Toward an Intercorporeal Body of Christ
This dissertation analyzes the various images of the body in the metaphor of the church as a body, or the body of Christ, in modern Catholic ecclesiology in order to reimagine the corporeal metaphor for postconciliar ecclesiology. The metaphor of the church as a body has a vertical dimension expressing the relationship between Christ and the church and a horizontal dimension expressing the relationships among Christians. In its vertical dimension, “body” has been understood as ‘self’ and/or as ‘spouse.’ In its horizontal dimension, the body has been understood as a living organism and/or as an ordered society. In the magisterial tradition especially, the body is described as a well-bounded and hierarchically ordered organism, in which members are united under a head and share in one common life, and which manifests the person to the world. The metaphor of the church as a body, then, has most often been used to express and justify papal authority and primacy and the exclusion of non-Catholics from the body of Christ, and to posit the Catholic Church as the ongoing manifestation of Christ’s presence and authority. This dissertation utilizes the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to challenge these notions of the body, showing instead that the body is ‘intercorporeal’—interwoven with other bodies, united by meaningful action, and having flexible boundaries. The body is the necessary foundation of existence in the world, but can also inhibit personal presence as well. In light of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, this dissertation argues for a vision of the church as an intercorporeal body—a missionary, dialogical, and decentralized body that is capable of mediating, but also inhibiting, the presence of Christ to the world.