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Catholicity and the Structures of the Church



Introduction I. Prototype of Catholicity in God II. Catholicity in the World III. Jesus Christ as the Source of Catholicity IV. Catholicity and the Church as the Body of Christ V. St. John Chrysostom’s Teaching about the Body of Christ VI. Other Symbols of Catholicity VII. Catholicity and Truth VIII. Catholicity and Ethics IX. Catholicity and Universality X. The Church and the Churches XI. Catholicity and Divisions XII. False Theories of Catholicity  



The general meaning of the word “catholicity” in the under- standing of linguists and theologians is approximately the following: catholicity means general, common, universal (in the qualitative and quantitative senses), whole, total, existing and meaningful for all, one and plural at the same time, possessing organic unity. In the Christian understanding, catholic means possessing the fullness of all the positive qualities necessary for the well-being and salvation of all mankind;1 accepted by the Church everywhere, always and by everyone;2 possessing the wholeness of truth and holiness; infinitely multiform but united in God in faith and church organization. According to the Slavophiles, catholicity unites all Christians in faith, freedom, and love, in the Holy Spirit, in the revelation of God, and in Holy Tradition. Catholicity can be related to the whole universe inasmuch as it is renewed in Jesus Christ and inasmuch as the Church has the gift and the purpose of communicating the fullness of God to the whole world.

Catholicity means particularly confessing the true doctrine (Orthodoxy), or belonging to the Orthodox Church. In Patristic thought catholicity is not only the inner property of the Church, but is manifested with evidence in her unity in time and space and also in the general organization of the Church (according to the Roman Catholics, in the Papacy). Finally, catholicity originates in the will of God the Father to save mankind. It is accomplished in Jesus Christ3 in whom dwells the saving fullness and perfection. Catholicity is given by the universal life-creating power of the Holy Spirit in a variety of His gifts.

The Protestant understanding differs from that of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic in that catholicity is recognized to be limited and relative; it means general comprehensiveness, a rather vague principle of unity acceptable for many. It can also be understood as something which is generally accepted by all mankind.

The general abstract scheme of catholicity can be described in this way: any being in which unity and plurality are internally united possesses catholicity. This being does not possess catholicity if it is comprised of parts which are united only externally. The unity on which catholicity can be based must possess such a fullness of existence which would be capable of comprehending the whole being. This unity can possess two forms: it can be the principle from which all other forms of the being proceed (for example Jesus Christ as the source of the existence of the Church) ; or it can be a principle of consubstantiality which from within determines the form of existence of all the component elements of the being (for example, the common nature of the Church of all nations throughout all ages).

The second principle of catholicity is plurality or variety because consubstantiality does not exclude the variety of forms in which it will be realized (for example, in the Church, her members, church communities, local churches, etc.). However, each particular form of existence must: (1) participate in the unity and the common nature of the whole; (2) be a positive element for all others and for the whole; and (3) include in itself all other forms of existence or at least be with them in an inner communion. (Thus, in the Church everyone and everything is determined by God and Jesus Christ and participates in the very nature of Christianity; everyone and everything has its positive meaning for all others and for the whole Church; each Christian must be in communion with other Christians. Such is the idea of the Body of Christ in St. Paul.) Unity and multiformity are internally united in the one body of the Church. This is what we call catholicity. If the Church would be only one, plurality and variety would be excluded from her. Catholicity permits the unity of the Church to embrace all the various elements which are in her in such a way so as to enrich her without destroying her unity.

It is impossible in this brief study to exhaust all the sources of Orthodox theology. I will limit myself to the general ideas of Orthodox dogmatics and to the teachings of the New Testament.

I. Prototype of Catholicity in God

The prototype of the catholicity of the Church is found in God Himself. God is One Being in whom all is divine. The divine unity originates from God the Father. All exists from Him and for Him not only in the world but in God Himself because the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, and all the divine manifestations proceed from the Father and exist for the Father. The divine unity is eternally realized in the divine consubstantiality, in the unique divinity of the Holy Trinity from which proceed all the essential energies of God. Nevertheless, in the divine unity each hypostasis is absolutely different from the others; each exists for the others and by the others; each includes in it all others in eternal inter- communion. Each hypostasis manifests itself particularly within the unique action of God. The truth and the wisdom of God, His life, holiness, and love all have their principle in God the Father; but the Son is the very hypostatical Wisdom, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom shining from the Son. The Holy Spirit is the very hypostatical life, holiness, and love proceeding from the Father and dwelling in die Son. From God the Father, the divine wisdom and the life-creating power pours on the whole universe through the Son of God and the Holy Spirit.

It is worthwhile to note that the Orthodox doctrine of the self-revelation of God in ideas, energies, and glory especially stresses the correlation of unity and infinite plurality in this divine self-revelation. The absolute simplicity of the divine Super-Essence, the absolute unity of the Father, of the Logos, and of the Spirit is manifested in the infinite plurality of divine decisions, ideas, words, energies, and in the infinite variety or forms of the divine glory. God is, as it were, not satisfied by His super-essential simplicity: He wants to exist in the fullness of all the possible forms of divine existence. Nevertheless, divine unity is never compromised; the whole being of God is present in each of its manifestations and all the divine manifestations are united with each other in the perfect harmony of the Divine Being.

II. Catholicity in the World

The universe created by God reflects in it the same connection between unity and plurality in their ideal harmony. The presence of God in the world unites it in God but at the same time God supports in existence not only the whole cosmos but each creature in the particularity of its being. The divine words and energies are the foundations of the existence of innumerable created beings which unite them in common harmony.

In the fallen world, the unity became confusion and variety became division. The possibility of coherence and harmony was lost; either unity absorbs and excludes variety, suppressing all that is particular, or all is divided in reciprocal difference and hostile separation. Thus, catholicity is hardly present in this fallen world.

