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International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 9 Number 4 October 2007 doi:10.1111/j.1468-2400.2007.00274.

Trinity and Ontology: Colin Guntons Ecclesiology1


ROLAND CHIA*

Abstract: Colin Gunton argues that there is a need to develop an ontology of the church on the basis of the concept of God as triune. There is an analogy between the being of God and the being of the church. Against the monistic and hierarchical conceptions of the church, so common in the West, Gunton develops a communio-ecclesiology based on his understanding of relationality as a transcendental. In addition, Gunton argues that we must move towards an ecclesiology of perichoresis in which the church as a community is the result of the mutual constitutiveness of persons.

In an important essay entitled The Church on Earth: The Roots of Community Colin Gunton argues that modern ecclesiology is dominated by monistic and hierarchical conceptions of the church.2 Gunton maintains that this tendency is largely due to theologys failure to reect more deeply on the ontology of the church. More precisely, he asserts that the deciencies in modern conceptions of the church are due to theologys failure to ground its understanding of the church in the conception of the being of God as triune. The doctrine of the Trinity is often looked upon as one of the difculties of Christian belief, a kind of intellectual hurdle to be leaped before orthodoxy can be acknowledged.3 Consequently, the doctrines relationship with other theological topics is often elusive and its centrality to all aspects of belief, worship and life is often missed. As a result, the possibilities the doctrine holds for nourishing a Christian theology of community are not fully or even adequately explored by theology. According to Gunton, while early efforts to develop Christology show evidence of attempts to examine the question of the being
* Trinity Theological College, 490 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 678093, Republic of Singapore. 1 2 3 A Mandarin translation of this article is published in Zhou Zong Min, ed., Trinity, Creation and Culture: An Interpretation of Colin Guntons Theology (Hong Kong: Logos Publishers, 2007), pp. 20428. Colin Gunton, The Church on Earth: The Roots of Community, in Colin Gunton and Daniel Hardy, eds., On Being the Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989), pp. 4880. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 49.

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of Christ in relation to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, a similar approach is almost absent in ecclesiology. This neglect is seen in both Eastern and Western ecclesiologies. Eastern ecclesiology, which was developed in a context where Neoplatonism was inuential, betrays a tendency to conceive of reality in terms of degrees and thus to envision a hierarchically structured world.4 Harnacks analysis that in Eastern theology the church is conceived of as the image of a heavenly hierarchy5 is therefore in some ways justied. In the West, the conception of the church is derived mainly by analogy to an earthly empire. Gunton cites Cyprians ecclesiology as a classic example in which the church is conceived as an imitation of a political empire or a military camp. This hierarchical and authoritarian vision led Cyprian to postulate that the bishops constitute the real church. With Augustine the picture is somewhat more complex because of the ofcial recognition of the church after Constantine. Although Augustine understood the church as a community of believers, the changed status of the church meant that it was a mixed community of believers and unbelievers. According to Gunton, this led to two signicant developments: the rst is the stress on the institutional nature of the church, where the clergy is seen as the real church; and the second is the platonizing distinction between the visible and invisible church. The conclusion is inevitable: [t]he real Church represented by the clergy? is the invisible Church, those known only to God, the elect.6 This survey leads Gunton to conclude that the conception of God as a triune community made no substantive contribution to the doctrine of the Church.7 Because the doctrine of the Trinity fails to inform the ontology of the church, rival ontologies have lled the vacuum. Ecclesiology has as a result been dominated by monistic and hierarchical conceptions based on an ontology shaped either by Neoplatonism or some other non-personal metaphysic. Following John Zizioulas, Gunton maintains that on the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity we can derive a distinctively Christian ontology. Such an ontology would not only serve as an alternative to those proposed by the philosophies that shaped the intellectual milieu of which the church was once a part; it will also be a challenge to modern conditions. When extended to ecclesiology, this ontology would result in the conception of the church as community that would provide a needed corrective to the hierarchical and institutional ecclesiologies. The doctrine of the Trinity, as it comes to us from the Cappadocian theologians, Gunton asserts, teaches us that the rst thing to be said about the being of God is that it consists in personal communion.8 As John Zizioulas has put it, Communion is for Basil an ontological category. The nature of God is

4 5 6 7 8

Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 50. Adolph von Harnack, History of Dogma, 3rd edn, trans. Neil Buchanan et al. (London, 1897), Vol. IV, p. 279. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 52. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 52. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 66.

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communion.9 Put differently, there is an analogous relationship between the being of the church and the being of God the church as community may be said to be a vestige of the Trinity.

