Archimandrite Grigorios Papathomas is Professor of Canon Law and Dean of the St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris. In this article, first published by the Orthodox Church of Estonia, he argues that we live in a post-ecclesiological age due to our loss of sense of the local church belonging in a particular place. He also analyses the ways in which overlapping ‘co-territorial’ Churches define themselves by use of particular rites (Catholic), by confession (Protestant), or, in the case of the Orthodox, by ethnic origin.
With the sixteenth century there began a new era in the history and theology of the Church – and of Christianity – which for reasons that will be discussed below, we can call the ‘post-ecclesiological’ age. Its beginning was marked by the Reformation (1517), though many preliminary signs appeared much earlier, especially in the ecclesiology that was developed at the time of the Crusades (1095-1204).
The historical and theological evidence of the last five centuries shows a radical difference between the current era and the completely different ecclesial practice that preceded it. It actually represents a new conception of the Church, hitherto unknown, that marks the end of ecclesiology as lived and developed by the Church during her first fifteen centuries.
Following this clear deterioration in ecclesiology, which came about through events and not because of some evolution towards a ‘postecclesiological’ age, it was natural enough for various new ecclesiologies to emerge. These are, in order of their historical appearance: rite-based ecclesiologies (Catholic), confessional ecclesiologies Protestant), and finally ethnically based ecclesiologies (Orthodox).
These three ecclesiologies, are essentially of the same nature: that is, they are established according to aggressive, almost militant, principles. Moreover, they have dominated Church life since their appearance and also determined the statutory texts that regulate the existence and functioning of all Churches since that day.
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