The Theology of John Zizioulas – Introduction

John Zizioulas is one of the best known theologians of the contemporary Orthodox Church, a central figure in the ecumenical scene and one of the most cited theologians at work today. This volume demonstrates the unity of Zizioulas’ work by setting out the connections he makes between theology, philosophy and the Church. Its twelve contributors discuss issues of theology, ontology and anthropology in order to assess his view of the relationship of community and freedom. Offering Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives, they come to a range of conclusions about the degree to which Zizioulas brings these issues together to form a coherent theological ecclesiology, but they agree that Zizioulas presents contemporary thought with an unrivalled expression of Christian theology. This Introduction will set out theological and philosophical context of Zizioulas’ distinctive proposal.

Zizioulas’ central concern is human freedom and the relation of freedom and community. Freedom is not restricted, but enabled, by our relationships with other persons, Zizioulas argues, for the community in which God includes us is the place in which our personal identity and freedom come into being. God is intrinsically communion and free, and his communion and freedom he shares with us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the source of the communion of the universal Church, and the promise of real freedom for the world. This communion is being actualized by God in the world in the community of the Church. The persons gathered into this communion will come to participate in the freedom of God, and through them the world will participate in this freedom too.

[‘Introduction’, The Theology of John Zizioulas: Personhood and the Church, edited by Douglas H. Knight Ashgate 2007]

John Zizioulas is one of the best known theologians of the contemporary Orthodox Church, a central figure in the ecumenical scene and one of the most cited theologians at work today. This volume demonstrates the unity of Zizioulas’ work by setting out the connections he makes between theology, philosophy and the Church. Its twelve contributors discuss issues of theology, ontology and anthropology in order to assess his view of t relationship of community and freedom. Offering Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives, they come to a range of conclusions about the degree to which Zizioulas brings these issues together to form a coherent theological ecclesiology, but they agree that Zizioulas presents contemporary thought with an unrivalled expression of Christian theology. This Introduction will set out theological and philosophical context of Zizioulas’ distinctive proposal.
Zizioulas’ central concern is human freedom and the relation of freedom and community. Freedom is not restricted, but enabled, by our relationships with other persons, Zizioulas argues, for the community in which God includes us is the place in which our personal identity and freedom come into being. God is intrinsically communion and free, and his communion and freedom he shares with us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the source of the communion of the universal Church, and the promise of real freedom for the world. This communion is being actualized by God in the world in the community of the Church. The persons gathered into this communion will come to participate in the freedom of God, and through them the world will participate in this freedom too.
Zizioulas’ account of human beings is at odds with a great part of the Western intellectual tradition, for which it is a basic prejudice that we cannot both be together and free. This tradition conceives man as an isolated unit, separable from all other beings, and believes that each of us must assert ourselves against others, and against society as a whole. The individual struggles against the many, but cannot ultimately secure his or her own identity, and it is not even certain whether otherness and plurality of the world will survive in the long run.
Zizioulas points to a quite different understanding of communion and freedom. They are the promise made by God to man, and the goal of the present and ongoing work of God for, and with, man. Mankind is not yet in possession of freedom. The real freedom and diversity promised to humanity has been inaugurated in the Church, the communion in which all diversity and otherness is being perfected, and through which the diversity and very existence of creation, comes. The first major insight that Zizioulas offers us is that communion and freedom are not opposed.
Communion means both oneness and otherness, difference as well as unity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the criterion and guarantor of this otherness. Only these divine persons are truly other and the source of all otherness. It is they who establish and confirm us as different from God, and distinct from one another. The divine persons are the guarantee that there is any distinct thing at all, and that the diversity represented by this creation is not an aberration, but will continue and flourish. God has planted his communion as a community in the world, as evidence of his intention to sustain us and promote our variety and otherness. This community is the Church, the sign and inaugurating event of this diversity and unity.
Communion is not at the expense of freedom, but freedom and communion together come from God, and taken from God, may be freely enjoyed by man. The existence of the Church and the event of the eucharistic gathering are two aspects of the act and work of God. The Church gives thanks to God for all that comes, and will come, from him, and as it does so it receives these things on behalf of the world. By taking them willingly, as a gift from one person to one another, created things cease to be brute givens that we can do nothing about, and become tokens of a relationship of consenting parties, freely in this relationship. The Church declares publicly that God is the source of all things, that he is freely for us, and that he extends his freedom to us so we may participate in it. By confession of God we concede that we have not made the world in which we find ourselves, and that we are the recipients, not originators, of our existence. This declaration releases us to receive the life that is offered us. By becoming avowed and willing recipients, we become participants and co-creators with God, and so come to share in this freedom.
