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THE BODY OF CHRIST.
“Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me.”
THE parable of the True Vine sets before us the great spiritual mystery of which these words, spoken by the Messiah in prophecy, plant as it were the root. In that parable we see the perfect outline of the Incarnation, or Christ mystical in all fulness: the root, the stem, the branches, the stately perfection and the exuberant fruit of the elect vine. It describes by anticipation the life, growth, and fruitage of the Church, and reveals also the source and channels through which the quickening life passes into all its structure and farthest sprays.
These words of the Psalmist, quoted by St. 191Paul, are therefore a prophecy of the Incarnation. In the fortieth Psalm, as it stands in the Hebrew, the words here quoted by St. Paul run, “But mine ear hast Thou opened;” that is, as the ear of a servant was pierced by his master, in token of perpetual service. But the Septuagint, which St. Paul here follows, reads, “A body hast Thou prepared me,” or “fitted to me.” These two readings are one in substance. The form of a servant which He took upon Him was our humanity; and the boring of the ear is a still more vivid prophecy of the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, who became “obedient unto death.”
This prophecy, then, plainly declares that the everlasting Son, who created the world, and ministered in divers appearances to the saints of God, would, in fulness of time, of His own free and loving will, humble Himself still more deeply, and take upon Him the body of our flesh. God had prepared for Him in His foreknowledge, in love and wisdom, by His election of grace, a body of the substance of a virgin, chosen to bear the Son of God; and this predestination has in it a wonderful depth of mystery, an abundant and eternal fruitfulness. May He who foretold His own humiliation for us, lead us by His Spirit, so far as is for our good, into the knowledge of this stupendous work of love and power. Let us, then, see 192 what is this “body” which was prepared for Him of God.
1. First, it plainly means the natural body, which He took of the substance of the Blessed Virgin His mother. This was a very and true body of flesh, even as our own. And here let us observe, that as, in speaking of men, the word of God uses to speak of our noblest part, and puts the soul for our whole nature; so in speaking of the humiliation of God, as if more openly to express His abasement, it describes His whole manhood by its lowest part: “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” We must not, however, fall into the Apollinarian or Eutychian errors, and imagine that the Word took only a body of flesh and blood, as if the divine nature were the quickening mind and soul; or that the spiritual nature of man was absorbed in the divine. In the mystery of the divine Incarnation two whole and perfect natures were united in one person; the Godhead, with all attributes and perfections, infinite and eternal,—the manhood, with all its properties and powers of body, soul, and spirit. “As the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.” All that makes up the natural perfection of man as a moral and reasonable intelligence, together with a passible and mortal body, He assumed into the unity of His person. It is only 193by bearing the whole truth in mind that holy Scripture can be rightly understood. This being the mystery of the Incarnation, we should be prepared to find two distinct currents of language, one relating to the divine and infinite, the other to the human and finite nature. And these, so far from being contradictions to be explained away, are confirmations of the mystery, which rigidly demands a twofold language. We read, for instance, of the Son, “All things were made by Him;”7575 St. John i. 3. and again, “He was crucified through weakness.”7676 2 Cor. xiii. 4. How can these be understood of the same person? How could the Creator be crucified, or one that was crucified create all things? At one time we read that He is in heaven,7777 St. John iii. 13. one with the Father;7878 St. John x. 30. in the Father, and the Father in Him;7979 Ibid. xiv. 10. at another, that He increased in wisdom and stature,8080 St. Luke ii. 52. was subject to His parents,8181 St. Luke ii. 51. was weary,8282 St. John iv. 6. and was less than the Father.8383 Ibid. xiv. 20. These things, which seem to cross each other, do indeed attest the union of two natures in one person. If we did not read them, heresy would have somewhat to say; because we do read them, it has only somewhat to pervert. But