Church, II (Theology of)
CHURCH, II (THEOLOGY OF)
The Church is not only a receiver of divine revelation, but, as the mystical body of christ, it is bound up with revelation itself. The Church is God's handiwork, what God has wrought and is doing explicitly in the mystery of salvation; it is at the same time the tool through which God works to bring humankind the divine light and love that is salvation. The Church is a phenomenon with multiple dimensions: human and divine, visible and invisible, juridical and mystical, immanent and transcendent, earthbound and destined for heaven. In this world the Church is neither wholly alien nor wholly at home. It is both a means and an end: both a divine tool put to work for human salvation, and, at the same time, even in its pilgrim state, an anticipated realization in the obscurity of faith of the final glorious company of the heavenly Church.
This article sets forth in a general way, without excluding or minimizing other modes of systematization, the theology of the Church centered on the biblical and traditional theme of communion (koinonia ). The Church is in its deepest being the communion of life between the Father and humankind in his Son Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and glorious Lord of life, through the gift of their one Spirit of love. As a result of this primary communion, descending vertically from the initiative of the Father's love communicated to the Son in their one Spirit, there comes into being a lateral, or horizontal, communion among human beings who, as adoptive sons and daughters of the Father in Jesus Christ, the one true Son, are by that fact brothers and sisters one of another in the same community of life and love. The Church as a communion of life with the Father in Christ necessarily entails the Church as a communion of life with the brothers and sisters in the same Christ, in each instance through the Spirit, the common love of the Father and of the Son. It is in Jesus, the one and only Son made human, that the vertical communion in sonship and the horizontal communion in brother and sisterhood meet and join in the mystery of the Church. The Church is a sacramental communication of the Father's love for human beings in Christ. It is a communion of brother and sisterhood with Christ in a sacramental faith and love, administered and directed by the episcopal order, which is itself a lesser communion of ministerial office and function, sacramentally established and commissioned by Christ to provide himself and his work with a continuing vicarious presence in time and space. The Church is a community of life that requires all remaining history to develop and to achieve its full realization when, at the Second Coming, the Body of the Church will rise in its total glory and will enter, escorted by its head, into the blessings of the Father, who will be "all in all" (1 Cor 15.28).
In the unknown span of time between the two comings of Christ, the Christian brother and sisterhood undertakes its pilgrim journey. All that must be done in the Lord on the way of Christian history—the worship of the Triune God, the patient Christianization of the world, the endless struggle against sin and demoniac forces, including the fight against social injustice—is gradually and perseveringly achieved, in the measure assigned in the economy of God, only in and with the whole brother and sisterhood, of all ages and places, acting in concert in the one Spirit of Christ. To act as brother and sister in the Spirit of Christ is the style of life and the law of action of the Christian in the communion of the Church.
New Testament. The Church is communion with the Father in Christ through the Gift of the Spirit.
Wellspring of the Church. The Church is the assembly of the Father, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. In the Church people are enabled to share together in the most personal goods of the Triune God (2 Cor 13.13)—the gifts of the Father (Rom 12.3) and of the Son (Eph 4.7) and of the Spirit (Rom 12.11). The eternal plan of the Triune God lies at the origin of the Church (Eph 1.3–14). The Church's wellspring is the Father (Rom 11.36), who in unflawed love has sent the Son with the fullness of the Spirit to the sinful human beings of this fallen and estranged world (Rom 5.8; 8.32; 2 Cor 5.19; Gal 4.4–7; Eph 2.4–10; Ti 3.4–7; 1 Jn 4.9–16; Jn3.16–17, 34–36; 6.58; 17.3, 18–25); it is the Father who has inspired the Son made human with the Spirit of love to save the world from sin, death, and the demon (Heb9.14) and, as the glorious head of his Body the Church (Eph 1.22), to give all human beings in himself and his Body "access to the Father in the one Spirit" (Eph 2.18; see 2.19–22; Heb 10.19–20).
Visible Continuum of Christ's Mission. In establishing his Church, Christ, the while remaining wholly dependent on the loving designs of the Father (Jn 5.30;6.38–40; 1 Cor 15.23–28), gave his own saving mission a visible continuum in history, a sacramental and social ministry in the Spirit (2 Cor 3.3, 8), charging his apostles to supply a vicarious and ministerial presence to his person and his work, achieved once and for all (Heb 7.27;9.26–28; 10.10) and ratified once and for all in his own Body-Person in its passage from death to a glorious life (Acts 2.33–36; Phil 2.9–11). The actual forms that these ministries took emerged gradually amid much variety in the early Christian centuries. Through these ministries, the eternal loving resolve of the Father to make human beings sharers in the divine life took shape within the apostolic Church commissioned by Christ (Jn 20.21; 17.18;15.9; Acts ch. 2). The Apostles trace their office and mission to the loving will of the Father embodied in the work
of the incarnate Word (1 Cor 1.l; 2 Cor 1.1; Gal 1.1; Col1.1). St. Paul is "by God's will an apostle of Jesus Christ" (Eph 1.1), and he is an Apostle in the power of Christ's Spirit (1 Thes 1.5; 1 Cor 2.4–5).
It is the role of the apostolic Church, as the receiver of Christ's mandate and as the qualified servant of his word and work in the Spirit, to introduce human beings into the life of the Triune God, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28.19). The entire existence of the Church, in this present age and until its final destiny in the next world, is suspended from, and caught up into, the movement of life that joins the Father and the Son in their personal love, the Spirit. The Church in its pilgrim form exists in order to inaugurate and to sustain the divine life in human beings. The Church considered as the communion of the saints shares in that same divine life in its real beginnings here below, humble but victoriously hopeful. St. John writes: "What we have seen and heard, we announce it to you in order that you may be in communion with us. As for our communion, it is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1.3). That "we are in communion with one another" (1 Jn 1.7) is possible and true only because we are in communion with the Father and with his Son through the Gift of their one Spirit (1 Jn 4.13-16).
