Friday, August 05, 2005

Zubizantine Theology: The Church (Part 13)

I titled this series "Zubizantine Theology" because I view most of Zubiri's theological project as a reconception of Byzantine theology in a new metaphysical framework. On the most salient theological issue, the Trinity, Zubiri is unabashedly critical of the traditional Western view. On the other hand, he is also able to resolve numerous divisions between East and West to the faulty assumptions of the Greek philosophical framework of subject. Thus, in matters such as original sin, the essence/energies distinction, and the created/uncreated theophanies, Zubiri's approach effectively defuses the critique, using his notion of respectivity to affirm a valid metaphysical account of these phenomena without violating any of the Byzantine conclusions about the reality of God's presence or producing any consequences they would view as metaphysically absurd. So one might logically ask the question, why is Zubiri, who is so openly critical of the West, Catholic and not Orthodox? I believe the answer comes exactly from Zubiri's account of reality as structure, and this is precisely where the sharpest difference from Orthodoxy emerges.

In Christianity (© 2001-2005 by Joaquín Redondo. Permission to republish in any form is hereby granted, provided that source is acknowledged), Zubiri's account of the Church seems initially to match quite well with the Eastern approach of viewing the Church as Sacramental or Eucharistic unity:

Consequently, everything that must be said about the Church is essentially, fundamentally, and radically resting on the idea of sacramentality. Because of this it is now usual, above all in present day theology, to say that the Church is the radical sacrament3. But that seems to me to be absolutely false. The radical sacrament is Christ who is subsisting sacrament. And the Church is radical sacrament inasmuch as the life of the Church (at least in the idea) is the same life of Christ. The sacraments are identically the actions of the very life of Christ, and therefore, the Church, insofar as sacramental, and the depository of the sacraments does nothing but constitute the very life of Christ. And in the measure this is so there is Church. The rest are external considerations to the matter.

The Church, certainly, is the life of Christ as present. But then, how is that presence given? This is essential to the issue. And precisely because there is no dissociation between the formal institution of the Church and what the life of Christ was it is necessary to recall what his personal life was. The personal life of Christ was the constitution of a theandric I, which expresses and refluxes back at the same time on the theandric characteristic of his substantive reality. This reflux is that, which in the case of all men I have called intimacy. In Christ it was an ultimate and radical intimacy in which Christ lived through identity (of nature, using the Chalcedonian language) with the Father. In an intimacy in which he had the lived truth of his own reality, and of his relationship with the Father, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. Hence, the sacramentality of the Church, the fact that the Church is nothing but the very life of Christ, means {428} that she constitutes purely and simply the effusion of the Spirit of Truth in which the intimacy of Christ consists. This effusion of the Spirit of Truth is constitutive of the Church, and in addition (as I shall explain immediately) is dynamic. And precisely that effusion of the Spirit of Truth is what constitutes the feast of Pentecost.

But then Zubiri hints at exactly where he will break from the East in his discussion of universality:

It is a universality, which is being realized historically, first in Jerusalem afterwards in Antioch, and later in Rome. And I use these terms, not from the point of view of sees of St. Peter, but as regions for Christianization. Because St. Peter, underneath his being Pope, was evidently an Apostle and a Christian. No matter how much a Pope is a Pope, he would never be one if first he were not a Christian.

Zubiri sees an interconnected reality among the persons of the Church. It is not a merely depersonalized affiliation, such as the formation of society. It is a mutual relation of personal reality, communion:

Namely, the fact that I may allow to be affected by {435} others in my reality as mine, in my his-ownness. And to allow to be affected by what the reality of others has of its own, in their his-ownness. In that case the habitude belongs to a different order. It is not the habitude of the other insofar as other, but the habitude of another person insofar as person. And precisely then that other habitude does not constitute a community, but constitutes something much more profound, what we call a communion of persons.

The reality of this communion demands structure, and thus, the reality of the Church must be manifested in an actual hierarchy, not merely Sacramental union.

But everything it may have of organization is constitutively built upon what it has of personal communion. Anything else would be a falsification of the matter. Certainly, that aspect of organization refers back to Christ, who made Peter the fundament of his Church. Yes, but he makes him fundament taking him from the group of twelve. There is no Pope that is fundament of the Church because he is so-and-so, because he is a certain person, but first and above all because he is a member of the Church. So much so, that if he did not belong to the Church, and his faith deficient eo ipso he would cease being Pope. The reason for the supreme power in the Church is essentially of the same type than the reason for us being Christian, by belonging to a sacramental sameness in personal communion.

