Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Can we define the Church?

Can we truly define the ontology of the Church? Is there one definition which suffices? Fr. George Florovsky explains: “It is impossible to start with a formal definition of the Church. For, strictly speaking, there is none which could claim any doctrinal authority. None can be found in the Fathers. No definition has been given by the Ecumenical Councils… One does not define what is self-evident…One has to return from the school-room to the worshipping Church and perhaps to exchange the school-dialect of theology for the pictorial and metaphorical language of Scripture. The very nature of the Church can better be described and portrayed than adequately defined…Probably even this description will be convincing only for those of the Church. The mystery is apprehended only by faith”[1].

Many Fathers do not define the Church, they merely give images. St. Maximus the Confessor claims that the Church is “an image of God, an image of the visible and invisible essences of the existing world, an image of the soul”[2]. In Scripture we read many names and epithets used to describe the Church. Christ described Her as a bride (as we can identify within the Apostle reading of the Sacrament of Marriage), whilst St. Paul uses the image of the Body of Christ. Therefore, we do not define the Church, which has as many epithets as Jesus Christ does, but we can give images and explanations, which relate to the life and faith of the Church.

[1] Florovksy, George, Bible, Church, Tradition,1972, p. 57
[2] Hierotheos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, The mind of the Orthodox Church, 1998, p.47

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