An analogy of echo
How then are we to proceed to develop the concept of the being of the church based on the doctrine of Trinity? Gunton maintains that such an attempt should be made with great care if we are to avoid two common errors. The rst is to appeal directly to the unity of the three persons in the Godhead as the model for the unity of the church, and the second is to attempt the converse to make the hypostatic distinctions the basis of diversity in the church.10 Both attempts are exercises in abstraction and therefore betray a lack of theological control. The crucial intermediate step, according to Gunton, in developing an ontology of the church based on the doctrine of Trinity is a trinitarian theology of creation. Such an approach rejects all monistic and pantheistic interpretations of the creation because it insists on the ontological distinction between the Creator and the creature. More crucially, this distinction rejects any logical link between the Creator and the creature, thereby replacing the logical conception of the relationship between God and the world with a personal one. This means that the relation between God and his creation is the result of the free personal action of the triune God. It implies that the ontological distinction between God and the world, far from being the denial of relations, is its ground.11 The church, in so far as it is part of the creation, is also nite and contingent, and is thus related to the triune God also through the free personal action of the latter. How, then, does the church reect the being of God? The answer, as John Zizioulas has shown, lies in the word koinonia, perhaps best translated as community (or perhaps sociality, compare the Russian Sobornost).12 Before we analyse what it means to describe the church as koinonia, let us examine more closely how Gunton develops the analogy between God and the church. For Gunton the being of the church is said to be analogous to the being of God in so far as the former may be said to be a nite echo or bodying forth of the divine personal dynamics. Thus the analogy between the being of God and that of the church must be said to be of an indirect kind: the Church is what it is by virtue of being called to be a temporal echo of the eternal community that God is.13 This brings us to the whole question of the analogy of being which Karl Barth discusses

John Zizioulas, Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1993), p. 134. 10 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 66. 11 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 67. 12 Gunton, The Church on Earth, pp. 678. 13 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 75.
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in his magisterial Church Dogmatics.14 There seems to be, for Gunton, an analogia entis between the church and God by virtue of the fact that the church is creatura verbi, and therefore part of the creation, as the Reformers put it. The converse question must now be raised: does this imply that the being of the triune God can be gleaned from the phenomenon of the empirical church? Put differently, can the church be said to be a vestigium trinitatis? In so far as the church as a redeemed community of believers can only be apprehended by faith, as the creeds remind us, analogia entis must be subordinated to analogia dei. Thus faith is the epistemic conditio sine qua non that enables us to apprehend the analogy between the being of God and that of the church. The trinitarian conception of God as the highest reality serves as the theological basis for conceptualizing the relation between the one and the many, a question that has accompanied philosophical discussion in the West since Parmenides. Reection on the nature of the church on the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity would result in a clearer understanding of the church as community. Crucial to the discussion, therefore, is the way in which the doctrine of the Trinity itself is understood. The history of theology has shown that there are important differences in the way in which the doctrine of the Trinity was developed in the Western and Eastern traditions. Although the most pronounced divergence between the two traditions is in their understanding of the relationship between the Son and the Spirit (brought to expression by the lioque clause of the Western tradition), there are also other equally important differences. It is not an oversimplication to say with Karl Rahner that while the Western tradition emphasizes the unity of the Godhead, the Eastern tradition stresses the hypostatic distinction of the Father, Son and Spirit.15 Such differences in emphasis are important because they inuence the shape of the respective ecclesiologies, especially when the latter are understood in light of the Trinity. Doubtless Augustine played an important role in shaping the Western conception of the Trinity. However, in an essay entitled Trinitarian Theology Today, Gunton addresses three fundamental problems in Augustines understanding of the Trinity that have become endemic in the Western tradition.16 Firstly, by attempting to conceive patterns of threeness apart from the economy of salvation, Augustine has separated the being of God what God is eternally from his act what God does in time. Secondly, the perichoretic principle, opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa, has sometimes meant for Augustine that no characteristic and distinguishing forms of actions can be ascribed to the Father, Son and Spirit. This would in the end make the Trinity irrelevant in our understanding of divine action. And nally, Augustines formulation of the Trinity is problematic because of his
14 15 16 For discussion on analogy of being, see Roland Chia, Revelation and Theology: The Knowledge of God in Balthasar and Barth (Bern: Peter Lang, 1999). Karl Rahner, The Trinity (New York: Crossroad, 1998), p. 17. Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997), p. 4.

