Christology


(Being, the second section of chapter three of Being as Communion ).

While few would question that Christology and Pneumatology belong together, the question that arises is that of the relationship between them and, in particular, the questions of which has priority of what their content is.

With regard to priority, Zizioulas points out that differing priorities can be traced back to the New Testament itself – one the one hand, the Spirit is given by Christ and, on the other hand, it is the Spirit who announces Christ and constitutes His very identity – and this continues to be seen in the varying practices regarding baptism and confirmation in the early centuries. He argues that such variation in priority should not necessarily constitute a problem, but that

The problem arose only when these two aspects were in fact separated from each other both liturgically and theologically. It was at this point in history that East and West started to follow their separate ways leading finally to total estrangement and division. Not only baptism and confirmation were separated liturgically in the West, but Christology tended to little by little dominate Pneumatology, the Filioque being only part of the new development. The East while keeping the liturgical unity between baptism and confirmation, thus maintaining the liturgical synthesis on the liturgical level, did not finally manage to overcome the temptation of a reactionary attitude to the West in its theology. The atmosphere of mutual polemic and suspicion contributed a great deal to the situation and obscured the entire issue. What we must and can see clearly now, however, is that so long as the unity between Christology and Pneumatology remains unbreakable, the question of priority can remain a “theologoumenon.” (129)

The differing tendencies of West and East are rooted in their differing contexts – in the former’s concern with history and ethics and in the latter’s meta-historical and liturgical approach. This should not be a problem if the content of Christology and of Pneumatology is the same, but the question remains as to what this content is. “From what exactly does ecclesiology suffer if the content of Christology or Pneumatology is deficient?” (129)

While the activity of God ad extra is one and indivisible, “the contribution of each of these divine persons to the economy bears its own distinctive characteristics which are directly relevant for ecclesiology in which they have to be reflected.” (129-130) Here Zizioulas notes the two central themes of eschatology and communion, which allow us to see the relationship between Christ and the Spirit at work in the Church.

While the Father and the Spirit are involved in history, it is only the Son who is incarnate and becomes history. “The economy, therefore, in so far as it assumed history and has a history, is only one and that is the Christ event.” (130) However, the contribution of the Spirit is precisely the opposite, namely, to liberate the Son from the bondage of history.

If the Son dies on the cross, thus succumbing to the bondage of historical existence, it is the Spirit that raises him from the dead. 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. Hence the first fundamental particularity of Pneumatology is its eschatological character. The Spirit makes of Christ an eschatological being, the “last Adam.” (130)

More over, it is through the Holy Spirit’s contribution to the economy that Christ receives a “corporate personality” and is not “one” but “many”.

It is not insignificant that the Spirit has always, since the time of Paul, been associated with the notion of communion (koinwni/a). Pneumatology contributes to Christology this dimension of communion. And it is because of this function of Pneumatology that it is possible to speak of Christ as having a “body,” i.e. to speak of ecclesiology, of the Church as the Body of Christ. (130-131)

While there are also functions such as inspiration and sanctification associated with the work of the Spirit, and while sanctification has been particularly important in Orthodoxy and especially in the monastic tradition, it has not been a decisive aspect of ecclesiology.

Ecclesiology in the Orthodox tradition has always been determined by the liturgy, the eucharist; and for this reason it is the first two aspects of Pneumatology, namely eschatology and communion that have determined Orthodox ecclesiology. (131)

Indeed Zizioulas argues that these aspects are not only normative but are constitutive of ecclesiology in that they qualify the very ontology of the Church.

The Spirit is not something that “animates” a Church which already somehow exists. The Spirit makes the Church be. Pneumatology does not refer to the well-being but to the very being of the Church. It is not about a dynamism which is added to the essence of the Church. It is the very essence of the Church. The Church is constituted in and through eschatology and communion. Pneumatology is an ontological category in ecclesiology. (132)

The third chapter of Being as Communion is entitled “Christ, the Spirit and the Church”. In the introduction to this chapter, Metropolitan Zizioulas begins by outlining the different emphases on Chistology and Pneumatology in recent Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. In broad strokes it might be said that Catholics emphasise the former and Orthodox the latter, and yet both face unresolved issues in this regard. This is illustrated by Orthodox criticism of the ecclesiology of Vatican II in which “it was observed that the Holy Spirit was brought into ecclesiology after the edifice of the Church was constructed” on a Christological basis, and which had important consequences for issues such as “sacraments, ministry and ecclesial institutions”. (123) However, the proposal of two Orthodox observers to the Council that a focus on the Holy Spirit and on “Christian man” was sufficient is, in the eyes of Zizioulas, “a clear indication that Orthodox theology needs to do a great deal of reflection on the relationship between Christology and Pneumatology”. (123)

Zizioulas proceeds to note the contribution of Khomiakov, which was paralleled by that of Möhler in a Catholic context, who injected such a strong dose of Pneumatology into ecclesiology that it effectively made the Church a “charismatic society” rather than the “body of Christ”. This led later Orthodox theologians such as Fr Florovsky to emphasise the Church as “a chapter of Christology” leaving the relationship between Christology and Pneumatology as a question to be addressed.

