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The Word of God and the Church?


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#1 James Burge

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 01:42 PM

Ok, this maybe a strange question but looking over scripture and how intimately St. Paul relates Christ Jesus and His Body the Church, that we become His bones, etc. brings up this question. I am wondering if the Church itself can be said to be the Word of God by Grace?

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 01:59 PM

I think that might be stretching things a bit. The Church is the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, in as much as the Apostle Paul says the two shall become one when speaking about marriage, but he makes clear that he is really speaking about the Church. However, the wife is not the husband or a substitute for the husband, the Church is not Christ, not a substitute for Christ. This is a mistake I think the concept of Papal supremacy makes but that is another thread (several actually already).

The bishop is the custodian of the Apostolic Witness. He divides Truth from error, but he is not the Truth. That is Christ alone. The Church does not define the Truth. The Church cannot change the Truth. It can only proclaim the Truth entrusted to it. Beyond that I suspect we quickly get into semantics.

Herman the anti-semantic Pooh

#3 Fabio Lins

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 02:03 PM

The Church is the continued incarnation of the Word of God. Notice that when Our Lord appears to Saul (later St. Paul) who was persecuting Christians, He does not ask "Why do you persecute my followers?" nor "Why do you persecute my disciples?". He asks "Why do you persecute *me*?" There is a total identification of the Church and Christ, because she is His body in the historical time until the eschaton. Not metaphorically but literally. It is interesting that Jesus says the same thing about the starving, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick and those in prison. If I were to defend a presence of Christ outside the Church, it would not be in heterodox churches, but in the weak and suffering ones of the world.

#4 James Burge

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 02:22 PM

Herman Blaydoe, I agree that there is distinction between Christ and the Church, but also I see that Christ is part of the Church being the head. I do not see individuals being Truth, but the Church being the pillar and foundation of Truth also, which indicates to me a much closer relationship with Christ and His Body which is by Grace. I would tend to think that a proper understanding of the nature of the Church, Christ Jesus being the Head, would negate the error of Papal supremacy.

Fabio Lins, Yes, St. Paul speaks of husband and wife and declares he is speaking of a great mystery because he is speaking of Christ Jesus and the Church.

So, wouldn't scripture indicate that by Grace, the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth, because of her relationship with Christ Jesus in that it contains the fullness of Truth, which is Christ?

It would seem that, though we don't become by nature like Christ, but through participation we become like Christ beginning with our baptism into Him, which again is also the Church.

#5 Kosta

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 03:19 AM

Ok, this maybe a strange question but looking over scripture and how intimately St. Paul relates Christ Jesus and His Body the Church, that we become His bones, etc. brings up this question. I am wondering if the Church itself can be said to be the Word of God by Grace?


The proper terminology is that the Church is the Body of Christ. Your first statement is taken literal by the Orthodox Church. It is a primary factor as to why we believe the Church is one, and indivisible. For not a bone of His was broken. The Body of Christ is not fractured, not in sections, not fragmented, not divided.
As far as the Church being the Logos of God bby grace, it may require a new post to think this through. Obviously the Church is not the hypostasis of the Logos, at the same time if we affirm that its a very real extension of the the Body of Christ we may fall into nestorianism, dividing the hypostatic union. A better question maybe is, what is meant by saying the Church is the Body of Christ, how literal should it be interpereted?

#6 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 01:02 PM

Ok, this maybe a strange question but looking over scripture and how intimately St. Paul relates Christ Jesus and His Body the Church, that we become His bones, etc. brings up this question. I am wondering if the Church itself can be said to be the Word of God by Grace?


I think that for us this way of putting it would be awkward. The great advantage after all of describing the Church as the Body of Christ (but according to St Paul's description where Christ is the Head and we the Body) is that it conveys how closely the faithful are tied into Christ. But yet (again though you have to follow the pattern of St Paul's image for this to be maintained) the distinction between Christ as Head and we as Body is maintained. This is why this image has held up in Orthodox tradition for so long.