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inadequate concept of person. This is due in the main again to his failure to grasp adequately the distinctive personae of Father, Son and Spirit in the one God, compelling him to treat God unipersonally and to locate personhood in the oneness not the threeness. Although all these problems have in one way or another indirectly shaped the Western idea of the ecclesia, it is the third that is perhaps the most serious. Augustine has famously said that he uses the concept of person to describe the Father, Son and Spirit in their distinctiveness in order not to remain silent.17 Furthermore, he admits that he does not understand the Greek usage of the term hypostasis and concludes, wrongly, that the Greeks used this term in accordance with common parlance. He thereby fails to understand that by using hypostasis to describe the distinctions within the Godhead the Greeks are both commandeering as well as adapting philosophical language to theology. Augustines failure to appreciate the concept of person has led him to use Aristotelian categories, often abstract and opaque, to understand the relations within the Godhead. Failure to understand the Greek usage of hypostasis led Augustine to an individualistic concept of person. This is blatantly evident in his assertion that the Father is called person in respect to himself, not in relation to the Son or the Holy Spirit (Ad se . . . dicitur persona, non ad lium vel spiritum sanctum).18 This is further accentuated by the fact that the analogies forwarded by Augustine are taken from the soul. The quest for the inner Trinity within the soul, coupled with the idea that the human likeness to God resides in the mind, have made it difcult to see how the Trinity can shed light on human relatedness. Such an approach has in large measure spawned Western individualism in its various forms. Gunton writes: Since relations are qualications of the inner Trinity, and not relations between persons, it becomes difcult to see how the triune relatedness can be brought to bear on the central question of human relatedness. Gods relatedness is construed in terms of self-relatedness, with the result that it is as an individual that the human being is in the image of God, and therefore truly human.19 For Gunton, the Cappadocians were able to create a conception of God in which Gods being is understood on the basis of personal commitment. In failing fully to appreciate the achievement of the Cappadocians, and in dwelling on analogies based on human mentality, Augustine postulates a singular deity for whom community is merely an epiphenomenon and therefore secondary. For the Cappadocians, the Greek hypostasis is used in distinction from ousia to refer to the particularity of the Father,

17 Augustine, De Trinitate, V. ix. 10. 18 Augustine, De Trinitate, VII. vi. 11. 19 Colin Gunton, Trinity, Ontology and Anthropology: Towards a Renewal of the Doctrine of the Imago Dei, in Christoph Schwbel and Colin Gunton, eds., Persons, Divine and Human: Kings College Essays in Theological Anthropology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), p. 49.
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Son and Holy Spirit in the Godhead. In Letter 236 Basil of Caesarea claries the distinction between ousia and hypostasis thus: The distinction between ousia and hypostasis is the same as that between the general and particular; as, for example, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore in the case of the Godhead we confess one essence (or substance), so as not to give a variant denition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear. If we have no distinct perception of the separate characteristics of fatherhood, sonship and sanctication, but form one conception from the general idea of existence, we cannot possibly have a sound account of our faith. To understand the three as individuals, as is the case in some strands of the Western tradition, is to miss the point intended by the Cappadocian usage of hypostasis. By this term the Greek Fathers wish to stress that the three are not individuals but persons, beings whose reality can only be understood in terms of their relations to each other, relations by virtue of which they together constitute the being (ousia) of the one God.20 By according priority to the concept of person and relation the Cappadocians transform the meaning of the two terms and consequently the concept of God, which is now no longer understood in terms of Greek metaphysics but in terms of communion. As Gregory of Nazianzus has maintained, the nature of the Trinity must not be understood primarily by attributes like omnipotence, goodness or eternity but by the relationship between the three members both to each other (immanent Trinity) and to the world (economic Trinity).21 In Being As Communion John Zizioulas explores the proposals forwarded by the Cappadocians by arguing that the being of God is constituted by the interrelationship of the three persons in the Godhead. The thesis in the book is summarily discussed in an earlier paper titled The Ontology of Personhood, where Zizioulas writes: In God the particular is ontologically ultimate because relationship is permanent and unbreakable. Because the Father, the Son and the Spirit are always together, the particular beings are the bearers of the totality of nature, and thus no contradiction between oneand manycan arise. In trying to identify a particular thing, we have to make it part of a relationship, and not isolate it as an individual.22

20 Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 39. 21 Thus in his third Theological Oration (Section 16) Gregory could write: I should have been frightened with your distinction, if it had been necessary to accept one or other of the alternatives, and not rather put both aside, and state a third and truer one, namely that the Father is not the name either of an essence or of an action, but is the name of the relation, in which the Father stands to the Son and the Son to the Father. 22 John Zizioulas, The Ontology of Personhood, paper prepared, 1985, for the British Council of Churches Study Commission on Trinitarian Doctrine Today, p. 9.
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The trinitarian postulate una substantia, tres personae is often taken to mean that in an ontological sense, God is rst the one God, and only then exists as three persons. Such an approach would result in a substantialist ontology, which collapses into a monism. The formulation of the Cappadocians, as Zizioulas has rightly pointed out, surmounts this ontology by insisting that Gods being cannot be understood apart from Gods triune personhood but coincides with it. The philosophical and theological implications of this move are clear: (a) The person is no longer an adjunct to a being, a category we add to a concrete entity once we have rst veried its ontological hypostasis. It is itself the hypostasis of the being. (b) Entities no longer trace their being to being itself that is, being is not an absolute category in itself but to the person, to precisely that which constitutes being, that is, enables entities to be entities.23 Zizioulas elaborates on this through his exposition of the intratrinitarian relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit, concluding that Gods existence itself is a free personal act. In other words, God does not exist because he cannot but exist. The Father is not only source but cause of the Son and the Spirit. Furthermore, the Father, according to Zizioulas, is the cause of the trinitarian unity, and this means that it is impossible to think of the one God without also conceiving of the communion that God is.24 Zizioulas concludes, together with the Cappadocians, that [t]he Holy Trinity is a primordial ontological concept and not a notion which is added to the divine substance or rather that follows it.25 Without entirely agreeing with Zizioulas (and the Cappadocians) monarchical view of the Father,26 Gunton could nonetheless endorse the view that the Trinity must be understood on the basis of a relational ontology rather than a substantialist one. The doctrine of the Trinity discussed above implies that God is neither a collectivity nor an individual but a communion a unity of persons in relation. This helps us to reect on how the church is also a community, analogous to the being of God. On the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity as a dynamic personal ordering of giving and receiving is, in the idea of sociality that it suggests, the key to the matter of transcendentality that we are seeking.27 The idea of communion in the trinitarian relations in the Godhead also presents the conception of personal space. That is to say, the triune relationality enables us to understand the space between persons, which allows them to be for and from each other in their otherness. Put differently, personal space allows persons to confer particularity to and receive it

