Wednesday, May 14, 2008

servant ecclesiology

Reposted from Deep Furrows. Comments welcome!

What is servant ecclesiology? I first saw servant ecclesiology named in Avery Dulles's immensely helpful survey of contemporary ecclesiology, Models of the Church. Dulles identifies two inspirations for servant ecclesiology: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Teilhard de Chardin. Dulles also notes the theme of service in the documents of Vatican II, specifically Gaudium et Spes. A watershed document in this theology was Cardinal Cushing's 1966 pastoral letter, "The Servant Church." Dulles lists some prominent Protestant theologians who have developed this model of the Church: Gibson Winter, Harvey Cox, and John A. T. Robinson.

Among Catholics, Dulles names Richard P. McBrien as a strong proponent of servant ecclesiology. Here is Dulles's summary of McBrien:
«He [McBrien] wrote his doctoral dissertation on John Robinson, whose thought he reflects and develops. McBrien makes it quite clear that the Church must not look upon itself as a "humanitarian social agency, or a group of like-minded individuals sharing a common perspective and moving here and there, wherever the action is.' If the theological reality of the Church goes no deeper than that, there seems little reason to perpetuate this community in history or to continue one's personal affiliation with it." The Church for McBrien is the universal sacrament of salvation and the Body of Christ; but just because it is all this, it has a mandate to serve. "The Church must offer itself as one of the principal agents whereby the human community is made to stand under the judgment of the enduring values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: freedom, justice, peace, charity, compassion, reconciliation."»

(Image: Models of the Church: Expanded Edition, 1987: p96-97).
This servant ecclesiology has been very influential in seminaries and also lay formation programs.

The sad thing here is that when this servant ecclesiology has trickled down from theologians, formation programs, and liturgists to parishes it did so with a hermeneutic of discontinuity. That is to say that those schooled in it were given the impression that it was the only acceptable ecclesiology and that anything else was backward, preconcilar. Often times in the parishes, folks find themselves divided by these ecclesiologies without knowing why. Those who look at the Church as a servant to the world often lack the awareness of other models. And the readers of Thomas Aquinas and Chesterton often lack an awareness of the recent historical roots of servant ecclesiology (not surprising as I don't believe that the history of this ecclesiology has been a focus of the formation classes).

One result of this one-sided approach has been the bifurcation of Catholicism into two camps: liberal activism and conservative pietism. Would Dorothy Day recognize this division, even as she saw it start to unravel? Few progressive works today are as radical as Henri de Lubac's Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. And Balthasar's emphasis on the kenosis of Christ opens a profound vista on the Church as servant.

So, I hope this sheds light on the current mania for songs about peace, justice, servants, and also the notion that folk music is the most apt for the modern Church. I could say more, but I think this much should suffice for now...
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