Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Unity And Diversity In The Church

by Pontifical Biblical Commission


In order to prevent or reduce the stress on the distinctive characteristics of local Churches, there is a great need to clarify the elements, which unite all ecclesial communities in the one people of God. The Pontifical Biblical Commission examines the teaching of Holy Scripture on "the relationship between local Churches, or between particular groups, and the universality of the one people of God." The present document sets out in chronological order first the testimony of the Old or First Testament, then that of the New Testament; there follows a tentative synthetic presentation of the biblical evidence.

Publisher & Date

Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991


In the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Letters of Paul, of Peter, James, John and Jude (which are addressed to local churches), the New Testament bears witness to the activity by which the Holy Spirit brought various local churches to form one communion in one single Church of Christ. This activity of the Holy Spirit, leading a disunited humanity into one common fellowship or communion, is not restricted by circumstances of place. From the testimony of the First (or Old) Testament, and from what one may ascertain of the life of the Christian Church, we see that this power was just as active in uniting within one single people of God certain tribes, particular groups, and religious parties, as in uniting communities that call themselves Christian.

Holy Scripture is not merely a collection of texts, which are authoritative for believers; it is also an organic whole, which took shape over a period of more than one thousand years. In the course of Israel's tormented history, Legislators, Prophets and Holy Writers addressed themselves in the name of the God of Abraham to the people of God, whose faith was often disturbed by events. Their inspired responses to these events were the expression of divine Revelation for the individuals belonging to that people, formulated in a manner that would make it comprehensible to them in different places and at different times. They were set down in a fixed form in Writings whose very texture preserves indications of the development of divine Revelation throughout the course of history, and which are therefore an authentic testimony to the provident generosity of the Creator. Having first formed for himself a people from among other peoples (Isa 44:24) and governed it by a righteous Law (Deut 4:8), he has brought this gift to perfection in the church of the Gospel, extending thereby his call to all the nations (Matt 28:18-20).

To illustrate how by the gift of God an imperishable Church (Matt 16:18) was brought to birth in the midst of earthly States which, though necessary, are of their nature impermanent (Dan 7), the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission had to undertake an historical and literary inquiry into the successive structures of the people of God as they are presented in the books of the Bible, taking into account the various stages of their composition. Their findings are published elsewhere, in the volume entitled Unite et Diversite dans l'Eglise (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989), and are the responsibility of the individual writer alone. These articles served, however, as a basis for the composition of the document printed here, "Unity and Diversity in the Church", but it is this document, and this alone, which expresses the opinion of the Commission as a whole.

Henri Cazelles p.s.s.


Unity And Diversity In The Church

The Church today is experiencing, more acutely perhaps than in former times, an uneasy tension; but it is a tension that ought to prove fruitful. Local Churches, and even certain groups within them, are becoming ever more conscious of their distinctive characteristics within the universal Church. There is a growing conviction that the grace of catholicity cannot unfold to its full extent unless a genuine diversity exists between the ecclesial communities within the same communion. This conviction is all the stronger in that many nations are becoming increasingly aware of the ethnic and cultural endowments which are peculiarly their own.

This stress on the distinctive characteristics of local Churches underlines the need to spell out more clearly those elements, which unite all ecclesial communities in the one people of God. Two questions therefore arise:

a) how can one ensure that the recognition of the particular qualities of local Churches, far from imperilling unity, should on the contrary be a source of fruitful development, and should enrich the Church in its universality;

b) how can one prevent the necessary striving for unity from stifling the vitality of each Church?

The answers to these questions have a relevance reaching beyond the boundaries of any one Christian denomination. They should be able to enrich ecumenical dialogue between all the baptized as they journey along the difficult path towards that full unity which Jesus desired. Over the centuries, the Church has always found in the Scriptures the meaning of its destiny and of its mission. Today, when the situation throughout the world calls for it to take new initiatives, it must re-read the Bible and listen to its message.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission has therefore been asked to examine the teaching of Holy Scripture on "the relationship between local Churches, or between particular groups, and the universality of the one people of God", in the belief that this will shed light on the present situation, and bring into sharper focus the questions it raises. The present document sets out in chronological order first the testimony of the Old or First Testament, then that of the New Testament; there follows a tentative synthetic presentation of the biblical evidence.

Hence the following plan:

A. The Evidence Of The Bible Presented In Chronological Order

I. Neither separation nor uniformity, but diversity in unity: the teaching of the Old Testament

1. Diversity

2. Factors of Unity: the Patriarchs, the Covenant, the Kings and the Prophets

3. Factors of Unity: the Institutional Priesthood

II. From the Old to the New Testament

1. The Unity and Diversity of Judaism during the Period of the Second Temple

2. Jesus of Nazareth

III. Unity and Diversity in the Pauline Corpus

1. The Proto-Pauline Epistles

2. The Captivity Epistles

3. The Pastoral Epistles

IV. Unity and Diversity in the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts

1. Mark

2. Matthew

3. Luke and Acts

V. Other Books

1. The Epistle to the Hebrews

2. 1 Peter

VI. Unity and Diversity in the Johannine Corpus

1. The Fourth Gospel

2. The Johannine Epistles

3. The Apocalypse

B. A Short Synthesis Of The Biblical Evidence

1. The different names of the single Church

2. Communion in diversity within the Church

A. The Evidence Of The Bible Presented In Chronological Order

I. Neither Separation Nor Uniformity, But Diversity In Unity: The Teaching Of The Old Testament

1. Diversity

a) From the very beginning, the Bible reveals God as "the creator of heaven and earth", that is, of the entire universe, with its variety of beings in their different species (Gen 1:11-31).

This diversity of creatures in the universe, and of families, nations and peoples in history (Gen 10:5 etc.), is willed by God and judged to be "good" (Gen 1:12.18. 21.25.31).

b) This auspicious diversity within humankind (between sexes, tribes and nations) may, however, become the source of unhappy divisions, if humanity does not listen to the voice of God (Gen 2-3) and turns "its own way" (Gen 6:12). As a result, the human race loses touch with beneficent nature (Gen 3:18), man oppresses woman (3:16), and brother kills brother (4:8.23.24); nations scatter (Gen 11) and take to war.

2. Factors of Unity: the Patriarchs, the Covenant, the Kings and the Prophets

In spite of this strife, often bloody, the human race survives, and a certain cohesion persists, at least to some extent, within its varying groups. Thus the patriarch holds together a family, and the elders do the same for clans or nations; leaders fulfil the same function among peoples, and even different types of covenants serve the same purpose between peoples, whose distinctive characteristics are thus respected.