Pledge of the Spirit. The Son, commissioning his Apostles before his visible withdrawal from the world, pledges his own Spirit to them (Jn 16.7) and in them to the whole Church, as the Love of the Father and of himself, under the formality of what St. thomas aquinas calls "the prime Gift" (Summa theologiae 1a, 38.2) and "the Love transporting us into the heavenly world" (ST 3a, 57.1 ad 3). The very atmosphere or breath of the Church's life is the Spirit of love, making the life of the Church not intermittent reality but enduring existence, notwithstanding the abiding weakness of the people who are the human actors in the Church's pilgrimage. The supernatural world of the Church is in Christ and in his Spirit a kind of descent into time of the timeless life movement of the Triune God, catching the Body of the faithful up into the universe of the intradivine intimacy.
Having Part with Christ. If human beings are to share in the life of the Triune God, they must "have part with" (Jn 13.8) Jesus Christ, who is in the fullest sense the historical epiphany of the living God in the world of human beings (Jn 1.14; Heb 2.14–17; Col 2.17) and the total and fontal principle of the communion of human beings with the Father (Heb 2.10; 5.9; 6.20; 10.20; 1 Cor 15.20–23; 15.45–49; 2 Cor 1.19–22). The ecclesia of God the Father is the ecclesia of God in Jesus Christ (1 Thes2.14). In the words of St. Thomas: "In Christ spiritual good is not restricted or partial, but is absolutely entire, so that he is the entire good of the Church, nor is he together with others anything greater than he is by himself" (ST 3a, suppl., 95.3 ad 4). Christ, the beloved Son and the firstborn (Col 1.13, 15), has come from the Father to share with human beings his divine life as Son, which he holds from the Father (Jn 1.16; 5.26; 6.57; 1 Jn 5.11–12), and thus to bring human beings into the family life of God as the adopted sons of the Father in himself, the one Son (Gal 4.4; Rom 8.29–30). "God can be depended on, and it was he who called you to communion with his own Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1.9).
The reality of "having part with" Christ, of being "partners with Christ" (Heb 3.14), entails the most intimate association between the One who in love shares his sonship with human beings and the Many who in him share in the one new life of adoptive sonship; moreover, it necessarily brings about the most close communion between all those who are fellow shareholders in "the common salvation" (Jude 3) of Jesus Christ the glorious Lord. This reality of communion commands a law of living, a style or deportment of life, incumbent on the Church as a whole and on each member singly. "The status of the new creature is defined as communion with God, thanks to Christ" [C. Spicq, Dieu et l'Homme selon le N.T. (Paris 1961) 216]; "the anthropology of the NT is a matter of koinonia with Christ" (ibid. 218), a koinonia that, centered in Christ, ascends to the Father through their Spirit and that reaches outward to embrace the totality of those who are one in the embodied communion of Christ's ecclesia. Stig Hanson, commenting on the parties and factions that plagued the Church of Corinth (see 1 Cor 1.10–13), says: "Factions and ejkkhsiva are, in principle, contrasts. In the former case, it is the ego that is the main thought, in the latter, we. In a faction it is the individual who is the basic principle; the Church, on the other hand, aims at totality" [The Unity of the Church in the NT: Colossians and Ephesians (Uppsala 1946) 74]. The law of communion is the acting "We" of the brotherhood under God the Father in Christ through the Gift of their Spirit. "The identity of the Spirit of Christ in all the members of his Body, the Church, is what grounds and makes possible the Christian We" [H. Möhlen, Der Heilige Geist als Person (Münster in Westfalen 1963) 193].
This communion of brothers and sisters in Christ is realized in the Spirit only through the sacraments of "our common faith" (Titus 1.4), i.e., through Baptism (Rom6.4; Col 2.12; Eph 4.4–6), and supremely through the Eucharist, which is the most real communion with the dead and risen Christ and in him with one another (1 Cor 10.17). At the altar of the Lord Christians are made in the full sense fellows of Christ, sharers in his passage from death to new life, and co-sharers with all who are their fellow communicants. Here is the primordial communication of all the blessings of the new covenant. "In this Sacrament the whole mystery of our salvation is contained" (St. Thomas, ST 3a, 83.4); "the Eucharist contains the Sacred in an absolute sense" (ST 3a, 73.1 ad 3). As the sacramental representation of the one sacrifice of the new covenant, it is the fullest presence and communication in Christ's body and blood of the Father's love in the Spirit for his people of the new alliance, and the surest and fullest anticipation of the heavenly banquet in the life to come (Jn 6.54; Mk 14.25).
Multiple Levels. Such a sharing in the life and destiny of the incarnate Son finds expression in St. Paul in a series of verbs compounded with σύν ("with") that scan the whole moving sweep of the Church's communion with Christ its head. These verbs delineate the content and the stages of the sharing of Christ's Church Body and of his members in his passage from history to its term, from death to total glorious life in the Father. The σύν verbs mark the simultaneous multiple levels of the new life shared in Christ, its dynamism, and its movement and growth toward its final achievement when Christ will come to judge the living and the dead and to hand over the kingdom to his Father (Col 3.4; 1 Cor 15.24–28).
There is a dying and a living with Christ (Rom 6.8), a suffering with Christ (Rom 8.17), a crucifixion with Christ (Rom 6.6), a burial with Christ (Rom 6.4; Col2.12), a glorification with Christ (Rom 8.17), an inheritance with Christ (Rom 8.17), a reigning with Christ (2 Tm 2.12). Suffering with Christ is the necessary prelude and the sure pledge of the coming glory in him (Phil3.10–11; Rom 8.17; 1 Pt 4.13); suffering serves as a fundamental law for the upbuilding of the whole Body. "The 'We-for-Christ' (2 Cor 12.10; Phil 1.29; see Col 1.24) must match the 'Christ-for-us.' We must hold firmly that the saving function of the Church consists chiefly in representing and realizing a communion with the dying and rising Redeemer" (V. Warnach, "Liebe, "op. cit. 2:810).
