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This article is about the Christian theological study. For 19th century sense
of the word, the science of the building and decoration of churches, see
Church (building).

Washington National Cathedral

In Christian theology, Ecclesiology is the study of the Christian Church, the
origins of Christianity, its relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its polity,
its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership. Since different ecclesiologies
give shape to very different institutions or denominations, there are many
subfields such as Catholic ecclesiology, Protestant ecclesiology, and
ecumenical ecclesiology.
The word ecclesiology was defined in the 19th century as the science of the
building and decoration of church buildings and at least one publication still
uses the word in this sense.

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The roots of the word ecclesiology come from the Greek ἐκκλησίᾱ,
ekklēsiā (Latin ecclesia) meaning "congregation, church"[notes 1] and -λογία, -
logia, meaning "words", "knowledge", or "logic", a combining term used in
the names of sciences or bodies of knowledge.
The similar word ecclesialogy first appeared in the quarterly journal The
British Critic in 1837, in an article written by an anonymous contributor[3]
who defined it thus:
We mean, then, by Ecclesialogy, a science which may treat of the proper
construction and operations of the Church, or Communion, or Society of
Christians; and which may regard men as they are members of that society,
whether members of the Christian Church in the widest acceptation of the
term, or members of some branch or communion of that Church, located in
some separate kingdom, and governed according to its internal forms of
constitution and discipline.[4]
However, in volume 4 of the Cambridge Camden Society's journal The
Ecclesiologist, published in January 1845 that society (the CCS) claimed
that they had invented the word ecclesiology:[3]
...as a general organ of Ecclesiology; that peculiar branch of science to
which it seems scarcely too much to say, that this very magazine gave first
its being and its name.[5]
The Ecclesiologist was first published in October 1841 and dealt with the
study of the building and decoration of churches. It particularly encouraged
the restoration of Anglican churches back to their supposed Gothic
splendour and it was at the centre of the wave of Victorian restoration that
spread across England and Wales in the second half of the 19th century. Its
successor Ecclesiology Today is still, as of 2017, being published by The
Ecclesiological Society (successor to the CCS, now a registered charity).[6]
The situation regarding the etymology has been summed up by Alister
McGrath: "'Ecclesiology' is a term that has changed its meaning in recent
theology. Formerly the science of the building and decoration of churches,
promoted by the Cambridge Camden Society, the Ecclesiological Society
and the journal The Ecclesiologist, ecclesiology now stands for the study of
the nature of the Christian church."[7]
Issues addressed by ecclesiology[edit]
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• Who is the Church? Is it a visible or earthly corporation, or a unified and
visible society — a "church" in the sense of a specific denomination or
institution, for instance? Or is it the body of all 'believing Christians'
(i.e. the invisible church), regardless of their denominational
differences and disunity? What is the relationship between living
Christians and departed Christians (the "cloud of witnesses")—do
they (those on Earth and those in Heaven) constitute together the
• What is the relationship between a believer and the Church? That is,
what is the role of corporate worship in the spiritual lives of believers?
Is it in fact necessary? Can salvation be found outside formal
membership in a given faith community, and what constitutes
"membership"? (Baptism? Formal acceptance of a creed? Regular
• What is the authority of the Church? Who gets to interpret the
doctrines of the Church? Is the organizational structure itself, either in
a single corporate body, or generally within the range of formal church
structures, an independent vehicle of revelation or of God's grace? Or
is the Church's authority instead dependent on and derivative of a
separate and prior divine revelation external to the organization, with
individual institutions being "the Church" only to the extent that they
teach this message? For example, is the Bible a written part of a
wider revelation entrusted to the Church as faith community, and
therefore to be interpreted within that context? Or is the Bible the
revelation itself, and the Church is to be defined as a group of people
who claim adherence to it?
• What does the Church do? What are the sacraments, divine ordinances,
and liturgies, in the context of the Church, and are they part of the
Church's mission to preach the Gospel? What is the comparative
emphasis and relationship between worship service, spiritual
formation, and mission, and is the Church's role to create disciples of
Christ or some other function? Is the Eucharist the defining element of
the rest of the sacramental system and the Church itself, or is it
secondary to the act of preaching? Is the Church to be understood as
the vehicle for salvation, or the salvific presence in the world, or as a
community of those already "saved?"
• How should the Church be governed? What was the mission and
authority of the Apostles, and is this handed down through the
sacraments today? What are the proper methods of choosing clergy
such as bishops and priests, and what is their role within the context
of the Church? Is an ordained clergy necessary? Who are the leaders
of a church? Must there be a policy-making board of "leaders" within a
church and what are the qualifications for this position, and by what
process do these members become official, ordained "leaders"? Must
leaders and clergy be "ordained," and is this possible only by those
who have been ordained by others?
