An Oriental Ecclesial Approach in Catechesis

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Book Review


Church: Communion of Individual Churches.
Untitled Document Mathew Vellanickal, Church: Communion of Individual Churches. Biblico-theological Perspectives on the Communion Ecclesiology of Vatican II, St. Paul's, Mumbai, 2009, Pp. 349, Rs. 250.

Church: Communion of Individual Churches is a great scholarly contribution to the theology of communion ecclesiology by a person who is well qualified and equipped for it. A theology which has been advocated and held with full conviction by the theologians of Syro-Malabar Church and of which St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam, has been a nursery is very well clarified and made intelligible in this scholarly but simple and lucid work. Rev. Dr. Mathew Vellanickal, renowned Bible scholar, gifted preacher and great theologian of the Syro-Malabar Church, who has been making significant contributions to the Indian Church since four decades in various fields, makes intelligible to the readers the complicated and often confused question of communion ecclesiology by clearly clarifying the notions such as 'local church', 'particular church', 'individual church', 'apostolicity', 'apostolic succession,' etc.

The book which runs in fifteen chapters is a wonderful reference work of ecclesiology. In the first four chapters the author gives explanations and clarifications of all the terms used in the present day ecclesiological discussions and makes it easy for readers to delve into the biblico-theological discussion that follows. He explains systematically and logically and with convincing clarity the terms such as Gospel, Culture, and Local Church, a thorough comprehension of which is essential for understanding Church as a communion of Churches. From there he proceeds to define an Individual Church. Herein lies the particular merit of this book: there is a remarkable clarity, which is not seen in the Vatican documents, regarding the terms such as local church, individual church, rites, communion of churches, etc. He prefers to use the term individual church (instead of local church) while speaking about communion of Churches, because 'it is theologically more precise and more significant7 than local church. Chapters 5-10 are clear biblical and theological explanations of the term 'Individual Church.' Every individual Church, which has its genesis in the preaching of an apostle, ("evangelization is the raison d'etre of the Church"), to be authentic, has to be faithful to the apostolic testimony of the Risen Lord, because "apostolic Christ experience is a fundamental constituent of every individual Church" (p. 125). From there he goes on to demonstrate the diversification of individual churches. According to him, "the four different ways, in which the ministry of the Word is carried out in the Church, constitute the basis of the diversification of individual Churches, namely receiving, living, celebrating, and proclaiming the Word" (p. 128). From chapters 11 to 14 different aspects of the communion of churches are elucidated and readers are sure to admire the erudition of the author in this subject. Finally, in the 15* chapter, the author elaborates the communion ecclesiology in the Indian context, where the Catholic Church expresses herself in the communion of three individual Churches, by convincingly establishing the Syro-Malabar Church as an individual Church. There is also a final call to the Syro-Malabar Church to preserve her identity as an individual church when she is faced with different challenges of losing her identity in the wake of the present dangers of globalization and immigrations.

It took several centuries for the Church to rediscover her basic identity as the communion of Churches. This idea has always been inherent in the life and thinking of the Eastern Churches but was alien to the Roman Church since it was, from the time of the Roman Empire, used to a centralized system of administration. Yet even fifty years after the Vatican E, the Church has not fully realized this aspect in its entirety. It is in this context that the present book of Dr. Vellanickal serves as an eye-opener to all individual churches in the catholic communion to be faithful to their identity by faithfully preserving and promoting their heritage. This book makes also a veiled spiritual exhortation to all individual churches to practice genuine Christian charity and to foster sisterly concern in pastoral and missionary enterprise, which is perhaps the best way to live the principle of unity in diversity. This book, which finds light in the Golden Jubilee year of Dr. Mathew Vellanickal's priestly ordination, adds a golden leaf to the ecclesiological studies and books published so far. I hope that this book, which is a great help to have a genuine understanding of ecclesial unity in diversity, will serve as a source book both for scholars in the field and for the students of ecclesiology alike.
Dr. James Kurukilamkatt

 Rev.Dr Mathew Vellanickal has Licentiate in Theology from the Urbanian University in Rome and a Doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome. He had his post doctoral studies at Catholic University of Wurzburg, Germany. He has many years of experience as Professor of the New Testament at Paurastya Vidyapitham Vadavathoor and as visiting Professor at Jnana Deepa Vidyapith, Pune and other theological faculties. He has been a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,as Consulter to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Rome, and a member of the Theological Advisory Committee of FABC. He continues to make his biblical theological contributions as member of several International Commissions for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He has authored over 35 books and around three hundred articles,biblical and theological, in English and Malayalam