23 See Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 2735. 24 Hence Gregory Nazianzens famous statement in Orationes: No sooner do I consider the One than I am enlightened by the radiance of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One (40.41). 25 Zizioulas, God as Communion, p. 41. 26 See Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 196. 27 Colin Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 225.
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from each other. Father, Son and Spirit through their shape the taxis of their inseparable relatedness confer particularity and freedom on each other.28 This is important because community or communion should not obliterate the particularity of persons. The conferring of particularity has to do with allowing the space to be. We shall explore the idea of sociality and relationality in the next section.

The church as community


If, as Gunton has convincingly argued following the Cappadocians and Zizioulas, communion is fundamental to understanding the being of God, sociality can be seen as a transcendental, albeit an open transcendental with numerous possibilities of application. As Dan Hardy has argued in an important essay, sociality as a transcendental pertains to the church, the redeemed community, but it can be extended to all created being.29 The aim of this idea, Hardy explains, is to establish an element which will justify a true society, and thus to inform the pragmatics of human society.30 The fundamental intuition behind the argument is surely correct: to be a human being is to be created in and for God and with other human beings. Created sociality is made explicit in ecclesiology, which postulates the church as the true form of the human being, whose particular character is dened and realized christologically and pneumatologically. Indeed such a theology of sociality is needed if ecclesiology is not to fall prey to an ideology that privileges either the one or the many. Either approach ultimately fails to give a proper account of particularity and relationality, and consequently of reality as such. However, Gunton distances himself from Hardys terminology because an understanding of communion as being-inrelation does not make sociality a transcendental, since it leaves unresolved the question of the relation of human society to the material context within which it takes shape.31 Transcendentals, according to Gunton, are those notions which we may suppose to embody the necessary notes of being, in the pre-Kantian sense of notions which give some way of conceiving what reality truly is, everywhere and always.32 However, sociality, for Gunton, has an ideal status, which, although it has much to contribute to ecclesiology, does not yet meet the requirements of the transcendental that he sought. Although the concept of sociality enables us to understand the distinctive character of personal being, it cannot be applied to everything. While it helps to

28 Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 110. 29 Daniel Hardy, Created and Redeemed Sociality, in Gunton and Hardy, On Being the Church, pp. 2147. 30 Hardy, Created and Redeemed Sociality, p. 34. 31 Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 223. 32 Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 136. The same may be said of the Coleridgean notion of social contract, to which Gunton alludes with much admiration (pp. 2212).
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clarify the social nature of personal being, that is, that both God and man have their being in their free-relation-in-otherness, it does not contribute to our understanding of the non-personal universe which does not have the marks of love and freedom. The transcendental that we are seeking, Gunton concludes, is not sociality but relationality: Relationality is thus the transcendental which allows us to learn something of what it is to say that all created people and things are marked by their coming from and returning to God who is himself, in his essential and inmost being, a being in relation.33 In regard to God, this transcendental functions as a coordinate which points to the eternal and free relations of the persons in the Godhead in the particularity of their respective being and act. In the case of creation, this transcendental enables us to see how persons and things can be qualied because they bear the mark of their triune Creator. In the ecclesia, this is eshed out in the concept koinonia where relationality transcends mere reciprocity and takes the form of creative subordination in conformity to Christ. The Greek word koinonia is the basis of the Latin communio, which broadly means union with, although it does not specify the members of the union, its origin or purpose. This word, which became the favourite of Christian writers, especially Paul, can be found in classical literature, notably in Aristotles analysis of friendship. When used to describe the church, koinonia designates both communion between God and humankind and within humankind. As Yves Congar has put it: Its fundamental Christian meaning designates the community of the faithful with Christ, hence their common participation in Christian goods; the faith, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16), the Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:13), and nally, the community which Christians constitute on the basis of all these things: In that they are in community with God they are also in community with one another (see 1 John 1:3, 6). Thus the communio is seen to be constituted by the Christian life in its fullest sense.34 The idea of communion could be traced to the doctrine of creation since God has created the world such that in its otherness it is called to be in relation with its Creator. The idea is also implicit in theological anthropology since the human creature is a being in relation, and humankind has its true being in communion. Positively, Gunton writes, humankind is social kind. He adds: It is only when [Adam] can rejoice in the fellowship of one who is a true other-in-relation that he is

