Catholicity

In the Western part of the Church we have this basic and very deep assumption of a oneness or unity that occurs at the expense
of diversity
. Although the diversity is expressed, Western theology does not make clear that the diversity is not subordinate to the unity. It does not tell us clearly enough that plurality and unity are equally fundamental. To put it at its very bluntest, the Western church fails to tell us that the people, and included with them the leadership of the church (and not the leadership of the church without the people) who make the unity of the church. This is to say that Christ-united-with-his-people, never one without the other, who are the church.

The Western church begins its ecclesiology with consideration of the priest, the people and either the eucharistic host (or bible, depending on which is your side of the Reformation divide). It sees the eucharistic bread as one single wafer, broken for each individual communicant (or, the bible immediately open and comprehensible to the individual believer). Its ecclesiology begins with the church hierarchy, with the individual priest at the local level, and the pope at the worldwide level. The priest consecrates the bread and the people are formed by its reception. The pope holds the church together, making all these people and congregations one church. The logic here is that, though the authority of the priest is given by the pope and validated by him, priest and pope are individuals, but the pope is more so, his greater universal individuality sourcing and validating the individuality of each church in each locality (Yes, it is caricature, but I am trying not to take too long a run-up to what I want to say – this is only a blog).
On this logic the people are the church because the priest, or the pope, ministers to them. His ministry makes them who they are: he is not only the source of their unity but of their existence as church. The Western church makes this basic assumption of the singleness of the priest, and of the pope, and assumes that the manyness of the Christian people derive from it. Unity occurs at the expense of diversity.

The Protestant Reformers insisted that the people are made the people of God by baptism, the direct action of God, not by the ministry of the hierarchy. The laity do not depend on the hierarchy for their existence as the people of God. But despite its proper stress on the people of God, there was some part of the gospel that the Reformers did not adequately recover. They did not manage to show that the people of God are not only the recipients of the gospel, but also the form of the gospel. The manyness of the people of God is caused by the gospel because the gospel is Christ united with his people. He is never without them and they are never without him. They are never known without him, and he is never known without them. The gospel is the manyness of Christ’s people.

In the Western half of the church we have this basic and very deep assumption of a oneness or unity that occurs at the expense of diversity. Although the diversity is expressed, Western theology does not make clear that the diversity is not subordinate to the unity. It does not tell us clearly enough that plurality and unity are equally fundamental. To put it at its very bluntest, the Western church fails to tell us that the people, and included with them the leadership of the church (and not the leadership of the church without the people) who make the unity of the church. This is to say that Christ-united-with-his-people, never one without the other, who are the church. Instead we are left with the impression that the pope makes the church but the church does not make the pope, and the Reformers did not succeed in getting rid of this assumption from the deepest level of the logic of ecclesiology. This is implicit assumption, an aspect of the logic of the Western church – for no part of the Western church teaches this explicitly. But this logic holds good not only for the pope but it is also the logic of the position of every minister and pastor before every congregation. As such it is denial of the gospel embedded in the form and structure of the church.
So next I have to show that the Eastern Orthodox are the guardians of some part of the gospel, and of the logic, of the gospel, embodied in the public form of the church, that we Westerners have yet to learn. I will call this ‘catholicity’.

2. My caricature continues:
Catholic and Protestant deliberations on the eucharist tend to focus on the encounter of two individuals, Jesus Christ and the believer. In this encounter Christ makes himself present in the form of the wafer consecrated before us. In the eucharist Jesus comes to me in an event of transformation in which ordinary bread is made extraordinary. But it is not the bread which is being transformed here, but the Christian. The Christian is being made holy, transformed from one degree of Christlikeness to another, from partial to whole and perfect.

The loaf does not represent Christ individualised and therefore without us. The loaf represents Christ – and us with him. That loaf is him and us together. It represents us in part as we are (broken) and in part as we shall be (whole). Thus the loaf represents all humanity recapitulated in Christ, who together make the one. It is the Christ-and-his-people loaf, the Christ-in-his-kingdom loaf.
The resurrection does not just mean that one day my little body will be made to stand upright again. It is that I will be raised to you, and you will be raised to me, so that the relationship we once had will be restored, and the relationship that we never had will now begin. I will be alive because you will supply me with this life: you will be my source of life and I will be your source of life. This will be so because we will both be connected to Christ, who is the source for all of us, and he will give and receive us back from one another again, authenticating our reception of one another.

