Reading the Phenomena of Christianity

Phenomenology may loosely, but lucidly, be described as the unadorned 'science of the Object'. We noted, earlier, useful definitions of the term as 'science of appearances or appearings', 'a theory of intentionality' and 'the study of "phenomena" in the sense of the ways in which things appear to us in different forms of conscious experience'.218 We noted Heidegger's view that phenomenology was the gateway to ontology, and that the latter was only possible because of the former.219 We surveyed, briefly, Husserl's terminological trinity of epoche, eidetic reduction and cognition.

Drawing together the threads, then, of what may be noted about the phenomena of Christianity, and employing the first Husserlian term of epoche, or refraining from subjective judgement or pronouncement on what is perceived - in other words, concentrating on 'what appears qua appearance' - we detect the existence of a Church which inhabits a universe of discourse comprising three distinct elements: it propounds a series of doctrinal propositions to its faithful; it deploys a series of validating sources or tools - scripture, tradition, magisterium; and it articulates the latter within a range of historico-religious roles and frameworks which may or may not be voluntarily embraced, and whose geographical locale or locus may vary from Rome to Avignon, or Jerusalem to Constantinople. Key factors include the roles of papacy and episcopacy, Synod and Ecumenical Church Council, the filioque controversy, the Crusades and the European Reformation, to name but a few.

Those phenomena which validate doctrine - scripture, tradition and magiste-rium - can be both sources and tools: they can be sources of the doctrines they propound, whether those be Christological, soteriological or Trinitarian, and they can be tools in that they serve to confirm what has been propounded, especially if the charism of infallibility is deployed. Some theological and methodological circularity may not be avoidable.

If we then put Christianity under the spotlight of eidetic reduction, and adapt the usage of the term slightly, we note how, for a Christian, obedience to God's authority and fidelity to his will, as portrayed in scripture and tradition and confirmed by magisterium, leads to 'right doctrines' and 'right order' whose essence, in turn, is salvation.

It is not mere word-play, therefore, to suggest that the essence of the proper observance of God's authority, and, indeed, that of man when properly delegated by God to him, is soteriological. Sin is epitomised by infidelity and disobedience, and the logical consequences are disorder, alienation and potential loss of salvation. For an Augustine, battling against the pounding waves of sects like Manichaeism and heresies like Donatism and Pelagianism, all of which threatened the lawful authority of both Church and state, the essence of any effective response had to be couched in severely eschatological and soteriological terms.

And if phenomenology is the gateway to ontology, then, from the perspective of Husserlian cognition and epistemology, we may ask two very simple yet difficult questions: what is the Christian Church and how is it constituted? The question is simply answered in terms of the numerous literal, metaphorical and mystical definitions which have been provided down the ages;220 it becomes much more difficult when one takes into account the divisions within the Christian Church and the various inclusivist or exclusivist definitions of its various branches.

Furthermore, while it is useful to consider the phenomena of Christianity under the general heading of 'Church', it must always be recognised that the institutionalised Church, or Churches, by no means represent the entire body of Christian adherents. Indeed, the late 1960s saw a growing trend against institutionalised Churches in favour of Church Base Communities or Basic Christian Communities in the Third World and Europe.221

However, any consideration of Christianity as Church usually takes care to note that the Christian Church is both a divinely founded,222 but humanly organised and run, community (koinonia), as well as a historical structure and institution.223 In terms of eidetic reduction then, and whether or not we refer to both 'institutional' and 'house' Churches, it is clear that a primary and essential sense or nature of 'Church' is koinonia,224 a word defined by the classical dictionaries as 'communion, association, partnership, fellowship'.225

Yet the eidetic reduction does not simply rest with the primary definition of 'Church' as 'community'. Tillard draws attention to the fact that the introduction to the final report (1981) of ARCIC [Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission] I affirmed that reference to koinonia is fundamental to all reflection on the nature of the church and that, in consequence, it is the base on which the whole report rest ... [The latter] ... proceeded to demonstrate how the eucharist, episcope ... and primacy are all to be understood in terms of koinonia.226

In view of the profound importance of this further series of essential elements it is worth turning to the actual ARCIC document for further illumination. In the Introduction to The Final Report issued by ARCIC in September 1981, the authors reflect that the subjects which they were asked to study all deal with the actual 'nature of the Church' and that the idea of koinonia (here translated as 'communion') lies at the heart of all that they have to say.227 Although they note that the New Testament does not equate 'Church' with koinonia, they believe that it is the term which most appropriately encapsulates the mystery behind the images of the Church in the Gospels.228 There is a developing semiotics of koinonia perceptible in the various ARCIC statements, and these will be adumbrated at greater length in the next section. Suffice it to say here that the Christian eucharist is conceived as the 'effectual' sign of koinonia, the episcopacy has only one function and that is to serve the community, koinonia, and primacy is perceived as the office which links the community and provides a powerful focus for it. 'Effectual sign', service and link: these are all semiotic indicators of, or attached to, eucharist, episcopacy and primacy, whose single eidetic reduction, purpose and focus is koinonia. While the theological, structural and sacramental content and context will differ, comparisons are inevitably to be made here with the whole Islamic concept of the umma,229 the community of worldwide believers.

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