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Parallel columns, parallel Churches?

In the eighth and last paragraph of Lumen gentiums first chapter, "The Mystery of the Church," attention shifts to ask where the Church that was given its basic and central theological description in the first seven paragraph is to be found. Before providing the Catholic answer to that question, the Council made an important point, one which I think sets out the fundamental challenge of ecclesiology. It presents, as if in parallel columns, distinct dimensions of the Church, as here:community of faith, hope & love // visible structuremystical Body of Christ // hierarchical societyspiritual community // visible assemblyendowed with heavenly gifts // earthlyholy // always needing to be purifiedThe Council insisted that these sets of characteristics do not describe two realities, two Churches, but a single reality, a single Church, that is comprised of a divine and a human element. It then cautiously offered "a not middling analogy" with the mystery of the Incarnation. As in christology, however, there is a great temptation not only to distinguish but to separate these elements of an integral ecclesiology. One sees it when an opposition is stated or implied between conceiving or imagining the Church as mystery or communion and as People of God, or when Avery Dulles five ways of thinking about the Church are hardened into five ways of being the Church, or when people speak of "the institutional Church" as if it were something apart from them or apart from the spiritual communion.Five decades ago, James Gustafson published a little book Treasure in Earthen Vessels: The Church as a Human Community. He aimed it at what he thought was a common tendency in Protestant ecclesiology that he described as "theological reductionism," that is, "the exclusive use of Biblical and doctrinal language in the interpretation of the Church," this done, on "the explicit or tacit assumption that the Church is so absolutely unique in character that it can be understood only in its own private language." Gustafson offered an analysis of the Church as a human, natural, political community, a community of language, interpretation, memory and understanding, belief and action. Throughout he made use of a method that instead of beginning with what is unique and transcendent about the Church begins with what it has in common with other human communities in order to discover what is unique about it.Gustafson once told me that some Protestants reacted by wondering if he was about to become a Roman Catholic. Catholic ecclesiology at the time, after all, so concentrated on the human aspects of the Church, particularly its institutional character, that the theological aspects were largely neglected. I sometimes think that since Vatican II Catholics have so emphasized the theological elements as to be in danger of falling into the theological reductionism Gustafson was trying to counter. In any case, the danger of separating the unique and transcendent elements from the common and quite human elements continues to exist.

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We say (Hebrews, I think) that Jesus was like us in everything but sin. Should we say that the church is like all other human societies except for sin? What about the response that the church is also a church of sinners? We might then say that members of the church may sin but the church itself does not sin. But is that because the church is not an agent? Can a society properly be an agent?There are similar issues with Scripture. Scripture does teach, and it teaches without error, But not every proposition that must be attributed to a human author of scripture on the basis of what he has written is true. How is this possible? I think one short answer is canonical criticism.

It is striking to see how huge a role human communities -- notably the families of Abraham and of David -- play in the economy of scriptural revelation. The Bible often seems more concerned about Rachel's or Hannah's childlessness, the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, the troubles between David and his sons, that about transcendent mysteries. Even the New Testament keeps recalling these families and their descendants. So it cannot be wrong to make as much as possible of the church as human community, in the most ordinary sense. Coming together for coffee after worship, keeping posted on one another's needs, etc., is the sort of thing churchhood is about -- "wherever two or three are gathered". The institutional church is dysfunctional when it fails to subserve this.

