PNEUMATOLOGICAL ECCLESIOLOGY

(published in Italian in Studii Ecumenici) 

I. Pneumatology-Spirituality.

As a word of introduction I would like to make a preliminary remark on the relationship between pneumatology and spirituality. A lot has been written and said about the connection of pneumatology to spirituality. But very often spirituality - and by extension pneumatology - is understood in the wrong sense, as an idealistic philosophical category, as a way of life distinct from, or in opposition to, the material life; as if it referred to the spirit of "human beings" and not to the Spirit of "God", which in the biblical sense (2 Cor. 13:13) is by definition conditioned by the idea of koinonia (/communion). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is incompatible with individualism, His primary work being the transformation of all reality into a relational status.

II. Pneumatological Ecclesiology and Trinitarian Theology.

When we, therefore, speak of pneumatological ecclesiology we have to bear in mind an authentic trinitarian theology. After all, the Church by her nature cannot reflect the worldly image of a secular organisation, which is normally based on hierarchy, power and domination, but  on the kenotic image of the Holy Trinity, which is based on love and koinonia (communion). Classical theology of the past has been very often criticized of being "christomonistic", of orienting almost all its attention to Christ, relegating the Holy Spirit to an anciliary role (agent of Christ, inspirator of the prophets and the authors of the Bible, helper of the Church to listen, apprehend and interpret the word of God etc.). This criticism may have gone too far and may be an exaggeration; it shows however implicitly the dinstict nature and importance of pneumatology. A proper pneumatology, however, should never take the form of a "pneumatomonism". A pneumatological ecclesiology, if it is to be accepted within normative christianity, it has to take unquestionably into consideration Christology. It is for this reason that we speak of a Christology pneumatologically conditioned; and vthe other way round: Pneumatology, especially within the context of ecclesiology, cannot be considered without reference to Christology.

III. Pneumatology, Christology, Ecclesiology.

The christian understanding, therefore, of ecclesiology has undoubtedly to start with the teaching, life and work of Christ. His teaching, however, and especially his life and work, cannot be properly understood without reference to the eschatological expectations of Judaism. Without entering the complexities of , we could very briefly say that the Jewish eschatology was interwoven with the expectation of the coming of the Messiah, who in the "last days" of history (the Eschaton") was supposed to establish his kingdom by calling the dispersed and afflicted people of God into one place to become one body united around him. The statement in Jn 11:51-52 about the Messiah's role is extremely important. There the writer interprets the words of the Jewish  High priest by affirming that "he prophesied that Jesus should die...not for the nation only but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (cf. also Is 66:18; Mt 25:32; Rom 12:16; Didache 9:4b; Mart. Polyc. 22:3b; Clemens of Rome, I Cor., 12:6 etc).

Throughout the Gospels Christ identifies himself with this Messiah. We see this in the various Messianic titles he chose for himself, or at least as witnessed by the most primitive Christian tradition ("Son of man",  "Son of God", etc., most of which had a collective meaning, whence the christology of "corporate personality"). We see it as well in the parables of the kingdom, which summarize his teaching,  proclaiming that his coming initiates the new world of the kingdom of God; we see it in the Lord's Prayer, but also in his conscious actions (e.g. the selection of the twelve, etc.). In brief,  Christ identified himself with the Messiah of the Eschaton, who would be the center of the gathering of the dispersed people of God.

IV. Pneumatology and the Kingdom-of-God Ecclesiology.

 It was on this radical eschatological teaching of the Historical Jesus about the Kingdom of God (which as modern biblical research has shown moves dialectically between the "already" and the "not yet"; in other words, begins already in the present, but will be completed in its final authentic form in the eschaton) that the early Church has developed its ecclesiology.