An organization is essential to the Church. What happens is that we are quite accustomed to hearing this organization being called with {437} a more or less appropriate term for uses more or less common, but without the necessary theologic precision, the concept of service. Obviously, St. Peter served the Apostles, but is the concept of service what constitutes the formal reason for his authority? Not at all, it is something more radical. The possibility for being a hierarchical authority in the Church, the power of orders, is received directly from Christ, and passes through Christianity. Neither the bishops are governors of the Pope, nor the Pope is a Chief of State, nor the priests are partisans of bishops. The ecclesiastic hierarchy with all its importance is founded on sacramentality, and not the reverse. Prior to making a Pope out of St. Peter, Christ conferred on him the sacrament of order.

This point requires elucidation. Just as Zubiri rejects the concept of subject, so too does he reject the notion of bishop as subject. To say that one is a "bishop of the Catholic Church" does not mean that there is a subject "bishop" of which is predicated "of the Catholic Church." Rather, the bishop is a "bishop-of" in respectivity to "the Catholic Church," which precisely is the subsisting Christ. The notion that the bishop can ever be separated from the subsisting communion is implausible to Zubiri, so the idea that the Catholic Church is fully present in every bishop who holds the faith would seem absurd. This is why Zubiri would see the Eastern system as simply implausible; lack of organizational structure in that respect would indicate lack of communal respectivity. Thus, Zubiri would presumably consider schism (or even autocephalous churches) as an implict denial of the real, subsisting Church itself. Even given his commitment to Byzantine theology, he cannot reject the West entirely, because the subsisting Church is exactly the Church in union with the Pope.

Nonetheless, even if the reality of personal communion is not always realized on earth (as it will be in the eschaton), the unity of Christ is still primarily a Eucharistic unity, and in this, there is a real Body of Christ:

On the other hand, we have the Church as body of Christ. Here the body of Christ appears in a second dimension. It is the body of Christ because, in one form or another, in and through the community of the Church, Christ has an actual presence. In the Church Christ also has a consistency throughout history. And in third place, the Church expresses as sanctity what the presence of Christ is. All this is true. Will these concepts cease being different? What is the relationship between these two concepts, the body that constitutes Christ, and the Church as body of Christ? Is it the case of a mere metaphor in the spiritual order or in the purely mystical order? Definitely not, between both senses of the term body (which are not senses, but dimensions) there is an intrinsic, radical, and profound unity, given by Christ himself, precisely his Eucharistic body.

Inasmuch as the personal sóma of Christ is present {441} in the Eucharist it fundaments the characteristic of corporeity the Church has with respect to Christ. That is why I mentioned that the sacrament of the Eucharist is formally a sacrament of unity, by being the primary coherent unity in which the body of Christ consists. It is the unity of sameness, of personal communion, and of incorporation to Christ, which he confers to the Church. It is in addition, a unity that consists in referring the body of the Church to the body of Christ. This is the reason why the body of Christ, insofar as Eucharistic, is what confers its unity and its sameness to the ecclesial body. Reciprocally, the ecclesial body is what constitutes the ambit of the theological possibilities (sit venia verbo) that Christ has to be present among men, in humanity itself. The body of the Church from this point of view is the system of possibilities that Christ has available, insofar as corporeal, to exist among men. That is why it is not a mere metaphor. Of course, Paul said it was a case of sóma pneumatikón. Shall immediately point out what this means more concretely. But at least we understand from now on that the sóma of Christ, his strictly corporeal body, that in which he consists, is precisely the spiritual place of all men insofar as vivifying for them. The Eucharistic body expresses, therefore, the deiformity in which Christ consists, and the deiformity in which the Church exists through its incorporation to Christ. The Church is nothing but that, Christ and the Christianity of some for others, and of some through others.

Obviously, such a description is not necessarily limiting; Zubiri specifically says that there may be others outside the Church who may be deiformed in the life of Christ. However, the Body of Christ as structure is manifested in Eucharistic unity and personal communion. This, then, is Zubiri's ecclesiology.