The Church in Our Time, in All Times, and Outside of Time (Or, The Futility of Presentism)


[Attached below is a set of excellent quotations from Dr. Eric Mascall, an Anglican theologian of the twentieth century.  (The passages are provided by Fr. John Hunwicke here.  But Fr. Hunwicke’s post does not provide indications of the exact sources.)

Dr. Mascall’s statements are illuminating when contrasted with a definition of Presentism: “uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.”

Nothing Mascall writes would inhibit true development of doctrine or the constructive dialogue of the Gospel with aesthetic sensibilities in any era (even including the Baroque, though I the late-Baroque Rococo is pushing the envelope a tad).  But constructive dialogue with the spirit of the age is something altogether different than a kind of uxorious submission to it.  As someone said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”]

The Church is not merely “a society formed by the voluntary association of those individual Christians who are now on earth”; it is “rooted in the concrete historical events of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ … we who are now on earth are only the last of sixty or so generations of Christians who have each in its turn made up the earthly Church … There is a fine phrase in which tradition has been described as ‘the democracy of the dead’ … But, since Christ has overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life, the Church which was once militant here upon earth in the past is the Church which is now triumphant and expectant beyond the grave. This is therefore not just the democracy of the dead but of the living, as God himself is not of the dead but of the living. “
” … the Church  … is not just the empirically manifested Church now militant on earth, but the archetypal Church which is nothing less than Christ’s own manhood into which generations of Christians have been incorporated …”
” … at any particular epoch the Church militant is only a minute fraction of the Church Catholic… in the great living and growing organism which is the Body of Christ, we who are now on earth are not the successors of those who are now at rest and sleep in the sleep of peace or of the saints who now enjoy the beatific vision; we are their contemporaries, united with them by incorporation into the ascended Lord who is the Body’s Head …”
“If we identify the Church of God simply with the Church Militant, we shall look upon it as a society with membership that is constantly changing as new members enter it by baptism and old ones leave it by death, after the pattern of any other earthly society. If, however, we remember that the Church militant is only the lower fringe of the whole Church, we shall see the Church as an organism, a body which is constantly growing, which is being built up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.

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