Last week someone questioned me about Bosch’s use of totus Christus (the whole Christ) in the quote from my last post:
We stand in need of an interpretation of salvation which operates within a comprehensive christological framework, which makes the totus Christus–His incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia–indispensable for church and theology.
Totus Christus- the Corporate Christ
Bosch seems to be using the term totus Christus differently from its historical meaning. The term originates with Augustine around the 5th century and basically means that Christ and His body are one organic entity. Verses like Matthew 25:40 and Acts 9:4 show Christ’s own acknowledgment of this union by affirming that what is done to His body is done to Him. Augustine deduced:
So then we are He, in that we are His members, in that we are His Body, in that He is our Head, in that Whole Christ is both Head and Body.
–Augustine, Sermons 133.8
David Vincent Meconi has a lengthy section on Augustine’s understanding of this term in his new book The One Christ- St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification:
The “whole Christ” is the divinely human head inseparable from the body which he has assumed, now constituting one person. –p. 196
The “whole Christ” is now understood to be both head and body, organic and inseparable, both divine and human, both Savior and sinner. –p. 204
The totus Christus is thus one single organism animated and amalgamated by grace: from the head to all members, Christ expands his life into all those who humbly follow him. –p. 233
In using the term totus Christus, Augustine was harnessing Christology to a high view of ecclesiology, in part, prompted by the Donatist controversy. The Donatists were a schismatic group that separated from the larger Christian church in the early 4th century because of their outrage over those who had caved under the pressure of persecution and handed over their Scriptures to authorities. Augustine combated the Donatists by maintaining the seriousness of dividing the church. Both sides affirmed orthodox Christology, but had different views of ecclesiology. Augustine argued that actually the Donatists had a deficient Christology, evidenced by their division that damaged the “whole Christ.” Those who cleave the church, act against Christ. Thus Meconi concludes, “the major ecclesial construct for Augustine is the ‘whole Christ’.”
Totus Christus- the Full Process of Christ
Bosch employs the term to refer to the whole extent of Christ’s historical process, just as he lists it- incarnation through parousia.
Whereas Augustine employed the term to connect Christology to ecclesiology, Bosch makes the connection between Christology and soteriology. Bosch’s concern is that different missionary enterprises throughout church history have operated under an incomplete understanding of how Christ relates to salvation. They have divided, not the church, but Christ, parceling Him out into segments of salvific significance. Bosch is concerned that Christ’s full historical process has not been adequately appropriated in the church’s understanding of salvation.
Our understanding of what exactly salvation is, must reflect the full extent of what Christ has experienced. The totus Christus (in the sense Bosch employs) must be significant for a whole salvation (1 Thes. 5:23). Salvation must not be confined to an isolated data point on the line of Christ’s history. Salvation is not MERELY related to the atonement of Christ’s death. Salvation is not MERELY related to the liberation of Christ’s second coming.
Bosch DOES have a long section on Augustine and the Donatists way earlier in the book, part of which he entitles “The Ecclesiasticization of Salvation.” If he were using totus Christus in its proper, Augustinian sense, then we would expect to find this term cited there. However, the only time in the whole book he uses this term is where I quoted him in my last post.
At the end of the book, Bosch summarizes his argument by looking again at the relationship between different theologies and how they latched onto and emphasized mainly one aspect of Christ’s process:
The six christological salvific events may never be viewed in isolation from one another. In our mission, we proclaim the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Christ, present among us in the Spirit and taking us into his future as ‘captives in his triumphal procession.’ Each of these events impinges on all the others. Unless we hold on to this, we will communicate to the world a truncated gospel. –p. 518
- Interpretations of Salvation (lifeandbuilding.com)
- Totus Christus (augnet.org)
- Christus Totus: Why Catholics Care about Christians (firstthings.com)