• What are the roles of 'spiritual gifts' in the life of the church?
• How does the Church's New Covenant relate to the covenants
expressed in scripture with God's chosen people, the Jewish people?
• What is the ultimate destiny of the Church in Christian eschatology?
Catholic ecclesiology[edit]
Main article: Ecclesiology (Catholic Church)
Catholic ecclesiology today has a plurality of models and views, as with all
Catholic Theology since the acceptance of scholarly Biblical criticism that
began in the early to mid 20th century. This shift is most clearly marked by
the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu in 1943. Avery Robert Cardinal Dulles,
S.J. contributed greatly to the use of models in understanding ecclesiology.
In his work Models of the Church, he defines five basic models of Church
that have been prevalent throughout the history of the Catholic Church.
These include models of the Church as institution, as mystical communion,
as sacrament, as herald, and as servant.[8]
The ecclesiological model of Church as an Institution holds that the Catholic
Church alone is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church", and is the
only Church of divine and apostolic origin. This view of the Church is
dogmatically defined Catholic doctrine, and is therefore de fide. In this view,
the Catholic Church— composed of all baptized, professing Catholics, both
clergy and laity—is the unified, visible society founded by Christ himself,
and its hierarchy derives its spiritual authority through the centuries, via
apostolic succession of its bishops, most especially through the bishop of
Rome (the Pope) whose successorship comes from St. Peter the Apostle,
whom Christ gave "the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven". Thus, the Popes,
in the Catholic view, have a God-ordained universal jurisdiction over the
whole Church on earth. The Catholic Church is considered Christ's mystical
body, and the universal sacrament of salvation, whereby Christ enables
human to receive sanctifying grace.
The model of Church as Mystical Communion draws on two major Biblical
images, the first of the "Mystical Body of Christ" (as developed in Paul's
Epistles) and the second of the "People of God." This image goes beyond
the Aristotelian-Scholastic model of "Communitas Perfecta" held in previous
centuries. This ecclesiological model draws upon sociology and
articulations of two types of social relationships: a formally organized or
structured society (Gesellschaft) and an informal or interpersonal
community (Gemeinschaft). The Catholic theologian Arnold Rademacher
maintained that the Church in its inner core is community (Gemeinschaft)
and in its outer core society (Gesellschaft). Here, the interpersonal aspect
of the Church is given primacy and that the structured Church is the result
of a real community of believers. Similarly, Yves Congar argued that the
ultimate reality of the Church is a fellowship of persons. This ecclesiology
opens itself to ecumenism[9] and was the prevailing model used by the
Second Vatican Council in its ecumenical efforts. The Council, using this
model, recognized in its document Lumen gentium that the Body of Christ
subsists in a visible society governed by the Successor of Peter and by the
Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification
and of truth are found outside its visible structure.[10]
Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology[edit]
From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, the Church is one, even though
She is manifested in many places. Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology operates
with a plurality in unity and a unity in plurality. For Eastern Orthodoxy there
is no 'either / or' between the one and the many. No attempt is made, or
should be made, to subordinate the many to the one (the Roman Catholic
model), nor the one to the many (the Protestant model). It is both
canonically and theologically correct to speak of the Church and the
churches, and vice versa.[11] Historically, that ecclesiological concept was
applied in practice as patriarchal pentarchy, embodied in ecclesiastical unity
of five major patriarchal thrones (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria,
Antioch and Jerusalem).[12]
There is disagreement between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of
Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow on the question of
separation between ecclesiological and theological primacy and separation
of the different ecclesiological levels:
• Position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the problem of primacy in the
Universal Church
• First without Equals. A Response to the Text on Primacy of the Moscow
Patriarchate, by Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Metropolitan of Bursa
Ecclesiology of the Church of the East[edit]
Historical development of the Church of the East outside the political
borders of the Late Roman Empire and its eastern successor, the Byzantine
Empire, resulted in the creation of its distinctive theological and
ecclesiological traditions, regarding not only the questions of internal
institutional and administrative organization of the Church, but also the
questions of universal ecclesiastical order.[13]
Protestant ecclesiology[edit]
Main article: Protestant ecclesiology
Magisterial Reformation ecclesiology[edit]
Martin Luther argued that because the Catholic Church had "lost sight of
the doctrine of grace", it had "lost its claim to be considered as the authentic
Christian church." ; this argument was open to the counter-criticism from
Catholics that he was thus guilty of schism and the heresy of Donatism, and
in both cases therefore opposing central teachings of the early Church and
most especially the Church father St. Augustine of Hippo.[14] It also
challenged the Catholic doctrine that the Catholic Church was indefectible
and infallible in its dogmatic teachings.