33 34

Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 229. See Johannes Feiner and Magnus Lhrer, eds., Mysterium Salutis IV/2, pp. 4045. Quoted in Robert Kress, The Church: Communion, Sacrament, Communication (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 35.
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able to transcend the merely individual state that is the denial of human fullness.35 This trail from creation leads back to ecclesiology. According to the New Testament, the human community becomes concrete in the church, whose purpose is to be the medium and realization of communion, with God in the rst instance, and with other people in the second, and as a result of the rst.36 According to Gunton, it was the seventeenth-century Puritan theologian John Owen who developed an ontology of the church as a community. Noting that the Reformers failed to develop a theology of community because of their belief that reformation was enough, Owen sought to develop a conception of the church which initially depended on Aristotelian categories but later on Cappadocian trinitarian theology. The result, Gunton concludes, is that Owens denition of the Church is an echo of their [the Cappadocians] theology of the Trinity.37 From the analogy of the free relations of the persons in the Godhead, Owen developed a conception of the church as a free voluntary society. Such an ecclesiology is rooted rmly in the freedom of obedience to the gospel. The relations between persons that make up the church, Owen maintains, constitute something new because it is the work of the eschatological Spirit. As such, it is thus vain to imagine that this state can arise from or have any other formal cause but the joint consent and virtual confederation of those concerned unto those ends.38 Owens strong emphasis on the church as a community of free-relating persons and the voluntary nature of its membership has historical as well as theological grounds. Theologically, such an ecclesiology best echoes the eternal being of God characterized by the mutual self-giving of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church is therefore the concrete community of the last times, called to realise in its life the promised and inaugurated reconciliation of all things.39 The concrete nature of the church means that it becomes an echo of the life of the Godhead the church points to the creative and recreative presence of God to the world. The activity of proclamation and the celebration of the sacraments, so central to ecclesial life, are therefore temporal ways in which the community is oriented to the being of God. Proclamation brings the church into an encounter with the Word, while baptism and the Eucharist the sacraments of incorporation and communion cause her to encounter the love of God mediated by the Son and the Spirit. As an intermediate community, the church must attempt to hold together two contradictory pulls. On the one hand it is a community rooted in the being of God, while on the other it remains a highly fallible community on this side of eternity. This means that the complexities that attend to the relationship between the church and the world cannot be supercially glossed over. As Gunton has perceptively put it, The

35 36 37 38 39

Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 216. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 217. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 71. John Owen, Works, vol. XVI, p. 26. Quoted by Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 72. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 79.

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walls dividing church from the world are permeable.40 Nevertheless, we can say that the church becomes an echo of the life of the Trinity when it is enabled by the Spirit to order its life to where the reconciliation takes place in time, that is to say, to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.41 Before taking leave of this discussion, we must return to the critique of the concept of the invisible church, which stems from the platonizing tendencies in Western ecclesiology since Augustine, alluded to in an earlier section. The Reformers, together with Wycliff and Hus before them, opposed the idea that the church is to be identied with the visible institution of the medieval church without remainder. In so doing they followed Augustine and spoke of the invisible nature of the church. Their intention then was not to found an invisible church, but rather to renew the visible one. The old debate between the advocates of an ecclesia invisibilis and those of the ecclesia visibilis, it is true, is now long out of date. However, the enduring inuence of Platonism in Western theology has made it vulnerable to the dualism and spiritualism that inspire the distinction between the earthly church and the heavenly one. The ontology of the church developed on the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity has led Gunton to conclude that there is no invisible Church at least not in the sense in which it has usually been understood not because the Church is perfect, but because to be in communion with those who are ordered to Jesus by the Spirit is to be the Church.42 The church is visible as a human fellowship and through its acts of worship, preaching and teaching, prayers and works of mercy as a community. Although Gunton does not elaborate, the ecclesia visibilis does not imply that the church can be reduced to empirical description. Although it is a community rooted in history, psychology and sociology, and thus can be weighed up and compared with other human communities, the church is also mystery. That is the meaning and implication of the credo ecclesiam. Thus, in this sense, the church may be described as at once visible and invisible. Of course there are not two churches, one visible and one invisible. Neither is the invisible part the essential nature of the church, with the visible part merely its external form. The church we believe is one, both visible and invisible (in the sense of hidden), because it is mystery.

