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Who is the Church? Zizioulas and von Balthasar on the Church's Identity

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image of Ecclesiology

A renewed primary focus on the person of Christ has enabled some longstanding tensions between Christians, regarding scripture and tradition, the number of the sacraments, the ordained and baptismal priesthoods, and word and sacrament, to be positively addressed in recent decades. John Zizioulas maintains that for these divisions to be properly overcome Christ must be understood as a corporate personality, the Church being his mystical body and not having a hypostasis of its own. In his view, not only does Christ constitute the Church, as theologians would readily agree, but the Church also constitutes Christ, a reciprocal understanding which he recognises as problematic for many. This paper investigates Zizioulas' view, particularly by noting that he never uses the idea of the Church as bride of Christ, an image much invoked by Hans Urs von Balthasar, which tends to a personal understanding of the Church in union with but also distinction from Christ. With many comparative references to Balthasar, the implications of Zizioulas' liturgical understanding that 'the “I” of the Church is Christ' are explored and analysed.


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