Head of the Body

I taught my church’s Bible study last week and we’ve been doing a “Boot Camp” series. The topic I covered was the Church. I was only able to go into some introductory matters but one thing I noted was that the Church is the body of Christ, which obviously makes Christ the head. As the head of the body Christ has all authority; he’s in control. We can’t go any higher in the body than the head.

I spoke a bit about us as members of the body with a focus on every member serving a function and none being better than the others. I read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (obviously) but I didn’t notice something that I only just began to think about as I was driving home from work tonight. When Paul draws his analogy concerning unity and diversity he uses hand and foot; eye and ear as examples. Those last two stood out.

I’ve always understood that the body is connected to the head; but this added a new dimension of depth for me. Not only is the body connected to the head; but members of the body (eye, ear, nose cf. 1 Cor. 12:17) are part of the head! But it works the other way as well; the head is a member of the body! Paul told the Ephesians that Christ is the head of the church, his body (Eph. 5:23). Christ is a member of his Church!

This is pretty much how Paul begins his argument in 1 Corinthians 12. He says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). The entire body is called Christ. Not just the head! Of course this is nothing new; many have thought about this before me. I just perused the Catechism of the Catholic Church and came across the following:

789 The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ.

“One Body”

790 Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him: “In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification.”220 This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which “really sharing in the body of the Lord, . . . we are taken up into communion with him and with one another.”221

791 The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members: “In the building up of Christ’s Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church.”222 The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful: “From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice.”223 Finally, the unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”224

“Christ is the Head of this Body”

792 Christ “is the head of the body, the Church.”225 He is the principle of creation and redemption. Raised to the Father’s glory, “in everything he (is) preeminent,”226 especially in the Church, through whom he extends his reign over all things.

793 Christ unites us with his Passover: all his members must strive to resemble him, “until Christ be formed” in them.227 “For this reason we . . . are taken up into the mysteries of his life, . . . associated with his sufferings as the body with its head, suffering with him, that with him we may be glorified.”228

794 Christ provides for our growth: to make us grow toward him, our head,229 he provides in his Body, the Church, the gifts and assistance by which we help one another along the way of salvation.

795 Christ and his Church thus together make up the “whole Christ” (Christus totus). the Church is one with Christ. the saints are acutely aware of this unity:

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.230

Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself.231

Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person.232

A reply of St. Joan of Arc to her judges sums 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.”233

Whatever your thoughts on the Catholic Church, you gotta admit, that’s some good stuff!


2 thoughts on “Head of the Body

  1. Joan overstates her case, because real life is usually complicated. The oneness of Christ and the church means that Christ’s sufferings are for our sins (because we’re one). But it does not mean that our will represents his will. It’s like an “If A, then B” syllogism.” We can go from Christ’s benefits/future/will to the church’s ideal state. We cannot always go from the church’s will/character/apparent future to Christ.

    Good stuff over all though.

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