The Body of Christ

'For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? 2But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular' (1 Corinthians 12).

Before the Reformation, the Church itself was the holy entity, or 'body of Christ', and through the Eucharist and other sacraments it offered redemption (Duffy 2005, 91-130). Christ was not part of the body of society, of which the head was the regent (Arnold 2005, 124-5). For Luther and Calvin, the metaphysical body of Christ was present in both the individual and the community. Together, these two manifestations constituted a single divine body, with Christ as the head of the co-dependent members. The result was an individually embodied and simultaneously communal and non-physical understanding of the body of Christ informed by passages such as 1 Corinthians 12: 13-27 (Luther in Lindberg 2000, 71-2; Calvin 1975 [1536], 102-122). 1 Corinthians 12 bound reformed Christians to one another as constituent members of the body of Christ. Christ was present in each individual, each of whom was part of a co-dependent, non-physical entity headed by Christ. This body of Christ, Matthew 18 declared, could not tolerate sin within its midst or all would be cast into the fires of hell.

With the abolition of many medieval practices, the human body ceased to be an instrument of salvation through eating the Host and doing good works, and became instead a source of sin and damnation (cf. Duffy 2005, 91-130). Due to and in aid of this transition, distinctive material culture developed and endured that engaged directly with the individual body: namely, the jougs, sackcloth, branks and discipline stool. However, through shared ownership and both positive and negative relationships created between individuals by shared experiences of being punished, these artefacts also acted upon the communal body (for examples see branking and sackcloth).

The prevalence of discipline in reformed communities supports the conclusion that they were not experiencing exclusively individual relationships with the divine, as has been suggested by Mellor and Shilling (1997), but rather a new kind of communal relationship. Preoccupation with disciplining members of one's community does not readily lend itself to understanding religious salvation 'though faith alone' preached by the Reformers (Calvin 1975 [1536], 42-67, 102-122; Luther in Lindberg 2000, 39-40). Nor does it support the conclusion that individual engagement with God was predominant in the early reformed period, as indicated by Mellor and Shilling's interpretation (1997).

By understanding the mechanisms through which shaming punishments like the discipline artefacts were effective, it is possible to identify an early modern understanding of human eschatological fate as a consistently communal endeavour. Unlike guilt, which is private and internal, shame can be used to regulate society only where individuals do not believe themselves to be individuals. Shame must be externally imposed and a sufficiently deep experience of oneself as inherently part of the community is necessary for this to be possible (Garvey 1998, 753).

Keeping this in mind when interpreting the experience of the audience in the pews, it must be recognised that they too were part of the communal body and cannot be considered to have had a purely cognitive experience watching the performance of discipline. As previous and/or future 'owners' of discipline artefacts and participants in the everyday backdrop of the New Jerusalem, they too were experiencing subjects. They based their interpretations of the performance of discipline upon their own relationships with the penitent, artefacts, the kirk, and their own shame. By connecting people through shared shame, the material culture could therefore condition not just the penitent, but all those who identified with the performance in any given week. Likewise, people were connected through their physical experiences of deeply embodied eschatological fears, resulting in the need to discipline others and to submit to discipline.

Choose your own | The Body of Shame | Repentance Stool | Living Word in the New Jerusalem


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