III. Jesus Christ as the Source of Catholicity

The harmony of unity in plurality, which was lost by the fall of mankind, has been restored in the world through the Church by the Incarnation. The Son of God brings into the world the fullness of the divinity (John 1:16; Col. 2:9) which fills all those in whom Christ dwells through faith and grace (Eph. 3:19). “. . . the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Son of God becoming man has brought down into the Church the very divine truth and the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10); He revealed to man the image of God, the Divine Logos “... in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The Son of God has sent into the world the Holy Spirit who rests in Him eternally, and the fullness of gifts of the Spirit were poured into the Church. The Son of God and the Holy Spirit have not only revealed God to us but have brought us into communion with Him, adopting us to Him. In this way, men became both participants of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4) and “the members of the household of God,” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:13–22). The perfection of God the Father was manifested to the faithful as the ideal of their life, and the love of the Father embraced them and has lifted them to heaven through the Son and the Spirit.

Jesus Christ has united man with the Super-Essential Divine Being in whom the fullness of existence is not absorbed by unity. The Holy Trinity is the source of infinite illuminating and life- giving manifestations.

When the Son of God became man, he also restored the fullness of existence in human nature which would be impossible without the union of the human with the divine, i.e., without the divinization of man in Jesus Christ. As God and man, Jesus Christ unites in Himself the fullness of the perfection of existence of both God and man. That is why He could be called “him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23).

The fullness of Christ does not remain in Him alone just as the fullness of God the Father does not remain in Him: the divinity of the Father is also the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is consubstantial with all mankind.4 Perhaps the most striking text which speaks about this is in the parable of the last judgment (Matt. 25:31–46): Christ identifies Himself with all men but clearly in such a way that the men with whom He identifies Himself do not cease to be particular persons. The unity of Christ with men is founded first in that He possesses the human nature common to all men, but also in His free desire to be in others and to identify Himself freely with them.

Those in whom Christ dwells, whether they are aware of His presence or not, cannot prevent Christ’s being present in them; but they can accept Christ in the measure of their faith and good will, and they can also reject Him. In any case, our transformation in Christ depends not only on the Lord but on us: Christ can be in us but we can be not in Him (II Cor. 13:6). But even if we are in Christ, our existence is not confused with His. Each Christian realizes Christ in himself in his own way, although Christ is always identical to Himself (Heb. 13:8). Christ is our prototype, first as the Logos in whom are contained the ideas of all creatures; second, as the Son of Man who from eternity existed in the Son of God, at least in His Divine contemplation. We can think that the first Adam was created according to the image of the Son of Man which existed eternally in God. Thirdly, Christ is the image of the renewed man (I Cor. 15:42–49; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:10). In this way, Jesus Christ became the New Adam (Rom. 5; I Cor. 15). Only those who are conformed to Christ can be “new creatures” (II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). Christ became for us our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). In Him we have immortality, glory, and the life-creating heavenly Spirit (I Cor. 15:42–45). But from the fullness of Christ’s humanity, all receive in the measure of their faith and effort (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 3:12–16). We are apprehended by Jesus Christ but we can only strive to apprehend Him. Each Christian, even if he is relatively perfect, can be only a particular and partial image of Christ, and he can become such an image not only because of all the gifts which he received from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit but also because of his own creative effort (Phil. 2:12–13). We must “gather with Christ” (Luke 11:23). The Apostle Paul, who ascribed everything in his life to Jesus Christ and to the grace of the Holy Spirit, was nevertheless aware of the enormous effort he made with all his being during his apostolic activity (I Cor. 1–3, 9; II Cor. 4, 6:10–13). Human efforts do not create any value; they only realize in personal life and in the surrounding world what we receive from Christ and the Holy Spirit, although our efforts are always creative and personal. Without such human efforts, there would be no positive and creative variety in the Church, no living diversity, and therefore no catholicity. Free reactions of man to the actions of God are very important for the right understanding of catholicity because on the one hand these human reactions unite man in God, and on the other hand they, being free and personal, are necessarily particular and thus introduce in the relations of man with God the principle of variety which is a necessary component of catholicity.

IV. Catholicity and the Church as the Body of Christ

“He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (with the Lord) (I Cor. 6:17). Our bodies are also members of Christ (I Cor. 6:15). “By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body... and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13). We are all one body, one Christ (I Cor. 12:20–27; Rom. 12:15; cf. Eph. 5:22–23). The fullness of Christ is communicated to the Church and com- prehends her: the Church is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). The Church is the kingdom of the Son, of the love of the Father (Col. 1:13), of the Son of God from whom all is derived and in whom all is supported (Col. 14–23). The fullness, which according to the will of God the Father must dwell in His Son, is not only His divinity but also the universe and the Church particularly: they were created by God and they are in God through His Son and the Holy Spirit. We are “complete” in Christ (Col. 2:10), i.e., we have received in us His fullness. The Lord has loved the Church and has sacrificed Himself for her to communicate to her the fullness of perfection (Eph. 5:25–27) and the riches of the glory, and to make every man perfect (Col. 1:27–28). Christ descended to earth and “to the lower parts of the earth” and He ascended into heaven “that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:9–10).