According to the Bible, God made use of certain institutions to overcome divisions or conflicts between individuals, families and peoples:

a) By election, God the Creator chose a patriarch who would ensure that the divine blessing would pass to his descendants, real or juridical. Thus not only Israel, but Ishmael too, together with Edom, Midian and the descendants of Keturah, were counted as Abraham's children (Gen 25:1-4).

b) Covenants (berith) between various communities, of which the national god was the witness, were transformed by the God of Abraham and of Israel into a Covenant in which he himself took the initiative. Moses was the mediator, and the tribes pledged themselves to God himself, binding themselves to observe certain stipulations (words, commandments). This Covenant was concluded by various cultic actions (Ex 24:1-13), and the faithful were thereafter obliged to renew their commitment to God and to humankind.

c) But in fact, this Covenant-regime was not sufficient to safeguard Israel from internal and external strife (see the Book of Judges). God then granted his people a monarchy (1 Sam 8:22), and indeed a dynastic monarchy (2 Sam 7:8-16). The Mosaic Covenant, if faithfully observed, would ensure the practice of justice and equity by the king (mishpat and sedaqah: Ps 72:1-4; Gen 18:19; 2 Sam 8:15; Jer 22:3 etc.). Along with his political powers, the king received, by his anointing, a religious status. His decisions were recognized by his servants as the words of the nation’s God (Prov 16:10-15), he himself being a servant of the same God (2 Sam 7:19; Ps 89:4).

d) Under David, the institution of a monarchy had realized some of the promises made by the God of Abraham; but the institution itself was unable to bring all divisions to an end. From the beginning it aroused rivalry between tribes, and formidable clashes within the royal family. Even a David could not ensure justice for the people (cf. 2 Sam 15:1-6). His successor lost control of the neighbouring states and aroused resentment among the northern tribes (1 Kgs 11). At the death of Solomon, the schism became permanent. The Israelites, while proclaiming allegiance to the same God, became divided into two rival and unfriendly kingdoms.

e) From the age of David onwards, voices had been raised in prophetic circles against the kings and even against the institution of monarchy. Little by little the people ceased to see in the king's decisions the Word of God; some groups, disciples of certain prophets, began to recognize this Word in the oracles of their teachers. The latter sometimes intervened to prevent a breach of unity (1 Kgs 12:24). As one component of peace and unity, they appealed to the ancient tradition of the God of Israel demanding justice, not only between kings and the people, but even with regard to foreign nations (Amos 1 -2). They entertained the hope that a descendant of David would reassemble in righteousness (Isa 11:1 ff; Jer 23:5) and peace (Ez 34:24-25) not only the tribes of Israel (Ez 37:15-28), but also other nations (Isa 55:4-5). A new Covenant was promised (Jer 31:31-33; cf. Ez 11:17-20; 36:25-28; Isa 24-26).

f) The prophetic schools were very different from one another, both in mentality and in their political preferences, and the people did not yet possess criteria to distinguish between true and false prophets. Nevertheless, there was for everyone but one people, belonging to the one and only God, the God of Israel. Accordingly the Deuteronomic movement attempted to ensure the unity of the chosen and consecrated nation (Deut 7:6) by centralizing public worship at "the Place chosen by the Lord", the Temple built by the son of David (Deut 12:5; 1 Kgs 8:29). Deuteronomy acknowledges the shortcomings of the prophetic institution (18:20ff.; cf. Jer 28:8-9.15-16), which it makes subordinate to Moses (Deut 18:18) and his Law (Torah). The latter was entrusted to Levitical priests (31:9); they were charged with the service of worship which reunited the families of all the tribes in one "assembly of the Lord", one qehal YHWH (23:2ff; cf. Neh 13:1; Mic 2:5. . . ), in Greek (LXX), Ekklesia YHWH.

3. Factors of Unity: the Institutional Priesthood

The Jewish communities in the Diaspora, being deprived of any national political authority of their own, became increasingly distanced from one another, and it was the institutional priesthood, which found itself charged with the preservation of unity. This came about simply by reason of the authority of the Torah, which gathered the people into an 'edah (Greek: sunagoge), assembled in the presence of the one God who had chosen them. For he had not merely chosen a sanctuary for himself, but had made his Glory "dwell" there (Ex 40:34-35; Lev 9:23). King of the universe by virtue of his act of creation (Ps 93), he sat enthroned "above the cherubim" (Ps 99:1) in his holy place (Ps 96:6), where no one might approach him, except the consecrated High Priest, and then but once a year. The community on whose behalf the High Priest interceded is referred to by different metaphors, which stress its organic unity: a vine (Isa 5:7; Ps 80:9-17), a tree (Ez 17:23), a city (Isa 26:1-2; Ps 46:5), a flock (Ps 95:7; Ez 34).

The laws of ritual purity (Lev 11-16) were to guarantee that the consecrated people (Ex 19:5) would be protected from the contamination of nations who might lure it away to other gods (Ex 16:23-29). But these nations too were called to share in its hope (Isa 51:5) and in its worship (Isa 2:2-4; 56:6-7; Ps 102:19-23). We see this in the case of foreigners like Ruth the Moabitess, in the descendants of the Edomite and of the Egyptian to the third generation (Deut 23:4-9), and even in the Babylonians, the Tyrians and the Philistines (Ps 87), who, in spite of their different origins, were all welcome, on condition that they consented to be "reborn" in Zion (Ps 87:5-6) and practise the Torah (for the sabbath, see Isa 56:2.6-7; and for circumcision, Gen 17:12-14).

Unity was not ensured merely by blood relationship, which might be disputable (Ezra 2:59 cf. 63) or threatened by mixed marriages (Neh 13:23-30; Ezra 9-10). Nor was it inevitably ensured by the Mosaic berith, which might be broken by the human partner (Deut 31:16.20; Hos 2:4; Jer 11:10; 14:21; 31:32; Ez 17:15.19; 44:7); nor by the political power of the monarchy, which did not always maintain justice and equity (Jer 22:13-17; cf. v. 3); nor by the Aaronic priesthood, which violated the covenant with Levi (Mal 2:5-8).

Though the people did break the Covenant, it is never stated that God has abrogated it. Indeed, according to the Book of Daniel, when a foreign king came "with his heart set against the holy covenant" (11:28), and "enraged against the holy covenant, gave heed to those who forsake it" (11:30), then "he who has charge of your people" would arise to save those who were written in the book of life, and it would be for many the day of resurrection (12:1-2). It is in Daniel, too, that the saints of the Most High receive an everlasting kingdom with him who is "like a son of man coming on the clouds" (7:13-14.27), while the empires symbolized by the four beasts are judged.

II. From The Old To The New Testament

1. The Unity and Diversity of Judaism during the Period of the Second Temple

The life of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora was influenced by contact with various political powers and diverse cultures, a diversity that proved most fruitful. This was true both of Egypt (Elephantine) and of Persia (Susa, Nippur and Babylon), as well as of the Mediterranean coastlands, where Jewish colonies multiplied during the Hellenistic period. Their expansion attracted proselytes and "God-fearers".

It was faithfulness to the Torah, both in morality and in worship (pilgrimage to the Temple, the chosen site and Dwelling-place of Divine Glory), which ensured the unity of the people of Israel. Admittedly, the Torah did not prevent this invaluable diversity from deteriorating into factions, for various religious parties came into being:

a) The Samaritans refused to recognize as legitimate either the Temple of Jerusalem or the authority of the Prophets or the other Writings.

b) From the time of the dynasty of the Lagides (3rd-2nd century), the Jews of Egypt recognized as authoritative the Greek translation of the Torah in the Septuagint. Some of them refused to recognize the validity of the Jerusalem priesthood and were adherents of the temple of Leontopolis and its priesthood, descended from Onias III.

c) The Sadducees, on the other hand, were firmly attached to the Temple in Jerusalem, and to its worship.

d) The Essenes regarded their own community as the only authentic sanctuary and the true Israel; its members contrasted the "children of light" with "the children of darkness".

e) Followers of Judas of Gaulanitis and those who were to become sicarii or zealots rejected Ezekiel's distinction between prince and priest, i.e. between civil authority and cultic authority (cf. Ez 44-46; cf. Num 27:18-23). They held that obedience to God and obedience to the pagan Roman Empire were incompatible.

f) Baptist sects gave a new importance to "purification".

g) The Pharisees sought to practise strict legal purity in the midst of a profane world, by making the dispositions of the Torah more precise through new customs. The manifestation of the Glory of God was, in their view, something reserved for the last days.

