Blog Template Theology of the Body: Considering Radner in a Marian Key

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Considering Radner in a Marian Key

Ephraim Radner explains that he "likes figural images for the Church;" and while his point of reference for this idea is the great George Lindbeck's proposal that we regard Israel as the symbol of the Church, Catholic ecclesiology insists that there is something more to be said in addition. Fundamentally, the Church can only exist where Christ is, where He dwells; and He has dwelt, as Scripture instructs us, not primarily in tabernacles made with men's hands, but within His people, somewhat in the same way as the way in which He dwelt uniquely in the very body of His mother. Mary's relationship to her Son, in its ontological intimacy, shows us what it means to be the Church. This is the reason why the Catholic Church insists in some of its most important ecclesiological encyclicals that the Church is foremostly Marian in its character; and that is also why, when you step into a Catholic Church, one finds her portrayed all over the place. She is our point of reference for discerning what we are all about. The bride who comes down from Heaven in St. John's vision once lived in Nazareth; she is the new Jerusalem who explicates to us just how near our Creator has come.

If we look at Mary, and her self-description relative to her Lord, what might the Church understand to say about herself? More particularly, what would she say of herself contrary to certain contemporary Protestant proposals (of which we might use Radner as an exemplar)?

Rather than identifying herself as "an historical creature," the product of human trends and identities, she would say behold the handmaiden of the Lord.

Contrary to the noble Anglican Richard Hooker's suggestion that Christian communities ought always to be run by councils, which, by the fact of their frequency over time, will gradually rectify their problems, such that those who leave to seek solace in other communities are merely exemplifying "impatience," she would recall the immediate readiness of her response to the angelic annunciation that the Lord was with her, there and then, and let it be so; and the angel departed.

Rather than suggesting that the various movements of the Holy Spirit among Christian communities can be rightly reduced to explosions of self-conscious, democratic movemements towards individual self-realization, generally the product of environments which are plagued with poverty, social marginalization, and a need for political liberation, she would say with confidence that what has been unto her has been according to His word.

She would certainly frown gently on the idea that although we might confess belief in one holy apostolic church, this confession is merely a descriptive, explicative claim by which we ought to construe the more real historical givenness of a scattering of thousands of "churches;" she would instead proclaim victoriously that for her, at least, the mighty one has done great things in order to show His own humility, in His visible incarnation, to be exalted among the nations.

Rather than dismissing the Catholic and Orthodox claims to enjoy the fullness of the Church's life as mere suggestions held by two "models" of the Church among hundred of others, she would treasure and honor in her heart of hearts the givenness of God's sovereign work in the history of the world, and honor it accordingly.

She would not wring her hands over the seeming failures or absence of normative ecclesial structures, such that all that seems to remain are "different modes of ecclesial life" or "a range of possible emphases," which may be selected by believers according to historical conditions and trends of expression, such that the only really important thing is for Christians to be nice to each other while they determine for themselves "what the Church ought to be today;" she would say simply, as she did at Cana, do whatever He tells you.

And in response to the idea that Christian communion must refer to something much larger and more nebulous than you and me, such that the only open question remains how to concretize a unity yet to be realized, she would turn her gaze back to Calvary, where she stood with her dying Son and heard Him say, so simply: it is accomplished.