INTRODUCTION: ecumenical relationship amongst believers across all Christian denominations.


… may they be one.” This prayer provides a fitting conclusion to the High
Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17. It certainly demonstrates the deepest
desire of Jesus for complete unity amongst all His followers. But a
reality-check reveals various historic and continuing divisions in Christianity,
both internal and external, with all their various challenges and opportunities.
While pertinent questions relating to these may not find easy solutions
immediately, the concern here is to examine common grounds for ecumenical
relationship amongst believers across all Christian denominations. This study
will be limited to considering some fundamental features of Jean-Marie
Tillard’s work which contributed immensely towards the concept of ecclesiology
of koinonia (communion). Other conciliar and post-conciliar
documents may be considered for this purpose accordingly.

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with the challenges of divisions amongst Christians has generated different
discourses and pragmatic actions. Indeed, this communion-approach ecclesiology
did not first begin with Tillard. Besides other historical movements and
koinonia gained popularity amongst
Catholic theologians in mid 20th century, particularly with
ecclesiological giants like Yves Congar, who greatly influenced Tillard. Congar
emphasises ‘a new development’ of communion of the Church, where believers are
brought into a relationship with the Triune God and with one another.2

Tillard’s great contributions to this approach are
credited to his “thoroughness, the depth of insight, the mastery of the biblical
and patristic sources, and especially with the ecumenical sensitivity, which (he)
has displayed….”3
His masterful rendition is rooted in the Scriptures alongside relevant
theological scholarship spanning across earliest, scholastic and contemporary
Catholic-Orthodox traditions. Tillard’s metamorphosis into an ‘ecumenical
pioneer’ and an ‘creative ecclesiologist,’ besides his enriching experience at
Vatican II, is also traceable to his long-lasting and passionate engagement in
post-conciliar theological-ecumenical conversations and movements.4
Adopting a method which combines personal, discursive, and patristic style of
writing, Tillard primarily focuses on forming a theological language that
reflects common ecumenical framework while facilitating a shared Christian

Restlessness against the division

Tillard is convinced that the division in
Christianity is the most abominable scandal of its history; in his view, the
refusal to work towards dissolving these walls of divisions is much more than
other vices that afflict our societies – it is a “sin against the Spirit.”6
This common ground of harmful polarisations is particularly confounding – it
effectively estranges God from humanity, human beings from one another,
humanity from creation, faith from life, and more. Indeed, if the communion of
believers with the Triune God is separated from or contradicts the communion
amongst believers themselves, a sign of poor Christian witnessing, the
possibility of witnessing to the world of the necessity of the gospel message
is weakened significantly. The complexity of this unsettling “phenomenon of
and Tillard’s restlessness in finding a common path, define his ecclesiology of


 Common Elements

            What sort of communion and unity is
possible amongst Christians considering the realities on ground? What Church or
Churches should be so considered? Tillard’s systematic ecclesiology primarily
considers a local church (if applied in today’s Roman Catholic parlance, a
diocese), that is a local Eucharistic community, which is in communion with
other local churches. Although some editors may have interpreted Tillard’s idea
as an addition or an amalgamation of local churches, he vehemently denies and
rebuffs such view as a scandalous misinterpretation, emphasising as follows:

I have always affirmed,
thousands of times, the contrary…that the Church of God is the communion…of
local churches that exist, have existed, or will exist…There is this single
faith, this single baptism, this single Eucharist, this single (apostolic)
ministry which the Spirit offers to the human community of Corinth, of Rome, of
Lyons, of Milan, of Ottawa, of Harare and which, accepted by them, makes them
Churches. By this faith, this baptism, this Eucharist, this ministry, all
indivisible, these Churches are among themselves in communion.8

This affirmation contains what defines the gathering
of human communities anywhere, in the Name of Christ, to be called a church.
Such gathering is linked with a faith-and-action-oriented acceptance of the mentioned
gifts of the Holy Spirit. Other fundamental elements include universal
missionary undertakings, common prayer, worship, liturgy, martyrdom, Christian
morality and structures as containing the essentials for all denominational
They contain the common seeds for engaging in a faithful-and-fruitful Christian
enterprise in general and for any meaningful ecclesiology of communion in
particular. They form the building blocks for identifying and strengthening the
pillars of the Church (or Churches) of God in oneness, holiness, apostolicity
and catholicity. The most prominent element is the uniting faith in the Christ
event: faith in the Person, Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ, which
culminates in the Pentecost event. This event effectively sprang up the premier
apostolic community, the first Christian church, which included but grew beyond
the first disciples who witnessed the acta
et dicta (actions and words) of Jesus’ ministry.10