When Temple worship and the Aaronic priesthood had completely disappeared, Pharisaism was to save the unity of Judaism through fidelity to the moral teaching of the Torah and to synagogue worship. The 'edah of Leviticus then became the synagogue; ritual purity and separateness were celebrated at the great feasts of Rosh haShanah (the New Year feast) and of Kippur (the Day of Atonement), at which the kingship of YHWH and the forgiveness of the sins of the people were proclaimed. Diversity of rites or of local traditions would not impair the unity of Judaism, any more than the variety of legal interpretations given by the Rabbis.

2. Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee in an age when the unity of the Jewish people, though endangered by party factions (aireseis), was still being preserved through faithfulness to the Torah of Moses and to Temple worship. It was not until several years after his death that the recollections of his deeds and words were set down in writing, to become part of what would eventually be called the New Testament. It is not possible, on the basis of the gospel texts, which have come down to us, to give a precise and detailed account of his earthly life. Nevertheless, some basic data concerning his life and his mission are recognized as certain.

Jesus was a member of the Jewish people, and his message was addressed to them. His disciples, too, were Jews, and when they were sent out to extend his work, they restricted their activity to Israel. Jesus, by constituting a group of Twelve (who, in the most ancient strata of the Synoptic tradition, are not yet called Apostles), was making a prophetic gesture: he thus made manifest his will of gathering together once more, and of reconstituting, the people of Israel with its twelve tribes, as Jewish tradition expected in Messianic times. He was accused of wishing to destroy the Temple.

Critical study has not produced any consensus about the exact content of his preaching. Some aspects of it certainly called into question the time-honoured unity of Israel and outlined the main features of a new unity which would reach further afield: such, for example, is the teaching which in apostolic tradition is ascribed to him concerning the Kingship of God and the position he took with respect to the Torah.

Certain traditional elements are absent from his preaching about the Kingship of God: the political and nationalist elements, the restoration of the royal throne of David in all its splendour, and the expulsion from the country of the people's enemies, though the same elements were part of the burning hope of the people at the time (Ps. Sol. 17). His preaching was in principle open to all peoples of the world, for Jesus, in line with the ideas of the prophets (Isa 25:6), was awaiting the in-gathering of the peoples to the banquet of the Kingdom with the Patriarchs.

He did not abolish the Torah, but gave it a new interpretation. He did, however, criticize the form, which the precepts of ritual purity and the Sabbath law were taking at that time (the latter being considered as the private domain of Jewish piety). His call to conversion demanded of all a personal decision. By that very fact he aroused divisions between different persons. But "the multitude" would benefit by his death.

III. Unity And Diversity In The Pauline Corpus

1. The Proto-Pauline Epistles

Paul presents himself as an apostolos, the least of the apostles, admittedly (1 Cor 15:9) but with an equal claim to the title (cf. Gal 1-2), since it was by God's will that he had been called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1). His mission was to spread God's Gospel, foretold by the Prophets, concerning his Son who was raised in power with a Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:1-4). The problem of the relationships between local churches and the universality of the one people of God is not treated directly by Paul, but we find in his letters certain matters discussed, and some data, which may help our reflection on the matter. Such are, for example, his discussion of the relations between Jews and pagans, between the weak and the strong, between the poor and the rich, between men and women; or the relationships between Paul and his fellow-workers, the existence of several house churches (Rom 16:5; Philemon 2), or the question of heresies, schisms and disorder, the diversity of gifts and charisms etc.

Two concrete situations, when analyzed, throw particular light on our theme. (1) How does Paul in Galatians assess the relationship between converted pagans and Jewish Christians? (2) How should we regard the diversity in unity of the two communities addressed in 1 Corinthians and in Romans?

1. In Gal 1-2 Paul positively asserts the unity of believers by stressing that there is only one Gospel: the same grace comes from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself up for our sins in order to rescue us from "this evil world" (1:3-4). The expression Ekklesia tou theou (1:13) probably had, even at this early date, a more than local connotation.

Nevertheless, the problem was not just that there were several Churches in Galatia (1:2) and elsewhere — that is a sign of vitality. It was rather that serious tensions were being caused by Judaizers who were deforming the gospel of Christ. Paul recounts what happened when he, accompanied by Barnabas, took Titus to Jerusalem. There he explained his Gospel to the men of repute, and they recognized the apostolate, which had been entrusted to him. The participants accepted that there were, and should be, two different ways of spreading the gospel, one to the circumcised, entrusted to Peter, the other to the uncircumcised, entrusted to Paul. On the occasion of the conflict at Antioch, Paul demonstrated that, for everyone, justification comes from faith in Jesus Christ and not from works of the law. In reproaching Peter, who had withdrawn from meals with Gentile Christians, for not walking according to the truth of the Gospel (2:14), Paul came to the defence of his converted pagans by upholding their freedom with regard to the law.

2. The divisions at Corinth, which are mentioned in 1 Cor 1-3, arose from differences between the party factions in the Church there. Paul did not consider them legitimate. But in 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12, he gives a description of that diversity which he deemed indispensable, by using the image of the body and its members. The Spirit distributes its gifts to each one as it chooses: "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one" (1 Cor 12:4-6.15-22; Rom 12:4-8). Diversity of this kind, which is assuredly willed by God, cannot become disorder. Unity, at its most fundamental level, must be guaranteed by God, by Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit; but in another way and by virtue of their own inherent effects, it is guaranteed by baptism (Gal 3:27-28; Rom 6:3-4) and the Eucharist (1 Cor 10:16-17), by faith (Rom 1:16; 3:22) and agape (1 Cor 13; Rom 5:3-8).

3. On the basis of these two examples, we may give in outline a synthesis of Paul's teaching and begin to reflect on the means by which God ensures that Christians stay together as one body. We shall then underline the preconditions and demands for well-integrated diversity.

Certain factors, which had contributed to the unity of Israel no longer play so prominent a role. Without denying the holiness, the righteousness or the goodness of the Torah (Rom 7:12), Paul underlines in other texts its exclusive and national character (cf. Gal 2:14). He rejects, as principles of unity, circumcision and food regulations. While recognizing the privilege that Israel possesses in its public worship (Rom 9:4), Paul speaks rarely of the Temple, for Christians themselves are God's sanctuary (naos: 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). The only importance of Jerusalem is as the mother-church, proof of God's faithfulness to his Covenant. This Church has authority by reason of the prestige of the leaders who live there. They are considered as the pillars (stuloi) of the fellowship or communion (Gal 2:9); if they had not agreed with his preaching, Paul considers that he would have "run in vain" (Gal 2:2). There is no mention of any "Holy Land". The Christian is attached to Abraham and to the chosen people by faith in Christ.

Paul stresses, by contrast, the apostolate (Gal 1:1; 1 Cor 9:1). This role is both universal and a source of unity, and is not restricted to any local Church. The apostle Paul himself undoubtedly constituted a bond of unity between particular churches. The preaching of a common gospel united all the believers of the different churches (1 Cor 15:11). Baptism, too, and the Eucharist (and the meals in common) created communion among Christians. From 1 Cor 11:23f., one may infer that the Eucharist was fundamentally the same in Corinth, in Antioch and in Jerusalem.

In a similar way, the complementarity of the charisms was a factor of unity. Without the diversity of gifts, the body could not function. Paul laid down instructions, sometimes quite similar in wording, to promote unity, considering that on this point, he possessed authority (eksousia, 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10), even if he did not always wish to use it. In what he laid down, he appealed to that which was done elsewhere. Finally, the fellowship or communion (koinonia), which existed between the apostles (Gal 2:9) contributed to unity between the different churches. The multiplicity of churches might have given rise to divisions, and that would have made his apostolate vain. "Not forgetting the poor" of Jerusalem (Gal 2:10) would be a concrete manifestation of communion. The reference is to the collection of which the epistles speak, an act expressive of the solidarity of Christians in an eminently ecclesial sense.