Radical Reformation ecclesiology[edit]
There is no single "Radical Reformation Ecclesiology". A variety of views is
expressed among the various "Radical Reformation" participants.
A key "Radical Reformer" was Menno Simons, known as an "Anabaptist".
He wrote:
They verily are not the true congregation of Christ who merely boast of his
name. But they are the true congregation of Christ who are truly converted,
who are born from above of God, who are of a regenerate mind by the
operation of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the divine Word, and
have become the children of God, have entered into obedience to him, and
live unblamably in his holy commandments, and according to his holy will
with all their days, or from the moment of their call.[15]
This was in direct contrast to the hierarchical, sacramental ecclesiology that
characterised the incumbent Roman Catholic tradition as well as the new
Lutheran and other prominent Protestant movements of the Reformation.
Some other Radical Reformation ecclesiology holds that "the true church
[is] in heaven, and no institution of any kind on earth merit[s] the name
'church of God.'"[14]
Latter-day Saints[edit]
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a work simply called
the Handbook that unifies creed, ecclesiology, and polity for that faith.
See also[edit]
• Great Church
1 Jump up 
^ In the Greco-Roman world, ecclesia was used to refer to a lawful
assembly, or a called legislative body. As early as Pythagoras, the word took
on the additional meaning of a community with shared beliefs.[1] This is the
meaning taken in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the
Septuagint), and later adopted by the Christian community to refer to the
assembly of believers.[2]
1 Jump up 
^ Diogenes Laertius, 8.41 (available online, retrieved 22 May 2008).
2 Jump up 
^ F. Bauer, W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament
and other Early Christian Literature, third ed., (Chicago:University of Chicago
Press, 2000), ἐκκλησία.
3 ^ Jump up to: a
 b White, James F. (1979). The Cambridge Movement: the
ecclesiologists and the Gothic revival (revised ed.). Cambridge University
Press. pp. 48–9.
4 Jump up 
^ Anon. (1837). "Ecclesialogy". The British Critic Quarterly Theological
Review and Ecclesiastical Record. London: J.G. and F. Rivington. XXII (41):
5 Jump up 
^ "Preface". The Ecclesiologist. Cambridge Camden Society. IV (1): 2.
January 1845.
6 Jump up 
^ "The Ecclesiological Society - About". The Ecclesiological Society.
Retrieved 9 February 2017.
7 Jump up 
^ McGrath, Alister E. (1999). "Ecclesiology". The Blackwell Encyclopedia
of Modern Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 127.
8 Jump up 
^ Cardinal Dulles, Avery (2002). Models of the Church. New York: Image
Book, Random House Inc. p. contents. ISBN 0-385-13368-5.
9 Jump up 
^ John Anthony Berry, "Communion Ecclesiology in Theological
Ecumenism", Questions Liturgiques/Studies in Liturgy 90/2-3 (2009): 92-105.
10 Jump up 
^ Lumen gentium § 8
11 Jump up 
^ Erickson 1992, p. 490-508.
12 Jump up 
^ Pheidas 2005, p. 65-82.
13 Jump up 
^ Jugie 1935, p. 5–25.
14 ^ Jump up to: a
 b McGrath, Alister. E. (1998). Historical Theology, An
Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
15 Jump up 
^ George, Timothy (1988). Theology of the Reformers. Nashville,
Tennessee: Broadman Press. p. 285.
• Erickson, John H. (1992). "The Local Churches and Catholicity: An
Orthodox Perspective". The Jurist. 52: 490–508.
• Jugie, Martin (1935). "L'ecclésiologie des Nestoriens". Échos d'Orient. 34
(177): 5–25.
• Pheidas, Blasios I. (2005). "Papal Primacy and Patriarchal Pentarchy in
the Orthodox Tradition". The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox
in Dialogue. New York: The Newman Press.
Further reading[edit]
• Flanagan, Donal, ed. The Meaning of the Church: Papers of the
Maynooth Union Summer School, 1965. Dublin, Ire.: Gill and Son,
1966. N.B.: Mostly concerns the Roman Catholic Church's own
ecclesiology, but also includes a lengthy chapter on the
Reformed/Presbyterian standpoint, "The Church in Protestant
External links[edit]
Look up ecclesiology in
Wiktionary, the free
Wikiquote has quotations
related to: Ecclesiology
• Ecclesiology journal
• A primer on Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecclesiology from an
Orthodox perspective
• Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine
Eucharist and the Bishop during the First Three Centuries by the
Professor Metropolitan of Pergamus and Chairman of the Athens
Academy John Zizioulas