After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

Article excerpt

After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. By Miroslav Volf. Sacra Doctrina Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, ME Eerdmans, 1998. xii + 314 pp. $28.00 (paper).

In the early 1930s, the young German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer presented to the University of Berlin his licential thesis Sanctorum Communio: A Sociological Study of the Church. The sociology used for the analysis in this thesis, supervised by the liberal theologian Reinhold Seeberg, was soon dated, but its conclusion remains relevant for the study of ecclesiology much beyond Bonhoeffer: the language and the concepts of sociology remain insufficient if we want to speak about what the Church is and what makes the Church the Church. These questions can only be answered theologically. Miroslav Volf in this splendid adaptation of his Tubingen Habilitationsschrift does speak about the church theologically-and ecumenically.

"The goal of my efforts is an ecumenical ecclesiology-not in the sense of a construct that draws on all traditions but is rooted in none, but in the sense that all the great themes of this unmistakably Protestant ecclesiological melody are enriched by Catholic and Orthodox voices" (p. xi). The challenges faced by the author differ significantly from those which Bonhoeffer had in mind: to present an ecclesiology which is ecumenical in the sense of the above quote, but also to respond to two of the most important challenges within the study of ecclesiology: that of the feminist quest for equality within the Church and what Volf calls "free-church ecclesiology." Protestant ecclesiology always has the obstacle of an individualistic doctrine of salvation to overcome. The author of this remarkable study seeks to sketch a non-individua-listic Protestant ecclesiology based on a Trinitarian foundation. This happens in constructive dialogue with the ecclesiologies of the Roman Catholic head of the Congregation of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Orthodox theologian John D. Zizioulas. Ratzinger and Zizioulas present essentially different models. For Ratzinger the substance of God is predominant and has priority over the three divine persons and their relationships. This in turn informs his ecclesiology which gives predominance to the universal Church over the local church. By contrast, Zizioulas presents a model of mutuality between the one Church and the many. The Church is constituted in the Eucharist, which "makes" the Church and manifests its very being in and through the life and the existence of the local church. The local church is the only possible manifestation of the full being of the Church universal and always has priority over it. …

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