Florosvsky on the “Catholicity of the Church”

I continue in this short series to present classical, Othodox, treatments of certain aspects of the faith by “modern” doctors of the faith. This by Fr. Georges Florovsky:

The catholicity of the Church has two sides. Objectively, the catholicity of the Church denotes a unity of the Spirit. “In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). And the Holy Spirit which is a Spirit of love and peace, not only unites isolated individuals, but also becomes in every separate soul the source of inner peace and wholeness. Subjectively, the catholicity of the Church means that the Church is a certain unity of life, a brotherhood or communion, a union of love, “a life in common.” The image of the Body is the commandment of love. “St. Paul demands such love of us, a love which should bind us one to the other, so that we no more should be separated one from the other … St. Paul demands that our union should be as perfect as is that of the members of one body” (St. John Chrysostom, In Eph. Hom. 11.1, Migne, P.G. lxii, c. 79). The novelty of the Christian commandment of love consists in the fact that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is more than putting him on the same level with ourselves, of identifying him with ourselves; it means seeing our own self in another, in the beloved one, not in our own self …. Therein lies the limit of love; the beloved is our “alter ego,” an “ego” which is dearer to us than ourself. In love we are merged into one. “The quality of love is such that the loving and the beloved are no more two but one man” (In 1 Cor. Hom. 33, 3, Migne, P.G. lxi. c. 280). Even more: true Christian love sees in every one of our brethren “Christ Himself.” Such love demands self-surrender, self-mastery. Such love is possible only in a catholic expansion and transfiguration of the soul. The commandment to be catholic is given to every Christian. The measure of his spiritual manhood is the measure of his catholicity. The Church is catholic in every one of its members, because a catholic whole cannot be built up or composed otherwise than through the catholicity of its members. No multitude, every member of which is isolated and impenetrable, can become a brotherhood. Union can become possible only through the mutual brotherly love of all the separate brethren. This thought is expressed very vividly in the well known vision of the Church as of a tower that is being built. (Compare the Shepherd of Hermas). This tower is being built out of separate stones-the faithful. These faithful are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). In the process of building they fit one into the other, because they are smooth and are well adapted to one another; they join so closely to one another, that their edges are no longer visible, and the tower appears to be built of one stone. This is a symbol of unity and wholeness. But notice, only smooth square stones could be used for this building. There were other stones, bright stones, but round ones, and they were of no use for the building; they did not fit one into the other, were not suitable for the building and they had to be placed near the walls. (Hermas, Vis. 3:2:6,8). In ancient symbolism “roundness” was a sign of isolation, of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction — teres atque rotundus. And it is just this spirit of self-satisfaction which hinders our entering the Church. The stone must first be made smooth, so that it can fit into the Church wall. We must “reject ourselves” to be able to enter the catholicity of the Church. We must master our self-love in a catholic spirit before we can enter the Church. And in the fulness of the communion of the Church the catholic transfiguration of personality is accomplished.

But the rejection and denial of our own self does not signify that personality must be extinguished, that it must be dissolved within the multitude. Catholicity is not corporality or collectivism. On the contrary, self-denial widens the scope of our own personality; in self-denial we possess the multitude within our own self; we enclose the many within our own ego. Therein lies the similarity with the Divine Oneness of the Holy Trinity. In its catholicity the Church becomes the created similitude of Divine perfection. The Fathers of the Church have spoken of this with great depth. In the East St. Cyril of Alexandria; in the West St. Hilary. (For Patristic quotations very well arranged and explained, see E. Mersch, S.J., Le Corps Mystique du Christ, Etudes de Théologie Historique, t. 1-2, Louvain, 1933). In contemporary Russian theology the Metropolitan Antony has said very adequately, “The existence of the Church can be compared to nothing else upon earth, for on earth there is no unity, but only separation. Only in heaven is there anything like it. The Church is a perfect, a new, a peculiar, a unique existence upon earth, a unicum, which cannot be closely defined by any conception taken from the life of the world. The Church is the likeness of the existence of the Holy Trinity, a likeness in which many become one. Why is it that this existence, just as the existence of the Holy Trinity, is new for the old man and unfathomable for him? Because personality in its carnal consciousness is a self-imprisoned existence, radically contrasted with every other personality (Archbishop Anthony Khapovitsky, The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Church, Works, vol. 2, pp. 17-18. St. Petersburg, 1911). “Thus the Christian must in the measure of his spiritual development set himself free, making a direct contrast between the ‘ego’ and the ‘non-ego’ he must radically modify the fundamental qualities of human self-consciousness” (Ibid., The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Holy Trinity, p. 65). It is just in this change that the catholic regeneration of the mind consists.

