Church as Creature of Word (and Sacrament?)
George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008): 184-5:A few observations:
“Called into being by proclamation, and ruled by the authority of scripture, the church is a creature of God’s Word (creatura verbum Dei). Founded in baptism and nourished by the eucharist, the church is also a creature of the sacraments (creatura sacramenti). While the Word is the normative vehicle of Christ’s self-witness, it is also the vehicle of his self-impartation to faith. In turn, while the sacraments are more nearly vehicles of his self-mediation, they are also vehicles of his self-witness at the same time.”
- Don’t let the capitalization throw you: whether talking about the “Word” or the “sacraments,” Hunsinger will finally refer them both to Jesus Christ as their “dimension of depth,” to steal a phrase that Hunsinger in turn stole from TF Torrance. In other words, both Word and Sacrament refer first and foremost to Jesus Christ: he is their basic form. There are then derivative forms - Scripture and preaching, on the one hand; baptism and eucharist, on the other – with their own intersecting relations and orderings.
- Word and Sacrament, for Hunsinger, do the same things (self-witness / self-impartation) albeit with different emphases and in different aspects.
- There would seem to be an asymmetrical ordering of these two activities of Jesus Christ in which Word and Sacrament are instruments, namely, self-witness and self-impartation. While we would certainly not want to separate them from each other – every act of self-witness is also an act of self-impartation, and vice-versa – Jesus Christ’s self-witness must be basic. Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ suggests this, for instance. For Calvin (cf. Institutes, 3.1) the way in which the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ (self-impartation) is through awakening us to faith - which Calvin later defines as a sure and certain knowledge of God's benevolence to us (Ibid, 3.2.7; self-witness). While this knowledge is clearly embodied - that is, not intellectual in a reductive sense - it is still fundamentally knowledge as opposed to experience, feeling, or some other designation.
- As a parallel to this, there is a fundamental and asymmetrical distinction – I would argue – between the way in which the church is a creature of the Word (“called into being”) and the way in which it is a creature of the sacraments (“founded” and “nourished”). The former is basic to the latter, establishing the church’s existence which is then built up by the sacraments.