Zizioulas


In the second subsection of the sixth chapter of Being as Communion, Zizioulas notes that discussions on ministry are often termed in terms of its origination and transmission, in terms of the bestowal of grace as something that can be possessed and transmitted. Such discussions are thus tied up with notions of causality. In contemporary discussions this has led to a choice between a view in which ministry finds its origin in a linear historical line of apostolic succession, and a view in which it emerges from the community who delegate authority to the ordained person. The first view is generally seen as “catholic” and the second as the Protestant concept of “the priesthood of all believers.” However, critical approaches to the New Testament and its lack of references to the “bishop” have inclined some Catholic theologians to the second option.

But the sources give answers only to questions we put to them, and this makes it imperative to check whether the dilemma we impose on these sources is as inevitable as traditionally theology has made us believe. (215)

Zizioulas argues that both of these approaches work within the notion of causality and he proposes to instead step back and ask how ministry comes about. He makes the following points.

(a) There is no such thing as “non-ordained” persons in the Church. Baptism and confirmation / chrismation lead to the Eucharist and

The theological significance of this lies in the fact that it reveals the nature of baptism and confirmation as being essentially an ordination, while it helps to understand better what ordination itself means. As we can see already in Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, the immediate and inevitable result of baptism and confirmation was that the newly baptized would take his particular “place” in the eucharistic assembly, i.e. that he would become a layman. That this implies ordination is clear from the fact that the baptized person does not simply become a “Christian,” as we tend to think, but he becomes a member of a particular “ordo” in the eucharistic community. Once this is forgotten, it is easy to speak of the laity as “non-ordained” and thus arrive at the possibility – witnessed to by the history of the Church in a dramatic way – of either making the layman an unnecessary element in the eucharistic community (hence the “private mass” and the entire issue of clericalism) or of making him the basis of all “orders,” as if he were not himself a specifically defined order but a generic source or principle (hence the prevailing view of the “priesthood of all believers” in all its variations). (216)

Thus instead of ordination coming from a pre-existing community, it is rather an act that constitutes the community.

(b) This helps to explain the apparently “one-sided” and “monophysitic” views that we find, for example in Dionysius the Areopagite, that the bishop ordains “not by his own movement (gesture) but by the divine movement …”. (217) This is typical of the epicletic approach of the Greek Fathers in which God is the subject of the verb “ordain” and in which the eucharistic assembly is required to sing “Kyrie eleison” thus showing that the ordination is dependent on prayer and not simply on an objective transmission of grace.

It is in this context also that we should view the election by the people and their acclamation of approval during the ordination. While the former could be dispensed with, the latter could not for it took place within the eucharistic assembly. Thus

The “axios,” as another form of the liturgical “amen” of the congregation, signified the participation of the entire community in ordination, just like the singing of the “Kyrie eleison” to which we have already referred. (218)

Zizioulas claims that it is this immediacy of divine action in ordination that safeguards the charismatic nature of ministry and which also expresses the identification of the Church’s ministry with that of Christ.

The organic link of ordination with this community is thus a key for all theology of the ministry: it points to divine action, fully incarnating itself in creation yet without depending ontologically on it. Without the community, or rather the eucharistic community, creaturely being (be it man or nature or even community of men) tends to become a condition for divine grace. In the eucharistic community, creaturely being achieves its full affiliation, not by becoming a condition for God’s grace but by being deified in giving itself up to God’s love. It is this that makes the ministry belong to the new, and not to the old, creation, i.e. to a creaturely being which affirms itself not by becoming a condition for God’s love (this is the “old” sinful being) but by ceasing to be such a condition. And this is what makes the Church differ essentially from a human “democracy.” (219)

Thus ministry comes to be seen not so much in terms of what it gives to the ordained by rather in terms of the relationships that it establishes.