Describing the Church as the Word of God though (even by grace) doesn't quite maintain the critical distinction between Christ and the faithful. This is because the Body as an image is always undergoing a process of uniting itself to Christ. The Word though by its very definition is always directly of Christ.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#7 James Burge

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 02:17 PM

Fr. Raphael and Kosta, I understand that we have to maintain a distinction without negating the intimacy of Christ and His Church. Could the understanding of essence/energy be used in the case of the Church? By this I mean, that Christ is the Word in essence/energy, and the Church is the word or becoming the word by energy, not essence? Does this change the question, in that the Church participates in the energy of God? Or would it be better to approach the understanding of the Church in the personhood of Christ Jesus?

I do believe this is a very important question, especially in light of how people in the west view the Church.

#8 Rob Bergen

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 06:08 PM

Perhaps it is better to say that the Church is the word of God (as in how God speaks), not the Word of God (as in Christ Himself)? Just a thought.

#9 Father David Moser

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 08:36 PM

Perhaps it is better to say that the Church is the word of God (as in how God speaks), not the Word of God (as in Christ Himself)? Just a thought.


This then becomes a violation of the Gospel - specifically John 1. There is no distinction between "the Word of God" and "the word of God" They are one and the same and can never be separated.

Fr David

#10 Rob Bergen

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 08:40 PM

Oh. Nevermind.

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 01:02 PM

Perhaps it is better to say that the Church is the word of God (as in how God speaks), not the Word of God (as in Christ Himself)? Just a thought.


I came across this yesterday from Fr Dumitru Staniloae's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Vol. 1- The Experience of God):

The Church is the dialogue of God with the faithful through Christ in the Holy Spirit. This dialogue, conducted formerly by the Word from afar, becomes an intimate dialogue through the incarnation of the Son of God as man and begins to spread through the Church.



So the Church is not the Word of God. It is rather where we hear the word of the Word of God and begin to live in Him. This is what particularly characterizes the Church and makes it the Body of Christ which hears and lives in a divine unity.

Part of the challenge here in expressing this could be that for us the word is not primarily the ministry of Christ or the preaching of God's word. Yes- these activities are part of the life of the Church for us. But the word primarily refers to the overall sacramental life of the Church that we then graft ourselves into. It is the verbal word of Christ heard as verbal icon. But it is also the expression of His life towards us as experienced solely within the Church.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#12 Rob Bergen

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:07 PM

Thank you Father Raphael,

That is what I was thinking. I was using lowercase "w" word to distinguish from "W" Word. You summed up my theory much better using Fr. Dumitru's words.

In Peace,

Rob

#13 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 07:23 PM

I don't understand the objection to distinguishing between Word and word. Scripture itself uses logos and rhema, with the former tending more toward basic sense or reason and the latter tending more toward voice or expression—spoken or written words. Similarly, the Orthodox reserve "Word of God" for Christ and use "word of God" for scripture and prophecy, though not generally the Gospels because the Gospel is all about Christ the Word.

That said, it would not be appropriate to refer to the Church as either the "Word" or "word" of God. The Church is definitely not the Logos of God because it does not share the essence of God, and in the world the Church is the speaker and not what's spoken—not the dialogue but the incarnate personalities carrying on the dialogue on Christ's behalf. (I can only wonder what Staniloae wrote in Romanian. His works strike me as too poetic for precise theological use, but that might just be his English translations.)

#14 Rob Bergen

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 08:38 PM

I guess I would like to think that the Church is a living example of Christ's spoken words, and therefore the words of Christ. I am probably overly-romanticizing the whole thing. I guess I would like to see the Church as living demonstration of what is spoken by Christ. Maybe the "word" I am thinking of differs from some of the above-mentioned ideas.

Or, perhaps the words of the Word are made manifest through the Church, and therefor the Church is what reveals the words of the Word.

Maybe this is all a clue that I should know when to stop thinking into things too much...

proceeding with confusion,

Rob

#15 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 09:07 PM

I guess I would like to think that the Church is a living example of Christ's spoken words, and therefore the words of Christ. I am probably overly-romanticizing the whole thing. I guess I would like to see the Church as living demonstration of what is spoken by Christ.


But this would see the Church as less than what it is. The Church is more than an example, demonstration, or enaction of Christ's words; it is His continuing incarnation, His contemporary presence in flesh and blood. As such, it does what He says of its own will, so to speak, not by the force of His words, like a puppet animated only by the incantations of a sorcerer.

You see here that the Orthodox way of looking at things is more Incarnational and Eucharistic than the Protestant way, which is more verbal and kergymatic. In our view, we don't just read His Bible and obey Him; we partake of His Body and Blood and become Him.

