O.K., friends, this is a LOT longer than I intended. It is going to take me some practice to concisely, but helpfully summarize/evaluate etc. Perhaps my desire to take such thorough notes is reflective of the value of this book for my own purposes.
This relatively little (and remarkably lucid) book was originally published by Doubleday in 1978, but was republished in an extended version in 1987. The extended version (new intro and new concluding chapter) is the one I possess and thus is the one I read.
This is a work in “comparative ecclesiology” which seeks to approach this task less dichotomously than previous endeavors of the same sort. Rather than pointing to “fundamental cleavages” through the articulation of “polarities” (i.e. “protestant vs. catholic, prophetic vs. priestly, vertical vs. horizontal, and institution vs. event”) he develops in this book a typology of five different “models” of ecclesiology which he believes encompass most of the trends in ecclesiology that surrounded him then (and which continued to prevail in the decade that followed the first publishing of this work) (Dulles, 9 and 204). By “models of ecclesiology” he and I mean theological approaches to understanding the nature of the church, different theological ways of answering the question “What is the church?”
He does not outline this typology in order to argue that one of these approaches is far superior to all the rest. Rather, his fundamental argument is that “a balanced theology of the Church must find a way of incorporating the major affirmations of each basic ecclesiological type” (9). He approaches this task from his own Roman Catholic vantage point, but is clearly highly ecumenically minded and this text is, in no way, relevant only to Roman Catholics. One apparent agenda of the text, however, is the illumination of shifts in Roman Catholic ecclesiology evident within Vatican II. He consistently demonstrates the ways the various types he identifies are reflected in the documents of Vatican II and frequently for the ways they have been reflected throughout the history of Roman Catholic ecclesiology. The majority of his sources for examples for his various types (in addition to conciliar writings) are Roman Catholic theologians, though he does draw on theologians from other Christian traditions as well (particularly in the elucidation of his fourth and fifth models).
One of the guiding presuppositions of this book is that “the Church, like other theological realities, is a mystery” and that mysteries can only be spoken about analogically and analogies create models (9). Mysteries cannot be spoken about definitively, and nothing said about a mystery could ever be exhaustive. This guiding presupposition undergirds his dominant argument is that all the models need each other. He argues that faithful models for Christian theology, and in particular for ecclesiology, are derived from biblical images and from “the corporate experience of the faithful” (21), by which I believe he means both past and present. He holds contemporary context and tradition in positions of equal importance throughout this work.
The five models that he explores are:
- The Church as Institution
- The Church as Mystical Communion
- The Church as Sacrament
- The Church as Herald
- The Church as Servant
Following a brief description of each of these models, he asks three questions of each: 1) How would this theory conceive of the bonds the unify the church? 2) According to this theory, who are the beneficiaries served by the church? 3) What does this theory suggest is the nature of the benefits bestowed by the church? (40 and elsewhere). He also assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each model.
Notes, including answers to these questions, on each of these models:
The Church as Institution– This, he argues, was the dominant Roman Catholic ecclesiological model from the late middle ages through the mid 20th century, and, further, that it is reflective of prevailing cultural understandings about Roman Catholic ecclesiology even into the latter half of the 20th century. Of the five models he evaluates this one the most harshly (more on this later). This model puts a heavy emphasis on the visibility of the church. The emphasis in ecclesiologies that fit within this model is on the church as “‘perfect society’ in the sense that it is subordinate to no other and lacks nothing required for its own institutional completeness” (34). Heavy focus is granted to church governance, offices, structures. He identifies Bellarmine as a modern (?) Roman Catholic theologian who exemplifies this approach. Dulles distinguishes between institutionalism and recognition of the necessity of institution for the perpetuation of the church. He is articulating the former rather than the latter in discussion of this model. “In the institutionalist ecclesiology the powers and functions of the Church are generally divided into three: teaching, sanctifying, and governing” (37). Characteristic of this model is a hierarchical understanding of authority, in Vatican I language, the church is “a society of unequals” by God’s design. Vatican II opened the door for understanding this approach in terms of “clericalism, juridicism, and triumphalism” (39). Bonds of unity in this model? Visible tests of membership- public profession of accepted doctrines, regular participation in sacraments, submission to established clerical authority. Beneficiaries? The Church’s own members. Benefits? Eternal life. Primary strengths of this model? Endorsement of the Catholic church throughout its history, continuity with Christian origins and thereby stability which is of value in uncertain times (characteristic of the late 20th century, perhaps even more so of the early 21st century), and its ability to grant a strong sense of corporate identity. Primary weaknesses? (His very description of the model suggests they are legion; he softens this a bit in his added last chapter) “Meager basis in Scripture and early church traditions” (43), production of “unfortunate consequences in Christian life” (i.e. passivity of the laity, turning of gospel into law)(43), “raises obstacles to creative and fruitful theology” (44), “ecumenically sterile” (44), “out of phase with demands of the times” (44) (remember the anti-authoritarianism and anti-institutionalism of the sixties and seventies?! Not that I was there… but so I have heard and read…)
