Why the Church can’t be Synagogal
In the comments to Julia’s recent post , Ross very kindly complemented one of my prior posts, which looked towards a more exilic ecclesiology. Ross laments that the Church is not more like Judaism of exilic times. “Yoder’s reading of Jeremiah, the Jewish communal life in the exile took on a few key characteristics, characteristics which he believes the post-Christendom Church should emulate… Local cells of the Jewish community, called synagogues, were formed wherever ten households were present. No hierarchical recognition or initiative was needed or desired.”
To this, Kerberos adds, “When is Rome ever going to allow anything resembling that ? Evangelicals do it all the time – and a good thing too. But Rome ? If only.”
The implication seems to be that the Church and the Papacy are still too deeply infected by the diseases which come from temporal power, from a monarchical model of the Church and Papacy.
If this is the main point, I and (more importantly) Pope Benedict, would definitely agree. For Ratzinger papal primacy is a primacy in love which has a martyrological structure and was instituted (in a sense) by Christ, for the purpose of preserving Church unity. Like Ross and Kerberos he laments the corruption of Church structures by their marriage to temporal power and rejoices in the fact that Napoleon’s conquest of the papal states freed the papacy from the slavery to much of that power.
He certainly did not see himself as any sort of monarch. In fact he changed centuries of custom by removing the tiara from his papal coat of arms.
“The Supreme Pontiff’s arms have featured a “tiara” since ancient times. At the beginning this was a sort of closed “tocque”. In 1130 a crown was added, symbol of the Church’s sovereignty over the States….
The Holy Father Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara in his official personal coat of arms. He replaced it with a simple mitre which is not, therefore, surmounted by a small globe and cross as was the tiara.
The Papal mitre shown in his arms, to recall the symbolism of the tiara, is silver and bears three bands of gold (the three powers: Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium), joined at the centre to show their unity in the same person.
On the other hand, there is also a completely new symbol in the arms of Pope Benedict XVI: the “pallium”. It is not part of the tradition, at least in recent years, for the Supreme Pontiffs to include it in their arms.
Yet the pallium is the typical liturgical insignia of the Supreme Pontiff and frequently appears in ancient portrayals of Popes. It stands for the Pope’s responsibility as Pastor of the flock entrusted to him by Christ.
Pope Benedict, while recognize the need for deep ecclesial reform, does not all think of himself as a monarch or anything of the sort. Nevertheless, he would be deeply wary of Kerberos’ suggestions, why?
Because synagogue-like base communities are not sacramental, and the Church is. For the Jews in exile, temple sacrifice was no longer a possibility, thus they turned to synagogal community and became, more than every before, a people of the book. Yoder thinks this form of Jewish worship and life is the lasting one, not the monarchical for example. Nevertheless, upon the end of the exile, the Jews immediately rebuilt the temple. While they never go back to monarchical governance, they do subordinate the synagogue to the temple.
Similarly, we can and should probably have multiple lively faith communities which are synagogue-like within each diocese, indeed, within each parish. Pope Benedict would not disagree with this, in fact, his hope for the future of the Church comes largely from his perception of the activity of the Spirit in the new ecclesial movements which often form such communities of fervent and integral Christian living within parishes and dioceses. Nevertheless, these communities are not churches in the proper sense.
Christ has supplanted the temple. The new sacrifice is the one everlasting and efficacious sacrifice which is re-presented at the altar of each Church. In other words,
Eucharist is the basic form of the Church. The Church is formed in the eucharistic assembly. … True human order is something different from the bars one places before beasts of prey so that they are restrained. Order is respect for the other and for one’s own, which is then most loved when it is taken in its correct sense. Thus order belongs to the Eucharist, and its order is the actual core of the order of the Church. The empty chair that points to the primacy in love speaks to us accordingly of the harmony between love and order. It points in its deepest aspect to Christ as the true primate, the true presider in love. It points to the fact that the Church has her center in the liturgy. It tells us that the Church can remain one only from communion with the crucified Christ. No organizational efficiency can guarantee her unity. She can be and remain world Church only when her unity is more than that of an organization–when she lives from Christ. Only the eucharistic faith, only the assembly around the present Lord can she keep for the long term. And from here she receives her order. The Church is not ruled by majority decisions but rather through the faith that matures in the encounter with Christ in the liturgy.
In short, Rome already allows synagogue-like communities. In fact, Pope Benedict encourages them, with the caveat that they are not churches. They remain ecclesial communities within the communion of their diocese. A community cannot become a Church on its own but can only receive its ecclesiality from the Eucharist, that is to say, as coming from Christ and sacramentally mediated to the people by apostolic succession.
Finally, I’d challenge each of us, if we find this sort of communal life lacking in our parish. If we find ourselves yearning for what evangelicals do all the time, or what the early Church seems to have done, then we ought to interpret that calling as a movement of the Spirit. Gather friends to our home, open ourselves in a radical and integral way to Gospel, and let the Lord transform us, just as he did for St. Benedict of old and also for Chiara Lubich and others more recently.