"There are similar issues with Scripture. Scripture does teach, and it teaches without error, But not every proposition that must be attributed to a human author of scripture on the basis of what he has written is true. How is this possible? I think one short answer is canonical criticism.Prof. Gannon --t seems to me that that question can't be answered until we face the extraordinarily ambiguous meanings of the term "the Bible". As I see it, the first issue that has to be addressed is the ambiguity of the word "book". What is "a book"? IS there only one Bible? In what sense is "Sacred Scripture/the Bible" *one* book/the Book of the Lord ?? Who is/are the author/authors of the Bible? What about the different interpretations of "the" original texts?? What about the intended meanings of the writers who first put pen to paper/papyrus/whatever? (And these questions don't even get into the problem of the many physical copies of "it' (singular).)Before I got interested in the Bible I did my master's dissertation on this very fundamentall question: what is a book? What is the ontological status of "a book" or poem? I won't go into my answer there, but my definition these days is: a book is a set of sets [yes, a set of sets] of symbols plus a set of sets of the many meanings/ interpretations of those symbols, including the primary meaning(s), that is, the meaning(s) of the author of the text. So "a" book includes the original text and the author's meaning(s) plus all the copies of that text plus the interpretions of those texts. And it is most important to note that those many texts are not always assigned the same meanings. In other words, there are many "The Wasteland"s, including the primary meaning (Eliot's) plus all the other interpretations of the texts by critics and other readers of "the" poem. They, of course, differ from reader to reader. Different readings of instances of the text are only analogous readings, and we might says that "The Wasteland" is a set of analogous readings of the written texts.So what about the Bible? Well, your Bible is in all probability very different from my Bible (though they might be consistent.) Same with different interpretations throughout the ages. I would say that the Holy Spirit is the primary author, with the *writers* of the physical symbols being those who put pen to paper in attempts to record the meanings of the HOly Spirit. For non-scripture the author and the writer are usually the same person. Aquinas said that there are as many truths (true interpretations) to be found in the Bible as there are possible true interpretations. In other words, the Bible "it"self is ambiguous! So some of the ambiguity is constituted by the many meanings intended by the Holy Spirit, and even for the Holy Spirit there are many Bibles! But I would also say that some of the meanings are those of the *writers* whose intended meanings might or might not be true. It is the function of the exegetes to discover what the Holy Spirit's meanings are. Therein lies the worst problem of exegesis: which meanings are God's? and which are only the writer's?)

I should have said somewhere above that the simplest meaning of "a book" is "a text plus an interpretation", while a complex meaning of "a book" is "a set of sets of text plus meaning".

Father Komonchak,I have no doubt that the fault is mine, but I'm confused. Can you provide an example of something or someone manifesting "the danger of separating the unique and transcendent elements from the common and quite human elements"? Where does this come up? How do I recognize it? Thanks for the clarifications.

The beauty of the faith is that the Holy Spirit will go where s/he will. Even many Protestants welcome the pope as a unifying person of Christians. The trouble comes when the hieararchy does what it wills without following humility in the gospel and with others when they attribute to the spirit their abuses. Jesus guided by giving us the great formula: "By their fruits you will know them."Jesus gave us another criteria: "Whoever does the will of God is my sister, brother and mother." This is why the discusion here is so important about adulation. Adulation absolves leaders of responsibility and accountablility. A most devastating practice.

One of the things one has to accept in starting a thread is that there is no guarantee that comments on it are going to have anything much to do with it. I suppose that Joseph Gannon's comment links with the Council's description of the Church as at once holy and always in need of purification. Joseph O'Leary's is on point. except I don't understand why he put his final point in terms of "the institutional Church" when I should have thought it applied simply to "the Church." Ann Olivier raises legitimate questions, but ones peripheral to the conciliar text on which I built. Bill Mazzella doesn't make a connection with this thread but with an earlier thread.Matt Emerson does raise a question about what I wrote. I see examples of what I warn against when people speak of the Church on earth as already "without spot or wrinkle"; when they say that "the Church herself is without sin but not without sinners"; when they speak of the Church as a single historical subject whose life knows no ruptures; when no effort is made to relate the grand theological and spiritual descriptions of the Church to the actually existing communities of believers. One criterion: Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true? The Church is not something apart from its members.

AnnThe "Bible" is only grammatically singular by accident in modern languages, in Greek and Latin "biblia" is a plural, so, for example, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia" must be a plural because of the form "Stuttgartensia". So the Bible is the books, a collection of works of various literary forms. One could ask whether it is best considered a collection of inspired books or an inspired collection of books, and I think Raymond Brown poses that question somewhere but, as I recall, he does not answer it. In either case, it seems to me, the attribute of unity arises from that of inspiration. But the point about "Bible" being in origin a plural apart, I am inclined to agree with much of what you say.Fr. K.A subtle and complex post is likely to provoke disparate and perhaps tangential reactions, but they may best be seen as both compliments and complements to the original. I am struck by this point you make "The Church is not something apart from its members." I'm inclined to agree, and I think my comment rather suggests that.