Christians, as the members of Christ’s body, proceed from Christ: we are “of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). We are all branches growing on the vine which is Christ (John 15:1–8). The Book of Revelation also speaks about those who are from the seed of the Church, that is, those who are born by the Church (Rev. 12:17; cf. Gal. 4:26–28). The idea of the motherhood of the Church became commonplace in Holy Tradition, although strictly speaking Christians are born of God in Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12–13). Nevertheless, we are not born without an action of the Church, and we are associated with her nature by Baptism. The apostles Peter and Paul especially underline the generation of Christians from the word of God which was preached in words and by the very life of the apostles (I Peter 1:23; Rom. 10:14–17; I Cor. 4:14–16; Gal. 4:19). The same word of God is preached continuously by the Church. It will not be false to say that the Church gives birth to her new members, but according to the will of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and only in Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is evidently not born from the Church: “He is the head of the Church from whom is the whole body” (Col. 2:19). God the Father “hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church” (Eph. 1:22).5

Christ does not depend on the Church or on her members, but the whole Church and each individual Christian are in absolute dependence, although freely, upon Christ. The symbol of marriage between Christ and the Church shows us that the Church can be opposed to Christ as some kind of “collective person” in the same way in which each Christian, being a particular person, cannot be totally identified with Christ. At the same time, if a husband who loves his wife loves himself, Christ also loves Himself in the Church, that is, in his body6, because Christ and the Church are hypostatically different but they are one being. The initiative of the marriage with the Church according to Eph. 5 belongs to Christ, and Christ Himself makes this marriage possible by His love and self-denial, purifying the Church from every spot and blemish and making her perfect in everything. It would be false to conclude from this text that the Church is passive in her relationship to Christ.

The unity and plurality of the Church is manifested also in her eucharistic life. “We being many are one bread and one body for we are all partakers of that one bread,” writes St. Paul (I Cor. 10:17; cf. John 6:56). Jesus Christ distributes his Body to all Christians and He gives us to drink his Blood which is shed for us. He, as it were, sacrificially divides Himself among us, giving Himself to each of us in order to dwell in all. But the eucharistic presence of Christ saves only those who partake worthily–first of all those who examine themselves and change themselves. Without a personal effort to prepare ourselves for the reception of Christ, eucharistic communion can even be dangerous to our lives (I Cor. 11:27–32).

The growth of the Church and those in the Church is described by St. Paul in two different perspectives. On the one hand, the whole body is from Christ (Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19) without whom we can achieve nothing (John 15:5). All is from Christ and is accomplished by Him in His divine and human sacrificial life (Col. 1:12–23). On the other hand, we can build up the body of Christ. We can grow in the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. We can strive toward His fullness and grow in the truth and love of Christ. Each part (meros in Greek) of the Church acts in this case in its own measure but in unity with the others (Eph. 4:12–16; Col. 2:19). If we are “grounded” and “settled” in the faith, we receive all the gifts of the Kingdom, of eternal life, universal reconciliation, and holiness from the fullness of Christ (Col. 1:12–23). Men can add nothing to the divine and human fullness of Christ, but each Christian and entire Christian communities creatively realize in their own measure and particular form what is given to them in Christ.

It is necessary that the body be comprised of many members: “...for the body is not one member but many... and if they were all one member where were the body?” (I Cor. 12:14–19; cf. Rom. 12:4–5). This assertion of the apostle Paul has a very great importance: a separated person or individual is not a full being. We can apply it even to Christ: the purpose of His advent was not to remain in His divine perfection but to unite in Him man with God, and also not to remain a unique divinized perfect man but to unite in Himself all mankind and the whole universe in order to transform all creatures and to give everyone the possibility to freely acquire a perfect existence. Our Lord Jesus Christ contained the Church in Himself even before her foundation, just as He was the Son of Man and the Lamb of God even before His Incarnation. Nevertheless, only the Incarnation made Him truly man and only the full realization of the Church, through the submission of all creatures to Christ, will accomplish that which before the ages and already at the time of His Ascension pre- existed in the Son of God. Only then will the fullness of existence of the whole universe and of every creature be achieved and God will be all in all.

The existence of a particular being is not perfect outside of the whole reality, but the existence of anything particular is absolutely necessary for the whole and is in itself positive. Each member of the body, each vocation and gift is necessary (I Cor. 12:21–22, 28–30; Rom. 12:3–8). This is the foundation for the existence of the Church and her organization. Without the diversity of the members neither the Church nor the world could exist, just as God Himself would not be perfect if He would not be the Holy Trinity. Yet the essence of God is one, just as the Church possesses one and the same nature and the whole universe is united by general principles.

The particular is compatible with the whole. Even more than this, all the members are not only members of the body but of each other (Rom. 12:5). If each member is necessary for each other, the more it is necessary for the whole body. The difference between the members does not prevent them from belonging to the same body. “If the foot shall say because I am not the hand I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body?” (I Cor. 12:15). “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?... now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased Him (I Cor. 12:17–18); each member is neces- sary to all and to the whole body (I Cor. 12:12–21); no member is self-sufficient: the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of thee... nay much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary” (I Cor. 12:21–22).

The Holy Trinity produces variety in the Church and distributes the divine gifts, although all are derived from the divine unity and return to it. “There are diversity of gifts but the same Spirit and there are differences of administrations but the same Lord, and there are diversities of operations but it is the same God which worketh all in all but the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal... all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (I Cor. 12:4–11:28).7

On the very Day of Pentecost “appeared unto them cloven tongues like of fire and it set upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). It is remarkable that at the very moment of the foundation of the Church the Holy Spirit transformed not masses of men but each man individually although uniting them at once in perfect unity. The gift of tongues enabled the apostles to unite to the Church people of different nations. St. John Chrysostom adds that the apostles became torches from which many other torches were kindled.8 The fullness of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole world, sanctifying and unifying all those who are obedient to God with the Church (Acts 5:32). We see here again all the elements of catholicity.

The members or “parts” of the Church are in need of each other; but they must also be united by common love, by the love of peace, the help of each other, unanimity, compassion: that is, by a positive communion (Rom. 12:9–18; I Cor. 12:25–26; 13; Col. 3:15).

V. St. John Chrysostom’s Teaching about the Body of Christ

St. John Chrysostom possessed a very remarkable and profound understanding of St. Paul’s idea of the body of Christ.9

The body is the image of the whole being especially inasmuch as this being depends on its head. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ: from Him she has her life and dwelling; in Him she is growing in God. To separate from the Church means to lose life. Inasmuch as the Church is the body of its head (Christ) she can be identified with Christ. Generally speaking, the body of Christ can be determined as the unity “of the faithful of the whole world who live now, who lived in the past and of those who will live in the future.” The Body is inseparable from the Spirit. The Body of Christ is formed by the Holy Spirit: we are baptized by Him into “one body.”