There are two types of self-consciousness and self-assertion: separate individualism and catholicity. Catholicity is no denial of personality and catholic consciousness is neither generic nor racial. It is not a common consciousness, neither is it the joint consciousness of the many or the Bewusstsein ueberhaupt of German philosophers. Catholicity is achieved not by eliminating the living personality, nor by passing over into the plane of an abstract Logos. Catholicity is a concrete oneness in thought and feeling. Catholicity is the style or the order or the setting of personal consciousness, which rises to the “level of catholicity.” It is the “telos” of personal consciousness, which is realized in creative development, not in the annihilation of personality.

In catholic transfiguration personality receives strength and power to express the life and consciousness of the whole. And this not as an impersonal medium, but in creative and heroic action. We must not say: “Every one in the Church attains the level of catholicity,” but “every one can, and must, and is called to attain it.” Not always and not by every one is it attained. In the Church we call those who have attained it Doctors and Fathers, because from them we hear not only their personal profession, but also the testimony of the Church; they speak to us from its catholic completeness, from the completeness of a life full of grace.

 

21 Responses to “Florosvsky on the “Catholicity of the Church””

  1. Justin Richter Says:

    How truly catholic is the Church? The Roman and Eastern churches excommunicated each other and from what I have read in the news the Russian Orthodox are persecuting evangelicals? This sounds idealistic to me.

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    It’s not idealistic to me. If the Russian Orthodox are persecuting evangelicals there is a reason (anything short of American “free market” Christianity, in which the richest Churches win through their great marketing schemes is deemed by Evangelicals as “persecution”). The Eastern and Roman Churches are in schism, because Rome is in error. The Church, remains catholic.

  3. Justin Richter Says:

    Of course its not idealistic to you, or to Rome, or to Protestants because we can all point to our neighbor’s error. Its wrong how we say we we believe in a Holy Catholic Church but we don’t care about love covering a multitude of sins. We don’t really try to live with one spirit and one mind. I mean how can you say that when the schism has lasted almost a Millenia. Im not saying I am any better but I am saying we can’t seek the unity and healing of the Catholic Church if we live in a delusional reality that is fostered chiseled by pride. I love this blog but I really think the Church needs to actually be more Catholic in its love and unity.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Love covers a multitude of sins – and no one here is saying that Orthodox should not love Catholics. Nothing of the sort. But there cannot be a unity that does not include the same faith. That’s not love, it’s just lying to each other.

    American denominationalism has created an atmosphere where it is hard to speak the truth (or write) without being accused of being less than charitable or lacking in love. The healing of the Church will happen in the Spirit, as God grants, but not by man’s effort to “just get along with each other.” True unity is something else. I pray for such unity.

    Many Protestant Churches have a unity of “getting along” but even within the same denomination they believe opposite things. That’s not unity. That is delusion.

    I think that generally Rome and Orthodoxy speak the truth to each other, or at least we often seem to, and thus unity is still not there. But neither of us, I think, wants a false union.

    It is, however, true, that the Orthodox believe themselves to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Not just part of it. If we’re in delusion, then that is your own conclusion. But that is the faith which I accepted and believe. To say otherwise would be to become Apostate from the Orthodox faith.

    Forgive me. I don’t mean to sound so harsh. We could all, doubtless, love one another far more than we do. And love, indeed, might help in healing.

