promises: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the world’ (28:20). Paul begins to develop a theology of a ‘cosmic Christ’, for which ‘the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’ (Rom 8:2). This cosmic Christ ‘ascended on high, leading captivity captive’ (Eph 5:2): ‘He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.’ And: ‘In him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might have first place in everything; for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Col.1: 17). Paul tells the Corinthians : ‘You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it’ (1Cor.12:27). As members of it, we must work to ‘build up the body of Christ… to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 5:13). Paul speaks of ‘filling up what is wanting… for the sake of Christ’s body the Church’ (Col. 1:24), and says of the eucharist: ‘The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread’ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). This Christ is a healed, fulfilled humanity.

Ideas about evolution permeated the nineteenth century, evolution of all species and of the human. Darwin’s great work The Origin of Species was published in 1859. Karl Marx wrote about the struggling evolution of a future fairer society, and John Henry Newman about the Development of Christian Doctrine.

At the beginning of the twentieth century (in Hastings between 1908 and 1912), the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, adopting Darwin’s core insight, began producing a theology of evolution. In our first article the distinguished Teilhard scholar David Grummet gives an introduction to Teilhard’s thought. Teilhard saw Christ ‘as presenting himself to the world as its Omega point: its plan, fulfilment and final end.’ : a realised humanity as the outcome of evolution, or as Coleridge put it (following Paul), ‘one body whose head is Christ (the Logos)’.

As a Catholic priest Teilhard saw this whole process as directed by God, a pre-existent Christ as God. Nevertheless, the Vatican was alarmed – Darwin’s theory of evolution does not need a supernatural director – and banned Teilhard’s work for thirty years. Even without a supernatural director, Teilhard’s vision remains inspiring for its tremendous sense of evolving matter as a body finding speech.

Teilhard spoke of the increasing complexity of human consciousness moving towards its Omega point as the ‘noosphere’. It seems to be assumed that this Omega point will be Kingdom Come – the reign of justice and peace on Earth. A notorious headache for translators is that in French (and similarly in other Latin languages) ‘la conscience’ means both ‘consciousness’ i.e. awareness as well as not being unconscious (asleep, drunk or knocked out) and ‘conscience’ i.e. ‘moral sense’. Can we assume that increasing consciousness sharpens our conscience/moral sense and makes us kinder? Not necessarily. (Actually of course, this is not just a translator’s headache, since the question applies equally to Coleridge and his ‘Logos’. Incidentally, for years he planned a great philosophical work to be called Logosophia, but never actually got round to it.)

Our next article consists of five short extracts from Don Cupitt’s recent book The Meaning of the West. Cupitt argues: ‘Christianity by its own inner logic precipitates itself beyond itself. Christianity is the religion that for several centuries now has been passing over into radical religious humanism.’ Through his incarnation: ‘God takes the initiative, moving towards humanity, giving himself to humanity, becoming human and dying into humanity.’ That makes Christianity ‘the uniquely self-secularising religious tradition’, which ‘slowly brings about the formation of the new type of human being’. He notes that in the New Testament God has begun to withdraw and ‘Jesus Christ is in the foreground’. God has become human in a Grand Narrative ‘about the making of humanity; that is, about the emergence at last of fully emancipated and empowered human beings’.

That is where the body of Christ is to be found. Christ becomes an epic hero and namesake of a people, in this case, all humanity in its struggle for liberation and fulfilment. Cupitt makes a convincing case for that theological evolution. It is a brilliant vision. But we cannot say the climax of the story has been achieved or that we know it will be (if there is no supernatural guarantee). Let us hope this is not ‘the end of history’, as Fukuyama claimed in 1992, because if so humanity has not got very far.

Whereas Christian ideals brought down to Earth as humanitarian ethics are current in the West, it certainly is not true that the West always embodies them or puts them into practice. And these are not the only ideals that have been current in the West over the last century. To name but two others, we have seen Nazism and the ‘Greed is Good – No Such Thing as Society’ of Thatcherism. Yes, we can see signs of the ‘Kingdom’ here and there but it is still both ‘now and not yet’. We certainly cannot say the West is Kingdom Come (for examples of ways in which it falls short, see Mayday Notes on page 27) . In the Christian tradition salvation comes through the incarnate word – Logos ensarkikos. Ideals are not enough; they must be realised and embodied. To bring about the reign of justice and peace on Earth we must ‘fill up what is wanting’ (in ourselves as persons and in the species) … ‘for the sake of Christ’s body’ – a whole humanity.

In our third article Francis McDonagh writes about the very public quarrel between two brothers, both theologians, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff of Brazil. Their fierce dispute is about where Christ is to be found today. Leonardo Boff supports Jon Sobrino, who insists that Christ is to be found on Earth, among the poor. Clodovis attacked his brother because he feared that position undermined the authority of the Church as the ‘setting’ in which to encounter Christ and salvation.

Clodovis’ nervous alarm is understandable because, although Sobrino is a loyal Catholic, the thrust of his quest for Christ is on Earth, among the poor; like other liberation theologians he has a humanist agenda. For him too it is Jesus who is most prominent in the New Testament. His Christianity also has a ‘self-secularising’ or ‘worldly’ – incarnational – tendency and the Vatican has once again came down hard, fearing its authority flouted , or what could be called its franchise (‘keys to the Kingdom’) , at risk. Like his fellow Jesuit Teilhard, Sobrino was censured by the Holy Office, in 2006, and it banned Leonardo Boff from making public statements in 1984. One might almost gather that the accolade for a bright idea, discovery or profound insight is to be condemned by the Holy Office. The human mind moves. Yes, great (and also condemned) Galileo, eppur si muove: it does move.

If the body of Christ is to be sought on Earth, if it is an epic of ‘the making of humanity; that is, about the emergence at last of fully emancipated and empowered human beings’, then in a globalised, interdependent world, we can’t say it has reached its ‘maturity’, that the Kingdom has come, until it is really present globally. A comfortable life for some at the expense of the majority is not good enough. We can rejoice in the signs of the Kingdom here and there, but there is still work to be done until the human species as one body reaches ‘the fullness of Christ’.

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