Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Christ as Head
"The Whole Cosmos Is Submitted to Him"
H.H. Benedict XVI
January 14, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters:
Among the letters of the Pauline collection, there are two, those
directed to the Colossians and the Ephesians, that to a point could be
considered twins. In fact, both have ways of speaking that are only
found in those two, and it is calculated that more than a third of the
Letter to the Colossians is found also in Ephesians.
For example, while in Colossians the invitation is read literally to
"admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and
spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (3:16), in
Ephesians, it is similarly recommended to "address one another (in)
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in
your hearts" (5:19).
We could meditate on these words: The heart should sing, and also the
voice, with psalms and hymns, to enter into the tradition of the prayer
of the whole Church of the Old and New Testament. We thus learn to be
united among ourselves and with God. Moreover, in both letters is found
a "domestic code," missing in the other Pauline letters, that is, a
series of recommendations directed to husbands and wives, parents and
children, masters and slaves (Cf. Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Ephesians
Even more important is to see that only in these two letters is
confirmed the title "head," kefalé, given to Jesus Christ. And this
title is used on two levels. In the first sense, Christ is understood as
the head of the Church (cf. Colossians 2:18-19 and Ephesians 4:15-16).
This means two things: above all, that he is the governor, the director,
the one in charge who guides the Christian community as its leader and
lord (cf. Colossians 1:18: "He is the head of the body, the church.")
And the other meaning is that it is as the head that he raises and
vivifies all the members of the body of which he is head. (In fact,
according to Colossians 2:19, it is necessary to "stay united to the
head, from which the entire body, through ligaments and joints, receives
nutrition and cohesion.") That is, he is not just one who directs, but
one who is organically connected to us, from whom comes also the
strength to act in an upright way.
In both cases, the Church considers itself submitted to Christ, both to
follow his superior leading -- the commandments -- and to welcome all of
the vital flow that come from him. His commandments are not just words,
mandates, but are vital forces that come from him and help us.
This idea is particularly developed in Ephesians, where even the
ministries of the Church, instead of being attributed to the Holy Spirit
(as in 1 Corinthians 12), are conferred on the Risen Christ. It is he
who "gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists,
others as pastors and teachers" (4:11). And it is because of him that
"the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament
... brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love" (4:16).
Christ in fact is dedicated to "present to himself the church in
splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be
holy and without blemish" (5:27). With this he tells us that the
strength with which he builds up the Church, with which he guides the
Church, with which also he gives correct direction to the Church, is
precisely his love.
Therefore the first meaning is Christ, Head of the Church: be it in
regard to the leading, be it above all in regard to the inspiration and
organic vitalization in virtue of his love.
Then, in a second sense, Christ is considered not only as head of the
Church, but as head of the celestial powers and the entire cosmos.
Thus in Colossians, we read that Christ, "despoiling the principalities
and the powers, made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in
triumph" (2:15). Analogously in Ephesians, we find that with his
resurrection, God put Christ "far above every principality, authority,
power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age
but also in the one to come" (1:21).
With these words, the two letters bestow us with a highly positive and
fruitful message. It is this: Christ need not fear any eventual
competitor, because he is superior to any type of power that would try
to humiliate man. Only he has "loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God" 5:2). That's why, if we are united to
Christ, we should fear no enemy and no adversity; but, this also means
that we should remain closely united to him, without letting go!
For the pagan world, which believed in a world full of spirits, mostly
dangerous and against which one had to defend oneself, the proclamation
that Christ is the only victor and that he who is united to Christ did
not have to fear anyone, appeared as a true liberation. The same is true
also for the paganism of today, because also the current followers of
these ideologies see the world as full of dangerous powers. To these
people, it is necessary to announce that Christ is the conqueror, such
that one who is with Christ, who remains united to him, should not fear
anything or anyone. It seems to me that this is also important for us,
who should learn to face all fears, because he is above every
domination, he is the true Lord of the world.
Even the whole cosmos is submitted to him, and to him it converges as to
its own head. Well-known are the words of the Letter to the Ephesians
that speak of the project of God to "sum up all things in Christ, in
heaven and on earth" (1:10). Analogously in the Letter to the
Colossians, it is read that "in him were created all things in heaven
and on earth, the visible and the invisible" (1:16) and that "through
the blood of his cross, he has reconciled all things for him and through
him whether those on earth or those in heaven" (1:20).
Therefore, there is not, on one hand, a great material world and on the
other hand, this small reality of the history of our land, the world of
people: Everything is one in Christ. He is the head of the cosmos; also
the cosmos has been created by him, it has been created for us insofar
as we are united to him. This is a rational and personalistic vision of
the universe. And I would add that a more universalistic vision than
this one, it was not possible to conceive, and this converges only in
the Risen Christ. Christ is the Pantokrátor, to whom are submitted all
things: thought goes toward Christ Pantokrátor, who fills the apse of
Byzantine churches, sometimes presented seated on high over the entire
world, or even above a rainbow to indicate his comparison with God
himself, at whose right hand he is seated (cf. Ephesians 1:20;
Colossians 3:1), and therefore his unsurpassable role as conductor of
A vision of this type is conceivable only by the Church, not in the
sense that it wants to wrongfully take for itself that which does not
belong to it, but rather in another double sense. On one hand, the
Church recognizes that Christ is greater than she is, given that his
lordship also extends beyond her limits. On the other hand, only the
Church is classified as the body of Christ, not the cosmos. All of this
means that we should consider positively earthly realities, because
Christ recapitulates them in himself, and at the same time, we should
live our specific ecclesial identity in plenitude, which is the most
homogeneous to the identity of Christ himself.
