Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Augustine on sacrifice, ethics and the church

"thus the true sacrifice is offered in every act which is designed to unite us to God in holy fellowship, every act, that is, which is directed to that final Good which makes possible our true felicity. For that reason even an act of compassion itself is not a sacrifice, if it is not done for the sake of God...the whole redeemed community, that is to say, the congregation and fellowship of the saints, is offered to God as a universal sacrifice, through the great priest who offered himself in his suffering for us-so that we might be the body of so great a head-in the form of a servant....This is the sacrifice of Christians, who are many, making up one body in Christ'. This is the sacrifice which the church regularly celbrates in the sacrament of the altar,a sacrament well known to the faithful where it is shown to the church that she herself is offered in the offering which she presents to God"
St Augustine City of God Book X chapter 6

I should have known that Augustine would have nutted out my problem of christians and sacrifice. He picks up the important detail of Romans 12, that it is ONE sacrifice that is offered to God, and that this sacrifice is the community. The will of God that is to be ascertained by this one sacrifice is that the church is one body under christ, which is quite appropriate given what Paul has been concerned with in ch 9-11 and with what he will go on to say in 12-15.

The bit we might get edgy with as Protestants is his reference to the Lords supper as sacrificial. But Ausustine isn't talking about atoning/taking away sins sacrifice here. He is talking about the church presenting herelf to God. What better time to express that unity and love than by retelling the story of the moment of their unification, Jesus death and resurrection. What better way of expressing her oneness than sharing in Christs death?
I feel like the Catholic thinkers who have picked up the social and ethical importance of the Eucharist are doing better than us at seeing the God directed, sacrificial nature of Christian life together.
The key difference is whether we say the 'whole of life' is a sacrifice, or , the 'whole of the church' is a sacrifice. Not that you could seperate them too much, except that one has an individual focus and the other a social. The social (kingdom) one just seems to fit better with Romans tp me

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