Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church

benedict and Zizioulas

There’s another city that Benedict XVI would like to visit soon: Istanbul. The date he has in mind is November 30, the feast of St. Andrew, who is the patron of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople. Patriarch Bartholomew I has already invited the pope. And he has already sent to Rome, on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the patrons of the Roman papacy, his most authoritative and trusted theologian, Ioannis Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon. Zizioulas and Ratzinger have respected each other and met with each other for decades. They have begun working on a resumption, in the fall, of the work of the commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. They have compatible views on the main point of division between the two Churches, the primacy of the pope of Rome. The solution is to be sought in light of the axiom: “Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church.”

From Chiesa

Life, truth and eternal being

The decisive beginnings of the ontological articulation of the Fathers of the Church are seen, says Zizioulas, in the theological work of St Ignatius of Antioch and St Irenaeus of Lyons. On the basis of the Johannine identifications of Christ with life, and truth, and upon their identification of life with being for ever, these saints identified life, truth and eternal being. And on the basis of their understanding that the Eucharist is truly Christ, they affirmed that in the Eucharist we receive life and true (immortal) being. But this life and true being which we receive in Communion, precisely in that it is received as a gift, does not pertain to us according to nature (phusis, ousia). And since the communion in which we receive true life is Christ himself – and not a vehicle containing Christ or an intermediary between us and Christ – it follows that this life is itself communion. True life and true being, then, are identified as communion with God. And a fortiori, for St Irenaeus, since knowledge is identical to true and eternal life which is communion with God, it follows that true knowledge is likewise communion with God.

Alan Brown

Sons again

The ‘Sons’ post (below) received two comments. I’ll call them A and B. Here they are again:

(A) “The academic community needs to be more sensitive to language use. Instead of sons why not use gender-neutral terms ‘children’ or ‘heirs’ or ‘beloved ones’? By insisting on using sons it subtly reinforces the superiority of the male gender in religious arguments. Unless you make the above argument explicit at the beginning of every book or journal article the use of male language reinforces negative gender stereotypes. There are many women in the religious academic world and church community who feel that they are ‘not good enough’ to study, research, preach and teach because they have encountered years of bias. I am a female systematic theologian and know of countless women who feel inferior as a result of hearing and reading male dominated religious discourse throughout their lives.”

(B) “The reason why we should not (in general) use gender-neutral terms is that such terms just don’t say the same thing as ’sons’. Our adoption in Christ is our taking on the sonship of the Son who is the Son of the Father. It is not a matter of bias here. To speak of ‘children’ INSTEAD of ’sons’ is to de-Trinitarianize the meaning of the language and evacuate it of its essential reference to our incorporation into the Second Person of the Trinity. (Such language-replacement is theologically comparable to replacing language of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ with ‘Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier’.)

I think two things are important:

(1) The term ’son’ when used of our incorporation into Christ does not signify a sexually-divided mode of existence. In fact, it signifies quite the opposite – a mode of existence which transcends sexual opposition, in which there is neither ‘male nor female’. So a person who takes the language to be ’sexist’ is misunderstanding it. And a person who denies it is possible to use ’son’ in this Christian way denies the Gospel.

(2) It is quite possible that, given contemporary forms of language-use and the pressure exerted upon people to conform to ‘gender-neutrality’ language which does not respect the difference between the sexes (equality doesn’t mean identity, &c) – in this situation it is quite possible that people will misunderstand Christian language about sonship. In that case, we must explain what the language means, not stop using it because someone has misunderstood it. We must be faithful to our own language.”

The first ‘Sons’ post is here.

Form and content and Torrance

We spend our whole time resisting the dichotomies of form and content, or substance and methodology, that we are offered in every intellectual form. This is just how it should be. The whole Christian gospel may be summed up like this: There is no division between content and form, between method and truth – in Christ. There is therefore no separation between gospel and how we come to know it, between Jesus of Nazareth and today’s Church – in Christ. There is no separation between Son and Spirit, nor between God in himself and God as he is for us.

The concealed paganism of the West consists in a habit. The habit is of making the assumption that content can never be its own form and so of dividing the one from the other. But in the case of the gospel, the content is its own form. So the Western mind introduces a gap between content of the gospel and the means of its becoming known, and the event of its becoming known, confessed and expressed. It introduces mediations where they do not belong. These mediations are never necessary or helpful as their proponents suggest, but rather function as barriers and roadblocks. We have to refuse them, and sometimes this makes us look unsophisticated or ungrateful. But we cannot allow such intermediaries to be introduced where none are needed, precisely where God himself insists he is himself for us, our servant, provider and Lord. God in person is fully content and fully the form, that is the provider, container and delivery system of all truth and life.