The Church as Mystical Communion– To open up this model he makes a move Bonhoeffer makes early in his dissertation Sanctorum Communio (one example cited in this chapter, btw) by explaining the two different types of social relationships as construed within German sociology and social philosophy- Gesellschaft (Society) and Gemeinschaft (Community). The first model understands the church more within the first category, church as society (perfect society, remember?) and this model fits more within the second (which was certainly move Bonhoeffer was making in his dissertation). Communities are more intimate, personal, permanent, and less directed to a specific function or purpose than are societies. Modern Roman Catholic theologians he names as exemplars of this model are Yves Congar and Jérôme Hamer. A good summary statement of this model’s emphases is “The outward and visible bonds of a brotherly society are an element in the reality of the church, but they rest upon a deeper spiritual communion of grace or charity” (50). Two biblical images that “harmonize” with this model are “Body of Christ” and “People of God”. The image of “Body of Christ” suggests “a divine life-principle”. He argues for resonant emphases within Aquinas and suggests that Jesuit Emile Mersch’s work on “the Mystical Body” is characteristic of this approach. Vatican II distinguishes between the church as mystical body and the church as institution, and does NOT suggest that “the Church of Christ or the Mystical Body is coterminous with the Roman Catholic Church” (52-3). Dulles argues that “The People of God” is the dominant image of the church in the writings of Vatican II. This model (and these images) leads to more democratic than hierarchical understandings of authority, but there are distinctions between these images that he illumines. Bonds of union in this model? “Interior graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit”, external bonds also significant, but less so. Union is deeper than anything observable sociologically and is transformative (57). Membership can be understood as an invisible concept within this model. Beneficiaries? Church members- visibly so or no. Benefits? Communion with God- not just later, but presently. Strengths? Biblical foundations, roots in Catholic tradition, fuels spiritual renewal, meets contemporary need. Weaknesses? Unclarity about relationship between spiritual and visible elements of the church, over exaltation and even divinization of the church, failure to provide clear identity and mission, tension between ideas of “friendly interpersonal relationships” and “Church as mystical communion of grace” (60).
The Church as Sacrament- Where the institutional model emphasize the external or visible dimensions of the church and the communion model the internal or invisible dimensions of the church, Dulles sees the sacramental model synthesizing the external and internal. This model is prevalent among 20th century Roman Catholic theologians, but was “anticipated by Cyprian, Augustine, Aquinas and Scheeben” (63). Key 20th century figures in the deployment of this model? Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Otto Semmelroth, Schillebeeckx, Smulders, Congar, Groot, Martelet. De Lubac emphasizes the importance of always holding together the divine and the human elements in the church. Vatican II language which suggests this model? “the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind; that is, she is a sign and instrument of such union and unity” (64). Guiding understanding of sacrament? “A sacrament is, in the first place, a sign of grace… ‘a full sign’, a sign of something really present” (66) and “Sacraments… have a dialogic structure. They take place in a mutual interaction that permits the people together to achieve a spiritual breakthrough that they could not achieve in isolation. A sacrament therefore is a socially constituted or communal symbol of the presence of grace coming to fulfillment” (67). He articulates a christology which understands Christ as sacrament. The church is a sacrament in that it is a sign, in time and space, of “the redeeming grace of Christ” (68). Visible unity and mutual love in the Christian community is essential to faithful signifying on the part of the church, but what allows that visibility is something invisible and interior. The exterior structures, institution, are “dead signs” if they are not expressions of an interior spirit. “The church becomes an actual event of grace when it appears most concretely as a sacrament- that is, in the actions of the Church as such whereby men (sic.) are bound together in grace by a visible expression. The more widely and intensely the faithful participate in this corporate action of the Chuch, the more the Church achieves itself” (69). Bonds of unity in this model? “the social, visible signs of the grace of Christ operative in believing Christians. Grace comes to expression in them when they manifest their faith, hope, and charity by witness, worship, and service” (72). Beneficiaries? “all those who are better able to articulate and the live the faith thanks to their contact with the believing and loving Church” (72)- members, therefore, but not just any members, those participating and growing in faith thereby. Benefits? Included in answer of beneficiaries, but purified and intensified response to the grace of Christ, becoming living symbols for the world (73). Strengths of this model? Supports best features of previous two models, while avoiding their unsolvable problems (i.e. relationship between visible institution and communion of grace); leaves room for working of divine grace beyond the church while not neglecting the presence of grace within it; “ability of this model to integrate ecclesiology with other traditional theological themes” (73); fosters a balanced loyalty to the church and its discipline which allows for criticism of it. Weaknesses? Little warrant in scripture or early church tradition; some feel that the way this gets worked out in theology neglects the interior mystery of the church; little place for the importance of service in the world- the possibility of “narcissistic aestheticism” when taken to an extreme; not easy to preach- to popularize; historically little interest on the part of Protestants to this approach. (Though Dulles does not claim to be arguing for the superiority of any of the models, it seems, throughout the book, that this is his favorite. He defends the model against the weaknesses he names more than he does with other models. I wonder if, often, when creating a typology people put their own perspective smack in the middle of it!)
