March 30, 2009

Multivalent imagery

When marriage is analogized to the relationship between Christ and the church (or God and Israel) — God or Christ figured as the bridegroom and Israel or the church as the bride — it generally follows a monogamous model.

However, when the marriage is cast to reflect the relationship of the individual believer with God, it must perforce tend towards polygamy. Thus, in Jeremiah 31:32, God can lament that though he was "a husband to them," the people, individually and not just as a people have been unfaithful.

I was reflecting on this the other day in relation to the contrast between those of a more "catholic" ecclesiology versus those of a more "evangelical." (Pardon the imprecision of these terms.) The former sees salvation as taking place within the ark of the church, to such an extent that the old saying, "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" (there is no salvation outside the church) becomes a dominant theme. One is saved by becoming part of the corporate "bride" — and there is only one bride for the one Lord. The latter tends to see salvation as a more personal affair; in some cases rather radically so, the church perhaps taking the office of a kind of matchmaker, rather than the bride herself.

This might also relate to the general frangibility of protestantism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

22 comments:

Erika Baker said...

I've always bridged the gap by believing that through personal belief (and salvation? I hate the term!) one becomes part of the body of Christ and therefore of the church that was founded with Peter as its cornerstone.

That some organisations we call "church" believe themselves to be the only expression of that body of all believers is hubris.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

True indeed. I'm of the school that thinks all Christians are part of the "Body" that is the Church with a capital C, and that all the various apparent divisions are really different organs in a sometimes sickly body. I've gone so far as to say I think the various "churches" may be a strength, if we could only learn to appreciate our different gifts.

The other odd thing, though, is that some of the most protestant sects also seem to hold on to the "we're the only true church" mindset, sometimes in spite of their very small numbers in relation to the whole sweep of Christendom. I'm reminded of the Garrison Keillor story of the origin of the "Sanctified Brethren" which I think by the end consisted of few enough true believers to sit comfortably in the parlor.

God is so much more gracious than we are, thanks be to God!

marshmk said...

Thank you for a thought provoking post. My thinking is rather incomplete here but I am wondering if "salvation" occurs at both levels - the corporate and personal. Both are necessary. I am thinking about a Trinitarian model of being - essence and personhood.

In my reading of the Fathers it seems some describe deification of our nature while others describe deification of our person. Could it be both?

The image of God within us has been healed (saved) through the incarnation and our work is to live into the likeness of God which happens at a personal level. It seems important to emphasize that it is personal (relational) rather than individual in order to be consistent with the Trinitarian model. Somehow my salvation is incomplete if another's is lacking. I suspect this risks some criticism of being universalism.

Forgive my fuzziness of thought.

Christopher said...

I think Maurice charted a middle way in his Trinitarian thinking which is Personal and at the same time Communal, for the two are inextricably intertwined. There are dangers in both the more catholic and the more protestant emphases in my opinion. The former can become a form of collectivism that doesn't allow for God's activity outside the Body to sometimes judge the Body. As if God's grace isn't also active in the world. Early Anglo-Catholicism tended in this direction, and hence, my tendency to eschew that label. On the other hand, a personal relationship with Jesus or the Trinity without connection to one's fellows becomes an odd form of curvatus in se.

Fred Schwartz said...

Tobias,
On one hand, I am not sure it matters. The primary relationship is only me and Christ -- or you and Christ -- or whatever (pardon the imprecision as well). There is a secondary relationship that is just as important and that is me and my neighbor but only insofar as it furthers my relationship with Christ. If that is happening then the relationship between that person and Christ is also moving closer/forward.

That is why I believe that the Bible is primarily a love poem between me and God (or you and God).

Erika Baker said...

The underlying psychological flaw appears to me that we seem to be incapable of defining a positive identity without shoring up the edges to the extent that we end up with an Us and a Them, an In and an Out.

They are the flip sides of the same coin and maybe man's destiny will depend on learning to live with the paradox without crushing the "others".

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

In a quasi-Hegelian mode I think we're reaching a synthesis conclusion: it is both/and rather than either/or. Obviously the church cannot exist without individual Christians any more than objects can exist without atoms. Ultimately, there is no "reality" without community, for even the atoms themselves are a communion of sorts.