neither do the divine attributes absorb the human infirmities, nor do the human properties 194 lessen the divine; forasmuch as both so unite in Him, that neither are the proper natures of God and man confounded, nor the unity of the person destroyed.8484 S. Leo, Ep. cxxxiv. ad Leon. Aug.This, then, is the meaning of the prophecy: “Thou hast ordained for Me the perfect nature of manhood, in which to sanctify humanity, to fulfil Thy will, O God, and to die for the sin of the world: ‘a body hast Thou prepared Me.’” In this nature He conversed for three and thirty years among us, eating the fruits of the earth, taking rest in sleep, subject to all the laws of our earthly state: only thrice in His mortal life, so far as we read, the properties of our nature were for a while suspended; once when He fasted forty days, again when He walked upon the water, and a third time when He was transfigured in the mountain. But His very and true natural body was, like ours, subject to all infirmities, visible, circumscribed, and local; and of this the unbelief of the people of Capernaum is witness. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”8585 St. John vi. 52. They saw with their eyes a body like their own, subject to all the same conditions; and, according to those conditions, visible and natural, they misunderstood His divine and supernatural promise. Wherefore He said, “What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where 195He was before?”8686 St. John vi. 62. As if He had said, “Can flesh and blood, then, ascend up into heaven? If ye see this, will ye believe that ‘My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed?’ that there are with God powers and virtues, gifts and mysteries, of which ye know not? ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth.’ The Spirit is not come, as yet: ‘the flesh,’ mortal, visible, and local, as ye see it, ‘profiteth nothing.’”8787 Ibid. 63. See S. Aug. in Joan. Tractat. xxvii. 5. And of this it would seem that He gave, while yet on earth, a type and shadow. After He had suffered in the flesh, and had given His mortal body to be broken upon the cross, He rose again from the dead; no more under the conditions of flesh and blood, though still flesh and blood. He appeared to them “in another form;”8888 St. Mark xvi. 12. He passed the closed doors; He vanished out of their sight, and at the last ascended into heaven; where now, in the local presence of His natural body, visible to heavenly hosts, He sits exalted at the right hand of God.
2. There is yet another mystery contained by
virtue and force in this same prophecy. As there
was a natural, so there is a supernatural presence
of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I 196 will give for the life of the world.” “Except ye
eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His
blood, ye have no life in you; . . . . for My flesh is
meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He
that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood,
dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” We have already
seen how, when the people of Capernaum understood these words in a gross and fleshly sense, as if,
in St. Augustine’s words, “our Lord was about to
divide and give to them a portion of His body”8989 S. Aug. Enarr. in Ps. xcviii. 8, tom. iv. p. 1065.
as then visible before them, He, still affirming the
reality of the mystery, raised their thoughts to
a supernatural manner of fulfilment. And when
at the last supper He gave this great Sacrament
to His Apostles, He said openly, “This is My
Body,” “This is My Blood.”9090 St. Matt. xxvi. 26, 28. Upon these words
of power St. Paul speaks with the plainness of
our Lord Himself: “The cup of blessing which
we bless, is it not the communion of the blood
of Christ”? The bread which we break, is it not
the communion”—that is, the partaking—“of the
body of Christ?”9191 1 Cor. x. 16. It is not for us to attempt
to explain the secrets of this mystery. Who can
tell how the light was created, or how the earth
and the world were made; by what change flesh
and blood were fashioned of the dust, and woman 197from the side of Adam? Who can expound the
productive power of the first created root, bearing
seed in itself; or trace the lineal descent of substance in the corn and the olive, or in the family
of man? Who can reveal the manner of the
resurrection of the body, or the mystery of the
Incarnation? Then here let us stay our thoughts.
In the sphere of sense all is unchanged, and sense
is absolute; in the sphere of faith all objects are
divine, and His word is sure. What He has said,
that He will give, in spirit, substance, and reality.
