A Primer on the True Nature of the Church
Despite Current Scandals, The Church is a Communio

Sin causes complexity: Discerning the Essential through the Existential
(Nov. 14, 2021)

Writing about ecclesiology – a study of the mystery of Christ’s divine life extended into the human family and forming His mystical body the Church – has become more and more complex. Since the Incarnation, the mystery of the Church on earth has had the existential experience of two thousand years of saints and sinners. That long history has necessitated a lot of distinctions in order to discuss how the Church is holy even while it is composed of sinful humans who are “working-out their salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Sin and scandal, which as Christ warned “necessarily will come, but woe to him through whom it comes” (Matthew 18:7), causes the need for sometimes complex distinctions because scandal divides us. Scandal and sin causes us to contrast the Church’s essential nature as it was instituted by Christ with the existential societal manifestation that we witness in history as sinful men fail to faithfully follow Christ. Saints make discussion on the Church very simple and they unite us all. Due to human sinfulness, the essential nature of the Church (what the Church is in itself as intended by Christ) is obscured often in its historical existential societal manifestations due to human weakness and sin.*

The existential manifestation of the Church as a society within human history has both highlighted and simultaneously obscured the ability to see the true nature of the Church. In Revelation 21 we find the true nature of the Church expressed highly symbolically. Therein and explained, the essential nature of the Church – the City of God which comes down out of heaven – is especially manifested on earth in the Liturgy that joins it on earth and the saints that maintain communio with Christ. The Church on earth is the pilgrim people of God gathered with the Lamb of God (especially at Christ’s institution of the Eucharist). It is the baptized on the Way of salvation in union with the apostles.

In Revelation 17 we see an existential degradation of God’s people, fallen and about to be judged for apostasy. It is the place where human sin sought human political answers without Christ and trusted in mammon and Caesar instead of God. In Mother Theresa of Calcutta we saw the Church’s essential nature…holiness and total devotion to Christ unobscured by her existential life. In Pope John XII and various Renaissance popes we saw some of the degraded existential society manifestation…men in high office giving scandal and causing doubt over Christ’s institution of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. They remind us of some kings of Judah, like Manasseh, inheritors of God’s promises but spreading sin instead of knowledge of God, hopefully repenting in the end.

With every scandal coming through the men who hold offices in the existential Church of history, as well as the laity who betray Christ, the woes accumulate and study of the Church (ecclesiology) grows more and more complex. The essential nature of the Church is dimmed and hidden by the existential manifestation of scandal. Restoration of the existential manifestation of holiness is needed so the essential mark of apostolicity is not mocked. How can restoration not be needed with 2000 years of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7) affecting the Church? How can the essential nature of the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) – as revealed in sacred scripture – be discerned through the existential reality of today when Pope Francis encourages a public supporter of grave iniquities to receive Holy Communion despite Biden’s lack of public repentance from such grave sins?

A giant elephant sits on the sofa. The situation is contrary to the essential nature of the Church and the existential and holy Tradition of 2K years which always guarded the essential nature of Holy Communion. Joe Biden publicly and personally signs executive orders since January 2021 as President of the most powerful nation on earth and makes abortion more available and funded by taxpayers. He is publicly and personally responsible for formally cooperating in abortion and forcing others to pay for it through his personal signature. How can anyone discern the City of God in a Liturgy where such a man of iniquity and lawlessness enters the temple and takes his seat on the throne of God by attempting to receive the Lamb in Holy Communion? (cf. Rev 3:21). Despite this – and hoping for God’s deliverance – we must not be blinded to the Church’s essential nature.

The revealed mystery of what the Church is essentially – as investigated in the discipline of ecclesiology - is actually very simple: “Christ in you, the hope for glory” (Col 1:27). Human rationalization on the topic and the failures of men throughout history makes discussion so confounded and so complex. It is from the grace of goodwill and a good heart where “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) that we can become less complex and simple again. Mother Teresa was simple and could give a one-word speech: “Peace.” It would transform the audience more than this somewhat complex essay will. Nevertheless, the aim of this essay is a call to unity through holiness and on-going conversion to Christ. It is a primer on the essence of the Church, the Church’s essential nature.

The Church is a communio

The Greek word koinonia – and translated into English as fellowship (cf. 1 Jn 1:3) or participation (cf. 1 Cor 10:16) – is often translated as societas or communio in Latin. “Koinonia is a derivative from koinos: common, joint, shared.”^ These terms and understandings remain intrinsic to any translation, whether in Latin or English. The Church is a unity in diversity, a koinonia or fellowship centered upon, with, and in Christ the source of life. As a visible society and koinonia, the Church exists as a visible sign to bring people into authentic communion with Christ through the reality of Christ’s true ministers and Christ's life-giving mysteries: “that you may have fellowship [societatem] with us [the Apostles]” (1 Jn 1:3a) and so have fellowship [societas] with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 1:3b). This visible communal experience of societas with the apostolic ministry and the faith of the Apostles must become more and more internalized within individuals for the individuals to be made more fully “participants [koinonoi] in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and grow into Christ (cf. Eph 4:15).

