Every adequate theology of the Church must begin with the proper beginning: not with Mt 16.16 (the promise of the Petrine primacy) but with 1 Tm 2.4 (the promise of universal salvation: "God our savior: he wants everyone to be saved …"). Traditionally the Church has been considered the Sacrament of this divine saving will, an insight revived by vatican council ii in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church : "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind" (Lumen gentium 1); "through this Spirit [Christ] has established His body, the Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation" (ibid. 48). Accordingly the being of the Church is symbol and source of a twofold union—of God with man and of man with man. Hence, the Church is essentially a communion.
Ontology of Communio. Both Christ and the Church are called Sacrament, and each, analogously, is also called primal and original Sacrament (Ursakrament ). The designation is not merely one among many others, equally valid; rather it is the key term in that ontology implicitly contained in the salvation history revealed in the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition. The meaning of Sacrament implies that the divine and the human are so compatible that they can be united in human experience as one event in which the human shares in and manifests the divine being to the world and invites it to participate in this sharing. Clearly, then, the Church can be understood only within the horizon of this Judaeo-Christian ontology.
Ontology of Salvation. Nowhere is the importance of philosophy more striking than in that ecclesiology which explains the Church as communio (koinonia ). All theology, and ecclesiology most of all, is liable to trivialize itself as soon as it forgets that it is essentially an answer to the fundamental human question (Man as the Seinsfrage ), "What is it all about?" Generally, and unfortunately, salvation is understood too narrowly, restricted to what is called either supernatural salvation or redemption. In reality, for the Judaeo-Christian ontology, salvation includes all that is customarily parceled out as creation, grace, and glory. These three designate the three stages or degrees of created participation in uncreated being, which theologians have discerned to be implicitly revealed in the biblical account of history. Hence, the history of the world is correctly called "salvation-history."
If the importance of philosophy for theology is nowhere more obvious than here, likewise is the inadequacy of a "pagan" philosophy. Decisive for every philosophy is the perceived relation between the being of God and the being of the world. The Judaeo-Christian tradition offers the classic formulation of this mutuality in Gn1.26–27, where the human creation is explicitly stated to be in the image and likeness of the divine creator. Although this formal insight is common to every philosophy and religion, the material content varies enormously. One need only compare typical Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman, Aryan, and Judaeo-Christian theories about the originating pattern, the deity, and the originated imitation, the world.
The Divine Being, Relationship. Since the being of God is decisive for the being of whatever is not God, the being or nature of the Judaeo-Christian God must be elucidated. The first and decisive assertion is that this God is triune, three Persons in one God. Thus are avoided the inadequacies inherent in both polytheism and even certain traditional monotheisms. In Greek philosophy substance denotes a being that stands on its own, that does not inhere in nor form part of another being. It tends to connote independence and even separation, apartness, isolation. Baneful results for certain religious approaches to God are obvious, for the deity becomes not only the One, but the Alone, even the Alien. The Judaeo-Christian God, on the other hand, and precisely as triune, emphatically reveals that by virtue of his divine unicity God is not reduced to the isolated and phthisic status of a monad. In Greek philosophy substance and relation tend to be mutually hostile, so that the more one really is (substance), the less one is related (relation). The ontology implicit in the triune God simply undoes this. For this God, substantial being is being related; relation is substance. Thus, God's very being is the relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for God is not first Father, and then only derivatively and subsequently Son and Holy Spirit (cf. Ratzinger). Rather, the very substance of God is originally communicated Being. Hence, all being, wherever it is in being, is inescapably "being with."