  5. Carl Says:

    “But there cannot be a unity that does not include the same faith. That’s not love, it’s just lying to each other.”

    Well, in fairness, the Episcopal Church is still another couple of years from ultimate disintegration.

  6. Raphael Says:

    To add to Father’s point about the Orthodox faith being the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, I can only add “It is done.”

    They are not my words, but the words of Jesus the Christ.

    What the Church carries forward are not so much traditions (certainly not the traditions of men), but Holy Communion, Unity with God Himself. And this is the Church. Everything else is illusion in the sweep of history. But when taken to heart it is delusion, the root of all evil.

  7. Karen C Says:

    Dear Justin,
    Your thoughts and feelings on this subject are very understandable. The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church was at one and the same time the biggest threat to my former Evangelical Protestant Christian identity and the biggest comfort to me in my real identity in Christ. That is to say nothing has supported my real trust in and ability to take Christ at his Word more than the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church! I don’t think we can say that the Orthodox Church (at least in its formal dogma and spirituality) is anything less than fully Catholic when the ideal of attitude taught and modeled by its most-beloved Fathers was that “all are going into the Kingdom ahead of me.” Orthodoxy also refuses more than any other conservative Christian confession to pronounce another “saved” or “unsaved” recognizing the image of God in every person and the sovereign providence of God’s grace that transcends the visible boundaries and norms given to the Church. That said, Orthodox Christians, no less than others, can fail miserably to embody the love of Christ that is the real goal and focus of their faith. Fr. Stephen has addressed this issue also in others of his posts, pointing out that the only effective and convincing apologetic for the Orthodox Church is in the extent of its real embodiment of the kenotic love of the Cross. In this, we all too often fall far short. Forgive us! May the Lord have mercy on us all.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Well said.

  9. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    “The Eastern and Roman Churches are in schism, because Rome is in error. The Church, remains catholic.”

    Is it really so simple, Father Stephen? Are you sure that it doesn’t have anything to do with old grudges and modern political alignment?

    I guess I’m getting this picture of a parish church in Ireland, who celebrate the feast of the Nativity in A.D. 1053 as living members of the body of Christ within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and next year do the same thing as Apostates, due to anathemas by a Pope and Patriarch that they know nothing of. Such a conception of the “oneness” of the Church seems to me to deny its Catholicity.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    That’s a good point. In truth, the formal schism was a “formal” beginning point and the schism spread slowly. Parts of today’s Orthodox Church continued in communion with Rome for quite some time beyond the formal schism. It is also true that all kinds of factors (sin) contribute to the present schism, though doctrine and ecclesiology are by far the largest factors.

    Oneness, in Orthodox terms, is always understood primarily as expressed in communion (and all that is required of us for true communion with God and one another). And it is this communion which sustains the Church in its Catholicity. Catholicity from an Orthodox understanding has more to do with the “fullness” of the Church (one meaning of Catholic) versus “universal” which is more of a political understanding (and what is often meant by the word in the West).

    The excommunication (schism) was placed first by Rome. The East resisted the demands of Rome and has continued to do so, beleiving those demands to be contrary to Apostolic Tradition.

    From Rome’s point of view – all of Western Europe, including that little Irish place you were mentioning – were under the Patriarchy of Rome. Thus, whether they knew it or not, they were out of communion with the Eastern portions of the Church.

    The true Catholicity or Fullness of the Church, in unity with God and one another, is a difficult thing to maintain, requiring the whole of our life at every moment. It is not possessed by an institution but is true, living and real. It is sad that a schism occurred and I pray for is full, proper, and true healing. But it will not happen institutionally, only existentially and ontologically, therefore it will be all the more difficult.

    In the meantime, the Church exists, and can only truly exist in its fullness and as one. Which makes precise language about other Christian groups problematic. Orthodoxy doesn’t want to say too much or too little. It’s hard. But Orthodoxy does not believe that it ceased to be the Church when one of its bishops (or Patriarchs) announced an anathema on the rest of us, because we believe he lacked the authority for such an anathema and because we believe he acted incorrectly and was wrong.