To be continued…

Zizioulas begins chapter six of Being as Communion by noting how scholastic theology has distorted our understandings of ordination and ministry. It did this, firstly, by viewing them as autonomous subjects apart from Christology or Trinitarian theology. And, secondly, by viewing Christology as an autonomous subject, unrelated to Trinitarian theology and to ecclesiology, something that has led to Christomonistic tendencies not only in relation to the person of Christ, but also in relation to His ministry which has become abstracted from the concrete ecclesial community. Such perspectives are incompatible with the vision of the Greek Fathers, whose vision Zizioulas outlines as follows:

(a) “There is no ministry in the Church other than Christ’s ministry,” so much so that the Church’s ministry is identified with that of Christ. (210)

(b) This identity is only possible if we allow our Christology to be conditioned pneumatologically.

What, therefore, the Spirit does through the ministry is to constitute the Body of Christ here and now by realizing Christ’s ministry as the Church’s ministry.

The implications of this include the following: (i) the ministry of the Church does not represent an “interim” period in the stages of Heilsgeschichte, but it exists as an expression of the totality of the Economy. We cannot, therefore, understand the nature of the ministry by seeing it simply in terms of a past (Christ’s ministry in Palestine) or a present (ministry as service to the needs of today) but of the future as well, namely as sustaining from creation the hope of the eschata, of sharing God’s very life, by offering a taste of that here and now; (ii) the identification of the Church’s ministry with that of Christ is to be seen in existential soteriological terms which have profound anthropological and cosmological implications. If soteriology means, as it was the case in the patristic period, not so much a juridical reality by means of which forgiveness is granted for an act of disobedience, but rather a realization of theosis, as communion of man – and through him of creation – in the very life of the Trinity, then this identification acquires existential importance: the Church’s ministry realizes here and now the very saving work of Christ, which involves the very personal life of the one who saves. (211-212)

(c) This makes the Holy Spirit constitutive of the very relation between Christ and ministry, something with important implications for theology, for it underlines the interdependence between ministry and the concrete community of the Church.

If we bear this in mind, we can understand better certain liturgical and practical elements in ordination, which theologians tend to bypass in constructing their views on the ministry. Thus, according to the ancient tradition common to both East and West, (i) all ordinations must be related to a concrete community, and (ii) all ordinations must take place within the context of the eucharistic assembly. … It is the eucharist, understood properly as a community and not as a “thing,” that Christ is present here and now as the one who realizes God’s self-communication to creation as communion with His life, and in the existential form of a concrete community created by the Spirit. Thus the eucharistic assembly becomes, theologically speaking, the natural milieu for the birth of ministry understood in this broader soteriological perspective. (213-214)

How can this structure which emerges from the eschata be translated into concrete historical terms? And how can this translation take place without turning the Kingdom into sheer history? It is at this point that institutions appear to be threatening the nature of the Church.

The way the Church faced this problem from the beginning is, and I think will always be, the only way to face it. Our Lord, before He left His disciples, offered them a sort of “diagram” of the Kingdom when He gathered them together in the Upper Room. It was not one “sacrament” out of “two” or “seven” that He offered them, nor simply a memorial of Himself, but a real image of the Kingdom. At least this is how the Church saw it from the beginning. In the eucharist, therefore, the Church found the structure of the Kingdom, and it was this structure that she transferred to her own structure. In the eucharist the “many” become “one” (I Cor. 10:17), the people of God become the Church by being called from their dispersion (ek-klesia) to one place (e)pi\ to\ au)to). Through her communion in the eternal life of the Trinity, the Church becomes “the body of Christ,” that body in which death has been conquered and by virtue of which the eschatological unity of all is offered as a promise to the entire world. The historical Jesus and the eschatological Christ in this way become one reality, and thus a real synthesis of history with eschatology takes place.

John D. Zizioulas. Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004). 206.