The Orthodox theologian who addressed this issue in the most thorough way was Vladimir Lossky. Zizioulas sees two aspects of his thought as worth noting. Firstly, there is a distinct “economy of the Holy Spirit” alongside the economy of the Son. Secondly, Pneumatology involves the “peronsalisation” of the mystery of Christ, or what one could call the “subjective” aspect of the Church in contrast to the “objective” aspect that is found in the sacramental structure of the Church. However, Lossky does not pursue the problem of how the institutional and charismatic aspects of the Church are to be worked out and his views are not without problems.

The recent contributions of both Nikos Nissiotis and Fr Boris Bobrinskoy have stressed that the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit belong together and should never be seen in separation, although both give a priority to Pneumatology.

The question, however, remains still open as to how Pneumatology and Christology can be brought together in a full and organic synthesis. It is probably one of the most important questions facing Orthodox theology in our time. (126)

Thus, Zizioulas argues, while it is often thought that Orthodox theology can help to correct the West excesses in ecclesiology – and this is not untrue – Orthodox theology also has work to do in this regard and this is the challenge that this chapter will address.

The fourth section of this chapter on “Truth and Communion” (67-122) is entitled “Truth and the Church: Ecclesiological Consequences of the Greek Patristic Synthesis” (110-122) and begins with the subsection “The Body of Christ formed in the Spirit” (110-114).

Zizioulas begins this subsection by outlining two possible Christological approaches. The first sees Christ as an individual who exists objectively and historically and who presents Himself to us as the truth. The distance between Him and us is bridged by certain means such as His spoken words which are transmitted and realised under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the second approach Christ, while a particular person, cannot be conceived as an individual but rather His truth includes His relationship to His body the Church.

In other words, when we now say “Christ” we mean a person and not an individual; we mean a relational reality existing “for me” or “for us”. Here the Holy Spirit is not one who aids us in bridging the distance between Christ and ourselves, but he is the person of the Trinity who actually realizes in history that which we call Christ, this absolute relational entity, our Savior. In this case, our Christology is essentially conditioned by Pneumatology, not just secondarily as in the first case; in fact it is constituted pneumatologically. Between the Christ-truth and ourselves there is no gap to fill by means of grace. The Holy Spirit, in making real the Christ-event in history, makes real at the same time Christ’s personal existence as a body or community. (110-111)

Drawing on the biblical witnesses Zizioulas argues that Christ exists only pneumatologically “whether in His distinct personal particularity or in His capacity as the body of the Church and the recapitulation of all things.” (111) Thus to speak of Christ means speaking at the same time of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the mystery of the Church is rooted in the entire economy of the Trinity.

In the context of a Christology constructed in this pneumatological manner, truth and communion once more become identical. (112)

This occurs on both the historical and anthropological levels.

In the description of Pentecost in Acts 2, the significance of the event seems related as much to history as to anthropology: through the outpouring of the Spirit, the “last days” enter into history, while the unity of humanity is affirmed as a diversity of charisms. Its deep significance seems to lie in the fact that this takes place in Christ, viewed both historically and also anthropologically , as a here and now reality. The objectivization and individualization of historical existence which implies distance, decay and death is transformed into existence in communion, and hence eternal life for mankind and all creation. In like manner, the individualization of human existence which results in division and separation is now transformed into existence in communion where the otherness of persons (“on each of them separately,” Acts 2:3) is identical with communion within a body. (112)

This application of Christ’s existence to our existence does not occur abstractly but through a community which is formed out of the radical conversion from individualism to personhood that occurs in baptism. Through the new birth of baptism – in the Spirit – we are incorporated into the community “so that each baptized person can himself become ‘Christ,’ his existence being one of communion and hence of true life.” (113)

This truth of existence is an eschatological reality but it is given to us sacramentally as an “eikon” to provide us with a foretaste of eternal life which makes us aspire to the “transfiguration of the world within this communion which the Church herself experiences.” (114) In history, it is realised most fully in the Eucharist and the next subsection will deal with the Eucharist as the locus of truth.

‘Christology, in the definitive form which the Fathers gave it, looks towards a single goal of purely existential significance, the goal of giving man the assurance that the quest for the person, not as a “mask” or as a “tragic figure,” but as the authentic person, is not mythical or nostalgic but is a historical reality. Jesus Christ does not justify the title of Savior because He brings the world a beautiful revelation, a sublime teaching about the person, but because He realizes in history the very reality of the person and makes it the basis and “hypostasis” of the person for every man.’

John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004) 54.

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