Role of the Spirit. Just as the Father's love has given the Son to the world of human beings, so too the Father "lavishes the Spirit" (Gal 3.5) on the Church in order to bring to achievement the work of Christ. "Who would deny," says St. Basil, "that the saving designs with respect to humankind which have been realized by our great God and Savior Jesus Christ in accord with the goodness of God are fulfilled by the grace of the Spirit?"(De Spiritu Sancto 16.39; Patrologia Graeca 32:140) The Spirit is "the gift of God" (Acts 8.20; see Acts 2.38; Rom 5.5; Jn 14.16) of which human beings are made "partakers" (Heb 6.4) in order to become sharers in the sonship of Christ (Rom 8.14–17; Gal 4.6). It is the role of the Spirit to Christianize the Church and all its members, to make them fellows of Christ in his life and truth (1 Cor 12.13; Eph 2.22; Jn 15.26; 16.14–15; Phil 3.3), to keep the whole Church faithful to its origins in the historical Christ and to its destiny in the Christ to come, to hold the members of each and every age in a concert of loving service of the whole Body, to keep the Body one in Christ by communicating its varied graces and gifts to the good estate of the whole (1 Cor 12.7).
"Communion with Christ leads necessarily to communion with Christians, to communion of the members, one with another" (F. Hauck, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3:807). See Phlm 17; 2 Cor 8.4; Rom 12.13; 15.26–27; Gal 6.6; Phil 1.7; 4.14–15; Heb 10.33;13.16. Dependence on the love and life of Christ means interdependence in love on one another in Christ. The new life in Christ is not an isolated gift enclosed within a multitude of discrete selves; it lives only insofar as it is lived together in the one Spirit of love by all those who are partakers of the salvation of the new alliance (1 Cor 12.25; Rom 12.5; Eph 3.6; 4.25). The joint holding and sharing of the new life in Christ shows itself as a Christian grace, i.e., as an inward-outward grace. It is embodied in prayer and almsgiving, in compassion, sympathy, and heartfelt mutual assistance, in an inter-change of the spiritual and temporal works of mercy, between Christian and Christian, between local church and local church, between the Jewish and gentile world in Christ. Brotherly and sisterly love, the great gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.31–13.3), is, with its expansive and assimilative rhythm, the mark of communion in the Church (Jn 15.1–17; 1 Jn 3.14–18; 4.11–12; 4.19–21). C. H. Dodd writes of the NT koinonia : "All the experiences and activities of the whole Church are in some sort communicated to the individual believer; and in turn the due activity of each part enables the Body to grow and build itself up (Eph 4.16)" [The Johannine Epistles (New York 1946) 7]. This lateral communion in its various forms is one that the Patristic writers and the scholastic theologians especially stressed.
Patristic Period. The Biblical theme of communion as applied to the Church in all the varied manifestations, sacramental and social, of its total moving life is a central theme of Patristic thought, if not always verbally, at least in reality. See, e.g., L. Hertling, Communio: Chiesa e papato nel l'antichità cristiana (Rome 1961); W. Elert, Abendmahl und Kirchengemeinschaft in der alten Kirche hauptsächlich des Ostens (Berlin 1954); J. Korbacher, "Die Kirche als Gemeinschaft, "Ausserhalb der Kirche kein Heil (Munich 1963) 52–79; A. Demoustier, "L'Ontologie de l'église selon saint Cyprien, "Recherches de science religieuse 52 (1964) 554–588; M. Pellegrino, "Le Sens ecclélsial du martyre, "Revue des sciences religieuses 35 (1961) 151–175.
This section presents, without pressing too much considerations of chronology, certain selected aspects of Patristic thought on the Church as communion.
Ecclesia Mater. Karl Delahaye has studied the use that the Fathers of the first three centuries made of the theme of the Church's motherhood to symbolize the role of the whole Church as the bearer of Christ's salvation to humankind [Erneuerung der Seelsorgsformen aus der Sicht der frühen Patristik (Freiburg 1958) 7], and in this careful investigation he has made clear the strong sense that the Fathers had of the entire Church Body as one communion of all the faithful in Christ, jointly sharing in Christ's light and life and jointly communicating Christ's truth and grace to human beings. Because "the Church is the great We of the faithful" (Delahaye, 135) in Christ and in His Spirit, then all the faithful together are enabled and required to serve in unison the handing on of the "common salvation" (Jude 3) to all.
The Patristic imagery of the Church as mother strongly emphasizes "the responsibility of all the faithful for all others in the life of the community, their effective and genuine participation, their authentic and living collaboration in the duties of the community in the midst of this world" (Delahaye, 190). Every division of labor within the Church's total mediatorial activity has its meaning and justification only from within the total Church as the one communion of sanctification and sanctity. "Hierarchy and community, each in its own proper way, are the authorized and mandated bearers of the Church's pastoral activity; hence they are the subjects of that activity" (ibid. 191).
The early Church considers all the saints without exception as both subject and object of the Church's saving work. The Church as mother is the communion of the saints, comprising all those who are joined to Christ in faith and Baptism. Since her motherhood is grounded on her inward mysterious union with Christ, then all who have entered into this communion with Christ share in the Church's motherhood. Under the aspect of her pastoral activity the Church as the communion of the saints is always at the same time a saving community. (ibid. 142–143.)
God realizes these saving designs "toward all and with all. Hence all must take part in it and work together in communicating it" (ibid. 179).
In the imagery of the Church's maternity there is expressed the belief that God charges the whole Church, the structured communion of the saints and each member according to one's role and gift, to work together in preserving and in communicating the treasures of life that each shares in the one Spirit and that the one Spirit moves each to share with others. The whole Body of the Church is in its common life, to borrow a word that St. Ignatius of Antioch applied to the Church of Smyrna, ἁγιοφóρα, a fruitful "bearer of holy things" (Smyrn. introd.). For the Patristic writers, the basic reason why the whole Church must act in concert in communicating the good news of Christ and the new life in Christ is the whole Church's ontological unity of life in Christ through communion in the one Spirit (see Delahaye, 149–150) and through communion in his Eucharistic body and blood. As Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "the union is both according to the Spirit and according to the flesh" (Magn. 13.2). Much later Pope Martin I (d. 655) expressed the thought in a letter to the Church of Carthage: "Whatever is ours is yours in accordance with our undivided sharing in the one Spirit" (Epist. 4; Patrologia Latina 87:147).
St. Augustine. It is appropriate to set forth in some detail certain reflections of St. augustine on the mystery of the Church as a community of life with the Triune God and with the whole company of Christian believers in the same Trinity. Although not all of St. Augustine's speculations may be finally acceptable, still his vast achievement and perduring influence in the history of ecclesiology, particularly of the Western Church, warrant special consideration.