Tillard particularly identifies the relevance of the
Letter to the Ephesians,11 for
understanding the fundamentals of ecclesiology of communion. The key theme is
that of reconciliation and unity in the Body of Christ, who is in perfect
communion in the Godhead and in whom ‘the new humanity is established and made
It is in the flesh of the Crucified Christ that all the hatred, wickedness and separating
walls – between humanity from God, and humanity from themselves – are ultimately
and effectively abolished (Eph 2:13-16). Thus, the new, post-Pentecost,
understanding of communion between God and humanity is not in doubt just as the
Church, in all its diversities, bears this message of reconciliation and
forgiveness as the ‘new living sphere of all people opened up for them on the

Communion here entails solidarity, prayer and
sharing faith and life with one another and these are underpinned by the fact
that humanity is often marked by its history of pains and joys, projects and
problems, burdens and blessings.14
Tillard employs an allegory for his many-sided explanations of the Pentecost
event, opposing it to the drama of Babel. While Babel, for instance, with one
language (counting the pollution of human intention) confuses, separates,
divides, brings hatred, antipathy and eventually death, the Pentecost event,
with many languages (counting the work of the Holy Spirit) occasions a
reunification and reconciliation of diverse peoples.15
Thus, the Pentecost event reverses the misfortunes of a divided humanity and
the Church, beginning with the first apostolic community, becomes effectively
empowered to proclaim the message and mystery of salvation, as revealed,
throughout the world.

The Church is thus a mystery of the God-human sphere
where Salvation is given by God in Christ, received by faith through baptism
and ultimately celebrated in the Eucharist. An individual person becomes a
member of a local church where communion with others is nourished. Ultimately
‘the flesh of the church,’ the communion of believers, is inseparable from her
communion with ‘the Flesh of Christ,’ the Risen Lord.16
The visible is in a mystery communion with the invisible, in a
horizontal-vertical pattern. Tillard asserts that the gift of the holiness in
the Church is inseparably linked with the holiness of Christ; this is necessary
for avoiding the temptation of such human communion becoming ‘a gathering of
Vatican II, in Unitatis Redintegratio,
affirmed that this holiness of life is “the soul of the whole ecumenical
It makes the case for strengthening the ‘spiritual ecumenism’ through prayer,
and “sharing in the means of grace.”19

Diverse communion across times and

The catholicity of the church is the communion of infinite
human forms and traditions in

unity of faith, liturgy, sacrament and the Word, albeit differently expressed. With
this understanding, the “Church of God (is the) Church of Churches, a communion of local Churches, therefore a
communion of communion.”20
The root of the Christian faith in the Christ-wrought revelation of the Triune
God, including the Tradition that receives, proclaims and celebrates it, cannot
be bound to one or some of these differing traditions. Without denying these
traditions, the Tradition rather depends on them and equally transcends them across
all generations.21
Thus, the sign of catholicity in communion, for example, is evident in the actual
formulation of common faith in the Credo,
counting its several versions, which makes it possible to recognise identical
faith across different traditions.22  

The communion in the local church community
everywhere fits into the three dimensions of time: the present, past and
future. It remembers and celebrates the past heritage as being foundational
while it is lived and renewed in the present. Indeed, the communion in the
Kingdom of God is already here but not yet here.23
The hope in the promise of the future and perfect fulfillment of communion then provides reasons for deepening and
strengthening it now. This vision of
ecclesial communion principally includes but extends beyond the major
denominations, be they of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Evangelical faith
communions. It is this deepening of the God-human communion, in the ekklesia tou Theou, the Church of God,
with a New Covenant in Christ that fulfills the promise and hope of the ancient
Israeli-Sinaitic Covenant. Indeed the regular communion at the Old Covenant qahal Yawheh, assembly of Yahweh, is prefigured
and is more excellently accomplished in the Eucharistic communion of the Church
even though it is already here but not yet here.24
Thus, the future realisation of eschatological communion then characterises and is already
contained in the communion now.

Common Human Condition in History

Tillard’s ecclesiology of communion does not ignore
the reality of human nature or the twists and turns of human history. Indeed,
the Church of Christ is a single body constituted by several Churches with
several members performing several functions in several places with different
experiences and different attitudes. For instance, while the ‘Bible is a fabric
of traditions,’25
the liturgy and the sacraments similarly develop in diverse forms respectively.
It is easy to identify that several traditions, whether Yahwistic, Elohistic,
Pauline, Johannine, Antiochine, and later Latin or Eastern rites had manifested
right from the very beginning.26
The adaptation to different languages, customs and contexts with different
expressions and mentalities, becomes necessary in this-sphere God-human
This adaptation is concretely manifested at the Pentecost event as the
Spirit-led apostolic community publicly expressed themselves in multiple
tongues to the bewilderment of all (Acts 2:5-12). This event boldly proves God’s
involvement and design in the beauty of human diversity.

