Why the Eucharist Does Not Make the Church Part III: Analysis and Conclusion
With Zizioulas’s Pneumatological Christology, Webster calls us to remember that we must not think that “at his ascension Jesus Christ as it were resigns his office in favour of human ministers, and that henceforth the church is the real centre of ministerial agency” (John Webster, “The Self-Organizing Power of the Gospel” in Word and Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), 199). This is true even in the face of deep communion between Christ and the church which Zizioulas posits. “Ministry in the church ‘points beyond itself’ to the action of another” (Ibid., 201, quoting T.F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood. A Theology of Ordained Ministry, revised ednn. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 97). No matter how eschatological, the communion of saints surrounding the bishop can never be theologically understood to supplant the rightful place of Christ.
In regard to Zizioulas’ remarks on mission of the church to creation in the eucharist, human responsibility cannot consist in making creation “capable” of anything, let alone communion, and Christ’s cosmic reign is certainly not conditional on us – for he already is that in himself. Whereas the emphasis here is clearly on subjectivity, it fails to retain any objectivity that would make it properly eschatological such that “x becomes what x already is.” While the issue of capacity might be considered a Western hang-up, it is nonetheless important for making ontological distinctions between divine and human agents.
Responding to the caricature of Western (if not Protestant) theology, our position is not that “our fallen state of existence is all there is,” but that it certainly is to be accounted for. Without the qualification of realism regarding our sinful world and our place in it as a sinful community, Zizioulas runs the risk of making the truth of communion an escapist communal subjectivism. Christ is both objectively the author of our faith and the one who perfects it subjectively in us. Either way, it should be said that he is the primary acting subject in whom we participate. As Zizioulas points out earlier, “creaturehood means precisely this: the being of each person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his ‘nature’ or from his ‘substance'” (Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 19). What is this nature if not sinful? No anthropology can deny this aspect of total depravity if it wants to understand the true meaning of grace.
Furthermore, an episcopate built on the Gospel of Jesus Christ must disagree with Zizioulas here. The life and ministry of Jesus to the poor and needy is essential to the Gospel, and this cannot be considered secondary with respect to unity. The social implications of the Eucharist, which attests to the Gospel, further support this move. George Hunsinger makes such a move in his chapter, “Christian Ethics as Evangelical, Social and Eucharistic,” as he exegetes Paul in 1 Cor. 11:17-34. Such implications are counter to the individualism that Zizioulas rails against, since Christ creates communion through the Eucharist here and now.
A proper understanding the Eucharist is found at Calvary. Here we see Christ present to us as both the one who is the Offerer and the Offering, the High Priest and the Lamb of God slain “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The Eucharist thus requires anamnesis, which is looking backwards at what has been achieved for us once and for all on the cross. At the same time, it is also prolepsis, looking forward to Christ’s second coming. E.L. Mascall puts out a stunning vision of the reality in which we anticipate and participate:
The apostles will have received their thrones as the judges and patriarchs of the New Israel. They will be seated with their Master, who is himself the Apostle of the Father, at the Messianic Banquet, which, because it is the banquet of his crucified and ascended Body and Blood, is at the same time the perpetual Liturgy where in the Father is glorified by the Eucharistic offering of him who is the son by nature and who includes within himself all those who, because they are his members, are the sons of the Father by grace and adoption, and who in their organic unity are his mystical Body and Bride the Catholic Church, one flesh with him (E.L. Mascall, Corpus Christi (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1953), 30-31).
Christ’s relationship to the church in the Eucharist is one in which he remains the “sole saving agent.” The Word makes the church by proclamation, guiding it by the authority of Scripture. The Sacraments make the church by baptism, sustaining it by the Eucharist. Christ witnesses to himself by the Word, imparting himself to us in faith. The Eucharist manifests his mediation to and from us as an impartation of communion and as his eternal self-offering on the basis of his finished saving work through intercession as our High Priest. Finally, he is the first-fruits of what is to come at the end when he returns in glory (Here I am indebted to George Hunsinger’s handout in TH325: Theology of the Lord’s Supper for helping to decipher the various components Christ’s agency in the Eucharist).
Mutual indwelling must mark our union with Christ, such that our relationship is internalized rather than extrinsic. However, this is marked by an asymmetry between Christ and the church, so that Christ maintains priority as Lord and Savior. Such a move would disallow the Monophysite tendencies of de Lubac and Zizioulas.
The Eucharist is part of the ministry of reconciliation, which is synonymous with the apostolic ministry. It is this ministry that de Lubac and Zizioulas have emphasized in their own unique ways. In proclamation, we as Protestants do not look forward as if unity were just an eschatological reality that is here. This is certainly true. But we also give emphasis to the perfect tense of this unity. The cross means reconciliation with God and with humanity itself. It has already been achieved in Christ there and then. And yet, as John Webster points out, “What the apostolic ministry of reconciliation indicates is the [reconciled] existence (not simply the potentiality) of the ‘one new man’” (John Webster, “Christ, Church and Reconciliation” in Word and Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), 223).
The desire to form ecclesiology along the lines of communion has failed to account for Christology in a sufficient manner. The Eucharist, that institution by Christ which deepens our union with him, is thus used as a pattern for all ecclesiology, particularly the understanding of the ordering of the episcopate. Our union with Christ is a given entity to the Church, and its mission is to bring all others into communion with itself, the body of Christ. The line between Christ and his Body becomes blurred in this move by de Lubac, and further by Zizioulas, who believes Christ is the Church without distinction.
In their own unique ways, de Lubac and Zizioulas attempt to address the individualism of the church in modern times. However, one gets the idea that the only sin of the church is individualism. De Lubac and Zizioulas both try to account for a mutual indwelling of the “one” and the “many,” even as there is asymmetry between them. However, this does not defend against the ultimate problem of failing to distinguish between Christ and his church. This becomes apparent when the Eucharist, as a third wheel as it were, promulgates the Church itself as the primary acting subject. It turns out that the Eucharist “makes the Church,” but also that the church “makes the Eucharist.” This double principal, introduced by de Lubac, does not seem to take Christ into account, except as the one who endowed the church with the gift of the Spirit through apostolic succession we receive today.
Our ecclesiology can be mirrored in the Eucharist not as a principal of unity or communion, but only insofar as the Eucharist attests the union we have in Christ and thus with one another. It will be argued that we can indeed have a Eucharistic ecclesiology when a proper understanding of the Eucharist is put forth. Ecclesiology that builds upon the Eucharist in union with the Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will not fail to account for how the church can be, and surely is, the body of Christ here and now.