The body of Christ is one and the same. Inasmuch as the members of the Church belong to the one body, they are all identical. Unity and plurality, as it were, coincide in the Church. The plurality in the Church is not less real than the unity. The members of the Church are really different. “If we would not be really different, we could not be one body, and not being one body, we could not be one.” God communicates to us different gifts corresponding to the particular character of each one of us.

For St. John Chrysostom, the members of the body of Christ are not only individual Christians but are also entire categories of Christians (for example: different ranks of hierarchy and ministry; benefactors; the poor; virgins; women; etc.), and also local churches which he opposes to the “Church all over the world,” saying that “the body of the Church is formed by many churches.”

All members of the Church are necessary; all have their own purpose of existence. In this respect they are all equal although they can have different degrees of importance. Any wrong from which one member will suffer will wrong the whole Church. When the Church is deprived of one of her members, she is, as it were, “divided.” The well-being of each member of the Church cannot be separated from the well-being of all her other members and of the Church as a whole. Therefore, each member of the Church must keep his own position firmly in the totality of the life of the Church. The members of Christ are the members of each other.

No member of the Church is self-sufficient; likewise the Church, without the unity of her members, cannot be the Church. The supposition that one member of the Church can be the whole body of Christ is unnatural. No member of the Church can replace another; that is why there must be many. Each member is necessary for the perfection and beauty of any other member and of the whole Church.

God wants man to cooperate with Him. The life of the members of the Church and consequently of the whole Church is not possible without freedom and free human creative effort.

If the Body of Christ is “unity in variety,” it cannot exist without the communion of all the members, without common love, reciprocal care, and common interdependence. Common sympathy and common care for the common good harmoniously unite the Church in one body.

This teaching of St. John Chrysostom is a most excellent example of the doctrine of catholicity. It is very remarkable that the holy father finds the principle of catholicity, as he himself said, “in absolutely everything,” particularly in the elements of nature, in plants, in our bodies, in art and in culture. To this we can only add that the principle of catholicity, having its prototype in God, certainly exists in the world (as created by God), in the Church, in truth and holiness. True universality or cosmic unity cannot exist without catholicity.

VI. Other Symbols of Catholicity

The allegorical description of the Church as a temple contains the same theology as that of the body of Christ. Christ is the cornerstone; on Him the whole structure is built. But the apostles and prophets also belong to the foundation of the Church and all Christians as “lively stones are built up a spiritual house” in faith and obedience (I Peter 2:3–10; Eph. 2:19–22). “...All the building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21–22). Thus God has included the prophets and apostles in the very foundation of the Church and all Christians are harmoniously united by their life and faith in one Church. In the future world, God Himself will be the Temple in which man will live (Rev. 1:21–22).

A similar meaning is reflected in the parable of one shepherd with one flock of sheep who know the voice of their pastor and follow everywhere after him (John 10:1–16). The idea of an active following after Christ, which includes the necessity of sharing His cross, is mentioned very often by our Lord (Matt. 8:22, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21 and elsewhere).

Jesus Christ has united Himself with all that is human; He even took upon Himself our sins, our sufferings, and death. We also must unite ourselves with Him in His sufferings and death, in His obedience, holiness, and wisdom, in order to participate in His eternal life and resurrection, in His Kingdom and divinity (II Cor. 5; Rom. 5, 6, 8; Phil. 2:1–5). Even where two or three are united in the name of Christ, He will be with them (Matt. 18:20).

If we are in Christ we are one because He cannot be divided (I Cor. 1:12–15). Variety is not division. The catholicity of the Church implies not only the churches on earth but also the Heavenly Church with which we are in communion.10 This unity is built on the unity of the Kingdom of God in which all members of the Church both on earth and in heaven participate. The unity of the earthly and heavenly Church is probably one of the best expressions of catholicity inasmuch as this union includes extremely different forms of Christian life: the life of the kingdom in heaven and on earth.

VII. Catholicity and Truth

The unity and all-comprehensiveness of truth has a particular meaning for the catholicity of the Church. Jesus Christ emphasizes the unity of truth in God. He very often stresses that the truth is, as it were, primarily in the Father and proceeds from Him. The Son of God has the truth from the Father and the same truth is announced by the Holy Spirit (John 8:26–28, 8:40, 12:49–50, 16:12–15, 17:17). The apostles are established in the same truth which they have learned in God through Christ and the Holy Spirit (Gal. 1:6–12). Because of this, the Church becomes the “pillar” and “ground” of the unique truth (I Tim. 3:15) which remains eternally unchangeable as Christ Himself (Heb. 13:8; II Tim. 2:11–13; II Cor. 1:19–22). “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). This also is the reason for the unity of Holy Tradition: if divine truth is one as God Himself, how can Holy Tradition change? We must have the same mind as Christ (Phil. 2:5). We must be established in our holy faith and “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3, 20; cf. I Peter 3:8; Rom. 12:16). We have one Lord, one Father, one God and the Father of all (Eph. 4:5–6; Gal. 3:25–29). Following the example of the community of Jerusalem, the whole Church has remained firmly in the teaching of the apostles (Acts. 2:42).