Furthermore, Tillard recognises that this communion hic et nunc (here and now) remains
subject to continuous tests and limitations of conflicts which causes divisions
and splits. While not celebrating the communion of such divisions, it must be
recognised that this ecclesial communion is still fragile and imperfect and
goes beyond any visible koinonia.28
The visible unity of the church is not uniformity, and it does not have one
opinion or one expression. It is a unity in diversity without which the Church
will be a dead body although having a pluralism that lacks unity will simply
dismember the body.29
The specific differences can rather be perceived as assets for the church.
Tillard stresses that the differences are components that are intrinsic to this
communion. Thus, Unitatis Redintagratio restates that the Church
sees the endowments of Christ in the separated brethren, as they are not
lacking in the mystery of salvation, despite the imperfections and dissensions.30 It
is clear that having or sustaining this ecclesiological unity is not by
absorbing, antagonising or abolishing the ‘differences.’ For Tillard, this

that a common reality, a unique value be present in all members and

that all have part in
it, albeit in diverse ways. There is a radical unity on which

their difference
flourishes … by causing the common reality hidden under differences to emerge,
one manifests a communion, one reveals the riches of

unity, one acknowledges
the nobility of difference.”31

Papal primacy, apostolic succession
and conversion

does papal primacy and apostolic succession fit into all these as it greatly
affects the

discourse and praxis of ecclesial communion? Tillard, while affirming the primacy
of the Bishop of Rome, alongside the need for a genuine fraternal collegiality,
categorically rejects the top-down technical-command structure. The Petrine
office must be exercised by heart, for a true faithful witnessing following the
example of Christ, the Good Shepherd in order to make the internal and external
ecclesiological communion easier.32
Tillard prefers a broader perspective of apostolic succession or continuity in
terms of possessing the essential characteristics of the life of the Church
throughout generations beginning from the original apostolic traditions in
faith, the Word, sacraments, liturgy and charity. In his view, apostolic
succession is not necessarily and cannot be merely reduced to a single
ministerial line.33

The shame and the
tragic errors of history cannot be merely abolished by mere acts of mea culpa. Indeed, self-denial, the
grace of forgiveness, generosity and the exercise of total humility34 are
necessary particularly for the Catholic Church if the vision of ecclesiological
communion will see the light of day. These are re-echoed by Vatican II which
insists that any ecumenism worth its name is impossible without a change of
heart and renewal of mind.35
John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint upholds
that this conversion is necessary for purification of memories from past
misgivings, prejudices and mutual understandings. The long-standing burdens of
indifference, complacency and mutual insufficient knowledge can only worsen the

any reality and ideal of communion?

or re-establishing this long vision of Christian unity: a “full visible unity
among all the baptised”37
remains the ultimate goal of ecclesiology of communion. It is one of the major
concerns of Vatican II.38
The pertinent concern is on the reality and future of efforts of various
ecumenical movements and ecumenical dialogues which continue to this day. Indeed,
the attitude towards other Christian denominations is apparently changing and
bearing fruits with the changing language of inclusivity, common ecumenical
celebrations, and communion through participating in common projects that
advance common good, charity, peace and justice.      Tillard, no doubt, has immensely contributed to this discourse
on koinonia: ecclesiology of communion
and ecclesiology as communion.

Tillard’s approach
combines various elements from soteriology, Christology, pneumatology,
Christian anthropology and ultimately eschatology in demonstrating the features
of the Catholic tradition’s perspective on the ecclesial communion of Churches.39
In sum these, the dominant tone is proclaiming that the salvation revealed by
Christ, in the power of the Spirit, leads humanity on with all its struggles
and strengths; this enflames the hope of the baptised along the promise of the
fullness of communion with the Triune God in the future. Tillard’s koinonia ecclesiology continuously recalls
the need to always heed this tone.

Brian Flanagan is
quoted as suggesting that one temptation of this visible koinonia approach is the easy reduction of its ultimate goal to
some systematic theological terminologies which will always have the full
supply of slogans for refreshing ecumenical commitments.40
Will beautifully-crafted theological terms substitute or lead to
real-and-visible communion? Tillard is certain that the reality of ecclesiology
of community seeks more than reconciled differences such that different
denominations, without the need of renouncing what is specific to them, can
continue to live as they have been while they offer concrete and
commonly-shared ecclesial values which are mutually non-contradictory and which
are essential for a visible and full communion.41
In order to reduce the concerns about realising the “full visible unity among
all the baptised,” and what it will lead to hic
et nunc, it seems better to talk about a Church of Churches hic et nunc.

Furthermore, while the
reality on ground shows that divisions will remain and while one can wonder
about whether and when the efforts of ecclesiologists like Tillard will be
realised hic et nunc, the ultimate
goal of the eschaton provides the
hope against all hopes and provides the inspiration to strive towards the same
unity. For now, one cannot but agree
with Tillard’s reference to the common uniting elements that are found in many
denominations: these provide for ‘spiritual ecumenism’ for all Christians as
the realisation of ‘physical ecumenism,’ given the yet-to-be-resolved human
conditions, may present greater challenges.