Perichoresis and Communio. In order to describe this triune God, theologians have had recourse to many images and terms. One of the happiest has been the Greek word "perichoresis," for it surpasses all others in indicating that one of the classical problems of theoretical philosophy is reconciled in the triune God. Yet, it is not only a problem of theoretical philosophy, but also of practical living, namely the relation of the one and the many, of unity and diversity. Elsewhere considered contraries and even contradictories are revealed to be congenial and harmonious in the triune God. This is aptly expressed by perichoresis, which comes from Greek words meaning "to dance around with." If the anthropomorphism be permitted, perichoresis means that God is so full of being that his oneness is manyness, a manyness that in no way divides or separates, negates or isolates his oneness. Thus a term from "to dance" expresses God's being happy with himself, with his shared being—the being together of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this kind of joyful unity in diversity that Genesis (esp. ch. 1 and 2) describes as the creation and which the Hebrew calls shalom.
Within this view it is perfectly "natural" that God, whose very being is communicated plenitude, should also communicate being to that which of itself is not God and, hence, which otherwise is simply not at all. To describe this communication in its various stages and degrees theologians have developed the terms "creation," "Christ," and "Church." If Christ, by his hypostatic union, is the most intense and unsurpassable instance of this theandric communication and communion of the divine with the human, then creation and Church are but the necessary antecedent and subsequent conditions: creation as the supposition and inception (protology) and Church as the consequence and completion (eschatology). Only in this context can the traditional distinction between nature and grace, the natural and the supernatural, be properly understood. It is legitimate to refer to the creation as nature and to redemption and glory as grace, but only with the understanding that all being other than the simply divine is gratuitous and, hence, grace. Thus, humanity lives in a gracious world, and always has. The distinction between natural and supernatural remains legitimate only as long as it is clearly understood that the "super" refers not to God the Creator giving the gift, but to man the creature receiving the gift. The gift is being, the full "being with" that God intends to communicate. Hence, the creature's capacity for the "supernatural" does not demand supernatural life from a presumably reluctant God; rather, the generous God's desire to give creatures this superabundant life (Jn 1.16; 10.10) provides that there be a "nature" created to receive it.
Thus the dispute over whether the Creed's communio sanctorum refers to holy things or holy persons, though historically pertinent, is theologically and really otiose. All being is communion in the holy being of God, and the Church is precisely where this holy communion is celebrated. As effect and symbol of God's inward communion outwardly communicated, the Church is the Sacrament of salvation. The eternal, immanent trinity is the savingly historical, economic Trinity.
For this reason earliest theology speaks of the Church as "a people united by the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Cyprian, De Orat. Domin. 23). Tertullian says, "For the Church is itself, properly and principally, the Spirit Himself, in whom there is a trinity of one divinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (De pud. 21). These texts can be taken as but the logical development of John's assertion that God is love (1 Jn 4.8, 16). Both really and gnoseologically the salvation-historical Trinity is the immanent Trinity.
Such lengthy Trinitarian and Christological considerations may seem excessive in a discussion of the entry on the Church as communio. However, as soon as such insights are even obscured, ecclesiology deteriorates into debates about lordship in the body politic of the Church, whereas it should be a lectio divina about the brotherhood of humanity in Christ celebrating the communion of man with God in the union of the Holy Spirit.
Being of the Church as Communio. If the Judaeo-Christian revelation understands that being as such is gift and communion, then it automatically follows that the being of the Church must also be gift and communion. If the divine and theandric sources of the Church are not grudging givers (Phil 2.6), then the Church must also strive for the "more" perisseuma that must distinguish the followers of Christ who want to enter the Kingdom of God definitively (Mt 5.20).
