Put Christ Back Into Christianity: The Body of Christ

Absolutely fundamental to the Christian religion is the belief that God, as the second person of the Trinity, took on human form and became man. Jesus Christ, whose incarnation we celebrate at this time, was fully divine – and also fully human.

I want to stress here that word “incarnation”, not just the nativity, so familiar from Christmas cards and Nativity plays. Yes, like all other humans he began life as an infant – but he lived and ministered as a man, a real man, fully human, with all that entails. We celebrate the incarnation explicitly at Christmas, but also constantly in the life of the Church, and especially in the Mass. At the consecration, we hear the words, “This is my body”, and on receiving communion, “Body of Christ”, to which we reply, “Amen”. But like so much in tradition, this response has shifted subtly over the millenia.The original response carried rather more punch.

In the early church, when the presbyter administered the holy communion to the faithful, saying “Corpus Christi”, the body of Christ, the response was not “Amen”, as we now have it, but “I am”. Do you see how radical that is? You -I- we- are the body of God, in our humanity.

-Fr Bernard Lynch, cited in “From Queer to Eternity

There is another, fundamentally important implication that must follow from Christ’s fully human nature – his sexuality. Outside the realm of speculation, we have no specific knowledge of the nature of his sexual feelings and responses, but as an adult human male, we can be certain that they were there, even if we do not know what they were.

At the heart of Christianity is the astonishing claim that God became fully human in Jesus Christ a nd took on human flesh. With a body, circumcision, erections, ejaculations, sexual attractions. With eyes that noticed beauty, skin sensitive to the massage of oil and the touch of a woman’s hair.  Spittle that he rubbed on the eyes of a man born blind. A taste for good wine and feet that could dance the night away at Cana….Is this not what Jesus took on in the Incarnation?

-Michael Sean Paterson, in “From Queer to Eternity

Does it matter that he was male? Well. Catholic tradition certainly thinks so. That is a major part of the insistence on an exclusively male clergy.  How do we know that Christ had erections and ejaculations? That follows from his male biology. As any man knows, especially young men (and Christ died while still young) the male genital responses can be completely involuntary (even being used in some research studies and government programs to identify orientation).

So why is the Christian Church, and especially the Catholics, so afraid of the body, and of sexuality in particular? Other religions do not fear sex: many celebrate it to some degree  (some religions have even identified divine patrons of homosexual love). The Christian antipathy to the body and sexuality do not come from the Gospel and from Christ himself. The likeliest explanation I have found is that it arises from a combination of a distortion of Greek Stoic philosophy and a belief in the imminent parousia – but as my concern here is specifically with Christology, I will not explore that question further here.

The modern Catholic Church’s extreme resistance to the body has not even been a constant part of its tradition. We know for instance that many of the most celebrated saints and teachers in the mystical tradition of the church used starkly erotic, bodily imagery (including obviously homoerotic imagery).  The same attention to Christ’s physical body was also once evident in the visual arts.

Today, we are so accustomed to the sanitised images of the white male in a flowing white robe, familiar from children’s Illustrated Bible Stories and the like, that it is easy to lose sight of the real, human man behind these images.  The representations we commonly see, whether as pictures or as crucifixes, would typically suggest that he had no genitals at all – and completely obscure the fact that he was crucified, and carried the cross, entirely naked. It was not always so – as the art historian Leo Steinberg has demonstrated, Renaissance artists in their depictions of Christ’s body did not shirk from indicating the genitals, and even the erections he would surely have experienced.  Mark Jordan describes this misrepresentation of Christ’s body as a “corpse” of Jesus created by official Christology.

Much Christian theology claims to be about a divine incarnation. It is also, and perhaps more emphatically, a speech or managing that incarnation by controlling its awkward implications. Some particularly awkward consequences can only be managed by passing over members of the body of God in prudish silence.  Looked at in this way, the history of Christian theology can be seen as a long flight from the full consequences of its central profession. The big business of theology has been to construct alternate bodies for Jesus Christ – tidier bodies, bodies better conformed to institutional needs.  I think of these artificial bodies as Jesus’ corpses, and I consider large parts of official Christology as their mortuary.

In stressing the overwhelming probability that in his humanity, Jesus Christ would have experienced sexual feelings and physical, genital  responses, I do not want to argue that these were homoerotic responses to other men – but they may have been, as some scholars surmise. However, it would also be wrong to assume that his responses were either asexual or necessarily heterosexual.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for our religious practice as gay men (in particular)? I suggest that there are two hugely important consequences. The first is in our practice of spirituality, and our spiritual growth in personal relationship with Jesus. Recognizing his full bodily, male humanity, we should feel free to incorporate this into our prayer. Following the advice of Chris Glaser, we must allow our sexuality to complement our spirituality, not restrict it  – and vice versa. Unlike the official theologians of the Catholic Church, we must not run away from the full truth of Christ’s body. For Catholics, this also means we must take seriously the nature of the Eucharist itself. On this, I close with some words from Gerard Loughlin, in his introduction to “Queer Theology“:

The consecrated bread and wine are not metaphors for the body and blood of Christ, but really God’s body and blood, given for us to eat.  Pope Benedict XVI does not shy away from this when when he acknowledges that the “marriage between God and Israel” is now realized as union with God through sharing in Jesus’ body and blood. Certainly the Eucharist is as intimate as sex – taking another’s body into one’s own – and just insofar as it unites men and women with Jesus, it is gay sex as well as straight sex, gay marriage and straight marriage.