The Church as Herald– In this model the word is prioritized over sacrament understanding the church to be “gathered and formed by the word of God” and its mission to be the proclamation of “that which it has heard, believed, and been commissioned to proclaim” (76). This is a kerygmatic model which sees the church as the herald who receives a message to pass on. It is radically christocentric and places heavy emphasis on the Bible as primary witness to Jesus Christ. Dulles understands this model to be more reflective of Protestant than Roman Catholic ecclesiology and names Karl Barth as its “chief proponent”. Barth emphasized the distance between the Bible and the Church which he believed left open the possibility that the Church could be criticized and corrected by scripture. “The word of God is not a substance immanent in the Church, but rather an event that takes place as often as God addresses his people and is believed” (77). This model does not argue that the church contains what it proclaims and does not think the church should point to itself, but rather away from itself to Christ. “It calls men (sic.) to Christ by openly acknowledging its own emptiness” (77). (The summary of Barth leaves me wondering why Barth appreciated Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio as Bonhoeffer has a very high and, if I recall correctly, very FULL understanding of the church.) We therefore don’t believe in the church, we believe in the one whom the church proclaims. Other representatives of this model? Hans Küng (R.C.), Bultmann (with more of an eschatological emphasis), Ernst Fuchs, Gerhard Ebeling. Bonds of unity? Faith- construed as response to the gospel, the proclamation of the Christ event (83). The form of government that flows from this model is characteristically congregational, so lacking necessary connection between congregations, the unity of the church is “seen as consisting in the fact that all are responding to one and the same gospel. And this model leaves room for variety in the formation of church governance. Beneficiaries? “those who hear the word of God and put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior” (83-84). Benefits? Salvation. Less focus on benefits to beneficiaries and more focus on the goal of the church, which, for this model is “to herald the message” and thus leads to the production of an “evangelistic missionary thrust” by this model (84). The church doesn’t save, the church proclaims salvation, “ushers in the saving presence of God” (84). Strengths? Solid biblical foundation- prophets of OT, Paul, etc.; provides a clear sense of identity and mission to the Church, esp the local church; capable of producing a spirituality which respects the sovereignty and distance of God, one marked by obedience, humility, and readiness for repentance and reform; “gives rise to a very rich theology of the word”. Weaknesses? (particularly from R.C. perspective) lack of attention to the “incarnational aspect of Christian revelation”, a forgetting that the word became flesh(85); dissolving of the Bible into “a series of totally disconnected happenings” (85), failure to allow for ongoing stability of a community throughout history; witness focused on to the exclusion of action. In Dulles’ estimation Vatican II tried to bring in the strengths of this model without giving in to its weaknesses.
