I have long been convinced that, without the influence of the exiled Russian Orthodox theologians who lived in Paris after the War, Catholic ecclesiology would have been different, and the main insights contained in the documents on Liturgy and the Church in Vatican II would have been absent It was the meeting between de Lubac, Bouyer and Danielou and these Orthodox theologians which resulted, at least in part, in the orientation of Theologie Nouvelle. This paper confirms my opinion.
I attended a Saint Serge liturgical week around 1964 I stayed with the Benedictines at rue de la Source, and travelled every day on the Metro with Dom Bernard Botte who was staying in the same monastery. I only saw Fr Afanasiev at a distance, but I had just read an essay of his, and it was discussed informally during the week.- Fr David
source: Theological Symposium: International Eucharistic Congress 2012 (All the references that belong to this talk may be found at this link)
source: Theological Symposium: International Eucharistic Congress 2012 (All the references that belong to this talk may be found at this link)
Eucharistic Ecclesiology of Nicholas Afanasiev and Catholic Ecclesiology: History of Interaction and Future Perspectives
Ms. Anastacia Wooden
(PhD Candidate at Catholic University of America)
The goal of this paper is to show that an encounter of the Eucharistic ecclesiology of the Russian Orthodox theologian Nicholas Afanasiev and Catholic theology in the 1950s was a truly fruitful instance of reciprocal leaning between Orthodox and Catholic theologies. I also hope to show that this example has not only historical significance but it continues to be a source of insight for Catholic ecclesiology.
Fr. Nicholas Afanasiev (1893-1966) is known for coining the phrase “Eucharistic ecclesiology.” The claim that his thought exerted certain influence on Catholic ecclesiology prior to Vatican II is confirmed by the fact that he was mentioned three times in the preparatory documents for the council’s Constitution on the Church.1 In this paper I will explore two questions arising from this fact: a historical question of how Afanasiev became known to the fathers of the council and a theological question of why his work was considered significant enough to warrant mention. This paper will conclude with a discussion about what Afanasiev’s teaching can offer today to the study of the council’s ecclesiology.
1. Catholic theology’s encounter with Afanasiev’s Eucharistic ecclesiology
In the beginning of the twentieth century the Catholic Church saw an influx of interest in the liturgical and spiritual life of the eastern churches. This interest led to the creation in 1917 (during the pontificate of Benedict XV) of the Congregation for Eastern Churches and the opening of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. In 1924, Pope Pius XI commissioned the Benedictines to work toward unity with the Orthodox Churches, especially with the Russian Orthodox Church. For this reason, a dual rite Benedictine monastery was founded by Dom Beaduin in 1926 in Amay-sur-Meuse, Belgium (the monastery moved to Chevetogne in 1939).
The Catholic interest in Orthodoxy went beyond the sphere of ecclesial politics. Orthodox churches were viewed - perhaps, romantically - as living communities that preserved their genuine identity with Christian origins and for that reason were considered as kind of a model for renewal of the Catholic Church.2
Providentially, as a result of the tragic demise and exile of the Russian Orthodox Church following the revolution of 1917 in Russia, a number of very prominent Russian Orthodox theologians gathered in Paris around the St. Sergius’ Orthodox Theological Institute (1925), where these theologians engaged in an ecumenical dialogue with the best Western scholars of their time. One of the most important but little known venues of this dialogue was the Liturgical
Weeks – the scholarly ecumenical gatherings centered on liturgical issues which have been held by the St. Sergius’ Institute annually since 1953. The organizers, headed by Fr. Cyprian Kern and Nicholas Afanasiev, were able to gather many leading French and Belgian liturgical scholars of their time, almost all of whom eventually played an important part in the work of Vatican II, especially in preparation of the council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (see Appendix 1).
One needs to remember that ecumenical gatherings like Liturgical Weeks were rare in the 1950s and they did not receive eager approval of ecclesial authorities. For example, Fr. Danielou did not obtain his superior’s authorization in 1953, even though he promised to give a talk. (Fortunately, he was able to come back since then more than once, the last time when he was cardinal.)