It is thus not possible for Christians schooled in the gospels and traditions to believe that gay people are ordered to an “intrinsic evil,” since all are ordered to God, and those ordered to God through their own sex are ordered as were the two Johns – the beloved and the baptist – who were ordered to Jesus ; a lover who does not discinguish between the sex of his brides, who welcomes all alike. Christ is the lover of both St theresa of Avila and St John of the cross.  …. It is not possible to place gay people outside Christ’s eucharistic embrace, the very space where we learn “the concrete practice of love.” For eucharstic communion “includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn”.

Related Posts at QTC

Recommended Books:

Building Sexual Theology From the Ground Up

We are all familiar with the established, restrictive views on human sexuality espoused by the Vatican. In my writing on queer faith, I have often expressed views that some find controversial – but my regular readers generally find more helpful.

Some gay Catholics, and some priests, have been led to conclusions even more provocative than my own. One such is “Paul Robert”, who describes himself at his site Enhanced Masculinity as a Catholic “priest trying to put together a new theology of male homosexuality”.  His tone and style are markedly different to mine, but there is a fundamental point of theological agreement here: in the absence of any realistic sexual ethics taught by the nominally celibate men of the Vatican , we have no choice but to find our own path, and build a meaningful framework for sexual ethics from the ground up.

From “Enhanced Masculinity” Front Page

“Robert” says that he was excited when he first started reading theologians like John McNeill. So was I. He has moved a good deal further down the path than McNeill: I have not moved as far as he has, and am constantly reassessing my thinking, to identify what I can clearly accept, and what I definitively reject. As yet, there is not too much in either camp  that I am certain of, and a large range of matters remain for me unresolved questions, on which I will not yet take a position. So, while we both share an objective, to contribute to the development of a sound sexual ethic for gay men, I do not necessarily support everything that he says – but I will be thinking about his thoughts. The value of reading views we may not necessarily agree with, is that they force us to reconsider our own. Ever since coming across “Enhanced Masculinity” with its unabashed celebration of male sexuality, I have found myself constantly reflecting. Just how far do I agree, and where do I draw the line – and, more importantly, why?

I have selected (and edited) some extracts from his opening posts that are worth thinking about. Be warned though, before following any links, that these are not for the faint -hearted.  I noted earlier that he has gone a lot further in his rejection of the orthodox teaching than I have , and the site is quite specifically x-rated. If you do not want to risk being offended, stay away – and reflect instead on the thought behind the points that I reproduce here:

Why this blog

This blog is meant to be an exercise in thinking out a way of integrating my homosexuality, or, as I like to call it, my enhanced masculinity, with my Christian faith.  I call it “enhanced masculinity” because that is what being gay is all about, being fully sensitive to and keyed into masculinity in myself and in every guy I meet.  I know that there are lots of guys out there struggling with this.  I have come up with some new ways of philosophizing on homosexuality that I hope they may find helpful.

More about me and my thoughts

The author of this blog is a religious and a priest in full sacramental communion with the Roman Pontiff. I am gay with a strong tendency towards fetish and kink. This experience of how my own enhanced masculinity speaks to me, and has spoken to me since the onset of human consciousness, is basic to my thinking which pivots round the realization that you cannot philosophize or theologize on homosexuality in parallel with the moral norms for heterosexuality. What happens between a man and a woman is rightly called sex. What happens between two guys needs to be called something else, like enhanced masculinity.

My thinking is fairly simple:

1. Homosexuality is a gift from God. It is men tuned up to the masculine. I recently thought of the term “Enhanced males”. There is nothing evil, nothing wrong with this condition, it is a gift to society.
2. This man for man erotic direction is totally separate in its significance and nature from the heterosexual urge. It is a mistake to think out, philosophize on, mansex in the same framework as heterosex.
3. This gift needs to be integrated into our personal lives and in the lives of Christians and society by being used. We do not have to hide our light under a bushel. God wants to be praised for his gift of masculinity by guys exulting in it, individually and together. This means masturbating….. This perfectly healthy activity should never have been forbidden in the name of religion or decency. It is a puzzle to understand why it was ever so forbidden.
4. I come from a background that talks about chastity, that encourages vows of chastity. All of that tradition has been thought up in the context of a mentality that regards heterosexuality as the uniquely valid way of human sexuality. The spiritual path of union with God that this tradition seeks is equally to be found in living in depth the gift of enhanced masculinity for those who have it.

Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):