Monday, March 30, 2009

Essential Marks of the Church

by Prof. O. M. Mathew Oruvattithara


1. 'One is in all and all is in one'

"We believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church", so runs an article of Faith of the Episcopal Churches. The very being of the earthly Ecclesia is expressed in these four 'essential' marks enshrined in this Credal confession. They are sometimes called 'esse' as they are the essentials for the visible Church 'to be' or 'to exist'. Ontologically the earthly Ecclesia is nothing more or less than these four 'notae' or marks. None of these 'notae' can exist to the exclusion of the others. Whenever any one of them is expressed or expounded, ipsofacto it implies the other three also. In other words, one is in all and all is in one, at one and the same time. It is due to the inherent 'mystery and communion' of the Ecclesia, that She is all these simultaneously. One God the Father, One Christ, One Spirit, One Eucharist and One Faith, as St. Paul pithly proclaims through his epistles, are what that makes the Church 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic'.

2. Creed Formation - Early period

As the four 'notae' form part of the Creed of the Church, their implication and significance can be appreciated in fullness, only with reference to the evolution, purport and purpose of the 'Creed' itself. Creed making is as old as the Christian Community, although official creeds did not appear until the 4th century, A.D. In fact, creed formulation is a legacy of Judaism. For, the OT books Deuteronomy and I Kings, do contain the declaratory affirmation of the Jewish Faith. Primitive Church was faced by a vigourous and dangerous Jewish counter missionary campaign. In the words of antiquarian Rufinus, the situation resembled a 'cold war'. In order to distinguish friends from foes, pass-words were to be coined. The Apostles composed their Creed to serve as a recognition. But this is not what that has come to be called the 'Apostes' Creed. The origin of the so called 'Apostles' Creed is from a 'Roman Creed', developed around 2nd century A.D. St. Paul developed a proto-credal summary as seen in 1 Cor 8, and 1 Tim 2. In Mt 28 and 2 Cor 13, the beginning of the Trinitarian pattern of later conciliar creeds is found. From the opening address in I Peter, the baptismal formula can be gleaned. Originally, Creeds were interrogatory. Later on, they developed into declaratory ones. Early Church Fathers continued the process of Creed making. The second century writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch contain precise principles of the Christian faith. A creed-like section is seen in the confession of Justin the Martyr, at his martyrdom, which took place around 165 A.D. Hippolytus, who was in all probability a Syrian priest of the early 3rd century did preserve the formula of Faith of the presbyters who condemned the heretic Noetus, at Smyrna, in A.D. 180. The 'Rule of Faith' which was in popular use among the Christian Community in the 2nd century gives a gist of the Faith of the then Christians. It is a short compendium of faith arranged in the Trinitarian pattern. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Eusebius had also developed Credal formulae.

3. Council at Nicaea - 'Iota conflict'

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea held in A.D. 325, and attended by 318 Fathers, was a turning point in credal development. Although accredited ecumenical, all the Fathers save one were Easterners. And that one was Hosius of Spain, the advisor of Emperor Constantine who had convened the council on political reasons rather than on theological grounds. To combat the contentions of Arius, the Council promulgated a credal formula of one hundred and one Greek words of which 84 deal with the Son. One of the masterminds of this credal formation was Athanasius. Interestingly he was not a member of the Council, as he was not a bishop then. The philosophical temperament and analytical acumen of young Athanasius prompted him to refute Arianism. Athanasius was quick to realise that the assertion regarding the relation between God the Father and Christ, as expounded by Arius in the Greek word 'homoiousia' was full of fallacies. For, this term means that the Father and the Son are, of 'similar' or 'like' nature and the Son is a generate or a 'created' one. So the deduction would be, 'there was, when the Son was not'. Athanasius in his 'orthodoxy', denounced this as heresy as it would lead to polytheism. Therefore, he suggested another Greek word, 'homoousia' meaning, 'of the identical or same substance', to explain the relation between the Father and the Son. He affirmed that the Son is not 'created'; but 'begotten of and equal to', the Father and that 'there was not, when the Son was not'. Arius had drawn a line demarcating the Creator and the created. It is true, that he then gave Jesus, a unique place in the Universe. Yet, he put Christ on the 'created' side of the line. With dexterity Athanasius also drew such a line with equal sharpness. But he posited Jesus on the 'Creator' side. Since the two Greek words, 'homoiousia' and 'homoousia' differ only by the middle letter 'i', called 'iota' in the Greek alphabet, the Nicaean controversy is wittingly referred to as the 'iota' conflict. But the fact remains, that but for the so called crisis and the theological truimph of Athanasius, Trinitarian Christianity would have dwindled into insignificance, if not vanished completely. The situation, which impelled St. Jerome to remark, "the whole world have groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian" would have repeated almost in the entire Christendom. After prolonged polemics and acute argumentation, the Council amplified the Trinitarian formula, adumbrated by the prophets of the OT and the preachers of the NT periods.

4. Post-Nicaea period

The 'Nicaean' third article that dealt with the Holy Ghost was supplemented by the 'Council of 150 Fathers', which is also called the 'Council of Constantinople'. It was held in A.D. 381. What evolved from the consensus of the Constantinople Council has come to be called the 'Nicaean Creed'. It is because, the content of this creed is from the theology of Nicaean Council while the contour of it, was of course of Constantinople. So for precision sake, it is better to refer it as 'Nicaean - Constantinople' Creed. The Council of Chalcedon of 451 A.D., expanded further the Nicaean third article and furnished a fuller statement of the 'Creed of Nicaea'. In the East, excepting the so-called 'Jacobites' and a few other monophysites others accepted the Chalcedon formula and introduced it into their Liturgy of the Church. The Western Church, however, retained the old 'Roman Creed' and enlarged it. This has come to be known the 'Apostles' Creed. The Apostles' Creed, the Constantinople Creed and the Nicaean Creed are jointly called the three ecumenical creeds. Centuries had to elapse before the West modified the Nicaean Creed as to incorporate into it, the word 'Holy' from their 'Apostles' Creed and finally approved and included it in the central act of worship as the Easterners were doing. It was canon 3 of the 3rd Council of Toledo held in 589A.D., which enacted that the 'creed of 150 Fathers' called the Nicaean Creed should be sung by the congregation. Since then, the Nicaean creed has become the ecumenical confession of faith and the official creed of the 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic' Church.