The truth, however, does not remain, so to speak, “immovable.” Even in God it has different forms: it is identical to the essence of the Father; it is His hypostatical Logos and Wisdom; it is also the Spirit of truth and wisdom. The truth of the Father through the hypostatical truth which is the Son shines in the Holy Spirit. The light of the divine truth and the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) fill the Church and the whole cosmos. God manifests Himself and speaks to man at sundry times and in diverse manners (Heb. 1:1–2). The Incarnation brought the divine truth to earth. The apostles and the whole Church preach it throughout the world (Matt. 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–20; Rom. 10:13–21; Col. 1:3–9). Man is regenerated by the words of God (I Peter 1:23) and these divine words are the seeds of the Kingdom of God in their souls (Matt. 13). The truth is freely accepted or rejected by man.11 The possibility of knowledge in general and the knowledge of God is given to all men (John 1:9; Rom. 1:18–29). But inasmuch as sin and fleshliness has blinded man (Rom. 1:29–32; II Cor. 3:6–15, 4:4), God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, restores in us the capability of understanding and regenerates our minds (II Cor. 3–4; I John 2, 5:20; I Cor. 2; Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). Thus the divine truth is spread among mankind.

Knowledge of truth must grow throughout the world and in every Christian (Matt. 13; Col. 1:1–10). But can we admit variety in truth or in our knowledge and understanding of it? We cannot doubt that truth exists in many forms because God is the Trinity and He reveals Himself in the infinite forms of His Logos and Wisdom. This variety exists in eternal and perfect unity. In some sense we can speak about the unity and catholicity of the truth in itself and in its revelation. Each divine truth (logos or idea) is necessary as such; it is necessary also for all other truths and for the whole truth in its wholeness. All truths are reciprocally necessary and are determined by each other. All of them reveal the unique truth and, as it were, are derived from its fullness.

The diversity of truth in human knowledge and understanding is also undeniable. It is evident already in the difference of degrees and fullness of our knowledge. It is enough to remember the teaching of St. Paul about “milk and hard food” in his apostolic teaching (I Cor. 3:1–4; Heb. 5:11–6:6). From this fact alone follows the inevitability of the infinite diversity of knowledge of truth among the members of the Church. Omniscience is not possible for any man; it cannot even be ascribed to the Church in its human membership; it is proper only to God.

All that exists is manifested as truth (cf. Eph. 5:13) and has its logos or idea. Thus, the number of subjects of knowledge is practically inexhaustible, not only in general but even in theology. In each subject of knowledge there are many aspects and there are many possible perspectives in which to study them. Therefore each member of the Church and even the local churches are inevitably limited in their actual knowledge at every moment of their existence. Nevertheless, the possibility of the infinite deepening and widening of our knowledge and therefore the possibility to find an answer to any possible question is given to the Church always and everywhere inasmuch as even partial knowledge is a partial knowledge of the unique absolute truth which is contained in and manifested by Christ and the Holy Spirit to those who are in the Church. As a consequence of the indivisibility of the truth, the knowledge of each truth opens to us the way to the knowledge of all other truths and toward the deepening of the knowledge of the truth in its totality.

Scholars do not pay sufficient attention to the personal form of existence of truth which is, of course, identical to itself in its essence. We have seen what divine revelation teaches about God the Father as the “only wise God” (Jude 1:25; Rom. 14:26; I Tim. 1:17); about the Son of God as the hypostatical Wisdom and Logos; and about the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of wisdom and truth (Isaiah 11:2; John 15:26). All this bears witness that the one and the same divine truth and wisdom has three different personal forms.

The teaching of St. John and St. Paul do not contradict each other, but it is impossible not to notice the very deep personal spirit and form in all their writings. In the same way, in the whole Church also each truth being essentially one is perceived by each Christian in a personal manner. Only because of the personal perception of truth in God and in man is the truth not only a subject of knowledge and of abstract thinking, but a real and living power by which any person lives, for there is no life which is impersonal.

If the truth being one in itself is known in manifold forms and in a different measure by each individual Christian and by individual Christian communities, the knowledge of each Christian and of each local church has to complete the knowledge of others and depend on them. The fullness of knowledge is thus given to the Church in its catholicity through the common witness of all the witnesses of truth: the prophets, the apostles, the fathers, the councils, and all the saints. We can say together with St. Vincent of Lerins and the Slavophiles that the perfect knowledge of truth is given to the Church only in its catholic unity.

In the light of the doctrine of the catholic character of truth and its knowledge in the Church, it is understandable that the catholicity of knowledge became the synonym for Orthodoxy, indeed, is nothing else than die affirmation and glorification of one truth as revealed to the Church and understood by her from the Day of Pentecost. The Church is only where the one truth is confessed – that is, where Orthodoxy is. Orthodoxy is the fullness of knowledge of the catholic Church. It is not the collection of contradictory opinions sic et non.

Diversity in no way implies contradiction which, from the time of the apostles, has always been considered by the Church as a heresy. It is worthwhile to notice that contemporary heretical theology tries on the one hand to find as many contradictions as possible in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition in order to undermine their authority, and on the other hand this theology, being inspired by relativism, denies the very existence of contradiction and heresies. It insists that there are only differences of opinions brought about by the influence of different spiritual surroundings and by different epochs. The oneness of truth is denied.

If we extract separate texts and ideas from Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, it is easy to find seeming contradictions in them. Genuine theology, in its understanding of revelation, always applied the principle of (if we can say so) “gnosiological catholicity.” The entire content of Scripture and Tradition expressed in so many books, texts, and ideas must be considered as one whole, of which each element depends on the others and on their totality. Only this understanding which unites the particular with the whole and comprehends everything in the light of the truth in the totality of its content is right. In Scripture and Tradition everything is complementary and each element explains the other. All is necessary for the understanding of the whole. But the foundation of theology is the knowledge of God. Theology must be built in the perspective of this knowledge.