#16 Rob Bergen

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 09:41 PM

Right, that was my original thought, which I think you expressed here perfectly. Would your statement then be summarized as the Church is the continual incarnation of the Word of God through life in the Holy Mysteries? I am thinking specifically of Cabasilas' Life in Christ and Schmemann's For the Life of the World​.

#17 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 02:15 PM

Would your statement then be summarized as the Church is the continual incarnation of the Word of God through life in the Holy Mysteries? I am thinking specifically of Cabasilas' Life in Christ and Schmemann's For the Life of the World​.


I think that's about it, though I would stress that "life in the Holy Mysteries" is not just routine practice of the Mysteries but faithful participation in the Mysteries. The Mysteries only do us good and make us part of the Body if we partake of them repentantly, in sincere faith and real love, and ascetically, with actual struggle to be like Christ. They do us real harm if we partake of them without repentance and struggle. "For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation unto himself, not discerning the Body." (1 Cor. 11:29)

Cabasilas's Life in Christ must be read with the requirement for faith, repentance, and struggle in mind. If it isn't, you might come away thinking all you have to do is practice the Mysteries regularly and that will magically make you holy. It doesn't help that Cabasilas resorts to Anselm to explain how Christ frees us from sin.

It's been too long since I've read Schmemann's For the Life of the World, so I can't comment on it.

#18 James Burge

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 01:31 AM

But this would see the Church as less than what it is. The Church is more than an example, demonstration, or enaction of Christ's words; it is His continuing incarnation, His contemporary presence in flesh and blood. As such, it does what He says of its own will, so to speak, not by the force of His words, like a puppet animated only by the incantations of a sorcerer.

You see here that the Orthodox way of looking at things is more Incarnational and Eucharistic than the Protestant way, which is more verbal and kergymatic. In our view, we don't just read His Bible and obey Him; we partake of His Body and Blood and become Him.


Here is my question again. It is the Lords continuing incarnation, but that word means much more, at least to my little brain, then His physical Body and Soul, sense the incarnation also involved His Divinity. So, how can His Body the Church be only His physical flesh and soul when the person of Christ Jesus in the incarnation also includes His divinity some how? Also, as I understand it, the Word does not necessarily mean spoken or written by our standards, but is power, etc. Now, I know individually we fall short with our will, but is it possible that like the Lords physical body and soul that His Church also somehow, its will, willingly submits to Christ?

#19 James Burge

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 09:24 AM

Here is my question again. It is the Lords continuing incarnation, but that word means much more, at least to my little brain, then His physical Body and Soul, sense the incarnation also involved His Divinity. So, how can His Body the Church be only His physical flesh and soul when the person of Christ Jesus in the incarnation also includes His divinity some how? Also, as I understand it, the Word does not necessarily mean spoken or written by our standards, but is power, etc. Now, I know individually we fall short with our will, but is it possible that like the Lords physical body and soul that His Church also somehow, its will, willingly submits to Christ?


Isn't the Church itself truly the sacrament of sacraments?

#20 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 07:42 PM

Here is my question again. It is the Lords continuing incarnation, but that word means much more, at least to my little brain, then His physical Body and Soul, sense the incarnation also involved His Divinity. So, how can His Body the Church be only His physical flesh and soul when the person of Christ Jesus in the incarnation also includes His divinity some how? Also, as I understand it, the Word does not necessarily mean spoken or written by our standards, but is power, etc. Now, I know individually we fall short with our will, but is it possible that like the Lords physical body and soul that His Church also somehow, its will, willingly submits to Christ?


In other words, you're asking, given the mystery of theosis, can we say the Church is "the Word of God by Grace"?

Well, through the Church we become "partakers of the divine nature," participating by grace not in the divine essence but in the divine energies. The identification of the Son as "the Word" borrows the concept of the Logos from Greek philosophy to express the Son's hypostatic role in creation as the divine Reason "by whom all things were made." The "Word" therefore refers to the Person of the Son, divine in essence, which we do not become by grace. It would therefore be improper for us to speak of the Church as the "Word of God by Grace," since the Church is not the Person of the Christ, but the Body of Christ, the continuing presence of divinized humanity hypostasized now by each of its members.

Does that work?




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