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Already But Not Yet

by Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern

Many years ago Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., wrote a landmark book about a complex topic, the theology of Church. Translated into many languages, Models of the Church stimulated profound thinking about the nature of the Church.

Cardinal Dulles suggested that better to appreciate the profound theological reality and mystery of the Church, we draw on analogies afforded by our experience – utilizing a variety of approaches or models to describe different aspects of the Church.

His book proposed five models for understanding the Church: Church as institution, as mystical communion, as sacrament, as herald and as servant. Each of these models leads to a different emphasis in the quest for Church unity.

Concern for the institutional aspect of Church tends to see unity in very juridical terms. Historically, this was defined as the subordination of all the faithful to one and the same teaching authority, especially the Roman Pontiff.

The community model of Church situates unity more in the heart – an interior union of mutual charity leading to a communion of friends – while the sacramental model of Church places a high emphasis on holiness. The Church must be, in the words of Vatican II, “a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.”

From the point of view of heralding the Gospel, it is solidarity in preaching the Word of God that lies at the heart of the unity of the Church. The Church as servant implies that it is the common witness of charity and selfless love that is the core of Church unity.

How much Church unity already exists and how much does not yet exist?

The Pope’s visit to Damascus, where he was warmly received by the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics, was a good case in point.

If unity means a uniformity of ecclesiastical discipline, liturgy and customs, then unity will never exist.

If unity means mutual love, expressions of brotherhood, and a sense of being one great family, then unity already exists.

If unity means sharing one faith and praying with one voice to the one Father of us all, then unity already exists.

If unity means being united in common service to the Christian community and to the wider world of belief and unbelief outside it, then unity already exists.

If unity means persevering together in the quest for reconciliation, justice, peace and solidarity, then unity already exists.

If unity means accepting that the Pope has a unique and special role at the service of the whole Church, then unity almost exists.

But if unity means agreeing on the practical, structural forms for the exercise of the Pope’s special role of primacy, then unity does not yet exist.

We’re long since past getting to know one another, meeting each other’s family, courtship and even engagement. Oh, to set the time and place of the wedding soon!

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Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Christianity Unity