Student: Does ‘Body of Christ’ have any sociological meaning for you?
Barth: Yes, if seen Christologically.  The Church is indirectly identical with Jesus Christ.  He is not without his Body. We believe in the totus Christus, and that includes his body on earth.  But it is a living body,  so we came back to the notion of event.
Student: Is the body an event?
Barth: Yes, bodily existence is an event
Student: Is it not dangerous to say totus Christus?
Barth: No, we are only Christ’s Body, not the head. This means that we can never have a ‘head’ of the Church on earth; this is the Roman Catholic heresy.
Student: But should we say that his body is not yet perfect?
Barth: I would rather say, ‘His body is not  yet revealed.’ What we see is imperfection, but what we need is apokalypsis.”

~ Noted by Mangina, Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness, 165.

Although von Batlhasar, the other towering figure of 20th century theology, was Barth’s main interlocutor, de Lubac seems to have enjoyed something of a resurgence or as adding another intricate layer to the dialogue.  One of the more interesting divergences between de Lubac and Barth, a divergence which is more profound than Catholic vs. Protestant accounts of grace (though an important issue), hinges upon the question of ecceleisology as conditioned by theological anthropology; or, in a word, the totus Christus.

There’s lots being said here, but I noticed this when reading Joseph Mangina’s book on Barth and his short section devoted to de Lubac.  Tellingly, Mangina does not include a similar section devoted to von Balthasar.

Mangina locates the heart of the debate over the question of the totus Christus and only secondarily does he note Catholic and Protestant debates or questions of human agency (170ff.).  Writing about de Lubac’s notion of the totus Christus (he also picks up on the Teilhardian influence on de Lubac):

“The church is humanity’s hope because, in a certain sense, she is herself the summing-up of all human history: ‘For definitely the Church is nothing else than humanity itself, enlivened, unified by the Spirit of Christ (Catholicism 279)…While de Lubac says that Catholicism is addressed to believers, the work clearly serves as a quasi-apologetic theology of history.  It is surely no accident that one of de Lubac’s closest friends was his fellow Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, who spoke of the entire cosmos as moving toward the Omega Point that is Christ” (167).

As Mangina points out, de Lubac, unlike Barth, understands the body of Christ in organic terms as opposed to event or action (167).  And I think this is why Mangina is willing to go along with de Lubac in seeing the shortcomings of Barth’s “vertical emphasis on the church as event,” thereby encouraging “a rather one-dimensional picture of ethics as obedience to divine command” (171).

Aaron Riches highlights the ecclesial differences between Barth and de Lubac further in “Church, Eucharist, and Predestination in Barth and de Lubac.”  As he states, the notion of a “body” in Barth is only a symbol in the mundane sense (585).  Although communio is central for Barth’s ecclesiology, it can only amount to a communio abscondita.  That is, Barth explicitly rejects Christ as continuing “his incarnational presence in the Church, where Jesus is understood to have passed over in the Church’s sacramental life” (586).  A greater does of extrincism results and more importantly still, a qualification around the totus Christus as seen from the quote above.

This struck me as a provocative point, leaving aside for the moment the political fallout of Barth’s communio absondita.  Given the emphasis de Lubac places on the ecclesial “body,” as opposed to a spectral “event” locked in a “protological past tense” (Jenson), would Barth be able to say the prayer of Teresa of Avila?

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.

Riches goes on to state that for Barth the Eucharist “is not in any way a term of effective communicatio idiomatum of the ecclesial Body with its christic Head. The Lord’s Supper does not effect what it signifies” (585).  The “concrete perpetuation of his incarnational prescence” (594), as Riches states about the function of the Eucharist, is simply not the case for Barth (584).

The problem is that we’re left with two hermetically sealed historical phenomenon: on the one hand, a first-century Palestinian Jews and the current Church.  The communicatio idiomatum is thrust to the wayside and in it’s place, a parallelism between historical Jesus and the Church.  “Events” become locked in the past and only a spectral reality of some unforeseen future awaits us.  According to Riches, the following results:

“the community [church] itself becomes ‘spectral’ to the extent that its concrete relation to (or communication with) Jesus risks being reduced to a shared appeal to a discretely idealized ‘life of Jesus,’ which has become paradoxically a-historical to the extent this ‘life of Jesus’ is circumscribed beyond further contingency” (573).

Although Barth claims to believe in the totus Christus, it’s difficult to see how he can adhere to this notion within an “event” ecclesiology, all the while explicitly refusing the organic link between incarnation and church.  What we’re offered instead is a partial Christus; a body without a head.

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