Saturday, March 03, 2007

Body and Bride IIIa

Bates has a response to my response to his response to my response to his original argument.

The two basic issues that have fallen out are (A) the (relatively minor) question of whether the Christ-Church relation Scripture tells us is a model for marriage is eschatological; and (B) the question of whether a conservative Anglican can reject the argument on form alone. After considering Bates's latest response, I think my points still stand whole and entire, although Bates is on stronger ground with regard to (A) than to (B). Here are my responses to the newer parts of the argument. To keep the size down, in this post I'll consider only (A).

(A) Bates thinks I am forgetting the wife-husband direction of the marriage analogue in the threefold analogy. The reason I have not focused on it is rather different. For one thing, Paul elaborates rather more in the husband-wife direction. But taking it explicitly into account does not yield the conclusion Bates thinks it does.

If the original argument is to work, and if Ephesians 5 is to justify premise 4, the relation R must be the actual relation Paul mentions in Ephesians 5. Certainly it must be so if it is to be taken on its own original terms as "grounded in the Bible qua canonical narrative." But there is no hint in this passage of an eschatological relation. The pattern of the passage, I take it, is roughly as follows:

be filled with the Holy Spirit
(among other things) being mutually subject to each other,
wives to their husbands as to the Lord,
for the husband is the head of the wife
as Christ is the Head of the Church (=the Body)
as Savior of the Body;
as the Church is subject to Christ
so wives should be subject to their husbands

and then on to the question of the role of husbands. Now, since Christ is Head qua Savior (that this is the intent is made very clear when he goes on to talk about husbands), then the subjection or subordination that is the reciprocal complement to the Headship of Christ -- the only relation that can be in view here -- can only be eschatological in this passage if Christ's Headship and salvation are eschatological. However, Paul throughout Ephesians talks of our salvation and our incorporation as things that have already been done in Christ; and his exhortations (including the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit that starts him off on this topic) are exhortations for individuals to live worthily of their call to grow into Christ as parts of his body. The relation that Paul considers in the wife passage is the Body's subordination to its Head (understood as the source of its life); this exists now. What does not exist now is perfect incorporation of the parts of the Body, i.e., us. If it were merely a matter of saying that in the eschatological case, in which the Church is presented to Christ in splendor, were useful because it is the pure case, one in which a number of distracting issues are eliminated, there would be nothing to disagree with here. But Bates seems to want to make a stronger claim that the relation itself is eschatological; and there is nothing in this passage that suggests this. Bates wants to argue that in particular "the Church here below in its relation to Christ does not present an edifying or morally suitable model that might serve as an ideal for marriage"; but this seems explicitly contradicted by the passage in question.

It seems to me that here as elsewhere Bates keeps sliding between the Body and its parts indiscriminately; for the Body's subjection to Christ is the reciprocal complement to Christ's Headship, and there is no reason to think that this relation as it currently exists is not an edifying or morally suitable model. What certainly does not present an edifying or morally suitable model is the relation of individual parts to the Head of the Body; for in this case Paul has clearly implied that we individually can fail to live in a manner worthy of the call we have received to grow into Christ, who is the source of life for the whole Body. Paul, however, clearly ties the subjection of the Body to Christ's Headship over it; there is not only nothing to indicate that the two cannot be pried apart, the argument of the passage seems to preclude this entirely. For as the argument presents the matter, the wife's submission is analogous to the Church's submission in that, or because, the husband's headship is analogous to Christ's Headship as Savior. So again, Paul still focuses on Christ's Headship in discussing the Church's relation to Christ (which is the relation to Christ as Head).

Contrary to what Bates suggests later, my point in all this is not to ask "what that eschatological relation has to do with marriage"; this is to confuse (A) and (B). I can perfectly well see what the eschatological relation has to do with marriage, since on the principles of my criticism it has exactly the same relevance to marriage in the eschaton that it has now. My point is that moving to the eschaton contributes nothing whatsoever to the strength or weakness of the argument. The Pauline passages suggest that the relation is not exclusive to the eschaton, so emphasis on the eschatological can be nothing more than a matter of convenience -- a pure case, as I say above. So the whole issue of eschatology is simply beside the point unless Bates can show that it is necessary to interpret Paul as confining the relevant relation to the eschaton. It does exhibit, however, the continual confusion between Body and parts of the Body that pervades the argument.

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