Only let us keep aloof from vain questions of false
science and sensual logic. The mystery of the
Real Presence is not within the order of nature,
nor to be either explained or limited by natural
conditions. Nature is fallen and dead. It fell
and died in Adam, but is quickened from above
in Christ. What place have the laws of nature
in mysteries which issue from the miraculous
conception of a virgin, from an Incarnation of
God? Oh, foolish and faithless that we are!
foolish in philosophy, and faithless as members
of a divine Head. In our baptism we received “that which by nature we could not have;” we
were taken up out of the conditions of nature into
a supernatural order: and yet when, in full Christian maturity, we are admitted to the altar, we
would fain fall back again into “the beggarly 198 elements” of this sensual world. Is it not enough
for us to know that He who took our manhood,
and, in the personal attributes of our nature, is at
the right hand of God, is present in the Sacrament
of His Body and Blood? It is enough for us to
know, that as truly as the life and substance of
the first creation are sustained and perpetuated
until now, so in the second, which is the mystical
Vine, He is root and trunk, branch and fruit;
wholly in us, and we in Him.9292 “Non solo sacramento sed re ipsa
manducaverunt corpus Christi, in ipso ejus corpore constituti, de quo
dicit Apostolus, unus panis, unum corpus multi sumus.”—S. Aug. de Civ. Dei,
lib. xxi. c. 20.
“Non enim Christus in capite et non in corpore, sed Christus totus in capite et in corpore.”—S. Aug. Tract. in Joan. xxviii. The mysteries of the faith are believed unto salvation, but are analysed with neither blessing nor reward.
3. There is, moreover, yet another and a wider mystery springing up out of the last. The natural body of our Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were, the root out of which, by the power of the Holy Ghost, His mystical body is produced. And therefore He seems to take this title, “I am the root and the offspring of David;”9393 Rev. xxii. 16. the offspring according to the descent of the first creation, the root as the beginning of the new.199
This great work of the regeneration He began to fulfil when, at His descent into hell, He gathered to Himself the saints who of old were sanctified through the hope of His coming. In what way His saints from the beginning were made partakers of the Divine nature, which to us is given through the Incarnation of His Son, God has not as yet revealed. In what way the power of a holy resurrection wrought in their mortal bodies unknown even to themselves, we know as little as they. But we know that they of old could say, “In my flesh I shall see God;”9494 Job xix. 26. and “my flesh also shall rest in hope.”9595 Ps. xvi. 9. In their souls they were made members of the mystical body by “the spirit of Christ which was in them.”9696 1 St. Peter i. 11. At His descent into the grave they at last beheld their glorious Head revealed, and were united to Him by the presence of the Incarnation. They were engrafted into the stock of the Word made flesh. And though “they without us” could not, when on earth, “be made perfect,” yet at His descent unto them, they “came behind in no gift,” but were made equal to the saints of the kingdom. Then began the growth and expansion of the mystical vine. Upon this unity of patriarchs, prophets, and saints of old, were engrafted apostles and evangelists, and all the family of the regeneration.200
When the natural body of our Lord had been veiled from the eyes of flesh, a new object arose before the sight of men. Then was manifested upon earth His mystical body, which is the Church. St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” He here even calls the whole mystical body by the personal name of its Head: He calls it “Christ.” “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body.”9797 1 Cor. xii. 27, 12, 13. God “gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”9898 Eph. i. 22, 23. “From whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”9999 Ephes. iv. 16. Again, He is “the head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”100100 Col. ii. 19. The Church, then, is called His body, because He partook of our flesh and blood, and became Head of the Church; and the Church again, by the Holy 201Spirit through faith, is made partaker of Him. Therefore St. Paul says, we are “of His flesh and of His bones.”101101 Ephes. v. 30. In one sense the Church is called the body of Christ, by metaphor and analogy to the members and unity of a natural body: in another sense mystically, because of its true and vital union with Him.
