In this fourth and last subsection of chapter four of Being as Communion Metropolitan Zizioulas makes the following points that he suggests may be relevant to ecumenical discussions on catholicity.


The primary content of “catholicity” is not a moral but a Christological one. The Church is catholic, not because she is obedient to Christ, i.e. because she does certain things or behaves in a certain way. She is catholic first of all because she is the Body of Christ. Her catholicity depends not on herself but on Him. She is catholic because she is where Christ is. We cannot understand catholicity as an ecclesiological notion unless we understand it as a Christological reality. (158)

Such an understanding overcomes the problem of whether to view catholicity as a given reality or as a demand. Instead a eucharistic vision sees catholicity as a presence here and now, “so fully incarnate in history that the ontological and the ethical cease to claim priority over each other.” (159)

The Christological character of catholicity lies in the fact that the Church is catholic not as a community which aims at a certain ethical achievement (being open, serving the world, etc.) but as a community which experiences and reveals the unity of all creation insofar as this unity constitutes a reality in the person of Christ. To be sure, this experience and this revelation involve a certain catholic ethos. But there is no autonomous catholicity, no catholic ethos that can be understood in itself. It is Christ’s unity and it is His catholicity that the Church reveals in her being catholic. (159)

Secondly, revealing Christ’s whole Body in history involves encountering the demonic powers of division operative in history. Catholicity is not static but dynamic in its engagement with the anti-catholic powers of the world and requires a pneumatological dimension.

In the celebration of the eucharist, the Church very early realized that in order for the eucharistic community to become or reveal in itself the wholeness of the Body of Christ (a wholeness that would include not only humanity but the entire creation), the descent of the Holy Spirit upon this creation would be necessary. The offering up of the gifts and the whole community to the throne of God, the realization of the unity of the Body of Christ, was therefore preceded by the invocation of the Holy Spirit. (160)

The appearance of the Body of Christ in both the incarnational and ecclesiological senses is dependent on the action of the Holy Spirit. The eucharistic anamnesis that re-presents the Body of Christ depends constantly on the Holy Spirit.

This means not only that human attempts at “togetherness,” “openness,” etc., cannot constitute the catholicity of the Church, but that no plan for a progressive movement towards catholicity can be achieved on a purely historical and sociological level. The eucharistic community constitutes a sign of the fact that the eschaton can only break through history but never be identified with it. Its call to catholicity is a call not to a progressive conquest of the world but to a “kenotic” experience of the fight with the anticatholic demonic powers and a continuous dependence upon the Lord and His Spirit. A catholic Church in the world, cognizant as she may be of Christ’s victory over Satan, lives in humility and service and above all in constant prayer and worship. (161-162)

Thirdly, the ultimate essence of catholicity lies in transcending all divisions in Christ, including the dichotomies that have become part of Christian tradition but which are a betrayal of a catholic outlook, such as dichotomies between secular and sacred, and body and soul.

In such a catholic outlook the entire problem of the relationship of the Church to the world receives a different perspective. The separation and juxtaposition of the two can have no essential meaning because there is no point where the limits of the Church can be objectively and finally drawn. There is a constant interrelation between the Church and the world, the world being God’s creation and never ceasing to belong to Him and the Church being the community which through the descent of the Holy Spirit transcends in herself the world and offers it to God in the eucharist. (162)

To be continued…