What is catholicity? The words "The Prophesy of Faith
of St. Athanasius the Great," highly estimated in the Christian world,
show how important it is for a Christian to find an answer to this question.
This prophesy says: "The man, who desires to
be saved, first of all must keep to the catholic faith. If anyone does not keep
this faith pure and innocent, then with no doubt he will perish forever."
The word catholic was translated by our
saints and spiritual first teachers Cyril and Methodius with the word council.
This shows that they in the full accordance with the understanding of the
entire Orthodox Church, put in this word not the same sense, which the
contemporary West assigns to it, interpreting the word "catholic" as
"ecumenical, universal." The same way the Trident Council of the
Roman Catholic Church was interpreting the meaning of this notion, which by the
way stated: "The third feature of the Church is its catholicity, i.e.
ecumenism and universality" (Catechismus ad Parochos, 1567)
The fact, that the Church understood that word not
the way the Roman Catholics did, is seen through the circumstance, that already
in the 11th century, in the epistle about martyrdom of St.
Policarpus, it is said about "the bishop of the Catholic Church in
Smyrna." The idea of the Ecumenical Church in Smyrna is senseless. Clement
of Alexandria (the 3d century) writes: "We say that in its essence and
ideas, in the origin and development, the authentic Catholic Church is the one,
which is unanimous, as it has to be, about the unity of faith" (Stromates,
VII. XVII R. D. IX, 552).
Though, the notion "catholic" needs to
be explained. What is a council, and catholicity? For the correct understanding
of this word, we have to look back at the very beginning of the physical world
and rise to the heights of theology.
God reveals Himself in front of us not as a
Unite-Monad, but as the multitude, trinity in unity: God the Father, God
the Son, God the Holy Spirit, but not three gods, One God, Three Personalities,
but the Only Creature.
How such unity of the Three Divine Personalities
is achieved? Through fullness and perfect love of One Personality to Another
and full complete authenticity of the Divine Persons, through the absence of
any shade of untruth, falsity in the Holy Trinity.
This is the true, original image of catholicity,
council character, the way the Holy Church calls the Ever-Holy Trinity: the
Pre-Eternal, Divine, Trinity Council.
Such council-like or catholic existence is the
source of the greatest absolute joy and blessedness. That is why, on His
inexpressible goodness, God wished that the joy of the council existence could
be shared with other creatures, whom He created as able for that: first the
angelic council and then the human kind.
He put in these creatures thirst for perfection,
which can be reached due to the closer approaching to Him. Exactly the same is
the state of angels and those people, who will inherit the Kingdom of God, as
St. Basil the Great said: "I am a creature, but got the task to become
Joy and love grow more, according to the measure
of approaching God, coming close to Him, and consequently, in sharing His joy
and blessedness. It follows, that for God joy is a state, while for angels and
blessed people a process, but the infinite process, for the Divine joy, which
they partake of, is absolutely infinite.
With that, this process is not individual. The
angels have council character, they are catholic. Each angel is a personality,
but all together they comprise to one, indivisible council, similar to the
Trinity, Divine Council.
From this angelic council fell out that angel, who
did not want to communicate with God and be close to Him, but chose the way of
self-establishment and isolation. He lead a part of the angels, those who
followed him, onto that way, dooming them for estranged existence, deprived of
any joy, for they fell off from the source of joy — God.
The man was called to the council existence. St.
Basil the Great writes: "The monastic, exterminating in themselves the sin
of Adam, restore the prehistoric beauty, because people would not have had any
divisions, discords, wars, if the sin did not split the unity. Monks imitate
the Savior, His life on earth. For, as the Savior was the image of the
disciples, and even made Himself unanimous with the apostles, the same way they
do. Monks imitate the life of angels, preserving council state in everything,
like angels do. They anticipate the blessings of the promised kingdom,
presenting with their virtuous life and mutual communication the absolute
imitation of that kingdom’s way of living and state. They have definitely
showed to the world, how many blessings the incarnation of the Savior brought
to us, for they bring into unity with God the torn in thousands of pieces and
scattered human entity, as hard as they can. For this is the most important in
the house-building: to bring human nature into the unity with itself and the
Savior and, destroying the sly division, to restore the primeval union, similar
to how an experienced doctor again makes the body, falling into many parts,
strong with the help of medicines" (Basil the Great, chap. XVIII,
"The Ascetic Regulations").
Consequently, according to the Divine plan, people
should be not the separated from one another units — monads and individuals,
but personalities, connected with one existence, i.e. everyone, preserving his
individual features, should live with the rest of the people, leading common,
but not separate life.
This Divine plan was distorted by sin, when human
nature turned out to be cut in pieces — individualities — with the fact that
the man opposed his will to the Divine one.
But the man committed a sin not because of
definite and mature decision to step onto the way of opposition to God, that
was why his sin was not so awful, and distortion of his being was not hopeless.
The original, authentic council character of mankind, its ancient catholicity,
to some extent was preserved in the depth of the human soul. And everything
kind and truly precious, of what was in the pre-Christian world and up to the
present moment can be observed in the non-Christian world, has its roots in
this in the first place harmed, but not destroyed council character — catholicity
The man leads not only his individual life. Only
to some extent, not fully, but still he feels the necessity of the other type
of existence — the council-like one. From our experience we know the feeling of
compassion, typical of all people, their desire as if to come out of oneself
and walk in another’s shoes, feel for his grief, share his happiness. These are
the pieces of the original ability of the man to live not only within himself,
but in his neighbor. We possess the ability to understand another person, to be
imbued with thoughts and feelings of other people, sometimes in such a measure
that these thoughts and feelings become as if our own. The main and most
precious trace of original catholicity is the possessed by all people ability
to love. Love drives the man out of the destructive separation, which
conceals in itself cold and torture, and returns to him, in the measure of the
strength of his love, the ancient joy of council-like existence.