There is only one teacher and one true doctrine for the Church, that is: Jesus Christ and His teaching (Matt. 23:8). “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God” (II John: 9). The preservation of the purity – that is the Orthodoxy–of Christ’s teaching has exceptional importance (Gal. 1:6–12; II Cor. 4:1–6). All teachers who do not follow Christ or who deform His teaching are useless even for themselves – as food of bad quality (Heb. 13:7–9). All the fleshly, worldly, purely human doctrines and all myths can be harmful (Col. 2:4–23; Phil. 3:17–21; II Tim. 4:2–5). St. Paul violentiy rejects Pharisaical Judaism (Gal. 1:6–12; Phil. 3:1–11). Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims that all that is purely human (inasmuch as it is consciously or unconsciously opposed to God), and Judaism (which is opposed to Him) is derived from Satan (Matt. 16:22–23; John 8:49).

VIII. Catholicity and Ethics

God is holy because His existence and life are perfect. If the life of the Son of God and of the Holy Spirit is from the Father (John 5:26, 15:26), their holiness is also from the Father. Is the Son of God not the truth and the Logos of holiness, and the Holy Spirit the very holy hypostatical life?12 Thus divine holiness, like divine truth, is manifested in three hypostatical forms. Human holiness in its perfection is realized and manifested only in Jesus Christ. The Church is called to accomplish the holiness of Christ in her whole existence and in all her members. The source and nature of holiness are one, but its forms among Christians are infinitely diverse. Impersonal holiness is impossible. It is enough to point out the multitude of ranks of holiness recognized by our Church: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, fathers of the Church, holy monks, princes, fools in Christ, etc. Here again the principle of catholicity is evidently at work: different personal forms and general types of holiness complete each other, all being neces- sary for the life of the Church. In the same way, moral perfection requires a correlation of all virtues and cannot be reduced to only one of them, even if it will be love, because genuine love in itself unites all virtues.

Outside of love there is no catholicity. Love strives to give existence to others and to live in communion with them. Love produces and unites all beings. The source of love is in God the Father and in the Son and Spirit of His love (Rom. 5:5; Col. 1:13; I John 4:16). The divine love of the Holy Trinity is poured out into the Church through Jesus Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Love is the cause of the Incarnation and the Redemption (John 3:16; I John 4:7–5:3; Rom. 5:8). Love is the cause of the apostolic mission and any growth of the Church (Eph. 4:16). We find in the New Testament a doctrine about the divine love and Christ’s love which dwells and acts in Christians in the measure of their faith and dedication to God.13 Divine love and Christian love which flows from it build up and unite the Church. In both cases, love as a power of spiritual life and of activity has as many different forms and immediate objects as there are Christians and churches. From God love flows within the whole Church and throughout the world. The responding love of Christians animates the whole body of the Church and converges on God. Without the divine love and Christ’s love there would be no love at all. But each manifestation of true human love is precious to God and for the Church, for it expresses the goodness of mankind.

IX. Catholicity and Universality

Catholicity necessarily includes universality. First, the very nature of God, of Christ, and of the Church in its fullness are, so to speak, “open,” and can be communicated to many persons and beings. All creatures can participate in God through Jesus Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. All mankind can participate in the Church. Only those who consciously and freely are opposed to God and to the Church can never be in union with them. Secondly, the purpose of the existence of God and of man alike does not imply self-limitation, but, on the contrary, implies a maximum expansion of their existence. This is the evident reason for creation and the Incarnation. The whole universe must become the Kingdom of God. All of creation must be “drawn into the nets” of the Kingdom (Matt. 13; I Cor. 15; Rev. 21:22). All of mankind, all nations, and even “all poor and maimed and the halt and the blind” are called into the Kingdom (Matt. 28:19; Luke 13:29, 14:21–23). The Holy Spirit descended in order to transform the whole cosmos. All beings are valuable not only in their nature which they have received from the general treasury of existence, but also in their personal and particular realization.

The whole universe is given to the Son of God by His Father (Lk. 10:22; John 17:2). Our Lord has redeemed, reconciled and united all (John 10:1–16; Eph. 1–2; Col. 1). The very death of Christ on the Cross attracts everyone to Him (John 12:32). In His personal preaching ministry, Jesus Christ “went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 9:35–38), and He went even beyond the limits of Israel (Mark 7:24–31).

God, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, transmitted all the treasures of perfection and salvation to the apostles.14 The apostles kept them in the unity of their college and in the apostolic community (Acts 2:42, 5:32; Gal. 1:18–2:10; and also in the texts of the previous footnote). From the apostolic Church, Christianity spread by Holy Tradition throughout the world in order to accomplish its universality (I Cor. 11:1–2; Eph. 3; Col. 1:23–29; Phil. 3; II Tim. 3:10–17).

X. The Church and the Churches

The word “church” is used in the New Testament both in the singular15 and in the plural,16 and also in relation to the particular local churches.17 Sometimes the texts speak about the Church in general, although dwelling in different localities.18 St. Paul also uses the expression which in English is translated: the church that is in the house; that is, a family with the whole household is considered to be a small church community.19

Such use of the word “church” in the New Testament can easily be explained in terms of catholicity. Essentially the Church is one because her nature is one and she unites all Christians in one God and in one Christ. Inasmuch as the Church is always identical to herself wherever she is, we can speak about the Church being present in any place where we find a Christian community. For the same reason all the church communities or local churches can rightly be called churches, and the same can be said about any genuine Christian family.

The descriptions of the churches in the Book of Acts, in the apostolic epistles, and in the Book of Revelation witness that they were different in their spiritual character and in their importance within the Church. With the development of the local churches, their particular characteristics were developed. We see the same phenomenon in the growth of monasticism in its different forms and of the theological schools in their variety (for example, Alexandrian, Antiochian, etc.). Variety, when it does not destroy her unity, always enriches the Church, on condition that continuous communion between the churches and between all the different spiritual and theological trends is maintained: that is, if the spirit of catholicity is kept by the churches.

The one Church embraces all the churches wherever and whenever they existed on earth or in heaven. Therefore, the Church will certainly include the whole universe (Rev. 21–22). According to the teaching about the body of Christ, any harm or any loss to any member or part of the Church hurts the whole Church. The perfection of the Church is not only in its divine and human nature but also in her comprehensive character, in the infinite diversity of her members: consequently in her catholicity.

