The Church after Pentecost

The first Christians thought of the Church as inseparable from the risen Christ and from the Holy Spirit. He was the heavenly Spouse of the Church (e.g. Eph. 5: 25—7) or 'the head of the bod/ which is the Church (e.g. Eph. 5: 23). Baptism in the name of Jesus (e.g. Acts 2: 38) or, with what became the normative formula, 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' (Matt. 28: 19) brought consecration by the Holy Spirit. The baptized knew themselves to be the living temples of the Spirit (1 Cor. 3: 16—17; 6: 19)—language that eventually led to calling the Spirit 'the soul of the Church'.

Baptism initiated believers into the Church, in which the Eucharist nourished their ongoing life. As we showed in Ch. 7, the trinitarian nature of baptism was eventually unfolded in the eucharistic anamnesis., epiclesis., and doxology, with their particular reference to the Son, the Spirit, and the Father, respectively In the twentieth century Henri de Lubac (1896—1991) coined the axiom that the Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church.190 What we drew in the last chapter from Paul, the

189 For the language that has been traditionally used of the apostles as founders, see M. L. Held and F. Klostermann, 'Apostle', New Catholic Encyclopedia , i. 679—82.

190 Splendour of the Church (London: Sheed & Ward, 1956), 106; the same principle is found in de Lubac's earlier and more academic work, Corpus Mysticum (Paris: Aubier, 2nd edn. 1949), 104. In Dominicae Cenae ('Of the Lord's Supper'), a letter to the bishops of the Church, John Paul II adopted this principle; Acta Apostolicae Sedis , 72 (1980), 119.

Gospels, and some post-NT writers illustrates strikingly the truth of that axiom. The Eucharist effects and nourishes the communion of believers among themselves and in the life of the Trinity.

Chapter 1 described the development from the functioning of charismatic endowments and institutional structures in early Christian communities, which we glean from Paul's letters, through to the emergence of leadership roles and authoritative offices. Ignatius of Antioch offers the first classic witness to the life of the Church organized around the local bishop, with his priests and deacons. Chapter 1 also told of Irenaeus' later role in defending the role of monarchical, or single presiding, bishops, who drew their authority from the apostles and succeeded one another in proclaiming one, orthodox faith.

The two passages from Irenaeus that head this chapter illustrate his consciousness of the trinitarian life of the Church, entrusted with 'the light of God' or 'the light of Christ' and blessed with 'every grace' by the Holy Spirit. The Church is one by enjoying 'one and the same way of salvation'; holy through 'the Spirit of God'; catholic in preaching 'the truth everywhere' and encompassing 'the whole world'; and apostolic in enjoying the 'true and solid' tradition coming through the bishops from the apostles. In his struggle against the Gnostics, Irenaeus insisted perhaps most of all on apostolicity: the faith and practice both of the community he led and of those with which he was in communion were essentially in continuity with the faith and practice of the earliest Christians led by the apostles and their first successors. The fourth-century Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (see Ch. 1) would enshrine unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity as the four marks or essential characteristics of the Church. But we find them already endorsed two hundred years earlier by Irenaeus.

In the late second century Irenaeus fought for the unity of the Church and so too did Cyprian of Carthage half a century later (see Chs. 1 and 7). Sadly Cyprian overemphasized the setting of baptism in the Catholic Church. Hence he argued that valid baptism did not exist 'outside the Church': that is to say, baptism administered by those Christians who were separated by heresy or schism was simply null and void. Fortunately, as we saw in the last chapter, the position of Augustine prevailed in the worldwide Church. Heretics and schismatics can truly and validly administer the sacrament of baptism. But Cyprian's dictum 'outside the Church no salvation', as extended beyond Christian heretics and schismatics, was applied to all those who never request baptism (or who, very frequently, never have a genuine chance of being baptized), and has haunted Christian history down to the third millennium. Would that some early Christian writer had coined and spread the phrase 'outside Christ no salvation'! Such an axiom maintains that the crucified and risen Jesus, together with his Holy Spirit, brings about the eternal salvation of all human beings. That this is so is mainstream Christian faith. How it happens can be and is often a matter of debate. But such a Christ-centred axiom could well have inhibited some excessively Church-centred approaches to the issue of the salvation of those who are never baptized, an issue to which we return below.

0 0

Post a comment