5. 'I believe'

The word 'Creed' comes from the Latin word 'credo' meaning 'I believe'. Creeds are called so, precisely because the beginning is with the word 'credo'. The substance of the creed is called the Faith. 'Creed' expounds the Faith of the Church in such a way that the meanings and bearnings of Faith can be better understood. However as Pope John XXIII has said, there must be drawn a distinction between the content of Faith and its outer garment. Externals may change but the essentials of Faith remain unchanged. The 'Mother Church' had the insight into the working of the mind of man. She had no hesitation to call a halt to the helter-skelter wanderings of the human psyche. For this She furnished a formula of Faith. Affirmation of it, She said, not only clarifies the Faith but also affords a means of deeper commitment of heart and mind. The primary purpose of the formulation of the Creed is that those who became the members of the Church would know what She stands for and what are their commitments. Further, several situations in the life of the visible earthly Ecclesia called for Creed-like formulae and statements of Faith. Preaching, teaching, baptism, confession and polemics were a few of such needs. It is well to recall that the occasion for the proclamation of the Nicaean Creed itself, was to refute the Arian heresy. Chalcedon formula could be viewed either as the starting of a new preaching or the settling of a controversy. If situations demanded codification of 'Creed', 'worship' commanded it. Without the confession of the 'Creed', worship would be incomplete. So it is an Ecclesial mandate, that like the Lord's prayer the Credal proclamation also should be a limb of the Liturgy. Creeds are not extra-Biblical growth. Quite contrarily, it is the Bible that moulds and makes the Creed. Or if we choose, we may say that the 'Creed' is created and controlled by the Bible. It is acknowledged without demurring, that the very words with which each of the articles of the 'Nicaean Creed' in its original form in Greek, started with Pauline phrases as found in the Bible. Credal confession is concisely the Church's understanding of the Scripture. Consequently, there is no dichotomy between the Bible and the Creed. It can be absolutely asserted that the Creed of the Church epitomises the Bible. Today, the 'Creed' is the key and the best guide to hermeneutics. The 'Creed' may not give an exhaustive catalogue on the majesty, magisterium, magnanimity and mercy of the Lord. After all, human words cannot contain or convey the 'Word' eternal. Yet as St. Augustine has asserted, the 'Creed' is an alternative to silence.

6. 'Oneness' - The first 'notae'

One of the greatest mysteries of the Bl.Trinity is that even while It is a unity, It is a communion of the Father, Son and the Spirit. It logically follows that the Ecclesia which is the 'icon' of the Trinity must be 'One and a Communion', at one and the same time. As Pope John Paul II makes clear in 'Ut Unum Sint', the Trinitarian unity is the divine source of the unity of the Ecclesia. Ontologically the visible Church is established in the Trinitarian model. She is in fact, the body of Christ, forming a spiritual unity with Him. Biblical passages that bespeak the 'Oneness' of the Ecclesia, are galore. Jesus did not come to found 'churches'. He came to found 'the Church'. What Jesus said, when Peter confessed His Messiahship was, 'On this rock I will build my Church'. His priestly prayer as found in John 17, and the activities of the Apostles as recorded in Chapters 2 and 4 of the 'Acts of the Apostles' point to the unity of the Church. Again, a particular action of St. Paul is an excellent illustration of this point. With unflinching zeal Paul argues all out on the organic unity of the Church. In Chap. 12 of his Ist Epistle to Corinthians he expresses: "For, just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ". Adamantly he held that Gentiles could become members of the Church, without being circumcised and observing the Jewish Law. When differences arose on this score Paul himself made concessions as is written in 'Acts' 21. Again, Paul gathered gifts from the 'Gentile' churches, to be offered to the 'Mother Church' at Jerusalem. In order to effectualise the unity of the 'Church' he even risked his life by his journey to Jerusalem. Exhortations, epistles and homilies of antiquarian prelates of the Church also testify to the unity of the Church.

7. 'The Seamless robe'- symbol of unity

According to Syrian tradition, besides the Cross, the Scripture and the Eucharist are proofs par excellence of the Ecclesial 'oneness'. A Syriac Liturgical prayer extols the Cross: "as it has appeased the people with the peoples, that is, Israel with the Gentiles, so that in One Church, they may make entreaty........". Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to Magnesians, emphasises that the 'one' flesh and the 'one' altar maketh the 'Church' 'One'. Elsewhere, he suggests that Christ's standard rallies His followers everywhere, in the body of His Church. Irenaeus, held the belief in the 'One Church' and made the exclusive claim for it. The prayer that poured out from Polycarp as he faced death was for the 'entire One Catholic Church'. The seamless and undivided robe of Jesus is traditionally held as a symbol of the unity of the Church. St. Ephrem, deemed the divided Church not as the whole or wholesome body but as the wounded corpus of Christ. In short, 'Oneness' is the 'sine qua non' of the Church. Disunity is an ecclesial contradiction. To divide the Church is to destroy Her. Even though the doors of death shall not prevail upon Her, division and disunity may be described figuratively as the death knell of the Ecclesia. Mother Church's is the misfortune and ours is the tragedy that the Latin West relegated, if not replaced the Eucharist and the Scripture, the main visible signs of the 'Oneness' of the 'Church'. Instead it introduced the insignia of 'institution' as the symbol of Unity. The sequel was ruthless Latinisation under the banner of uniformity. The overzealous overlords of Latinization forgot the fact that unity did not mean uniformity and that in variety vests the vitality and vigour of the Church. This process resulted in utter disappointment and disillusionment among the Greek-East and the Syriac-Orient and other nations and peoples. It mounted up and led to the great schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli etc. Even in India, the Church, called the 'St. Thomas Christians' lost her ecclesial identity on account of this policy of uniformity. As Rev. Fr. Dr. Joseph Perumthottam brings out in his doctoral dissertation, 'A Period of Decline of the Mar Thoma Christians' "the missionaries thought that to be honest and obedient towards the 'Holy Mother Church' meant uniformity with the Roman Rite and therefore necessitated the abandoning of the East-Syrian customs". The pseudo synod at Diamper and its sequel, the Coonan Cross did undermine the unity of the Church of St. Thomas in India. But, thanks to the ecclesiological resolve, 'return to resources' and due to the ethos of ecumenism the West has begun to invoke the 'neglected' ancient symbols of unity.