In the first two decades after Pentecost the early Christian community understood its existence as the perfect and genuine expression of the people of God. With a series of terms taken from the Old Testament the early Christian community believed that it was theIsrael of God (Gal 6:16), the saints (Acts 9:32, 41; 26:10; Rom1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25), the elect (Rom 8:33; Col 3:12 etc), the chosen race (1 Pe 2:9 ), the royal priesthood (ibid) etc; namely the holy people of God (laos of God), for whom all the promises of the Bible were to be fulfilled at the eschata. During this constructive period the concept in which the early Church understood herself was that of a people and not of an organisation. An examination of both the Old and the New Testament terminology makes this quite clear. The chosen people of God were an am (in Hebrew, especially in the prophets) or a (in Greek), whereas the people of the outside world were designated by the Hebrew term goim and the Greek one (cf. Acts 15:14)

This conciousness that when God created a new community, he created a people, distinguished the Christian Church from those guilds, clubs or religious societes so typical of the Greco-Roman period. It is quite significant that the first christian community used the term in the Old Testament meaning; it is not accidental that this term (ecclesia) in the Septuagint, corresponds to the Hebrew qâhâl , i.e. to a term denoting the congregation of Gods people. The Saptuagint never translates by the Hebrew edhah, the usual translation of which is . In this primitive period, therefore, the members of the Christian community do not just belong to the Church; i.e. they are not simply members of an organisation; they  are the Church.

The second generation after Pentecost is certainly characterised by the great theological contribution of St. Paul. The apostle takes over the above charismatic notion of the Church, but he gives it in addition a universal and ecumenical character. To the Church belong all human beings, Jews and Gentiles; for the latter have been joined to the same tree of the people of God (Rom11:13ff). The Church, as the new Israel, is thus no longer constituted on grounds of external criteria (circumcision etc.), but of her faith to Jesus Christ (   Rom 9:6 ). The term, however, with which St. Paul reminds the reader of the charismatic understanding of the Church is X  (body of Christ). With this metaphorical expression St. Paul was able to express the charismatic nature of the Church by means of the semitic concept of corporate personality. He emphasised that in the Church there exists a variety of gifts, charisms () exercised by the individual members of the community, and necessary for the building up  and the nutrition of this body, Christ alone being its only head and authority.

The Johannine figure of the vine (John 15:1- 8) is equally impressive . As with the pauline term (), the double scheme vine-branches indicates the special relationship existing between people and Christ, which reveals the inner basis of ecclesial life. The other N. T. figures for the Church , household of faith (Eph 2:11ff), fellowship (1 Cor 1:9 etc), bride of Christ (Eph 1:31f ; Rev 21:9), little flock (Lk 12:32 etc) , family of Christ, oikos etc, all point to the same direction: namely that the new community is a people, bound together by love and the Spirit provided by God in Christ, and not by external structure.

 In sum: right from the beginning, from the writings of Paul, John, and Luke, in addition to other works, we see this teaching reflected in images of the Church as the Body of Christ, as Vine, and especially as unity. The apostle Paul in particular was absolutely convinced that all who have believed in Christ have been incorporated into His body through Baptism, completing with the Eucharist their incorporation into the one people of God. The 4th Gospel develops this radical eschatological teaching even further in regard to the unity of the people of God around Christ and their incorporation into Christ's body through the Eucharist above all.

The main contribution, which the primitive christian theology has made to the development of this messianic eschatology, was the common belief of almost all theologians of the early Church,  emphasized and underlined most sharply by St. Luke, that with Christ's Resurrection and especially with Pentecost, the Eschaton had already entered history, and that the messianic eschatological community becomes a reality each time the Church, the new Israel, the dispersed people of God, gathers (in one place), especially when it gathers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This development is undoubtedly the starting point of all ecclesiological considerations, which in fact relate the ecclesial identity with the Kingdom of God, the imminent expectation of the Parousia in a dynamic and radical way.

