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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why the Eucharist Does Not Make the Church: Index

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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why the Eucharist Does Not Make the Church Part 2: John Zizioulas

John Zizioulas (Being as Communion)

John Zizioulas, like de Lubac, also recovers the early church’s teaching on the Eucharist for the purpose of revitalizing ecclesiology, emphasizing that the celebration was not simply memorializing what had been accomplished. First and foremost, it was celebrating the fact that it was caught up in “an eschatological act" (21). The Eucharist constituted the being of the Church. It also helped bring together the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It could hold both the historical form and the divine reality together without confusion. The Eucharist was not simply an institution (22), but an event out of the working of the Holy Spirit to bring history into eternity with God.
Like de Lubac, Zizioulas wants to check individualism in the church.

The eucharistic community makes the Church eschatological. It frees it from the causality of natural and historical events, from limitations which are the result of the individualism implied in our natural biological existence (22).

The Eucharist cannot happen in isolation, but only when everyone is present. That is, Zizioulas has no regard for private masses because of the communal nature of the Eucharist. He characterizes the Eucharist not as a sacrament along side the word, but as

the eschatologization of the historical word, the voice of the historical Christ, the voice of the Holy Scripture which comes to us, no longer simply as ‘doctrine’ through history, but as life and being through the eschaton. It is not the sacrament completing the word, but rather the word becoming flesh, the risen Body of the Logos (22-23).

Zizioulas locates ecclesiology quite explicitly in the economic Trinity, identifying the humanity as the imago dei not within a universal human nature as de Lubac does, but only within “the work of Christ and the Spirit in history" (19).

Zizioulas bypasses the choice between a Christological or Pneumatological ecclesiology by emphasizing their unity-in-distinction. “The separation between Christology and ecclesiology vanishes in the Spirit (111).” To distinguish the Spirit from the Son, he writes:

Now if becoming history is the particularity of the Son in the economy, what is the contribution of the Spirit? Well, precisely the opposite: it is to liberate the Son and the economy from the bondage of history . . . The Spirit is the beyond history, and when he acts in history he does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton (130).

It is also the Spirit that allows Christ to have a “corporate personality,” such that Christology is given a communal form – “with Christ having a ‘body,’ i.e. to speak of ecclesiology, of the Church as the Body of Christ" (131).

The two aspects of Pneumatology not only determine but also constitute ecclesiology. “[T]hese aspects must qualify the very ontology of the Church. The Spirit is not something that ‘animates’ a Church that already somehow exists. The Spirit makes the Church be" (132). This leads Zizioulas in a surprisingly premature way to the practical question to which he holds off on an answer: “what ecclesial structures and institutions exist which help the Church to maintain the right balance between local and universal?” (133). We will return to the framing of this question in our critique.

This Pneumatological Christology is significant for conciliarity. The oneness of the church is understood to coincide with its multiplicity. There is no council or synod that acts as a mirror image of the Pope for Orthodoxy. The relationship between the local and universal Church is worked out along the lines of his understanding of the being of God as a communion of persons. There is a double principal at work for Zizioulas, for on the one hand the institution has no prior existence or authority beyond “the event of communion,” while on the other hand the communion of the church cannot be prior to its unity. “The institution which expresses this communion must be accompanied by an indication that there is a ministry safeguarding the oneness which the communion aims at expressing" (135).
A Pneumatological Christology is also significant to the relationship between the bishop and the church, and the maintenance of relationship between the “one” and the “many.” “In the case of the local Church is represented through the ministry of the bishop, while the “many” are represented through the other ministries and the laity” (136). The “one” and the “many” are interdependent. In so far as the “one” is dependent on the “many,” there can be no ordination or episcopacy apart from the community. In so far as the “many” are dependent on the “one,” there can be “no baptism” or “ordination without the presence of the bishop" (137).

Finally, the ecclesial institutions of the bishop and the laity “have to be attached to the eucharist,” (138) thus emphasizing not only the communion but the eschatology of the Church. He describes the institutions as being “reflections of the Kingdom” in two ways. First, they “iconic,” in that “their ontology does not lie in the institution itself,” nor due they owe anything to “historical expedience” (138) but to Christ alone. Zizioulas does not advocate neglecting the needs of people, but he does not see these as having any fundamental structural bearing.

