Consecrating the world
by Ken Myers
On Volume 141, I talked with Gerald McDermott about Christ, the Christian, and the Church, a book by Anglican theologian E. L. Mascall (1905–1993). In that book, Mascall wrote: “From the Incarnation onwards the history of the world is the history of the Christian Church, and the end to which the whole process is moving is the remaking and gathering together of the whole human race through incorporation into Christ.”
Speaking of the world as somehow subordinate to the Church stresses the fact that the Church is a truly universal thing, a higher reality. In modern societies, that fact is hard to imagine, since liberal democratic doctrine encourages us to think of the Church, (or more commonly, “churches”) as private, smaller, self-contained pieces of a larger, more comprehensive reality called “society” or “nation.” In the “real world,” the Church is of marginal concern.
In his book The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1901–1970) framed his rebuttal of iconoclasm in the context of an affirmation of the goodness of Creation and specifically of matter. Part of his argument involved a discussion of the relationship between Church and world, and a recovery of the cosmic dimensions of redemption.
“The Lord placed the Church in the world and charged it with the apostolic mission of witnessing and evangelizing. But this is only the beginning of the Church’s mission whose magnitude obliges us to reverse the words church and world and to look ahead to the end of the process and sketch the vision of the world in the Church. By doing this, we are required to correctly evaluate the scope of human creation and culture. Theologians must undertake this reflection in order to develop a balanced theology of the world. It is the role of eschatology to deepen this vision, to make it possible to grasp the absolutely new reality of the image of God, redeemed in Christ, to reveal as well the exact nature and role of angels and demons in man’s life, to make holiness credible as martyria and prophetic charism in the present historical context. We have here the creative collision of the world and its destiny seen in the light of God’s grand design for the world.”
. . .
“History and eschatology interpenetrate each other; they live inside one another. The meaning of Pentecost and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the universal meaning of the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis), especially as it touches the doctrine of eschatology and the Second Coming, this meaning gives a clear indication of the basic vocation of Christians in the world. St. Maximus said it this way: ‘unite created nature [the world] with the uncreated deifying energies’ of which the Church is the living source. The Church in the world defines time and existence from the point of view of the eschaton. This point of view sees all existence as already closed, folded back on its own imminence and thus affirms the priestly vocation of the world itself. The world does not become the Church but in ‘symphonic’ agreement with the Church, ‘without confusion or separation,’ the world accomplishes its proper task through its own charisms.
“In our present time, what is called the ‘responsible society’ has become conscious of being the active subject of both its own destiny and of the universality of the communion of men. This is why when the Church speaks to society, it does not speak to a foreign and separate body. . . . The Church’s message contains the salt and the leaven which alone will ultimately determine its place in today’s civilizations. This message not only touches individuals but nations and peoples and encourages them to make responsible choices and to pay attention, for example, to the problems of the third world, automation, and the distribution of the earth’s wealth.
“There is no ontological dualism between the Church and the world, between the sacred and the profane. There is an ethical dualism, however, between ‘the old man’ and the ‘new man,’ between the redeemed sacred and the demonized profane. According to the Fathers, man is a microcosm, but the Church is a macro-anthropos. The Church puts its cosmic and pan-human dimension to work through its diaconia and the Good Samaritan is the image of this service orientation. This dimension provides a bridge over the abysses and suppresses all separation such as emancipation and secularization, Nestorianism and Monophysitism. Such a pan-human dimension does not, however, suppress the distinctions of individual vocations. The world in its own way enters into the macro-anthropos of the Church which is the arena of ultimate accomplishments, of the apocatastasis (the reestablishing of all things); it is the sphere of the Parousia and of the ‘new earth’ established in power.
. . .
“‘Fill the earth and conquer it’ means to turn it into God’s Temple. Consecrate the world means to force it to go from its demonic state to being God’s creature. No form of life or culture can escape from God, from the universalism of the Incarnation. Christ who is the image of all perfections is the supreme and unique Bishop as well as the supreme and unique Layman. He assumed the priesthood and also the lay state; he therefore has taken upon himself all vocations, occupations and professions in the world. ‘God loved the world’ in its state of sin. Christ’s victory, including his descent into hell, takes on a cosmic dimension which destroys all barriers. Theosis is an essentially dynamic notion, and its action has an effect on every part of the cosmos in the same way that doxology spreads God's glory over everything that is human.
“According to patristic cosmology which has nothing in common with natural ethics, the universe is moving toward its completion and fulfillment, as these are seen and defined in the fullness of creation, a fullness defined by the Incarnation. Christ takes up again and completes, completes and fulfills, that process that the Fall halted. He manifests the Love that saves without omitting anything of the grand design for man as concelebrant and co-worker with God.
“God is present in the world in a different way than in his Body. The Church must make the implicit Presence explicit; it must do what St. Paul did in Athens when he explained that the ‘unknown god’ was Jesus Christ. The work of evangelization must penetrate the work of civilization and orient it toward Christ the Orient from on high.
“Baptism recalls the great Benediction of the waters and of all cosmic matter during the feast of Epiphany. The liturgical celebration of the feasts of the Cross bend the whole universe down under the victorious sign of the resurrected Christ. These feasts put the world back in the context of God’s first Benediction, a Benediction which is reaffirmed at the time of the Ascension by the liturgical gesture of Christ the Priest: ‘and raising his hand, he blessed them.’ The consecration relates everything that is human to Christ: ‘Everything is yours and you are Christ’s.’
“The Fathers fought against the gnostics who scorned earthly life. God is not the ‘wholly other’ separated from the world but rather Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ This is why ‘the whole creation is waiting impatiently for the revelation of the sons of God.’ A baptized person is not different from the world; he is simply the world’s truth and is thereby responsible for its destiny. The world becomes a royal gift to man as soon as its horizontal dimension finds its vertical coordinates.”