V. Pneumatological Ecclesiology and Eschatology.

One can, therefore, easily equate the term Pneumatological ecclesiology with the term Eschatological ecclesiology. The missiological imperatives of the early Church stem exactly from this awareness of the Church as an eschatological, dynamic, radical, and corporate reality,  commissioned to witness the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10 par).  St. Chrysostom  commented as follows on the relevant petition of the Lords Prayer: (Christ) did not say Your will be done in me, or in us, but everywhere on earth, so that error may be destroyed, and truth implanted, and all wickedness cast out, and virtue return, and no difference in this respect be henceforth between heaven and earth.(PG  57 col. 280).The apostles were commissioned to proclaim not a set of given religious convictions, doctrines, moral commands etc., but the coming Kingdom, the Good news of a new eschatological reality, which had as its center the crucified and resurrected Christ, the incarnation of God the Logos and His dwelling among us human beings, and His continuous presence through the Holy Spirit, in a life of communion, experienced  in their eucharistic (in the wider sense) life.

That is why they are called (holy);  because they belonged to that chosen race of the people of God. That is why they were considered  royal priesthood ( ); because all of them, without exception (not just some special cast such as the priests or levites) have priestly and spiritual authority  to practice in the diaspora the work of the priestly class, reminded at the same time to be worthy of their election though their exemplary life and works. That is why they were called to walk towards unity ("so that they may become perfectly one,  Jn 17:23). That is why they were called to abandon all deeds of darkness; because the one who called them out of darkness into light, "from non existence into being", who took them as non-members of the people of God and made them into genuine  members of the new eschatological community (cf. I Pe 2:10: once you were no people, now you are God's people),  is holy  and perfect (cf. Jn 17:19  also Mt 5:48 par). The writings of John are particularly replete with evidence of the understanding that with the entrance of the eschaton into history all of the characteristic elements of the end - judgment, resurrection, kingdom, and consequently sinlessness, purity - begin to act mystically in the world.

No doubt, this initial horizontal historical eschatology, - which identifies the Church not by what it is in the present, but by what it will become in the Eschaton, and at the same time suggests that the Churchs mission is the dynamic journey of the people of God as a whole towards the Eschaton, with the Eucharist as the point of departure - became interwoven from the very first days of the Church's life with a vertical  one, which put the emphasis on a more personal understanding of salvation. From the time of the St. Paul the apostle this personalization is quite evident in his justification by faith theology, but this paradigm shift has also affected the understanding of the Eucharist, the primary act of self-consciousness of community as a koinonia of the eschata and as a proleptic manifestation of the coming kingdom of God. No matter for what reasons, from the time of St. Paul there has been a shift of the center of gravity from the (eucharistic) experience  to the (christian) message,  from eschatology  to christology  (and further and consequently to soteriology),  from the event  (the Kingdom of God), to the bearer and center of this event ((Christ,  and more precisely his sacrifice on the cross). Nevertheless, the Eucharist (the theia koinonia) always remained the sole expression of the Churchs identity. 

Although some theologians consider this second concept, which was mingled with the original biblical/semitic thought, as stemming from Greek philosophers (Stoics and others), it is more than clear that the horizontal-eschatological view was the predominant one in New Testament, the other early Christian writings and the authentic teaching of the Church. The vertical-soteriological view was always understood within the context of the horizontal-eschatological perspective as supplemental and complementary. This is why the liturgical experience of the early Church is incomprehensible without its social dimension (see Acts 2:42ff., 1 Cor 11:1ff., Heb 13: 10-16; Justin, 1 Apology  67;  Irenaeus, Adver. Her. 18:1, etc.).

 VI. Pneumatological Ecclesiology and Eucharistic Theology.

Therefore, a Pneumatological ecclesiology can easily be identified with a Eucharistically oriented ecclesiology. After all, the ecclesiological understanding of the Church right from the beginning was clearly reflected within her liturgical order, which from the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch onwards considers the eschatological people of God, gathered in one place around Christ, as reflected in the offices of the Church: the bishop is in the place and as image of Christ, while the presbyters around him re-present the apostles. Above all it is the eucharistic gathering which authentically expresses the mystery of the Church. Here, in the gathering of the community around the bishop, the community does not propagate its faith on the basis of a sacramental redemption from worldly suffering, nor does it proclaim personal perfection and individual salvation within a historical institution; rather it witnesses its entity as the proleptic manifestation of the eschatological Kingdom of God (cf. Ignatius, Ad Eph.  13).

