I take it for granted that the historical and theological continuity linking the Church to ancient Israel pertains to Christian dogmatic truth. I concede that perhaps the Church took full conscious possession of this truth only when Marcion challenged it in the second century. Nonetheless, the quickness and clarity of the Church’s response at that time was ample testimony to her profound, abiding conviction on the point. Marcion’s attack on the Old Testament was felt to be an assault on the very being of the Church, and she responded vigorously, from the depths of her identity—the substance and profile of her memory. From that perspective, Marcion’s heresy, she saw, was an experiment in amnesia.
The Church’s identity, nonetheless, involves more than her formal essence ( morphe). We should also think of it as existential, inasmuch as it resides in her conscious experience, the matter, or “stuff” ( hyle), of her memory. That is to say, the Church is who she is, because she has never—since the time of Abraham—forgotten who she is, or what it means to be who she is.
This unbroken memory of the Church is incarnate in her institutions—especially the Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments and their attendant ministries, the dogmatic determinations of the councils, the piety and preaching, the worship with its ritual, music, and art, and so forth.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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