Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And now, ecclesiology ...

Another question and answer - probably not as profound (or important) as the one on Christology, but I thought it worth sharing anyway. Again - if you have something to add/contribute/correct please do.

The Question

I am writing an essasy on the Church: 'Compare and contrast the three

images of the church - People of God, Body of Christ, Bride of Christ'.

I have decided to look at comparing on themes, the ones which I have notes on are:





I understand and can find quotes for the images based on the themes of community and unity, however am slightly confused on the theme of spiritual and mutuality. Can you help?

The Reply
Fundamentally our understanding of the Church has two dimensions, if I can put it this way. Let's call it the horizontal and the vertical.

Now by horizontal I mean the aspects of the Church as a human community, an organisation in some ways like any other. In this respect we may emphasize its diversity and its community - a fellowship of many different people from very different backgrounds, languages, cultures, throughout the centuries etc.

And by vertical, I mean the spiritual dimension of the Church - a body created by God, chosen by him, which is governed by a hierarchy given to us by Christ. This may emphasize the unity of the Church.

Now to emphasize one of these aspects more than the other can lead to a distorted ecclesiology (understanding of the Church) - for example, if we over-emphasise the first, we are in danger of seeing the Church as a rainbow people and one happy family but lose sight of the sacraments, the priesthood, and idea of holiness; whereas if we emphasize the latter, we are in danger of making the Church seem dour, authoritarian and monochrome, united, but inflexible.

Now the three images you were asked to consider can perhaps be compared by using my vertical-horizontal key.

People of God - seems mainly horizontal - diversity, community.
Body of Christ - seems mainly vertical - unity, holiness.
Bride of Christ - based around a personal relationship (h) but also fixed on Christ (v)

Now beware. These ideas are quite simplistic. People of God is just that - of God (v), and Body of Christ is a body, which as St Paul says, has many parts (h). None of these images is 'wrong', but perhaps we need a number of different images in order to have a rounded understanding of the Church.

Now then - to your question.

You mention


Without my notes in front of me I'm not sure exactly where these come from, but I would say that community and mutuality are very closely related (h) and that spirituality and unity are linked more to the Body of Christ image (v).

I think perhaps you have notes on mutuality because that relates especially to the Bride of Christ, which could be seen as a compromise, or better 'qualifying' image. The idea of betrothal/marriage introduces the distinction between Christ and the Church, while relying on a close personal relationship. It suggests intimacy yet also allows for a distinction (and, given the historical context, the precedcence of the Groom). So, the Church is not the same as Christ, but enters into his life. In this way the image may be said to have advantages over both the idea of People and Body. However, it needs to be said that the documents of the Church (namely Lumen Gentium and the Catechism) give much more space to the other two images.

Have fun!
God bless,

Fr Peter

1 comment:

Gopher MPH said...

Having been married, perhaps I have a different personal view of us as a 'bride of Christ'. When one marries, one pledges oneself to the other person. In the Roman Catholic rite, the bride & groom marry each other: the priest is there to guide and preside over the Sacrament, not to actually do it.

The Catholic view of marriage is sacramental: it is a sacred relationship, in this case with one's spouse. It brings the parallel between the husband/wife with me/god. (not that my husband is god-like, per se - grin)

Because Marriage is sacramental, it is also inescapable (civil divorce not being recognized) - you can't just back out of your relationship with your spouse anymore than you can just abandon God.

Marriage must be voluntary and in full understanding of its sacramental nature. (failure of either of these can be grounds for annulment)

so ...

Seeing ourselves as the Bride of Christ should emphasize

- our willingness to embrace God

- our choice to belong is made in full knowledge of our responsibilities within that relationship

- our membership is not something we can just abandon

- it is a commitment to the other, which in this case means the church has a commitment to us, as well as us to the church as a vehicle for our relationship with God.

Just about everything boils down to a relationship: us/God, us/church, Church/God, me/you ... and in each of these, there are mutual obligations and expectations.

Being a disciple of Christ can be just as frustrating, challenging, and rewarding as being married.