 This eucharistic understanding of the Church (i.e. as an icon of the Eschaton) also resulted in an understanding of her mission as an imperative duty to witness her identity as an authentic expression in a particular time and place of the eschatological glory of the Kingdom of God, with all that this could imply for social  and cosmic life. It is to be noted, that a conviction began to grow among Church writers, beginning with the author of Hebrews (10:1), and more fully developed in the writings of Maximus the Confessor, that the events of the Old Testament were shadow () of future riches, and that present Church reality is only an image () of the truth ().

The whole ecclesiological process from the eschatological kerygma of Jesus of Nazareth, announcing the coming of the kingdom of God during his mission (the already inaugurated, but not yet fulfiled new heaven and new earth), to the understanding by the first apostles of their mission to evangelize the world as a sign of the eschata, and further down to the Ignatian concept of the Church as a eucharistic community (with  the Bishop as the image of Christ), reveals that it was the eschatological, and not the historical (in other words hierarchical, and therfore authoritative, no matter whether episcopal, conciliar, congregational etc.) nature of the Church that was stressed. Metropolitan J. Zizioulas of Pergamon is definitely right, when he insists that the Church does not draw its identity from what it is, or from what  it was given to it as institution,  but  from what it will be, i.e. from the eschata. Drawing, as he did, from an ancient hymn of the Byzantine Vespers of the feast of Pentecost we may state that if Christ in-stituted the Church, it is the Holy Spirit that con- stitutes her. The early Christian community understood itself, mainly through the act of its eucharistic gatherings, as proleptically portraying the kingdom of God on earth; and the primary consern of the great theologians of the apostolic and post-apostolic period was to maintain clearly the vision of that kingdom before the eyes of the people of God.

Hence the episcopocentric structure of the Church as an essential part of that vision;  and equally the importance of all kinds of primacies  (universal, regional, local) to keep, sustain and minister that vision. In his authentic function (not the one aquired later through social, not theological, influences - not always healthy, but equally not necesserilly to be rejected), the primus,  be it the bishop or the first among bishops,  as presiding in love in the Eucharist (i.e. the Church) is not a vicar, a representative, or ambassador of Christ,  but  an image of Christ. So with the rest of the ministries of the Church: they are  not parallel to, or given by, but identical with those of, Christ.

VII. Conclusion.

 If any conclusion is to be drawn from the above analysis and approach of the Pneumatological Ecclesiology, this is an affirmation of the eschatological orientation of the Church. And there is no better way to rediscover the eschatological self-consciousness of the Church than through the Eucharist as the sacrament of communion,  of love, of sacrifice and of sharing. If this is so, then the pneumatological ecclesiology goes far beyond denominational boundaries, beyond Christian limitations, even beyond the religious sphere in the conventional sense: it is the manifestation of the kingdom of God, the restoration of Gods household (oikos) of God (K.Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition,  Geneva WCC Press 1991, 102ff.), in its majestic eschatological splendour; in other words it is the projection of the inner dynamics (love, communion, justice, equality, sharing etc.) of the Holy Trinity into the world and cosmic realities. And this was exactly the experience, but also the primary concern, of the early christian community expressed right from the beginning in the specific act of being assembled epi to auto, an act (Eucharist) that is being unseasingly repeated throughout the history of the Church.

 

APRENDIX

THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE ORTHODOX THEOLOGY.

   According to most serious interpreters Orthodoxy means the wholeness of the people of God who share the right conviction (O= =right opinion) concerning the event of God's salvation in Christ and his Church, and the right expression (=orthopraxia) of this faith. Orthodoxia leads to the maximum possible application in orthopraxia  of charismatic life in the freedom of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of daily social and cosmic life. Everybody is invided by Orthodoxy to transcend confessions and inflexible institutions without necessarily denying them. I remember the late N. Nissiotis claiming that Orthodoxy is not to be identified only with the nominal Orthodox in the historical sense and with all their limitations and shortcomings. "We should never forget that this term is given  to the One, (Holy, Catholic and) Apostolic Church as a whole over against the heretics who, of their own choice, split from the main body of the Church. The term is exclusive for all those, who willingly fall away from the historical stream of life of the One Church but it is inclusive for those who profess their spiritual belonging to that stream....

