A Mimetic Doctrine of the Church: The Locus of Desire for Salvation

The first thing to be said about a mimetic ecclesiology is that it produces a very strong doctrine of the church. Not strong in the sense of triumphalism, but in the sense of essential: if human beings desire according to the desires of those around us, then it is essential for Christians to be part of a Christian community. It provides a justification for the traditional claim that one cannot BE Christian except by being part of the church (”No one can have God for a Father who does not have the church as a mother”). This strength is valuable in the evangelization of those who identify as spiritual but not religious, or who fail to see any value in organized religion.

Church is understood here not in the strictly institutional sense of the word, but in the sense of a community of disciples, of followers: where two or there are gathered in my name (that is, according to my desires), there am I among them.

This creates a strong doctrine for the church as some kind of organized body. Without (yet) speaking of any particular institutional form, it is a much stronger and more theological rationale than the pragmatic, purely sociological notion that whenever humans get together, there must be some structure and someone must be in charge. The institutional church does not exist simply as a convenience, a means of efficiently handling the practical details of ecclesial life. It exists because it is the locus of Christ-directed desire. We are not individuals, we are inter-dividuals, and the ecclesial community is the group of inter-dividuals with and from whom we pattern our desires.

This creates a contrast to the understanding of the church as the dispenser of grace, whether via sacraments or scripture. Although the church is where we come to receive our salvation (which is intrinsically bound up with our identity, our personhood as Christians), the ministers of the church do not administer or dispense the means of salvation to us, like grace poured out in measuring spoons. The ministers of the church, insofar as they themselves are faithful desirers of Christ, and our fellow Christians, insofar as *they* are faithful desirers of Christ, comprise the fountain from which we are renewed, refreshed, and continually recreated. This is the informal aspect of Christian formation.

This sounds as if I mean that the people of the church manufacture the means of grace, an ecclesiology that is so thoroughly from below that there is barely any room for God. Not so; and this is where pneumatology comes into it. Because it is only by means of the Holy Spirit that we *can* desire Christ: the Spirit directs our desires to Christ, whose own desire is for the Father. Persons are faithful desirers and imitators of Christ precisely insofar as they are indwelt by, and cooperate with, the Holy Spirit.

Thus the Holy Spirit animates and constitutes the church, which is the locus of desire for salvation. The locus of salvation, as tradition has it and as mimetic theology teaches us, is the cross: the place of the victim.

The liturgy of the church is the formal aspect of our formation as Christians. In the liturgy, we rehearse and re-enact and practice the desires and the actions (of thought, word, and deed) that are required of us if we are to live up to the name of Christ. By its familiarity, it gets inside us and creates patterns to which we can easily turn: just as practice in the skills of many secular vocations, they become second nature to us; by its novelty, it wakes us up and shakes us out of patterns into which we may not have noticed we have fallen, so that we can re-pattern our lives on the gospel: different churches strike different balances of familiarity and novelty in their worship. Our liturgies are celebrated in community so that our desires can reinforce each other; thus formal and informal formation commingle, as we by means of our desires mingle with each other and with the Trinity.


This post was taken from section 3.2 of my thesis (current draft).

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One Response to A Mimetic Doctrine of the Church: The Locus of Desire for Salvation

  1. Pingback: Clericalism, Anti-Clericalism, and Mimetic Rivalry | Gaudete Theology

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