Discoursing on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (see Mt 12.31), Augustine describes the Holy Spirit in the intra-Trinitarian life of God as "the community of the Father and of the Son" (Serm. 71.12.18; Patrologia Latina 38:454) and then continues:
It is through that which is common to the Father and to the Son that they have wished us to have communion both with one another and with themselves; it is through that Gift which both have in common, i.e., through the Holy Spirit, God and the Gift of God, that they have wished to gather us together into one (ibid. ).
The unity of communion within the Church is then the reflection of the communion of life within the Triune God, and in each case, although in vastly different ways, the communion is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, who is "the community of the Father and of the Son" and who "in his various workings [in the Church] is not another Spirit, different from himself, but one and the same" (Serm. 71.16.26; PL 38:459-460). Referring to 1 Cor 12.11, St. Augustine writes that the Spirit is "the one who divides and apportions, but who is himself undivided, because he is one and the same" (Epist. 187.6.20; PL 33:839). "To whom in the Trinity does communion in this society [the Church] pertain, if it is not to the Spirit who is common to the Father and to the Son?" (Serm. 71.18.29; PL 38:461). "He is the Spirit of the adoption of sons, in whom we cry 'Abba Father"' (Serm. 71.17.28; PL 38:460–461); "the society by which we are made the only Body of God's only Son is the Spirit's role" (ibid. ); "that society of the sons of God and of the members of Christ that is to exist in all nations" (ibid. ).
The society of the unity of the Church of God, outside of which there is no forgiveness of sins, is, so to speak, the proper work of the Holy Spirit—the Father and the Son, to be sure, working together with Him—because the Holy Spirit Himself is in a certain sense the society of the Father and of the Son. (Serm. 71.20.33; PL 38:463.)
Fritz Hofmann says of the role of the Holy Spirit in the ecclesiology of St. Augustine: "Donum, caritas, and communio stand in the center of the ecclesia Spiritus, precisely because the Holy Spirit Himself is essentially donum, caritas, and communio" [Der Kirchenbegriff des hl. Augustinus (Munich 1933) 136].
The Church as a mystery of communion in the Trinity comprises in the outreach of its love all those who are sharers in the same divine life. The vertical (descendingascending) communion becomes indissolubly a comprehensive lateral communion of all the members of the Body of Christ in the one Spirit. St. Augustine expresses the indivisibility of the total communion in love in the following way:
The sons of God are the Body of the one and only Son of God. Therefore whoever loves the sons of God loves the Son of God, and whoever loves the Son of God loves the Father; nor can anyone love the Father unless he loves the Son; and whoever loves the Son also loves the sons of God. What sons of God? The members of the Son of God. It is through love that He becomes one of His own members, it is through love that He enters into the unity of the Body of Christ; and there will be only one Christ loving Himself. When the members love one another, the Body loves itself. When you love the members of Christ, you love Christ; when you love Christ, you love the Son of God; when you love the Son of God, you love the Father too. Love then is indivisible. Choose to love one, and all the others follow your choice. (In epist. Ioh. 10.3; PL 35:2055-56.)
Just as God says to his sons, "Love itself makes me present to you" (ibid. 10.4; PL 35:2057), so too, although in an infinitely lesser way, each member of the Body in the communion of love that is the Church is present to all the others in the one Spirit of Christ, who gives to that communion in himself as Gift the reality of its undivided love. In the Spirit of Christ each Christian is present to the whole Church, and the Church is present to each Christian.
Just as in the human body there are "different functions, but a common life" (Serm. 267.4.4; PL 38:1231), so too in the Church Body of Christ, by virtue of the one Spirit, "each one has his own role to enact, but all alike live together" (ibid. ). "The services of the members are variously apportioned, but the one Spirit holds them all together" (Serm. 268.2; PL 38:1232). The Spirit, therefore, pours into the hearts of the saints a "holy and indivisible charity" (Epist. 98.5; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiaticorum latinorum 34.2:526) and gives to the varied graces and gifts of the Body's many members a saving and serving presence to the whole Body.
The many gifts that are proper to each one are divided for the common good among all the members of Christ by the Gift that is the Holy Spirit. For not every one has all of them, but some have these and others those, although all have the Gift Himself by whom the gifts proper to each one are apportioned, i.e., the Holy Spirit (Trin. 15.19.34; PL 42:1084).
St. Augustine writes of "the showing forth of the Spirit in view of the common good" (1 Cor 12.7): "If you love unity, then whoever has anything in the unity of the Church, has it for you" (In evang. Ioh. 32.8; Corpus Christianorum 36:304).
For St. Augustine, as for the Patristic writers in general, communion with Christ meant indissolubly communion with his Eucharistic body in his Church Body. "For St. Augustine the sacred mystery of the Eucharist stands sovereignly in the midpoint of the inner and outer life of the Church" (Hofmann, 390). "The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Mystical Body itself joined with its head; the whole essence of the Church, which consists in the unity of the members one with another, in the unity of the Body with the head, and in the unity of the totus Christus, realized through the mediation of the God-Man, with God, is set forth in the Eucharist in a sacramental but real way" (Hofmann, 412). Alluding to 1 Cor 10.17, Augustine writes: "O Sacrament of mercy! O sign of unity! O bond of charity! Whoever wishes to live has both where he may live and the wherewithal he may live. Let him draw near and believe; let him be made one Body in order to be given life" (In evang. Ioh. 26.13; Corpus Christianorum 36:266); "let them become the Body of Christ if they wish to live from the Spirit of Christ" (ibid. ). Christ "wishes this food and drink to be understood as the common life of that Body and its members which is holy Church" (In evang. Ioh. 26.15; Corp Christ 36:267). Not only is the Eucharist the supreme sacramental realization of the common life of the entire Church Body in its total unity; it is also the sacrifice of the entire Church Body in the sacrament of the Lord's saving Passion. In the Eucharist the Church Body of the Lord is made one sacrifice in and with the sacrificial death of the unique priest Jesus Christ.