8. Oneness is not an 'alone' concept

Clearly, "the Oneness of the Church is not an 'alone' concept" as Rev. Sr. Dr. Sophy Rose very exquisitely and explicity expresses in her thesis. Christ's parables of 'the vine and the branches' as well as the 'shepherd and the flock', illustrate this. History of early Christianity also provides proofs for the 'plurality' of 'churches'. The 'Church', in the primitive period appears as a vast diffusion of congregations. Each one was a 'church', not because she had her own institution and constitution but because of the divine life pulsing through her. This life-force, was a flow from Christ, like fire to fire. That is to say, that each 'church' was conscious of being a branch of the 'vine', namely Christ. As a guiding principle for the churches and prior to the idea of multiplicity, is the 'Oneness' which each embodies. A church of a locality, if established duly by 'apostolicity' would certainly be a miniature of the One Church. To draw a parallel, a bar magnet, when divided scientifically results in the formation of many a 'mini' magnet maintaining the features of the original one. As the microcosom definitely contains all the aspects of the macrocosm, the 'offspring' churches will be the replica of the 'Mother Church'. The obvious reason is that on account of the 'Divine Life', each local church would enjoy in entirety the presence of Christ and not a fragment of Him. It was through membership in the 'Mother Church', that the early Christians of Africa believed to inherit the grace of Christ. Differences of social, cultural, historical and environmental conditions are legitimate grounds to form various 'churches'. But none of them is an excuse for exclusiveness or sanction for separation. In modern terminology, such a claim would be equal to allowing sociology to overshadow and eclipse ecclesiology besides thwarting theology. Fortunately, the Fathers of the early Church never had the notion that distinction denoted difference. Their thinking was that each local church, even if enjoyed autonomy, is not autocephalus or self-headed. Rather each provincial or local church formed part of the 'One Universal Mother Church'. This 'Universal Church' is certainly not made of by adding up all these local congregations together or by a few individual churches grouping together like pebbles in a bucket. To illustrate by a modern familiar example, a University is more than the sum of the colleges which make it up. True, in a sense the whole University is present in each of the colleges. Called into existence by God, the visible Ecclesia is no man-made agglomeration. On the contrary, the Church is 'One' even while it is 'a communion of churches' as the conciliar documents of Vat.II, clarify.

9. The Divine and the devilish

In conclusion, it is to be emphasised that Ecclesial 'Unity' or 'Oneness' is the Divine decree while separateness or disunity is the device of the devil. 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil' should be the constant chorus of the Church, so that the 'oneness' may not be undermined by forces of the underworld.

10. 'Holiness' - The second 'notae'. 'Mother Eve' and 'Mother Ecclesia'

Every kind of thing must be referred to its origin if it is to be evaluated in toto. So to appreciate the 'mark' of 'holiness' of the Ecclesia, Her genesis must not be forgotten. The Ecclesia is holy, because She is called into earthly existence by Him, Who is holiness itself. St. Peter, on whom Jesus founded His Church categorically reminds the Ecclesial community in invigorating words: "We are partakers of the Divine nature". He did not mince words. Rather he goes on to instil confidence by exhilarating expressions. The Churh, summoned by Christ, is a "chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood". The 'Breviarium' hails the Church in no matching style. "Hallowed is He, who has established the 'holy' Church on the rock of faith and set in her, apostles, prophets and teachers, knowing the truth". Words, especially the last few ones, remind the Pauline phrases. Ancient Syriac Fathers, like St. Ephrem and St. John Chrysostom, use a profound imagery to explain the birth of the Church. As Eve was born from the side of Adam, so did the Ecclesia flow from the side of Lord Jesus. For them, the blood that gushed forth from the side of Christ, when it was pierced with the lance of the Roman soldier, is the sign of the birth of the Ecclesia. Since the blood of Jesus is holy and pure the Church must also be so. Furthermore, the Church is holy because She is ever being sanctified by the perpetual presence of the Trinitarian God, Who is holy, now and always. Holiness refers to the calling of the Church and its members. As the visible Church is a collection of heterogenous people, the epithet 'holiness' does not pertain to their worldly character and conduct.

11. 'Bridegroom and the Bride'

The analogy of the 'Bridegroom and the Bride' found in the NT makes crystal clear the sanctifying activity of Christ. The Lord loved the Church as His Bride and hallowed Her with holiness. Christ is concerned, as any husband is, with the purity and probity of His Bride. Precisely for this, His ongoing work in the visible Church is one of progressive purification. This is for making the Church, seemingly of sinful men and women, a holy entity as it ought to be. This is what St. Paul remarks in his epistle to the Ephesians. "Christ's aim is that He must present the Church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing so that She may be holy and without blemish". Christ performs this by a mystic sacrifice, in continuation of the unique self-sacrifice at the Cross. After Jesus had died, risen and ascended to the right side of the Father, He returned in His Spirit to live in the Church. On account of His living presence in the Church, She has become the temple of the Trinitarian God. That temple which was Christ's body when He was on earth is now the Holy Church. By His precious and pure blood, Christ did purify and purge the Ecclesia of all filth of sin.