No one says this like Tom Torrance, the towering figure of British theology. It has been his life’s work to say this. It appears in short form in his ‘Karl Barth and the Latin heresy’ (Scottish Journal Of Theology 39 1986). Don’t be taken in by the apparently local concern of the title. Here is a great exponent of the Western theological tradition charging the Western tradition with being inadequate to the point of emptying the gospel. It is not enough to be Western (‘Latin’) and an heir of Augustine. No, it is not even enough to be Reformed. The Western tradition’s urge to divorce form from content tends to undo the gospel. This Reformed and evangelical theologian, always insistent on the priority of truth, is insistent on catholicity and thus on ecumenism. The Latin heresy that ceaselessly divides – and so attempts to divide what God has united – is counteracted by a proper obedience to the rest of the Church, the Eastern and Orthodox Church and to whole Patristic intellectual tradition – for TF Torrance always best represented by Athanasius.

Here is a bit from Torrance:

‘What Karl Barth found to be at stake in the twentieth century was nothing less than the downright Godness of God in his Revelation. The Augustinian, Cartesian and Newtonian dualism built into the framework of Western thought and culture had the effect of cutting back into the preaching and teaching of the Church in such a way as to damage, and sometimes even to sever, the ontological bond, between Jesus Christ and God the Father, and thus to introduce an oblique or symbolical relation between the Word of God and God himself. Barth’s struggle for the integrity of divine Revelation opened his eyes to the underlying epistemological problems, not only in neo-Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but in Protestant orthodoxy as well.

These were bound up with the Western habit of thinking in abstractive formal relations, greatly reinforced by Descartes in his critico-analytical method, and of thinking in external relations which was accentuated by Kant in his denial of the possibility of knowing things in their internal relations. This is what I have called the Latin heresy, for in theology at any rate its roots go back to a form of linguistic and conceptual dualism that prevailed in Patristic and medieval Latin theology.’

Read more from Torrance Karl Barth and the Latin heresy

This is either a long article – and very quotable – or a miniature systematics wrapped in a brief history of the Western intellectual tradition. But which is content and which is form?

Divine Energies and Orthodox Soteriology


The ever-excellent Peter Leithart has been reading Aristotle Papanikolaou’s new book Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, And Divine-Human Communion.

Papanikolaou is comparing the trinitarian theology of Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas. According to Papanikolaou:

Zizioulas “emphatically affirms that an energy is never apersonal. The energies of God are communicated only through the persons of the Trinity. This emphasis on the personal character of energies is indicative of the primacy of an ontology of personhood and communion in Zizioulas’s thought. Second, salvation is not described for Zizioulas as an increase in participation in the divine energies, but as the transformation of being into true personhood in the person of Christ. For Zizioulas, the essence/energies distinction is ‘nothing else essentially, but a device created by the Greek Fathers to safeguard the absolute transcendence of God without alienating Him from the world.’ The energies are God’s actions in the world and are saving events. The ultimate saving event, though not excluding the divine energies, is not simply a matter of God’s action, but a relational event of communion that constitutes human personhood as true personhood in the image of Christ.”

Read Leithart’s summary

The new Anglican realism?

We believe that the Windsor Report offers in its Sections A & B an authentic description of the life of the Anglican Communion, and the principles by which its life is governed and sustained. We accept the description offered in Sections A & B of the Windsor Report as the way in which we would like to see the life of the Anglican Communion developed, as we respond in faithful discipleship to Christ.

The Anglican Communion has never before articulated so clearly and fully its self-understanding. Given the rapid growth of the Anglican Communion in recent decades (especially in the Global South), the wider globalisation of our culture, and Anglicanism’s characteristic features of diversity and autonomy it was only a matter of time before such articulation of Anglican ecclesiology became necessary. It is tragic it required some to ‘tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level’ (as the Primates said in October 2003) for this to happen. Nevertheless, it is now clearer than ever before just who we are as Anglicans within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. That is a major fruit of the suffering of recent years with benefit not only in inter-Anglican discussions but wider ecumenical ones.

Andrew Goddard Walking Together: The Future Shape of the Anglican Communion

You can read the Windsor report online (left-hand panel) or download in PDF.

Excuses from Knight

Help! We are already into the second half of April. In January I wanted to get straight into the doctrine book, provisionally entitled The Apprenticeship, but the other books have got in the way. The first and second books, The Eschatological Economy and the collection on Zizioulas, have demanded so much time, that I have scarcely given ‘The Apprenticeship’ a week since January.