In the Kingdom of Heaven and in the future world, each individual will receive his reward, his particular form and degree of perfection (I Cor. 15:37–41). The nations will bring their particular glory (Rev. 21:26), and God, together with Jesus Christ, will prepare for everyone his mansion (John 14:1–3). The Jews and the Greeks, men and women, persons of all social classes and positions: all become one and the same in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they do not cease to be Jews, Greeks, men, women, etc; on the contrary, all the natural and personal qualities are transformed and perfected in God. “As God has distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called everyone, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches... let every man wherever he is called therein abide with God” (I Cor. 7:17–24). St. Paul himself became everything for everybody because he saw in this the best way to bring all to salvation (I Cor. 9:19–21).

XI. Catholicity and Divisions

Catholicity presupposes diversity, but not contradictions or divisions which are always condemned by the New Testament. One of the main causes of divisions is falsehood in all its forms: heresies, distortions of Christian doctrines, stupidity, love of myths, etc.20 Other causes of divisions are the love of this world, flesh- liness, and passions. The spirit of “this world” pushes man to divisions. The desire for possession of material goods often brings open struggle.21 St. Paul pays special attention to the tendency of false Judaism to ruin Christian unity (Phil. 3:1–11; Gal. [all]). The primary cause of divisions is always Satan (Luke 22:31; II Cor. 11:13–14). If diversity enriches the Church, divisions destroy her.

The Church not only condemns divisions but excommunicates from her catholicity all those who deny the very nature of her existence. Evil cannot and must not belong to the Church.22 Behind every evil stands Satan – the source of hatred, falsehood, and death (John 8:37–49). “What concord hath Christ with Belial or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel” (II Cor. 6:14–18; I Cor. 10:16–23). Those who reject Christ cannot be members of the Church.23 Those who deny Christ and His Spirit do not belong either to Christ or to the Church. They can be members of the Church only in appearance (I John 2:19; Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 12:13). Those who are not obedient to the Church are also excommunicated from her (Matt. 18:15–18). This world is not compatible with Christ or with the Church (John 14:21–24, 15:18–25, 16:33, 17:9:14–16). The new man, that is, man regenerated in Christ, a true Christian, and the old or corrupted man of this world also are not compatible (Eph. 2, 5; Col. 2:3). This world is evil, corrupt, and dead (Luke 9:57–62).

Renunciation of the world is the absolute condition for genuine participation in the Church (Luke 14:31–35; Acts 2:40; Rom. 6:1–9). Those who refuse to take upon themselves the cross of Christ also cannot be His disciples (Luke 14:24–27). Even those who are weak in goodness (those who have lost their salt) or the lukewarm who try to keep neutrality between good and evil and who are sure in their earthly prosperity must be thrown out of the Kingdom (Luke 14:34–35; Rev. 3:15–18).

Does the New Testament recognize the existence of at least a partial good outside the Church? Certainly yes, although this partial goodness in the world does not give the right to identify the Church with the world, nor to identify the Jewish heretical communities with her. Nevertheless, the Church, discovering good- ness outside of her limits, can be in communication with the positive forces of the world (e.g. with the State), and Christians can participate in the life of this world inasmuch as it does not involve them in evil. For the Church, the criterion for appreciation of good and evil is always the same–the divine truth revealed to her.

The possibility of certain positive relations of the Church with the heterodox denominations is built on the same principle. In spite of all the defects and deviations of heterodoxy, we can recognize in heterodox denominations some elements which they preserved from the Church even after separating themselves from her. Thus, there is certain limited common ground for faith and life between the Orthodox Church and the heterodox denominations.

XII. False Theories of Catholicity

In conclusion I would like to say a few words about the theories of catholicity which seem to me to be false.

Some theologians exclude from catholicity the principle of universality. Others reduce catholicity to the external spreading of Christianity only. The first disregard the value and necessity for the Church to embrace or at least approach all men, societies, and nations. They ignore the fact that the members of the Church are valuable in themselves and enrich the Church by their diversity. The origin and the nature of the Church is one, but it is positively realized in its infinite diversity. The members of the Church must not be as coins with the same value. The universality of the Church is the will of God.

If universality is understood superficially as the unity of men and church organizations without inner essential unity, such an understanding of catholicity is certainly false.

Modern eucharistic ecclesiology reduces catholicity to the fact of celebration of the Holy Liturgy in all church communities: the Church is where the liturgy is served; all other principles of the life of the Church are considered as not essential. It is absolutely false and even impossible to reduce the whole life of the Church to only one sacrament, or to separate the Eucharist itself from all other fundamental forms of Christianity (for example, from the knowledge of truth, from the spiritual and moral life, etc.).

The charismatic theory of catholicity is that the Church is wherever the Holy Spirit acts and that the presence and action of the Holy Spirit can be subjectively established by those who pretend to be inspired and guided by His grace. From the Orthodox point of view, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit are never separated from the Holy Trinity, from Jesus Christ, and from the Church which was founded by Christ and the Holy Spirit Himself. Nor can they be separated from divine revelation in the Holy Scripture or from Holy Tradition.

Therefore, according to the ancient precepts of Tradition, all those who refer to the Holy Spirit must prove that their life and doctrine are in agreement with the spirit of the Church. They must also prove that all they ascribe to the Holy Spirit conforms to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, about the authenticity of which the Orthodox Church has no doubts.

The understanding of catholicity within the so-called “branch” theory is not acceptable for Orthodoxy because of the very under- standing of what these branches are. What this theory recognizes as being the branches of the Church, from our point of view are branches broken and separated from the tree of the Church. The Church cannot be comprised of branches which are separated from her. These broken branches keep certain characteristics of the tree, but their existence is deformed by the innoculation of some other principles alien to the Church. A heap of broken branches cannot produce catholicity.