The Church as Servant– Whereas all the prior models give priority to the church rather than to the world, this model allows greater respect for secular life and acknowledges the “‘legitimate autonomy’ of human culture and especially of the sciences”; this model encourages the church to learn from the world and view itself as part of a world family (91). The theological method attached to this model of ecclesiology could be called “‘secular-dialogic’: secular, because the Church takes the world as a properly theological locus, and seeks to discern the signs of the times; dialogic- because it seeks to operate on the frontier between the contemporary world and the Christian tradition (including the Bible, rather than simply apply the latter as a measure of the former” (92). In this model, the church is concerned with being a servant, in the footsteps of Jesus, meeting needs in this world. Two theologians who ushered in this secular thrust in ecclesiology were Teilhard de Chardin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in his later writings- Dulles sees Bonhoefffer moving from model 2 in his dissertation, to model 4 in Ethics, to model 5 in his writings from prison at the end of his life and career). “Both Teilhard and Bonhoeffer were obsessed with the feeling that the world was passing the Church by, while the Church proudly assumed that it already had all the answers to the world’s problems from revelation. They tried to get the Church to take seriously the secular achievements of modern man, and they sought to ground their positive attitude toward the world theologically and christologically” (95). Many theologians since the early 60’s have take this stance in their ecclesiology- notable Protestants and Anglicans: Gibson Winter, Harvey Cox, John A.T. Robinson; notable Roman Catholics– Robert Adolfs, Richard P. McBrien. Bonds of Union? Rather than either “doctrine or sacramental communion”, the sense of mutual relatedness (he says ‘brotherhood’) that arises in the midst of shared Christian service “toward the world” (97). Beneficiaries? NOT church members, all the “brothers and sisters the world over, who hear from the Church a word of comfort or encouragement, or who obtain from the Church a respectful hearing, or who receive from it some material help in their hour of need” (97). Benefits? See under beneficiaries. Mission? (This category seems more clearly separated in these last two models) NOT gaining new recruits, but helping all people in need. Strengths? Helpful corrective in an age when the church can’t communicate effectively with the world because it has for so long been turned in on itself; allows for the world to have access to something only the church can give (and potentially to better motivate the whole world for service); consciousness of needs of both the church and the world. Weaknesses? “Lack of any direct biblical foundation” (though service is HUGE in scripture, this is not named as the primary task of the CHURCH in scripture, the service discussed in scripture as belonging to the church is done within the church, by members for members, so it is different than that implied by this model); Ambiguities in the term servant (three possible meanings- work done under orders rather than freely, work for the good of others not for the good of the worker, humble or demeaning work) have to be careful not to construe, via this model, that the church is servant of the world as in, taking orders from the world, the church is God’s servant.
In the remainder of the book (a little more than half the book remains after the discussion of the models) Dulles raises a series of theological questions that are either inherent to or are linked to ecclesiology (in turn- eschatology, “the true church”, how to understand church unity given the plurality of churches- my big question, so this chapter is helpful to me-, ministry, and revelation) and considers them from the perspective of the various models. Essentially, in this latter portion of the book he puts his typology to work theologically, demonstrating its usefulness in theological endeavors. I do not feel a need to summarize these chapters, only to note that the chapter on “The Church and the churches” may be especially worth revisiting later on.
The original concluding chapter of the book is an evaluation of the models in which he basically makes the case for the dependence of these models on one another, but also suggests that a theologian can choose to operate primarily out of one so long as the theologian allows himself (and I would add “herself”) to be informed and corrected by other models. He cautions that only model 1 is not worthy for the role of primary model in the development of an ecclesiology. Any of the other models he sees as potentially worthy starting points, but model 1 is necessary only as a corrective to those which do not leave room for the importance of ongoing institution in the life of the church.
The added concluding chapter “The Church: Community of Disciples” appeared to be Dulles’ offering of an attempted ideal model after the fact. That which he offers in this chapter is strongly resonant with Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship (and, of course, he cites this text here) and draws on the work of Raymond Brown on the ecclesiology of the Gospel of John. In the original text, lacking the last chapter, I feel Dulles commendably makes a case for holding a range of ecclesiological impulses in view even as one has one’s preferred starting point. He demonstrates the value of keeping this range in view through his approach to various doctrinal and ecclesiological questions. He does so without (directly anyhow) favoring any one model over another. By adding the last chapter, which seemed to be a belated sixth model that he viewed as more adequate than the rest, one of the greatest functions of the book was undercut. A more generous reading of this new material would grant that this could be a demonstration of a positive, constructive ecclesiology that can be derived once one has a range of models in view.
In any case, Dulles’ work has much to commend it, particularly in matters of ecumenism. That he effectively wrote from a Roman Catholic perspective and yet so effectively communicated to me, a Reformed Christian, was particularly impressive.
One final brief gripe- how could a work produced in the seventies and then republished in the late eighties use NO inclusive language whatsoever? This was, at times, distracting.