    I plan to write soon and give us a happier topic.

  11. Susan Cushman Says:

    I’m new to your blog… just read your article “Fashion and the Inner Life” (good article, by the way) in AGAIN and saw the link. Unlike your other commenters on this post, my response is personal, rather than universal. I saw, in Florosvsky’s words, a call to deny myself in order to fit into the temple. Often I feel like a “round” stone, struggling to fit. I was encouraged by Florosvsky’s comment that it’s not our personalities that must be obliterated in order to fit, but rather that “We possess the multitude within our own self.” I know that I have built walls to protect myself from the pain that we inflict on one another within the church community, and that those walls are what keep me from getting chipped away at, so that I will become a stone that “fits.” But it concerns me that Florosvsky says the personality must be “dissolved within the multitude.” That doesn’t sound psychologically, or spiritually, healthy to me. I know the scriptures say we must “lose our life” to gain Christ, and that “I must decrease so that He might increase” and all that. But having lived a fairly extreme, radical “convert Orthodox life” for a number of years (I’ve been Orthodox for 20 years–came in with the EOC) I’m trying to move “back towards center” … to find balance, and not lose myself in the process. Your thoughts?

  12. Karen C Says:

    Susan,

    Florovsky actually says: “But the rejection and denial of our own self does NOT signify that personality must be extinguished, that it must be dissolved within the multitude. Catholicity is not corporality or collectivism” (my emphasis).

    I think you just misread the post in this instance. Would that all our problems and questions were so easy to solve!

  13. November In My Soul Says:

    “I don’t think we can say that the Orthodox Church (at least in its formal dogma and spirituality) is anything less than fully Catholic when the ideal of attitude taught and modeled by its most-beloved Fathers was that “all are going into the Kingdom ahead of me.” Orthodoxy also refuses more than any other conservative Christian confession to pronounce another “saved” or “unsaved” recognizing the image of God in every person and the sovereign providence of God’s grace that transcends the visible boundaries and norms given to the Church. That said, Orthodox Christians, no less than others, can fail miserably to embody the love of Christ that is the real goal and focus of their faith. Fr. Stephen has addressed this issue also in others of his posts, pointing out that the only effective and convincing apologetic for the Orthodox Church is in the extent of its real embodiment of the kenotic love of the Cross. In this, we all too often fall far short. Forgive us! May the Lord have mercy on us all.”

    Well said Karen. As with many things it seems that the more I learn the more I realize I didn’t know. I spent Saturday with a friend who is a Primitive Baptist pastor. After attending a Saturday service with him I realize just how different our concept of “church” is. To him the Church is the building and it is his congregation and all the other Primitive Baptists in the world along with all the other of God’s elect. The church for him plays no larger role in his life, it is not the Ark of Salvation. The church plays no role in his salvation. His thinking is very local, there is no higher authority than the local pastor and sola scriptura is the guiding principle.

    I understand now what he is missing. He has agreed to attend the Divine Liturgy with me and I know that will be an eye-opener for him. We agree to disagree about our beliefs because both of us honor the others opinion and we place great store in our friendship.

    Thank you once again Fr. Stephen for teaching us. We learn a great deal from what you write and from the other sources to which you refer. But for me seeing the humility and kindness in how you handle yourself and those who visit your blog is a tremendous. Your words and your actions match up. You are an example to us all.

  14. Susan Cushman Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Karen… I think I did misunderstand the second half of that sentence, taking the opposite meaning from it. “Possessing the multitude within our own selves” sounds much healthier than being “dissolved within the multitude.”

  15. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Perhaps this is an ecclesiology beyond my understanding, Father Stephen. I do hear what you are saying concerning redefining “unity” to refer to some mystical invisible church, and thus blinding ourselves to the real scandal of schism. But if Euodia and Syntyche do not agree with each other in the Lord, must we conclude that:

    A: Euodia is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and Synthyche is an Apostate Pretender.
    B: Synthyche is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and Euodia is an Apostate Pretender.
    C. The Gates of Hell have prevailed against the Church of Christ, and Christ’s promises are vain.

