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  • Theophilus

Totus, anyone?

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

I've just finished an essay for Pro Ecclesia on the Totus Christus, Augustine's notion that the church and Christ together, body and head, make up the "whole Christ." It's an excellent warm-up exercise for anyone thinking about writing a systematic theology, as I am, because it forces one to think hard about the relationship between Christology and ecclesiology. Of course, the dogma is in the details...

I'm responding to an argument that Protestants ought to affirm the Totus Christus in order to make good their profession of Reformed catholicity. The thesis, then, is Totus everyone: the whole Christ for the whole people of God.

My essay treats the relationship of metaphors (e.g., body of Christ) to metaphysics, as well as the significance of the Protestant inclination to speak in terms of mystical union with Christ rather than the mystical body of Christ.

Here's a brief excerpt:

"The Pauline expression 'body of Christ' is, in G. C. Berkouwer’s words, 'the deepest description of the mystery of the Church' and, as Jürgen Moltmann rightly notes, 'ecclesiology can only be developed from Christology, as its consequence and in correspondence with it.' The dogma is in the details, however, and the challenge is to specify the nature of this consequence and correspondence to Jesus’ person and work. Inasmuch as it draws together doctrines like Christology and ecclesiology, the Totus Christus is a demanding case study in dogmatics, a kind of comprehensive exam topic for aspiring systematicians."

Here's another:

"What should we make of Reformed Protestants’ willingness to speak of the mystical union with Christ, but relative reluctance to speak of the mystical body of Christ? It has everything to do with right dogmatic ordering, and with the concern to hold Christ preeminent in all things, including all doctrines (cf. Col 1:18). To be sure, Protestants are not the only ones who celebrate Christ. Yet Kenneth Oakes is not wrong when he lists an emphasis on 'the perfect and sufficient work of Christ” among their distinctive doctrinal accents and commitments, noting that Protestant traditions “have also been suspicious of mediators, whether metaphysical or ecclesial, in addition to Christ.' When Reformed Protestants speak of 'the whole Christ,' the reference is often not to head and body, but to Christ’s person and work. As Bavinck says, 'we receive and take on the whole Christ and give ourselves entirely and completely to him (2 Cor. 8:5). However, there is no Christification or deification of the believer, no blending, no exchanging of Christ and the believer, but a spiritual fellowship.'"

What do you think: do Christ and the church make up one spiritual entity, one united person and, if so, are Christ and the church one subject or two? Check out what I and other respondents conclude about the metaphysics of the Totus in an issue of Pro Ecclesia, coming soon to a library near you.

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