Zizioulas equally runs against the grain of the Western tradition with a second insight. One does not come before the many, so being is not somehow more fundamental than plurality: diversity is not a merely temporary phenomenon that must eventually disappear. Equally, the many are not more fundamental than the one: the general and collective do not outweigh the particularity of any single entity. A world full of particular things and unique people will endure against all threats to its existence.
A third insight offered by Zizioulas is that being (which we may equally call ‘substance’ or ‘nature’) does not precede relation. It is not the case that something first is what it is, and then that it enters various relationships; rather being and relationship are simultaneous. The consequences that flow from these three insights are vast and varied. But these are not merely ideals, but express realities now being actualized for the world in the Church. The Church is the act of God, actualizing communion and diversity, unity and wholeness, particularity and freedom, for us.
The radical nature of Zizioulas’ work comes from his determination to speak from within the Christian tradition. Zizioulas wants the Church to learn from earlier generations of the Christian community, so their neglected views and voices can be heard in the contemporary discussion. Our present self-understanding pits the individual against the multitude and against the institution, but the experience and resources of the Church help free us from such an impoverishing dualism. Zizioulas believes that the patristic tradition represents a vital tradition in European thought which uniquely does not subordinate one to many, or freedom to nature.
This brings a paradox. The scholar discussed in this volume is himself keen to avoid scrutiny. Zizioulas insists that he has done no more than hand on the tradition of the Church, so he cannot be given credit for the theology he sets out. He does not believe that anyone regarded as a theologian could be the originator of their own product. The theologian merely points to what the Church says in the liturgy, for public confession of the source of our freedom is the beginning of theological discourse. Only the worship of the Church which returns thanks to God can say where freedom and truth come from. Without this confession, theology cannot make the first essential admission that, unless we confess the true God, we will continue to labour under many false gods, chief and most burdensome of which is our own selves. Theology that listens to the liturgy will recognise the revolution that is Christian monotheism, and welcome it as release and emancipation, and for this reason all theological work must be self-effacing. Nevertheless, in the contemporary academic scene Zizioulas certainly represents one of the most rigorous expressions of the neglected themes of the Christian faith. Some biographical detail of the scholar himself is therefore in order.
John D. Zizioulas was born in 1931, and studied at Thessaloniki and Athens. His doctoral thesis on the bishop in the early Church was accepted in 1965, and recently published in English as Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop during the first three centuries. He studied in Chicago before becoming Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Glasgow. He went on to be Visiting Professor at Geneva, King’s College London, and the Gregorian University, Rome. He became Metropolitan of Pergamon in 1986 and has represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate on international Church bodies for many years. He is a member of the committees for dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and with the Anglican Church, and has been Secretary of Faith and Order at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. He travels and lectures ceaselessly, and his lectures have been extensively translated and published in church journals in a variety of languages. His international reputation has grown from his first major work in English, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, which appeared in 1985. Few major theological thinkers have failed to pay their respects to it. Some of his most important papers are to be published in English as ‘Communion and Otherness’, while other work, in particular on man as the priest of creation, remains unpublished.
Zizioulas is a peerless teacher and communicator, able to make fundamental issues readily comprehensible, and indeed is very much better at this than his own interpreters. He is concerned to set out the lived context and experience of Christian thought in its encounter with both modern and ancient mindsets, and to show that we may understand ourselves by tracing strands of ancient philosophy as they re-appear in new combinations in modern thought. He is a philosopher precisely inasmuch as he speaks from the Christian Church and tradition, and only the prejudice against distinctively Christian theology prevents the philosophical stature of his work from being recognized. He does not accept that metaphysics or Christian theology are any more difficult now than in any other period, but regards ancient and modern thinkers, both Christian and pagan, as contemporaries in conversation around a single table. These thinkers determine how we conceive of ourselves and what questions we are able to ask, so we need to hear from them in order to know ourselves.