Next to the meaning of Orthodoxy is the question is of how to determine its criteria. The Roman Catholics have Vatican  II to draw from; the Orthodox do not. The Lutherans have an Augsburg Confession of their own; the Orthodox not, and they also lack the equivalent of a Luther of Calvin, to mention just two from the Reformation movement, who could give them their theological identity. The only authortitative sources the Orthodox possess are in fact common to the rest of the christians: the Bible and the Tradition. How can one establish a distinctly Orthodox view on pneumatology on a basis which is common to non-Orthodox as well?

   The essence of Orthodoxy, vis-a-vis Western theology in its entirety, i.e. Catholic and Protestant,  is the importance of its liturgical tradition. It is widely held that the liturgical dimension is perhaps the only safe criterion,  in ascertaining the specificities of the Orthodox pneumatology. The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second. The lex orandi has a  privileged priority in the life of the Christian Church. The lex credendi  depends on the devotional experience and vision of the Church, as G.Florovsky put it, or more precisely on the authentic (i.e. liturgical) identity of the Church. Heart of Orthodox liturgy, as in all or most all Christian traditions, is the Eucharist, which is called by the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. The most widely held among Orthodox of our time criterion for determining the Orthodox theology is undoubtedly the eucharistic approach to all aspects of theology, and especially to pneumatology. It is in the Eucharist only that the church becomes Church in its fullest sence. Eucharist is conceived as the very manifestation of the Church and as a corporate act of the whole community. Orthodox theology has been known to non-orthodox as the more consistent to eucharistic ecclesiology, while the Roman catholic one puts more emphasis on the universal ecclesiology.

The orthodox conception of Tradition (to be distinguished from the various local or regional or even temporal traditions) is not a static entity but a  dynamic reality, not a dead acceptance of the past,  but  a living experience of the Holy Spirit in the present. In G. Florovsky' s words, "Tradition is the witness of the Spirit; the Spirit' s unceasing revelation and preaching of the Good news... It is not only a protective, conservative principle, but primarily the principle of growth and renewal". Thus even tradition, for most the decisive principle of Orthodoxy, is closely connected to a proper understanding of pneumatology.

To properly grasp the quintessence of pneumatology - and I will speak only of the Orthodox understanding - one has to place it within the economy of the Holy Trinity. All fundamental aspects of the Orthodox theology, (creation of the entire cosmos by God, redemption in Christ and salvation through the Church, but beyond her boundaries in the power of the Holy Spirit, etc.) are mostly conceived as the natural consequence of the inner dynamics of the Triune God, i.e. of the communion and love that exists within the Holy Trinity.

 Applied to ecclesiology, and more precisely to the Churchs mission, this trinitarian basis had tremendous effect in helping the Church to avoid  imperialistic or confessionalistic attitudes. "The trinitarian theology points to the fact that God' s involvement in history aims at drawing humanity and creation in general into this communion with God' s very life. The implications of this assertion for understanding mission are very important: mission  does not  aim primarily at the propagation or transmission of intellectual convictions, doctrines, moral commands etc., but at the transmission of the life of communion that exists in God" as Ion Bria puts it. 

Of similar importance is the application of the trinitarian theology to the structure of the Church, at least in theory. By nature the Church cannot reflect the worldly image of secular organizations, which is based on power and domination, but the kenotic image of the Holy Trinity, which is based on love and communion. If we take a little further this trinitarian understanding of ecclesiology and if we take into consideration the distinction of the hypostases (persons) within the Holy Trinity, we realize that the Church is a church of "God" (the father) before it becomes a Church of "Christ" and of a certain place. That is why in the Orthodox Catholic `tradition all the proper eucharistic prayers (anaphoras) are addressed to God the Father. This theology has revealing implications on a number of issues ranging from the profound meaning of episcopacy (Bishop image of "Christ") to the dilectics between Christ - Church, divine - human, unity of women, and  men etc.