By the Second Century, the Greek koinonia was often translated by the Latin Fathers as communio. Benoit-Dominique De la Soujeole points to Saint Irenaeus’ Against Heresies as an example. The Greek Irenaeus is translated into the (Latin) of that time as follows: “The Word has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and koinonia (communio) of God and man… bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of koinonia (communio) with God.”+ Fellowship with the invisible Trinity is more about participation in the divine life of the Spirit than being merely a visible member of a society as we used to understand societies. Christ opened a new horizon through which we understand participation in the divine and take societas into communio via the communicatio of Christ’s cup (cf. 1 Cor 10:16). Now the visible, the Logos made flesh, initiates access to the invisible for visible creatures to experience communio with God.

This essay focuses on koinonia as communio since it better relates the reason the Eucharist of Christ is often described as Holy Communion and since communio has become the decisive Latin term for the Latin West to describe the essential nature of the Church as participation in Christ. Communio, includes and simultaneously goes beyond the visible societas or society. Communio takes into it all the meanings of the Greek koinonia and found in the Latin translations of: societas, communicatio, and consortes (cf. 2 Pt 1:4). The First Letter of John and its opening paragraph on koinonia are thus more easily connected with the whole Book of Revelation and so one more easily perceives, either with the Latin communio or English fellowship, that John was speaking liturgically when speaking of achieving the reality of koinonia with Christ through koinonia with him and the apostles.

The Book of Revelation and Communio

In the Book of Revelation, the mark of apostolic unity – which is at the service of koinonia – is reflected liturgically (cf. Rev 1:10 “on the Lord’s day”) and sacramentally (cf. “the lamb”). This is done to “unveil” [apocalypsis] that the apostles and their legitimate successors (cf. Titus 1:5-7 1 Pt 5:1) give access to the institution of Christ’s onetime and life-giving sacrifice and thus participation in Christ’s life-giving and living body at the memorial Christ himself instituted. If asked to summarize what was accomplished at the “Last Supper,” theologians would rightly summarize John and the synoptic Gospels as Christ commanding and commissioning the Apostles to: “Do this memorial I am instituting in my blood as a means of communion and sanctification by me from heaven since I go to prepare a place for you and continue this communio from Heaven as the High Priest and Lamb.”

The unveiling of this summary becomes evident when the Book of Revelation depicts the heavenly city from above “the new Jerusalem” and Temple coming down and resting on the foundation of the twelve apostles (Rev 21:14). Here the Book of Revelation and John’s First Letter are unmistakably joined by the same author. Revelation is clear about the heavenly city coming down with the foundation on the apostles as 1 John 1:3 also emphasized: “that you may have koinonia with us to have fellowship with the Father and the Son." Moving from the twelve apostles as the foundation of the city, the Book of Revelation then proceeds to show the lamb of God (Christ’s sacramental presence) really, truly and substantially standing in the center of the heavenly city and upon the foundation of the apostles: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22-23). Communio with Christ – koinonia with Christ – through the ministry of the apostles is made available to all the faithful in Holy Communion…the wedding feast of the Lamb.

On earth, such communio comes through the Liturgy that Christ established and through which the reality of the Heavenly Jerusalem comes to us under signs which necessarily unite Christ to us. Here-in Revelation 21, the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery by the Church on earth is depicted sacramentally. The true meaning of Christ’s words in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6 are unveiled: “my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Communio! Under the appearance of bread and wine, through the priesthood of Melchizedek (cf. Heb 7:16), the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is presented for the sanctification of mankind. The lion of the tribe of Judah – under the symbol of the lamb (death re-presented through signs of body and blood) – presides over the earthly koinonia via his ordained ministers and grants communio through his sacrament. He cannot suffer again nor die because Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Here-in, Revelation 21 and 1 John 1:1-3 meet with John 6.

Revelation 21 and the First Letter of John are a summary of the mystery of the Church on earth and the purpose of the Church on earth: to cause koinonia with Christ. The Book of Acts confirms this. The baptized “held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and koinonia, to the breaking of the bread [the eucharist] and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). For the members of Adam’s race – who willingly and continually accept Christ’s love – Christ bestows and increases his eternal life in their souls. Through the apostles we are brought from societas into communio via participatio in Christ’s life-giving sacrifice the sacrifice where he died once for all.

The “eternal life” and divinity that always vivified Christ’s humanity (1 Jn 1:2) – and by which Jesus resurrected from death – still vivifies Christ who ascended into heaven (cf. Jn 6:62). Christ’s death conquers death for any member of the race of Adam who accepts him in faith. By destroying death, “the eternal life” (1 Jn 1:2) has achieved within Christ’s sacrificed and resurrected humanity a new means by which the Logos (John 1:1) can communicate his eternal life to any human.

[to be continued per the below announcement... and now HERE.]

* cf. Benoit-Dominique de la Soujeoule, Introduction to the Church, trans. Michael Miller (CUA Press, 2014). Throughout the text and using Lumen Gentium as his basis, he contrasts the essential nature with the existential manifestations of the visible society.
^ Ibid, 452. I am also indebted to conversations with associates Andrew Whitmore, Kevin Tracy, and Andrew Beer on translation differences from Greek to Latin. Opinions shared here-in do not necessarily reflect the views of my associates.
+ Ibid, 457.

Biography of this article's author: Matthew A. Tsakanikas, STL, STD is editor of catholic460.com. No opinions here-in necessarily reflect the views of his associates.

PART II IS HERE: "Christ Is Still at Work in His Church & Charity Is the Essential Nature" (Nov. 17, 2021)