Zizioulas ends this chapter on Apostolic continuity and succession by looking at the implications of what he has been discussing from the ecumenical debate. He argues that the “classical concept” has been formed in a one-sided way which has ignored the eschatological image of the apostles as a college surrounding Christ in His Kingdom, focussing instead on apostolic succession as an historical process. While the eschatological approach is largely absent from Orthodox theology manuals it nevertheless “survives vividly in iconological and liturgical approaches to the mystery of the Church.” (205)

While this eschatological imagery, as visit and presence, might seem to have little to do with continuity, so that these images do exist in a certain tension, for the early Church they were nevertheless related in a synthesis which was no mere theoretical construction. Rather, the Kingdom of God was always present with a structure that allows us to move beyond the dilemma of “institution” or “event”. The Kingdom necessarily implies communion in the Holy Spirit and thus implies demarcation and a structure. Moreover, the Kingdom is centred around Christ and the apostles and thus implies a specificity of relations. It is the Eucharist that provides both the structure and the context for the perpetuation of this structure in history.

For the eucharist is perhaps the only reality in the Church which is at once an institution and an event; it is the uniquely privileged moment of the Church’s existence in which the Kingdom comes epicletically, i.e. without emerging as an expression of the historical process, although it is manifested through historical forms. In this context the Church relates to the apostles simultaneously by looking backwards and forward, to the past and to the future – always, however, by letting the eschaton determine history and its structures. (206-207)

Zizioulas ends this chapter by suggesting that such a synthesis raises fundamental questions for ecumenical discussion, for it moves the question of apostolicity beyond questions of a derived ministry and highlights the importance of the Church as community and of the structure of this community which emerges from an eschatological vision. Both history and the historical needs of the present, which seem to preoccupy the current ecumenical movement, will have to be judged by the vision of the eschata.

c) It is in the light of the idea of a community of structure that we should view the bishop’s role as the sole ordainer, for

…the bishop is the one through whom all charismatic manifestations of the Church must pass, so that they be manifestations not of individualism but of the koinonia of the Spirit and of the community created by it. (199)

While extraordinary ministries have their place and must be encouraged,

if they go through the bishop, in whom the entire structure converges and the “many” become “one” in a particular existential milieu. (199)

d) Zizioulas then turns to the implications of the apostolic foundation and origins of particular Churches, suggesting that the argument for the special authority of particular sees only makes sense within the historical approach in which the apostles are understood as individuals.

Moreover, with Saint Cyprian we see the Ignatian and Hippolytan synthesis being altered so that the bishop comes to represent not Christ but Saint Peter.

… for him each episcopal throne is not, as it is for Ignatius, the “place of God” or Christ, but the cathedra Petri. The significance of this alteration is that we can now talk of unus episcopatus dispersed over the earth with Peter as its head. This leads to the concept of episcopal collegiality, as it has been expounded today in Roman Catholic theology. (200)

While it is wrong to read universalistic ideas into Cyprian’s ecclesiology,

There are, however, two basic elements in this view which decisively affect the synthesis we are concerned with here. In the first place this view leads to the disappearance of the Christological image of episcopacy. Thus it leads away from both Ignatius and Hippolytus. The bishop becomes alter apostolus (Peter) but not alter Christus. In the second place, and as a consequence of this, the structure of the local Church ceases to reflect the Kingdom of God with Christ surrounded by his apostles. The eschatological perspective, therefore, is in danger of disappearing from ecclesiology. (201)

In fairness to Saint Cyprian, however, understanding the bishop as alter Petrus does not mean dissolving the apostolic college. Instead, we should

take seriously his application of the image of the apostolic college in its entirety to each episcopal Church. This would preserve an essential part of the eschatological image of apostolicity in the Church structure. In speaking, therefore, of unus episcopatus we should not speak of a structure outside or above or independent of the concrete community to which each bishop is attached through ordination. (201)

In the ordination of the bishop we see a double conditioning in which the bishop is linked simultaneously with the apostolic college as it is expressed in both his own Church and in other Churches. The Petrine role is not irrelevant but its integration into a synthesis requires an appreciation of the proper relation between the local and the universal manifestations of the apostolic college.

