Monday, March 05, 2007

Getting Serious with Siris: IB

Siris has written up two rejoinders, his Body and Bride IIIA and IIIB, to my Getting Serious...IA; here I will respond only to his IIIA. It seems to me that we have not quite hit the point of voicing bedrock commitments yet.

Siris (who it seems is actually Brandon--Hi) paraphrases Ephesians 5:21-34--accurately so far as I can tell--this way:

be filled with the Holy Spirit(among other things) being mutually subject to each other, wives to their husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church (=the Body) as Savior of the Body; as the Church is subject to Christ so wives should be subject to their husbands.

Before the paraphrase he says "But there is no hint in this passage of an eschatological relation," and after the paraphrase he drives the point home:

Now, since Christ is Head qua Savior (that this is the intent is made very clear when he goes on to talk about husbands), then the subjection or subordination that is the reciprocal complement to the Headship of Christ -- the only relation that can be in view here -- can only be eschatological in this passage if Christ's Headship and salvation are eschatological. However, Paul throughout Ephesians talks of our salvation and our incorporation as things that have already been done in Christ; and his exhortations (including the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit that starts him off on this topic) are exhortations for individuals to live worthily of their call to grow into Christ as parts of his body.

I have highlighted the bit I wish to address with boldface. Surely he is at least part right--the headship of Christ is already accomplished with the Ministry, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ--no doubt. But he is only part right; Christ's headship has yet to be brought to fruition. There is still--speaking from the Creeds--Christ's Second Coming in power as King of kings and Lord of lords to await, and indeed Paul speaks of all creation as groaning in anticipation. Christ's headship is in part eschatological, something already and still not yet. Though Ephesians acknowledges Christ's victory already secure, it also emphasizes--and much more than anywhere elase in the Pauline literature--the fact referred to in 1:8b-12:

With all wisdom and insight [9]he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, [10]as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. [11]In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,* having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, [12]so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

The very facts we are heirs and that there is a plan for gathering all things up in Christ imply the headship of Christ is not yet completely fulfilled. I do not think we can avoid acknowledging his headship is at least in part eschatological.

I do not need to say that the relation between Christ and the Church is entirely eschatological; that would imply--absurdly--that the Church does not exist at all here below. Rather, it seems to me that something has been begun already between the Church and Christ that will reach fruition in the future, at the eschaton.

The most I should need to say, I think, in order to make my case is that 5:21-34 looks forward to the eschaton in speaking of the Church's subjection to Christ. We should see it under the species of eternity, so to speak, as the spotless bride of Christ about to enter into the blessed consummation of everlasting salvation. Scripture elsewhere holds out wise virgins, the spotless bride, et al as ideals for rather more imperfect communities of the people of God here below--I hardly need to invent the trope for Ephesians 5.

That the fulfillment does not--I take it all will agree--imply any imperfection in Christ is trivial; the current imperfection of that relationship is in the imperfect submission of the Church to Christ here below. But that is just what we may expect of the Church, as here below it can only be a mixed body with even its saints sinners. In this sense I uphold the Church here below is not a fit model for emulation--why look to it here below, when its perfected status is available instead? Hasn't Paul or his school already held out eschatological fulfillment earlier in Ephesians as a desired ideal building up the courage and determination of struggling believers here below, such that we could read him or them as doing the same here with regard to embattled marriages?

Brandon is exactly right to think I want to distinguish or "pry apart" Christ's headship and the Church's submission to Christ. Christ for his part is head now of the church exactly as he should be; the fact his headship has yet to reach fruition does not imply imperfection on his part. On the other hand, the Church is not now all that it ought to be; in its submission, it is imperfect. It is not merely a matter of individual failures among members of the Church, but the Church as a whole, taken collectively.

Suppose the Creeds set out necessary conditions for the Church's perfect submission here below: that it be one, holy, catholic, apostolic...see the problem? Taken as a whole, surely the Church is not one but many, surely it is not holy in the relevant sense of being perfect and spotless, it is not yet universal, and its apostolicity is a matter of internal contention and hot division even now.

So, to sum up--I wholeheartedly concede that Siris is right to say "the relation is not exclusive to the eschaton". However, that does not mean "emphasis on the eschatological can be nothing more than a matter of convenience"; it is rather a matter of great import both to Christ and the Church here below. In particular, from within the warring,fragmented body of the Church the eschatolgical unity of the Church in its relation to Christ provides not just a moral model but even more a point of hope.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Closed said...

It seems we have some anthropological differences here; just looking around, however, it's clear we're not quite there yet and yet we already are there. Paul remains a realist in this sense, seeing that we still this side must grow up into Christ in lifelong conversion to the Christic pattern. Any look at any given marriage, no matter how loving, committed, etc., would disabuse anyone of a romantic notion that we have already arrived...

As the good Dr. Aune is fond of saying, only Christ has made it past Good Friday to Easter Sunday. An "eschatological" that is not a now and not yet is not eschatological by definition, having either collapsed the tension into completion or having bifurcated the New from the Old in ways that can only lead to a docetic understanding of redemption.

In fact, Ephesians has been suspect as one of Paul's letters because it tends to collapse this distinction more than Paul does in say Romans where it is clear ours is still pilgrimage, life long conversion, etc. having been joined to Christ's death and resurrection and called to walk in this newness of life as a lifelong endeavour. The Greek is most helpful on this point.

The markers of the Church whole are eschatological, in Christ, rather than already ours to grasp or cling to. We're still becoming catholic, apostolic, holy..., and will only be fully so in the Consumation of all things as Nyssa would suggest. One of the reasons neo-Platonic philosophy was so useful to the Fathers for explicating the Gospel and those central dogma deemed necessary to the Gospel was it's emphasis on sign participating in Reality, of symbol, etc. These all pull us outside ourselves, to Christ, now alive and risen, the one exemplar (to use Melanchthon) in whom our participation and imitating can bear full fruit.

As liturgical theologian Geoffrey Wainwright might say, it is the Christic pattern, or what I've been calling the kenotic pattern, that is at the heart of Pauline thinking on the matter. This same economic pattern, is the pattern that suggests to us how God relates qua God immanently as perichoresis given that God's acts in history in Christ and the Spirit are consistent with and one with God's internal relating.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I've been following this interesting conversation for a bit; I'm also working on my own look at Ephesians. One thing that I think it is important to note is that there are two strands going on in the marriage analogy, and they get a bit tangled up in that usually Pauline way! The two strands are the "unity" strand and the "headship" strand. One of the analogies is about how all Christians are "one" in Christ (just as a man and wife are "one" in marriage); then Paul brings in the "headship" metaphor, also applied to marriage. I think it is important to try to tease these two strands apart, even though Paul braids them together -- as I think (as is often the case with Paul) it muddies his arguments rather than clarifying them.
All the best,

At 8:16 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

The point is well taken, I think, that headship and unity are muddied by Paul; he might even have thought that there is no unity without headship.

Even so, I do not think that muddle is of great concern.

As Christopher notes, as I read him, proper headship involves kenosis. While there could not be one Church without a head, Christ, Christ could not have been head of the church without the Cross and the kenosis implied.

That is to say, the unity modelling marriage is one of mutual submission, each serving the other. What makes for head of the unity is not settled by maleness. It is settled by who serves best, and it is perfectly possible--so far as I can see--for there to be a tie in that case. That is, headship is not a functional necessity but a matter of conformity in charity to the Father.


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