Pneumatology


Zizioulas concludes chapter three of Being as Communion by making the following points:

1. Orthodox theology needs to work on the synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology, without which it is impossible to understand the Orthodox tradition itself or to be of help in ecumenical discussions.

2. Pneumatology needs to be constitutive of Christology and of ecclesiology. For this to happen the two ingredients of eschatology and communion are needed.

3. If the Church is constituted by these two aspects, then pyramidal notions disappear and the “one” and the “many” co-exist as two aspects of the same thing. This applies to both the universal and the local levels.

4. A “pneumatological conditioning of the being of the Church” can open ecclesial institutions to their eschatological perspective and prevent the danger of the “historization of its ecclesial institutions”. (139-140)

5. A pneumatological perspective sees the Church as constituted by the Spirit rather than simply instituted by Christ, something with profound implications:

The “institution” is something presented to us as a fact, more or less a fait-accomplit. As such, it is a provocation to our freedom. The “con-stitution” is something that involves us in its very being, something we accept freely, because we take part in its very emergence. Authority in the first case is something imposed on us, whereas in the latter it is something that springs from amongst us. If Pneumatology is assigned a constitutive role in ecclesiology, the entire issue of Amt und Geist, or of “institutionalism,” is affected. The notion of communion must be made to apply to the very ontology of the ecclesial institutions, not to their dynamism and efficacy alone. (140)

The question naturally arises as to what extent this is actually a reality in Orthodoxy. Zizioulas suggests that the fact that Orthodoxy has not experienced problems such as the clericalism, anti-institutionalism and Pentecostalism found in the West means that Pneumatology has for the most part saved the life of Orthodoxy. However, the actual situation does not do justice to the tradition: the synodical institutions no longer reflect the true balance between the “one” and the “many” and the number of titular bishops is increasing. The only level on which the proper balance is maintained is the liturgical, and it is perhaps this that has saved Orthodoxy. The question, however, is how long this will continue as Orthodoxy increasingly faces the problems common in the West.

He then turns to Vatican II and suggests that the Council’s rediscovery of the importance of the people of God and of the local Church was a hopeful sign for introducing the notion of communion into ecclesiology but that it did not go far enough.

What an Orthodox sharing the views of this exposé would like to be done – perhaps by a “Vatican III” – is to push the notion of communion to its ontological conclusions. We need an ontology of communion. We need to make communion condition the very being of the Church, not the well-being but the being of it. On the theological level this would mean assigning a constitutive role to Pneumatology, not one dependent on Christology. This Vatican II has not done, but its notion of communion can do. Perhaps it will transform the ecclesial institutions automatically. It will remove any pyramidal structure that may remain in the Church. And it may even place the stumbling block of ecclesial unity, the ministry of the Pope, in a more positive light. (141-142)

In the third section of this third chapter of Being as Communion, Metropolitan Zizioulas proceeds to discuss four implications of the synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology for ecclesiology.

The first of these, the importance of the local Church in ecclesiology, has been emphasised in the “eucharistic ecclesiology” associated with N. Afanasiev, but has not yet been justified in terms of Pneumatology, a task which Zizioulas proceeds to attempt.

The Church as the Body of Christ is instituted through the Christological event and owes her being to the one Christ. This could mean that there is first one Church and then many Churches, as Rahner has argued, seeing the “essence” of the Church in the universal Church. However, if we view Pneumatology as constitutive of both Christology and ecclesiology, then we cannot speak in these terms, for

The Pentecostal event is an ecclesiologically constitutive event. The one Christ event takes the form of events (plural), which are as primary ontologically as the one Christ itself. The local Churches are as primary in ecclesiology as the universal Church. No priority of the universal over the local Church is conceivable in such an ecclesiology. (133)

However, there is also a danger of prioritising the local Church over the universal, a danger resulting from the lack of a proper synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology. This mistake – made by Afanasiev and some Orthodox theologians – is a mistake

because the nature of the eucharist points not in the direction of the priority of the local Church but in that of the simultaneity of both local and universal. There is only one eucharist, which is always offered in the name of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” The dilemma “local or universal” is transcended in the eucharist, and so is any dichotomy between Christology and Pneumatology. (133)

This leads to the question of what ecclesial structures help to maintain this balance between the local and the universal, and hence to the second implication, namely, the significance of conciliarity.

While Orthodoxy does not have a  pope, it is a mistake to see it as having councils instead of a pope. Instead, conciliarity is rooted in the idea of communion, which is an ontological category in ecclesiology and Zizioulas sees this as rooted in the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers.

One of the striking peculiarities of St. Basil’s teaching on God, compared with that of St Athanasius and certainly with that of the Western Fathers, is that he seems to be rather unhappy with the notion of substance as an ontological category and tends to replace it – significantly enough for our subject here – with that of koinwni/a. Instead of speaking of the unity of God in terms of His one nature, he prefers to speak of it in terms of the communion of persons: communion is for Basil an ontological category. The nature of God is communion. This does not mean that the persons have an ontological priority over the one substance of God, but that the one substance of God coincides with the communion of the three persons. (134)

In the same way, while there is one Church, “the expression of this one Church is the communion of the many local Churches. Communion and oneness coincide in ecclesiology.” (135) It therefore follows that the institution that expresses the oneness of the Church must also express communion and that “the institution of universal unity cannot be self-sufficient or self-explicable or prior to the even of communion; it is dependent on it.” (135) In the same way, however, communion cannot be prior to the oneness of the Church and “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)

Instead of viewing the synod as a democratic alternative to “monarchical” Rome, as is sometimes thought, the significance of the synod for in Orthodox tradition can be found in canon 34 of the Apostolic Constitutions. This insists on the principle of one head in each province. The local bishops-Churches cannot do anything without the “one” but, at the same time, the “one” cannot do anything without the “many”. Thus “There is no ministry or institution of unity which is not expressed in the form of communion. There is no ‘one’ which is not at the same time ‘many'”. (135-136)

Orthodox ecclesiology requires an institution that expresses the oneness of the Church. However,

the multiplicity is not to be subjected to the oneness; it is constitutive of the oneness. The two, oneness and multiplicity, must coincide in an institution which possesses a twofold ministry: the ministry of  prw=tov(the first one) and the ministry of the “many” (the heads of the local Churches). (136)

(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.