Such a relation can only be one of identity, so that neither of these manifestations may have priority over the other. (202)

Moreover, while certain sees have been honoured and given positions of primacy,

when we place the universal dimensions of apostolic continuity in the light of the synthesis I am expounding here … we cannot argue from the standpoint of special apostolic sees without destroying the synthesis. Special apostolic character can and must be recognized in all those Churches which happen to have historical links with one or more of the great apostles. But this is not to be confused with the deeper and fundamental notion of apostolic continuity which passes through the very nature and structure of each Church and relates not just to the historical but also to the eschatological perspective of apostolic continuity. (203)

Zizioulas continues the third subsection of the fifth chapter of  Being as Communion by noting that the idea of continuity through apostolic ministry has suffered from a lack of synthesis between the historical and eschatological aspects. We see this today in the disjunction between the “institutional” and the “charismatic”. Zizioulas makes the following points:

a) Ordination into the ministry, far from being non- or even anti-charismatic, is the most charismatic of all acts.

It is not enough to think of ordination as an historical transmission of apostolicity. Ordination must also be a movement coming from the side of the eschatological finality, from the convoked and not just from the dispersed people of God. Hence all ordinations would have to take place in an epicletic context and, more than that, in the context of the community of the Church gathered e0pi\ to\ au)to, with the apostles not as individual originators of ministry but as a presiding college. (192-193)

Thus the “institutional” does not constitute a self-defined norm but is dependent on the epiclesis of the Spirit.

Moreover, this means that all the orders of the Church are partakers of the apostolic continuity:

Whereas the historical scheme of continuity can lead to a sacramentalism in ordination by limiting apostolic continuity to the so-called ordained ministry, the eschatological approach leads to the conclusion that, for apostolic continuity to take place, the order of the baptized layman is indispensable. The Church, therefore, relates to the apostles not only through ordination but also through baptism. (193)

b) While the bishop has been singled out in the historical approach as an individual possessing the plenitude of apostolicity which he transmits to others, for the early Church (e.g. Eusebius) it was important to trace the bishop’s lineage not simply to an apostle, but to James, the brother of the Lord.

In spite of the obscurity which surrounds the origins and early development of the episcopal office, it seems possible to discern two different ways of understanding the bishop’s function at that time. On the one hand he was understood as a “co-presbyter,” i.e. as one – presumably the first one – of the college of the presbyterium. On the other hand he was looked upon as the type of James the brother of Christ, i.e. as the image of Christ – an idea found in Ignatius and other documents of that time. This resulted naturally in the double image we encounter for the first time clearly in Hippolytus: the bishop as alter Christus and alter apostolus. (195)

For Hippolytus the bishop is simultaneously the image of Christ and the image of the apostles. Moreover, he is surrounded by the college of the presbyterium this also presupposed the convocation of the entire community as the context for the continuation of apostolic ministry.

Apostolic succession through episcopacy is essentially a succession of Church structure. The concrete implications of this are clear: in adhering to episcopal succession the Church does not isolate episcopacy from the rest of the Church orders (including the laity) but, on the contrary, she makes it absolutely dependent on them, just as they are absolutely dependent on it. It is a false idea to break down the independence of orders, for without the complete structure of the community the eschatological perspective, i.e. the convocation of the dispersed people of God, disappears entirely. (197)

Episcopal succession therefore means essentially a succession of communities and this is the reason why it was the bishop who was chosen as the instrument of apostolic succession.

To be continued…

In the third subsection of chapter five of Being as Communion, Zizioulas turns to some concrete implications of the synthesis between the historical and the eschatological understandings of apostolic continuity for the life of the Church. He begins by considering the nature of the apostolic kerygma.

While we find the idea of historical transmission, of paradosis or logia, in the New Testament, it is the Spirit that vivifies the Words and only in the Spirit that they can make sense.

The apostolic kerygma needs to be constantly placed in the Spirit in order to be life and not just words. It cannot be an objectified norm in itself, something that judges the community of the Church from above or from outside. It is in the context of the koinonia of the Spirit, which implies the concrete continuity of the Church, that the kerygma of the apostles can be “continued” in a living way. (189)

In the second century, and especially with Saint Irenaeus, the kerygma becomes more objectified as an historically transmitted norm, but the danger of this historical approach overshadowing the eschatological approach is overcome by Irenaeus’ emphasis on Pneumatology and on the centrality of the Eucharist.

