Horton on being made “One Flesh with Christ”Sep 27th, 2009 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Dr. Michael Horton
(Photo by Ligonier Ministries: source)
For Dr. Horton: “You said that we are not an extension of Christ’s kingdom. How does that cohere with our being the body of Christ? Our being the hands and feet of Christ, as it were?”
HORTON: We bear witness to the redemption that Christ has wrought. Yet we are co-workers with Christ, because we are proclaiming him. The difficulty is that sarx and soma are sometimes confused. We are not made one flesh with Christ. We are made one with Christ by the Spirit. He is the first-born from the dead. We have an organic, covenantal relationship, but there is not a fusion between the believer and Christ.
In his answer Horton draws a distinction between sarx [flesh] and soma [body], such that being incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body is to be understood in terms of having a “covenantal relationship” with Christ by the Spirit. He draws the distinction between sarx and soma in order to try to acknowledge that in some sense we are the “body of Christ” while denying that we are the hands and feet of Christ. Soma, for Horton, is without sarx; soma is purely spiritual. But this raises serious theological problems. If sarx is incompatible with soma, then Mary gave birth to a body without flesh (i.e. docetism), or she gave birth to flesh without a body (i.e. a teratoma). On the other hand, if sarx is compatible with soma, then Horton cannot appeal to the difference between these two terms to ground his claim that Christ’s Mystical Body is merely covenantal or spiritual, and not an ontological union, a participation in Christ’s human nature and in Christ’s divine nature.
Horton’s notion that Christ’s Mystical Body (i.e. the Church) is soma without sarx, (and hence pneuma) is ecclesial docetism; it denies the human nature of Christ’s Mystical Body, and this entails that the Church is not visible, even though embodied Christians are visible.1 Moreover, denying the human nature of Christ’s Mystical Body entails that we, being merely human, cannot truly be joined to Christ’s Mystical Body. The situation would remain as it was before the incarnation — man cannot get up to the divine. If there is no ‘fusion’ of the believer and Christ, then either we come to participate in the divine nature apart from participating in Christ’s flesh (thus nullifying the incarnation), or we simply do not come to participate in the divine nature, in which case heaven remains closed off to us.
Even though he uses the phrase “we are made one with Christ by the Spirit,” by denying that we become Christ’s hands and feet, Horton seems to exclude ontological union with Christ. Horton maintains that we have “an organic, covenantal relationship” with Christ, meaning that Christ makes promises to us, and applies the benefits of these promises and His redemptive work to us by His Spirit. But these promises and these benefits and the presence of Christ’s Spirit with us or even in us do not ontologically unite us to Christ. That is because a covenant is an act of the will, or mutual acts of will. Mutual promises do not ipso facto effect ontological union. Nor does receiving promised benefits procured by Christ’s redeeming work. Ultimately, we do not need mere benefits: we need nothing less than to be made partakers of the divine nature in order to enter into divine life and obtain the Beatific Vision. We need to be joined ontologically to the divine nature, as Christ is ontologically joined to human nature. Even the presence of the Spirit with or in us does not entail that we have been made partakers of the divine nature, because the Spirit is present everywhere, and yet not everything is a partaker of the divine nature. What we need is real participation in Christ’s divine nature, through participation in His human nature; this is the meaning of John 6. And through our Eucharistic participation in the one Bread which is Christ Himself, we who are many are one Body, which is His Mystical Body.2
Horton denies that we are the hands and feet of Christ, even though this is how St. Paul describes us in 1 Corinthians 12, and indirectly in Romans 12, Ephesians 4-5, and Colossians 1-2. For Horton we merely “bear witness to the redemption Christ has wrought,” the way satisfied customers bear witness to the quality and efficacy of a purchased product. For Horton, that is the sense in which we are Christ’s hands and feet, merely as co-workers with Christ. In the Catholic tradition, by contrast, we are co-workers with Christ precisely because we are truly members of His Mystical Body. We are truly the hands and feet of His Mystical Body, of which He is the Head. By denying that we are Christ’s hands and feet, and by appealing to the idea of covenant, Horton seems to conceive of the union of Christ’s people with Christ as merely a stipulation of the divine will, not an ontological union, not a “fusion”, as he put it. But the Church’s tradition handed down to us from the early Church Fathers maintains that Christ took on human nature, so that we might become partakers of His divine nature, through union with Him. As St. Athanasius said:
“For He was made man that we might be made God.” (On the Incarnation, 54.3)
‘I am from earth, being by nature mortal, but afterwards I have become the Word’s flesh, and He carried my affections, though He is without them; and so I became free from them, being no more abandoned to their service because of the Lord who has made me free from them. For if you object to my being rid of that corruption which is by nature, see that you object not to God’s Word having taken my form of servitude; for as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh, and henceforward inherit life everlasting.’ (Discourse III Against the Arians, 34)
