Members of One Another

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The following was a college essay written by Katherine Stoeckl. It has been edited and approved by Paul Gillett. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Katherine Stoeckl, Texas A&M University

A typical epistle for weddings is Ephesians 5, in which Paul exhorts husbands and wives to imitate Christ and His Church. As Christ gave Himself for the salvation of His bride, so too the husband called to love his wife, whatever the cost. And as the Church is under the mission of Christ, the Head, so too the wife is to her husband. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is another Pauline iteration of the new commandment given to us by Jesus: to love God and to love neighbor. In Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Magnesians, he sings of making one union with God and life in Christ via the internal unity of the Church and her missionary impulse. 

Throughout the letter, Ignatius makes clear the necessity of obedience to the bishops who preside in the place of God and to the presbyters who are in place of the council of apostles, even going so far as to say that what makes one a Christian is to do all with regard for the bishop. Ignatius, the Doctor of Unity, explains that living as a Christian means listening and learning from those who have been ordained by the Church to preach and administer the sacraments. The ordained are Christ’s vicars on earth and so when the faithful allow themselves to be guided and formed by them, they habituate allowing themselves to be shepherded by Christ Himself. Ignatius praises a disciple because “he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God and to the council of presbyters as to the law of Jesus Christ.” In submitting to the bishop, the early Christians were able to maintain unity of doctrine, prayer, petition, mind, and hope. In keeping internal unity by obedience to the bishop, the Church is able to go out and work to conform their lives to Christ. They take what they learned in the homily out into the world to renew the temporal order and be witnesses of Christ’s redemptive work. These faithful have participation in this salvific mission by dedication to the Church.

The Church is the one to who the faithful are to be subject in imitation of Christ, who in His flesh, was subject to the Father. The Church, through the sacraments, generates new life in the faithful and the Father, with respect to the Son, is generative. The Son is obedient to the Father, even unto death on a cross and the faithful can please God in no more perfect way than obedience to the Church’s hierarchy and Magisterium. 

In all, Ignatius sees obedience to the bishop as obedience to God and by this dedication to the Church established by Christ, the faithful are configured to Christ Himself. In the faithful, the union of communion and mission is achieved. Only when the branch is attached to the vine can it bear fruit under the care of the vine dresser.

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