Zizioulas believes that the Church is the servant of truth, and that speaking from the Church is the best way to contribute to the public arena. The Church represents a better catholicity and universality than does the contemporary university. Zizioulas interacts with science and public issues, as is apparent in his welcome for Darwinism in his lectures on ‘Preserving God’s Creation’. His work represents the most searching enquiry into the relationship of the one and the many, and so of the question, asked by the humanities and social sciences, of how humans can live together without the loss of the particularity of the person.

Questions for Zizioulas
Of the questions most often put to Zizioulas, the first is how relations can determine being, and how persons are constituted by relations. Some of Zizioulas’ readers have misunderstood him to be saying that persons are relations, with the implication that persons have no substance, that our being shifts as our relationships change, jeopardizing the continuity of our identity. But Zizioulas does not put relationship, which is merely an abstraction, before persons, and he suggests that similarly we may not put communion, likewise an abstraction, before the particular person of the Father. A second set of questions relates to hierarchy and communion. Some scholars have asked whether Zizioulas’ stress on the monarchy of the Father promotes a hierarchical and clerical view of society that threatens the communion of persons. Does Zizioulas represent the institutionalism and monarchism that seem to Western eyes to be the mark of the Eastern Church?
A third question could be about the relationship of Church and world. What validity does Zizioulas’ theology have outside the Church and religious discourse? Is this theology able to establish any positive relationship with the world? If existence comes from God, what existence do those outside the Church have? Others have asked whether he makes a clear distinction between the creation of the material world and the fall, or whether materiality in the Eastern view already represents some kind of fall. A fourth question is about Zizioulas’ use of historical sources. Does he misrepresent the Church Fathers, in particular the Cappadocians? Zizioulas attributes to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, the view that ‘being’ is not a uniquely fundamental category, more basic than anything else. He believes that, in order to say this, the Cappadocians settled on the concept of person, and maintained that the concepts of being and of person are co-fundamental. Is Zizioulas anachronistically reading a distinction between person and individual into the Cappadocians? Or is he properly interpreting the Cappadocians as teachers of the Church, and the Church as largely right about the direction and intention of Cappadocian theology? Surely Zizioulas is right to say that, in the course of their exposition of the gospel, the Cappadocians make the distinction between the man in relationship with God, the righteous man, as person, and the unrighteous man, in no relationship with God or therefore with any other creature, the disconnected individual. Our reading of the Cappadocians will differ if we believe them to be giving an evangelical account of God’s work in transforming sinners into righteous men, and individuals into members of the body, and thus catholic persons, or we believe the Cappadocians are giving a philosophical and timeless account of a static human nature.
Some Orthodox are suspicious of Zizioulas’ involvement in dialogue with the West. But the East does not realise how deeply it has been influenced the West: Zizioulas points out that the historical scholarship of Western theologians has recovered some authentically patristic and Orthodox patrimony. Orthodoxy cannot simply sit safe on a repository of tradition, but must also strenuously interrupt the Western monologue, point to a better tradition, and so hand that tradition on. The Orthodox Church that avoids its responsibility to the catholicity of the whole Church is acting in as sectarian fashion as any denomination. Finally, and most frequently, scholars have asked whether Zizioulas has been influenced by Existentialist thought. Since all these issues are very closely related we will set out Zizioulas’ thought on its own terms and let his responses appear in their own order.

Zizioulas’ own questions
We can scarcely put such question to Zizioulas without hearing the equally fundamental questions he puts to us. Does Western theology manage to move beyond the closed sphere of inter-human relationships, and so to talk about the world? Is it able to set human relationships into the larger context represented by the reality of the world? Only if we are prepared to concede that the world is a reality distinct from ourselves, which we are to some extent formed and disciplined by, can we claim that we really are able to refer to reality. There are a number of ways in which Zizioulas’ basic question may be expressed:
1. Does the West understand salvation as an escape from the body, into disembodiedness? Is the Western intellectual tradition any more than a form of Gnosticism?
2. Does the West understand salvation as evasion of communion and manyness, as antipathy to people and the demands that they represent?
3. Does the West want to avoid the practices and disciplines of the Christian life? Is it a flight from the discipline represented by the whole Church and so a failure to acknowledge its catholicity? Is Western theology concerned merely with ideas and rationality, or with particular forms of individual sentimentality? Is able to relate salvation to the life lived together, in Christ?