Fr. Komonchak,Aristotle repeatedly called into question Plato's theory of forms in a similar way, it seems to me, that you are calling into question an excessive abstraction of the Church. Aristotle believed strongly in the formal cause, but thought that the forms are instantiated and do not exist apart from substances.Thomas modifies this Aristotilean teaching. He says that forms do have a separate existence, in God's mind. The difference, as I see it, is that for Thomas the world has a creator. Much like the form of a house pre-exists the house in the mind of a carpenter, so creatures pre-exist their instantiation, in the mind of the Creator.I have two questions regarding the claim "Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true?" My questions have to do with time. The eschatological destiny of the Church is to be without spot or wrinkle. In the mind of God, isn't the destiny of an individual or of the Church "already" present? If so, doesn't this affect even the temporal reality? Simul justus et peccator--doesn't what is true in this claim derive from the mysterious relationship that salvation has with time? We are confident, as St. Paul says, or as St. Augustine says, how can I sing when every day I say, forgive us our trespasses? And yet let us, let all men, sing Alleluia. Sing but keep going.Secondly, the Church as a temporal reality does not seem to me to be only on earth at this present time, because it is present, so to speak, in those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Generations past, generations future--all of these (unless I'm mistaken about this) are also the Church. This means the titular sees, for example, are in some way real Churches, even though I cannot point to a living member of that local church.(I'm a ways out of my depth here, so pardon me if I'm saying anything too pointedly.)

Father,Thanks for the clarifications -- I hope you don't mind me asking for more. Why do you think today's Catholics have tended to emphasize the theological elements at the expense of the human? Where do you think this tendency predominates? In academia? Among lay men and women? Both?

Fr. K - am struck more by the last 150 years and the tendency of the "church" to define and interpret itself along the lines of: institution/hierarchy/visible assembly that is also holy because it is an institution guided by the magisterium - hierarchy.Even with Vatican II's input, the parallel church seems to have suffered in terms of a balance between your parallel images. Even as the church becomes larger and more focused in the southern hemisphere, the movement towards centralization, focus on the papacy/curia/Rome, and control of the people of God and theologians, religious communities, etc. seems to continue to grow.I totally agree - that any understanding of church can not be apart from its members. Yet, look at current trends - the meeting of the Irish bishops on sexual abuse (very limited lay involvement despite the three Irish reports); the phasing in of a New Missal (with very little lay input or, in your parallel categories, mystical body of Christ/spiritual community; the new movements that are only permitted and sanctioned as papal prelatures; the lack of implementation of collegiality or subsidiarity as concepts ressourcement rediscovered.Have the same questions as Mr. Emerson above.

Prof. Gannon --You say, " So the Bible is the books, a collection of works of various literary forms. Yes, it is that. But each of those supposedly single books is also a collection of single-texts- plus-single-interpretations. So "the" Bible is a collection (set) of those sets of individual texts plus their individual interpretations. Complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, . . . , . . . , . . .

Prof. Gannon --By the way, similar problems of identifying "the" authoritative meaning(s) of a book arise with respect to "The Documents of Vatican II". But they are compounded in that case because there were many authors of those documents, and apparently not all the authors gave the words the same meanings. Hermeneutics has to be one of the most frustrating disciplines in the world!

In "The power and the glory" the people who come across the fugitive priest are aware that he is "a bad priest", a drunkard who has fathered a child, yet, once he's there they are eager to receive the sacraments from him. Is it two realities: they want to see him in his functions as a priest in spite of his personal failings, that are separate from his holy, mysterious role -- or is it a single reality: his weaknesses are an integral part of him as a priest?

This is my reference in Thomas:"I answer that It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word Idea is in Latin "forma." Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason: In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (46, 1), there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists." (ST Ia.15.1)This is an interesting passage in Rahner, which though not quite on point re: the mystery of time in salvation, and which I think goes too far in disregarding the possibility of meritorious action, still begins to discuss a Catholic approach to uniting the "two columns," at least in terms of personal salvation:" The Reformation formula of the simul justus et peccator--if only the factors of a Catholic 'no' to this formula remain clear--has a perfectly positive meaning for Christian existence. The Catholic Christian especially should not interpret himself as the 'good man' who basically and really, unless he steals silver spoons or poisons his neighbour, lives from the very start as a good man in grace, so that, as modern sentiment often maintains, it is really God who must justify himself before man and explain why there is so much suffering, darkness and confusion in the history of the world. The Christian must have understood that of himself he is nothing but sin. Wherever he discovers something good in himself, he must acknowledge it as a causeless free grace of God. Hence even the Catholic Christian should not spread out his justice before God. He should rather from day to day accept his justice, which in fact divinises him, as an! unmerited gift of God's incalculable favour. If he wants to express this by saying that he is always and of himself a poor sinner and always someone justified by God's grace as long as he does not close himself to this grace of God by disbelief and lack of love, then he is quite at liberty to do so. Even Catholics like St. Theresa of the Child Jesus have done this. When they ared to stand before the countenance of God, they came of and for themselves with empty hands and confessed themselves like St. Augusting to be sinners. In this consciousness of their own sinfulness they discovered in themselves that miracle which means that God fills our hands with his glory and makes our heart overflow with love and faith. Anyone who confesses that of himself he is a sinner, experiences precisely in this that grace of God which really and truly makes him a saint and a just man. Then God absolves him from all sin so that he is really and in truth, to the last root of his being, a holy, just and blessed child of God." Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations vol. VI, trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), 229-230.

