Ecclesiam Apostolicam

Divine Touch: A Meditation on the Laying on of Hands in the Church

Stratford Caldecott Léonie Caldecott

"The Church does not save by light alone, or by words alone, in Gnostic fashion, but by touch."


For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. (1 Tim 6-7)


“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” But what are the hands of God? For Irenaeus, they were the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Holy Spirit.1 The problem with this image is that it risks reducing the second and third Persons of the Trinity to mere parts or extensions of the Father. Yet if we take the image as referring to the economic rather than the immanent Trinity, it is more persuasive. Son and Spirit are indeed the “hands” with which God reaches into the world and effects his will. The Father does not enter the world directly, whereas the Spirit is breathed upon the primordial waters to create order out of chaos, and the Son is sent to save the world from sin and bring it back to the Father.

God as pure spirit, as actus purus, whether Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, has no “hands” except metaphorically—but as incarnate, in the Person of the Son, he not only “is” the right hand of the Father but has hands like us, and, though human, these are the hands of God. In these human-divine hands resides the fate of the world; through their touch grace is communicated; and by them we are held in an everlasting embrace. In the gesture of the laying on of hands, which we will explore in this article, the wholeness of Christianity is reflected and may be better understood.


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