4. Does the West shun the tradition that teaches us the practices by which we can become the people reconciled to one another in Christ? Does it know that Christian faith is a deposit that must be passed on, because this body of truths saves? Is it an antipathy to history, an inability to admit that we are placed and enabled by our history and tradition? Is it a retreat into a specious present in denial about our history or future?
John Zizioulas’ charge is that Western theology represents a flight from communion to individualism, away from other people, and even from otherness as such. Western theology finds it difficult to understand freedom in any way other than as freedom from other people, so it assumes that living together involves giving up some measure of freedom. It cannot show that freedom is a God-given absolute that comes through relationship with all other persons in Christ. Is Western Christian theology sufficiently distinct from the non-Christian intellectual tradition to be able to offer that tradition anything it does not already have?

Persons and individual
The term which has brought Zizioulas criticism in the English-speaking world is ‘existential’. In European contexts ‘existential’ means real and practical, in contrast to merely intellectual or disengaged forms of knowledge. Zizioulas uses it to remind us that theology is about relationship with God and thus about life. But ‘Existential’ also refers to the Continental philosophy associated with Heidegger and Sartre, and he has been accused of being an Existentialist in this sense. The accusation is that Zizioulas has imported a philosophy into the Christian faith. But this charge is misplaced, for existentialism is not simply a worldview which we can adopt or not as we like. We are existentialists despite ourselves, for we are the people of the secular, disconnected West. We are each of us that individual, made not in encounter with our peers, but somehow self-made. The individual is an isolated being, without connection, and who must therefore forever struggle to establish his own identity. The best expression of the existential predicament of the individual does not come from Heidegger or Sartre. It is Immanuel Kant who is the real existentialist and best representative of the man disengaged, estranged and without relationship, unwilling to accept any law but his own. Kant has had a colossal significance on our tradition and mindset in making this autonomous man the figure to which we moderns must aspire and conform, and to which the subsequent development of the social sciences and religious studies does indeed conform.
Zizioulas is not offering us an account of an intellectual predicament that is peculiarly his own, but one which is common to us all. He sets out this Western predicament most extensively in ‘Personhood and Being’, the long and dramatic opening chapter of Being as Communion. With the patience of a good teacher, Zizioulas describes the tragedy of the individual, so we see how this predicament has arisen and want to know how it may be resolved. He tells the history of the idea of the individual in his struggle with world of ‘being’ or nature. Nature is given, and within it the substance of man is given, but this givenness is the affront to his freedom against which man must protest, and he does so by contesting every given and every relationship, seeing them all as threats to his identity. Like the protagonist of ancient Greek tragedy or of the modern novel, this man without relationship is bound to experiment endlessly with his identity, in the hope of finding an identity not imposed upon him. The tragedians showed that, after any experience of freedom, man’s fate catches up with him and brings that freedom to an end. Man is in a struggle with nature, including his own nature, but it is a struggle he cannot win.
Zizioulas’ work is not readily amenable to modern Western theology because such theology is conceived as a religious discourse, confined to the ghetto staked out by Kant and now enforced by religious studies and the social sciences. Such theology is about ethics, the predicament of the individual confronted, and offended, by the world. But Zizioulas’ theological ontology of persons puts him in dialogue, not merely with ethics, but with a much wider tradition of Western thought, that is political and metaphysical, as well as properly theological. Zizioulas believes that the Western worldview has a deep prejudice that persons are not essential. It represents the pessimism of an elite that regards the world as a thing of disorder, and the human crowd as an obstacle, which the lonely individual, the philosopher, has to see over in order to view reality. This tradition wishes this vulgar world away and regards the Christian theological insistence that persons are as ultimate as philosophically unserious. Christian theology must continually assert itself against this assumption of the Western tradition, and maintain that the isolated monad is not more fundamental than persons in community, and that diversity is not less real than unity.
