II. Breaking Apart the Foundation: Roman Catholicism and Protestantism
Looking mainly at the oneness and holiness of the Church, Fr Dumitru goes on to write, ‘Unity belongs to the Church’s constitution as the incarnate Word’s extended body. For the Lord became incarnate, was crucified, and rose from the dead as a man in order to gather in Himself those divided, to gather them in the infinity of His love for the Father and of the Father’s love for Him. This unification of all in Him constitutes the very essence of salvation. For this unity means unity in the blessed and infinite God. In fact, unity is not possible outside God, and thus neither is salvation. Christ extends Himself in us through His sacrificed and risen body, so that He may unite us and make us like Himself; He fills us with the same love that He has for God the Father and that God the Father, who is in Him, has for Him. And this is the Church. Being filled with this love, the Church is also the loving unity among her members (The Church, pgs. 57-8).
‘ . . .
‘Thus the foundation of the Orthodox Church is Jesus Christ Himself, whose sacrificed and risen body is found deep within the Church. The unity of the Church is an ontological unity, or better said, a supra-ontological one. In Catholicism this kind of inner unity has been weakened because through the mysteries one receives only a created grace, not grace as uncreated energy in which Christ Himself is found.
‘In Catholicism this weakening of the union with Christ through the mysteries led to the elevation of the pope as vicar, or locum tenens, of Christ. Obedience to the pope has thus become the means by which the unity of the Church is maintained in a more juridical or institutional way. Protestantism, unhappy with such a nonspiritual and rather external unity of the Church, has reduced the relationship with Christ to a simple relationship of the believer with Him through faith. But because this faith does not have its source in Christ’s bodily presence in the Church, to a great extent it has become devoid of power and content, becoming more like a voluntary, subjective act with a much reduced content decided upon by each individual (p. 62).
‘ . . .
‘The Church is unitary because, having Christ working within her, she is truly His extended body; that is, she is fully united with the head and fully united within herself. A Church that does not have Christ within her in this full and intimate manner, and that considers that Christ is so distant from her that she needs a vicar, is not fully united with Christ, and consequently neither is she fully one within herself in the innermost way—not to mention the total lack of unity in a Church in which Christ is even more absent and in which an experience of the whole Christ does not exist, but only a faith that to a great extent is inconsequential for life, a faith that is interpreted in as many forms as there are individuals (pgs. 65-6).
‘ . . .
‘The holiness of the Church is strongly connected with her unity. For the more united the Church is with Christ and thus within herself—that is to say, the more intimately she is united with her head, who is holy—the holier she is in her quality as His body. Sin, which is the opposite of holiness, is at bottom a sin against unity. The holiness of the Church and of her members flows from the union with the Lord’s sanctified body through obedience and sacrifice. The holiness of the Church and of her members is the form in which we see manifested their strong union with Christ, who was sanctified through His sacrifice for us although He was already without sin due to the hypostatic union.
‘This means that the holiness of the Church, just like her unity, has its source in Christ, who is holy and who is present within her. Where there is a direct and intimate relationship with Christ, and in Him with the other faithful, there is holiness. In Protestantism, in which the faith in Christ’s intimate and working presence in the Church has been weakened, the holiness of the Church—along with her unity—has also been weakened to the point of disappearing. Concern for the holiness of the body through abstinence has also been greatly weakened in Catholicism (see, for example, the absence of fasting, eating before Holy Communion, and so forth), due to the lack of emphasis on partaking of Christ’s sanctified body in the Church, and generally due to the similar reduced emphasis on the importance of Christ’s body and His holiness, as well as our body’s importance in the work of salvation.
‘The Church’s holiness and unity, which derive from the strong union with Christ, are attributes in which Christ’s saving power is manifested through the Church. Salvation cannot be obtained without participation in Christ’s holiness, which works in the Church. If salvation is participation through the transparence of the body in the divine infinity in the Holy Spirit, who spiritualizes our bodies, one understands why some Western denominations that avoid any effort toward spiritualizing the body conceive of salvation as a juridical solution to the conflict between God and human beings, as a purely formal solution that will bear fruit in the faithful’s existence in the life to come.
‘Christ is holy because, above all else, He is God. Holiness is an attribute of God. The created being does not have holiness except through participation. That is why when participation in Him is not affirmed, the created being’s holiness is not affirmed either (as in Protestantism). . . .
‘It is with this holiness that, through the Incarnation and His sacrifice, the Son of God has filled the human nature He assumed, raising it onto the divine throne and guaranteeing its life, together with its eternity, from the divine infinity. Because Christ is in the Church with this nature and because He abides in the faithful, holiness, salvation, and the eternal divine life are communicated to them. Holiness is communicated from His body through His Holy Spirit. Through His pneumatized body His holiness is being endlessly communicated to us in the Church, as is the power to become ever holier, ever more open to God’s purity and eternal love, and free of any egoism that is opposed to holiness’ (pgs. 68-70).
Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 4: The Church: Communion in the Holy Spirit. Ioan Ionita, trans. and ed. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2012.