The whole redeemed city, i.e., the congregation and society of the saints, is offered as a universal sacrifice to God through the great priest who offered Himself in the Passion for us that we might be the Body of so great a head. This is the sacrifice of Christians: "the many, one Body in Christ." In the mystery of the altar so familiar to the faithful the Church celebrates that sacrifice wherein is made clear to the Church that it itself is offered in the very reality that it offers (Civ. 10.6; CorpChrist 47:279).
Christ "wished the sacrifice of the Church to be the daily sacrament [of His own sacrifice on the cross], and the Church, since it is the Body of the head, learns how to offer itself through Him" (Civ. 10.20; Corp Christ 47:294). The whole Church, one in a communion of sacrificial love that the Spirit keeps alive, offers itself and its works of charity and mercy in the sacrament of the Lord's Passion.
For St. Augustine's speculations on the theme of ecclesia mater or the communion of the saints as the strictly active factor in the saving and sanctifying activity of the Church, see Hofmann, 263-275; K. Adam, Die kirchliche Sündenvergebung nach dem hl. Augustin (Paderborn 1917) 991–13.
Patristic Orientations. Not only St. Augustine but also the Patristic writers in general looked on the Church in its entirety and in all its local realizations as a common life centered in Christ and in his salvation. It is a communion of life that is the work of the numerically one and same Spirit of Christ, dwelling in Christ in fullness and in his Body derivatively; a brotherly and sisterly communion of those who in the one Spirit live together a life of one faith, one hope, and one love; a sacramental communion that finds its supreme sign and realization in the center of the sacramental cult of the Church, i.e., the Eucharist, containing the one sacrifice of the new alliance and the one food of the new people on its pilgrimage; an active expansive communion communicating its new life to all those who are called to share in it; a moving dynamic communion that looks to the next world and to the "peace of the heavenly city," i.e., "the perfectly ordered and harmonious society of those who find their joy in God and in one another in God" (St. Augustine, Civ. 19.13; CorpChrist 48:679). In the early Church the "We" of Church communion had its first ground in the one faith, authoritatively professed in the "We believe" and "We confess" with which the doctrinal decrees of the synods so often began. Orthodoxy is "homodoxy," as St. Basil the Great says, speaking of "the communion of those who hold one and the same faith" (Epist. 28.3; Patrologia Graeca 32:309). W. Elert writes of the Church as a communion in faith:
The subject of the "We believe" is the Church…. The We begins with the Apostles andreaches without any break up to the present. The baptismal creed, the regula fidei, and dogma are professions of faith, and in their harmony there is expressed the unity of the Church as unanimity (op. cit. 53–54; see 62–63).
Preaching on the anniversary of his elevation to the pontificate, St. Leo the Great said: "Beloved, in the unity of faith and Baptism we share an undivided common life." (Serm. 4.1; PL 54:148). To give one or two further examples of the centrality of the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the Patristic understanding of the Church as communion, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes:
We have been made one Body together in Christ, fed with the one flesh, and sealed unto unity with the one Holy Spirit, and since Christ is indivisible (for He has never been divided), we are all one in Him …. See how we all are one in Christ andin the Holy Spirit, both according to the Body and according to the Spirit. (Dial. Trin. 1; PG 75:697).
And in an old Gallican commentary on the Creed, dating from the 6th or 7th century but reflecting much earlier convictions, one reads: "There is found holy communion with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, where each Sunday all the faithful ought to communicate" [see text in Journal of Theological Studies 21(1920) 109].
In the mind of the Patristic writers the episcopal order with its authoritative mission and its special sacramental powers and graces exists to beget, sustain, and foster the Christian communion of the Church, in its totality and in its parts, with a fidelity to its Christian origins and to its final destiny of Christian fullness (see Delahaye, 190–191; Hertling, 16–45). The hierarchical order is a ministry commissioned by Christ to serve the communion of Christian faith, and to ward off the disunion of heresy, by authoritatively handing on the message of faith; to serve the community of Christian charity, and to ward off the disunion of schism, by guiding and orientating the varied expression of its common life of mutual dedication and service in the Lord; and above all to serve the community of sacramental life, wherein faith and love find their prime stay and embodiment, by administering the Eucharistic cult, by admitting to or denying Eucharistic communion (see excommunication), and by administering the penitential procedures which issued in full Eucharistic communion (see penance, sacrament of). Hence the Church is a juridically ordered communion. St. Cyprian speaks of those who "receive the Eucharist by right of communion" (De dom: orat. 18, Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3.1:280; see Epist. 57.2, CSEL 3.2:652), a right of which the bishop was the judge. The local Church finds in its bishop, as the representative of Christ, the qualified center and criterion of its communion, competent to teach, to rule, and to sanctify (see St. Ignatius of Antioch, Smyrn. 8; Eph. 4). The whole Church has in the episcopal order with its Roman center the criterion of its total communion[see councils, general (ecumenical), theology of]. Finally the prime bishop of Rome is the center of communion for the whole Church: St. Ambrose, writing to the Emperors Gratian, and Theodosius Valentinian, (381), affirms that from Rome "are spread abroad to all the Churches the rights of the communion that must be revered" (Epist. 11.4; PL 16:946).
The ancient Church had no elaborate theory of communion; rather it was a sacramental reality lived from day to day in the ordered brother and sisterhood of the whole believing Church and of its local realizations.
St. Thomas Aquinas. "St. Thomas's whole teaching on the Church is to be divided into his teaching on the principles of the Church's being and life, on the organs of the Church's life, and on the realization of the Church's life" [M. Grabmann, Die Lehre des heiligen Thomas von Aquin von der Kirche als Gotteswerk (Regensburg 1903) 68]. In St. Thomas's ecclesiology the Church's life of grace, which is a sharing in the Trinitarian life, is necessarily a social life: "the principle of super-natural life, divine grace, is intrinsically characterized by a social tendency, a certain inclination toward communication" (ibid. 78). Hence St. Thomas writes: "In the spiritual life we enjoy society not only with human beings but also with God" (In 3 sent. 37.2 sol. 2). At times St. Thomas describes the life of grace in a way that clearly signifies its social aspect, and, it is to be noted, in a context indicating that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate ground of the social orientation of the life of grace. For example, in a discussion of schism, which is a sin directly opposed to the unity of the Church as a communion in love, St. Thomas argues that schism offends against the Holy Spirit in the sense that it is "a spiteful hatred of fraternal grace of the grace of God growing in the world" (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 14.2); schism means "hatred of the fraternal grace by which the members of the Church are joined together" (ibid. ad 4). The Christian brother and sisterhood of grace that is the Church is directly attacked when the charity of the Spirit that moves human beings to live together in Christ, one of another, in the family of God the Father, is despised and rejected.
