Friday, January 16, 2009

Headship and the church

I had been thinking a little lately about headship and the church, a concept that lies close at hand in many debates about the role of women in the leadership of the church. One thought I have had is that, in response to a concern that the ultimate head of the church should be male (e.g. women presbyters/priests might be okay so long as its guaranteed that the bishops will be men), the ultimate head of the church is and always will be male: Jesus Christ our Lord!

So it cannot go unnoticed here when Pope Benedict XVI makes these observations:

"Even more important is to see that only in these two letters is confirmed the title "head," kefalé, given to Jesus Christ. And this title is used on two levels. In the first sense, Christ is understood as the head of the Church (cf. Colossians 2:18-19 and Ephesians 4:15-16). This means two things: above all, that he is the governor, the director, the one in charge who guides the Christian community as its leader and lord (cf. Colossians 1:18: "He is the head of the body, the church.") And the other meaning is that it is as the head that he raises and vivifies all the members of the body of which he is head. (In fact, according to Colossians 2:19, it is necessary to "stay united to the head, from which the entire body, through ligaments and joints, receives nutrition and cohesion.") That is, he is not just one who directs, but one who is organically connected to us, from whom comes also the strength to act in an upright way.

In both cases, the Church considers itself submitted to Christ, both to follow his superior leading -- the commandments -- and to welcome all of the vital flow that come from him. His commandments are not just words, mandates, but are vital forces that come from him and help us.

This idea is particularly developed in Ephesians, where even the ministries of the Church, instead of being attributed to the Holy Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 12), are conferred on the Risen Christ. It is he who "gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers" (4:11). And it is because of him that "the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament ... brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love" (4:16).
Christ in fact is dedicated to "present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (5:27). With this he tells us that the strength with which he builds up the Church, with which he guides the Church, with which also he gives correct direction to the Church, is precisely his love.

Therefore the first meaning is Christ, Head of the Church: be it in regard to the leading, be it above all in regard to the inspiration and organic vitalization in virtue of his love.

Then, in a second sense, Christ is considered not only as head of the Church, but as head of the celestial powers and the entire cosmos."

Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for this. The whole piece, including some superb observations re marriage, can be read here.

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