May 26, 2022

In Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Larry Siedentop argues that Christianity birthed each individualism and equality and therefore trendy liberalism. In doing so, Siedentop argues, Christianity exploded the historic world’s tightly knit natural unities of household, polis (“city-state”), and ethnos (“tribe” or “nation”). George Weigel recently echoed Siedentop’s argument, contrasting the ethical equality of people earlier than God in Christianity with the pure inequality at the coronary heart of pre-Christian natural establishments. Much more essential is the central idea of the imago Dei in Christian and Jewish Scriptures, that’s, that people are every created in the picture of God. This idea paved an extended, if winding, street to the recognition that primary human dignity inheres in every particular person.

But Siedentop misses the equally, if not much more, elementary different half of the Christian story in his argument that the Christian religion dissolved historic social unities for individualism. Whereas Jesus Christ destroyed the historic household, polis, and ethnos, he destroyed them solely to resurrect them centered round himself in his company physique, the Church. The depth and significance of this reformulation is usually misplaced in the trendy church that too typically does little greater than replicate and mimic the individualism of the trendy age.

The distinctive recreation of actual natural unity in the Physique of Christ will get misplaced in narratives like Siedentop’s and Weigel’s. Additionally it is misplaced by the trendy Christian who too typically conceives of the Church as little greater than a membership of religiously like-minded people. That the Church is the Physique of Christ—a company organism—is handled as mere metaphor, even by many Christians themselves. But what’s a metaphor for different human establishments is a novel actuality for the Church. And that actuality issues. As French thinker Jean-Louis Chretien explains (as translated by John Milbank),

Amongst collective our bodies, solely the physique of Christ is really private and one beneath one head. So solely right here does the analogy to a person physique actually work. Different collective our bodies flip tyrannical as a result of their bodiliness is incomplete and to a level a lie.

Opposite to Siedentop, the Church just isn’t merely a set of people. The Church has a basically company identification as an actual physique. And opposite to different human establishments, as a result of the Church’s company identification just isn’t mere metaphor, it due to this fact presents human solidarity with out the oppression that leads to non-ecclesial establishments when the metaphor of “physique” is handled as actual.

As Kenneth Shepsle underscores (in a different context), odd collective establishments are a “they” and not an “it.” That’s, collective establishments are simply that: collections of people. This consists of society, the polity, in addition to smaller teams and establishments equivalent to legislatures, the Supreme Court docket, and different collective our bodies. There isn’t any actual supra-institutional “physique” or supra-institutional consciousness.

Consequently, conceiving and analyzing these collections of people as if they had been a single actor, an actual “physique,” is to misunderstand and misanalyze the true nature of those company establishments. “Methodological individualism” doesn’t imply that people act collectively in the similar means as they act individually. Nevertheless it does imply that mixture conduct is all the time and solely the aggregation of the actions and needs of the people comprising a company establishment.

The twentieth century is suffering from the tragedy of political actions that mistook metaphor for actuality and so sought natural unity in nation or class. Much less dramatically, a lot of the populism of the early Twenty first-century politics derives from the similar itch. Whereas not as pathological as the extra excessive twentieth-century types, even right now commentators confuse metaphor for actuality in proffering the political physique of the nation as true achievement for the human want for solidarity.

In distinction to those different human establishments, whether or not historic or trendy, the Church is the exception. Uniquely in the Physique of Christ, natural company unity is actual somewhat than metaphorical. And that makes a distinction.

The Social Uniqueness of the Church

However how is the Church completely different from different company establishments like household, authorities, and society basically?

Chretien argues that conceiving of worldly establishments equivalent to civil authorities and households as natural unities invitations tyranny as a result of “their bodiliness is incomplete.” In distinction, the Church uniquely avoids that drawback as a result of the bodily identification of the Church is actual and full.

First, whereas “physique” is not more than a metaphor for worldly company establishments, for the Church “physique” is an ontological actuality. Regardless of the pretensions of worldly company establishments, they’re solely a “they” and not an “it.” They’re associations of people that, at most, solely glimpse or trace at full human solidarity. These establishments will not be organisms with a separate, company consciousness.

In distinction, the Scriptures train that Jesus is a reside particular person in and with whom Christians are united physique and soul (Romans 6.5-6, 1 Corinthians 6.17, 10.16-17, and so forth.). Jesus is “the head of the church.” He’s a real consciousness main a real company social physique.

And opposite to Siedentop’s individualistic characterization of Christianity, this natural union of the Physique of Christ is at the very heart of the religion. The level of the sacraments of baptism and the supper are union with Christ and union with each other (1 Co 10.17, 12.13). Even Christians who don’t imagine that the Spirit actually works by the sacraments nonetheless imagine that what the sacraments painting corresponds to divine actuality. The important level of settlement between Christians is the reality of union amongst believers and between believers and Christ, not the mode by which union is completed.

To make certain, non-believers will reject this conceptualization of the church as unfaithful. That needn’t deter the Christian. The level is that the Christian posits a novel candidate for the realization of human solidarity in pointing to ontological attributes for the Church that no different earthy establishment shares.

