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Alexander Schmemann

"Unity", "Division", "Reunion" in the light of Orthodox Ecclesiology

Adress given at the Annual Conference of the Fellowship of S. Alban and St Sergius at Abingdon, England in August 1950.

From Theologia, ΚΒ, 1951, p. 243-254

Chapter I

To πλήρωμα της Εκκλησίας Σου φύλαξον

«Theology of Schism»—such is the somewhat strange name of a new branch of theology which has grown out of the present-day search for Christian unity. The reasons for its emergence are to be found in that notion of the nature of the Church, which is generally described as «Catholic», a concept which may be described as «horizontal», in contradistinction to the «vertical» or «Protestant» conception. This «Catholic» notion of the Church inevitably leads to the following paradox: any search for reunion presupposes a preliminary agreement as to what unity is. On the other hand, the «Catholic» concept of unity excludes the very possibility of real division, for, if on the one hand this Catholic conception leads us to affirm the organic unity of the Church or, more precisely, to affirm the Church as an organic unity, and if this same organic unity is expressed in the outward structure of the Church and in its historical continuity—division as such, is an obvious contradiction in terms; for in Catholic terminology such a division would signify the division of Christ Himself. The «theology of schism» is sometimes put forward as an attempt to find a way out of this specifically «catholic» impasse, and to reconcile the theological impossibility of the Church's division with historical reality.

It must be admitted at the offset that contemporary Orthodox theologians are far from having reached any agreement on this matter, and that those views which they have put forward in recent years on the significance of our divisions often appear to be mutually exclusive. These views range from a complete denial of the existence of any vestigia Ecclesiae outside the boundaries of the Orthodox Church, rejecting even the validity of the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, to a kind of justification of the divisions in Christendom based on the doctrine of Chalcedon. The diversity of these theories, I would suggest, is due to the fact that Orthodox ecclesiology is as yet almost totally undeveloped. The uncertainty of the Orthodox position on this point is a serious drawback, for those who would attempt a study of the problem before us to-day are thereby deprived of premises clearly defined by a consensus of Orthodox theological opinion. For this reason, I cannot attempt more than a very brief outline of a subject which, to be treated exhaustively, would require a large book. My paper, therefore, is but a modest attempt to suggest to you a few topics for reflection which I can only submit to you, in the words of Origen «γυμνοκηικώς», not as an answer to the problem, but rather as so many questions addressed, if I may say so, to the considered opinion of theologians.

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