The Catholic Mind
It is impossible to start with a formal definition of the Church. For, strictly speaking, there is none which could claim any doctrinal authority. None can be found in the Fathers. No definition has been given by the Ecumenical Councils. In the doctrinal summaries, drafted on various occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the seventeenth century and taken often (but wrongly) for the “symbolic books,” again no definition of the Church was given, except a reference to the relevant clause of the Creed, followed by some comments. This lack of formal definitions does not
mean, however, a confusion of ideas or any obscurity of view. The Fathers did not care so much for the doctrine of the Church precisely because the glorious reality of the Church was open to their spiritual vision. One does not define what is self-evident. This accounts for the absence of a special chapter on the Church in all early presentations of Christian doctrine: in Origen, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, even in St. John of Damascus. Many modern scholars, both Orthodox and Roman, suggest that the Church itself has not yet defined her essence and nature. “Die Kirche selbst hat sich bis heute noch nicht definiert,” says Robert Grosche. Some theologians go even further and claim that no definition of the Church is possible. In any case, the theology of the Church is still im Werden, in the process of formation.
In our time, it seems, one has to get beyond the modern theological disputes, to regain a wider historical perspective, to recover the true “catholic mind,” which would embrace the whole of the historical experience of the Church in its pilgrimage through the ages. One has to return from the school-room to the worshipping Church and perhaps to change the school-dialect of theology for the pictorial and metaphorical language of Scripture. The very nature of the Church can be rather depicted and described than properly defined. And surely this can be done only from within the Church. Probably even this description will be convincing only for those of the Church. The Mystery is apprehended only by faith.