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In Christian theology, ecclesiology is the study of the Christian Church, the origins of Christianity, its relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its polity, its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership.
In its early history, one of the Church's primary ecclesiological issues had to do with the status of Gentile members in what had been essentially a Jewish sect. It later contended with such questions as whether it was to be governed by a council of presbyters or a single bishop, how much authority the bishop of Rome had over other major bishops, the role of the Church in the world, whether salvation was possible outside of the institution of the Church, the relationship between the Church and the State, and questions of theology and liturgy and other issues. Ecclesiology may be used in the specific sense of a particular church or denomination's character, self-described or otherwise. This is the sense of the word in such phrases as Catholic ecclesiology, Protestant ecclesiology, and ecumenical ecclesiology.
The word ecclesiology was defined in the 19th century as the science of the building and decoration of church buildings and is still used in that sense in the context of architectural history.
The roots of the word ecclesiology come from the Greek ἐκκλησία, ekklēsia (Latin: ecclesia ) meaning "congregation, church" and -λογία, -logia , meaning "words", "knowledge", or "logic", a combining term used in the names of sciences or bodies of knowledge.
The similar word ecclesialogy first appeared in the quarterly journal The British Critic in 1837, in an article written by an anonymous contributorwho defined it thus:
We mean, then, by Ecclesialogy, a science which may treat of the proper construction and operations of the Church, or Communion, or Society of Christians; and which may regard men as they are members of that society, whether members of the Christian Church in the widest acceptation of the term, or members of some branch or communion of that Church, located in some separate kingdom, and governed according to its internal forms of constitution and discipline.
However, in volume 4 of the Cambridge Camden Society's journal The Ecclesiologist, published in January 1845 that society (the CCS) claimed that they had invented the word ecclesiology:
...as a general organ of Ecclesiology; that peculiar branch of science to which it seems scarcely too much to say, that this very magazine gave first its being and its name.
The Ecclesiologist was first published in October 1841 and dealt with the study of the building and decoration of churches. It particularly encouraged the restoration of Anglican churches back to their supposed Gothic splendour and it was at the centre of the wave of Victorian restoration that spread across England and Wales in the second half of the 19th century. Its successor Ecclesiology Today is still, as of 2017 [update] , being published by The Ecclesiological Society (successor to the CCS, now a registered charity).
The situation regarding the etymology has been summed up by Alister McGrath: "'Ecclesiology' is a term that has changed its meaning in recent theology. Formerly the science of the building and decoration of churches, promoted by the Cambridge Camden Society, the Ecclesiological Society and the journal The Ecclesiologist, ecclesiology now stands for the study of the nature of the Christian church."
Catholic ecclesiology today has a plurality of models and views, as with all Catholic Theology since the acceptance of scholarly Biblical criticism that began in the early to mid 20th century. This shift is most clearly marked by the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu in 1943. Avery Robert Cardinal Dulles, S.J. contributed greatly to the use of models in understanding ecclesiology. In his work Models of the Church, he defines five basic models of Church that have been prevalent throughout the history of the Catholic Church. These include models of the Church as institution, as mystical communion, as sacrament, as herald, and as servant.
The ecclesiological model of Church as an Institution holds that the Catholic Church alone is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church", and is the only Church of divine and apostolic origin led by the Pope. This view of the Church is dogmatically defined Catholic doctrine, and is therefore de fide . In this view, the Catholic Church— composed of all baptized, professing Catholics, both clergy and laity—is the unified, visible society founded by Christ himself, and its hierarchy derives its spiritual authority through the centuries, via apostolic succession of its bishops, most especially through the bishop of Rome (the Pope) whose successorship comes from St. Peter the Apostle, to whom Christ gave "the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven". Thus, the Popes, in the Catholic view, have a God-ordained universal jurisdiction over the whole Church on earth. The Catholic Church is considered Christ's mystical body, and the universal sacrament of salvation, whereby Christ enables human to receive sanctifying grace.