I have been running away from people my whole life long. But in the event of the resurrection I am turned around so that I run slap into those very people I have been fleeing. Our collision and sudden encounter is what the resurrection is, for me and for them. In this encounter we are brought into relationship with all others, and so transformed.

We are being brought into relationship with those who are (presently) living and with those who are (to us) dead. They are dead to us and to each other, but they are not dead to Christ. Even separated by death from all other persons, they are alive, because Christ does not end the relationship he has with them; as long as Christ does not let them go, they are sustained and cannot finally die. Christ does not believe in death; he does not give it an inch, and he will not allow its individualizing and isolating to prevail over us.

It is not that I am being transformed as a merely individual entity. Rather I am being turned outwards so that I can no longer be thought of as someone cut off and isolated from others. I am being adapted to fit each other living person. We are all of us being fitted to one another. Resurrection means that I am brought into living relationship with, and so made alive to, every other person, and they to me. The (future) body of Christ will be made of every living person. We are being broken out of our present partial and sectarian community and brought into a much bigger one, indeed into the universal community. Our small local sectarian loaf is being re-dissolved and baked into a much bigger loaf – one that is made of all.

3. Jesus does not come to the individual believer alone, but to his whole community. And he is not merely present to us, but brings us into this community and incorporates us in this body. It is Jesus Christ who comes to me, anointed (christed) with his whole people. As members of that people, we are part of that christ-ing.

We exist, you and I, purely because Christ holds us in his regard. He never loses concentration, and his regard is our whole life-supply. Though we may be hidden from all other people, dead to them, yet we are sustained in life by Christ. He will bring us to them, and them to us, so that as we are increasingly united to one another we become alive with the complete life of our Lord. We will live, and flourish, and enable one another to flourish without limit and gloriously, as his regard brings us into connection with one another. In his regard we will participate in one another, and live to and from one another.

Now Christ calls us to receive from him all whom he calls together in his eucharist. Like Jacob sending his flocks ahead to Esau, Christ sends us all these people ahead of him to us. To receive him we have to receive them, all of them, refusing none. They are all of them part of the loaf he intends for us. As we take them from him, as his members, they become part of us and we become part of them. We will receive our name and identity from them, and cannot attempt to be ourselves without them. We may not define ourselves by any more exclusive definition or smaller group. The identity that we will receive from this vast company will make us universal beings, for Christ’s is the true and universal eucharist.

In the eucharist we pray and ask God for the whole of future body of Christ. We look forward to all those who are to come, and who will make that body complete, and we wait, and mourn, for those who are not yet present. Their absence means that we are not yet present as we want to be. The whole Christ, and our own very being, is waiting for them.

For us now the eucharist is exclusive, partial and anticipatory, for this kingdom has not yet come. Our way into this communion is through the exclusive path of the cross of Christ, in which the many exclusive groups and false universals (“catholicities?) are stripped off us.

4. So far I have said that in the eucharist we receive our place in the one loaf of Christ glorified together with his people. In the eucharist all are called and gathered together in Christ, and through him we will be connected to, and so become alive to, all other people. When we are at last connected to one another, we will no longer be isolated entities, are our life be be supplied to us without limit.

It is not only that we are being fitted together in a vast living company of people, but that this company is being fitted to the cosmos. Humanity and nature are in process of reconciliation and integration. The church and the cosmos, like two halves of a single piece of engineering, are being brought together to form one vast entity. We are learning how to get into time with the cosmos, and the cosmos is being brought into synch with us. When humanity and nature are fitted together, and move in step, they will make a single beautiful working whole, called ‘creation’. But in giving the loaf to you, he is making it complete. It is not complete without you, but as you take hold of it and it is so joined to you, it is made complete. You are the completion of the cosmos. So the eucharistic loaf is a world-loaf – all creation united with Christ. We will be complete, and live with, rather than against, the order of creation. When Christ is all in all, we will all be in all.

This bread, which we now understand is the loaf, shows the world the present and the future of the church, which is linked to the future of the cosmos. The loaf we see held up in the eucharist is the cosmos. It is shown to us so we can acknowledge that it is not yet complete, but still fragmented. It is waiting for us, and for many others. (The verb ‘shows’ is scarcely adequate to the case, but I’ll come back to it when I talk about participation and our Amen).