The scientific and artistic creativity from the
very primitive manifestations up to the most elevated, as well roots in the
original council character, since scientific creativity is the strife for
finding the truth, and art — for seeking and expressing the beauty, for they
are the traces of the authentic process, to which the man is called — to the
comprehending of Fullness, Truth and Beauty of God. And the joy, which brings
scientific or artistic creativity, is the trace and reflection of that joy,
towards which, on the plan of the Creator, was originally called the man, and
of which he got deprived, committing a sin.
Surely, these traces of the council character, put
into our nature, are now very weak and powerless, because of our sinful nature.
Everyone, who examined his intentions in a good way knows, how much infirm
these kind, natural feelings are. For example, how much can the man sincerely
and with all his heart sympathize with the excruciating sufferings of a
neighbor, without being distracted by his own interests and concerns?
The return to the completeness of the council
character catholic life, to human one-essence existence is not possible for our
natural forces alone. That is why all the ancient and new attempts to build the
natural morals, undertook out of the Christianity, are powerless: even the most
loving and self-denying people in the final run would give preference to their
interests, than to those of the others. The demands of self-establishing and
ego in the fallen man are stronger than the reflections of the violated council
And meanwhile, only catholicity leads to
salvation, for it returns the man onto the way of approaching God, and
consequently leads to joy. Separation and reticence conceal torture in
And so, for returning catholicity to the man, God
comes down onto the earth.
Each person inherits his physical and spiritual
qualities from his parents. In the essence of each one of us there is nothing
that was not in our father or mother, or in any of the antecedents.
Consequently, the fullness of our qualities, both physical and spiritual, was
put in Adam, the father of mankind. So, if he committed a sin, then any of the
descendents earlier or later could commit it as well.
That is why it was necessary for the salvation of
mankind that something new, that Adam lacked, would be brought into human
nature. This new thing was brought to the people by the Son of God, connecting
the essence of Adam with His own. Becoming a human, He was subjected to all
temptations, typical for us, but, unlike Adam, He resisted and did not yield to
the temptation to oppose his will to that of the Father, and therefore remained
Having taught the people with word and His
Personal example to lead righteous life, he lifted their sins upon Himself,
suffered and died to efface them. For He personally was sinless, then death did
not have any power over Him. Hell, where He descended after His death on the
cross, could not tolerate the glory of His Divinity. Destroying the walls of
hell, and exterminating the bounds of death, Christ was risen.
Though these extraordinary qualities of Jesus
Christ — wisdom, holiness, unceasing life, spiritual strength — would have
remained His personal advantages, if His ever-good will would not have pleased
to spread them over entire mankind.
But how did the Lord achieved that? He created the
new Creature — the Church.
The sin cut in pieces the human essence; therefore
a sinful man cannot become one with another. Only some slightest reflections of
possessing common essence remained in mankind. Though a sinless person can gain
common with the others essence.
So, the sinless Man, Jesus Christ, obtained common
essence with those people, who attach to Him and get freed from sins, due to
His redeeming the sins of the world.
Such a mysterious connection with Christ happens
Though, the fact that Christ redeemed our sins
does not mean that we can sin further, and remain sinless. No, the Lord does
not force anyone to come to Him, for love and communication with God are built
upon freedom. Every time the man sins, i.e. freely chooses the evil instead of
the good, he separates Himself from Christ. On the infinite Divine mercy, he
can again come back to Christ through repentance. Therefore, in the sacrament
of confession a priest reads a prayer: "Reconcile and unite him (or her)
to Your Holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord." Receiving sinless
state through confession, the man again connects himself with Christ in the
sacrament of the Holy Communion.
Thus, the Church is the new Creature — the human
Council, guided by Christ, the authentic organism, in which He is the Leader.
In it all the members are of the same essence with Christ and one another,
representing the multitude in its unity, the similarity of the pre-eternal
Divine Trinity Council.
This is what council character, or catholicity is.
What does it mean the "catholic faith,"
which St. Athanasius mentions to be the indispensable condition of salvation?
This is that faith, which is professed with the
Council of co-essential with Christ and one another personalities, among which
is the Holy Spirit, teaching them truth. This catholicity equally comprises of
all departed and alive, those Christians, who believe catholically, i.e.
correctly. Each of them is responsible for the purity of their faith, for to
believe otherwise than the others, who form the Church do, means to separate
oneself from the Council, and to oppose the own will and ideas to the will and
ideas of the Council, lead by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, it is very important to believe and
live in the unity with the whole Council, the entire Church, not opposing
oneself to It in anything. To be in unity does not mean to be dissolved in
featurelessness, for each person is a unique personality, individual inimitable
image of the Divinity, with only belonging to him, and never and in no one
repeated qualities, as the qualities of Each Divine Personality of the Holy
Trinity are. Each man has his own tasks in life, but he has to fulfill them in
catholicity, unity, one-essence existence with the other members of the same
organism — the Church.
This is the short scheme of catholicity. About
catholicity, the council character of mankind, about the restoration of the
damaged with sin unity of mankind Christ the Savior was praying in the
Archpriest prayer before His cruciferous sufferings: "Holy Father, keep
through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as
we are…Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on
me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me,
and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John, 17:11, 20-21).
Here Christ prayed about the establishment of the
Church, the human Council, similar to the Pre-Eternal Trinity Council, for we
are called to be similar to God from the moment of our creation.
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