The evolutionary theory of catholicity has the same defect. The growth of the Church in time does not break her body in pieces. The body of the Church develops but does not change in her nature. Such was a very pertinent teaching of St. Vincent of Lerins. If a new generation of Christians rebuilds Christianity in its own way, it separates itself from the Church and is no longer included in her catholicity. To conform to the conditions, the spirit, and the culture of the given time is no justification. The Church can adjust her methods of spreading Christianity to the special conditions of the time, but nothing else must be changed for the sake of such an adjustment. In everything which has at least some importance in Christianity, it is not the Church that must adapt herself to man or to the times, but it is man, with the help of the Church, who must strive to assimilate and realize the eternal Christianity of Christ both in his personal and common life.

The catholicity in minimalism, which is very popular in the ecumenical movement, contradicts the very nature of Christianity which is essentially maximalistic. Jesus Christ calls us to the perfection of the heavenly Father and for the transfiguration of the whole universe in God. The advent of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit have as their purpose the granting to us of the fullness of existence which mankind never before possessed, even in the Old Testament Church. To narrow Christianity to any minimum means therefore to betray its basic ideal.

The newest theory of catholicity in the ecumenical movement sees the principle of the unity of the Church in her relationship with the world. But in this fallen world unity either does not exist or it is founded in evil, or, in the best case, it has a clearly worldly character and thus is foreign to the Church. Christ came to unite the world; now we are called upon to unite the body of Christ with the powers of the fallen world. If the unifying power of the Church is considered to be in her mission in the world, we must state that this mission itself must be derived from the unity of the Church. Her mission in the world cannot be a constitutive principle of Christianity or of the Church. In addition, it is important to remember that the very purpose of the Christian mission in the world is to bring all men out from this world into the Kingdom of Christ.

* * *


St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XVIII, 23.


St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium I, 2.


St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Smyrnaeans 8.


This is the dogma of the Fourth Ecumenical Council.


“The Book of Revelation” (12:1–5) states that “the woman clothed with the sun” on the one hand “was with child and cried travailing in birth” (v. 5). On the other hand, her child was appointed “to rule all nations with a rod of iron and was caught up unto God and to his throne” (v. 5). According to Methodius of Olympus and Andrew of Crete, the second verse speaks about Christ inasmuch as He is identified with the persecuted Christians (cf. the words of Christ to the Apostle Paul when he saw Christ on the way to Damascus). Verse 5 speaks perhaps about the Mother of God who possibly is representing the Old Testamental Church. (See Allo, St. lean L’Apocalypse, p. 178.)


Eph. 5:28–29. In Rev. 22:17, the Church, as a particular person, refers to Christ together with the Holy Spirit. Strictly speaking, a person can never be collective because it is necessarily unique and different from all other persons. The idea of a “collective” person can be reduced to the idea of collectivity which is considered being particular and different from all similar collectivities. For example: this family from all other families; or this nation from all other nations; or this local church in her particularity distinct from all other churches.


The word “Spirit” in verse 4 certainly means the Holy Spirit; the word “Lord” in verse 5, the Son of God; and the word “God” in verse 6, God, the Father. This is the opinion of St. John Chrysostom (In Cor. horn. XXIX, No. 23).


In Acta hom. IV, 2.


Hom. on the Epistle to Romans (Chapter 12:4–6) XXI; XX X-XXXIll Hom. on I Cor. (Chapter 12:12–30); X Hom. on Ephesians (Chapter 4:4–16); VII Hom. on Epistle to Colossians (Chapter 2:19).


Eph. 1:10, 2:5–6; Col. 1:20, 3:14; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:22–24; Rev. 19–20, 4, 6:9–11, 7:9–17, 14:15, 19:1–18.


The idea that the holiness of the Father is manifested in the Holy Spirit exists in the theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria (Hubert du Manoir de Juaye, Dogme et Spirituality chez Saint Cyrille D’ Alexandrie, pp. 246–249).


Luke 11:42; John 15:9–10; I John 2:5–15, 3:10–17, 4:7–5:3; Jude 21; Rom. 8:39; I Cor. 8:1–3; II Thes. 3:5; II Cor. 5:14–15; Phil. 1:8; Eph. 4:19.


Acts 5:32; I Cor. 7:25, 11:1–2; II Cor. 3:1–6, 4:1–6, 13:3; Gal. 1:6–16; Eph. 2:20, 3:5–13.


For example: Matt. 16–18, 18:17; Acts 2:47, 20:28; I Cor. 10:32, 12:28; Eph. 1:22, 3:10, 5:23; Col. 1:18–24; I Tim. 3:15.


For example: Acts 14:23–28; 15:41, 16:5; I Peter 1:1–2; Rom. 16:4–16; I Cor. 4:17, 16:1; II Cor. 8, 9:8–28, 12:13; Gal. 1:22; Phil. 4:15; II Thes. 1:4.


For example: Acts 14:27; III John 9; Rom. 16:1; Col. 4:16; I Tim. 5:16; Rev. 3–4.


For example: Acts 20:17–20; James 5:14; Rom. 16:23; I Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2; I Tim. 3:5.


For example: I Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:4; Col. 4:15; Philemon 1:2; I Tim. 3:5.


II John 9–11; Gal. 1:6–12; Rom. 16:17–18; Titus 3:9–11; Heb. 13:9.


Acts 6:1–6; Jude 17–21; I Cor. 1:12–15, 3; Gal. 5:12–26; Col. 2:4–23; Phil. 3:17–21; II Tim. 4:2–5.


Matt. 13:24–43, 21:33–46; Luke 13:23–28; I Cor. 5:7–13; Titus 2:13–14.

Источник: Serge S. Verhovskoy. Main Theme I: Catholicity and the Structures of the Church // SVTQ. 1973. Vol. 17. № 1–2. P. 19-40

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