The Lord wants us to acknowledge that it is not yet whole loaf, and that we are all waiting for the rest of God’s creation to come in and join this loaf. This incomplete loaf represents his commission, ‘Go into all the world’: the mass is commission and mission. We have to go out and get these many others and bring them back with us and present them to God here at this point. That loaf is one half of a tally stick: the point is to come up with the other half. So this bread is work. This work of bringing these many in is what is going on in the lifting them up (anaphora) or offering them. This means that we present them to the Lord for his inspection. This work is Christ’s work. It is not our work apart from Christ. It is an invitation to participate in Christ, and so also in his work, to take it for ourselves, and to enjoy with him this labour of his along with its outcome.

Only within this assembly, that recognises and gives the proper name to all things as creatures of God, does this by participating (publicly for the benefit of world) in Christ’s office of lifting up (anaphora) the world to God. Only the assembly-member (represented by the bishop) in the assembly can carry out this priestly office. Thus only the bishop is the priest, and only when all those around him, all the people of God, accompany him in this act, so it is their act because his, his because theirs, their joint act because the act of Christ. In the next posts I will talk about the significance of the assembly and the bishop.

5. The Christian people is a vast assembly made up of all the members of Christ, both those who for us are in the past and the future. All the members of that assembly, the whole Christ, intend that we join them. Our full identity is there with them. They intend to make us present there with them, and the pass on to us the means by which we may fully take on our identity and take up our place in that assembly.

This future and final assembly makes itself present to the present world in two modes. It passes on the manyness and diversity of the whole Christ to each eucharistic congregation present in each location in the world. And it makes present to the world the unity of the whole Christ in the one indivisible Church in which each of these congregations participate. The Church participates in the unity and plurality of the whole Christ. It witnesses to the manyness and oneness of Christ, and it passes on to the world the manyness and unity it receives from Christ. The Church supplies the world simultaneously with both unity and plurality, identity and difference. The world receives its own unity and diversity, and with them its very existence, from the whole assembly of Christ. This act of witness shows that, in itself, apart from Christ, the world is not yet either one or many. Without the present assembly of the Church, present in every part of the world, both the unity and diversity of the world are in doubt.

The assembly of Christ’s people makes itself present in the eucharistic community in each locality. In its petitions it makes each locality present to God, and so that locality receives its existence. Each congregation that confesses Christ-with-his-whole- people, receives the discipline and shaping of the whole Church. The eucharistic community that receives the shaping of the whole Christ makes the whole future cosmic community present there in that locality. To participate in the whole it must seek Christ in every corner of his worldwide Church and beg each part of the body to give it that gift of Christ that it has not yet received. Thus each particular part of the world, represented and made present in the assembly called before God, seeks and receives the discipline of Christ learned and exercised worldwide and through all generations. Next we have to link this universality to the authority and discipline of Christ, that the Lord exercises through his entire Church.

6. The whole Christian community is under a discipline imposed upon it by an external authority. It is formed and disciplined, as it is redeemed, by Christ who comes to it from outside. But Christ is no absentee landlord who exercises only a distant or theoretical authority. The authority of Christ is exercised by Christ, made present to us in his whole people the Church, and carried out by the office-holders of the Church. The lordship of Christ presently makes itself felt as these specific overseers.
No community of Christians is under its own authority, and so no individual community can ordain its own leaders. This must be done for it by the rest of the church, by all other congregations, as it were. Such overseers are sent by the whole Church to each local church, which must receive this overseer and his discipline willingly, as a gift received from the whole Church. Because these overseers must be trained in the full deposit of faith, we need a trained and ordained clergy. Christ makes himself present to us in the form of these disciplinarians, who are responsible for connecting us to all the people of Christ, mediating to us the whole Church, and passing on to us all the characteristics of the servanthood of Christ. Obedience to the God who is really God is freedom, and obedience to his word and then, to those he made his apostles, is the form Christ takes for us now.

Our overseers are the love and discipline of Christ for us as they pass on what they have received from Christ and enable us to receive it in full and thankfully. We have to help these overseers to be good transmitters of the faith, and we do this by encouraging them to instruct us, and by taking our complaints to them and to God when they fail to do so. So discussion of the office of the bishop is no defence of clerical interests, but an essential part of the living witness of the contemporary Church.
Next we must relate the bishop to the assembly and to the plurality-and-unity of the whole Christ.

7. The bishop represents the whole history of the Church, all its apostles and doctors, to his congregation. He is the catholicity of the Church, in one person. In him the worldwide church makes itself present to each local congregation. A bishop is a member of the assembly of the whole church, drawn from every corner of the world. If the bishop is present, the whole Church is present in each particular congregation, so that the whole geographic and historic catholicity of the Church is present in that particular part of the world. This Church on earth is the form in which Christ together with all his people is presently visible to the world.

