Friday, June 08, 2007

A quickie on Corpus Christi

This is for Justin Lewis-Anthony, and also for Steve Hayes who asked a similar question sometime back, and also for Chris Garton-Zavesky as it will explain where I'm coming from. The root source of my perspective on this is Henri de Lubac (via Fergus Kerr to begin with) but I should say that it's very much my perspective, and in particular the specific view I express here is not compatible with official RC teaching (I don't think. Not yet anyhow - we'll have to wait for the post-Vatican II generation to take control ;-) NB I haven't yet finished reading Cavanaugh so I don't know if he agrees with my take on this, but his overall argument seems strikingly compatible.

(BTW a direct link to the talk I'm referring to is here, it's the talks numbered 3.1 and 3.2)

The phrase 'Corpus Christi' refers to three things: the body of Jesus of Nazareth whilst he was a human here on earth (which meaning I'll now ignore) and two more things: the community of believers (the church) and the bread and wine in communion (the sacrament).

For the first thousand years or so of Christian history, across East and West, the relationship between those two latter forms was:
- corpus verum, the true body (touchable, physical) was the church, ie your baptised neighbour;
- corpus mysticum, the mystical body (apprehended by faith) was the sacrament, ie the bread and wine shared in the context of worship.

Following the impact of nominalist philosophy and wider cultural trends (possibly a re-assertion of pagan heroic ideology) the Pope instituted the new festival of Corpus Christi which involved a reversal of those two meanings, viz, from now on:
- corpus verum, the true body, was the sacrament, thereby touchable and physical, and, most especially, a vehicle for devotion (so you have the invention of the monstrance and waving the host around) - and the priest becomes the magic ingredient of a production line;
- corpus mysticum, the mystical body, was the church, thereby only apprehensible by faith, which meant that if the authorities didn't believe you had faith, there was no longer any blasphemy involved in torturing you into the right belief - hence the inquisition.

From this, as I say, most everything that has gone wrong in Western Christianity stems.

I was first exposed to de Lubac's arguments in a class led by Catherine Pickstock at Cambridge in 1998. In that class I pointed out that the logical consequence of de Lubac's research was to undermine the validity of exposition of the sacrament. This wasn't a popular thought, and Aquinas was invoked. Whether Aquinas can really give an independent justification of exposition I'm not sure, but I suspect that only someone concerned to preserve him (and the wider catholic church) from error would wish to argue for it.

As I say, more on this in my talk. One day it might all get written up!

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