Afanasiev was one of the leading voices in ecclesiology from St. Sergius at that time. He also spoke at the first Liturgical Weeks in 1953 on the topic of “Sacrament of Assembly.” I believe that it is from this talk that Catholic theologians first encountered Afanasiev’s term “Eucharistic ecclesiology” and became familiar with its principles. After 1953, Afanasiev continued to present his ecclesiology to the Catholic colleagues in a number of important essays published in French in such Catholic theological journals as Irenikon and Istina.
I still continue my research of the Liturgical Weeks in St. Sergius Institute’s archives. However, it is already clear that these gatherings played a crucial role in introducing Catholic scholars to Orthodox theology in general and Afanasiev’s work in particular. Later, these scholars as members of preparatory committees of the Vatican II and periti to the bishops, in their turn brought his work to the attention of the council.
Having established how Afanasiev’s name and work became known to the fathers of the council, I now turn to the question of what in Afanasiev’s work might have attracted attention of the Catholic theologians.
2. Afanasiev’s Eucharistic ecclesiology and liturgical participation
In 1944, de Lubac formulated what became a main principle of Eucharistic ecclesiology: “The Eucharist makes the Church.” A similar statement is found in a footnote to the second draft of what became Vatican’s II Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: “If the Church alone makes the Eucharist, it is also true that the Eucharist makes the Church.”
From this statement one may infer that those who make the Eucharist are the Church. So I want to approach my presentation of Afanasiev’s thought as an answer to the question closely related with a question of liturgical participation: Who makes the Eucharist? Afanasiev had his own one-line definition of the main principle of Eucharistic ecclesiology: “Where there is the Eucharistic assembly, there is Christ, and there is the Church of God in Christ.”5 In this formulation we already see the answer to our question, which became the hallmark of Afanasiev’s ecclesiology – the Eucharistic assembly makes the Eucharist. It is important to note that Afanasiev’s ecclesiological reflections are guided not by the Eucharist as an abstract “one of the sacraments,” but primarily as a Eucharistic gathering, the Eucharist as an act of the people of God gathered in one place. For him, to interpret the meaning of the Eucharistic assembly, beginning with the very act of gathering and ending with dismissal, is to interpret the meaning and the structure of the Church. Therefore, no matter which topic he discusses – the ministry of bishops, Church unity, or Roman primacy, the celebrating community becomes not just the start of reflection, but it remains at the core of his thinking and gives Afanasiev’s ecclesiology “a sensation of concreteness and cohesion.”
Since Afanasiev’s Eucharistic eccesiology rests on his notion of the Eucharistic assembly, I want to mention four building blocks, or key elements of the latter, on which the rest of Afanasiev’s ecclesiology is built upon: the Holy Spirit, the royal priesthood, epi to auto, and concelebration.
1. The Holy Spirit. Afanasiev begins with the belief that the Church is born out of and exists through the Spirit. The grace of the Spirit was not only given to some group in the Church long ago, but everybody in the Church is endowed with charisms, while the Church itself is “the place of Spirit’s activity.”8 Describing the pneumatological foundations of the Church, Afanasiev often quotes the prophesy mentioned in Acts 2:17: “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” The Church that flowed from Christ’s pierced side and which was actualized at the Pentecost is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Therefore, says Afanasiev, “the beginning of the Church lies in the Spirit. Through the Spirit and in the Spirit [the] Church lives.”
2. The royal priesthood. The charismatic character of the Church is reflected in ecclesial ministries.10 The charisma of the royal priesthood is bestowed on all members of the Church in the sacraments of initiation, consequently, installing every member of the Church for ecclesial ministry. Afanasiev often repeats that “in the Church there are no gifts of the Spirit without ministry and there is no ministry without gifts.”11 Since the Holy Spirit is the principle of all activity in the Church, then, says Afanasiev, in the Church, life and ministry are one and the same, and the whole of the life in the Church can be seen as “a permanent ministry, in which the Christian serves God through the Church, and serves the Church itself.”