Much of this comes from my thinking as I prepare to give an address at the upcoming Synod of Province II -- on the theme of "Ubuntu" and what it means -- which in part is the understanding that I am not completely who I am without you, and vice versa.

It is helpful to cast this in the dual commandment to love God and neighbor: we love God "with" our selves (our whole heart, mind, soul, etc.) and we love our neighbors "as" ourselves --- in that wonderful act of empathy, of putting oneself in the place of "the other" -- which, of course, is what God did in the Incarnate Christ... a good thought for the end of Lent.

Kevin M said...

Honestly, I've been a little turned off lately by bridal imagery for the Church. I'm currently taking a class on ecclesiology, and we just read Hans Urs von Balthasar's essay, "Who Is the Church?" There he takes a bit too literal approach to bridal imagery, pretty much equating the Church with Mary, which makes her both the Mother of Christ and his Spouse, the Holy Spirit being the "seed." That of course makes Jesus, in von Balthasar's phrasing, the, ahem, "generative organ" of the Godhead. Needless to say, Dr. Komonchak is not a big fan of this essay. Unfortunately, there are quite a few in the RCC who are a bit too fond of von Balthasar in this area. (I'm still recovering from the trauma of reading it.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Kevin M. I nearly titled this post "Block that metaphor" -- as it is very easy to get carried away with what is, after all, a fairly minor (and only one of many) image for the relationship of God with the people of God. Carried in the direction of von Balthasar, it becomes positively incestuous...

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Not so very much OT:

Gender neutral marriage is a now a reality in Sweden, 261 ayes, 22 nays, 16 abstained.

Doorman-Priest said...

Very thought provoking as ever.

Frangibility. Wow.

JCF said...

There may have been a Medieval wisdom, in constantly picturing "Madonna & Child" as THE sine qua non of Christian imagery...

...especially when you look at icky 20th century RC art, w/ (adult) Jesus&Mary side-by-side (w/ their respective exteriorly-displayed Sacred/Immaculate Hearts). Waaaaay too incestuous looking, for my tastes! :-X

There is a secondary relationship that is just as important and that is me and my neighbor but only insofar as it furthers my relationship with Christ.

But as your neighbor is made in the Image-of-God, Fred S, how can it not so further? [JMO: if my neighbor seems to be blocking my relationship w/ Christ, maybe it's ME doing the blocking, NOT my neighbor?]

Kevin M said...

One way to decrease the use of the marriage metaphor is to start talking about certain homoerotic aspects to it. That'll quash it a bit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

I am not the first to bring up such notions, as I do in the forthcoming (imminently?) book. I do hope it will expand the reach of grace rather than send people screaming from the room!

Erika Baker said...

Excellent news from Sweden, Göran!

Tobias, I had an email from Amazon only yesterday telling me the expected date for your book would now be about 4-8th May.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

And, apparently, Iowa. Must be all those Swedish bachelor farmers. ;-)

Thanks Erika. I'm assuming that's the European delivery date, which will naturally lag behind ours. I've not heard an explicit date yet from the publisher, but do hope it is in April rather than May, on this side of the pond.

Anonymous said...

I ordered it from Amazon and they haven't told me when it will ship.

IT

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Looking forward to it, dear Tobias!

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
I should have been clearer, it was meant to be the first few days of April, it's now been put back by a month.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The Madonna and Child is probably my favorite of the Christian images, but to move on to equate Mary with the Church and then speak of the Church as the bride of Christ makes for a tangled set of metaphors.

As for images of Jesus or Mary with exposed hearts, no. Just no.

Tobias, regarding your book, here's what Amazon told me:

We'll notify you via e-mail when we have an estimated delivery date for this item.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks Erika and Mimi (welcome back (?)). That is one of the problems with mixing metaphors.

I'm still waiting on word as to the hold-up on the book. Perhaps I got over expectant when I rec'd some publicity materials (posters and postcards) and took that as a sign of the imminent arrival. I'm waiting for word from the publisher.

All best, and a blessed Holy Week.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Dear Tobias, I am safely home from my lovely trip, and I had the great pleasure of meeting Erika, while I was over there.

A blessed Holy Week to you and to all.