"The Church is not something apart from its members." One of the things I take Kathy to be concerned about is that the members of the Church include the blessed in heaven (LG, chapter 7), with the Blessed Virgin Mary as privileged member (LG, chapter 8).I share JAK's concern regarding "theological reductionism;" and I well recall his enthusiasm for Gustafson's book those many long years ago at Dunwoodie.But I wonder whether he also sees the problem of a "congregationalist reductionism" if LG 26 is read in abstraction from the rest of Lumen Gentium -- indeed, in abstraction even from chapter 3 in which it appears.I hasten to say, of course, that he does not do so. But I am speaking of tendencies of the sort he expresses in the last sentence of the post."Two or three gathered" (Father O'Leary's comment) do not yet Catholic ecclesiology make.

Perhaps "two or three gathered in my name" makes the core and pith of a biblical ecclesiology?

Ah, Father O'Leary,"in my name!" -- we're moving in the right (dare I say "orthodox") direction. Buon Carnevale!

Ann: You might look at the lengthy sophisticated text issued some years ago by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church." You can find it online at: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTMCompare that with the texts of the same Commission from the beginning of the 20th century--http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_doc_index.htmand you will see illustrated the difficulties that body had in coming to terms with modern biblical scholarship.

Claire: I think your question arises also with regard to any Christian, who is holy in virtue of God's grace but if he says that he is without sin, he deceives himself, and the truth is not in him (see 1 Jn 1:8, a text that Augustine constantly quoted against those who claimed that the Church on earth could claim to be "without stain or wrinkle"--Aquinas echoed him on the point). Now our own sinfulness is something we have to admit if the truth is to be in us, but that one should speak of this as "an integral part" of our being a Christian strikes me as odd; our sinfulness is our failure to be a Christian. Similarly, in the case of Greene's whiskey priest: the people know him to be a sinner, yet accept him as a priest and want his ministrations, but should we say that his sin is "an integral part" of his being a priest? I think I see your point, but struggle to find the appropriate way of expressing it. I remain impressed by Augustine's and Aquinas's description (definition?) of sin as absence of meaning and value.

Kathy: With regard to your first question, whether the destiny of an individual or of the Church isnt already present (you dont say where) because of Gods foreknowledge of it. But Gods foreknowledge is not temporally prior to our temporal reality or to its realization that is future to us but not to God. The same thing is true of the divine ideas, which are metaphysically but not temporally prior to their realization.I dont quite understand the relevance of the simul justus et peccator theme to my claim that we should always ask of whom, in whom, is a statement about the Church true. On the second point, the communion that is at the heart of the Church extends backward to all the holy ones who have gone before, upwards, if you will, to the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem who are already singing the new song of salvation, and forward to those who will come after us. Here is Augustine on the point: The house of God is all the believers, not only those who now exist, but also those who were before us and have fallen asleep, and those who will be after us, those who have still to be born until the end of the world, innumerable believers gathered into one, numbered by the Lord, however, about whom the Apostle says: The Lord knows who are his own (2 Tm 2:19); those grains which now groan among the chaff, which are to form a single mass, when at the end there is a winnowing (Mt 3:12); the whole number of holy believers, who are to be changed from being men to being equal to the Angels of God, to be joined with the Angels who now do not wander but await us when we return from our wandering; all of us together make one house of God, and one city (En. in Ps. 126, 3).