As for diversity, Paul accepts the differences between the members as an enrichment of the body. At this level, there is no such thing as uniformity. Paul makes himself all things to all, "a Jew to the Jews" and "one outside the law to those outside the law" (1 Cor 9:19-22). He demands of the authorities in Jerusalem that they should know how to discern what is essential, and must remain identical, for all Christians, but rejects all sectarian conformism. Without formally advocating those human values, which vary according to race, region and culture, Paul endeavours to set his Gentile converts free from the cultural aspects of the religion of the Jews. One may therefore ask whether, according to Paul's perspectives, different local Churches do not have a responsibility to cultivate their own particular and distinctive charisms, and so contribute to a legitimate and enriching diversity within the one and universal Church.

2. The Captivity Epistles

Two of these epistles must claim our attention: Colossians and Ephesians. In neither of them is the perspective the same as in the Proto-Pauline Epistles. Here, Christ is the head of a Church, which is his body. Here, eschatology is more "realized", and Christology is more cosmic.

1. In the Epistle to the Colossians, for readers faced with the dangers of heresy, the authority of Paul is stressed. But diversity in unity is more than once proclaimed. Christ is "the head of the body which is the Church" (1:18), "the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (2:19). Christians are called to the peace of Christ in one single body (3:15). The source of this vocabulary is not so much political as cosmological. In Colossians the Church has a vocation in the world. It is there that the Gospel bears fruit and grows (1:6); and it is proclaimed to every creature under heaven (1:23). The Colossians must pray that God may open the door to this preaching (4:3-4). Moral precepts trace out a pattern of Christian living for each member of the extended family: on the one side, husbands, parents, and masters, on the other, wives, children, and slaves (3:18-4:1). Above all, Christians must "clothe themselves" in agape, which binds them all together in perfect unity (3:14).

2. This same exhortation is further developed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. In the "household code" of 5:21-6:9, the union between Christ (head, spouse, saviour) and the Church (his body and his spouse) serves as an example for relationships between husband and wife. The Spirit makes Christ dwell by faith in the hearts of Christians, so that they are rooted in, and founded on, charity (3:16-17). God makes known his benevolent design to reunite the entire universe under one single head, Christ (1:9-10). According to the Epistle to the Ephesians, "Paul" the author, who calls himself "the least of all the saints", received the grace of preaching to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (3:8). It is the revelation of the active presence of God in the world.

In Ephesians the Church is also the body of Christ who is its head. He has bestowed upon it a great diversity of ministries to build up his body (4:7.11-12). From him "the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth" (4:16). The Church is also compared with a building, with a temple, which has as its foundation apostles and prophets, and for its chief cornerstone, Christ (akrogoniaios: 2:20). There is no hesitation in affirming that Christ is our peace, or that he has done away with the division between Jew and Gentile, to make one single entity. By means of the cross, he has reconciled both with God, in one single body (2:14-22). The author exhorts Christians: "Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (4:3-6). Although he does not use the term "one single Church", he strongly affirms the unity of the body, which is the Church.

3. The Pastoral Epistles

In these Epistles, which concern the local churches of Ephesus and of Crete, one may observe a development of the situation described in the other epistles of the Pauline corpus. The organization of ministries is here more pronounced. Faith is presented less as an act than as a "deposit" which one must carefully guard, as teaching to which one must remain faithful. The Church is presented less as a body (soma) than as a household (oikos).

The writer does not speak explicitly of relations between these Churches and the universal Church. Nonetheless, one must note how the authority of Paul is accepted as something that transcends localities for it is by virtue of this that the authority of his delegates, Timothy and Titus, is acknowledged. For Timothy, the gift of grace was conferred by a prophetic intervention, accompanied by the laying on of hands by the college of elders (1 Tim 4:14) and by Paul (2 Tim 1:6). Timothy himself was to lay hands upon others. Here, therefore, there appears a kind of succession in the exercise of legitimate authority (see also 2 Tim 2:2).

Though one cannot affirm that an identical situation existed in other communities, it is undeniable that there are great resemblances between these two churches of Ephesus and of Crete. Thus Timothy, who has known the Scriptures since his youth, is charged, as is Titus, to defend the faith and sound doctrine against errors (1 Tim 6:20-21; 2 Tim 3:13; Tit 1:9; 3:10). Both of them are charged to complete the organization of the churches. Titus is to establish elders, according to the instructions of Paul, in every town (Tit 1:5); one finds elders in 1 Tim 5:17-19 also. The qualities required in the episkopos are the same in 1 Tim 3:2-7 and Tit 1:7-9. Timothy is to keep a careful watch over the qualities of deacons (1 Tim 3:8-10.12-13) and also of women (deacons?) in 3:11. Finally, they must exhort the Christians of their churches in accordance with Pauline directives so that all, whatever their social class (1 Tim 5 and 6; Tit 2:1-10), will conduct themselves irreproachably.

In this way, the unity of the local Church, already duly structured, will be preserved. Christians are "the household of God, the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:13). They are part of the people, which belongs to Jesus Christ by virtue of his sacrifice (Tit 2:14).

IV. Unity And Diversity In The Synoptic Gospels And In Acts

In their kerygma, the Synoptic Gospels take up the preaching of Jesus, and carry the gospel, as did Paul, to non-Jewish territory.

1. Mark

The proclamation of the Kingship of God holds a central place in the Gospel according to Mark (Mark 1:15); yet the message about Gods Kingship becomes "the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" (1:1). This is a characteristic of the situation after the first Easter, namely, that the central events of the Christian faith, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, are viewed retrospectively.

a) Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah (8:29) and the centurions confession of him, at the foot of the cross, as Son of God (15:39) become, along with the celebration of the Supper of the Lord, the new focal points at which the people of God assemble together in unity. Admittedly, the term ekklesia does not appear in Mark, or in Luke; but the existence of the reality it denotes is clearly presupposed. It is difficult to be precise about the relationships between the Church and the synagogue, but separation was clearly on the way (cf. Mark 7:3-4; 12:9; 13:9). Food prohibitions are no longer in force (7:15.19). Jesus had brought something fundamentally new (1:27; 2:21-22). He had been moved by the thought of the flock without a shepherd (6:34), and had condemned the husbandmen of the vineyard (12:1-12).

b) Jesus' intervention against the "Temple merchants" is justified by the words of Isa 56:7: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations" (11:17). The proximity of God's Kingship, which appears to be expressed in 9:1 and 13:30, is presupposed, but "this gospel must first be proclaimed to all the nations" (13:10).

c) The Twelve, who are only once called Apostles (6:30), represent first and foremost a group of witnesses: they had accompanied Jesus in his lifetime and had seen his deeds. Now they were to continue his work. Among them, Peter is listed first (3:16), and he is their spokesman (8:29).

d) The redemptive death of Jesus (10:45) is the foundation of the covenant by his blood, shed for many (14:24). After his resurrection, Christ as shepherd reassembles his scattered sheep (14:27-28).