Grabmann further notes that "just as the grace of Christ has within it a certain social tendency, a power of expansion, so too is it a characteristic of this grace to manifest itself, to incorporate itself, so to speak" (op. cit. 91). In his treatise on the evangelical law (ST 1a2ae, 106–109), St. Thomas delineates the movement of the grace of the Christian witness as it embodies itself, sacramentally and socially, in the Church of that witness. Everything in the Church, whose prime center of force and of life is the grace of the Spirit of Christ, is either an embodiment of the grace of the Spirit, or a disposition and a way toward this grace (see ST 1a2ae, 106.1; 108.1). Because "the grace of the Holy Spirit is manifested in faith working through love" (ST 1a2ae, 108.1), and because "the new law, which is the law of liberty comprises the moral precepts of the natural law, and the articles of faith and the sacraments of grace" (Quodl. 4.8.2), the Church is an inward-outward communion of life in the grace of the Spirit, a communion realized through a living faith and through the sacraments of faith (see ST 3a, 64.2 ad3).
Power of the Spirit. St. Thomas assigns to the activity of the Holy Spirit a primordial role in the Church as one body of believers and worshipers who live together a common life, sacramental and social, in Christ with the Father. The Holy Spirit, who is immanently present in all the members, is "the ultimate and principal perfection of the whole Mystical Body" (In 3 sent. 13.2.2 sol. 2); "all the members of the Mystical Body have as their final ground of perfection the Holy Spirit, who is numerically one in all of them" (ibid. ad 1); "in the spiritual life our every movement must come from the Spirit" (In epist. ad Gal. 5 lect. 7). "Just as the result of the mission of the Son was to lead to the Father, so the effect of the mission of the Holy Spirit is to lead the faithful to the Son" (In Joann. 14 lect. 6). "Through the Spirit we are united to Christ in a union of faith and of love and are made members of the Church" (ibid. 6 lect. 7); "there is in the Church an unbroken union [between Christ and his members] by reason of the Holy Spirit, who, numerically one and the same, fills and unites the whole Church" (De ver. 29.4). Christ "unites us one to another and to God through his Spirit, whom he gives to us" (In epist. ad Rom. 12 lect. 2).
Furthermore St. Thomas stresses the Spirit's primary role in the Church insofar as it is a lateral communion of member with member and with the whole Body, a presence in charity of one to another and to the whole, a reciprocal communication of life and service. Thus he speaks of "the power of the Holy Spirit who through the unity of love communicates the blessings of Christ's members with one another" (ST 3a, 82.6 ad 3; see 3a, 68.9 ad 2; In 3 sent. 25.1.2). "The diversity of roles and functions in the Church" (ST 2a2ae, 183.2), which is essential to the reality of the Church as a horizontal communion, does not "hamper the unity of the Church, which is achieved through unity of faith and love and mutual service" (ibid. ad 1), precisely because "the harmonious interplay of the various members in the Body of Christ is assured by the power of the Holy Spirit, who vivifies the Body of the Church" (ibid. ad 3). "One falls away from this unity of the Spirit when one seeks what is exclusively one's own" (ibid. ). Hence it is the role of the indwelling Spirit (1) to dissipate the exclusiveness and partiality that disserves the good of the other and of the whole Body and (2) to move the member parts to seek their own good only in the whole and in the movement of the whole Body toward its final perfection.
Schism. In his treatment of the sin of schism, St. Thomas says that "schism is per se opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical love" (ST 2a2ae, 39.1 ad 3), a love "which does not simply unite one person with another in the spiritual bond of love, but also joins the whole Church in the unity of the Spirit" (ST 2a2ae, 39.1). One must consider two aspects of this unity of the whole Church in the Spirit of love, i.e., "the connection or communion of the members of the Church with one another; and the relation of all the members of the Church to one head," the one head being "Christ, whose vicar in the Church is the supreme pontiff" (ibid. ). "And hence they are called schismatics who refuse to obey the supreme pontiff, and who refuse to live a common life with the members of the Church subject to the pontiff" (ibid. ). Here one sees how St. Thomas conceives the role of the hierarchy in the life of the Church as a communion with Christ and with one another in love in the Body of Christ. The hierarchical order is a ministerial, vicarious service of the sacramental common life in faith and love, under the headship of Christ and the quickening of the Spirit. "The ministers of the Church [are] in a certain sense the instruments of that life-giving influence which the head exercises on his members" (ST 3a, suppl., 36.3 ad 2). One may cite here the passage in C. graec. (2.32) in which St. Thomas associates the roles of the Spirit and of the supreme pontiff in assimilating the Church to Christ its head.
Christ Himself, the Son of God, dedicates His Church to His service and authentically seals it with the Holy Spirit as with His own mark and stamp …. And in like fashion the vicar of Christ, as a faithful servant, by his primacy and foresight keeps the whole Church subject to Christ.
Dependence on the Whole. It has often been noted (see Grabmann, 181) that Cajetan, commenting on St. Thomas's teaching on schism, has excellently elaborated on St. Thomas's doctrine on the Church's unity of communion, particularly as it is understood in the lateral or horizontal sense. Cajetan writes:
The faithful are moved by the Holy Spirit to the works of the spiritual life, i.e., to believe, to hope, and to love, to sanctify and to be sanctified, to obey and to command, to enlighten, etc….insuch a way that they do all these things as parts of one whole …. And therefore [the Spirit] moves each faithful to act inwardly and outwardly as part of the one whole and for the sake of the one whole and in accordance with that one whole…. And hence it is that … there is a connection of part to part in a congregation numerically one that is ruled first and chiefly by the Holy Spirit (ST 2a2ae, 39.1).
