The Pillar and Ground of Truth: Part III of a Response to NeoTheolgoue
In the original essay in question, John Craton asks these questions:
"Is it not within the church that Scripture is properly to be understood? Having been made the custodian of the Holy Scriptures, is it not the church's place, being guided by the Spirit of truth, to be the one to interpret it?"
Neo then writes, "I think Craton oversimplifies Paul's symbolism here. The church... is the pillar and foundation of truth, but the church is not The Truth."
Craton isn't talking about the Church *being* the truth itself; he is simply echoing St. Paul by noting that the Church is the guardian of truth, the pillar of truth, the interpreter of truth. It does not follow from this that the Church *is* the Truth.
No Orthodox confuses the Church for Christ as if they are the exact same. But neither do we worship a disembodied ghost of a God who has no physical presence on earth. Christology must be consubstantial with our Ecclesiology. The Church is unified and visible, just as Christ is. Just as a husband and wife are "one flesh" and as St. Paul said "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me" yet we still understand that there are two distinct persons we are talking about in those cases. This is why it is a mystery. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." 1 Cor. 12:12."
As Bishop Ware says, "The unity between Christ and His Church is affected above all through the Holy Spirit in the sacraments. For example, at Baptism, the new Christian is buried and raised with Christ (Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12); in Chrismation, the Holy Spirit is given as a 'personal Pentecost' to the newly baptized (Luke 10:34; Heb. 1:9; 1John 2:20,27; Acts 8:17); at the Eucharist the members of Christ�s Body the Church receive His Body. The Eucharist, by uniting the members of the Church to Christ, at the same time unites them to one another: 'We, who are many, are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread' (1 Cor. 10:17). The Eucharist creates the unity of the Church."
The Church, as St. Ignatius wrote so eloquently about at the end of the 1st century, is a Eucharistic society, a sacramental organism that exists wherever the Eucharist is celebrated with the Bishop "in fullness of spirit and truth" (more on this phrase in part V). It is no coincidence that the term �Body of Christ� can be translated from the Latin to mean both the Church and the sacrament; "communio sanctorum" in the Apostles� Creed should mean both �the communion of the holy people� (communion of saints) and �the communion of the holy things� (communion in the sacraments).
In St. Ignatius' letter to the Philadelphians, he notes the connection between the Eucharist, the Bishop and true unity when he instructs, "Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants; that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God."
For St. Paul, the Church is not only "a single body," but also a "single Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:11, 13; Eph. 4:3-4, 7). Here we understand, not a conformity of ideas or a unity of religious convictions, (as seems to be the constant impression of what the Orthodox mean by "unity" and what western Christendom thinks when they use the word "unity"), but a single Spirit of God which penetrates the entire body of the Church, guiding it, preserving it's fullness, as the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church teach and proclaim.
For example, St. Cyprian in his masterpiece "The Unity of the Catholic Church" asks, "Can anyone....believe it possible that the oneness of God, the garment of the Lord, the Church of Christ should be divided, or dare to divide it himself? Christ admonishes and teaches us in His Gospel: �And they shall be one flock and one shepherd.� And does anyone think that in any one place there can be more than one shepherd or more than one flock? . . . The flesh of Christ and the Lord�s sacred body cannot be cast outside, nor have believers any other home but the one Church."
Thus, we can see from the writings of the Fathers, the history of the church, and the biblical teaching that the Church is in fact the "pillar and ground of truth."