2. Matthew

The Gospel according to Matthew has been called the Gospel of the Church par excellence. It employs the term ekklesia twice (16:18; 18:17-18). Continuity with Israel and a break from the synagogue are the two poles, which determine its ecclesiological thinking.

a) Numerous explicit citations establish that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of his people, as Scripture had foretold. But Israel as a whole has not accepted him and is therefore openly criticized (Matt 20:16; 22:5-8). The "Kingship of God", which is understood by Matthew as a datum of salvation history in the past, present and future, will be taken away from the leaders of Israel and given to a nation which will produce its fruits (21:43).

b) Simon, the first of the Twelve Apostles (10:2), sees himself surnamed Peter; he is constituted the foundation rock of the universal Church of the Messiah (16:18: mou ten ekklesian), to ensure its cohesion. As the one to whom Jesus entrusted the keys of the heavenly realm, and who is provided with full power to bind and to loose, he is the guarantor of fidelity to the person and teaching of Jesus. The full power of binding and loosing is likewise exercised within the local community (18:18).

c) Charged by the glorified Lord with their mission, the Eleven disciples are sent into the whole world to make disciples of all nations (28:19). It is in their community that the omnipotence of Christ will continue to work for salvation (18:18-20).

3. Luke And Acts

Lucan theological concepts are found in the Gospel according to Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospel, Jesus' activity is centred on the land of Israel. He begins by acting in his immediate hometown, Nazareth (4:16-30), and never sets foot outside the borders of Jewish territory (by contrast with Mark 7:24ff. and par.). By sending out his apostles (9:2) and disciples (10:1), he shows his concern to bring the entire nation of Israel face to face with the message of salvation.

Luke's Gospel develops a theology of the way (Greek symbols). Jesus as a child came twice to the Temple, to his Father's house (2:41-49; cf. 2:22). Later, with his disciples, he took the road to Jerusalem (9:51ff.), where he was to be killed by men (13:33) but raised to life by God (24:34). This way continues in Acts, leading from Jerusalem to "the end of the earth" (1:8). Jerusalem stands at the centre of an idea of salvation history, according to which the ancient people of God is transformed into a people of God taken "from among the nations" (Acts 15:14). The transfer of the Gospel from Israel to all nations corresponds with the plan of God, both in its continuity and in its discontinuity. The Twelve Apostles (Acts 6:2) become servants of the Word (cf. Luke 1:2), and among them Simon Peter, the first one to be called (Luke 5:1-10), receives the mission of confirming his brothers (22:32). They are authoritative witnesses of the acts, of the death and of the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:8.21-22).

In the Acts of the Apostles, the life of the primitive Church is insistently described as the life of God's people lived out in diversity and unity.

The story of Pentecost (2:1ff.) tells of the descent of the Spirit of God, making itself understood by people from many different languages (and cultures); the confusion of tongues provoked by the pride of the builders of Babel is thus abolished. The Church, born of the Spirit, is from the beginning composed of people of different languages and cultures, now gathered together in faith by the Spirit. They are designated by various names: "the brethren" (1:15), "believers" (2:44), "disciples" (6:1), "those who call upon the name of the Lord" (cf. 9:14.21), "those who are being saved" (2:47), "the sect of the Nazoreans" (24:5), and "Christians" (11:26; 26:28).

The term ekklesia denotes most commonly a local Church (such as those at Jerusalem and at Antioch), but there is mention also of "the Church in all Judaea, Samaria and Galilee" (9:31) and even of "the Church of God, which he acquired by his blood" (20:28). We read also that the local Churches exchanged delegations and that they sent material assistance to one another (1 1:29).

The "summaries" which describe the life of the Church of Jerusalem (2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12-16) are, in the Lucan editorial scheme, a pattern for all Churches to follow. The believers still gather under Solomon’s colonnade in the Temple (5:12). They are praised for the unity and harmony of their lives, which are ensured by their fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles, by their common fellowship (koinonia), by the breaking of bread and by the prayers, which took place in private houses. The voluntary sale of properties and the pooling of resources were intended to put an end to penury and to strengthen the consciousness of brotherhood. The unanimity of Christians is constantly underlined (omothumadon: 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12 etc.), even though there are sometimes troublesome incidents (5:1-11).

The discourses setting out the missionary preaching of primitive Christianity were composed on the basis of models different in origin. They may be seen as types of Christian preaching, varying according to the circumstances and the hearers. Thus the discourse of Peter in Jerusalem at Pentecost may be regarded as one model of a missionary discourse to a Jewish audience (2:14-36), whereas that of Paul on the Areopagus in Athens is one example of a missionary discourse to a group of Greek listeners (17:22-31).

This is confirmed by the choice of arguments and of images, which always take into account the mentality of those addressed. It is also possible to glimpse differences of opinion and conflicts within the primitive Church, which were in great measure conditioned by the diversity of origin among its members. Acts reports these differences fearlessly. One such case was the resentment of the Hellenists against the Hebrews in the Church of Jerusalem because their widows had been neglected in the daily distribution of alms (6:1-6). Another was the conflict over the terms on which converted pagans could be admitted into the Church. A large number of pagans were converted and some Jewish Christians thought it absolutely necessary that they should accept circumcision (15:1-5). Yet another instance may be seen in the misgivings expressed on the occasion of Paul's last visit to Jerusalem (21:21).

The solutions found, and proposed in Acts, were not such as to override completely the particular cultural and religious traditions of those received into the Church. On the contrary, the agreements reached at the Apostolic Assembly, portrayed in Acts 15 as not insisting on circumcision but only on the provisos put forward by James, represent an acceptance of, and are thereby to some extent a call to respect, the personal values cherished by each individual. In the same way, Paul is portrayed in Acts as a person prepared to behave fully as a Jew when in Jerusalem (21:23-26).

Acts also displays a wide diversity in the organization of the Church and of its ministry, depending on place or ethnic group. Local Churches appear to be largely autonomous in their internal working, while at the same time being firmly united one with another and preserving a privileged bond with Jerusalem.

This diversity obviously enhances any unity, which, instead of disregarding particular characteristics, integrates them into a communion that transcends all such differences. In the cases where conflict occurs, Acts indicates ways of safeguarding unity: directives given by the Apostles (6:2; 15:7-11), the faith which all confess in an identical manner (15:7-9), the charity which all should show to one another, with mutual respect for one another, living for one another, and finally the presence of the Holy Spirit who not merely brings the Church together but also directs and guides it. According to the faith of the community, this Holy Spirit himself had given utterance in the decision of the Apostolic Assembly (15:28).

Nevertheless, when a decision was to be made, the community as a whole was involved. In 6:5 it approved the proposal of the Apostles; in 15:22 it gave its consent to the Apostles and the Elders.

By this picture of the life of the primitive Church, which is to a certain extent idealized, Acts sought to give to future generations a pattern of life lived in love under the direction of the Spirit.

V. Other Books

1. The Epistle To The Hebrews

The issue of unity in diversity is nowhere explicitly treated in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But one principle of unity is affirmed with great insistence in new terms: the one sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all, has replaced the diversity of the ancient offerings (10:5-10). Christ, proclaimed High Priest, "has become the cause of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (5:9).

Christian initiation is of more value than the awesome experience of Horeb (12:18-21; cf. Deut 4:11; Ex 19:12.16), for it puts "the church of the first-born enrolled in heaven" in contact with "the heavenly Jerusalem", as well as with "Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant" (12:22-24; cf. Jer 31:31-34). Here one may see that the foundation of Christian unity is not of this earth, although it is expressed in a visibly united community (3:12-4:16). The "participants of Christ" (3:14) must take part in meetings of the community (10:25), be mindful of their first leaders (13:7) and show themselves obedient to their present leaders (13:17), keep clear of "various and strange teachings", for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (13:8-9).

2. 1 Peter

This Epistle claims to be written from Babylon (that is, Rome; 5:13). It is addressed to the chosen ones who live as resident aliens in the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1:1), who are persecuted because they are Christians. The addressees clearly belong to different local Churches, but the author treats them all as members of one and the same Church, receiving the testimony and the exhortations of the Apostle Peter.

