Posted on: May 2nd, 2008 Watershed Issue #1: Church as Incarnation

In navigating the waters between Presbyterianism and Anglicanism, I have come to see that one watershed divide between the liturgical churches of the “great tradition” and more Reformational churches is the issue of whether the church is the continued incarnation of Christ on the earth.

I have come to land on the side of the issue that does affirm that this claim is an true characteristic of the church, that the church is incarnational in this way.

I offer below two patristic quotations (thanks to Doug Harrison) which testify to ancient precedent in seeing the church in this way. The first is from St. Augustine:

“The Body of Christ,” you are told, and you answer, “Amen.” Be members then of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. Why is this mystery accomplished with bread? We shall say nothing of our own about it, rather let us hear the Apostle, who speaking of the sacrament says: “We being many are one body, one bread.” Understand and rejoice. Unity, devotion, and charity! One bread: and what is this one bread? One body made up of many. Consider that the bread is not made of one grain alone, but of many. During the time of exorcism, your were, so to say, in the mill. At baptism you
were wetted with water. Then the Holy Spirit came into like the fire which bakes the dough. Be then what you see and receive what you are. — St. Augustine, Sermon 272 (quoted in Henri de Lubac Catholicism, p 37 – 38).

The second is from chapter 9 of the Didache (which I recently saw dated at 100CE!):

Now about the Eucharist: This is how you are to give thanks: First in connection with the cup. “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child. To you be glory
forever.” Then in connection with the piece [of consecrated bread], “We thank you our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever. “As this piece was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For yours is the power and the glory through Jesus Christ forever.”

What’s more, I have learned in my studies of Anglican ecclesiology that seeing the church as the incarnation of Christ on earth actually presupposes much of what the ancient fathers & mothers of the church have to say about deification (or what Anglicans sometimes refer to as holiness).

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