The model of Church as Mystical Communion draws on two major Biblical images, the first of the "Mystical Body of Christ" (as developed in Paul's Epistles) and the second of the "People of God." This image goes beyond the Aristotelian-Scholastic model of "Communitas Perfecta" held in previous centuries. This ecclesiological model draws upon sociology and articulations of two types of social relationships: a formally organized or structured society (Gesellschaft) and an informal or interpersonal community (Gemeinschaft). The Catholic theologian Arnold Rademacher maintained that the Church in its inner core is community (Gemeinschaft) and in its outer core society (Gesellschaft). Here, the interpersonal aspect of the Church is given primacy and that the structured Church is the result of a real community of believers. Similarly, Yves Congar argued that the ultimate reality of the Church is a fellowship of persons. This ecclesiology opens itself to ecumenismand was the prevailing model used by the Second Vatican Council in its ecumenical efforts. The Council, using this model, recognized in its document Lumen gentium that the Body of Christ subsists in a visible society governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible structure.
From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, the Church is one, even though it is manifested in many places. Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology operates with a plurality in unity and a unity in plurality. For Eastern Orthodoxy there is no 'either / or' between the one and the many. No attempt is made to subordinate the many to the one (the Roman Catholic model), nor the one to the many (the Protestant model). In this view, it is both canonically and theologically correct to speak of the Church and the churches, and vice versa.Historically, that ecclesiological concept was applied in practice as patriarchal pentarchy, embodied in ecclesiastical unity of five major patriarchal thrones (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem).
There is disagreement between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow on the question of separation between ecclesiological and theological primacy and separation of the different ecclesiological levels:
Historical development of the Church of the East outside the political borders of the Late Roman Empire and its eastern successor, the Byzantine Empire, resulted in the creation of its distinctive theological and ecclesiological traditions, regarding not only the questions of internal institutional and administrative organization of the Church, but also the questions of universal ecclesiastical order.
Martin Luther argued that because the Catholic Church had "lost sight of the doctrine of grace", it had "lost its claim to be considered as the authentic Christian church". This argument was open to the counter-criticism from Catholics that he was thus guilty of schism and the heresy of Donatism, and in both cases therefore opposing central teachings of the early Church and most especially the Church father St. Augustine of Hippo.It also challenged the Catholic doctrine that the Catholic Church was indefectible and infallible in its dogmatic teachings.
There is no single "Radical Reformation Ecclesiology". A variety of views is expressed among the various "Radical Reformation" participants.
A key "Radical Reformer" was Menno Simons, known as an "Anabaptist". He wrote:
They verily are not the true congregation of Christ who merely boast of his name. But they are the true congregation of Christ who are truly converted, who are born from above of God, who are of a regenerate mind by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the divine Word, and have become the children of God, have entered into obedience to him, and live unblamably in his holy commandments, and according to his holy will with all their days, or from the moment of their call.
This was in direct contrast to the hierarchical, sacramental ecclesiology that characterised the incumbent Roman Catholic tradition as well as the new Lutheran and other prominent Protestant movements of the Reformation.
Some other Radical Reformation ecclesiology holds that "the true church [is] in heaven, and no institution of any kind on earth merit[s] the name 'church of God.'"
For historical Protestant ecclesiology, see
An episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church governance in which the chief local authorities are called bishops. It is the structure used by many of the major Christian Churches and denominations, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, Anglican, and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages.
The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion, Christendom, and the Church with its various denominations, from the 1st century to the present.
Ultramontanism is a clerical political conception within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope.
Chalcedonian Christianity refers to the Christian denominations adhering to the christological definitions and ecclesiological resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451. Chalcedonian Christians follow the Definition of Chalcedon, a religious doctrine concerning the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. The great majority of Christian communions and confessions in the 21st century are Chalcedonian, but from the 5th to the 8th centuries the ascendancy of Chalcedonian Christology was not always certain.
Ecumenism is the concept and principle by Christians of different church traditions and denominations to develop closer relationships and better unity between other traditions and denominations of Christianity. The adjective ecumenical is also applied to any interdenominational initiative that encourages greater cooperation between Christians and their churches, and is also applied in the same way to other religions, or to refer to the unity between religions and people in general, in a non-sectarian, non-denominational sense.
The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs.