The limits of analogy


By Guntons own admission, the analogy of echo (like all analogous predications) is limited in explicating the being of the church because when concepts predicated of God are used to refer to creatures limited to space and time, changes in the intension of the concepts will necessarily result. Karl Barth has dened an analogous concept as that which when applied to two different objects, designates the same thing in

40 Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 176. 41 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 79. 42 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 80.
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both but in different ways.43 Analogy therefore refers to similarities amidst evergreater dissimilarities.44 One clear example is the concepts of person and communion, which although signicant in developing an ontology of the church nevertheless cannot be used univocally for God and the church. Thus if the doctrine of the Trinity represents the rst mediation between the triune God and the church, a second and even a third mediation is needed to guard against a univocity which would either deify the church or strip God of the divine nature. The second mediation has to do with the fact that because the church is the creation of the triune God, it corresponds to God only in a creaturely fashion; and the third refers to the distinction which must be made between the historical and eschatological being of the church. The communal life of the church is lived between baptism and consummation, between the historical reality and the eschatological new creation in which this communion is completed and perfected. The correspondence between trinitarian communion and ecclesial communion must seriously take into account this inner dynamic between the historical minimum and the eschatological maximum that characterizes the latter. This means that for the sojourning church only a dynamic understanding of the correspondence with the Trinity is meaningful.45 The dissimilarities that obtain between the communion and relationality of the trinitarian and ecclesial persons must also be carefully pointed out. Although it is inconceivable for the trinitarian persons to live apart or in isolation from one another, the same cannot be said for ecclesial persons. Human beings can live as human

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1, The Doctrine of God, ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, trans. T.H.L. Parker et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), p. 237. 44 The limitations of analogical predications, however, do not undermine the ability of human language successfully to describe God and, in this case, the church. In Act and Being (London: SCM Press, 2002), Gunton critiques the via negativa of both the Eastern and Western theological traditions. The predominance of the negative, as Gunton calls it, found in John Damascus apophatism and Aquinas theory of analogical predication, appears to imply that negative attributes are really more true of the being of God than those described as positive (p. 50). Gunton argues that the univocal theory of theological language, advanced by Duns Scotus, would enable theology to take more seriously the predicates it uses for God and creatures. It must be pointed out, however, that with this emphasis, Gunton is not rejecting the analogous nature of theological language. Together with Scotus, Gunton is simply afrming that the concept of analogy requires an element of univocity, that is to say, that words used for both God and creature correspond to attributes which in some sense are common to both. If this is not afrmed, language used for God and creatures would be equivocal in meaning. For Gunton, as it was for Scotus, this would mean the dissolution of theology: Unless being implies one univocal intention [i.e., concept], theology would simply perish (Duns Scotus, Lectura 1.3.1.12, n. 113). The implication of all this for the present discussion is simply that concepts like person and communion that are used analogously to describe God and the church say things which are literally true and univocal about both, despite their obvious limits, so that it is possible to develop an ontology of the church from the doctrine of the Trinity. This is because analogy always has an element of univocity. 45 Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 199.
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beings apart from others or even in hatred toward one another, although it may be said that they are still in some sense constituted by the other, even the one whom they hate. Ecclesial persons, it is true, cannot live apart from fellowship with each other because salvation has an indispensable ecclesial structure. Yet, the difference remains in that the fellowship between persons in the church is not simply communion as in the Trinity, but is sustained because of a covenant, and is therefore a communion of will. Secondly, and this refers to an earlier point, ecclesial communion on this side of Gods new creation can correspond to the perfect mutual love of the trinitarian persons only in a broken fashion.46 Two other general points must be made before we turn our attention to more specic issues. The rst is that we must constantly be reminded of the fact that our notions of the triune God are not the triune God. The doctrine of the Trinity is the attempt by theology to fashion a model gleaned and acquired from salvation history with which we seek to approach the mystery of the triune God. Thus although the doctrine of the Trinity says something which is true about the being of God, it cannot comprehend the unfathomable God, who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Secondly, the temptation to dene the trinitarian personhood as pure relationality (persona est ratio) must be resisted, for to conceive of the persons as so transparent that the I of these persons dissolves into relations is to negate the concept of person itself, in that Father becomes fatherhood, the Son, sonship and the Spirit, procession. This brings us to the concept of perichoresis and the signicance Gunton accords to it in his reection on the ecclesial community. Gunton observes that relations in the church have often been conceived in terms of the subordination of one group to another. In order for the ecclesial community to mirror more clearly the free personal relations which constitute the deity, we must move towards an ecclesiology of perichoresis, in which there is no permanent structure of subordination, but in which there are overlapping patterns of relationships.47 Perichoresis is a concept which aims to describe the dynamic interrelations of the persons in the Godhead on the one hand, and Gods unied yet diverse interaction with the world on the other. The concept, according to Gunton, can be understood to be one which was developed by means of a movement in thought from the dynamic of the divine involvement in space and time to the implications of such an involvement for an understanding of the eternal dynamic of deity.48 Although perichoresis traditionally refers to the concept of coinherence, Gunton, following Coleridge, maintains that it also implies that the three dynamically constitute each others beings. Perichoresis therefore suggests a specic kind of relational diversity which is fundamentally different from the Heraclitean ux in that it is not an aimless ux but one which has a logos, the logic of its own being in relation. More elegantly,

