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Incorporation in Christ


For St. Paul the essential eschatological reality is the risen Christ in His glorified Body (Col 2.17). In Biblical thought "body" stands for the whole human being in one's concrete reality as a living person. Sinful human beings are freed from "the body of sin" and "death" (Rom 6.6; 7.24) through the Lord Jesus, who in His own Body-person has destroyed the body of sin (Rom 8.3; 2 Cor 5.21; Col 1.22) and who, risen to new life in the Spirit (Rom 1.4), is in His "spiritual body" (1 Cor 15.4449) the bearer of new life to human beings (Eph 2.56; 1 Cor 15.2023; 4549; Col 2.123.4; Rom 8.11). It is through Baptism in faith (Col 2.1112; Rom 6.314; 1 Cor 12.13; Eph 5.26) that the sinner, delivered from his own sin-and-death body, is attached to Christ and to the work wrought by Christ in His own Body, and is made one Body with Christ living now as "spiritual body" and "life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor 15.4445). It is into Christ's Body that Christians are incorporated as members and made His Church-Body; for once embodied into Christ, they become "fellow-members of the same body" (Eph 3.6) and "members of one another" (4.25).

According to Pius XII in the encyclical mystici corporis, incorporation into Christ is realized only in and through the Church, His social Body (see encycl., pars. 11, 40, 67, 73, 81). Christ's "social Body" (44, 51, 58, 67, etc.) is so "conjoined" (1, 5, 11, 55, 67, etc.) and so "made like" (46, 51, 54) to its Head, who shares with it His most "intimately personal goods" (53), that He is become a quasi-person sustaining His Church-Body (5153, 56, 77). "The divine Savior with His social Body constitutes only one mystical person" (67; see 56, 78). At the same time, however, the social Body of the Church is itself personified, and given not a detached but a distinct collective existence (78, 53, 85, 5, 12, etc.). Vatican II's Lumen Gentium (78) continues the line of thought put forth in Mystici Corporis, though it broadens significantly the ecumenical outreach found already in that encyclical.

Baptism in water and the Spirit (18, 21, 26, 29) incorporates the whole human being into Christ in His social Body, qualifying the baptized to live in the total inward-outward life (60) of the company of those who in Christ's one Spirit (545) are one with Christ and with each other in faith, hope, and love (7074).

The grace of incorporation invests the whole social Body, inwardly and outwardly (61, 6869, 63), and all its single members similarly. It is an embodied grace.

Among the points elaborated by theologians are the following: (1) the precise nature of the Headship of Christ; (2) the role of Christ's Spiritmerely appropriated or also proper? (see appropriation) in uniting the Body to the Head; (3) the grace of incorporation, as an inward-outward grace, sacramental and social; (4) the Eucharist and incorporation; (5) the nature of the unity merely dynamic or also entitative? between Head and Body; and (6) the meaning of incorporation in relation to the growing realization of the real though imperfect communion among various Christian denominations and the Catholic Church (see membership in the church).

See Also: mystical body of christ.

Bibliography: r. schnackenburg, Das Heilsgeschehen bei der Taufe nach dem Apostel Paulus (Münchener theologische Studien 1; Munich 1950). a. wikenhauser, Pauline Mysticism, tr. j. cunningham (New York 1960). s. tromp, De Spiritu Christi Anima, v.3 of Corpus Christi Quod est Ecclesia, 3 v. (Rome 1960). v. branick, The House Church in the Writings of Paul (Wilmington, Del., 1989). m. root and r. saarinen, eds., Baptism and the Unity of the Church (Geneva 1998).

[f. x. lawlor/

d. m. doyle]

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