Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Augustine’s nuptial ecclesiology

St Augustine in his study, by Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525/1526)

If it is true (as I believe it to be) that the Holy Spirit is nurturing a renewed biblical, patristic, catholic, evangelical, sacramental and dynamic “nuptial mysticism” as the underlying interpretive construct of Christian theology that will draw together the Christian traditions (there . . . that's nailing my colours to the mast!) then it's a good thing to re-read ALL of our sources and keep an eye out for some of the themes we might not have been looking for first time round.

I was talking about this with a friend who alerted me to an essay by Mary Moorman: Quando Tu and The Nuptial Creation: St. Augustine’s Enduring Influence on Contemporary Ecclesiology. It's a great piece, drawing together a number of ideas and making the connections with Balthasar and de Lubac:

Historians such as David Hunter have proposed that one of Augustine’s favorite popular metaphors for the Church, as we find in his sermons, is that of a virgin bride, contracted in marriage to her husband by the tabulae matrimoniales of ancient Roman jurisprudence. Thus, although various scholars have held that Augustine’s concept of the Church must always be regarded rather tentatively, since his ecclesiology is constituted by a complex and dynamic nexus of interconnected distinctions, historian Peter Brown proposes that Augustine portrays the Church in the commonplace legal imagery of a legitimately contracted bride when it became most necessary to delineate a clear ecclesiology for his parishioners against the separatist movements of his day. Brown urges that “the atmosphere of a courtroom will follow Augustine into Church when he preached against the Donatists… with the same unnerving confidence as Monica (when displaying) her own marriage contract, Augustine would now produce the marriage contract of Christ and His Church.”

Augustine’s “nuptial” ecclesiology may be summarized in three key elements. In the first place, Augustine teaches that the bridal Church was born from Christ’s suffering body:

(Just as) God sent a deep sleep upon Adam, in order to fashion a wife for him from his side…in Christ’s case, a bride was made for him as he slept on the cross, and made from his side. With a lance his side was struck as he hung there, and out flowed the sacraments of the Church.

From various Ennarationes such as in Psalmos 30, Augustine continues that Christ speaks for the members of the ecclesial bridal body to which He has joined Himself, as its Head, because “by a great sacrament (the Incarnation) these two were united in one flesh…out of two people, one single person comes to be, the single person that is Head and body, Bridegroom and Bride.”

Secondly, Augustine also holds that the bride of Christ is not merely born from Christ; she is also contracted to Christ in a mutual exchange of marital vows. In this regard, Augustine describes the bridegroom at the wedding feast of John 2 as a metaphor for Christ the bridegroom . . . Go HERE to keep reading


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