 As to pneumatology proper, we should remind ourselves of its biblical foundation, where the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:13) is by definition conditioned by the idea of (communion).  The Spirit is incompatible with individualism, its primary work being the transformation of all reality to a relational status. Classical theology of the past has been very often criticized of being "christomonistic", of orienting almost  all its attention to Christ, relegating the Spirit to an anciliary role (agent of Christ, inspirator of the prophets and the authors of the Bible, helper of the Church to listen, apprehend and interpret the word of God etc.). This criticism may have gone too far and may be an exaggeration; it shows however implicitly  the importance of pneumatology. A proper pneumatology, however, should never take the form of a "pneumatomonism". It rather leads to an understanding of christology conditioned in a constitutive way by pneumatology.

Three are the most important distinctive characteristics of the Orthodox pneumatology: (a) the rejection of any Filioque theology; (b) the importance of the epiklesis, i.e. the invocation of the Holy Spirit in all liturgical practices, especially in the eucharistic anaphora; and (c) the understanding of all the church' s ministries always within the context of the community.

            Starting from the last one, I can only underline that the Orthodox Church has not till recently experienced antagonism between clericalism and anticlericalism, or the tension between the clergy and the laity, and this is why the thorny  question of the ordination of women, has not yet come up as an issue and a serious challenge from within the Orthodox Church. 

With regard to the epiklesis, I will only underline that the daily liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Church is introduced by the well-known prayer to the Holy Spirit:

O heavenly King, Comforter, the spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things, treasury of good things and giver of life, come dwell among us, purify us from every stain, and of your goodness save our souls.   

It is therefore significant that in the Orthodox liturgy and in particular in all sacraments (called by the Orthodox mysteries and not sacraments in the conventional sense) it is the Spirit which is uniquely, exclusively and repeatedly invoked. Furthermore, the sacrament of chrismation (the equivalent of the western confirmation), which is always understood as the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, has never been in the East dissociated from Baptism. And above all, in the Orthodox Church it was always believed that is during the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and not during the utterance of the dominical words of the institution of the Eucharist, that the transformation of the Holy gifts that took place. The neutral term metabole, and not the scholastic transubstantiatio,  is to be noted here.

What, however, is even more important is that the epiklesis of the Holy Spirit in the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy is made for both the holy gifts and the community (in fact first  for the community and then for the holy gifts). The claim, therefore, of the Orthodox that the Church, in its fullest sense, is nowhere manifested but in  the Eucharist as a communion event, is well justified. The Church is not only an institution, i.e. something which is given; it is above all a communion event. We may say that Christ in-stitutes the Church, but it is the Holy Spirit that con-stitutes her. 

Finally, with regard to the filioque  issue it is generally acknowledged, implicitly even by Roman Catholics (cf. e.g. Y.Congar), that with this unnecessary insertion into the Nicean Creed "the charism is made subordinate to the institution, inner freedom to imposed authority, prophecy to juridicism, mysticism to scholasticism, the laity to the clergy the universal priesthood to the ministerial hierarchy, and finally the college of bishops to the primacy of the Pope". Without considering the filioque as an error - we should rather speak of a theologoumenon - its rejection in the East is a clear indication of the Orthodox Church' s consciousness to at  least  safeguard the role  and the significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of  the Church.  By rejecting any idea of subordination of the Holy Spirit within the economy  of the Holy Trinity, the Orthodox kept alive the idea of renewal and the concept of the Church as a continuous Pentecost.

Having said all the above, I must stress that I firmly believe in a synthesis of the Eastern and Western pneumatology. The authentic catholicity of the Church must include both East and West. Western theology tends to limit ecclesiology to the historical context. The Church ends by being completely historicized; thus it ceases to be the manifestation of the eschata, becoming an image of this world. At the other end, Eastern theology with its exclusive vision of future or heavenly things runs the danger of disincarnating the Church from history. A dynamic encounter will enrich both traditions, resulting in a more integral and comprehensive pneumatology.