    I don’t mean to be difficult here, but the reality just seems so obvious to me – that the Church of Christ has had two members exist in division to one another – doubtless caused in part by one or both sides not living in the fullness of truth. This is a scandal – shall the eye say to the hand “I have no need of thee?” But when two dear brothers are estranged, what good does it do to say “Oh no, the family is completely whole and united – it’s just that Joe isn’t a member of the family.”

    I just hear you say that the body is whole, despite being sliced in two. I just can’t see how it is any better to have an ecclesiology that says that the Church is united perfectly (with the qualifier that the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the Church, but some outside somethingoranother) than to say, as evangelicals do, that the invisible Church is united perfectly (with the qualifier being that the “true” church flows throughout all denominations). Your right arm lies there on the table – and will you call your body whole?

  16. Lucias Says:

    Maybe I am to simple minded in my approach to the questions of schism. But I find St. Vincent of Lerins approach to be very wise. Its very simple and its very clear.

    Unity is not destroyed if something creates schism. Rather that which apostasizes seperates itself from unity. Unity is maintained in the Church without those who have placed themselves outside it.

    We do not decide truth based on argument but on that which has been revealed and believed “everywhere always by all”. To resolve questions like face us today St. Vincent laid down a simple method.

    In this case it is clear. Of all the sees only Rome agreed with the claim of its Bishop. Rome is in error. And I needn’t worry about figuring all the nuances of the Roman claim out and proving them false.

    The error of Rome ultimately is itself, in my personal opinion only, responsible for the travesty that is the protestant reformation.

    As to those who found, or now find, themselves in the midst of the schism that they did not create. Their Salvation is not something we can judge. God Judges but we can and should declare and preserve what has been handed down, condemn and oppose error.

    Please correct me where I have misspoke as I am presuming to speak on what I do not yet fully understand.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    I understand the point. Within Orthodoxy (as with Euodia and Syntyche) there is not always harmony, at which time we have to struggle to heal the breach. And such is the case.

    I would say that this was the case even for a time between Rome and the Orthodox – but time has changed things somewhat in which the issue is not any longer the issues of the schism (mostly) but the changes (substantial) that have occurred in Rome since then, greatly complicating the work of healing.

    But there is no theology in Scripture for the Church existing as separate parts. There are many nuances in Orthodox ecclesiology which allow us to say many positive things about others and maintain hope – but we believe that the Orthodox Church has remained faithful to what it received and has not departed from that.

    Thus far, efforts to redefine the situation between Orthodoxy and Rome have not met with acceptance – that is no language has been found entirely helpful in the present situation. Of course they are Christians, and we do not re-ordain their clergy, for example. As I say, it is nuanced, but the ecclesiology of the Church is a matter of divinely revealed doctrine, not simply a make-it-up as we go description of the present situation. It’s problematic.

  18. A Quote on Loving your Neighbor « Community of the Risen Says:

    […] 30, 2008 · No Comments via Glory to God for all things: The novelty of the Christian commandment of love consists in the fact that we are to love our […]

  19. jzanetis Says:

    Those are some big paragraphs.

  20. Raphael Says:

    The Western Church remains highly centralised and places far too much emphasis on political solutions. The Eastern Church on the other hand, is much more responsive to the Holy Spirit.

    Can you imagine bumping into the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus and telling Him that you couldn’t hang out, because you had to vote?

  21. shevaberakhot Says:

    There are numerous enclaves of Holy Orthodoxy within Roman Catholicism that are in de facto union with Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Bishop Paul Cremona, at the recent Bishop’s synod in Rome, has suggested that the Roman Catholic Church be re-evangelised into a series of small communities experiencing and sharing Christ in the Word and the Breaking of the Bread.

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