I think Graham Ward is right. Despite all the recent attention given to Paul and his political philosophy, there still remains “a reticence in both New Testament cultural historians and interpreters about examining the major model organizing Pauline ecclesiology – the body” (The Politics of Discipleship, 245).

Why, then, this reticence concerning the body? On the one hand, it’s tempting to argue that Paul’s use of body terminology is only intelligible eschatologically – never quite arriving, always out of touch where it remains safe because it remains objective. But this is to assume a particular brand of metaphysics, a brand unknown to Paul but familiar to us.

Ward notes that Paul’s language of the body is not functioning on the level of simile, but analogy. It therefore functions according to a different cosmic logic, one more at home with Nicea and Chalcedon than with 20th century German biblical theology. When Paul speaks of the Church as the body, he means to say that something of Christ’s body remains. Ward drives this point home, quoting John Robinson’s study on Paul’s body language:

“Paul uses the analogy of the human to elucidate his teaching that Christians form Christ’s body. But the analogy holds because they are in literal fact the risen organism of Christ’s person in all its concrete reality… It is almost impossible to exaggerate the materialism and crudity of Paul’s doctrine of the church as literally now the resurrected body of Christ” (248).

There’s a sort of messy “middleness” to the body. Although postured with openness to the arrival of the unknown and the stranger, there still remains a stubborn and abiding character – just like real human bodies. Perhaps then von Balthasar would agree with Ward when he writes,

“To speak of a being a body necessarily means interconnectedness, continuity, nature and even unconsciousness. A body simply cannot consist of isolated moments of actuality. The Church as the Body of Christ has always owed her generation to the vertical event of the grace of Incarnation. This grounds her mission as the Body of Christ, a mission to lead her members into the event of faith and encounter with her divine Head. Because of this, the Church is embedded between an event as origin and event as goal. But as a Body, she must perdure between these two events, and perdure both in her supernatural as well as in her natural aspects” (The Theology of Karl Barth, 388).

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