A second distinction that units the Church aside from different collective establishments, each historic and trendy, is that, in his Physique, Jesus inverts the world’s energy relationships. Jesus taught his disciples,

that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their nice males train authority over them. It’s not this fashion amongst you, however whoever needs to turn out to be nice amongst you shall be your servant, and whoever needs to be first amongst you shall be your slave; simply as the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, however to serve, and to offer His life a ransom for a lot of (Matthew 20. 25-28).

To make certain, we want not be Pollyannaish about relationships in the Church. There are those that search energy and riches by exercising authority, and abusing authority, in the Church as in different establishments. But the instance and educating of Jesus additionally present the enduring norm and self-corrective. Those that search worldly energy and riches by manipulating the religion are deviants from, somewhat than exemplars of, Christian follow. As Jesus laid down his life for his bride, the church, so, too, are his followers to put down their lives for each other somewhat than exploit each other (Ephesians 5.25, 29, 1 John 4.20).

You will need to underscore that this inversion of world energy doesn’t exist in the Church as a result of the Church is an insipid “voluntary group.” The Church is a government, a kingdom. In actual fact, the Church is a authorities and kingdom extra highly effective than any earthly authorities or kingdom. However the Church is a kingdom through which worldly institutional types are inverted in order to advertise human flourishing, each individually and as a company physique. This is the reason it’s in the Church, and solely in the Church, that an natural social physique realizes a steady, non-despotic expression.

What stands in want of restoration is the Church’s identification as the one true household, the one true polis, and the one true ethnos.

Ecclesiocentrism as the Answer to the Social Drawback of the One and the Many

The itch amongst people for social and political unity derives from two points of human nature. On the one hand, people want to have solidarity with others; an intimacy of actual natural union. On the different hand, we additionally worry dropping our particular person selves—we worry being totally absorbed by the one—in that very same natural unity.

Solely Christianity solves this pressure. It does so in two associated steps. The first step is present in the recognition that people are created in the picture of a triune God. That’s, in the one God are three individuals. The drawback of the social one and the many is resolved with out pressure or worry in the doctrine and actuality of the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed explains that there’s

One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Individuals, nor dividing the Substance. For there’s one Particular person of the Father, one other of the Son, and one other of the Holy Ghost. However the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Comparable to the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

In the Trinity, a single unity is prime and actual, and in the Trinity a plurality is equally elementary and actual. So, too, people created in the picture of God. People are basically in solidarity with each other as a company “one” and are additionally basically individualized in our plural “many.”

The second step is that this picture—a picture effaced at the Fall—is re-created in people of their ontological union as and with the physique of Jesus Christ.

It’s the elementary company identification of Christianity that Siedentop, together with many trendy Christians, miss with their wholly individualized understanding of the Religion.

The Company Actuality of the Physique of Christ

The historic world, in accordance with Siedentop, was organized in turns and at completely different factors round household, polis, and ethnos. In these establishments, company identification predominated over particular person identities. Siedentop presents these historic company identities as uniformly oppressive. It’s the oppression of those natural identities from which Christian individualism liberated the historic world. But whereas Christianity did the truth is liberate the world from oppressive company identities, it was not Christian individualism that did so. Moderately, it was as a result of Christianity transfigured historic oppressive social identities into dramatically new types in Christ’s Physique.

In the historic world, the household originated as “the primary unit of social actuality,” in accordance with Siedentop. The historic household fashioned round family religions that included members of the family (together with ancestors) however excluded all others. Property belonged to the complete household by time, not merely to the present particular person head of the household. Upon marriage and entry into the family, brides assumed totally new identities, switching not solely allegiances to a brand new partner, however switching to new gods and a brand new family identification.

Extra attenuated household relationships fashioned the foundation for clans and tribes—ethnos—and in the metropolis or polis. The polis developed its personal “company, sacramental character.” Aristotle famously argued in his Politics that the polis is an natural physique and, as such, is essentially previous to its particular person members.

The polis can be prior in nature to the family and to every of us individually, since the complete is essentially previous to the half. For if the complete physique is useless, there’ll not be a foot or a hand . . . Therefore, that the polis is pure and prior in nature to the particular person is evident.

Christianity, which Siedentop incorrectly reduces to St. Paul (“it’s hardly an excessive amount of to say that Paul invented Christianity as a faith”), is, for Siedentop, “the discovery of human freedom—of ethical company probably out there . . . to people.” One’s “major function,” in accordance with Siedentop, turns into one’s function as a person. Social roles, whereas not ostensibly “dissolved,” nonetheless “turn out to be secondary in relation to that major function.”

In his enthusiasm to learn Western individualism and liberalism into the Scriptures, nevertheless, Siedentop selectively reads St. Paul and the remainder of the Scriptures.

Whereas there’s a outstanding equality of standing taught in the Christian Scriptures (together with the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Previous Testomony), the Christians’ company identification as members of the “physique of Christ” just isn’t a secondary function or identification for them. Jesus didn’t dismiss and destroy the natural establishments of the historic world. Moderately, he re-formed them round himself.

