Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ecclesiology - Early Church


Ecclesiology - Thinking about the Church - its nature, role, structure, practice - and working with both theological convictions and historical realities.

St Clement of Rome, in his First epistle to Corinthians, 42:1-4 (c.96),  argues fiercely for unity in the Church. He writes on the distinct roles (the clergy) , with emphasis on a clear apostolic origin - which is seen as one of the first direct claims for apostolic succession. He writes that from Christ comes the Apostles,then the Bishops.. The Church as 'the New Israel' is modelled after the Old Israel, with reference to the Old Testament Scriptures.
St Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Ephesians (c.110) tells us that unity is guaranteed through obedience to the Bishop:
‘Christ is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are in the mind of Christ..your council of presbyters..’
His letter to the Magnesians also highlights this. As our Lord and Saviour Christ did nothing without the Father, you must not do anything without the bishops and presbyters he writes. 
In his letter to the Smyrnaeuans (c.110) : 'Only the Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop is valid - and nobody must do anything without the blessing of the bishop'

The Didache (c.110) gives a manual of church order - and reflects on the Church’s nature, as communion:
‘Just as this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and then was gathered together and was made one, so may your church be gathered together from the end of the earth into your kingdom’ ( a reflective prayer at the Eucharist )

Epistle to Diognetus explains the Church to outsiders.
This is where we read that Christians dwell in the world but are not of it:
‘The soul is locked up in the body, but it holds the body together; and .. Christians are detained in the world as if in a prison…’

Justin Martyr - writes to the emperor explaining that Christians differ with regards to belief, but can only act out of goodness within society and will indeed be a benefit to his empire. 

St Irenaeus of Lyons - reacting to Gnostic and Marcionite heresy, stresses that unbroken truth is grounded in Scripture and Apostolic Succession.

He links the unity of the Church, with the fact that it carries The Truth. It is unified as one body of Christ, because it is the Truth. Furthermore, we also see a comparison between the Virgin Mary, and Eve - emphasising a fulfilment in the life of the Theotokos, a renewal , a new life brought through the incarnation of her Son and God, Christ. The Mother of God covers up the deep wounds that Eve had brought upon humanity.

St Cyprian of Carthage (d.258)

‘There is one head, one source, one mother, boundlessly fruitful….
of her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her breath we are quickened.’
‘If you leave the Church of Christ you will be an alien, an outcast..’
‘To break the peace and concord of the Church is to go against Christ.’
An extract from the 'Unity of the Catholic Church' (c.251) 

Origen of Alexandria (d.254)

Origen proclaims that the Church is bound up mysteriously with Christ - and uses images from his allegorical reading of Scripture, the bride, temple, ark,  jerusalem, city, vine , and vineyard - to describe the nature and meaning of the Church.

Council of Constantinople (381) ...' We believe in one , Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.' 

One - Unity, and truth - as we have read from Irenaeus, the Church is one because it is the Truth.
Holy - Body of Christ, His Eucharistic Body
Catholic - Universal, for all nations
Apostolic - Succession of truth, guaranteed by the work of the Holy Spirit through time, from generation to generation through bishops (Apostolic Succession) and their deacons and presbyters.


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