This spiritual unity of the numerically one Church is an effect of charity because "it is through charity that the Holy Spirit moves each single faithful to wish to be part of the one catholic communion that He vivifies" (ibid. ). All the faithful according to Cajetan, whatever be their office or act, hierarchical or not, extraordinary or simple, act as parts in and of a totality, of a united whole numerically one; all, therefore, act in dependence on the whole, and all act in charity for the good estate of the whole. It must be noted that the dependence of the part on the whole is here one of communion, i.e., the part finds a measure, a perspective, an aid, and a finality in the existence and functioning of the whole.
Eucharist. Faithful to the Patristic tradition, St. Thomas held in closest association, in the ontology of the Church, Eucharistic communion and ecclesiastical communion, with the sacramental body of Christ being the supreme sign and ground of the communion of the Mystical Body. "The universal spiritual good of the whole Church is contained substantially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist" (ST 3a, 65.3 ad 1; see 3a, 73.1 ad 3; 3a, 83.4). In ST 3a, 73.4 St. Thomas quotes the saying of St. John Damascene that the Eucharist "is called Communion, and truly is, because through it we communicate with Christ … and because through it we communicate with and are joined to one another" (De fide orth. 4.13; PG 94:1153). "The Eucharist is called the Sacrament of charity" (ST 3a, 73.3 ad 3; see 3a, 78.3 ad 6), an ecclesial charity that leads to a communion of life with the Father and with the brothers and sisters in Christ as head of the Body. "The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Church's entire unity" (ST 3a, 83.4 ad 3); "the unity of the Mystical Body is the fruit of the true body received sacramentally" (ST 3a, 82.9 ad 2); "the effect of this Sacrament… is the union of the Christian people with Christ" (ST 3a, 74.6; see the Council of Florence, Denzinger 1320). What the scholastic theologians called the res, or reality, of this sacrament, i.e., the ultimate grace effected, is "the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the society of the saints" (ST 3a, 80.4). The Eucharist is the sacrament of the wayfaring Church on earth in its itinerary toward the heavenly Jerusalem, "the true Church, our mother toward which we are tending, the exemplar of the militant Church" (In epist. ad Eph. 3 lect. 3). "The Sacrament does not immediately lead us into glory, but it gives us the power to reach glory" (ST 3a, 79.2 ad 1); the tendency of the Eucharist is toward heaven and "the society of the saints where there will be peace and full and perfect unity" (ibid. corp. ). The Eucharist is the Sacrament that forms and realizes the wayfaring Church as a communion of life in the Son with his Father and with his brothers and sisters, in the sense that it purifies the Church from sin, which is the root of separation from God and of segregation from each other, and that it conveys the fullest beginnings of the Christian life, both in soul and in body, which is communion. "In strict theology, the principal effect of the Eucharist is the upbuilding of the Church as a communion of life" [J. M. R. Tillard, L'Eucharistie, Pâque de l'église (Paris 1964) 231]; that is, of the Church as a communion of Christian life in the conditions of this world and turned toward its full consummation as communion in the heavenly Church.
Modern Era. From the later Middle Ages until relatively modern times there is discernible in much theological writing a tendency to focus on the Church as the divinely authorized social and juridic means of communicating Christ's salvation to human beings, without at the same time considering the Church so conceived in an intimate association with the reality of the Church as the whole company of the faithful and the communion of the saints. The symbiosis of the Church as means and the Church as end, and the interplay of life and energies between the two in a total common life, did not often find a full and harmonious exposition. The defensive reaction to movements such as conciliarism, protestantism, gallicanism, jansenism, and febronianism conspired to put theological stress on the Church as the institutional means of salvation with its unique mission and powers and with its social stance of complete independence over against the encroachment of the secular state.
Furthermore, during this period, the general absence of a separate treatise of dogmatic ecclesiology, as distinct from an apologetic treatment, did not favor the development of a rounded ecclesiology of communion. The doctrinal elements that were needed to come together to form a balanced dogmatic ecclesiology were studied in relative isolation from one another; hence, what was often lacking was "the connection of the mysteries one with another and with human beings' last end" (Denzinger 3016). For example, the mission of the Holy Spirit was not sharply related to the total Church, and in general pneumatology, apart from the inhabitation of the Spirit in the individual soul, was not much developed. The single sacraments were not usually seen within the perspective of the total prime sacrament of the Church; and the Eucharist in particular was less attended to in its intimate relationship with the whole Church Body of Christ, as the sacramental sacrifice and the sacramental food of the whole Body on its pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. Hence a more clericalized and less genuinely popular liturgy was the result.
The ecclesial dimension of Christian anthropology was less emphasized than was desirable; as a result the individual Christian was less seen as one who believes, hopes, and loves in the one faith, hope, and love of the whole Church; and the call of all to sanctity in the one holy Church was less emphasized in favor of specialization in this field. Theological writing on the tradition, the apostolate, and the liturgical life of the Church did not sufficiently stress the responsibility and the participation of all the faithful, baptized and confirmed in Christ, in these aspects of the Church's total life. Moreover eschatology tended to be more individual than collective in its theological presentation.
The 19th Century. The beginnings in theology of a renewed consideration of the Church as a communion of supernatural life in Christ wherein all share and all should contribute their share were seen in the 19th century. Among the representatives of this newer direction must be mentioned J. A. mÖhler (1796–1838), whose brilliant work, at times perhaps overly influenced by the philosophical categories of a romantic vitalism, always tended to conceive the Church as a total living communion, "a communion in the Holy and of the saints" [Die Einheit in der Kirche, J. R. Geiselmann (Cologne 1957) 315]. For an assessment of Möhler's development and achievement in this respect, see Geiselmann's commentaries in his edition of Möhler's works: Die Einheit 613-619 and Symbolik (Cologne 1961) 2:609–686. See in addition M. Himes, Ongoing Incarnation: Johann Adam Möhler and the Beginnings of Modern Ecclesiology (New York 1997).