In this writing Christians, who are reborn to a new hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, take note of their vocation.

Born of the Word of God (1:23), they are the living stones of a spiritual edifice (2:5). By being incorporated into Christ, the living stone which the builders rejected but which became the chief cornerstone (2:4), they receive the inheritance and the privileges of Israel, which the author expresses by the principal metaphors which the Old Testament uses in this sense: "a chosen race, a royal priestly community, a holy nation, a people destined for salvation" (2:9; cf. Isa 43:20-21; Ex 19:3-6). Lastly, they are the people of God, those who have obtained mercy (2:10; cf. Hos 2:25).

The author encourages Christians to remain firm amid persecution, "knowing that the same sufferings are affecting the community of your brethren in the world" (5:9). He exhorts the Elders, calling himself "a fellow-elder", to shepherd the flock of God which is entrusted to them and of, which Christ is the "Chief Shepherd" (5:1.2.4).

The letter shows us a Church conscious of its dignity as Gods people.

VI. Unity And Diversity In The Johannine Corpus

1. The Fourth Gospel

1. The avowed intention of the Fourth Gospel is to establish in its readers' minds a firm faith in Jesus, "the Christ, the Son of God", that they may "have life in his name" (20:31). For Gods plan is to save the world (3:17) without any distinction of persons, and "whoever believes" (3:16) has eternal life. One may therefore say that the purpose of the Gospel is the unity of all in Christian faith and life.

The evangelist notes the different reactions of people brought face to face with Jesus (7:12; 11:45-46); but for him, hostility or unbelief can never be justified (3:18-20).

2. The people to whom Jesus addresses himself have very different origins and backgrounds, and become his followers in very different ways. There are disciples of John the Baptist, (1:35) who are Galileans (1:44); there is Nicodemus the Pharisee, "one of the leaders of the Jews" (3:1; 7:50; 19:39); a Samaritan woman (4:7) and her compatriots (4:39), in spite of the split between Jews and Samaritans (4:9); and a royal official (4:46). Sometimes "a great crowd comes to him" (6:5). Non-Jews are attracted to him (12:20-21).

3. All these various people are destined to be united with one another, thanks to Jesus, "the good Shepherd" (10:11). "There shall be one flock and one shepherd" (10:16). It is the hirelings who let the flock scatter (10:12). Unity is not limited to the "people of Israel", but must be opened to other sheep (10:16), indeed, to "all the children of God who are scattered abroad" (11:52). It is presented as the very purpose of Jesus' death (11:51-52), the object of Christ's insistent prayer (17:11.22-23), and the means of bringing the world to faith (17:21.23). The model and source of the unity of the disciples is the perfect unity of the Father and of the Son, their mutual indwelling (17:11.21). The disciples must "abide in Christ", as the branches remain attached to the stem of the vine (15:1-7).

Adoration "in Spirit and in truth" enables them to rise above the problem of division caused by dissension over the place of worship (4:21-24). The true holy place will be the body of the risen Jesus (2:19-22). The Spirit whom the Father will send at Jesus' request will manifestly constitute a mysterious bond between the disciples (cf. 14:16-18).

The Fourth Gospel is very attentive to the spiritual unity of believers with God, thanks to the interiorization of the message of Jesus. It is less concerned with the structures of unity. By pointing to rebirth through water and the Spirit as the condition of entry into the kingdom of God (3:5), and to "the bread of life" as a condition of the disciples' sharing the life of the Son (6:57), and thanks to the life-giving Spirit (6:63), this gospel implies that there are certain acts, at once personal and communal) whereby human beings receive from the Son the life originating from the Father.

4. Unity therefore is no longer to be sought at a political level (6:15; 18:37), or by the use of physical force (18:36; cf. 18:10-11). Jesus brings it about by humble service (13:2-15) and by self-giving even to the end (10:14-18; 13:1; 15:13). He commands his disciples to follow his example: "love one another as I have loved you" is the "new commandment" (13:34).

5. The Fourth Gospel does not describe how Christian communities are organized. As a general rule, it speaks of the "disciples" (78 times), without making any distinction among them. The disciples will bear witness, along with the Spirit (15:26-27). Their unity is defined not in terms of authority, but in terms of mutual love, and this unity is equivalent to testimony (17:20.23). For, it is not merely human witness but a manifestation before "the world" of the testimony, which the Spirit bears to Jesus.

6. The choice of the Twelve is nevertheless mentioned (6:70; cf. 13:18; 15:15.19), though no precise details of their role are given; that will come after the resurrection, when Jesus by communicating the Spirit charges them to continue his own mission (20:21-23). Among them, Peter is prominent: he makes a profession of faith at a decisive moment (6:68-69). He has a special function for the whole body of believers, since, in spite of his threefold denial (18:17.25-27), he is the only one to receive from the risen Christ the mission of "feeding his sheep" (21:15-19). Shortly before this, Peter had hauled in the miraculous catch of fish in a net, which (a symbolic detail?) — "did not break" (21:11).

7. The same final chapter manifests also the diversity of vocations in the one faith in Christ: the way foreseen for Peter is not the same as that for "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (21:20-23). The role ascribed to the latter allows us to glimpse the pluralism, which existed in the Church at the time the Fourth Gospel was taking shape. The communities which preserved and cultivated the Johannine traditions differed on many points from those in which the Synoptic traditions were expressed: their Christology strongly and explicitly affirms the divine sonship of Jesus and even his divinity, their pneumatology is detailed, and eschatology is often presented as already realized. They insisted on the "truth" (aletheia) revealed in Jesus and on the agape brought by him. Yet these differences did not lead to a separatist movement: the place acknowledged as Peters by the community of the "beloved disciple" is proof of that (John 20 and 21).

2. The Johannine Epistles

The Johannine epistles, although more directly concerned with the Church than the Gospel is, speak less explicitly about unity. Nevertheless, koinonia (1 John 1:3.6.7) is related to this theme. It is the "testimony" of the first disciples on the subject of the "Word of life" that allows one to enter into the "communion" which believers have "with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1:1-3) and thereby with one another (1:7). Communion is therefore based on faith in the Incarnate Word. It is expressed by mutual love (agape). One rediscovers in 1 John the principal themes of the Fourth Gospel, including that of mutual indwelling, which is bound up with faith in Jesus, and with agape (4:16); 1 John goes so far as to affirm that "God is love, and anyone who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him" (4:16). Normally, attention is directed to the love between Christians, which is incompatible with the love of a world characterized by "selfish desires" (2:15-17; 5:4.19). A universal outlook is, however, clearly expressed in 1 John 2:2: Jesus Christ is "a sacrifice of expiation for the sins. . . of the entire world".

The writer's principal preoccupation is to supply his readers with criteria for assessing authentic Christianity, for one cannot, within the Christian communion, accept any and every kind of diversity. He warns against "anti-Christs" (2:18.19; 4:3) and false prophets (4:1). The criteria given are either of a christological order or of faithfulness to the commandments (of which only the command of mutual love is expressly mentioned). On the topic of the "doctrine" (didache) concerning Christ come in the flesh (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7), 2 John 10-11 bids them be uncompromising.

3. John reflects a situation of conflict arising from ambition and attachment to power in the Church. The "elder" deplores it, but does not go beyond staring his reproof (3 John 10). The word ekklesia, which is not found in the Fourth Gospel or in the first two Epistles, refers in 3 John 6.9.10 to the local Church.