We turn to the function of truth in the Church. Zizioulas describes the Eucharist as “the Locus of Truth" (115). Christ is the experience of truth as the one who comes into our history and dwells within us (115). There is no truth of Christ apart from the community that we might locate within the individual mind (rationalism) or soul (mysticism). Christ is not the truth “in a community, but as a community" (115). The truth of Christ takes on a eucharistic historical form, which differentiates it from mere fact. History as such is known in “charismatic-pentacostal events” which do not submit to “a linear development" (116). Not surprisingly, this creates a new understanding of the infallibility of the Church as dependent on communion of the bishops and the community. Regarding the formulation of truth in dogmas, the aim of definition and anathema was to preserve “Eucharistic communion” (117). Zizioulas goes on: “Thus it may be said that the credal definitions carry no relationship with truth in themselves, but only in their being doxological acclamations of the worshiping community” (117).

The Eucharist reveals the renewal of creation, such that humanity is given the task of priesthood to it. Here we begin to see a characteristic blurring of divine and human agency:

Man’s responsibility is to make a Eucharistic reality out of nature, i.e. to make nature, too, capable of communion. If man does this, then truth takes up its meaning for the whole cosmos, Christ becomes a cosmic Christ, and the world as a whole dwells in truth, which is none other than communion with its Creator. Truth thereby becomes the life of all that is (119).

Finally, “a Eucharistic concept of truth shows how truth becomes freedom” (120). Whereas freedom as choice often assumes an individualist concept of being, the freedom “given by the Christ-truth to creation is precisely this freedom from division and individualization, creating the possibility of otherness within communion" (121). Those who “gather together in the eucharist realize their freedom under the form of affirmation alone: it is not the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ together which God offers in Christ, but only the ‘yes,’ which equates to the Eucharistic ‘Amen" (121).

Because this notion of freedom is so otherworldly, Zizioulas admits that it may seem impractical and unrealistic. However, he reprimands Protestants for this reaction:

You do not do justice to truth’s ontological content by implying that our fallen state of existence is all there is. The individualization of existence by the fall makes us seek out security in objects or various ‘things,’ but the truth of communion does not offer this kind of security: rather, it frees us from slavery to objective ‘things’ by placing things and ourselves within a communion-event (122).

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Why the Eucharist Does Not Make the Church Part 1: Henri de Lubac

The following is my final paper that I wrote for George Hunsinger's class on the theology of the Lord's Supper last spring:

Does the Eucharist make the Church? Henri de Lubac, the great 20th century Catholic theologian who helped to stir interest in Eucharistic ecclesiology across Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theology, proposed that it does. In Catholicism, de Lubac sought to give an account of the Church that relied on the Eucharist as a pattern of its life and being, exhibiting its “eminently social character.” Because the Eucharist is where the Church is found to be in communion – its eschatological reality - this pattern was instrumental in fighting off the individualism that had encroached the church so strongly in modern times. No less did John Zizioulas prefer to think of the Church as that which is its fullest self in the Eucharist. By focusing, as the Church Fathers did, on what the Eucharist does to the community, these and other high-sacramental theologians have circumvented the polemics over issues of real presence and sacrifice in favor of seeing the Eucharist as a celebration of communion. However, it is clear that in this turn to its ecclesiological benefits, Christology has languished.

The purpose of this essay is to analyze the ways in which de Lubac and Zizioulas describe the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church. I limit myself to two main texts for their thought: Catholicism by de Lubac and Being as Communion by Zizioulas. In this paper I attempt to give a Reformed response by paying particular attention to cases where the ontological continuity of Christ and the church threatens Christ’s own subjectivity and agency. On the other hand, it is my intention to avoid making Christ a completely supernatural and extrinsic entity to the church. A proper relationship between Christ and the Church will allow the Eucharist to both attest to Christ’s true presence in and with the Church and his lordship over it.

Henri de Lubac
According to de Lubac, “The Church . . . completes – so far as it can be completed here below – the work of spiritual reunion which was made necessary by sin; that work that was begun at the Incarnation and was carried on up to Calvary (17).” Again, he says: “Humanity is one, organically one by is divine structure; it is the Church’s mission to reveal to men that pristine unity that they have lost, to restore and complete it (19)” This mission of gathering humanity into its unity was given to the Church, enabled by the Holy Spirit and its gifts. The gift to the Church to deepen its own union was the Eucharist.

The Church has its active and passive aspects, baptizing and yet also being baptized, blessing even as it is blessed. It is both the one who reunites and constitutes those who have been reunited. It is a means to the end, and yet it is also “the end, that is to say, that union in its consummation (27).” There is a “mystical analogy” for de Lubac between the Church on earth and the church in heaven, “which we should perceive the reflexion of a profound identity (27).” For de Lubac, the union between the temporal and eternal, the visible and invisible, is a mystery that we should not seek to penetrate. He goes at great lengths to clarify that there is no confusion between them, so that the visible is neither deified nor adored. While seeing the Church requires faith, it is not the same faith which God requires to be known. While the Church has a hierarchy and a discipline at its disposal, this is only a partial cure to the rampant individualism and separatism since it works “only from without by way of authority, instead of effective union (27).” In a passage that blurs the distinction between Christ and the church, de Lubac writes:

If Christ is the sacrament of God, the Church is for us the sacrament of Christ; she represents him, in the full and ancient meaning of the term, she really makes him present. She not only carries on his work, but she is his very continuation, in a sense far more real than in which it can be said that any human institution is its founder’s continuation (27).