As long as it remains within the confines of religious discourse, Western theology assumes that there is another reality under the surface of theological statements, that of ethics, into which theology must be translated. Zizioulas believes that ethics, divorced from ontology, is just a game of power. Zizioulas does not believe that Christianity simply tells the world what it has to do and think, for such ethics is simple power-play: why should the world conform to the Christian ethic rather than to any other? What is required is a distinct community with a distinct culture, and it is this community and culture that has given to the world in the Church. Such an ethic cannot come from any source except the life of God, given to the Church, and through it, to the world. Christian theology must make clear the connections between this one specific community and ontology and ethics, and it does so by the doctrine of creation, which teaches that the world, and with it all otherness and distinction, is both the work of God, and that, because God intends that we get involved in it, that the world is a work still in progress. According to the concept of nature, the world is an inert a place which cannot respond to us. But the Christian doctrine of creation challenges the concept of nature, and this encounter between the concept of nature and the doctrine of creation is termed ‘metaphysics’. As Alan Brown points out in his chapter in this volume, ‘Critics of Being as Communion’, meeting and confronting the non-Christian accounts of the world, and the task of metaphysics therefore, is an essential part of theological witness, as is the task of identifying those sub-Christian assumptions imported into theology.

Eschatology and community
The future of the world, and the survival of creation as the project of God, depends on man. Zizioulas explains that, because it had a beginning, creation is finite and likely to come to an end, and since this is the case, the meaning and the truth of every part of creation must be in question. Creation therefore awaits the arrival of the being who is determined, not by his beginning, but by his goal, and this being is mankind, with whom God shares his freedom. As man raises creation up to God, it is freed from its own limitations, and becomes personal. Man’s reluctance to take his freedom in relationship with God has delayed the arrival of this freedom for creation, which therefore continues to be held back by its mortality. But, following Maximus the Confessor, Zizioulas states that the beginning will not have the last word on this. The end will re-determine the beginning. Jesus Christ is the goal of creation, and will turn out to be its true origin too.
We have to think of history as a movement consisting of two kinds of directions: one is the direction toward the end for which the world was created; the other is away from this end. Since the end decides finally about the truth of history only those events leading to the end will be shown to possess true being or being tout court. The historical events of revelation, therefore, are true and real only because they lead to the end from which they came into being, not in themselves.
What is real is what has reality in the end. Jesus Christ is empowered in the resurrection to be the truly determinative man, the high point and purpose of creation and guarantee of its survival. The future is determined by Christ, who is man with God. By taking the world into his hands, and referring it back to God, the new man liberates creation from the failed custody of man without God.
Christ does not therefore make some merely exterior alteration to us. He finds us individuals, without relation to anyone else, and he connects us to himself, so we are made persons, related to what is not ourselves, indeed related to everything that is not ourselves. In the distinction between person and individual Zizioulas is contrasting the disengaged and lost human, and the human related and integrated, and who is therefore a person. Only this person, a catholic being, properly related to all humanity because related to God, and in whom therefore all persons are represented, will turn out finally to be a human being.
Four chapters of this book carry this debate forward. In ‘Person and Nature’, Douglas Farrow asks whether Zizioulas has a clear enough distinction between creation and fall. Colin Gunton in ‘Persons and Particularity’ suggests that if the Orthodox East had had a Reformation, it would have found a clearer concept of sin and so sharpened its distinction between createdness and fallenness. In ‘The Work of the Holy Spirit’ Markus Mühling contends that Basil made precisely this distinction in the course of the Pneumatomachian controversy, and so believes that the Eastern Church has indeed maintained the difference between createdness and fallenness. Its pneumatology allows it to say that it is the proper action of man, given by God, to confess in worship that creation is not God. We are not different from God by nature (where would this definition of nature come from?), but by the gracious action of God, that allows us to say, gladly and for ourselves, that God is different from us. In man’s confession that God is his maker and redeemer, all creation differentiates itself from God and so approaches its perfection.
Eschatology is built in to every part of Zizioulas’ thought, as Robert Turner shows in ‘Eschatology and truth’, his patient exposition of Zizioulas’ ecclesial ontology. Zizioulas argues that truth is inseparable from communion. Truth is not only an idea, but the fact of this specific gathering, the Church. All other communities and cultures fail to sustain the real otherness of their members, are therefore deficient in truth, so they cannot last. The eucharist is the event of that gathering, in which all persons, and all things, come together and find their proper relative distance and closeness. In the eucharist the future wholeness of reality comes forward into our time, each eucharistic celebration being an instalment of that future reconciliation of all things and all persons. The Church is the beginning of real otherness because it witnesses to Christ, the source of all diversity and unity. In his body, the Church, all the future manyness of creation, though presently concealed to us, is being brought into being, all identity and difference finally established, so in this body we participate in the diversity and communion of God. We are not concerned only with the existence of creation, but also with its life and its speech. Creation is fallen, in that it is inert and dormant, but its redemption brings it to life, so it is animated and vocal – it praises God and thus becomes truly itself at last.