It is appropriate also to recall here the De ecclesia Christi (2 v. Regensburg 1853, 1856), which was the joint work of Carlo passaglia (1812–87) and Klemens schrader (1820–75); from this work, left unfinished, one may instance the authors' reflections on "the social charity" of the Church, i.e., on "the charity of communion, the charity of the Body, and the Christian communion of the Church" (lib. 3:412; see 411-418, 461, 574-575, 581-586), on the Trinitarian origin and destiny of this communion in love (lib. 3:418), and on the sacraments as expressions of this charity of communion (lib. 3:419). M. J. scheeben (1835–88) contributed much of lasting value on "the organic unity of the teaching body with the body of the faithful in the Catholic Church"(Theologische Erkenntnislehre; Dogmatik 1, 13, no. 168, see nos. 168–186); Scheeben speaks in a way reminiscent of the early Patristic writers of "the whole Church … in the communion of the simple faithful as mater fidei"(ibid. no. 184). The lay theologian Friedrich Pilgram (1819–90) made the theme of communion the very center of his valuable, if complicated, study on the Church [Physiologie der Kirche (Mainz 1860]. Finally there are the observations of Hermann schell (1850–1906) in his Dogmatik 3.1 (Paderborn 1892) 382–386, where the concept of the Church as a community of life with the Triune God and with one another in Christ is elaborated; as Schell says, "God does not separate and isolate, but associates and joins together in a living union, because He is triune" (386).
Early 20th Century. The work of theologians Y. congar, H. de lubac, R. guardini, C. journet, and many others in areas such as Patristics, Liturgy, Ecumenism, and Biblical Studies paved the way for the ecclesiological developments that would be expressed in the documents of Vatican II. The teaching of modern popes, especially pius xii, paralleled these developments. For example, Pius XII's focus on the sharing of the whole Church in the apostolate and in particular on the missionary role and spirit of the Church as compassing all the faithful without exception [see, e.g., Pius XII, Fidei donum, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 49 (1957) 237–238] indicates clearly the participation of all the faithful in the total common life of the Church and in its major activities. Plus XII's encyclicals mystici corporis (June 29, 1943) and mediator dei (Nov. 20, 1947) manifest an intensified sense of the whole Church as one worshiping and saving community in Christ through the Spirit. See, for instance, the definition of the liturgy in Mediator Dei (Denzinger 3841); and in Mystici corporis one reads: "We must all cooperate with Christ in this work of salvation—'all of us who from One and through One are saved and save"' [Acta Apostolica Sedis 35 (1943) 221].
Vatican II and Beyond. The word "communion" appears frequently throughout the documents of Vatican II as a way of speaking about the Church. The term appears 27 times in the English text of Lumen gentium alone, and eight times in the "Preliminary Note of Explanation" to that document, intended to clarify that the Church is a "hierarchical communion." The mystery of the Church is presented as rooted in the Trinity. The universal Church is described as "a people made one from the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"; a people "established by Christ as a communion of life, love, and truth"; one holy community, sacerdotal and prophetic, in which "all the faithful scattered throughout the world lead a common life with the rest in the Holy Spirit" and in which all "both labor and pray that the fullness of the world be transformed into the people of God, the Body of the Lord, and the temple of the Holy Spirit." The English text of Unitatis redintegratio uses "communion" 22 times, and introduces the concepts of "full communion" and "imperfect communion" to express the relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches.
The concept of communion at Vatican II has also other ecumenical and theological uses. "Communion" stresses that the Church most basically consists in webs of relationships with God and with others. The institutional and juridical dimensions, while essential, exist always in the service of communion. Great emphasis is placed on local churches as communities of people bonded in love through Christ and gathered around the Eucharist in the presence of their bishop. This focus on the local church produces much fruit in the Council's teachings on ecumenism, authority, mission, liturgy, and the role of the laity. It represents a reaching beyond St. Thomas Aquinas's stress on the universal Church to the life and thought of the Church of the first millennium. Whether the council retains a clear priority of the universal Church in relation to local churches, or whether it emphasizes more strictly a dynamic simultaneity, remains a subject of debate.
Also a matter of debate is whether what is now called "communion ecclesiology" was the central guiding concept of the Church at Vatican II during the actual time the council was taking place. It is not unreasonable, however, to claim that communion ecclesiology functions at the start of a new century as the dominant category for interpreting the council in both official and theological circles. The Extraordinary Synod of 1985 called communion "the central and fundamental idea of the council's documents." Scholars as diverse as W. Kasper and L. Boff find in "communion" the primary category for speaking of the Church. J. Ratzinger has referred to communion ecclesiology as the "one basic ecclesiology." Pope john paul ii ardently promoted communion ecclesiology in a wide variety of writings.
See Also: communion of saints; ecclesiology; kingdom of god; missions, divine; mystical body of christ; sacraments, articles on; society (church as); trinity, holy; unity of faith; unity of the church; church, articles on.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903–50) Tables générales 1:1110–30. r. schnackenburg et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 6:167–186. j. schmid et al., Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, ed. h. fries, 2 v. (Munich 1962–63) 1:790–822. g. w. h. lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford 1961–) fasc. 3, 762–764. m. j. le guillou, Le Christ et l'église (Paris 1963); Mission et unité, 2 v. (Paris 1960). j. hamer, L'Église est une communion (Paris 1962). f. malmberg, Ein Leib-Ein Geist, tr. r. e. torfs (Freiburg 1960). h. möhlen, Una mystica persona (Munich 1964). h. seesemann, Der Begriff koinwniva im Neuen Testament (Giessen 1933). j.-m. r. tillard, L'Eucharistie, Pâque de l'église (Paris 1963); L'évêque de Rome (Paris 1982); Église d'Églises. L'Ecclésiologie de communion (Paris 1987); Chair de l'église, chair du Christ. Aux sources de l'ecclésiologie de communion (Paris 1992); L'Église locale: Ecclésiologie de communion et catholicité (Paris 1995). j. komonchak, "Conceptions of Communion Past and Present, "Cristianesimo nella storia 16 (1995) 321–40. j. zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY 1985). m. volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids MI 1998). s. wood, Spiritual Exegesis and the Church in the Theology of Henri de Lubac (Grand Rapids MI 1998). d. doyle, Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions (Maryknoll NY 2000). p. phan, ed, The Gift of the Church: A Textbook on Ecclesiology (Collegeville MN 2000).
[f. x. lawlor/
d. m. doyle]
"Church, II (Theology of)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/church-ii-theology
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