12. 'We get rid of our sins'

The 'holiness' of the Church is not a man-made quality. The Fathers, who incorporated the notae 'holiness' into the Apostolic and the Nicaean creeds simply gave expression to what was there as inherent elements in the Ecclesia, even in Her celestial existence. As a sequel, the holiness of the Church cleanses us of our iniquities. Indeed, by the intercession of 'Mother Church', 'we get rid of our sins' to adopt the six words that G.K. Chesterton has used in a particular context in his autobiography. An invaluable fortune for the humans! Anything short of perfect 'holiness' could not achieve this marvel for the mortals. As the wife is subject to her husband, so the Church the Bride, should be subject to Christ owning and acknowledging His lordship. This is Her seal for 'holiness', which in the words of John Macquarrie, "is co-operation with the 'letting be' of Being".

13. Ransom for Holiness

Basically the word 'holy' means 'separation'. In the 'Scripture' it is used of anything that is separated for God's use from the ways of the world or the ordinary business of life. Naturally it is used for such men and materials. In the OT some places are holy; so too some buildings. Even the utensils, the pans and pots of the Temple are considered holy. In the case of people, the idea of being 'separate' involved more. This is quite natural. People are not like chattels. They are endowed with discriminative faculty or will. If any person wants to be holy, he must surrender himself to the will of God. Of course it is God's great concern to call and create a people as His exclusive possession by making them holy in heart, mind and body. This is what redemption is all about, both in the OT and NT. Yahweh redeemed His people from Egypt by a 'call'. Again by a 'call' He redeems His people from the subjection to sin and satan so that they may be holy and blameless before Him. The fruit of His this action is the Ecclesia. The Church is selectively 'separated' and connected to Christ and Christ alone. The ransom has been paid for this; not with perishable objects such as silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ, as Simon, the Kepa, says. Thus God has called into existence a 'holy' people who will be truly His. And this is the Holy Church!, the mystical body of Jesus Christ.

14. The task before the 'sinful'

The 'holiness' of the Church as God's exclusive possession is well illustrated by the various titles bestowed upon the 'people of God'. One of the common titles for Christians in the NT. especially in the writings of St. Paul, is 'Saint'. This word like 'sanctify' or 'consecrate', comes from the root, meaning holy. These titles entail responsibilites on such people to become worthy of the appellation. Apparently the visible Church contains the well meaning and the evil minded. Christ's parables of the 'net' gathering every kind of objects of the ocean and the other one, of the 'field and the tares', are suggestives of this fact. Therefore a task is laid before the 'sinful' people who aspire to find a convenient and comfortable berth in the 'Mother's' lap. The effort is not one of physical labour. It is of the kind of total mental transformation, or metanoia; that is to say 'holiness' is to be acquired. Therefore the Apostles appeal to the people for actual holy living. "As He who called is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct" writes St. Peter. St. Paul in his epistle to Corinthians exhorts the members of the Church "to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God". The Church is discharging a duty only and is not exercising a right when in deference to the call of Peter, Paul and the other members of the Apostolic College, She invokes the magisterium. The aim is to maintain Herself and Her children ever holy before Him who is, as the great prophet of the yore, Isaiah, hails thrice, "holy, holy, holy". Once the implication of this process of the 'sinful' folk acquiring holiness is understood, the paradox of depicting the Church simultaneously as 'holy' and 'sinful' would be vindicated.

15. Christ's 'dowry' -Sheet-anchor of holiness

The call to be 'holy' shall not be misconstrued as one for monastic or secluded life or for individualism. The earthly Ecclesia will have to associate Herself with the so called 'sinful' and the scum of the society who are in the ordinary tussle and tumble of life. The Church has to go out into the world and at the same time remain "aliens" and exiles or 'untouched' like the lillies of the lagoons and lakes. The Church has the potency to be in the world and yet not of it. How, it may be asked. The answer is, because of Christ's 'dowry'. As is the practice in the East where the bridegroom gives dowry to the bride, so the Church the Bride was offered by Christ the Bridegroom, His own blood as dowry. That bride- money is the 'sheet anchor' of the 'holiness' of the Ecclesia. Consequently, satan and his stooges shall tremble to draw anywhere near the Ecclesia and desecrate Her.

16. 'Catholic' - The third 'notae' - 'Name and Surname'