The Church is to be found only where the Spirit is and the apostolic tradition comes to the Church not just through history but as a charisma. At the same time, true and orthodox doctrine is to be synthesized with the eucharist: “our doctrine agrees with the eucharist and the eucharist with our doctrine.” This synthesis safeguarded the apostolic kerygma from objectification in its transmission through history. (190)

This eschatological perspective was preserved by the Greek Fathers and especially by their emphasis that the Logos as person decisively qualified the idea of the Logos as word. This idea, found especially in Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril of Alexandria, meant that the historically transmitted word only becomes life and presence in the context of the eschatological community of the Eucharist.

By developing the “liturgy of the word” as an integral part of the eucharistic liturgy, the Church did nothing by eschatologize the historical, i.e. make the apostolic kerygma come to the Church not simply from the side of the past but simultaneously from the side of the future. Only when the preached word becomes identical with the eucharistic flesh does the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological continuity of the kerygma take place. Then the Johannine mentality of the “word made flesh” unites with the Irenaean view that orthodox doctrine and eucharist form an indivisible unity. (191)

In this context dogmas become not petrified relics from the past, but doxological statements of the community.

A Zizioulian footnote on singing the Gospel

Zizioulas claims that the fact that the apostolic kerygma comes not simply from the past, but simultaneously from the side of the future, is the reason why the Gospel is sung and not just read aloud.

In the Orthodox Liturgy this is indicated by the fact that the readings from the Bible are placed in the doxological context of the Trisagion which is sung before them. This is clearly meant to indicate that the word of God comes to the Church not simply from the past as a book and a fixed canon, but mainly from the eschatological reality of the Kingdom, from the throne of God which is at that moment of the Liturgy occupied by the bishop. This is why the reading is traditionally sung and not just read didactically. (Some Orthodox priests today, apparently not realizing this, do not sing the Gospel readings but read them like prose in order to make them more understandable and thus edifying!) (191, fn 70)

That last comment on being understandable and edifying could of course apply to Catholics as well, and relates to several aspects of contemporary liturgy!

In the second subsection of the fifth chapter of Being as Communion on apostolic continuity, Zizioulas points to the need for a synthesis between the historical and eschatological approaches outlined in the previous subsection and makes the following points.

Firstly, the Christ event should be seen as pneumatologically constituted leading to an understanding of Christ not as an individual “but in terms of personhood which implies a particularity established in and through communion” (182) which allows the biblical idea of “corporate personality” to be applied to Christ.

Our continuity, therefore, with the Christ event is not determined by sequence or response based on distance; it is rather a continuity in terms of inclusiveness: we are in Christ, and this is what makes Him be before us, our “first-born brother” in the Pauline sense. (182)

It is in the Spirit that Christ contains us in Himself and

He thus in the Spirit contains by definition the eschata, our final destiny, ourselves as we shall be; He is the eschatological Man – yet, let me repeat, not as an individual but as Church, i.e. because of our being included in Him. It is in this sense that historical existence becomes in Christ and in the Spirit a continuity that comes to us from the future and not through the channels of a divided time sequence like the one we experience in our fallen state of existence. Thus when the eshcata enter into history in the Spirit, time is redeemed from fragmentation, and history acquires a different sense. (183)

This means, secondly, that the apostles cannot be enclosed as individuals in a self-defined event or a closed past. Zizioulas argues that

It has done a lot of damage to the notion of apostolicity to think of it in terms of historical prerogatives, be it in the form of the Petrine keys or in that of the apostolic kerygma. For the keys are those of the Kingdom, and the kerygma is not an objectifiable norm but the Risen Christ, i.e. a living person; in both cases historical prerogatives are eschatologized. The apostles continue to speak and proclaim Christ in the Church only because the Church is by her very existence the living presence of the Word of God as person. (184)

In listening to the voice of the apostles, the Church listens to her own voice that comes from her own eschatological nature.