Monarchy and communion
There is no rivalry in God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have distinct works, but whatever is the work of one person, is the work of the one God. Relations within the Trinity are not just about origins, and so about begetting, sending and proceeding, but also about the reception of and response to these actions. Everything demands an audience, and nothing is what it is until it has been confirmed by the right audience. The constitutive audience of the Son is the Father, and proper audience of the Father is the Son. The Son does not act alone, but is accompanied and driven in all he does by the Spirit.
Zizioulas teaches that the life and being of God has its source in the Father, and that the singularity of this source is best expressed by the term monarchia. The Father is an agent who freely does what he does and is the sole source of all his acts. Zizioulas calls the Father the cause, in the hope that ‘cause’ does not have the inanimate and non-personal connotation of the word ‘source’. But if we find that the English connotations of ‘cause’ and ‘source’ are equally non-personal, perhaps the ‘initiator’, for example, would be a better way to translate aitia and so safeguard the freedom of the Father in his act. God is not God because of the Father’s arche – the beginning – alone, but because the Father’s beginning is received and accepted, taken up and followed by Son, and the Son’s reception of that beginning is itself received and accepted by the Father. It is the sovereign decision and act of the Father that makes the act of God free, but this is because this is not the act of Father alone, but of the Son and Spirit, whose recognition make the Father’s act what it is. The Father is Father because the Son who answers him, calls him by this name. Since the Father is free to be Father to the Son, the creation is not a necessary outcome of their being. Since God is not dependent on his creation, it may really rely on him, and receive its freedom from him.
Similarly the Son’s agency is not his alone; he does not work as an individual. It is the Father’s work he is about, and what he does, he does with the Father, and because he works with the Father, his agency confirms the monarchia of the Father. This agency is plural, ‘of the Son’ because ‘of the Father’, and it is the single agency of the One God, thus not divisible. The trinitarian logic of the doctrine of God is set out in this volume by Wolfhart Pannenberg in ‘Divine Economy and Eternal Trinity’. Pannenberg argues that the Spirit prompts Christ to give glory to, and so differentiate himself from, the Father. The Spirit differentiates Christ from us, and differentiates each of us from one another, while the Son tenders to us the otherness he receives from the Spirit, and returns it from us to the Father. That there is one God, is our liberation. It means that necessity is not intrinsic to our createdness. This ‘monarchia’ and ‘monotheism’ is our freedom from the other gods, forces and guises of necessity.

Christ, the Spirit and the Church
Another area in which Zizioulas has made a significant contribution is in a more properly theological ecclesiology, that links the Church firmly to a closely interrelated christology and pneumatology. This must be welcomed by Protestant theology in particular, which, having given its account Christ, often struggles to find a distinct work of Holy Spirit, or any role for man, or robust doctrine of the Church. The Church is first datum of theology. God has made a community in the world, and by this act he has revealed all other communities to be merely partial, not yet the whole truth. It is the unity of the Church that witnesses to the oneness, and thus to the truth, of God. The Church points towards the whole because it is itself that whole in miniature, arriving from what we must regard as the future and establishing itself here among the conflicting fragments of which the world is so far comprised. The Church is not divided by the multiplicity of cultures or nations, but is a single culture and way of life, scattered like seed in all the many cultures of the world, in order that the Church may witness to the truth of God and the future unity of all creation with God.
The Church is the manifestation of the plurality and catholicity of Christ. Zizioulas argues that Christ is from the beginning accompanied, supported, even constituted by the Spirit, so christology must always be informed by pneumatology. There is no moment when he is without the Spirit, for Christ ‘exists only pneumatologically’. Christ is not an individual who is made many by the addition to him of the Church, for the Spirit makes Christ who he is. The Spirit allows the whole company of heaven and earth to participate in Christ, so he is therefore simultaneously many and one.
The Person of Christ is automatically linked with the Holy Spirit, which means with a community. This community is the eschatological company of the Saints who surround Christ in this kingdom. This Church is part of the definition of Christ. The body of Christ is not first the body of the individual Christ and then a community of ‘many’, but simultaneously both together. Thus you cannot have the body of the individual Christ (the One) without having simultaneously the community of the Church (the Many).