There is also a special concept that is typical of these two letters,
and it is the concept of "mystery." Once the "mystery of the will" of
God is spoken of (Ephesians 1:9) and other times, the "mystery of
Christ" (Ephesians 3:4; Colossians 4:3), or even the "mystery of God,
Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"
This makes reference to the inscrutable divine design over the destiny
of man, of peoples and of the world. With this language, the two
epistles tell us that it is in Christ where the fulfillment of this
mystery is found. If we are with Christ, even though we cannot
intellectually understand everything, we know that we are in the nucleus
and on the path of truth. He is in his totality, and not only one aspect
of his person or one moment of his existence, he who gathers in himself
the plenitude of the unsearchable divine plan of salvation.
In him takes shape what is called the "manifold wisdom of God"
(Ephesians 3:10), since in him "dwells the whole fullness of the deity
bodily" (Colossians 2:9). From now on, then, it is not possible to think
of and adore the approval of God, his sovereign disposition, without
confronting ourselves personally with Christ in person, in whom the
"mystery" is incarnate and can be tangibly perceived. Thus one comes to
contemplate "the inscrutable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8), which is
beyond all human understanding.
It is not that God has not left the mark of his passing, since Christ
himself is the footprint of God, his maximum mark, but rather that one
realizes "what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of this
mystery "that surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:18-19). Mere
intellectual categories here prove insufficient, and recognizing that
many things are beyond our rational capacities, we should trust in the
humble and joyful contemplation, not just of the mind, but also of the
heart. The fathers of the Church, on the other hand, tell us that love
understands much more than reason alone.
A last word should be said on the concept, already indicated before,
concerning the Church as spouse of Christ.
In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul had compared
the Christian community to a bride, writing: "For I am jealous of you
with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to
present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2). The
Letter to the Ephesians develops this image, specifying that the Church
is not just a fiancé, but the real spouse of Christ. He, we could say,
has conquered her for himself, and he has done this with the price of
his life. As the text says, he "handed himself over for her" (Ephesians
What demonstration of love can be grander than this one? But moreover,
he is concerned for her beauty, not just that already acquired in
baptism, but also that which should grow each day thanks to a blameless
life, "without wrinkle or spot" in her moral behavior (cf. Ephesians
From here to the common experience of Christian marriage, the step is a
small one; conversely, it's not even clear what is the author's point of
initial reference -- whether it is the relationship Christ-Church, from
whose light the union between man and woman should be conceived; or if
instead it is the datum of the experience of conjugal union, from whose
light the relationship between Christ and the Church should be
But both aspects mutually enlighten one another: We lean what matrimony
is in the light of the communion between Christ and the Church; and we
learn how Christ unites himself to us thinking of the mystery of
matrimony. In any case, our letter is situated almost at the halfway
point between the Prophet Hosea, who indicated the relationship between
God and his people in terms of a wedding that has already occurred (cf.
Hosea 2:4, 16, 21); and the prophet of Revelation, who will announce the
eschatological encounter between the Church and the Lamb as a joyful and
indestructible wedding (cf. Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9).
There is much more to say, but it seems to me that, from what I have
presented, it can be understood that these two letters are a great
catechesis, from which we can learn not just how to be good Christians,
but also how to come to be truly persons. If we begin to understand that
the cosmos is the footprint of Christ, we learn our right relationship
with the cosmos, with all of the problems of its conservation. We learn
to see [the problems] with reason, but with reason moved by love, and
with the humility and the respect that permits acting in a correct way.
And if we think that the Church is the body of Christ, that Christ has
given himself for her, we learn how to live with Christ in reciprocal
love, the love that unites us to God and that makes us see the other as
an image of Christ, as Christ himself.
Let us pray to the Lord so that he helps us to meditate well on sacred
Scripture, his Word, and thus truly learn to live well.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted the people in
several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on Saint Paul, we turn to the "twin" letters:
Colossians and Ephesians. Similar in language, they are unique in
developing the theme of Christ as "head" - kephalé - not only of the
Church, but also of the entire universe. These letters assure us that
Christ is above any hostile earthly power. Christ alone "loved us and
gave himself up for us" (Eph 5:2), so that if we remain close to him, we
need not fear any adversity. It was God's plan to "recapitulate" all
things in Jesus "through whom all things were created", so that "by the
blood of his Cross" we might be reconciled to the Father. Christ's
headship also implies that, in a certain sense, he is greater than the
Church in that his dominion extends beyond her boundaries, and that the
Church, rather than the entire cosmos, is referred to as the Body of
Christ. These letters are also notable for the spousal image they use to
describe how Christ has "won" his bride - the Church - by giving his
life for her (cf. Eph 5:25). What greater sign of love could there be
than this? Christ thus desires that we grow more beautiful each day
through irreproachable moral conduct, "without wrinkle or defect" (Eph
5:27). By living uprightly and justly, may we bear witness to the
nuptial union which has already taken place in Christ as we await its
fulfilment in the wedding feast to come.
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims present at
today's audience. May your time in Rome strengthen you to imitate Saint
Paul in "giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Eph 5:20)!
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