Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Michael Ramsey on Christian Unity (2)

Archbishop Michael Ramsey paid a “solemn visit” to Pope Paul VI on 23 March 1966. The above is a photograph of his reception in the Sistine Chapel. On 24 March 1966, a Common Declaration was signed by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop in a ceremony held at the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls. 

Here is another passage from Chapter 4 (“The Meaning of Unity”) of Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

We must investigate the nature of this unity, and ask what is its relation to the Gospel.

[1] The meaning of unity is seen first of all in the word ekklesia, which our English Bible translates “church,” In the Greek Bible from the book of Deuteronomy onward, ekklesia is the normal rendering of the Hebrew quahal, the congregation of lsrael. Hence the use of the word by the Christian communities is striking; in many cities of the dispersion the Christians have been banished from the synagogues, and yet (no reader of the Septuagint could fail to see the audacious claim involved) they are themselves the ekklesia of God. To them belong the promises and privileges of the Israel of God, and their unity is a unity of race. This race, drawn from Jews and Gentiles and yet one race in Christ, is formed in many local communities, and the important question arises: What is the relation between the local communities and the whole race? The word ekklesia is used in the New Testament both for the local community and for the race as a whole, and except in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the former use is far more frequent. Does it then follow that the local community is primary, and the important starting point? No, for the very word ekklesia forbids us to think of any merely local community; the ekklesia in a place is the one race as existing in that place, e.g., the ekklesia of Corinth is the one called-out-race of God that exists in Corinth, as in many other places. The one race exists first, precedes the local ekklesia, and is represented by it. This fact was well put by P. T. Forsyth:

The total Church was not made up by adding the local churches together, but the local church was a church through representing then and there the total Church ... It was one Church in many manifestations; it was not many churches in one convention... The great Church is not the agglutination of local churches, but their prius; . . . the local church was not a church, but the Church ... the totality of all Christians flowing to a certain spot, and emerging there. ##

Thus the use of the word ekklesia in itself tells us an important truth about unity. The one universal Church is primary, the local society expresses the life and unity of the whole.

(2) Behind this unity of the one race there stand the historic events that created it, and the unity is seen to be in a real sense a sharing in those events. The word translated “fellowship” is applied to a number of aspects of unity: to the common life of the primitive Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42); to the collection for the saints (2 Corinthians 9:13); to the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16}; to the sharing of the Christians in the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1; to sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10; to union with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). But this wide and deep and many-sided unity is made possible only by a real contact with the historical events:

That which we have seen and heard (i.e. the historical Incarnation) declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world (i.e., the historical event) that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Fellowship is essentially fellowship with the historical events. No book in the New Testament is more emphatic in its teaching about the fellowship and love of the brotherhood than the First Epistle of St John; and no book is more insistent that fellowship springs from and bears witness to the events of Jesus in the Flesh. The events created the Fellowship and the fellowship mysteriously shares in the events.

Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The unity is between men who, dying to themselves, give glory to the one historic redemption and are drawn into it in one Body. The Eucharist is a sharing in the body and the blood of Christ, and the means whereby the Christians are “one bread one body” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), only because it brings them very near to His actual death in the flesh (1 Corinthians 11:26)

##  Forsyth, Lectures on the Church and Sacraments, p.40


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