3. The Apocalypse

In speaking of the redemptive (egorasas) work of the "Lamb", the Apocalypse strongly affirms diversity in unity: the Lamb has "purchased for God with his blood" people "of every tribe and tongue and people and nation", and made of them "a kingdom and priests" for God (5:9-10). Later, an analogous formula adds the further detail that it is a "multitude without number" which stands "before the throne and before the Lamb" (7:9); the mention of this multitude comes after that of the 144,000 "servants of God" from "every tribe of the children of Israel" (7:3-8).

Apart from these differences of ethnic origin, one may observe that there is also a noticeable diversity in the geographical and spiritual situations of the "seven Churches". John first addresses them collectively (1:4), before giving to the "angel" of each one a message from the risen Lord (1:18-19; cf. 2:1 — 3:22), which is moreover applicable to all (2:7.11 etc.). The "angel" denotes perhaps the person who directs the community. His relationship with Christ is depicted as very close indeed (1:16.20).

The figure 7 symbolizes totality. All the Churches are united by their common submission to the authority of Christ and to the voice of the Spirit. The manner in which John introduces himself (1:9) is proof of the brotherhood between Christians of all these Churches; but nothing is said about the organization of this fraternity, nor about the relations between one Church and another. Nonetheless, the letters prescribe a common attitude-in particular with regard to pagan worship (2:14-15.20). For it is an inspired person who is intervening (1:3.10) to strengthen the members of all the Churches without exception in their resolve to remain faithful, and his intervention is presented as a "testimony" (1:22), which encourages all to hold fast to the "testimony of Jesus" (1:9; 12:17).

The vision of the woman clothed with the sun and crowned with twelve stars, mother of the Messiah, is a powerful symbol of the unity and continuity of the people of the two Testaments (12:1-2.5-6). Again, the symbol of the new Jerusalem, bride of the Lamb (21:9; 22:17), descending from heaven (21:2.10), whose twelve gates remain permanently open to all nations (21:12.25.26), expresses vividly the consciousness of the call to unity. The new Jerusalem is the one and only "dwelling-place of God with men", but diversity is not abolished there. "They shall be his peoples" (according to a probable reading of 21:3). The reference to the "twelve Apostles of the Lamb" as foundations (themelious) of the city's ramparts (21:14) suggests a certain structuring of unity. The principal preoccupation of the Apocalypse, however, is not to express an ecclesiology, but rather to strengthen Christian hope in a time of persecution.

B. A Short Synthesis Of The Biblical Evidence

From the diversity of viewpoints represented by the biblical books, one may discern several ways in which the God of the Universe gradually prepared the way for the coming of the Christ to "gather into unity the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:52; cf. Luke 13:29). In the Bible, God is not the God of the Jews alone; he is also the God of the other nations. He justifies the former by virtue of (ek) faith, and the latter by means of (dia) faith in Christ (Rom 3:29-30; cf. 26). He is the Father who sent his only Son to save the world (John 3:16).

The union of the Father and of the Son is the foundation of unity between all (John 17:21).

The Father is the origin of all (1 Cor 8:6) and the goal of all (1 Cor 15:28). Unity is expressed:

  • by the different names given to the Church of Christ;
  • by the horizon of universality, which is made manifest to each Church to elicit its response, and by the factors of communion between Churches.

1. The Different Names Of The Single Church

The names given to the Church in the New Testament are not only varied, but sometimes even mutually incongruous, if one takes the words and images literally. For the fact is that the Church cannot be encompassed in a definition. Like all living things, it has an individuality of its own. This can, however, be discerned through various names and images, arising in various milieux and expressing different and complementary experiences.

1. Its specific name, Church, always denotes the same reality, even if it carries different connotations. Sometimes the reference is restricted to a particular place; at other times, one and the same reality is referred to, but as existing at different times and in different places, for the term is of such a nature that it can be extended to the entire world.

In the Greek Old Testament, this name was used to designate the people of the Lord gathered in the desert by Moses to listen to the Word of God and to undertake to obey him (Deut 4:10; 5:22; cf. Acts 7:38). As a sacred assembly, composed of participants who had been purified (cf. Deut 23:; Ex 19:14-15; cf. Acts 7:38), summoned for an event that was to be foundational, it continued to draw life from that event, which it was obliged constantly to renew by recalling it in ritual (cf. Deut 5:3). In the New Testament, the founding event, which accomplished the promises of the Old Testament, was the death and the resurrection of Christ. From that event, the Church came forth and by it, finds life.

2. With Christ, the manifestation of God in a body that was crucified and resurrected, the Church itself also acquired a new image, that of the body. This image, familiar to classical antiquity, takes on a more profound sense: Christians are "the body of Christ" (1 Cor 12:27). In Christ they are the members, necessarily different, of one single body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12; Eph 2:16; Col 3:15). They have different gifts (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:4), but they all listen to the same Word of God, all receive the same teaching of Christ (Mark 1:27; Acts 13:12; Tit 1:9), and feed on the same bread (1 Cor 10:17).

This body is a living organism with many members (Eph 4:16; Col 2:19). Christ is called its head (Col 1:18); the faithful are members of each other (Rom 12:5). This organism grows in the Spirit (Eph 2:21-22), until when they reach adult age all attain together the stature of Christ in his full maturity (Eph 4:13).

3. The image of the body concentrates attention on the organization of the Church, its functioning and its growth. That of the flock calls to mind at one and the same time hazard and enterprise, the responsibility of the shepherd. In the Ancient Near East it was a traditional image with a meaning at once political and religious. People who were sheepbreeders were accustomed to expect from their kings and their national gods largesse and security. The God of Israel was the shepherd of his people (Ps 23). David, who in his youth had watched over the flock of his family, (1 Sam 16:11; 2 Sam 7:8) was aware that he too was responsible for the people (2 Sam 24:17). When God decided to save his sheep, ill-treated by unworthy shepherds, he promised his people a new prince, "my servant David" (Ez 34:23-24).

Jesus, son of David, is this promised shepherd. He is the one and only shepherd of this single flock (John 10:16; cf. 1 Pet 5:4; Heb 13:20). He gives

his life for his sheep (John 10:11-15). He leads into his fold other sheep from elsewhere (John 10:16). He entrusts his disciples with the charge of his flock (John 21:15-17; cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2).

Christ the shepherd is also King of his people. After having proclaimed during his ministry the Kingship of God (Mark 1:15 and par.), he reasserts his royal rank before Pilate at the moment he is about to die, declaring that it is not of (ek) this world (John 18:33-37). Risen, he exercises it (1 Cor 15:25; Apoc 1:12-16) until the moment when he delivers the kingdom to his Father (1 Cor 15:24).

4. Church, body, flock: in these terms there is inevitably some measure of imagery. All three define precise relationships between Christ and the people of God. Other names given to the Church presuppose these relationships as defined, and emphasize rather their affective implications. Far from being secondary, these other titles underline the importance of essential values.