"Christian is my name, Catholic is my surname" proclaimed, Pacian the 4th century Bishop of Barcelona, in one of his letters to Sympronia. Three deductions can be derived from his usage 'catholic'. First, a geographic, then a legalistic and finally a qualitative one. Apparently, the 'notae', 'catholic' envisages world-wide expansion of the 'Church'. Or as the poet in St. Ephrem has put by using an OT metaphor, the Church had spread as Daniel's sfone had grown. It is history that at Pacian's period, the earthly Ecclesia had extended to all the corners of the then known world, through the blood of the martyrs, biblical preachings of the preceptors and benefits bestowed by the convert Emperors, Constantine and Theodocius. Spatial and territorial expansion as well as numerical maximisation alone will not convey the connotation of 'catholic' in its completeness as it is not a quantitative idea alone. The legalistic meaning stands for the submission to 'one' supreme head, ostensibly the Roman Pope or the Bishop of Rome. True, His primacy was acknowledged at the Council of Nicaea. Ecclesiologists, however, have highlighted the fallacy in this theory. They explicate that 'catholicity' is not mere legalistic submission to a particular office of a particular Church. Uniformity is not a mark of the unity of the Church. The Church is certainly a "communion of churches". These are the pointers of Vatican decrees. Unity, the Church must have; but, not by doing away with diversity. So the significance of the third interpretation. This is a qualitative one, in the true spirit of the NT meaning and in the original sense of the term 'catholic'. Rightly understood therefore, 'catholic' is a condition of having the quality of catholicity or universality in the liberal sense. This is in fact the cue from the message of the Messiah, regarding the redemptive role of the Ecclesia. Liberalism, not literalism and legalism, is the landmark of the lessons of Lord Christ. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation", "..... to all nations....", ".....until the end of the world......" Thus have Mark and Matthew recorded the words of Jesus. More than spatial expansion, what is discernable in this dictate is a qualitative undertone of universality. The Apostles were to teach a religion, suitable to the whole mankind, in contrast to any elitist expression based on race or nationality. The pre-requisite for a 'Catholic Church', according to Jesus, was not the belief either in the fatherhood of Abraham or in the Mosaic Law. On the other hand it is the faith in the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, that makes the Ecclesia 'Catholic' and 'Universal' according to the Christian 'categorisation'.

17. 'Katholiki' is fullness

Although no where in the NT, is the epithet 'Catholic' attributed to the Church, the idea is imbedded in it. Ephesians, 1:23 speaks of the catholicity of the Church as "fullness of Christ, who fills all in all". Fullness, certainly, comes from Christ. Wholeness or fullness, or intense integrity, is verily what is imported by 'Katholiki', the Greek term derived from 'Kathholou' the root word of 'Catholic'. It was Ignatius of Antioch, who first applied the term 'catholic' as an attribute of the Church. "...... where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church", he wrote to the Church at Smyrna. The term 'catholic' here conveys the concept of the 'whole' Church. The remark of E.Lanne, the theologian, is absolutely appropriate here. "The local church" he opines "is not just a part of the Catholic Church, but it is the whole Catholic Church in its fullness in a given place". Of course, a local church can be a 'catholic' church, but certainly not 'the' Catholic Church. To put it more explicitly, catholicity is not against the 'unity' 'esse' of the Ecclesia. They are inertwined dual dimensions of the Church. Wherever a church may be, she is what She is in the whole, provided the stamp of 'apostolicity' is imprinted on her.

18. All inclusiveness

Originally the term 'Catholic' meant universality in the sense of all inclusiveness regarding membership. St. Paul's categoric contention is illustrative of this aspect. "There is, in Christ, neither Jew nor Greek, bound nor free, male nor female". The message is absolutely clear. The 'Catholic' Church shall not exclude anybody; but beckon everybody. Invoking the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, it may be said "with malice towards none, but with charity towards all", the 'Mother Church' would spread the glad tidings of universal salvation to the high and the low in the world. The term 'catholic', therefore, refers to the transcending of man-made barriers of nations, races, languages, status, gender etc., since they are all 'irrelevant', as St. Paul reminds the Galatians. Assuredly, 'Catholic' means that which preserves every tradition. This was the spirit behind the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem. To quote the modern Catholic Encyclopaedia, "as a sign of reconciliation and communication in Christ, the Church must embrace all peoples, classes, races and cultures as its birth on the feast of Pentecost suggests". Undoubtedly, this is the ethos of evangelisation which is an inalienable imperative of the initiator of the Ecclesia.

19. Neither a sociological nor a historical concept

'Catholicity' or universality is not a sociological concept. While adopting the culture of any community, the Church should be vigilant to preseve Her 'deposit of faith' and 'the traditions' from being eclipsed by excessive inculturation. Syncretism is no synonym for catholicity. Inordinate inculturation tends to undermine the identity of the Church. The Church should always remember that 'culture' is only the context and not the content of Faith. If a Church permits Her patrimony and heritage to be overshadowed and overlooked, Her very being would become a complex of opposites. A sifting process is essential. What is gained in quantity shall not be lost in quality. Likewise, a church which severs her umblical cord from the 'Mother Church' by sociological, sectarian or even theological factors and allows herself to drift away from her origins, has no legitimacy for claiming 'catholicity'. No mere, peripheral or secular continuity will be enough. 'Catholicity' is a spiritual and religious concept. Further, 'catholicity' is not simply a 'historic' idea. A church which has become oblivious of her original moorings and cut off the roots will not be 'catholic', even by her constant and continuous claim to, or reverberating refrain of, ancestry, antiquity and ancientness. 'Catholic' Church means, a Church having unbroken and uninterrupted 'continuity' from Christ Himself, through 'apostolic succession'. A Church shall not be 'Catholic' by the vestige of the 'once commended' glorious origin. As the celebrated Catholic theologian Hans Kung comments in his moumental work, 'The Church', "venerable memorial of a venerable tradition" will not help a Church to be 'Catholic' in spirit. Preserving the identity intact, the Catholic Church must move amidst and among varying verities, varieties, vistas and environments.

