On the Relationship Between Christology and Ecclesiology

Vladimir Lossky 1903-1958

The Church, in its christological aspect, appears as an organism having two natures and two wills. In the history of Christian dogma all the christological heresies come to life anew and reappear with reference to the Church. Thus, there arises a Nestorian ecclesiology, the error of those who would divide the Church into distinct beings: on the one hand the heavenly and invisible Church, alone true and absolute; on the other, the earthly Church (or rather ‘the churches’) imperfect and relative, wandering into the shadows, human societies seeking to draw near, so far as possible for them, to that transcendent perfection. A Monophysite ecclesiology, on the contrary, manifests itself in a desire to see the Church as essentially a divine being whose every detail is sacred, wherein everything is imposed with a character of divine necessity, wherein nothing can changed or modified, because human freedom, synergy, the co-operation of man with God, have no place within this hieratic organism from which the human side is excluded; this is a magic of salvation operative through sacraments and rites faithfully carried out. These two ecclesiological heresies of opposite tendency appeared, almost at the same time, during the course of the seventeenth century. The first (the Eastern Protestantism of Cyril Loukaris) arose within the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Constantinople; the second developed in Russia, in the form of the schism (raskol) known as that of the ‘Old Believers’. The two ecclesiological errors were crushed by the great councils of Jerusalem and of Moscow. Monotheletism in ecclesiology is expressed above all in a negation of the economy of the Church in regard to the external world, for the salvation of which the Church is founded. The contrary error (which could not have a precedent in the Christological heresies, unless it be in a semi-Nestorianism) consists in an attitude of compromise which is ready to sacrifice the truth to the exigencies of ecclesiastical economy in relation to the world. This is the ecclesiological relativism, a danger proper to the ‘ecumenical’ movement and to other similar trends. The Apollinarian heresy, which denied the human understanding in the manhood of Christ, shows itself in the realm of ecclesiology in the refusal to acknowledge the full human consciousness – as, for example, in the doctrinal ministry of the Church, when the truth is regarded as being revealed in councils like a deus ex machina, independently of those present. Thus, all that can be asserted or denied about Christ can equally well be applied to the Church, inasmuch as it is a theandric organism, or, more exactly, a created nature inseparably united united to God in the hypostasis of the Son, a being which has – as He has – two natures, two wills and two operations which are at once inseparable and yet distinct. (Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Two Aspects of the Church, pp. 186-187)

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