Think about St. Paul’s prolonged dialogue of the church as the Physique of Christ in his epistle to the Romans (12.3-13) and in his first epistle to the church at Corinth (12.12-27). Whether or not or not he had ever encountered Aristotle’s concepts, Paul involves the similar conclusion as the thinker: the company physique is previous to the particular person members. Jesus didn’t merely dismiss and destroy the natural establishments of the historic world. He destroyed them and then fashioned them once more round himself.

Paul argues that the members of Christ’s physique share an actual ontological union: “we, who’re many, are one physique in Christ, and individually members one in all one other” (Romans 12.5, emphasis added). It’s this union that serves as the foundation for the mutual obligations to which the church aspires. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul admonishes the Christians there to “communicate fact each along with his neighbor, for we’re members of each other” (Ephesians 4.25, emphasis added).

Whereas Siedentop repeats trendy Christianity’s wrongly atomized understanding of religion as “the salvation of particular person souls,” he ignores (together with a lot of right now’s devoted) the bracing company photographs in the Scriptures through which redemption—full redemption—is as a polis, a bride, a household, a temple, a brand new ethnos. Simply as the Scriptures current the fall of humanity in the first Adam as a company fall, so, too, humanity is corporately resurrected in the “final Adam” when united with Jesus Christ. The “new man”—the new anthropos—just isn’t merely the redeemed particular person in Christ, however is a brand new company identification as effectively.

The church as household, the church as polis, and the church as ethnos was a bracing educating in the historic world because it exploded the historic types of these establishments. Likewise, it continues to be a bracing educating 2,000 years later because it challenges the deeply set individualism of many trendy Christians.

For instance, typically included amongst the ostensibly “arduous sayings” of Jesus is his redrawing of the household round himself. When informed that his mom and brothers had been outdoors wanting to talk with him, Jesus answered and stated, “‘Who’s my mom and who’re my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he stated, ‘Behold my mom and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father who’s in heaven, he’s my brother and sister and mom’” (Matthew 12.48-50).

That is additionally in proof as Christians name one another “brother” and “sister.” In the Church, it’s water that’s thicker than blood—the baptismal household over the pure household —not the different means round. As Jesus stated, “He who loves father or mom greater than me just isn’t worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter greater than me just isn’t worthy of me.”

So, too, the Scriptures determine the church as polis (Hebrews 11.10, 12.22, Revelation 21.2, 21.9-10). The Church is the Metropolis of God on this age, to make certain, but solely totally realized in the Age to Come. And the Church is also ethnos (1 Peter 2.9, and so forth.). We see this in the rolling again of Babel on the day of Pentecost, the first day of the Church, and the grafting in of Samaritans and then Gentiles. So thorough-going is that this re-creation that Paul invokes the Genesis story, however in software to Jesus Christ as a second Adam, the creation of a “new humanity”—a brand new “anthropos” in the Greek—remade “in accordance with the picture of the One who created him—a renewal through which there isn’t any distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman” (Colossians 3.10-11).

With out rejecting earthly identities totally, nonetheless the Christian’s first nationwide identification is the Church. The Christian’s first household identification is the Church. And the Christian’s first polis is the Church.

Siedentop will get proper the criticisms of the historic institutional types, however he misses the second half of the story. Christianity did explode the historic social types, however then resurrected them once more in the Church’s identification as the company Physique of Christ.

The Worldly Establishments and the Kingdom of God

The human needs for each solidarity and particular person distinction are deeply rooted. They’re typically in pressure with one another in a fallen humanity. The Trinity, in whose picture people are made, supplies the mannequin of unity amidst plurality—individuality amidst solidarity—with out pressure or confusion. Whereas this divine picture was effaced at the Fall, it was restored by Jesus Christ by his Physique. This can be a distinctive attribute of Christ’s church, that means that different earthly establishments don’t share it, and can’t share it. A minimum of not totally.

Recognizing this ecclesiocentric social actuality helps full our political theories as effectively. “Faith” just isn’t essential to free authorities merely as a result of it has the salutary advantage of incentivizing the pursuit of mandatory public virtues amongst those that would in any other case not search them. Free societies, certainly, humanity extra typically, discover true human solidarity solely in the Church. In recognizing that nation-states are solely a “they” and not an “it”—in recognizing the hazard of in search of ontological unity in a politics that may solely present a counterfeit of what the Church presents—we don’t due to this fact must forfeit the human want and want for deep solidarity with others. That solidarity, nevertheless, just isn’t present in the nation-state. Or when it’s positioned there in any elementary means, it is just a deviant type of solidarity.

The deviance can run the different means as effectively. In conceiving of the church as an establishment just like different earthly establishments, an ideology of ontological individualism could be imported from the civil area, the place it’s acceptable, into the ecclesial area the place it’s not. In doing so it erodes the church’s distinctive identification as the solely supply for true solidarity that the human coronary heart craves. If something, it’s not individualism in the church that must be strengthened, or recognition of the church’s contribution to creating trendy individualism. What stands in determined want of restoration is the Church’s identification as the one true household, the one true polis, and the one true ethnos.

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