"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Parish

Among Eastern Christians, it was Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory who many years ago rightly noted that the one major problem in ecclesiology that almost nobody, in East or West, had ever bothered to examine seriously or systematically was that of the parish. More recently John Zizioulas has alluded to this as well. More recently still, a fascinating discussion on this very question has been going on at the Orthodox Church History site.

In the West, the famous debate between Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger over the "local vs. universal" Church  did not treat, much less solve, the problem of the parish. With the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, and its subsequent wild growth, the early model of "one bishop to one city" became unworkable. Many things would change--success breeds its own, often quite difficult, problems--and gradually we would see the growth of what we today call the parish, which has for centuries occupied a very uneasy place in ecclesiological reflection--to the extent it has been considered at all.

Now a new book out seems set to look at the question. This book is from a Roman Catholic perspective but I suspect that much will, mutatis mutandis, be of great interest and applicability to Eastern Christians as well:

Thomas A. Baima, What is a Parish? Legal, Canonical, Pastoral and Theological Perspectives (Chicago: Hillenbrand/Liturgy Training Publications, 2011).  

About this book, the publisher tells us the following:

The parish is the venue in which both the mission of the Church is lived, and the relationship of Catholics to the local and universal Church is mediated. Catholics come to the parish, not to the diocese, to celebrate the sacraments, to be catechized and formed, and to receive pastoral care.  The parish is the "Church inserted into the neighborhood and the world," the place in which the Church encounters the world and the world encounters the Church. However, the parish is rarely examined theologically or understood from a pastoral perspective. 

This book has three objectives:

1. It frames the parish with respect to the theological, pastoral, canonical and civil status of the parish.
2. It outlines further theological work to be done; and
3. It proposes criteria for evaluating further theological, pastoral, and civil judgments and initiative concerning the parish and parish life.

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