Thus, only by partaking of the bread and wine in a proper manner does the individual receive Christ and is received by the Church. To reject this reception into the Church is a rejection of the sacrament itself and Christ. How should we understand the relationship between the individual and the Church? For de Lubac, the individual is a “Church in miniature, (168)” and they are brought into a unity that mirrors that of the Trinity:

Between its different persons, whatever the variety of their gifts, the inequality of their ‘merits’, there obtains no scale of the degrees of being, but in the likeness of the Trinity itself – and, by the mediation of Christ in whom all are enfolded, within the Trinity itself – a unity of circumincession (183).

According to de Lubac, “since the sacraments are the means of salvation they should be understood as instruments of unity (35).” Here we come to the essence of Eucharistic ecclesiology. Because the sacraments deepen our unity with Christ, they necessarily deepen the unity of the church. The horizontal deepening of unity is intimately bound up with the vertical deepening of unity. “Indeed, in certain cases it must be said that it is through this union with the community that the Christian is united to Christ (35).” This contraction of church and sacrament occurs such that one is not effective without the other. Instead of seeing the sacraments as a supernatural rite that transmits grace, there is no point at which the church ceases to be the cause and effect of such transmission. The sacraments are given power by the church, even as the church is also nourished by the sacraments.

The primary significance of the Eucharist lies not in real presence or sacrifice, but in its unifying effect. Thus, it is impossible to speak of a true Eucharist if there is no unity in the Church. Furthermore, this unity is forged through suffering with the Church, since the Eucharist memorializes Christ’s Passion. Thus, the sacrificial significance of the Eucharist points toward unity since the Church is offered again and again “for a greater, more united Church.”

The unity achieved through the Eucharist is not simply for the Church’s spiritual enjoyment: “True Eucharistic piety, therefore, is no devout individualism . . . With one sweeping, all-embracing gesture, in one fervent intention it gathers together the whole world (49).” There is, thus, an assumed unity within humanity to be found in the fact that God made humanity in his own image. This image does not stem from below in the humanity of Adam. Instead, “it is one and the same image stamped from above identically upon each which makes all one; in other words, the principle of unity lies above, it is not to be identified with nay of the particular images here below (16).”

Whereas sin has introduced not only a metaphysical individuality but also a moral egoism into humanity (187), Christ is the redemption of our image by dwelling in us, both uniting and differentiating us at once:

But what is impossible to mere man becomes possible to man made divine, and what natural understanding rejected as fanciful becomes the sacred object of our hope. Christ, by completing humanity in himself, at the same time made us all complete – but in God. Thus we can say, in the end . . . that we are fully person only within the Person of the Son, by whom and with whom we share in the circumincession of the Trinity (187-88).

Earlier we saw a blurring of the distinction between Christ and the church, but now we see a clear distinction with asymmetry, so that Christ is spoken of as the primary subject. “Christ completes humanity,” and de Lubac provides a quote from Clement of Alexandria with supposed affirmation, saying:

This eternal Jesus, the one high priest, intercedes for men and calls on them: “Hearken,” he cries, “all you peoples . . . I summon the whole human race, I who am its author by the will of the Father! Come unto me and gather together as one well-ordered unity under the one God, and under the one Logos of God (6, quoting Protreptic, c.12)

Clement thus believed Christ proclaimed himself as one who constituted the unity of the world. De Lubac, however, does not dwell on how proclamation is related to the Eucharist.

Ultimately, it was the concern of individualism that drove de Lubac to recover a Eucharistic ecclesiology. “God does not love us as so many separate beings (182).” The grace mediated by the Eucharist was to be found only in the fellowship of the Church. However, as we shall see, an Orthodox theologian named John Zizioulas would not find this to be enough – he would not only de-individualize society but Christ himself, so that there is no external relation between them. Rather, the Church, as an eschatological reality, truly constitutes Christ here and now in the celebration of Eucharist.

The most significant short-comings of de Lubac relate to his lack of qualification regarding the relationship between Christ and the church. While there is certainly unity, there rarely ever seems to be a distinction. However, he maintains a healthy understanding of indwelling, at least with respect to our natural unity and our supernatural unity in Christ: “True union does not tend to dissolve into one another the beings that it brings together, but to bring them to completion by means of one another. . . . Union differentiates (180).”

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