Sunday, April 14, 2013

Käsemann on Paul and early Catholicism

In researching for a final paper, I came across this incredible (and lengthy) excerpt, which nicely highlights Käsemann's insistence upon the primacy of christology above all else, which is never eclipsed by or contingent upon ecclesiology or anthropology:

"The theme 'Paul and early catholicism' catches sight of only a segment of that radical transformation which led to the ancient Church. However, this segment has paradigmatic significance. Here it becomes apparent that the nascent catholicism was the historically necessary outcome of an original Christianity whose apocalyptic expectation has not been fulfilled. It may likewise become clear that - expressed or not - the mark of nascent catholicism is the message about the world-pervading Church as the reality of the kingdom of Christ on earth. We have thus arrived at a perspective relative to the total problem and can now go on to test its accuracy once more in detail.

Against my exposition it will probably be objected that Paul himself already understood the Church as the world-pervading domain of Christ; this understanding did not begin with early catholicism. In itself, such an observation is completely accurate, as is shown by the Pauline motif of the Church as the body of Christ. But I do not agree with the reasoning behind it, which is my opinion isolates the phenomenon instead of locating it historically. I would like to reverse the process: That observation shows that the Pauline concept of the Church pave the way for the early catholic view. Just as the apostle prescribed for his successors the horizon of their mission, so he also presented them with the basic theme of their theology. He was not by any means assimilated into their salvation history solely as a prisoner of their illusions. They did not comprehend his distinctiveness, but they found something in his personal and theological legacy which illuminated their own reality. For the conception of the Church as the body of Christ is the adequate expression for a community which carries on a worldwide mission in the name of Christ. In this respect it far surpasses the other conceptions of the people of God and the family of God. It is not accidental that this conception has been carried over into the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, and in the process was developed and modified, as is characteristic of catholicism generally. Its deepest theological significance, however, lay in the fact that it inseparably linked ecclesiology and christology together and thus made the Church an integral factor in the salvation event.

No where is this more apparent than in the letter to the Ephesians, which for that very reason has become the classical document for all doctrine concerning the Church. Here even the connection between ecclesiology and christology is given a sacramental basis, so that becoming a disciple of Jesus is no longer the basis but the consequence of being a Christian. The Church grows as it were out of baptism, and in the celebration of the Lord's Supper it is constantly reunited out of all the dispersion to which its members are subject in everyday life. The decisive factor here is that men do not act on their own but are passively joined to the salvation event. As the sole actor, Christ mediates himself to those for whom he died and over whom he chooses now to reign. The drama of salvation is not concluded with Easter. Rather, precisely for the sake of the Easter event, it has an earthly continuation, because the exalted one desires to manifest himself as Lord of the world. ...

Even this view can claim a precedent in Paul. He did in fact make the sacramental incorporation into the worldwide body of Christ the criterion of being a Christian, and thus rejected a mere historical or ethical connection with Jesus of Nazareth as this criterion. For him also the lordship of Christ on earth rests on the fact that the exalted Lord, present in the Church, binds his own to himself and to one another. By endowing them with the Spirit, he makes them capable of permeating the old world as the inbreaking of the new, following his own precedent, and thus of demonstrating his omnipotence in every place and time. ...

For [Paul], the sacrament grants no guarantee of salvation, but makes it possible the overcoming of the world effected by the Spirit through a faith under threat by the world. It therefore opens up the dialectic of Christian existence, which is both under temptation and determined by the Lord at the same time. The reality of the new life stands and falls with the promise that God remains faithful and does not abandon his handiwork. Therefore statements about the sacrament are paralleled, and in a certain way even paralysed, by others about the gospel or faith. The Church is the world under the promise and commandment of the heavenly Lord, the host of those placed under the word and thus summoned ever anew to the exodus of the people of God. This means that Christian existence is no manageable phenomenon within the bounds of a clearly defined cultic society, and the effect of the sacraments can not be described as formulas ex opere operato. For the Giver cannot be separated from his gift and, on the other hand, he is not identical with his means of salvation, but he remains Lord and Judge over and in his gifts.

There is for Paul no extension of the earthly Jesus in the Church as the earthly deputy of the exalted one. It is just where he speaks of the body of Christ that christology and ecclesiology are not interchangeable. The Lord's domain manifests the Lord, but it does not stand in his stead and take possession of him. The body is the field and instrument of the Spirit, not its substitute or its fetters. Paul is utterly misunderstood if one regards the primacy of Christ over his Church as meaning anything other than the exclusive lordship of Christ. If the Pauline motif is used in another sense, the apostle necessarily, though against his will, becomes the pioneer of early catholic Christianity."

- Ernst Käsemann, "Paul and Early Catholicism," in New Testament Questions of Today, 242-245, emphasis added.

1 comment:

Dan Sullivan said...

I would recommend THE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL by Dr. Taylor Marshall. Much of what Marshall has to say about Paul's writings being the germ for Roman Catholic theology would also apply to the moral general "catholic" understanding. It's an interesting book, to say the least.

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