Bill de Haas: You pose quite legitimate and pressing questions about the proper institutionalizing of the Church communion. In an understandable reaction to the over-emphasis on institutional questions, and especially on the distribution of power within the Church, some theologians so stressed the unique and transcendent elements of the Church as almost to make people forget that the Church on earth consists of people, 99% of them lay people. More than one commentator has pointed out that it was a failure on the part of Vatican II that it did not devote more attention to the institutions that are needed in order to realize the grand theological vision. Some of the invoications of "koinonia" seem to me efforts to blow a spiritual fog across the Church so that the hard questions about its actual realization will not be raised, the sharp edges smoothed. It's like a dysfunctional family that might sit down to a long-overdue conversation about itself; just when things start to get painful, one of the members is almost certain to say: "Oh, please, let's not forget that we're a family! And that we really love each other!"

Fr. Komonchak,I believe you suggested the simul justus et peccator theme: "When people speak of the Church on earth as already without spot or wrinkle; when they say that the Church herself is without sin but not without sinners;"I wonder if we disagree on whether and how the mind of God is a real place.

Bob Imbelli: Yes, there can be a danger of "congregationalist reductionism", as when people forget that to be a Church is to be in communion with all the other Churches within the universal communion of which the Bishop of Rome is a visible principle of unity. Larry Cunningham on another thread usefully recalled the importance of the commemoration of the local bishop and of the pope in our central thanksgiving prayer.That said, I agree with Louis Bouyer when he criticizes a certain modern view of the Church that sees it as a sort of enormous apparatus of global reach, a Gesellschaft destined to establish branch offices everywhere, which for this purpose would deploy a centripetal network for systematic evangelization, so as little by little to set up a chain of cultic or charity stations. Against a view to which modern ecclesiology often approximated, Bouyer went on:"St. Peter did not found the Church by rushing right away to Rome, as to the center of the ancient world, in order to establish there a network of committees that might then methodically implant their subsidiaries throughout the universe. He founded the Church, on Pentecost, by announcing the risen Christ to those around him, by himself baptizing or having his apostolic collaborators baptize those who came to believe, by having them share in the first celebrations of the eucharistic banquet, and by thus involving them in a common life of thanksgiving and of charity. The Church of all times and all places was founded, then, in a first local Church, the Church of Jerusalem, and it has been propagated from then on in other local Churches, similar to it, as if by cutting and planting."Against the modern view, Bouyer insisted that the Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Bouyer suggests that Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities "quibus constat Ecclesia," to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect.

Kathy: Yes, I know that I raised the "simul justus et peccator" theme, but not in connection with the question to which you seemed to me to be relating it: that of my claim that we should ask of whom, in whom, statements about the Church must be verified.If you think that God's mind is a "place," then we do disagree. Could you explain what "place" means here?

For Aristotle, a place is pretty much like a lawyer's definition of a condominium unit: the innermost motionless boundary of what contains. Things exist in a place. A place is where a thing exists.

Thanks, Fr. K. In opinion, the just released statement from Rome about Ireland is an excellent example of a dysfunctional family that is in crisis; sits down to meet; but at the conclusion, merely states the same old, same old.

Kathy:Even less than the human mind can the divine mind be considered a place. Aquinas followed Boethius in maintaining that incorporeal beings do not exist in places; they contain rather than are contained (see STh !a, q. 8, aa. 1 and 2. He also maintained that "an idea in God is nothing other than the essence of God" (STh 1a, q. 15, a. 2, ad 3m). It is imprecise, leads to confusion, to say that God's idea of Alexander's horse or his idea of Kathleen Pluth exists prior to the existence of Bucephalus or of Kathy. You seem to be reifying ideas: what can it mean to speak even of a human idea as the sort of thing that can exist in a "place"?

I think Bill D. is right and that discsssions of philosophy will not solve the problem of what is already beginning to exiast in fact - parallel churches within the Church - one more traditional and emphasizing the institutional things Bil talks about, the other more concerned with what it views as more Christ like in behaviour with less emphasis on the magisterial and canonical.Those in the latter group are on their way to further drift as the US heirerachy and the next generation of clergy (and their supporters) emphasize the former.Calls to "come back" as Lent starts may attract some to the former, but I think the gap is widening - the final statement from Rome of the Irish Bishops meeting with the Pope thereundescores the provlem of folks seeing too many nice words and pious thoughts and insufficient action and bridging of gaps. That divide is often widened in the grown world of blogdom where vitriol is often the way of doing comunication.So I think the the notion of dysfunctional family fits the "spotless bride" even if we are moving, lurching, sometime going backwards to the final times of oneness.At this point, I do not see that we're moving forward towards accepting and building on the tensions noted in LG.