This makes the history of the Church identical with that of the world and of creation as a whole. Thus to recall that the Church is founded on the apostles in an eschatological sense makes the Church acquire her ultimate existential significance as the sign of a redeemed and saved creation. This makes the Church, in the words of St Paul, “the judge of the world,” i.e. makes her acquire a prerogative strictly applied to the apostles and especially to the Twelve in their eschatological function. (184)

Thirdly, such pneumatological conditioning should allay fears about an identification of the Church with the Kingdom, for such fears are only justified when apostolicity is seen in historical terms, which is what we see in the Protestant reaction to the medieval Church. However,

… in a pneumatological conditioning of history by eschatology this identification does not present any dangers. The reason is that it takes place epicletically. The epicletic aspect of continuity represents a fundamental point in what I am trying to say here, and its implications must be stressed. In an epicletical context, history ceases to be in itself a guarantee for security. The epiclesis means ecclesiologically that the Church asks to receive from God what she has already received historically in Christ as if she had not received it al all, i.e. as if history did not count in itself. (185)

Despite having received the Spirit, the apostles, and the Church since them, continue to invoke the Spirit.

The epicletic life of the Church shows only one thing: That there is no security for her to be found in any historical guarantee as such – be it ministry or word or sacrament or even the historical Christ Himself. Her constant dependence on the Spirit proves that her history is to be constantly eschatological. (185-186)

Nevertheless,

…the fact that the Spirit points to Christ shows equally well that history is not to be denied. “The Spirit blows where He wills,” but we know that He wills to blow towards Christ. Eschatology and history are thus not incompatible with each other. (186)

Such an epicletic conditioning of the Church’s continuity with the apostles points, fourthly, points to the possibility of a synthesis between the historical and the eschatological in a way that overcomes any Neoplatonic dualism. While there is certainly an “already” and a “not yet” aspect this does not involve any incompatibility between time and eternity.

The incarnation of God in Christ makes it possible to say against Neoplatonic dualism that history is a real bearer of the ultimate, of the very life of God. History as existence in space and time offers in Christ the possibility for communion with the eschata. (186)

The tension between history and the Kingdom is not one of ontological dualism but rather of a longing for transformation.

In the expression of St Paul, we are anxious to exchange the present form for the eschatological one not because the present one is less real or less “ontological” in its nature – it is the very same body we have now that will be resurrected, according to Paul – but because the presence and activity of the Antichrist in history makes the present form of the Church’s existence fragile and a cause of suffering. (186)

When the Church lives epicletically, she cannot but long for what she already is. The synthesis of the historical with the eschatological in this epicletical conditioning of history constitutes what we may properly – and not in the distorted sense – call the sacramental nature of the Church. (187)

This leads, fifthly, to the practical question of how the Church can unite these two approaches in one synthesis. Here Zizioulas points to the eucharistic experience of the early Church.

There is, indeed, no other experience in the Church’s life in which the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological can be realized more fully than in the eucharist. The eucharist is, on the one hand, a “tradition” (para/dosiv) and a “remembrance” (a0na/mnhsiv). As such it activates the historical consciousness of the Church in a retrospective way. At the same time, however, the eucharist is the eschatological moment of the Church par excellence, a remembrance of the Kingdom, as it sets the scene for the convocation of the dispersed people of God from the ends of the earth in one place, uniting the “many” in the “one” and offering the taste of the eternal life of God here and now. In and through the same experience, therefore, at one and the same moment, the Church unites in the eucharist the two dimensions, past and future, simultaneously as one indivisible reality. This happens “sacramentally,” i.e. in and through historical and material forms, while the existential tension of the “already” and the “not yet” is preserved. In the consciousness of the ancient Church this is further emphasized through the use of the epiclesis in the eucharist: the “words of institution” and the entire anamnetic dimension of the Church are placed at the disposal of the Spirit, as if they could not constitute in themselves a sufficient assurance of God’s presence in history. This makes the eucharist the moment in which the Church realizes that her roots are to be found simultaneously in the past and in the future, in history and in the eschata. (188 )

The Eucharist was therefore the place where the concrete manifestation of apostolic continuity took place. While the centrality of the Eucharist has been preserved in the Orthodox liturgical and canonical tradition, Zizioulas that Orthodox theology has often disregarded it making a synthesis between history and eschatology difficult.