Although the ministry is given to all members of the Church, these ministries differentiate in accordance with the gifts of the Spirit, as shown by St. Paul in 1 Cor 12:4-6. Accordingly, the differentiation between laity and the ecclesiastical hierarchy reflects the diversity of the forms of ministry and it would be erroneous to say that some members of the Church have ministries and others do not.
3. Epi to auto. These words, frequently found in the writings of St. Paul and of St. Ignatius of Antioch, are hard to translate into English in a precise and definitive way without some context. Afanasiev insisted that they describe the fundamental principle of Church life according to which all Church members always act epi to auto, meaning always together “for one and the same thing.” Therefore, there can be no separate acts in the Church which are not linked with the action of all. The priestly ministry of all members of the Church finds its expression in the Eucharistic assembly in which all celebrate, led by one presider. In the Eucharistic celebration, the faithful are gathered by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ to offer sacred service to God. Since Christ is one, then His Body is one and it always acts as one - epi to auto. According to Afanasiev, such was the basic understanding of the Eucharistic assembly in the early church and this phrase, epi to auto, came to designate the Eucharistic assembly itself, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles: “The Lord was adding to the ones being saved day by day in the same place epi to auto.” (Acts 2:47)
Since no single group in the Church constitutes the Church in separation from the other – like the hierarchy and laity, for example – then no group in the Church can act independently. In other words, epi to auto means that the acting subject in the Church is always the Church itself and the Church is always united in its actions.
Afanasiev applies the principle of epi to auto also to the relationship of local churches, stating that the unity of the Eucharistic assembly constitutes the foundation for the internal universalism of One Church.15 Most of the secondary literature on Afanasiev is focused on this point of his ecclesiology. For Afanasiev, the oneness and completeness of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist defines the oneness and completeness of the local church in the Eucharistic assembly. However, a locally celebrated Eucharist is never only local, because only the Church in all her fullness can celebrate the Eucharist.16 Therefore, empirical unity of the local celebrating assembly preserves and manifests the oneness of the Church of God in Christ so that “each local church contained in itself all remaining local churches.”17 Afanasiev concludes that with time the principle of internal universality grew weaker in the Church as the unity of the Eucharistic assembly was dissolving. Eventually, the whole ecclesial organization reoriented “from internal toward external universalism.”
4. Liturgical concelebration. Afanasiev notes that misconceptions of the royal priesthood range from “its minimization to a meaningless formula to entitling any member of the Church to accomplish any of the acts of the liturgy.”19 Contrary to both of these extremes, Afanasiev affirms that “concelebration by the laity is effective and real, not ceremonial.”20 However, the priesthood belongs to God’s people as a whole, and nobody can fulfill this ministry for him or herself, but only when the liturgical acts are fulfilled by the Church as a whole: meaning when God’s people gather together with their presider in the Church assembly. The difference between the members of the Eucharistic assembly is expressed not in the degree of their liturgical participation but in the places they occupy during the Eucharistic celebration.21 The place that Jesus had at the Last Supper is now occupied by the bishop who is a presider of the Eucharistic assembly.
Afanasiev considers the exclusion of laity from priestly ministry as “one of the paradoxes of our contemporary life” since this is in fact a distinct function of the people of God as described in different New Testament texts, most notably in 1 Peter 2:9: “People of God, chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”22 He insists that the very essence of participation in the Eucharist contains in it the common priestly service to God by all baptized, the service that is completed by the common “partaking” of the Eucharistic bread and wine.
To summarize, Afanasiev says that the Eucharist is celebrated by the Eucharistic assembly – an assembly of all baptized gathered by the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ for service to God. In this assembly, everybody concelebrates, but only one presides at the Eucharist, and nobody celebrates separately from the whole assembly. Afanasiev also adds that the very hierarchical structure of the Church emerged in the consciousness of Christian communities in a Spirit-guided process of living out their main Christian vocation – worship of God in Christ.