Communio, Giving and Forgiving. In neither the institutions of its officials nor in the holiness of its members, however, does the Church expect paradisal innocence or utopian perfectionism. The true Church is not gnostic, but has always (Mt 12.36 43) known that it is, in the words of Augustine, a corpus mixtum of saints and sinners. The Church is aware that it is an ecclesia reformata semper reformanda. In the customary course of events the holiness of the Church, even as the communion of the saints, is not sinlessness, but forgiveness. For it is the Church of God, who wills not the death, but the life of the sinner (Ez 18.23); the Church of Jesus, who is the friend of sinners (Mt 11.19); and the Church of the Holy Spirit, who is the forgiveness of sins (the Postcommunion of the Roman Liturgy for Whit Tuesday, based on Jn 20.19 with Lk 20.19; 24.47 and Acts 1.8). Disastrously throughout the Church's history this precise nature of its holiness has been misunderstood, by both liberals and conservatives, reformers and integralists. The result has been presumption in those who identify the pilgrim Church with the eschatological Kingdom; despair, in those who identify the sinful Church with the Synagogue of Satan (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 1187). Both types are responsible for rending the seamless garment which Christ's Church is to be. Asserting their own holiness, both desert the holiness of that patient (2 Pt 3.9 with Wis 11.15–12.27), divine Wisdom which "sweetly and powerfully disposes all things" (Wis 8.1) and of whose goods and mysteries the Church is the sacramental communion. Rightly, then, the Church is most intensely Church through the Communion in the life-giving Body received at the banquet table spread by the (incarnate) divine Wisdom himself (Prv 9.1–6; Sir 24.19–22 with Lk 22:14–20 and 1 Cor 1.19–31). The gift of the Christian Church, although simultaneously sinful and holy, still the communion of saints, illuminates the fundamental insight of the Judaeo-Christian ontology, namely, that being is both divinely given and forgiven.
A Lived Communio. The mission of this Church is to practice this ontology. In both its structure and its life the Church is to be a communion of giving and forgiving. The officer in the Church is to be a shepherd, mindful that Jesus alone is the absolute Sacrament (Jn 10.1 10) of the Divine Shepherd (Ez 34.1). Hence, popes, bishops, pastors, and leaders of whatever kind "are not dictators over your faith, but fellow workers with you for your happiness" (2 Cor 1.24), "administrators of this new covenant" (2 Cor 3.6), who coordinate the many gifts of the one Spirit for the building up of the one Body of Christ. The members are to remember that as members they are also the fellow workers, equally responsible for the completion of the Body of Christ (Col 1.24), for it is not a monarchy, but a communion. Having been loved first by God and brought into communion with him, they are all henceforth able to love others and bring them into the same communion so that the joy of all may be complete (1 Jn 4.7, 10, 19; 1.4).
Vatican II Documents. As used in the council documents, communio has, amid a broad range of meaning, two major divisions: communion with God and communion among human persons. In general understanding, humanity is called to communion with God (Gaudium et spes 19). Specifically, humanity is called to communion with God who is Father, Son and Spirit (Unitatis redintegratio 7, 15). Through the Eucharist, individuals are taken up into communion with Christ, and with one another (Lumen gentium 7). This is the communion of believers (UR 2) which has its source and center in Christ (UR 20) and was established by him as a communion of life, love, and truth (LG 9), having the Holy Spirit as the principle of unity (UR 2). Communio is used to designate the entire mystical body of Jesus Christ (LG 50): those in glory, those being purified, and those still on pilgrimage. Thus the meaning of communio includes that invisible union with God and among believers, as well as the visible manifestation of that union which is membership in the Church (Sacrosanctum concilium 69; LG 14).
Communio is also used to designate the relationships between groups within the people of god. Religious are bound together in a fraternal communion (LG 43). There is a communion among the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium ecclesiarum 2) and between those churches and the pope (OE 24). There was a communion between the West and all the churches of the East before the Schism and even now there exists a communion among the separated churches themselves (UR 14). Communio refers to the relation of particular churches among themselves (Ad gentes 19) as well as their relationship with the universal Church (AG 38).
The council expresses the structure of the People of God with the term "hierarchical communion" (Presbyterorum ordinis 15) applied in several contexts. An individual dividual becomes a member of the episcopal college through sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head of the college and its members (LG 22). He likewise exercises his ministry of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling only in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the episcopal college (LG 21). Communio in this context is not to be understood as a vague goodwill, but as something organic which calls for a juridical structure (Nota praevia 2). There exists also a bond of hierarchical communion between the priests of a diocese and the bishop (PO 7). Among bishops themselves (LG 25) and among priests themselves (LG 41), the bond of communio should abound in every spiritual good and bear living witness of God to all.