The mystical body of Christ, then, is the whole fellowship of all who are united to Him by the Spirit, whether they be at rest in the world unseen, or here in warfare still on earth; differing only in this, that all His members who have been gathered out of this world are secure for ever; but in this world, they who are still in trial may yet be “taken away,” and, as the fruitless and withered branch, “cast forth”102102 St. John xv. 6. for the burning. It is remarkable how this figure, which expresses the intense inwardness and spirituality of the body of Christ, expresses equally its visible unity and organisation. It is as visible, sensible, and local as was the natural body of Christ Himself. In all the world it is visibly manifest as the presence of its unseen Head. It speaks, witnesses, acts, binds and looses in His name, and as Himself. And so in all lands, and through all ages, since He went up into heaven, His mystical body, inspired and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, has filled His place 202 on earth. The mustard seed has become a great tree, the stone a great mountain; the vine has “sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.”103103 Ps. lxxx. 11. The Body which, in its natural and local condition, was enclosed in an upper chamber, or wound in grave-clothes, has multiplied its life and substance as the first Adam in the family of mankind, and spread itself throughout the generations of God’s elect.
Such is the mystical body of Christ.
Are there, then, three bodies of Christ? God forbid: but one only; one in nature, truth, and glory. But there are three manners, three miracles of divine omnipotence, by which that one body has been and is present; the first, as mortal and natural; the second, supernatural, real, and substantial; the third, mystical by our incorporation. The presence is one, the manner threefold; the substance one in all three: all three one in Him; whether He be in the holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood, or in His mystical members, which together make His Church, it is He who, of the substance of the Blessed Virgin, took our nature, was born and crucified, rose and ascended into heaven. Other body than this was not prepared of His Father, and other than this we know of none.203
Surely these great realities ought to teach us many high and practical truths.
1. As, for instance, with how much of loving reverence we ought to regard every baptised person. He is “a member of Christ;” what more can be spoken or conceived? He is united by the Spirit of Christ to the mystical body, of which the Word made flesh is the supernatural Head. He has in him a life and an element which is above this world; even “the powers of the world to come.”104104 Heb. vi. 5. St. Peter, by the inspiration of God, declares that we are made “partakers of the divine nature.”105105 2 St. Peter i. 4. What does this mean? It does not mean that we are made partakers of the incommunicable Godhead, but that we are made partakers of the manhood of the incarnate Word. It is our nature made divine. We partake of Him: of His very flesh, of His mind, of His will, and of His spirit. He dwells in us according as the capacity of man can receive the indwelling of the incarnate God.106106 S. Athan. contra Arian. Orat. i. 16 et 38. αὐτὸς υἰοποίησεν ἡμᾶς τῷ Πατρὶ, καὶ ἐθεοποίησε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους γενόμενος αὐτὸς ἄνθρωπος. also Orat. iii. 25. This is salvation and the holiness of saints; the mind of Christ infused and reigning, kindling the will with all its affections, quickening the whole spiritual life with the fire of divine 204 love, with the power of obedience and patience, of sanctity and the cross. In every regenerate soul this exists in germ and virtue. When it is unfolded, we see the imitation, the mystical presence of Christ. Who can describe the communion of saints, or even the mind of one saint? None but saints alone. It is a wonderful and incomprehensible depth of love and power. We can but humble ourselves in our own dust, and be silent.
This is the divine reality which has restored to the world two great laws of love, the unity and the equality of man. All the members of Christ are one in Him, and equal because He is in all. The highest and most endowed is but as the poorest and the lowest. Christ’s kingdom is full of heavenly paradoxes. All are rich, and all are poor: all are equal, and all are “subject one to another:”107107 1 St. Peter v. 5. the wise are foolish, and fools are wise; the rich are least, and the poor greatest; the last first, and the first last. What a mystery of peace and bliss! How does this harmonise all sharp worldly contrasts, all abrupt and unequal lots, with the soft light of a divine unity. Even the poor working man, with his hard palms, sits at the marriage-supper with “the king and princes;” it may be sits higher than his earthly lord. With what gentleness, reverence, humble and loving distance 205ought we to converse together. How sinful it is to scorn, or to ridicule, a member of Christ’s body! In the least we despise the Word made flesh. How would this habitual memory refine, purify, and elevate all our intercourse, and shed a grace upon the humblest and homeliest life. There is a courtesy and a mutual observance which is the peculiar dignity and sweetness of a Christian; and the source of it is, that he sees the presence of his Lord in others, and reveres Him in himself. Only the true Christian can have real self-respect. From this springs purity of manners, language, conversation, and amusements in private and social life. How awfully St. Paul uses this great spiritual fact of our incorporation with Christ to enforce the sanctification of the body.