46 47 48

Volf, After Our Likeness, p. 207. Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 77. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 163.
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God is not God apart from the way in which Father, Son and Spirit in eternity give to and receive from each other what they essentially are.49 In what way, then, can the concept of perichoresis, which seeks to describe the dynamic relations of the three persons in the Godhead, be said to serve as an analogy for the ecclesial community? The premise for this assertion is theological anthropology: if human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then it is not difcult to conceive of human beings as perichoretic beings in some way. The same may be generally said of the created order, and Gunton provides as examples the proposals of physicist Michael Faraday and the conclusions of some modern physicists. In their book, Order out of Chaos: Mans New Dialogue with Nature, Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers declare that [Physics] now recognises that, for an interaction to be real, the nature of the related things must derive from these relations, while at the same time the relations must derive from the nature of things.50 Regarding the being-in-relation of human beings, perichoresis afrms that persons mutually constitute each other. Our particularity in community is the fruit of our mutual constitutiveness: of a perichoretic being bound up with each other in the bundle of life.51 Furthermore, the notion of perichoresis enables us to address both individualism and collectivism because it presents an understanding of relationality which does not negate particularity. The broad analogous application of this concept to the church is not difcult to envisage: as a community brought together by the Spirit of God the church is made up of Christians who are related to each other in a way in which they mutually constitute each other. Although perichoresis enables us to understand the nature of relationality at a deeper level than non-perichoretic concepts of human beings, it is nonetheless limited, and therefore serves only as an analogy. The limitation has to do with the qualitative ontological distinction between God and creation. When applied to the persons of the triune Godhead, perichoresis implies a total and eternal interanimation of being and energies.52 But when used in relation to the created order, that is, to that which is bound by space and time, changes in the intension of the concept must necessarily follow. There can be no direct correspondence of the interiority of the divine persons to that of human persons. Human beings being external to each other cannot be said to indwell one another in the same way as the divine persons indwell each other. While it is true that human beings can embrace each other or enter emphatically into the other, this must be distinguished from the perichoretic relationship among the divine persons. At the ecclesial level, only what Miroslav Volf calls the interiority of personal characteristics can correspond to the interiority of the divine persons.53 In the church there is found through the indwelling

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Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 164. Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos: Mans New Dialogue with Nature (London: Fontana, 1985), p. 95. 51 Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 170. 52 Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 170. 53 Volf, After Our Likeness, p. 211.