Three images in particular must claim our attention: the people of God as a building, a plant, and a bride. These three images may be mentioned here, for they correspond with the three basic actions, which in the Bible give human life its dignity: building, planting, and marrying (cf. Deut 20:5-7). The marvel is that God should wish to build himself a house, to plant himself a vineyard, and to take a bride — and that this plan should describe exactly what the Church is.

a) The people of God is a building (oikodome: 1 Cor 3:9) which rises up to become a holy temple (naos agios, Eph 2.21). A local Church often met in a house (kat’oikon, Rom 16:5). All Christians are the children of that Jerusalem, which is above (Gal 4:26). They are, in their body, God's temple (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16) in which the Spirit dwells (1 Cor 6:19). Christ is presented sometimes as constructing his Church, which he builds upon Peter, (Mt 16:18) sometimes as the foundation (themelion) of the edifice constructed by the Apostles (1 Cor 3:11), sometimes as the cornerstone (akopogoniaios, Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:6; kefale gonias, Mark 12:10; Acts 4:11). In Ephesians (2:20; 4:16) the Apostles and the prophets are the foundations of this edifice (2:20) which is constructed in agape (4:16).

b) The people of God is also called avine, a delicate and precious plant from which the vinedresser expects fruit (Isa 5:1-7; Ez 15; 17:6-8; Ps 80:9-17; Mark 12:1-12 and par.). To produce fruit, the disciples must remain attached to the vine-stock (John 15:1-8). The olive-tree also is, in Paul, an image of the people of Israel chosen by God, upon which there has been grafted, by grace, a wild branch destined to receive the holy sap (Rom 11:16-24).

c) God's love for his people is expressed also by a still bolder image, that of marriage. From the moment of its election, Israel was the chosen spouse, often displeasing him but never definitively abandoned (Hos 2:4-25; Jer 2:2; 31:3-4; Ez 16:6-62). The image is taken up by several writers of the New Testament who apply it to Christ and the Church (Matt 9:15 and par.; cf. John 3:29; Matt 22:1-14; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-32). The relationship of bride and bridegroom will find its complete fulfilment at the end of time (Apoc 19:7-9; 21:2.9; 22:17).

2. Communion In Diversity Within The Church

From the data furnished by the New Testament it is possible to discern some characteristic traits of the Church, and to give a brief description of its external features, as they must have appeared in its first years. On the one hand, there were local communities and different groups; on the other hand, people spoke of the Church of God and of Christ as a worldwide reality.

We know that Churches existed at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Corinth and at Rome, in the regions of Judaea, of Galatia and of Macedonia. None of them claimed to be on it’s own the entire Church of God, but the entire Church was really present in each one of them. Relations were established between the Churches: between Jerusalem and Antioch, between Churches founded by Paul and Jerusalem, to which the former sent the results of a collection, between the Churches to which the First Letter of Peter is addressed, and between those addressed in the Apocalypse. Paul writes that he bears the burden of all the Churches (2 Cor 11:28), and apostolic authority is recognized everywhere in the Church.

1. In the phenomena so described, with their worldwide vision and diverse realizations of it, the Scriptures disclose a power at work. The power accomplishing this worldwide unity is that of God. Although Eph 4:4-6 does not mention "one single Church", this text does indicate at one and the same time the source of unity and the means of achieving it: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (4:3-6).

"One only Lord", Christ, who gathers together in himself men and women whoever they are. All find themselves united in him and set free from the confines of their own world.

"One single faith" which is the principle of new life in the Spirit, and its enriching consequence, the gate of access to a new world where all can see the Father and the Son (cf. John 14:9) and accept one another as brothers and sisters.

"One single Baptism", that rite in the liturgy of initiation by which the seal is set upon a persons adherence to Christ and to his Church.

"One sole hope", "which does not deceive" (Rom 5:5) those who are on their journey "to be always with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:17).

"One single body", because all share one single bread (1 Cor 10:17).

"One single Spirit", active in the diversity of spiritual gifts, of ministries and of activities for the common good (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-7).

"One only God and Father of all," who "in Christ was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19), "from whom all comes and to whom we are going" (1 Cor 8:6).

2. This divine power and this experience of unity are lived out by people who are quite different from one another, and who are themselves influenced by different and sometimes antagonistic motives.

The driving forces at work in this world are numerous, the charisms of the Churches are varied, and the activity of Christians varies according to their personalities. There are diversities of ministry: apostles and prophets, episkopoi and presbyters, deacons, teachers, shepherds and so on. The nomenclature varies from place to place, and some of these ministries may be entrusted to persons of either sex. As a result of this diversity one single faith receives doctrinal and theological expressions, cultural and social realizations, in which the diversity of thought and tradition of the entire human race is enabled both to flourish and to refine itself, and in which the inventiveness of agape may exercise itself.

It is by reason of this love which is poured into our hearts by the Spirit (Rom 5:5), and through the breaking of the bread (1 Cor 10:16-17), and as a consequence of the testimony of the Twelve, of whom Peter, "the first" (Matt 10:2) was charged by Jesus to feed his sheep (John 21:16-17), and through the preaching of Paul, continued by his collaborators, by Titus and Timothy, and by the message of the four gospels, that the unity of the Church of Christ is achieved and maintained amid all diversity. For, the Church as the Body of Christ is the reconciliation of those who are divided by hatred (Eph 2:14-16). By the mercy of God, by the action of the risen Christ and by the power of the Spirit, the unity of the Church can overcome divisions, which are apparently insurmountable. In her, all legitimate diversity discovers a wonderful fruitfulness.

Rome, 11-15 April 1988.

Personal Contributions Of The Members Of The Pontifical Biblical Commission

S. E. Mons. Joao Evangelista Martins Terra, S.J. (Sao Paulo), La storia dei Patriarchi come fundamento dell'unita e diversita del popolo di Dio

S. E. Mons. Antonio Moreno Casamitjana (santiago, Chile), La monarquia como factor de unidad de las tribus

R. D. Msgr Josef Schreiner (Wurzburg), Volk Gottes als Gemeinde des Herrn in deuteronomischer Theologie

R. D. Gianfranco Ravasi (Milano), La tradizione sacerdotale e la comunitd "ecclesiale"

R. D. Henri Cazelles, P.S.S. (Paris), Forces centrifuges et unite du peuple de Dieu apres l'exil

R. P. Jean Dominique Barthelemy, O.P. (Fribourg, Suisse), Unite et diversite dans le Judaisme vers le debut de notre ere

R. D. Canon John McHugh (Durham), The privileges of Israel

R. D. Domingo Munoz Leon (Madrid), "Ekklesia" y "Ekklesiai" en el Nuevo Testamento

R. P. Jan Lambrecht S.J. (Leuven), Unity and Diversity in Gal 1-2

R. P. Albert Vanhoye S.J. (Rome), Necessite de la diversite dans l'unite selon 1 Co 12 et Rom 12

R. D. Joachim Gnilka (Munchen), Das Kirchenmodell des Epheserbriefes

R. P. Joseph Pathrapankal, C.M.I. (Bangalore), "Church" and "Churches" in Corpus Paulinum

R. D. Pierre Grelot (Paris), Sur Matthieu 16, 16-19

S. Exc. Mgr. L. Monsengwo Pasinya (Kinshasa), Unite et diversite dans les des Apotres: Le probleme des groupes culturels

R. P. Jacques Dupont, O.S.B. (Louvain-la-neuve), Note sur le "Peuple de Dieu" dans les Actes des Apotres

R. P. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. (Washington), The Designations of Christians in Acts and their Significance

R. P. Marcel Dumais, O.M.I. (Ottawa), Le role des Douze, de Pierre et de Jerusalem, dans la fondation et la vie des communautes chretiennes des Actes

R. P. Pierre Benoit, O.P. (Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem), L'unite de la communion ecclesiale dans l'Esprit selon le quatrieme Evangile

T. R. P. Augustinus Jankowski O.S.B. (Krakow), De Ecclesia multiformi et una secundum Apocalypsim Joannis

R. D. Giuseppe Segalla (Padova), L'unita della Chiesa e la varieta dei modelli nel Nuovo Testamento

© 1992 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 00120 Citta del Vaticano Tel. (06) 6985003. Fax (06) 6984716.

This item 3737 digitally provided courtesy of