The "parallel Churches" to which Bill de Haas and Bob Nunz refer are, of course, not precisely what the Council's parallel columns set out, distinguishing in order to unite (to borrow the title of Jacques Maritain's famous book). The Council was concerned that all the elements be kept in mind in order to develop an integral ecclesiology. In this paragraph it was not concerned, say, with the proper articulation of authority and responsibility in the Church, which it sets out in later chapters. In paragraph 8 of Lumen gentium, it was concerned that the grand theological vision set out in the previous paragraphs not be thought to describe some unreal Church, off somewhere in the empyrean, but a real Church, existing and active on the earth.

"Against the modern view, Bouyer insisted that the Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Bouyer suggests that Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities quibus constat Ecclesia, to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies."it's striking to consider Bouyer's vision of what the church is, up against the reality that so many Catholics have just drifted away from the church, as though the church is this large, impersonal force to which they have nothing to contribute, and as though - which again seems all too real - their absence is neither noted nor felt. What if we could somehow make one another really believe that Bouyer's description is the true one - that the church "happens" when we come together, and that if some of us are missing, then the church is different and the worse for it.

"The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."This makes sense. I am amazed how confused we can get over a simple topic. There is something amiss when we have so much trouble agreeing on what is church. Can we just agree on the sentence above?

Thanks, Fr. K for this post. I did go back to look at the First Chapter of Lumen Gentium to get the immediate context of the passage you outline.. Several times in the elaborate and lengthy theological section there are brief references to the way the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom or is here in a foreign land, on pilgrimage. But it is only in that last section that the concrete historical manifestation of the Church in this world gets sufficient attention. I love the ending:The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God"(14*), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes."(84) By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light. Faithfully though darkly hits home . Thanks also for your comment at 9:16 on the spiritual fog invoked by a solely transcendent view of the Church that can so effectively disable discourse. Combine that with a bureaucratic mentality, and we are really in trouble:According to the Vatican press release on the Irish Bishops meeting with the Pope, they told him that while there is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people. We are supposed to take particular comfort in their plan to adopt best practices. (The press release is available from Rocco. The devil is in the details, as ever)

I look at this from a different perspective, as a catechist for the rcia. The actual, human church is pretty obviously present, and the concern is to help people become aware of the role of God in the Church. So I speak theologically, trying to raise awareness of God's activity in our lives. The height of the manifestation of the Church is the Eucharist, not a plenary session of the world's bishops. At Baptism, the skies open up and God declares this is my Beloved.I tend to stay with that mindset, which may be why people are sometimes perplexed by things I say. (one young classmate once exasperatedly asked me "What world do you live in?") The theology is grounded in earthly reality. Baptism is about the rite for a friend's son, not a generic event, from which I generalize. The Eucharist is probably made up of a blur of celebrations I have attended, but then they are all one Eucharist. So I keep an answer to "who is the Church?" in mind.So a focus on theology is not the same in all cases, or rather, a focus on God. I am sure I go too far sometimes, but I try to always keep the earthly, hierarchical, visible in mind. That after all is how God communicates with us.This sounds defensive, but is not meant to be. I am just trying to explain why a focus on the God part of the church can be useful in particular situations.

Bill, if we all agree on the text, will we all agree on text + interpretation?

The trick in resolving the two parallel Churches is to bring the operations of the Church into line with the theological reality of community, not to bring the community into line with the existing divine right monarchy, which seems to be the intent of Rome today.Ladislas Orsy makes this point in his wonderful book Receiving the Council: The bishops at Vatican II ... stated that the church was first and foremost a communion, communio, a union of persons in a unique sense--created by the Spirit of Christ. ... The one Spirit of Christ dwells in many and holds them together. Briefly but substantially, this is the theological reality of communio. All external manifestations of unity, such as collegiality and solidarity, flow from it. (p. 4,5) This spiritual communio is an ontological reality and the origin and prototype of any other communio in the church. It is not a hypothesis; it is not an opinion. It belongs to the core of Catholic doctrine. (p. 6-7)Given these theological realities and what the modern world has learned about how to run organizations, it seems the faithful are obligated to bring church governance kicking and screaming into the new millennium for the precise reason of enabling it to do the job it was put here to do.