The Eschatological Economy, out at the end of April, has now got some great endorsements. I am particularly grateful to John Webster and Rusty Reno, who have produced wonderful blurbs for the back of the book, though they really didn’t owe me any favours. And Antony Solomon, who has a real knack for extracting what is most crucial, is patiently and insightfully reviewing the book section by section over at Solly Gratia.

Meanwhile I am still sorting out the second book, the collection of essays on John Zizioulas, Personhood and the Church. This is now in the Ashgate catalogue, with an October publication date. I will shortly have to email Ashgate again to explain why they still haven’t received the manuscript. The reason is that I have only just received the twelfth and last contribution, from Alan Brown. From a long labour a wonderful paper has emerged in which Alan sets out the context of Zizioulas’ theology and explains the hostility it has met. The reason for the hostility is really simple – John Zizioulas is an evangelical theologian: he gives reasons for the faith. Alan’s paper amounts to a comprehensive refutation of that, Anglican-influenced, Patristics scholarship which is determined not to allow the thought of the Fathers of the Church to teach and refresh the contemporary Church. Alan is familiar not only with contemporary Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox theology but with the hermeneutics they operate with, and he picks apart the presuppositions of Zizioulas’ critics to show that they amount to a privatisation of religion that holds the gospel captive. This massive paper, at 22,000 words three times longer than any other contribution, will make a fair splash. I will post a couple of paragraphs from it to whet your appetite. The whole volume is very much better than it was this time last year and I am really very chuffed about it.

Anyway, this means that I still haven’t really started on this year’s work, the doctrine book – let alone on the more general work of encouragement that this blog is intended for. Here for example is an email:

I am desperate for my theological thought to be challenged and stretched. Please could you contact me with advice on how to proceed and I welcome contact with any other serious Christian thinkers.

Me too. Any ideas anyone?


The resurrection of Jesus was not the general resurrection, but the provision of a longer gentler way to the general resurrection. This resurrection, that is both commenced and delayed, is the mode of God’s hidden work of holding and training a people. By the resurrection, the crucifixion of Christ was lifted from Christ and placed instead on the many who had crucified him. Their act rebound to catch them. The many have been corralled by the death that his resurrection has imposed upon them. Their death is now not at all their death, but entirely his death, the death that holds, not him, but them on whom he has imposed it. Now they can be slowly supplied, by the Spirit, with the resurrection. It can be supplied by the one who has risen from them and is therefore able to be with them, without their sin and death. The resurrected one is the Lord, the Spirit, the true and faithful servant who will not waste his talents, or lose a single member of the flock he has gathered. He has worked, and his work is united with its harvest. He has paid with his labour, and he now receives the reward due to him.


Jesus was abandoned by all. He was hung on the cross to display his complete isolation and shame. All resources of support drained away from him, until he had nothing. In this visible world he was cleared out of all resources of public reputation and recognition. He descended through all intermediary levels of status and being until he reached the lowest point, left altogether without being, in total shame. But the forces of this world could not keep him down. Being unable to make their judgment stick, they have been publicly revealed to be without power. When he was raised by the Father, Jesus was set at the highest place. The Father reversed the action of mankind by overturning this public assessment of his servant. Because Jesus is raised from this total absence of status, those who shamed him are now shamed.

By his Spirit the victorious Son calls and draws out of the earth all the dispersed elements, all the bodies of the poor, hidden by wicked men, and brings them together to form one bright new body – the resurrection body, united with himself.

Jesus is handed over

Jesus is handed over to the world. He is made passive. Passivity and passion become his action. Although Jesus is the circumcision, baptism and anointing, he is circumcised, baptised and anointed. Although he is the resurrection, the one who may never die, he suffers and dies. He suffers the world. If we are allowed to abuse the language a little, we could say that Jesus is worlded. He calls out from the world what is most intrinsic to it – death – and summons it together to a single point, that of the cross. When Jesus calls, death comes out of the world. He is able to break open the world and separate death from it. The indivisible Spirit drives division out. The world is Jesused. Death has no claim on him, so finds nothing in him by which it can gain purchase. Death is deathed. The Spirit makes the Son indivisible and so impregnable: the world cannot break him. God has allowed the tares to grow in the field, and though, like the kings of the earth, they grow very confident, their destruction is assured, for he has all this time prepared a place for them, a no-place. In entering the enclosure of death the Son is not enclosed, but breaks open what only he had held shut.