In the area of ecumenism, the concept of communio plays an important role. The most frequent designation for non-Catholic Christians is "brothers not yet in full communion" (GS 92). This use of communio non plena conveys a positive element, that there is communion of prayers and spiritual benefits (LG 15) between the churches, and they are joined in some real way in the Holy Spirit. The council also recognizes that this communion is imperfect and that obstacles hinder full communion (UR 3). But terms like "excommunication," "heretic," and "schism" are never used. Communio is used in the Decree on Ecumenism to designate all Christian communities (including the Roman Church: UR 1;4); to designate all separated churches and ecclesial communities (UR 13); and to designate the Anglican communion (UR 13).
The Code and Other Church Documents. Present in the debates and in the texts of Vatican II was a tension between a "juridical ecclesiology" which describes the Church as a "perfect society" structured like a monarchy with its starting point as the primacy of the pope, and an "ecclesiology of communion" which describes the Church as communio, emphasizes collegiality and has the local church as its starting point. In a commentary on the 1983 code, James Provost makes the judgment that the ecclesiology of communio is "clearly more influential and provides a more consistent perspective for interpreting the council's teaching." Because the teaching of the Second Vatican Council became the foundation for the revisions in canon law, the same tensions present in the conciliar documents are evident in the code, especially in Book II, on the People of God. The code focuses on the external, juridically enforceable dimensions of full communion in canon 205: "Those baptized are fully in communion with the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of profession of faith, of the Sacraments, and of ecclesiastical governance (cf. LG 14)." There is also a spiritual dimension to communion which is possessing the Spirit of Christ (LG 14). This forms the living context for the juridical aspects found in the code and is to be seen as complementary to it.
In the apostolic constitution Sacrae discipline leges accompanying the promulgation of the code, Pope John Paul II listed among those elements which characterize the true and genuine image of the Church the "doctrine in which the Church is seen as a communion." This was also a major theme in The Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 which celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. In assessing the implementation of the teaching of the council, the Bishops reaffirmed the ecclesiology of communion as "the central and fundamental idea of the council's documents" which is the foundation for order and a correct relationship between unity and pluriformity in the Church. In this context the bishops discussed collegiality and coresponsibility and called for continued study of the theological status and doctrinal authority of episcopal conferences; they encouraged continued ecumenical dialogue; and they acknowledged the vocation and mission of women and the emergence of "basic communities." Because the Church, as communio is a sacrament for the salvation of the world, the bishops emphasized the Church's mission, particularly its preferential option for the poor and its solidarity for those who suffer. As Bishop James Malone, President of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, stated: "We are a communio in which the Spirit of the churches is present to each and all and in which the successor of Peter represents Christ's care for the entire Church. No Catholic can deny any of that; it is the substance of our ecclesiology" [Origins 16 (Nov. 20 1986) 394–398].
Since the council, theologians have deepened the Church's self-understanding as communio and sought to express more fully and clearly the connections and consequences of this many-sided concept. The community of believers throughout the world forms a communion of local churches, the bishops in communion with the bishop of Rome whose primacy serves the unity of the whole Church. Communio not only expresses what the Church is, visibly and invisibly, it also expresses the Church's goal, not only among all Christian communions, but for men and women of every time and place. It is for this reason that, precisely as communion, the Church is a sacrament for the salvation of all. The clearest expression of the Trinitarian character of the Church is the Eucharist, where invisible communion with God and visible communion with one another form a sacramental unity. It is a sign and instrument, possessing within itself the reality of communion with Father, Son, and Spirit, but always as sign and never perfectly. Thus communio implies laws, rituals, apostolates and our work in building up the People of God. But at the same time, communio is grace and gift, for God has established his people as the Body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The communio that Christians receive is their present task and future goal. It alone fulfills the human heart, for it extends beyond death.
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