Fr. K,I'm pretty sure that ST Ia.8.1-2 actually underline my point. Boethius is quoted in the objection, and Thomas says "Hence also God is in things containing them; nevertheless, by a certain similitude to corporeal things, it is said that all things are in God; inasmuch as they are contained by Him."I don't believe in an ideal plane. But when Aristotle says that "the mind is the place of forms" (De Anima 3:4), this makes sense to me. The mind abstracts the forms, which are instantiated and have real existence in matter/form composites.I suspect that it is different with the idea of me or whomever as we exist in God's mind. God is the one Creator--as things are in His mind, that is how they really are.

In a study done by the Pew forum, people in the church said that they believe in God and Jesus but not in the hierarchy. That might be a great definition of the church and a damning indictment of the hierarchy.

Kathy: So God contains and is not contained, and so to speak of God or of his mind as a "place" is only rough analogy if "place" is defined as what contains.You write at the end: "I suspect that it is different with the idea of me or whomever as we exist in Gods mind. God is the one Creatoras things are in His mind, that is how they really are. "I'm not sure I understand this. What does "really are" mean in the last sentence? Existent in the mind of God? Existent both in the mind of God and in the created world? Is there a difference between what things are in God's mind and what things are in the created world?In any case, what does your view entail or imply with regard to ecclesiology?

Yes, Bill -people look to the Church to find Christ through all His sacred mysteries and the Spiri the promised and sent.They, in the numbers who have not drifted, find it in the Eucharist, butf requently enough on their own terms.Pious thoughts and teachings that do not resonate don't bring them to the Christ they're looking for, worse yet, the current continuing scandals and attempts at damage control about it also undernmine finding Christ.As I tried to say above, finally, there is the deepening divide -often marked by less than loving words and actions which will continue, I fear, distance many.Jeanne has the right idea, but it's probably a long shot.

An important decision was made at Vatican II when it was decided to compose a chapter on the Church as the People of God and to place it right after the one on the Church as Mystery. As with all changes in the text, the Doctrinal Commission supplied an explanation. Since the two chapters are often counterposed, as if one had to choose between seeing the Church as Mystery and seeing it as People of God, I thought it might be good to present what the Doctrinal Commission had to say about the two chapters and the relationship between them. What follows is my translation:"'People of God' does not here mean the flock of the faithful as distinct from the hierarchy, but the whole complex of all, both of Pastors and of the faithful, who belong to the Church.1) A presentation on "the People of God" in fact belongs to the very mystery of the Church considered in itself. This material, whose biblical importance is quite clear and a presentation of which is fervently awaited by many of the Fathers and of the faithful, cannot be separated from the fundamental statements about the inner nature and purpose of the Church. If, however, this material were to be put back into Chapter I, the chapter would grow to excessive length.2) If it is true that the in one respect the hierarchy precedes the faithful whom it begets into faith and supernatural life, it still remains that Pastors and the faithful belong to one People. In God's plan, this People and its salvation are of the order of ends, while the hierarchy is related to this end as a means. The People must first be considered in its totality to make more clear both the role of the Pastors, who offer the means of salvation to the faithful, and the vocation and obligation of the faithful, who, aware of their personal responsibility, must collaborate with the Pastors in the spreading and further sanctification of the whole Church.3) But if there were first a discussion of the Mystery of the Church, then of the hierarchy, and thirdly of the People of God, the single subject of the nature and purpose of the Church would be divided into parts, separated from one another by the treatment of the hierarchy. A better structure, therefore, demands that the discussion begin with the group itself and all the persons within it and only then address the various categories, that is, the hierarchy and subjects, religious and laity. Bishops, presbyters, and the religious belong themselves to the People of God. This chapter, therefore, is in no way a treatment only of the laity.4) A more suitable distribution of the material will be had if Chapter I discusses the Mystery of the Church in all its dimensions from the beginning of creation in the plan of God until its consummation in heaven. Chapter II then considers the same Mystery insofar as, "between the times," that is, between the Ascension of the Lord and his glorious Parousia, it advances towards its blessed goal. All the elements treated in Chapter II refer to the life of the Church during this intermediate period: that is, its worship life on earth through the exercise of the universal priesthood (to which clerics also belong), through the practice of the sacraments, through the spreading of the witness to the faith, until the vision is attained.5) It will be easier to find a place to present the unity of the Church in its catholic variety, for example, between clergy, religious, and laity, moving towards the same goal; between the whole Church and the particular Churches with their legitimate differences; between the western and eastern traditions of the one Church; between the various cultures and characteristics of the peoples which the one Church gladly acknowledges and defends.6) A more correct perspective is provided for the discussion of Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, and all men and women (see the previous nos. 8-10), and particularly for developing the teaching on "the missions" until the eschatological goal of perfect consummation is attained."