I believe that a very similar understanding of Eucharistic ecclesiology can be found already in the first constitution of Vatican II - Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, especially in its notion of “active participation” to which I now turn.
3. Notion of “active participation” in the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy
I propose that the notion of the People of God actively and responsively constituting the Church by participating in the liturgical celebration (i.e., council’s notion of active participation) contains the ecclesiology of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
As Frederick McManus noticed, at least one-third of the Constitution’s 131 articles are concerned directly with the active participation of the worshipping assembly.23 The text mentions “active participation” fifteen times, rightfully making it, in the words of Josef Jungmann, “the refrain of the Constitution.”
By expounding Christ’s continuous presence in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations, SC 7 shows that the work of Christ and the work of the Church most fully coincide in the Eucharistic celebration. The liturgy is an exercise of Christ’s priestly office which is aimed at glorification of God and sanctification of man. These are not two parallel goals of the liturgy. As Godfrey Diekmann comments on this paragraph, “The glorification of God is without doubt the ultimate aim of the liturgy, it is primary in order of intention: but God is glorified in sacramental action precisely by the transformation of man, by man’s conscious turning to God in faith and love which the sacramental action accomplishes.”25 Since the sanctification of man “is not merely an objective of the liturgy, but is constitutive of it,” then “the willing engagement of free persons is the obvious aim” of the Constitution26 and of its notion of active liturgical participation.
This desired “willing engagement” is fully described in SC 14which also states that the entire Church is the subject of liturgy and that the entire Church is called to participate in it as the priestly people of God by reason of their baptism. The liturgical role of the assembly is further reinforced in SC 26, 28-29, noting that this participation of the whole body is accomplished not only by delegation to the ordained minister, but by direct participation in the performance of liturgy. Finally, the most precise description of the active participation is given in SC 48:
The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.27 [SC 48]
After describing the desired “active participation,” article 41 of the constitution places it in the most fitting ecclesiological setting of a communal celebration of the Eucharist presided by a bishop, who is the high priest of the Church. Here the Christian community locally gathered around the bishop is depicted as an active subject of the manifestation of the Church.
There are fundamental similarities in how both Afanasiev and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy connect liturgical participation with ecclesiology. Reflecting on the most vital activity of the Church, the Eucharist, in which its nature is most visible and most perfectly manifested, both Afanasiev and the constitution show that the visible hierarchical structures of the Church should follow the pattern of the Eucharistic celebration. By affirming that the Church is most perfectly manifested as a Spirit-filled assembly of baptized Christians gathered around their bishop for the service of God in Christ, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy demonstrated an emergence of a new self-awareness of the Church and laid the foundations for the “liturgical” reorientation of Catholic ecclesiology.
4. The meaning of the liturgical orientation of ecclesiology
If the Eucharist is understood as an exercise of ministry aimed at glorification of God through sanctification of human beings, then the ministerial structure of the Church reflects the very goal of the Church’s existence and becomes the foundation of ecclesiology. It is through the call to ministry that the Holy Spirit gathers the Church into the Body of Christ. In this paper I attempted to show that this ecclesiology already manifested itself in the council’s first constitution – Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, especially in its notion of active participation. Therefore, this Constitution holds a hermeneutical key to the study and teaching of the council’s ecclesiology as a whole. It means that other documents of the Council, including the Constitution on the Church, can be interpreted and evaluated in light of the ecclesiological principles reflected in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This approach to study of the council’s ecclesiology should contribute to the healing of the chronic disconnect of liturgy from ecclesiology and pastoral theology and to the concrete task of formulating a ministry-based understanding of the Church. Perhaps Afanasiev’s thoughts again can be helpful for the latter task. Ultimately, all these efforts should find their final fulfillment in preaching and catechetical instruction through which all the baptized – laity and clergy alike – may become “convinced that the principle manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in the same liturgical celebrations,” [SC 41] and thus they will be enabled “to express in their lives and to manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” [SC 2]
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