In the following subsection he discusses the concrete consequences of this for the life of the Church.

Christ without His body is not Christ but an individual of the worst type.

John D. Zizioulas. Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004). 182.

More substantial posts on Being as Communion will follow in a couple of days, but this seemed worth sharing!

It is interesting that both East and West admit the dependence of the Holy Spirit upon the Son on the level of historical mission. The differences arise only when the metahistorical or iconological approach to the divine mystery becomes predominant. The problem can be traced back to the fourth century: St Basil in his De Spiritu Sancto replaces the formula of the Alexandrian theologians “from the Father – through the Son – in the Spirit” with that of “The Father with the Son and with the Spirit” precisely because his argument is taken from the realm of worship and not from historical revelation. It is worth looking at the Filioque problem from the angle of the fate of the iconological approach to God – and to reality in general – in Western thought.

John D. Zizioulas. Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church. London, DLT, 1985 (2004). 179, fn. 30.

On Holy Family Sunday, having managed to exercise enough self-restraint to avoid posting half-formed thoughts and liturgical frustrations on my own blog, my resolve weakened and I went and made a rather wild if throwaway comment on Wei Hsien’s Torn Notebook. The trouble with making rash comments on somebody else’s blog is that you can’t immediately delete them (or if you can I haven’t worked out how) and Wei Hsien then proceeded to ask me to explain what I meant by my suggestion that the western Church had watered down our consciousness of the Incarnation.

It’s a fair enough question, just not all that easy to answer. To start with, I do not doubt that the western Church formally believes in the historic faith concerning the Incarnation. I deliberately used the word “consciousness,” but that is more difficult to pin down and is also dependent on subjective factors that vary from context to context – and some of the things that have made me aware of this are such that I do not want to mention them in public. However, such thoughts were going through my mind at the time because it was the feast of the Holy Family and I was conscious that it had originated in the late Medieval turn that emphasised historical detail, subjectivity, realistic art etc. It’s true the cult of the Holy Family came to prominence later in the industrial revolution, but its origins seem to lie with people like Jean Gerson (d. 1429) and Bernadine of Sienna (d. 1444) and in the attention that they paid to previously neglected Saint Joseph.  Gerson even referred to the Holy Family as the earthly trinity.

And I remembered the reactions of the Melkite sisters I had stayed with in Nazareth. When the Latin bishop (with whom they had good relations) suggested that they should paint icons of the Holy Family they reacted in horror and gave him a good telling off! From what I understood, given my limited French, their reactions were based on the understanding that icons of the Holy Family present an alternative, false Trinity. The whole point of the Incarnation is that there is no earthly father, and by presenting a familial image in which Saint Joseph functions as such, one is in effect undermining that very fact.

I mention this not knock the Holy Family but because it seems to point to a deeper dynamic than simply the legitimacy or otherwise of certain images. Rather it points to the extent to which another reality is able to break through into history. Zizioulas’ distinction between historical and metahistorical approaches is helpful here and I suspect that at least part of our problem in the West is the loss of the metahistorical or iconological approach. Yes, we believe in the reality of the Incarnation, of another world breaking into this world and into our history. But how do the stories that we tell, the images that we see, and the rituals that we celebrate help to imprint this on us as more than simply historical detail? How do we avoid the danger of turning revelation – and liturgy, and this is perhaps also relevant to my questions about the cult of the Blessed Sacrament – into a sort of positivism, something that we can measure and control, but which becomes simply a thing and ceases to break into our reality as both judgement and moment of grace?

However, as should be apparent, I am once more thinking aloud and my thoughts are half (or perhaps less than half) formed!

In this first subsection of the fifth chapter of Being as Communion, Zizioulas distinguishes two approaches to the idea of apostolicity, both of which can be traced to the New Testament.