Christian Church is a Protestant ecclesiological term referring to the church invisible comprising all Christians, used since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. In this understanding, "Christian Church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination but to the "body" or "group" of believers, both defined in various ways. A prominent example of this is the branch theory maintained by some Anglicans. This is in contrast to the one true church applied to a specific concrete Christian institution, a majority Christian ecclesiological position maintained by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches, Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.
A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity that comprises all church congregations of the same kind, identifiable by traits such as a name, peculiar history, organization, leadership, theological doctrine, worship style and sometimes a founder. It is a secular and neutral term, generally used to denote any established Christian Church. Unlike a cult or sect, a denomination is usually seen as part of the Christian religious mainstream. Most Christian denominations self-describe as Churches, whereas some newer ones tend to use the terms churches, assemblies, fellowships etc, interchangeably. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, biblical hermeneutics, theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.
The East–West Schism is the break of communion since the 11th century between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The schism was the culmination of theological and political differences which had developed during the preceding centuries between Eastern and Western Christianity.
Papal primacy, also known as the primacy of the bishop of Rome, is a Christian ecclesiological doctrine concerning the respect and authority that is due to the pope from other bishops and their episcopal sees.
Catholicity is a concept pertaining to beliefs and practices widely accepted across numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."
Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as the visible foundation and source of unity, and as pastor of the entire Catholic Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."
The Four Marks of the Church, also known as the Attributes of the Church, is a term describing four distinctive adjectives—"one, holy, catholic and apostolic"—of traditional Christian ecclesiology as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed completed at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." This ecumenical creed is today recited in the liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Church of the East, the Moravian Church, the Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Presbyterian Churches, the Anglican Communion and by members of many Reformed churches.
The invisible church or church invisible is a theological concept of an "invisible" Christian Church of the elect who are known only to God, in contrast to the "visible church"—that is, the institutional body on earth which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. Every member of the invisible church is saved, while the visible church contains some individuals who are saved and others who are unsaved. According to this view, Bible passages such as Matthew 7:21-27, Matthew 13:24-30, and Matthew 24:29-51 speak about this distinction.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been in a state of official schism from one another since the East–West Schism of 1054. This schism was caused by historical and language differences, and the ensuing theological differences between the Western and Eastern churches.
The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church was established by the Holy See and 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches.
The history of modern Christianity concerns the Christian religion from the beginning of the 15th century to the end of World War II. It can be divided in the early modern period and the late modern period. The history of Christianity in the early modern period coincides with the Age of Exploration, and is usually taken to begin with the Protestant Reformation c. 1517–1525 and ending in the late 18th century with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the events leading up to the French Revolution of 1789. It includes the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the Catholic Church and the Age of Discovery. Christianity expanded throughout the world during the Age of Exploration. Christianity has thus become the world's largest religion.
Paul David Loup Avis is an Anglican priest, theologian and ecumenist. He was General Secretary of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity from 1998 to 2011, Theological Consultant to the Anglican Communion Office, London, from 2011 to 2012, and Canon Theologian of Exeter Cathedral, 2008-2013. He is currently Honorary Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK. At the University of Exeter he was Visiting Professor of Theology, 2009-17 and is currently Honorary Research Fellow. He is Director of the Centre for the Study of the Christian Church which organises occasional conferences and is linked to the journal Ecclesiology, published by Brill, of which he is Editor-in-Chief. He is the Editor of the series 'Anglican-Episcopal Theology and History', also published by Brill. Paul Avis was also a Chaplain to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2008-17.
Catholic–Orthodox ecclesiastical differences are differences between the organizational structure and governance of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that of the Catholic Church. These are distinguished from theological differences which are differences in dogma and doctrine. A number of disagreements over matters of Ecclesiology developed slowly between the Western and Eastern wings of the State church of the Roman Empire centred upon the cities of Rome and New Rome/Constantinople respectively. The disputes were a major factor in the formal East-West Schism between Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I in 1054 and are largely still unresolved between the churches today.
Catholic ecclesiology is the theological study of the Catholic Church, its nature and organization, as described in revelation or in philosophy. Such study shows a progressive development over time. Here the focus is on the time leading into and since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
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