Ecclesiological Docetism : in early and medieval dissent and heresy in eastern and western Christianity
In the context of the continuity of Christology into ecclesiology, this thesis investigates the implications of a Docetic Christology and its consequences in the life of the church. Against the background of the development of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity it indicates a docetic Christological/ecclesiological parallel found in the Gnostic dualist tradition, countered by the catholic one of a growing orthodoxy, and the continuing influences and implications in Alexandrian theology. It notes in this setting the implicit docetic tendency in 'heretical' thought to undermine salvation history (t'eilsgeschichte), as well as the element of timeliness which could separate orthodoxy from heresy. It proceeds by looking at the exegesis of the New Testament and the Fathers of the church which indicates a Christological/ecclesiological continuity. From this context it examines the understanding of Christ as tradition and Christ as corporate which continues into the Middle Ages. It illustrates further, how concepts such as martyrdom and suffering bear an implicit relationship to Christology and ecclesiology. In considering the views of medieval movements in the context of more orthodox understandings of their age, it explores the continuity of themes found in them from early heresy, particularly dualism and its effects. It notes in particular the role of Platonism in theological interpretation, and considers the place of the establishment of the church in the legitimising of a Christological/ ecclesiological view. These themes and concepts combine to demonstrate the implications of dokesis within an alternative understanding of the church, with the rejection of an incarnational theology, and the development of new criteria for Christian life. In this respect it questions how the immediacy of mystical and spiritual experience relates to ecclesiology. Taking into account the appeal to primitivism as a motive for reform which undermined the medieval synthesis and its doctrine of society, it reviews the late medieval concept of the invisible church, which prepared the way for the Reformation. In this setting it examines the recurring themes which appear, and concludes by outlining the implications of ecclesiological docesis for the church of today.