Hence, also, arises the great law of charity and alms: our blessed Lord has founded it upon His own mystical presence in all His members, especially in the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, the sick, and the dying. And what thought is so full of soothing and consolation? The union of Christ’s members with Him gives us, not only a law of loving reverence for the living, but above all for the dead. When the soul has departed to a more intimate union with Christ in the unseen rest, the body also is still united to Him who is “the 206 Resurrection and the Life.” Though the soul is parted from the body, both are still one in Him; and that union is the pledge that they shall be reunited at His coming. It is this faith which has taught Christians a loving care for their dead. Though the sleeping body can no longer consciously receive the offices of love, yet it does not cease to be worthy of a sacred honour: it is a part of the mystical body of the Lord. Before the Word was made flesh, a dead body was an unclean thing; to touch it was pollution: but since His holy Incarnation, the bodies of the regenerate are holy,—honourable in the dishonour of corruption. Therefore we lay them out, and deck them with pure and spotless array, dressing them with flowers or with costlier beauty, and bear them forth in processions with chants of thanksgiving. A Christian burial, from the most royal pageant to the lowliest bier, is a work of loving reverence, an earthly type of baptism, a confession of the faith, a shadow from the altar, where is the true body of Him who died and rose again.
2. And one more thought we may take from this blessed mystery; I mean, with what veneration and devotion we ought to behave ourselves towards the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
The first truth which must force itself upon 207every one who has faith in this great gift of love is, the duty and blessedness of celebrating it with the greatest possible frequency. Nothing surely ought to restrain this frequency, except the awfulness of the blessed Sacrament, and the danger of unworthiness in the celebrant and the receivers. But this is a subject far too wide to enter upon by the way. Frequent communion does indeed demand a high tone of habitual devotion and of inward recollection in the pastors of the Church. And this is both their highest blessing and their strictest law of life. Happy, and full of all benediction to ourselves and to our flocks, if we could so live as to be always meet to draw near to Him. But it is not more certain that frequent communion demands high devotion, than that a belief in the Real Presence demands frequent celebration. How can we be said to believe what we do not act upon? “Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”108108 St. James ii. 18. Surely, if there be any thing in which “faith without works is dead,” it is in a profession of believing Christ’s Presence in the holy Sacrament while we rarely celebrate it. They who do not believe in this divine gift are consistent in approaching it once a year: but should we be consistent, if, believing, we celebrate it but three or four times a 208 year? A living faith in this spiritual reality would make infrequent communion impossible. Where the holy Eucharist is not, the ritual of the Church is as a day when the sun goes down at noon. We should feel as if the worship of God through Christ had lost its central light. All the whole life of the regenerate is related to this great fountain of grace; all issues from it, and returns into it again. When the altar stands cold and hare, they are bid to go empty away.
But if this be the effect of such a faith upon the frequency, what must it also be upon the manner of celebrating this holy sacrament? What do mean and naked altars, often wormed and decaying; worn arid paltry furniture, worthless vessels, and, worse than all, rough and reckless handling, certainly reveal? Belief of His presence, or assurance of His absence? But alas, our own sins are enough—too many and too deep that we should look on others. With what a conscious feeling of direct and personal service done to our Master should we tend and dress that which is a shadow of His cross and of His grave; with what respect should ‘we handle and care for even the least and poorest vessel, sacred by relation to His presence. Above all, with what a collected sense of His nearness ought we to fulfil our function in offering the memorial of His one only sacrifice, 209by taking, blessing, breaking the Bread of life to His people! If only we could apprehend by a living faith, and realise the very truth of what we do, we should feel that after His sacramental Presence, and our standing there to serve before Him, nothing remains but the homage of the blessed in the vision of His face in heaven.210
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