20. 'Catholic' means Orthodox

Certain other connotations of the concept 'Catholic' are also to be assessed. From the 3rd century downward, the concept 'Catholic' had gained the meaning of 'Orthodoxy'. This was the result of an edict of Emperor Theodocius. 'The Ecclesia Catholici' that is, the total all embracing Church became the only lawful religion in the Roman Empire. In legal terminology, 'catholicity' became 'orthodoxy' defended by law. The persecuted Church of the early eras became a privileged one in the post-Constantine period. With legality as the shield and orthodoxy as the sword, the Church could anathematise, denounce and excommunicate the apostates, schismatics and the heretics, in the polemics that ensued.St. Augustine uses the term 'catholic' in this sense of 'orthodox faith', especially in his disputations with the Donatists, a sect of Africa. It is of interst to note that when the term 'catholic' was used in the 'Nicaean Creed', it had the sense of standard doctrine. This was the meaning in the other ecumenical Creeds as well. It is commented by Daniel Lamont, in his treatise, 'The Church and the Creeds' as follows. "The holy Catholic Church, the phrase when first uttered in the Apostles' Creed, around 450 A.D., would convey the same impression as the 'Holy Orthodox Church' conveys to a Russian today". This would exactly be the meaning that a Syrian Orthodox Christian would also ascribe to the 'notae' 'Catholic'. Stressing on the quality of the term, St. Vincent Lerins, the 5th century monk and theologian also gave a precise definition of 'catholicity' in his heresiography called 'Commonitaria'. His definition has come to be known the, 'Vincentian Canon'. He explains 'Catholicity' in the sense of Orthodoxy, "as that which is believed every where and always by all men". It may be noted in passing, that modern theologians like Cardinal Frazelin, do not deem St. Vincent's views as exclusive since they do not encompass the later legitimate developments. Of course , they are acknowledged authoritative. St. Cyril, the 4th Century prelate of Jerusalem, has provided a comprehensive conception of the term 'Catholic'. This is by combining the elements of earlier definitions. In his 'Catechesis' he describes that Church 'Catholic' if She extended to the ends of the earth, taught true doctrines, opened the doors of godliness to all men and healed every kind of sin.

21. Martin Luther's view

Until Luther's time, the 'Fathers of the Church' were emphasising that apostolicity, orthodoxy of faith based on the Scripture, celebration of Sacraments and ministry were the salient features of the 'Catholic' Church. The Protestant Reformation did upset this notion and these norms as well. The protagonists of Protestantism, propagated the theory that the Scripture is the sole source of sanction behind the Church. As this thinking neglects the nourishment the Church does draw from 'the Tradition', this is deemed by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christendom, as not a whole and wholesome view.

22. The vision and the ideal

Openness without ignoring the identity, dedication and the will to witness Lord Christ, are what which affix the 'notae' 'Catholic' on the Ecclesia. This was the grand vision and immaculate ideal of the Divine Founder, of the Spirit-filled Apostles and of the holy Fathers, whose life blood was the bounty for the birth and life of the Ecclesia.

23. 'Apostolic' - The fourth 'notae' - Distinguish the real from the unreal

'Lead us to the real from the unreal'. This has been the eternal supplication of every thinking human ever since he or she faced the fleeing and the fleeting phenomena of Nature. Obviously, mankind does not lack the wisdom to distinguish the holy and the profane. The claim of the Church to 'Oneness', 'Holiness' and 'Catholicity' will be acknowledged, only when the mortal feels them to be really present in the Ecclesia. This conviction arises as and when man or woman realises the Church to be of Divine origin either directly from Christ Himself or through delegated divine decree. Jesus founded the earthly Ecclesia in accordance with the Divine 'Salvific Scheme' and then delegated the authority to the Apostles to establish the extension of the 'One, Holy, Catholic' Church everywhere. This delegated divine right is called theologically, 'apostolicity'. In order of priority, therefore, 'apostolicity' is apparently the fountain-head of the other three 'essentials' of the Ecclesia.

24. Did Christ establish the visible Ecclesia on the 'Apostolic College'?

Sceptics cast two doubts on the 'Apostolicity' or the 'Apostolic' 'notae' of the Church. Did Christ found a visible Church on the 'Apostolic College', headed by Simon or were the followers given the 'freedom' to form groups according to their own beliefs? If so, are they still at liberty to organise any type of congregation, they ask. The answer to the first question is an emphatic 'yes'. It naturally renders the second doubt superfluous.

25. The props to the positive answer

The positive reply to the first query is drawn from three sources. They are the beliefs of the primitive Christians, historical proofs that the Ecclesia was not the product of secular influences and thirdly, the internal evidences of NT themselves. This concisely is the scholarly opinion of Canon Charles Gore, the Protestant theologian of the 19th century, in his authoritative book, 'The Church and the Ministry'.

26. Early Christians and the Heathens

The early Christians, especially those three thousand who embraced Christianity on the first Pentecost day, did so out of a deep conviction. They believed beyond doubt, that Peter and the Apostles were proclaiming the 'good news', the gospel, with the authority they received from the redeemer Christ and from the all directing Paraclete. On receiving baptism from the Apostles, they believed that the power of the risen Christ would run through their arteries. Naturally, disregarding the displeasure of the powers that might be, they ingrafted themselves into the Ecclesia. Ingenuous lot they might have been! But it is Divine Wisdom, that riddles are unravelled more often to the simple than to the sophisticated. As yet another supplementary support, it may be adduced from the annals of history, that the then heathens also considered the Christians as a closely knit congregation or group with its religious rites and rituals as prescribed by a divine person named Jesus.

27. Agape and the Guild feast

Adverting to the second source, it is to be admitted that in the Apostolic period there was the invading influence of the guilds and associations. Hence the suggestion that the Ecclesia was modelled after them. Yet, resemblances vanish on close approach and differences become distinguishable. St. Paul foils the fallacy of equating the agape of the Primitive Church with the communal meal of the guilds. As John Knox the Scotish Protestant writer remarks in the book 'The Early Church and the coming great Church', "the Church is not an adhoc response to the gnostic threat either". Writings of the early defenders of Christianity, called the 'Apologists', especially of the 2nd century Aristides and Theophilus of Antioch also point out the existence of the Church with divine sanction behind Her. For Theophilus, the Church "is a fertile and well inhabited island in the sea which has harbours of truth to welcome and give security to the storm tossed souls". Thought provoking description indeed! As a true 'Church Father' he warns against the heretics who cast aspersions on the Ecclesia and cast their nets to 'net in' the guideless, guileless and the gullible.