Fr. Komonchak,If I'm right, a from-above ecclesiology makes more sense than a from-below ecclesiology. I think it's possible to overemphasize the concreteness that makes sense to us, which has a strong sociological aspect, while underemphasizing the concreteness that actually is, which is present in the mind of God.I think this error is often made when considering the Church as holy, for example.

Kathy: I don't understand your distinction between "the concreteness that makes sense to us" and "the concreteness that actually is, which is present in the mind of God." Not having access to how things are in the mind of God, I can't really compare these two. Since I suspect you don't have that access either, I wonder what you are comparing or contrasting here. And if we don't know how the concrete Church is in the mind of God, what consequence can this have for ecclesiology?By the way, in my view an ecclesiology from above is an ecclesiology from below, since the Church comes to be at the intersection of divine and human will. It is fatal to require a choice between them

My recollection of Aquinas is that existence is a result of Gods thinking. God's knowledge is not just like God watching reality and following everything that's going on. For Aquinas, God thinks in a certain way, and because of that thought, voila, we exist. By God's thinking about form, the universe exists and some out of all possible forms are instantiated in being. In other words, God thinks, therefore I am. This has many wonderful implications, not just for ecclesiology but for what we commonly (and often dismissively) refer to as "the secular world."

Thanks to JAK for these remarkable Bouyer quotes: The Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities quibus constat Ecclesia, to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."I think it is significant that Bouyer was a convert from Protestantism. The congregational experience of churchhood seems to me to be more vibrant and accessible for Protestants than it is for most Catholics. Indeed, this may be the main reason for Catholics conversions to Protestantism and Anglicanism.The ardent Catholic bloggers go on and on about the wonders of Rome and the Papacy. But rarely do they testify to lived experience of the church as community.

Joe,thank you for the Doctrinal Commission's report which I find useful. The following point is germane, I think, to correct a widespread misconception:3) But if there were first a discussion of the Mystery of the Church, then of the hierarchy, and thirdly of the People of God, the single subject of the nature and purpose of the Church would be divided into parts, separated from one another by the treatment of the hierarchy. A better structure, therefore, demands that the discussion begin with the group itself and all the persons within it and only then address the various categories, that is, the hierarchy and subjects, religious and laity. Bishops, presbyters, and the religious belong themselves to the People of God. This chapter, therefore, is in no way a treatment only of the laity.The misconception is to identify the People of God with the laity which clearly is not Lumen Gentium's intent.You say in an earlier comment:"An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."There is much here with which I agree. But I wonder whether you would extend that "shared consciousness" to embrace the consciousness enjoyed by those in the heavenly Church -- hence my reference above to Lumen Gentium, chapters 8 and 9. Does the Doctrinal Commission shed light on how they envision the relation between LG, chapter 2 and its last two chapters -- the ecclesia peregrinans and the ecclesia coelestis?

The people of God is the whole church which includes leaders. The problem used to be that the church was only identified with the hierarchy.

Fr. K.,You are right, I do not have access to the mind of God. But we all have access to God's gracious self-revelation, which includes the strikingly "high" characterizations of the Church in the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.

Interesting parallel between the phenomenological approach to church and the "from below" approach to Christology. In both cases we need to begin from below and never lose touch with that starting point. Augustine's thought on the heavenly church and the communion of saints begins from his experience of friends and relatives who had gone to Abraham's bosom. The heavenly extension of the lived, earthly sancta societas remained thus a vivid phenomenological reality for him. Something similar could be said of Colossians and Ephesians. "He is the head of the body, the Church" (Col 1:18) is based on the sense of the presence of the risen Lord where the congregation are gathered. Likewise when the author offers his sufferings for "the body of Christ which is the Church" (1:24) he is thinking primarily of the brethren in his concrete congregations, not of some platonic heavenly ideal church.

Kathy: And how does the "high" ecclesiology (if that is what it is) in Eph and Col affect how one integrates the elements of the Church distinguished and united in LG 8? Another question: Who are the Church described in Eph and Col? That is, in whom, of whom, does it consist?

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.