Thursday, May 26, 2011

The hypostatic union equals....the Church?

Conversations are a wonderful way to delve into deep topics. They are also great at exposing deep-seated meaning that you wouldn't be able to reach if you were just musing on your own. One of these is the hypostatic union, and how it relates to the Catholic Church.

Bear with me. This is a highly mystical discussion. There won't be much reference to established Church doctrine, but rather, a simple appeal to the spiritual nature of our worship and beliefs.

The hypostatic union was defined at the Council of Chalcedon, affirming that Jesus Christ, as the personification of the Son of the Trinity, was one person with two equal, yet unique natures--that of being fully human and fully divine. This is pretty standard fare in modern Christendom, though you do come across a church now and again that holds a different view. Jehovah's Witnesses come to mind immediately, as is evident by their unique interpretation of the events at Calvary. But I digress.

The hypostatic union has long been a simple understanding of the nature of Christ as a being. Not just a person, but as a holistic being. And it has generally stopped there. It has impact on our understanding of certain miracles, how a divine creature could suffer a mortal death, what that means to salvation theology, etc. But the impact generally stops at the resurrection. Beyond that, it doesn't really matter. Or does it?

When Christ says "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (paraphrasing because I'm cool like that), what is he saying? The Catholic Church often uses this as a proof text for the validity of the Church's position as the One, Holy, Apostolic Church. The emphasis here is on the unbroken line of leadership from Peter to Pope Blessed John Paul II to His Holiness Benedict XVI. Its emphasis in this regard most often focuses on the physical church as an organization. What this interpretation says is "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will lay out the organization of my Church, and this organization will be eternal and overcome all obstacles." This is a very nice interpretation because, well, it fits Church history. We are still the largest Christian denomination in the world, and rival Islam in pure numbers. We've survived several schisms and the Reformation. But, what of differing viewpoints on this passage?

Those that hold to post-Reformation theology often times hold up a much different (radically different) interpretation. This is what they believe Jesus was saying: "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will convene my spiritual Body, and this spiritual Church will not be torn asunder, so that any who come to me will have no obstacles in reaching me." The emphasis here is on the spiritual nature of the Church in this passage. This is a very easy way to explain why Catholicism and Orthodoxy are wrong. They were corrupted by the time we have any extant writing. Therefore, down with Tradition, Sola Scriptura is the only way, and we are worshiping the way the Apostles did. Ergo, we are the True Church.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they deny the fundamental nature of Christ in the embodiment of His Church. One focuses on the physical (mortal) incarnation of the Church. The other focuses on the spiritual (divine) incarnation of the Church. But if Christ had two natures, then why does His Church only have one?

I posit that what He was actually saying was this: "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will build MY Church, and it will be imbued with spirit, and will be incorruptable, and overcome all obstacles, just as my body is incorruptable and capable of overcoming death."

See what I did there? Parallelism. Christ was establishing His Church to further His mission. If we accept the hypostatic union was dogmatic truth, His mission cannot be furthered by mortal man alone. Hence the sending of the paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Viewed in this light, Catholicism has a much stronger claim to being the True Church because, by her very nature, she shares in the hypostatic union of Christ. Being built by mortal hands and imbued from birth by the spirit, the Church is both of man and of God, mortal nature and divine nature existing coequally yet uniquely of each other.

When one begins to look at the various associations within Christianity in this way, the impact of the hypostatic union takes on a much greater degree of importance. It creates a holistic relationship between the mortal iniquity of human nature and the salvific grace of the Holy Spirit. And, by extension, Christianity becomes a holistic faith that epitomizes in all its aspects this fundamental question about the nature of Christ. It enriches our understanding of Christ and His mission and His Church. And just as Mary points the way to Christ, the hypostatic union points the way to Rome.

No comments:

Post a Comment