Faith of Our Fathers October 1996
Christ and the Wholeness of the Church
How can we live a sound and wholesome life in a divided church and disintegrating world? This question, is not a new one. It was in the mind of the Fathers when they affirmed the true and clear doctrine of Christ within the confusions and divisions of their age. They affirmed the great fact, for their contemporaries and for future ages, of mankind made whole in God, its Source and Goal.
They had grasped what is so difficult for us to accept in a scientific age, that ‘in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he has appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’ (Heb. 1:2); and now in effect ‘he has nothing more to say’ (St John of the Cross). The Fathers confessed the amazing reality of God, the Creator of the universe, become man, so that man might realise his full creaturely potential by being united with God in Christ. Scripture witnessed to the fact of true God and true man in the one Person of Jesus Christ, himself the second person of the Holy Trinity. They confessed him in these terms, not only that he might be worshipped as Lord and God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but also because what he has become is our own imperishable destiny. To believe in him and to confess his true nature, is the necessary condition for entering into the truth of his own being, here and now, so as to serve his purpose for a new creation to be revealed at the end of the age.
Talk about ‘the faith of the fathers’, then, is not an intellectual way of defining the nature of Christ. Having perceived that God’s creation was completed in the coming of Christ, as a final revelation for all time, they built up the liturgy and common life of their local churches to gather all of human life into the light of Christ to receive from him its appropriate new form. Only the deformities due to human sin had to be left behind.
The common life and worship of each church community became a school for an ongoing conversion of life. Family life, education, work and recreation all took their meaning from the liturgy of the Church, in which the saving mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection were shown forth for gathering all into God’s new creation.
This was the ‘mystery of faith’; but never just phantasy or wishful thinking. It was a spiritual reality, the final order of things, which they were receiving in its wholeness, by offering the totality of the life of the community in the Eucharist. Each community saw itself as embodying this wholeness (or ‘catholicity’), since all the gifts of ministry as outlined by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 were present and fully operative in each community, serving to build it up in unity and love.
Today look around your Eucharistic assembly, and ask; “Where is the bishop?”. “Where are the consecrated virgins and monastics?”; “Why are some members excessively busy and others passive, content with an hour’s Sunday worship ?” The Fathers were so-called because as bishops they were always the presidents of their eucharistic assemblies in union with their priests, deacons, laity and monastics, each member having his or her own place of service within the community.
We must share their vision that faith in Christ implies also faith in ourselves as members of Christ, called to grow together into the knowledge and love of God. With this expectation we can rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us in restoring the wholeness of our church communities in doctrine, liturgy, ministry, spiritual life, so as to realize the fullness of Christ in our midst and the present fact of new life in his kingdom.
The Fathers of the Church are reliable witnesses who set the pattern for us. We can depend on their teaching and count on the support of their prayers.
Fr. Gregory is Superior of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God
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