The Son is intrinsically plural because he shares the communion of God, and he shares this plurality with the Church. Equally, this plurality brings the Son into history as the one, Jesus Christ. The final resurrection of the many is the cause of the resurrection of the one, Jesus Christ. Christ has set up his Church. For us this inaugural event is an event in the past, a given, and so an unilateral imposition that threatens our freedom. But the Spirit invites and enables us to take this given as a gift that, when we take it for ourselves, makes us plural beings, distinguished from him, and from one another. Though the shape of the future is given by Christ, in the Holy Spirit we can fill it so it is the future that we consent to and constitute, within which we are with God and our freedom is established within his.
The whole people of the eschatological Church are the glory of Christ. The basis of Zizioulas’ theology is the liturgy, and the Christian caught up in it. Through listening to the liturgy and Scripture the Christian community learns to see the whole world as this liturgy, and watches God at work, creating, judging and providing for all creation. In ‘The Spirit and persons in the liturgy’, Douglas Knight discusses how man is witness to God’s work of gathering all things to their proper place and, by gathering them, bringing them into existence. Man is caught up into this action that is Christ’s, but in Christ, man’s own action too.
Christ makes his people one indivisible whole, the one many and the many one. This means that the whole people is ‘laity’ (laos), so the laity is not defined by contrast with the clergy. The many, the whole congregation, make the one, the bishop, who he is, just as he makes them who they are, the people defined by relationship with him. The one and the many are two aspects of the same being – Christ. By their very baptism all Christians are ordained members of Christ, as Philip Rosato points out in ‘The Ordination of the Baptised’. Every member of the Church, and this means every lay member, is appointed to a position within the body, and receives his or her identity from the body, and the life of the body is renewed in the baptism of each new member. As soon as the truth of Christian initiation is forgotten, we start to regard the lay person as ‘not ordained’. But as Rosato points out, there really is a particular status for the bishop, and by extension the clergy, for they are the bodily presence of the apostolic tradition, and so of the Church’s catholicity.

Bishop and people
The whole Christian community is under a discipline imposed upon it by an external authority. It is formed and disciplined, as it is saved, by Christ who comes to it from outside. This is not the merely theoretical authority of an absentee landlord, for the authority of Christ, and of his whole people the Church, is made bodily present to us as the office-holders of the Church. The lordship of Christ presently makes itself felt as these specific overseers. No community of Christians is under its own authority, and so no individual community can ordain its own leaders. This must be done for it by the rest of the church, by all other congregations, as it were. Such overseers are sent by the whole Church to each local church, which must receive this overseer and his discipline willingly, as a gift received from the whole Church. Because these overseers must be trained in the full deposit of faith, we need a trained and ordained clergy. Christ makes himself present to us in the form of these disciplinarians, who are responsible for connecting us to all the people of Christ, mediating to us the whole Church, and passing on to us all the characteristics of the servanthood of Christ. Obedience to the God who is really God is freedom, and obedience to his word and then, to those he made his apostles, is the form Christ takes for us now. Our overseers are the love and discipline of God for us as they pass on what they have received of him and enable us to receive it in full and thankfully. We have to help these overseers to be good transmitters of the faith, and we do this by exhorting them to instruct us, and by taking our complaint to them and to God when they fail to do so. So discussion of the office of the bishop is no defence of clerical interests, but an essential part of the living witness of the contemporary Church.
In ‘Christian life and institutional Church’, Nicholas Loudovikos argues that the bishop is given the fullness of the spiritual gifts in order to distribute them to the Church. We can identify two gifts in particular: that he hands on the whole deposit of faith and with it all gifts, and that he knows how to suffer. The first means that the bishop represents the whole history of the Church, all its apostles and doctors, to his congregation. The second means that he exercises discipline, and when the Church refuses any part of these gifts and disciplines, and sets out to found its faith on something less than the full deposit of faith, the bishop will exercise the discipline that will bring it back to obedience, and will be able to endure the suffering that this will involve.
The bishop who stands at the head of the congregation is also one member of it. To the congregation the bishop makes the whole catholic Church, both worldwide, and past and present, present to this congregation. As long as he is its head the whole Church is present with this congregation, so that the whole geographic and historic catholicity of the Church is present in that place. As the congregation gathers round the bishop, it is identified as the gathering of the universal Church, and so Christ manifests himself as this people (with bishop) for the sake of the world in that place. In ‘Church, eucharist, bishop’, Demetrios Bathrellos asks whether Zizioulas is offering an unnecessarily idealized or authoritarian view of the view of the bishop in contrast to the priest and parish, and in contrast to those non-ordained spiritual leaders who always emerge in the Church.