Bishops are apostles. The point about apostles is that there is a plurality of them. Twelve indicates completeness, so there is one apostle for every part of the world (The same is true of the seventy apostles, for there are notionally seventy nations in the world). When one apostle falls, his place is filled by another. Apostolic succession does not run individual to individual, so the power of consecration does not run bishop to bishop in unbroken quasi-physical transmission, no single gap in all those centuries. It is ‘possessed’ by the assembly and council of apostles and bishops as a whole, represented in the council of the whole church as this participates in the whole Christ. Thus the worldwide council of the church is a foretaste of the ultimate assembly of all creatures in worship of God.

The bishop teaches his people the doctrine of the whole Church, and when the Church refuses any part of these gifts and disciplines, and sets out to found its faith on something less than the full deposit of faith, the bishop will exercise the discipline that will bring it back to obedience, and he will endure the suffering that this will involve.

8. The Church is whole when all parts of the church are in communion with all others. For this reason each church must insist on the centrality of ecumenism and be disciplined by it. Notionally, all the leaders of the church meet together in councils in which the whole church is present. This council or assembly is a function of the mercy of God to his Church and by which the Church is renewed and sustained.

Ecumenism is not an extra, but an evangelical imperative. ‘The divided Churches are called to receive from one another or indeed to receive one another.’ This does not mean simply agreement on doctrine, but mutual ecclesial recognition, ‘the reception of one Church by another Church’ – in the eucharist. ‘The Church, although one, exists as churches (in the plural), and these churches exist as One Church in and through constantly receiving one another as sister Churches.’ (Zizioulas The Theological Problem of Reception.)

Conciliarity is the practice of communion, that is, of sending apostles to, and receiving apostles from, all other parts of the church. Receiving Christ from these apostles and being obedient to Christ in them, is simply what Christian love is. The Church is love. The whole church’s sending, receiving, meeting, learning and teaching, disciplining and obeying, is the event of love. It is the life Christ lives to the Father. Indeed all society is an event of love, and a participation in the society of God, and no amount of corruption changes the truth of the origin of human sociality. Any particular society becomes, and remains, a society as it is formed in and disciplined by Christ, who is in one society with the Father.

But there is no worldwide council of the church. There is the weekly, or daily, celebration the eucharist, which both looks forward to the assembly of Christ with his whole people, and already is this assembly in miniature. And there are the many interim ecumenical meetings and forums of the church. All of them are partial, but if they are gatherings of the church, they give their witness by pointing forwards to the perfect eucharist of the whole church. In the eucharist we receive the whole Church, Christ and his whole people.

9. In the church, we already participate in that future complete assembly, which is the whole body of Christ. In this future body we will be relationship with all, and they will all participate in us. We will belong, not any smaller or lesser group, but to the whole, the universal or catholic entity of Christ. We are not complete, and not ourselves without them, and they are not complete without us. We will not be raised from the dead without them: they are essential to our final identity: in the resurrection body, the universal, catholic, body, when Christ is all in all, all will be in all. This means that we may now know Christ only with all whom the Father has given him. Christ prepares now them for us, and us for them.

All these people have received from Christ a piece of the future creation, and in this future creation they have also received a little bit of us. They have a piece of our own true selves that we do not yet have. They have to teach this new aspect of our proper identity to us, and we have to receive it from them. They have to give this piece to us, and we have to receive it from them, and must wait until they do. We receive ourselves only from them. This means that we must want to receive this from them: it requires that we are open and willing to receive them, and so to receive Christ, and our own identity, freely. Love makes us free to receive them. Only when we take it from them (and have learned how to do this) are we really and freely ourselves.

Christ meets us. But that meeting involve us in a search in which we look everywhere for him, even in that company that we consider ungodly. We find him where he, in his freedom, meets us. He meets us in the form of that very set of persons against whom we had most recently and most fervently been defending ourselves. Christ is there – only – for us, in the person we were trying to avoid. Christ is there at that moment turning this rival into our friend. We cannot turn away from them without turning away from the piece of ourselves that they, and only they, have to give us. We cannot turn away from them without turning away both our Lord, and our own future. We have to go the Christians we don’t like, whose doctrine and churchmanship are repellant to us, in order to meet Christ.

