Saint Paul and the Donation of Being: The Body of Christ as Holistic Interbeing
“Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself.”
“We must therefore rediscover, after the natural world, the social world, not as an object or sum of objects, but as a permanent field or dimension of existence.”
Continental philosophers of religion from Marion to Caputo to Zizek have frequently recognized and praised Saint Paul for his subversive discourse on being and nonbeing in his first canonical letter to Corinth: “God has chosen the lowly things of this world and the despised things—the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” For Paul this is the direct consequence of his faith being grounded upon nothing but “Christ crucified.”
In my previous post I argued that Christ, in his self-emptying as a human being (especially in his crucifixion in Golgotha), makes himself an open space between being where the divine and human can come together. This happens when he abandons his own identity and self-enclosure in order to unconditionally embrace the other—the human outside cultural and tribal systems—thus bringing forth a new holistic form of Being in differentiated unity. This new unity becomes the actualization of the divine in human life. In this way he becomes fully human and fully divine, inviting everyone else to do the same through participation in crucifixion—“take up your cross”.
So Paul, building off of this scandalous truth, wanted to argue that God in Christ had changed up the worldly game of being by undermining its order through the cross. All those outside of tribal and cultural boundaries had been stripped of identity (especially lepers). Culturally this meant that they were abandoned to the realm of nonbeing. But “in Christ,” such persons could gain a new, universal identity as the very dwelling place of the divine by virtue of simply being human. Paul embraces this new kind of identity, recognizing that because it is apart from all exclusive and tribal systems, these persons “in Christ” would be regarded as “the trash of the world” by those on the side of worldly being.
This serves as the ground for what Paul calls “the body of Christ,” something that the aforementioned philosophers have failed to grasp in unity with Paul’s undermining of the worldly order of being.
The Body of Christ is the new body that appears in resurrection after the old body of the crucified one dies. In this new body, no one’s body is meant to exist in isolation. When I enter, I donate my own being and no longer possess myself. When I use the term “donation,” I am not only hearkening back to Jean-Luc Marion’s language of the Gift—an unconditional giving with no return expected—but I am thinking of the very carnal reality of organ donation. If I donate my organ to a dying patient, I lose part of my life that they may gain their own life. In a similar way, when I donate my being to the Body of Christ—a holistic community of differentiated beings in mutual support—I give something unconditionally for the life of the other. Christ, on the cross, donates his entire being. But resurrection means that all benefit. All members of the Body donate their own being, and as a result, all gain life-support. It is a double-experience of crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus said that anyone who loses her life for the sake of Christ will find it, but anyone who holds onto it will lose it. Christ is the new holistic reality wherein the Body of Christ emerges. Everyone loses so that everyone gains.
Ecosystems are a good picture of this. In an ecosystem, every individual part exists in unity with the other parts through the mutual exchange of energy. This exchange of energy empowers each organism to thrive, and any organism outside of an ecosystem will die.
The Body of Christ, for Paul, is a divine-human ecosystem. The whole of the ecosystem is the “divine” dimension, and the individual parts are the “human” or “animal” dimension. The two dimensions are inseparable as are all the individual parts. Just as in an ecosystem the individual being of an organism is not lost in unity but supported by it, in the Body of Christ, each being—each body—is a “whole within a whole,” a unique and differentiated individual in unity with others, supported by them and supporting them. Paul says that we retain our individuality in the Body—analogized as hands, feet, tongue, eye—working together for each other’s good. He says that if one member suffers, all members suffer. This holistic unity involves the emergence of new Being from the coming together of individual beings as a fuller realization of the divine, for “God is love” as the Johannine proclamation affirms.
This unity is one of love, not forced conformity. It is a unity that upholds and supports differentiation. It is a unity achieved by the crucifixion of tribal identity for the realization of a universal identity as simultaneously creaturely and divine.
To be concise, the new identity that arises is individual membership in an emerging universality of creaturely unity toward the deepening of the “divine” dimension of life itself, every individual creature a “temple” or “body” of the divine.
This crucifixion involves the mutual donation of being for the very purpose of the flourishing of each being together toward new and fuller Being. Even as this new Being/Body is upheld and supported by individual beings/bodies, it strengthens and divinizes each individual body and being.
Thus, the Body of Christ is a new form of interbeing as natural and original as an ecosystem but as novel as each new page in the ongoing book of evolution.