For as He, having come in our body, was conformed to our condition, so we, receiving Him, partake of the immortality that is from Him. (Discourse III Against the Arians,57)
Accordingly it is no good venture of theirs to say that the Word of God came into a certain holy man; for this was true of each of the prophets and of the other saints, and on that assumption He would clearly be born and die in the case of each one of them. But this is not so, far be the thought. But once for all ‘at the consummation of the ages Hebrews 9:26, to put away sin’ ‘the Word was made flesh John 1:14 ‘ and proceeded forth from Mary the Virgin, Man after our likeness, as also He said to the Jews, ‘Wherefore do you seek to kill Me, a man that has told you the truth ?’ And we are deified not by partaking of the body of some man, but by receiving the Body of the Word Himself. (Ad Max 2; Letter 61.2)
And Origen said:
[F]rom Him there began the union of the divine with the human nature, in order that the human, by communion with the divine, might rise to be divine, not in Jesus alone, but in all those who not only believe, but enter upon the life which Jesus taught, and which elevates to friendship with God and communion with Him every one who lives according to the precepts of Jesus. (Contra Celsus, III)
And Hilary of Poitiers said:
And lest this very truth that whosoever will may become a son of God should stagger the weakness of our faith (for most we desire, but least expect, that which from its very greatness we find it hard to hope for), God the Word became flesh, that through His Incarnation our flesh might attain to union with God the Word. (On the Trinity, I.11)
In these and many other places in the Fathers we find the idea that God the Word became flesh, that we, through union with His flesh, might be made partakers of His divine nature. In no way does this ontological union destroy our own individual identity or nature; nor do we cease being creatures. Grace perfects nature. Just as Christ’s divine nature was not destroyed in His becoming man, so our deification through ontological union with Christ does not destroy our individual identity or humanity, but elevates and perfects it even beyond its natural perfection.
In Horton’s statements we see the influence of voluntarism as a philosophy underlying his theology. Ontological union with Christ through His sacraments is replaced by transactional exchanges through covenants. There is no indication in Horton’s statement that through the sacraments we become partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter stated in 2 Peter 1:4. But, if we are not made partakers of the divine nature, then there is no need for Christ to have become a partaker of human nature. The whole point of Christ becoming a partaker of human nature was so that we, through ontological union with Christ, could become partakers of His divine nature. That is the purpose of the divine promises, to bring about this ontological union between Christ and His Bride, as one flesh. This is why in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council (Twelfth Ecumenical) said:
In which [Church] there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us. And this sacrament no one can effect except the priest who has been duly ordained in accordance with the keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself gave to the Apostles and their successors. (Canon 1)
Horton’s denial that Christ is one flesh with His Church goes against what St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:
For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:22-32)
To deny that Christ is one flesh with His Church is to claim that a husband has greater unity with his wife than Christ has with His Church. But according to St. Paul the union of husband and wife is a type, and the type is never greater than that which it typifies. Therefore, if the husband is one flesh with his wife, then it is false that we through our incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body do not become one flesh with Christ. We are members of His Mystical Body with which He is one, and which is also His Spouse. That one-flesh union of Christ with His Spouse is perfected at His return, when we shall see Him face to face. But even here and now, through our baptism we are incorporated into His Mystical Body, and thus made “one flesh” with Him. The two becoming one flesh began at the incarnation. We do not become His hands and feet only at the Parousia; we become His hands and feet at our baptism, when we are washed by His Spirit and made members of His Body, the Church. Through the Eucharist we feed on His body, blood, soul and divinity, and in this way are granted to participate in His human nature and in His divine nature. If we were not made one flesh with Christ, we would be lost, because only through the hypostatic union can we participate in the divine nature. Only by union with His flesh do we, through the hypostatic union of the God-man Jesus Christ, participate in His divine nature. And only by participating in the divine nature can we enter into eternal life.
- Human nature is not instantiated entirely and fully only within the individual; it is entirely and fully instantiated only in the family and society, because man by nature is a social being, a political animal. The first man, Adam, began an earthly human society through natural generation in a state of original sin; the second Adam, Christ Jesus, began a divine-human society through regeneration by His Spirit through baptism into His Mystical Body. [↩]
- 1 Corinthians 10:17 [↩]