Christian Identity and Communities of Memory: Renewing the Public Life at the Parish Level (Part 3)

Christian Identity and Communities of Memory: Renewing the Public Life at the Parish Level (Part 3) May 7, 2009

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Challenges of Individualism

The Person, the Other, and the Community in communio Ecclesiology

In order to overcome the limitations individualism imposes on us as Catholics, we need to understand how the Church views the person (as opposed to the individual), the other (our neighbor), and the community in the context of communio ecclesiology. The Incarnation makes Christianity so distinct from other major religions, because it follows that the Christian who is searching for God encounters Him in another person: Jesus Christ. Therefore, the encounter between the individual and God in Christianity is a personal encounter, because the Christian is faced with someone concrete and familiar: a God who shares his or her same human nature. The Incarnation has given the meeting between humans and God a personal character. This understanding of the person is quite different from the understanding of the individual that takes place in the American culture as sketched above. Joseph Ratzinger summarizes well this different perspective on the individual when he writes that:

Christian faith is not based on the atomized individual but comes from the knowledge that there is no such thing as the mere individual, that on the contrary man is himself only when he is fitted into the whole: into mankind, history, the cosmos.[1]

Communio ecclesiology pays homage to the whole person in his physical and spiritual being and worldly activities.[2] This holistic approach to the individual views the individual as a person who is in the world and in communion with others. Communio theology sees the person in harmony with the world and others rather than in opposition to them, which is in direct contrast to how Locke conceived the individual who only joins together with the community when driven by his self-interests.

Augustine maintains that by nature, the human person is a social being and finds himself living in the world that is made up of human and divine realities.[3] The Incarnation—the Word made flesh and dwelling among us—stands as a proof that it is in the world where God carries out his divine plan that, as Jean Daniélou rightly notes, “the entire world is the accomplishment of the plan that comes from God and is moving toward God.”[4] Thus, we do not enter the world of meaning by ourselves as disjointed individuals with no relation to one another as each having our own “independent little world.”[5] On the contrary, we enter it together as a people made in the image of God:

the image of the Word, which the incarnate Word restores and gives back its glory, is “I myself”; it is also the other, every other.  It is that aspect of me in which I coincide with every other man, it is the hallmark of our common origin and the summons to our common destiny.  It is our very unity in God.[6]

When we are in authentic communion with one another we realize how different others are from us and that can cause us to either fear the other to the point that the differences between us become divisive[7] or to realize that we “cannot be without the other” despite our differences, just as in the Trinity the Father cannot be without the Son or the Spirit, and vice versa.[8] It is this latter understanding of community—the divine fellowship that exists within the Trinity—that stands as the model of an ideal community of faith in communio ecclesiology.

Part 4: Affinity and Lifestyle Enclaves

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. Burns & Oates (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1990), 184.

[2] David L. Schindler, Heart of the world, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), 28.

[3] Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality, ed. Elizabeth Clark (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 43.

[4] Jean Daniélou, Prayer: The Mission of the Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), 9.

[5] Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, trans. Lancelot C. Sheppard and Sister Elizabeth Englund, OCD (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), 335.

[6] De Lubac, Catholicism, 340.

[7] John D. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness (New York: Continuum, 2006), 2.

[8] Ibid., 9.

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