28. Jesus' own method - Esoteric

Thirdly, arguments from within the NT are almost axiomatic. Even a random reading of the relevant remarks of the Gospels would drive home that Jesus adopted a 'selection' process before he opened the treasure- chest of redemptive secrets and sanctification. The summary of 'selection' is as follows. On his return from the wilderness to Galilee, He calls Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John. The true tenor of His words to them, "I will make you to become fishers of men", is indicative of their future 'Apostolate'. His 'selective scheme' is marked by the avoidance of 'popular touch' and the subsequent 'retirements'. Yes, the 'rabbi' 'retires' with his adherents to the shores of the sea of Galilee; then he ascends the mountain. He calls "whom he himself would." Christ thus forms the 'outer ring' of His disciples. Within this circle, Jesus constitutes the twelve, whom as Luke testifies, "He named Apostles". Mark the words "He made" in the Gospel of Mark, as he narrates these happenings or developments. Christ created an office, the 'Apostolate'. Jesus then "began to send them forth to the villages of Galilee". Nor would Jesus erect the edifice of the Ecclesia on the shifting sands or rolling rubbles, the riff-raff. Rather, He would do so, on Simon, the 'rock' itself. That too, only after obtaining from him the formal confession of Messiahship. Jesus would not cast the pearls before the swines. So, he selected a faithful few. Jesus finally limited the number of Apostles at twelve, as Mark and Luke record. He then initiated them into the mysteries of baptism, ministerial priesthood etc. In no ambiguous words Jesus promulgated the decree that what the Apostles bound or lose on earth would be so in heaven and whose sins they forgive are to be forgiven, whose sins they retain to be retained. Besides, in no unmistakable manner Jesus commanded, as recorded in Mt. 10, "He who hears you hears me". To Peter, he handed over the keys of the 'Kingdom of God'. The Eucharist, which is the consummating event of the establishig of the Ecclesia on the earth, was celebrated by Christ in camera; of course in the presence of the twelve, whom as John says, Jesus called "His own and loved them unto the end". The element of esoterism is evident in all these acts of Christ.The Eucharist became theirs by virtue of the conditions which Christ stipulated. Only through the Apostles and as they transmitted does the Eucharist pass on to the community. The words of beatitude are for the multitude to meditate and live by; but the 'words of institution' are for the Apostles and their successors to celebrate in anamnesis and for the laity to partake. In short, Jesus founded the earthly Ecclesia on Himself as the corner stone, Peter as the foundation stone and the Apostles as the college of ministers. The implied doctrine is that the 'other Apostles' could establish extension of the 'One' Church, with the acquiescence, if not with the patent permission of Peter. There is no bypass for establishing a Church.

29. 'Shelihah' - root of the term Apostle

The notae 'Apostolic', obviously is an adjective of the term 'Apostle' which comes from the Syriac word 'Shelihah', with the root 'Shlah'. It may mean messenger, missionary or ambassador. Apostolicity is a constitutive element or a foundational aspect of the Church. To appreciate the 'notae' 'apostolic', the role of the Apostles with regard to the Ecclesial formation must be analysed and amplified. The choice of the twelve to the apostolic status is sometimes interpreted on an eschatological milieu. However, Hans Kung opines that the role played by the Apostles in the early history of the Church is more significant. He goes on to add, "the twelve are the fundamental witnesses of Christ's resurrection. This is part of the central tradition which Paul received from the primitive community and handed on to his communities".

30. Apostles 'fish mankind'

Christ entrusted with the Apostles, the 'net of his teaching' to fish mankind, as Bedjan puts, in the Liturgical book 'Breviarium'. The Apostles were empowered with the gift of the gab or tongue by the Holy Spirit. They became possessed with the 'experiential knowledge' of the Trinitarian mysteries. Then they began to preach and teach the Holy Trinity. Through these spirit suffused 'shelihahs', the earthly Ecclesia became a wider reality and a 'Divine-human' combine.

31. The Nucleus of the Church

The remark of Rev.Sr.Dr. Sophy Rose regarding the Apostles, "they serve as the conscience of the Church" would speak volumes. It is a truth that the Church had Her origin and organisation around the nucleus, the 'Apostolic Collegium'. St. Paul gives a very exhaustive and clear catalogue of the conspicuous role of the Apostles. As for Paul, they were authorised to found and lead churches, to bring discipline in the corporate life of the Ecclesia, to perform baptism, to celebrate the Eucharist. This information can be gathered from his epistles to the Corinthians. St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, through chap 4 of his epistle, that the 'apostle' is the first in the Church. But he also remarks that the aim of the Apostle is not subjection but service or 'diaconia'. In fact, this was the great vision of the 'Great Master'.

32. Testimony from the 'Acts of the Apostles'

Post-Resurrection narratives also confirm the 'special separation' of the twelve. The seclusion of the twelve in the 'upper room', is just one instance. Yet another is, the command in Mt. 28;16. Further, 'Acts' 2:41 testifies: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching". As John Macquarrie remarks in his book cited, "faithfulness to the Apostles appears as a mark of the NT Church in its earliest period". The doctrine of the 'Church of England' is equally explicit when it states in Her doctrine, "from the first, there was the fellowship of believers finding its unity in the twelve". In the 'Acts', the Church is seen as entering upon Her career as an organised body. Thereupon, the Apostles are being differentiated from the 'brethren'. In the selection of the deacons, the brethren were asked to find out seven from among themselves. These seven were set apart, with the 'laying on' of the hands by the Apostles. Apostolic 'transmission' and its corollary 'apostolic succession' were thus inaugurated by the holy Apostles. Verily, the NT narrative is an advocacy for 'apostolicity' and 'apostolic succession'.