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of the Spirit among Christians a mutual internalization of personal characteristics, as each person gives himself or herself to others, and also takes up others into himself or herself. In this way, the ecclesial human being becomes a catholic person in his or her uniqueness, mirroring the catholicity of the divine persons. Two further points must be raised at this juncture. The rst is a reminder that it is not simply the mutual perichoresis of human beings but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the church that makes the latter into a communion corresponding to the Trinity. This point, though in many ways obvious, must be stressed if ecclesiology is to be totally freed from the grip of secularism. The unity of the church is thus grounded in the interiority of the Spirit in Christians and with the Spirit, in the interiority of the other divine persons. Thus Guntons ecclesisology seeks to give greater emphasis to the churchs constitution by the Spirit: In such a way we may create fewer self-justifying and historicising links with the past and give more stress to the arrangements to be constituted by the Spirit.54 The second point is best articulated in the following questions: Can the communion of the three persons in the Trinity serve as a model for inter-ecclesial unity? Can perichoresis, which is hitherto applied to persons, also help us to understand the relationship between the local churches? Although Gunton does not discuss these issues in great detail (as far as I am aware), it is not impossible to suggest answers to the above questions on the basis of his proposals regarding relationality and perichoresis. For Gunton, as the above discussion makes clear, relationality is a transcendental concept which is gleaned from the being of God and which enables us to understand all of reality. As such, a concept of relationality which is given shape by the God who is being-in-communion can serve as a framework within which to reect upon the inter-ecclesial relationship. Can the same, however, be said of perichoresis? For Gunton, perichoresis can be used not just analogically but also transcendentally to lay to view what he calls the necessary notes of being.55 Reality therefore is at all levels perichoretic, a dynamism of relatedness, and this applies to ecclesial reality, to the relationship not just of Christians within the church, but also to the relationship between ecclesial communities. Put differently, the doctrine of the Trinity can provide us with the coordinates to reect on the relationship between the local church and the universal church, and the relationship between local churches. However, the different trinitarian theologies (between the West and the East, for example) would lead to different ways in which inter-ecclesial relations are conceived. The priority of the unity of God in the Western tradition, and its tendency to locate this unity at the level of substance so that the one substance of God takes precedence over the triplicity of persons, has meant that the one universal church has precedence over the many local churches. If the unity of substance in God is that which sustains the triplicity of the persons, it follows that the local churches are churches in the fullest sense only in so far as they exist from and toward the whole. As Hermenegild Biedermann puts it,
54 55 Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 62. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 165.
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Just as the unity of the one divine nature and essence as it were sustains the triplicity of persons, so also does a universal church as the common foundation sustain the multiplicity of local churches.56 By giving priority to the persons-in-relation rather than to the divine substance, Guntons conception of the Trinity, as we have seen, is closer to the Eastern tradition (especially the Cappadocians and Zizioulas) than to Western formulations. The one substance of God does not enjoy ontological priority over the persons. Rather the reverse is the case: because Gods being coincides with personhood, the divine substance exists only as persons. On this basis, it is possible to draw a trajectory of thought that would lead to certain conclusions regarding the relationship between the local church and the universal church which roughly parallels Zizioulas position. If the one divine substance has no priority over the persons, then, by analogy, the universal church has no priority over the local churches. That is to say, there is no universal church behind the local churches, just as there is no substance behind the three divine persons. This means that every local church is the universal church, just as every person in the Trinity is God. But in order for the local church to be identical to the universal church it must be in communion with other local churches. For Zizioulas the catholicity of the local church is grounded on the eucharistic presence of the whole Christ, who incorporates the many to himself. The eucharistic communion is, for Zizioulas, the expression par excellence of the catholicity of the church, a catholic act of the catholic church.57 While this line of argument is attractive, one wonders if Gunton would leave the simple analogy of divine substance = universal church and divine persons = local church assumed in Zizioulas (and the Western traditions) formulation unchallenged. In the case of the Western tradition, such an analogy has led to the idea of the one divine substance existing in addition to the divine persons. But in the case of Zizioulas and the Eastern tradition, we have the converse problem of how to distinguish between the divine persons if each of them has the one divine nature. For Gunton, the answer must lie once again in perichoresis: the point of departure should not be the relationship between the divine nature and the divine persons but rather the relationship of the divine persons as such. If the unity of the being of God must be understood perichoretically, so must the unity of the church. It is by opening up to one another diachronically and synchronically that local churches which are always creatures limited by space and time enrich one another, and thus become increasingly catholic, corresponding to the catholicity of the triune God. The universal church cannot simply be identied with the local church because the former is an eschatological reality. It is more accurate to say that local churches

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Hermenegild Biedermann, Gotteslehre und Kirchenverstndnis: Zugang der orthodoxen und der katholischen Theologie, Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 129 (1981), pp. 13142, p. 138. 57 John Zizioulas, Les groupes informels dans lEglise: Un point de vue orthodoxe, in R. Metz and J. Schlick, eds., Les groupes informels dans lEglise, Hommes et glise 2 (Strasbourg: Cerdic, 1971), pp. 25272. Quoted in Volf, After Our Likeness, p. 104.

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are historical anticipations of the eschatological people of God, that is, the eschatological universal church. The nal issue that must be discussed has to do with the problem concerning the relation between community and institution in ecclesiology. Guntons approach clearly seeks to de-emphasize hierarchy and what he calls the over-realized eschatology of the institution in modern ecclesiology. Yet the fact that the church as an earthly community bears the structures of such communities, which include hierarchy and institution, cannot be denied. How are we then to understand them in relation to the communal nature of the church that mirrors the being of the triune God? It is clear that Gunton rejects a hierarchical model of the Trinity associated chiey with the third-century theologian Origen. Nor is he entirely at ease with the monarchical view of the Father proposed by Zizioulas and the Eastern theologians. If, as Gunton has emphatically argued, the church is fundamentally a community, then its hierarchical structure is of secondary importance. The problem with modern ecclesiology is that it construes relations in terms of permanent subordination of one group to another, even though the superordinate group has for the sake of appearances dignied its position with the rhetoric of service .58 The ecclesiology of perichoresis that Gunton proposes envisions rather overlapping patterns of relationships where there is no permanent structure of subordination. Thus, the same person will be sometimes sub-ordinate and sometimes superordinate according to the gifts and graces being exercised.59 What of the relationship between community and institution? Gunton would doubtless agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote: The whole interpretation of the organisational forms of the Protestant Church as being those of an institution must therefore be dismissed as erroneous. It is only by beginning with the church as a community of persons that the Protestant forms of baptism, conrmation, withdrawal, gatherings of the congregation and church rules can be understood; only from this standpoint can one understand the structure of the objective spirit of the church, as it is embodied in xed forms.60

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Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 77. By his own admission, this concept may be thought of as hopelessly idealistic. See Gunton, The Church on Earth, p. 77. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio (London: Collins, 1963), p. 178.
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