Zizioulas insists that the particular congregation does not come before the universal Church, nor does the universal Church come before the particular congregation. The West tends to regard the many and the one as opposites, with the result that it swings between equal and opposite monarchical (or papal) and democratic fallacies. Priority of the local over the universal may be said to be the Protestant emphasis, while the Roman Catholic inclination is the priority of the universal over the local. Zizioulas’ determination that neither has priority has had a significant impact on ecumenical dialogue. In ‘Authority and ecumenism’, Paul Collins asks whether Zizioulas overemphasizes the extent to which the earliest Church was oriented on the bishop. Does such a hierarchical view endanger prospects for ecumenism with churches which have no such sympathy with hierarchy? Or is it rather that there may be no ecumenism without the subjection and subordination of every church to every other in love? In ‘The local and universal Church’ Paul McPartlan contrasts these different emphases within recent Roman Catholic debate: the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger represented the claim that the universal church is not merely the sum of local churches, but has an authority that ‘pre-exists’ them, represented by Rome. McPartlan suggests that Zizioulas’ more eschatological understanding of the unity of the Church shows that the future, and yet already existent, unity of the Church is manifest in every church, so the local and universal are in the same mutually-informed relationship as are the present and the future.

Catholicity, ecumenism and conciliarity
Zizioulas’ concern with catholicity, and thus the wholeness of the undivided Church, means that ecumenism is not an extra, but an evangelical imperative. Every church must be orthodox, catholic and ecumenical: the ‘divided Churches are called to receive from one another or indeed to receive one another.’ This does not mean simply agreement on doctrine, but mutual ecclesial recognition, ‘the reception of one Church by another Church’ – in the eucharist. ‘The Church, although one, exists as churches (in the plural), and these churches exist as One Church in and through constantly receiving one another as sister Churches.’ The logic that makes any local church a member of the Roman Catholic church is also the logic that makes the Rome one patriarchate with the other (‘Orthodox’) patriarchates. Western and Eastern secession, nationalism and sectarianism throws the catholicity of the whole Church into doubt, and falsifies the truth of God. But each church constituted by communion with the whole Church, will be disciplined by conciliarity, which demands the participation of every part of the Church, representing every part of the world, present at each council. Doubtless in such an ecumenical gathering there would be a great deal of readiness to invite the bishop of Rome to take the chair.
The Church is whole when all parts of the church are in communion with all others, and for this reason each part must insist on the centrality of the practice of calling councils of the whole Church, and itself be disciplined by that practice. Conciliarity is the practice of communion. No doctrine or basic practice can be decided without the agreement of every part of the Church in each council. This unity is anticipated and actualized in the eucharist, in which each local congregation is related to all congregations, across space and across time, uniting all times in the time of God.
Zizioulas shows us that God witnesses to himself by putting his community here in the world. The Church not only points towards this whole, it is this whole. God has established his ‘whole’, publicly before all the world, and its wholeness is demonstration of its truth. The very existence of the Church, the gathering of all parts, demonstrates that a barrier has been broken. This world is no longer a place of antagonistic parts: all parts begin to orient themselves on Christ, the irreconcilable are reconciled and renewed by him, until each becomes an instantiation of the whole.
By bringing doctrines together into their proper relation, Zizioulas has allowed the evangelical narrative of God with man to impact on the deepest assumptions of the Western tradition, and so on our understanding of ourselves. He has demonstrated the intrinsic unity of the Christian doctrine of God, man and the world, and with it brought the substantial new insight that the confession of the Christian community is uniquely directed towards freedom. Zizioulas’ achievement is not simply intellectual. He teaches the doctrine of the Church in order that its reality becomes more clearly set out in the lived form of the Christian community, through ecumenical and eucharistic reconciliation. He invites us to see the Church and eucharist as one event which opens the world up to us, and shows that we can be free in it. All his work relates to that living organism, the Church, within which communion, plurality and freedom are now coming into being. Though he insists that his work is not simply his, it embodies an extraordinary richness of thought, to which the contributors of this volume bear witness.