The task of the Church in the formulation of dogmas
What is the Church, and how does it act in the formulation of dogmas?
We shall speak more of the Church in the respective chapter, but as far as the dogmas are concerned, we can make note of the following:
“Church” means the communion and the community through which -and within which- the new existential relations between God, mankind and the world (as manifested and realized in the person of Christ) are revealed and realized. In other words, in the Church, the entire world, with the new Adam (Christ) at its head, acknowledges God as “Father” and is thus “saved” from alienation and deterioration. The cognizance and the revelation of God is thus an empirical reality within the body of the Church, which has the form of a paternal-filial association wherein the entire world is embodied, thus constituting the “body of Christ”. Consequently, the Church – as the body of Christ – is, in this sense, the only proper and complete existential form of cognizance of God, through the lattice of relations that are realized within the community.
In order for the Church to comprise the full revelation of this existential form of cognizance of God, it must have the following elements, which arise from the aforementioned definition:
A. It must be a community-congregation that consists of all the Church members. All of the baptized members of the Church (who continue to preserve the association between God-mankind-people, as manifested and realized in Christ) are necessary, for the constituting of the body that will reveal Christ. Consequently, the lay people who remain faithful to the baptismal relationship between God and the world are of an opportune significance to the revelation of the truth of the Son as the new association between God and the world.
B. It must have at the head of the community a ministry that will express the presence of Christ and the Apostles as the ones who will constantly judge the community’s preservation of the original form of the body of Christ as revealed and experienced in the Old Testament era (see above). This ministry cannot be anything other than the prelate bishop of the Eucharist community as an image of Christ, surrounded by the presbyters, as images of the Apostles. This prevailed from the 2nd century A.D. onward (Ignatius of Antioch) without interruption (until the Reform in the West), because in the Eucharist, the community of the Church exceptionally lives and reveals this Christ-centered association-revelation between God and the world. The cognizance of God there is experienced as the revealing of the new, salvatory association between God and the world as manifested in Christ (more in the respective chapter).
Consequently, the leadership of the Eucharist community, in the person of the bishop, expresses the faith of that community “with one mouth and one heart”, as cited during the Divine Eucharist; in other words, it is expressed as a unanimity and not a dissent.
C. Given that the Church is not comprised of one only community but of many, the expressing of the entire Church’s faith “throughout the world” becomes a reality, when all of the communities –through their prelate bishops- coincide in the same faith; or, as Saint Ignatius of Antioch says: “when the bishops in every corner of the world are of the (same) opinion as Jesus Christ”. It was thus, that the synods (councils) of the prelate bishops -as the means of expressing the unanimity of their communities- came to be the most comprehensive expression of the proper faith of the Church. Therefore, the dogmas of the Church that are expressed by such synods (councils) – and especially when these synods include or represent all of the prelate bishops (these are the ecumenical councils) – are those that express the faith of the Church and reveal the cognizance of God within His association to the world through Christ, in the fullest manner.
D. In order for the dogma to be a living reality and not a simple logical or expressive formulation, it must continuously be filtered through the community of the Church, to all of its members, as a perpetual confirmation and reception of it, in the conscience of the entire body of the Church. This reception does not have any legal status in the Orthodox Church (that is, no specific procedures for the reception of dogmas by church members are foreseen), instead, reception acts in a positive way as the liturgical “Amen” of the laity, without which the bishops cannot authentically perform anything liturgically, or proclaim and express anything dogmatically. It also acts negatively, in cases where there is a disagreement between bishops and the crew of the Church (for example, the Council of Florence). But, above all, the passing, the “circulation” of the dogma within the body, inside the veins of the entire community, is effected through the experiencing of the dogma, which we referred to above (with the variety of charismas).
Thus, the entire church, the clergy with the bishops at the head, and the populace, all participate in the shaping of the dogmas as living and empirical truths that reveal God as the Father of Jesus Christ, and through Him, of the entire world, with Jesus Christ – the God-man – at its head. Bishops have the special ministry-charisma (and responsibility) of convening synods (councils), through which the faith-dogma can be confessed as a common and unanimous “cognizance” of God for all the Churches. That is why it is up to them to formulate the dogmas.
But, the completion of a dogma demands the circulation, the reception and the experiencing of it by the entire body of the Church.
Professor Metropolitan of Pergamus and Chairman of the Athens Academy I. Zizioulas