33. Doctrine of Apostolicity and Apostolic Succession

The theory is that, Christ, after establishing the earthly Ecclesia, implanted in Her a recognizable unity and cohesion. He furthermore granted to Her the stewards or the Apostles and the sanction to them to perpetuate the authoritative ministry through ordaining successors. In the early periods, when heretical sects sprang up within Christianity due to the influence of gnostic notions, the authentic Christian community had to distinguish itself by establishing its connection and continuity of faith with the Apostles. Doctrinally, apostolicity means constancy and consistency of faith; apostolic succession implies the following of the faith, confession and witness of the Apostles. Through the application of apostolicity, the Church maintains Her identity throughout the aeons and ages, Forms of faith may vary from time to time. But fundamentals remain the same. Maintaining of apostolicity is thus a commission of Christ and a duty of the disciples. Down from the second century, Episcopate became the expression of apostolicity. The Orthodox theologian, R. Kereszty records in the treatise, 'The Unity of Church', that according to Irenaeus, the 2nd century prelate, the Apostles "handed over the Church at every place to the bishops". The bishop could check the centrifugal and schismatic tendencies in his Church because his authority rested on apostolic continuity and orthodox faith.

34. Apostolic continuity and Link

It is conceded that 'apostolic' is not found in the NT as a 'notae' of the Church. At the same time, in the succeeding patristic period it was in wide usage. It was Ignatius, the successor of Peter to the Throne of Antioch, who employs this term as a 'notae' for the first time. Polycarp projects this 'notae' at his martyrdom. This 'notae' apparently implies the continuity of a church at a given period with that Church which an Apostle, as a member of the 'collegium', founded. The Apostles transmitted their mission to the Church, which they summoned and ministered. In other words, it establishes that the Church, as it exists at present, is the same as the Church whose genesis and growth are graphically given in the 'Acts of the Apostles'. Through this continuity, the link of the Church to God the Father, through Christ and by the Spirit, is established. This official stamp and sanction for official ministry, every man and woman would ask for, before submitting to receive any spiritual sacrament. The ordinary believer would recall that Lord Jesus Himself launched His public ministry only after submitting Himself to John the Baptist and obviously after the Paraclete descended upon Him, from the high heavens. The simple and the straightforward Christian will not easily forget the account in 'Acts' 8. Philip, though he evangelises Samaria, cannot complete his work, without the intervention of the Apostles of Jerusalem. So also, the metaphor of Church as an edifice and the apostolicity of the Church as founded on 'Kepa', the 'rock' will also be fresh in the memory of the ordinary Christian.

35. Apostolic Succession-The mode

How is Apostolic succession effected? This may be actualised in two ways. Either directly through the Apostle, who acting as an 'authorised representative' of Christ, to use St. Paul's phrase, founded the Church and appointed ministers. Or indirectly, by the duly and uninterruptedly ordained inheritors of the patrimony of the Apostles. Two factors are involved here. Someone, who has the 'rightful spiritual authority' transmits or bestows the 'Christ-experience', 'the deposit of faith' or in short, the 'spiritual power' to somebody else called technically, the successor, along with the authorisation to pass it on to the succeeding generations, as and when required. The 'successor' or ordainee receives them in spiritual submission to the bestower or ordainer. In effect, the ordainer transmits, the ordainee receives. From the Apostolic times downwards this rite was not performed by mere word of mouth only but along with some physical act like the 'laying on' of the hands on the head of the candidate or by anointing him with oil etc. to the accompaniment of some rituals which are generally esoteric. The underlying doctrine is that by the act of epiclesis, the ordainer invokes the Holy Spirit to descend and be ever present by His marvellous grace on the ordainee and make him worthy to minister the Ecclesia. This may be briefly branded as initiation into the holy orders of the Church. As all these are spiritual in dimensions, they are all holy and ever to be hallowed. Secular considerations of any sort shall not be permitted to interfere in the forming of judgement on the 'flow' of spirituality. The receiver becomes a duly eligible partaker of the 'Apostolic Traditions' by 'Apostolic Succession'. This is the kernel of the doctrine.

36. Calvin too, for Apostolicity

Apart from occasional administrative tussels and power struggles, the entire Ecclesial history is the record of the earnest endeavour of the Christian Community to preserve Apostolicity and to partake in the 'deposit of faith and Christ-experience' of the holy Apostles. No wonder, the Church considers those who denigrate this doctrine as heretics. The Church was not created by a group of religious men banding together to form one. She was formed by the will of God the Father, the Sacrament of Jesus and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Summarily, She is the gift of the Triune God in fulfilment of the mysterious 'Salvific Plan'. Better organisations, human expertise, modern methods, catch phrases, or any other paraphernalia would not build the Church. To be worthy of the name Ecclesia, She should trace Her chart to Christ, through Apostolic ancestry or lineage. The stress on the necessity and role of the ordained ministry is not more strongly put than the one given by John Calvin, the ultra revolutionary. In the 'Institute of Christian Religion', Calvin contends that "the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety". The Church does not exist to perpetuate the memory of a great man, who is dead and gone for ever. If the case were so, the Church would have been but the body of Jesus mummified. This is blasphemy. The Church, certainly is no 'mummy', no lingering memorial of a past mortal, born of an woman in a manger. When everything fears time, time fears the Ecclesia. This is precisely because She is ever suffused with the Spirit of the Lord and by virtue of the prerogative of apostolicity. Verily the 'gates of Hades' will ever remain bolted by the pleadings and prayers of the 'Apostolic Church'.

37. 'Imitation of Christ'

The quadrilateral 'notae' constitute the Ecclesia in Her externals and essentials. The more, the 'Imitation of Christ' is effected through these notae the greater will be the vitality of the Church through their full blossoming. Then will She become the worthy Bride of the Bridegroom, Christ the Lord.


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Monastery of the Holy Martyrs - Orthodox Monastery, Syriac Orthodox

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