The first approach sees the apostles as persons who are given a mission to fulfil, and

…in an approach inspired by the idea of mission, the apostles represent a link between Christ and the Church and form part of a historical process with a decisive and perhaps normative role to play. Thus the idea of mission and that of historical process go together in the New Testament and lead to a scheme of continuity in a linear movement: God sends Christ – Christ sends the apostles – the apostles transmit the message of Christ by establishing Churches and ministers. We may, therefore, call this approach “historical.” (173)

The second, eschatological, approach sees the apostles not so much as individuals who are sent, but rather as a college whose members are drawn together from the ends of the earth.

In this case the apostles’ relation both to Christ and to the Church is expressed in a way different from that of the historical approach. Here the apostles are not those who follow Christ but who surround Him. And they do not stand as a link between Christ and the Church in a historical process but are the foundations of the Church in a presence of the Kingdom of God here and now. (175)

Both of these approaches continued to exist in the post-apostolic Church. In I Clement we see an example of the first approach and this text has been influential in the development of the idea of apostolic succession. However, in the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch we see an example of the second approach in which

Continuity … is guaranteed and expressed not by way of succession from generation to generation and from individual to individual, but in and through the convocation of the Church in one place, i.e. through its eucharistic structure. It is a continuity of communities and Churches that constitutes and expresses apostolic succession in this approach. (177)

Thus the point that Zizioulas wants to make is that

in the very beginning of the Church’s consciousness of continuity with the apostles – and this applies both to the Eastern and to the Western Churches – there are hidden seeds of two approaches to this continuity, of an “historical” and an “eschatological” approach. (177-178)

He then proceeds to probe some of the implications of these two approaches.

Firstly, there is a difference in the understanding of continuity. The historical approach is concerned with succession or survival in time. Although this can be understood in different ways, it is based on a retrospective continuity.

The anamnetic function of the Church is employed here in a psychological way, and this leads to the creation of a consciousness of continuity with the past. The Church recalls a time called “apostolic”; whether she relates to it through various media or by way of copying as faithfully as possible this normative period, the fact remains that in this approach her apostolicity comes from the side of the past. (178)

In the eschatological approach, by contrast, apostolicity comes to the Church from the side of the future.

It is the anticipation of the end, the final nature of the Church that reveals her apostolic character. This anticipation should not be misunderstood as psychological; it is not a feeling of expectation and hope that is offered through it, but a real presence of the eschata here and now. “Now is the judgment of the world,” and now, this simple moment of the Johannine nu=n, all of history is consummated. The finality or ultimacy of things is what the eschatological approach to apostolicity brings forth. It is the Risen Christ that is related to apostolicity, i.e. the final and ultimate destiny of all that exists. (178-179)

Moreover, this has bearing on our understanding of Christology and Pneumatology and their relation to the apostolic origin of the Church. In the historical approach Christology is primary and both it and the notion of the apostolate a self-defined event which the Holy Spirit, who is sent by Christ, vivifies. He is the animator of a basically pre-conceived structure. However, in the eschatological approach, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings the eschata into history, confronting history with its consummation and changing linear historicity into a presence.

When the eschata visit us, the Church’s anamnesis acquires the eucharistic paradox which no historical consciousness can every comprehend, i.e. the memory of the future, as we find it in the anaphora of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom: “Remember the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the second coming, Thine own of Thine own we offer thee.” Unless the Church lets Pneumatology so condition Christology that the sequence of “yesterday-today-tomorrow” is transcended, she will not do full justice to Pneumatology; she will enslave the Spirit in a linear Heilsgeschichte. Yet the Spirit is “the Lord” who transcends linear history and turns historical continuity into a presence. (180)

Our ideas of apostolicity are therefore tied up with all of theology and

if the Church is to be truly apostolic, she must be both historically and eschatologically orientated; she must both transmit history and judge history by placing it in the light of the eschata. (181)

In the next subsection Zizioulas point towards a synthesis of these two approaches.

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