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One In Christ: An Historical Look

Fr. John Behr

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That we are to become one, as Christ is one with His Father, is our Lord's own prayer (John 17:11). This movement towards unity applies to many areas of our lives as Christians: husband and wife are to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5), we are each to become one spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17), and, in the petition of the Great Litany, we pray for the welfare and unity of all the churches of God.

This unity, in a very real sense, is a gift and is already given: in the sacrament of marriage, the bride and the groom become one; in baptism we put on the identity of Christ, becoming His body; and in the Creed we confess our belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church." Yet in the case of marriage and putting on Christ, we also have to work on ourselves--or more specifically die to ourselves--to receive the gift fully. Is this also the case with regard to the unity of the Church?

It is clear that in our contemporary situation in North America, with our separate yet overlapping jurisdictions, we do not manifest, at least administratively, the unity for which we pray. Do we, then, in our jurisdictional plurality, embody an ecclesiological heresy--that is, fail to live out in practice what we proclaim with our lips about the unity of the Church? Or perhaps the claim should be made the other way round: Given that we do indeed belong to the Church and embody the Church, in all the messiness of our concrete existence, is our profession of faith in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" no more than a daydream, wishful thinking, or even a lie? Clearly, once the situation has been cast in such terms, neither alternative is satisfactory.

So perhaps we should think about the issue differently, recognizing that the reality of the unity of the one Body does not lie with ourselves and our all-too-human attempts to embody what is given, but with Christ Himself. This is the unity we, as particular churches, pray to attain, and it requires our struggle (and death to our own identity). Perhaps we should not think, as we are wont to do, of the unity of the one Church that we desire as something we once had but have since lost. Perhaps we should see it rather as a unity towards which we are always moving as we sojourn in the changing circumstances of this world, seeking a citizenship that ultimately lies in the heavens (Philippians 3:20)--just as Christ is always "the Coming One," even when present and being asked a question in the Gospels (see Matthew 11:3).

Read the entire article on the Again Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 29-Jul-06



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