This means that ‘ecumenism’ is an event of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. The eucharist is the ecumenical event. Though an unlovely word, ‘ecumenical’ simply means communion. This communion comes through being reconciled with those who oppose us. Of course this reconciliation cannot come at the expense of truth, so ‘there must differences among you’ and forthright exchanges of view. But we must be reconciled with those who oppose us, and that most often means from those at opposite ends of the church, the ‘evangelicals’ or the ‘catholics’ or whoever’s churchmanship you regard as least acceptable.

We meet Christ in the event in which our opponent becomes our brother. We have to put into words what we hold against him, and we have to forgive him and ask him for his forgiveness. Every time we meet, we must look forward to and pray for this reconciliation and unity.

10. We cannot know other people in a full sense without love. We have want to be in relationship with them, and be recognised by them. We must look for their response, and respond to it gladly when we receive it. The highest form of recognition is mutual recognition in friendship, fellowship and love. Any other form of knowledge, may effect to keep its object just an object and no more. If it refuses to allow it its proper context and purpose, it may prevent that object from reaching its telos and becoming fully a creature.

All things become themselves as they participate in Christ. Christ draws them into this participation. What starts solely his act, and always remains his act, also becomes their act. From his life and his relatedness to all other persons and things, their life and relatedness to all others grow. They participate in his communion with the Father and in the freedom of God that this involves. In Christ knowledge and being are inseparable – God’s word and act are one.

Christ’s knowledge is the giving, taking and returning again of the proper final identity of all creatures – as creatures of God. The participation of his people in the life of God means that they participate in Christ’s act of creation and reception of creation. They receive all creation, each creature, person and thing, from Christ, by giving their public acknowledgement of the origin and destiny of that creature. In giving this acknowledgement, and so in some measure returning this creature back to God, they have a relationship with this creature, but neither they nor the other creature is solely defined by it. This relationship does not become necessary to either of them, so they remain free in it and they survive when it changes.

11. This theological doxological form of knowledge enables all other forms of knowing, amongst them natural science. It provides the framework which prevents science from imposing an unlimited power over its object. This framework guarantees that we are distinct from what we know, that the world and other creatures are distinct from us. It is the assurance that neither the world nor any object in it are divine, and that they are not constructed by us, and thus we are not divine. The acknowledgment that we are not God is the real foundation that we may have real knowledge of anything, and thus it underwrites and enables science.

For the human without God however, the highest form of mastery is that of the scientist who can place before them the object of their enquiry before them. Whether this object is a thing or a person, the form of scientific knowing, makes an inert object of it. This object of enquiry is not expected to introduce itself, to speak back or to play any part in the process by which it becomes known. The scientist can control it so that it cannot become anything that it is not already. To such science the object is inert so that it will never be able to surprise or threaten the knower. Such knowledge will require the regular re-assertion of the mastery of the knower, and this act of subjugation will impoverish the knower as well as the known.

But this is not an adequate form of knowing. Knowledge, or science, without love, is just an act of control and mastery. Knowledge without love means that we never have the confidence or self-mastery to be not only a master, controller and manipulator, but also a friend and even a servant.

12. The Christian is a member of an assembly that participates in the future assembly of all things. Under the instruction and supervision of that assembly the Christian begins to grow into their place and role, and to learn that this assembly has more in store for him or her. However the individual Christian may delay taking up their identity, this assembly refuses to let him or her become less, or become an object, they do not allow that everything has been said about them. To know them we have to open ourselves to the point at which we can let them surprise us.

The completion and catholicity depends on our Amen, which is the public event of the acknowledgment, which we give in freedom. As we give this Amen, we grow, our ability to grant the freedom of others, and with it our own freedom, grows.

The basis of knowledge is communion, and bound by love, in which we participate in one another in friendship, brotherhood and many other forms. It is as we respond to people, and they to us, that we know people. To come to know them more fully we have to respond them, and wait for them, and receive their response gladly, and learn to give them whatever will direct them towards their fulfilment. We have to give them Christ and all his hospitality and its truth, and not thank them for anything but Christ and all his truth. There is no knowledge without love. This love is that fellowship which is the whole loaf of Christ and his people. Thus catholicity, of which the eucharist is the event, is the origin of the universality of knowledge. It is this catholicity and comprehensiveness to which all the sciences of the university aspire. The university is universal to the extent that it participates in the catholicity that derives from the eucharist and observes the anticipatory character and so observes the proper limits of our knowledge.