Without the above
position, Tillard’s ecclesiological project may only become idealistic. Mary
Tanner’s defensive response of Tillard admits that the latter’s passion for
ecumenism essentially emphasised not the actual but the ideal, but for a
reason: the mixed and twisted burden of Church history for which he always
spoke with caution.42
For this really promising-but-hard-to-forget history of the Church, and with
the introspective question of Augustine: “what have you done with the gift
which was confided to you?,”43
the enormous responsibility at stake necessarily provokes authenticity which will
help in observing some balance between the reality and the ideal of
ecclesiological communion. Although the drama of divisions and great trials
have defined Christianity with outbursts of anguish and suffering which affects
humanity in historic proportions, the conviction that the Church is God’s
project, already fulfilled in Christ
and now led by the Spirit, never fails.
This conviction propels Tillard to make clarion calls at the battle frontlines against
the Christian division with a restlessness that seeks for authentic ecclesiological
communion while readily admitting of limitations and imperfections in his


            An attempt has
been made to present the essentials of Tillard’s contributions towards restoring
ecclesiological communion across various denominations. The consideration of
the common grounds for a ‘full and visible communion,” counting the insights from
magisterial documents, do not guarantee final and conclusive answers on this. Indeed,
Tillard’s approach to koinonia
definitely provides an excellent systematic theological framework, but the
ultimate solution may ultimately depend on the decisive answer to the High Priestly
prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23: (Father … may they be One).

1 One example of
such previous ecumenical approaches is the Lambert Conference of 1920 of the
Anglican Communion.

2 Mary Tanner, “Jean-Marie Tillard – Ecumenical
Pioneer and Creative Ecclesiologist,” Ecclesiologist,
no. 10 (2014): 377,  accessed Jan
10, 2018,

3 Tanner quotes
Francis Sullivan. Ibid., 378.

4 Tillard, among
other things, served on various international conversations between Roman Catholic
Church on one hand and Orthodox or Anglican Communion on the other as well as
at the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

5 Tanner, “Jean-Marie Tillard,” 378.

6 Jean-Marie R.
Tillard, I Believe, Despite Everything – Reflections
of an Ecumenist, trans. William G. Rusch (Collegeville, Minnesota:
Liturgical Press, 2000), 42.

7 Ibid., 34.

8 Tillard, I Believe, Despite Everything, 24-25.

9 Jean-Marie R.
Tillard, Church of Churches: The
Ecclesiology of Communion, trans. R. C De Peaux (Collegeville, Minnesota:
Liturgical Press, 1992), 157-158.

10 Ibid., 3-5, 17.

11 Ibid., 23.

12 Ibid., 19.

13 Tillard, Church of Churches, 19.

14 Tillard, I Believe, Despite Everything, 13.

15 Tillard, Church of Churches, 24.

16 Jean-Marie R.
Tillard, Flesh of the Church, the Flesh
of Christ: At the Source of the Ecclesiology of Communion, trans. Madeleine
Beaumont (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2001), 9.

17 Tillard, Church of Churches, 27-32.

18 “Unitatis
Redintegratio,” Documents of the Second Vatican Council,
(Nov 21, 1964): Para 8, accessed Jan 15, 2018, /archive/ hist_councils /ii_

19 Ibid.

20 Tillard, Church of Churches, 29.

21 Ibid., 142.

22 Ibid., 167.

23 Ibid., 27,

24 Ibid., 10.

25 Tillard, Church of Churches., 141.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., 141-142.

28 Ibid., 33-34.

29 Ibid., 320.

30 “Unitatis
Redintegratio,” Para 3.

31 Tillard, Flesh of the Church, 9.

32 Tillard, I Believe, Despite Everything, 29-30.

33 Tillard, Church of Churches, 188.

34 Tillard points
out three reasons why the exercise of humility is necessary on the part of
Catholic Church: 1. Save for John Paul’s II asking for forgiveness, many
Bishops and theologians continued to justify the past; 2. She can no longer
present herself as a witness of ‘flawless faithfulness’ considering her
participation in errors and atrocities; and 3. Christianity is fastly
diminishing while other religions advance. See I believe, despite page  38-39.

35 “Unitatis
Redintegratio,” Para 7.

36 John Paul II, “Ut
Unum Sint,” The Holy See, (May 25,
1995): Para 2, accessed Jan 15, 2018,

37 Ibid., Para 77.

38 “Unitatis
Redintegratio,” Para 1.

39 Tillard, Church of Churches, 319.

40 Tanner, “Jean-Marie Tillard,” 375.

41 Tillard, Church of Churches, 319-320.

42 Tanner, “Jean-Marie Tillard,” 383.

43 Tillard, Church of Churches, 318.