Essays, Theology

Building the Theandric City: Liturgy and the Consummation of Humanity

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In the beginning, God placed human beings in the world and commanded them to build a city. Before the Fall, that city had already been born. The city is the mode of humankind’s communal, liturgical, and economic life in the world, and its essence was contained in the telos given by God to humanity—to rule and to use the world justly, to tend the garden, to name the world, and to fill it with images of God. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28)—these are God’s first words to humanity, the exordium of the blessing that gave to them the entire world.[1]

All the just elements of the village, the town, and the city are simply an unfolding of this primordial mission. God made human beings a political animal, ruling and using the world in community. As creatures of both body and soul, they were also the mediators between God and matter. This was to be a priestly polis. By craft, speech, and relationship, humankind would integrate all people and all creatures into the heavenly liturgy.

This liturgy is God’s outpouring of love into the world through humanity and the synergistic gathering of that world by humanity in the city as a sacrament and offering of thanksgiving, thereby fulfilling all things through union with Christ, for “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Adam and Eve were placed in the garden not only to enjoy it, but also to tend it—to cooperate with God’s creative and life-giving work of kenotic love, which sustains the being and substance of all things. Humanity, synergos with God, would work in harmony with Truth to give the world new purpose and meaning, and thereby a new story and life. When man named the woman, henceforth forever his co-worker, the constituent elements of the human community were all in place, and the great synergistic project of God and humanity was underway—the construction of the theandric City, perpetuating the liturgy of life. The purpose of this essay is to explain and examine the nature of this civil undertaking, with particular focus on craft, speech, and love as its essential elements.

These three elements—right use, right speech, and right relationship—are the main strands of theandric activity in this city-making project. Taken together, they constitute the telos of humankind, and they are each consummated in the acts of the liturgical community. These strands are also the constituent elements of humanity’s common life, as exemplified in the economy of a city. First, the human being is homo faber—the one who uses and crafts the things that are in the world for utility and for beauty. God ordained the economic dispensation so that human beings might nourish themselves by means of the creatures of the world.[2] He placed man and woman in the garden, moreover, to tend it and to call forth more fully from it the nascent utility, significance, and beauty already sown within it by the Creator.

This they do, on one level, by craft, by the artes. God created trees, but human beings would plant orchards—and God would give them growth. God created the flowers of the field, but human beings would breed the royal roses; God created stones, but human beings would build homes and temples. This is all a part of “giving form to the World born from the Creator’s womb.”[3] Human craft produces artifacts, which are simply the goods of the world placed into new and artificial relationship with one another and given, thereby, new significance.[4] Such artifacts include everything from tools to paintings, from cheese to towers, from music to medicine. “At this point,” writes Kavanagh, “they take on meaning which is no longer only the Creator’s but ours as well.”[5] Herein is danger, of course, but not when these artifacts are rightly imagined, crafted, and used for the life of humankind and as an offering to the God whose good gifts they are. Providence even cooperates in the crafting of these artifacts, granting that they may nourish humankind in both body and soul as food and as sacrament. It was humanity who invented bread and wine, after all, but Christ made them into Eucharist. The artifact’s true purpose is to be a vessel shaped for bearing life and a body for radiating beauty, to be integrated into the dispensation by which God gives life to the world through humanity and humanity returns Eucharist to God with the world.

The second strand of theandric activity is the use of words, which is really only another facet of the first activity. It was in this sense that J.R.R. Tolkien called humanity the “sub-creator”:

Yet trees and not ‘trees’, until so named and seen—
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled . . .
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues . . .[6]

At the heart of every human community is the discovery and shaping “into accessible form” of the world’s essential meaning through a series of transactions with reality—transactions that are, for the most part, in words.[7] Not the least part of this work was to name the creatures of the world. As Kavanagh writes, by naming “we took our first step into cooperation with the purposeful meaning the Creator had injected into every nook and cranny of creation. . . . When we named the newt, the civitas was conceived, the terrestrial entity giving form to the World born from the Creator’s womb.”[8]

It is relationship that is the essential mode of human ‘being’ and the essential way in which people understand and generate meaning.

For Tolkien, this takes place primarily through myth; for Kavanagh, through liturgy—though what is liturgy but the activity of the community that is being integrated into the historia salvationis, which is, as Lewis wrote, the only true myth?[9] Be that as it may, the essential nature of these transactions is the same: people behold the living logos beneath and within all things, the One who gives being and order to the cosmos; they intelligibly encounter that deep Wisdom, and are transformed by it. This activity is, importantly, not identical with the work of academics or philosophers or scientists, although it may include their work. It is instead the Truth-bearing work of the human community across time—also known as Tradition—giving names and mythical significance to the creatures of the world and the artifacts of the city, telling stories and singing songs, discoursing about politics and crops, even naming their own children and friends.[10] Words and names are signs that point to realities and relationships, lifting into the light of intelligibility what is already experienced as event and truth and shaping the meaning and narrative of things, communities, and people. Hence the Hebrew word dabar, simultaneously meaning word, event, and thing. In the same way that craft prepares things as sacramental bodies for Life, language—including, in its richest sense, discourse, names, myth, and culture—prepares words as vessels for Truth. Both communally uncover, receive, and give participable form to the deep Wisdom of the world.

The third strand of human activity is relationship. Neither craft nor speech are essential to human nature—an infant, after all, does neither. It is relationship that is the essential mode of human ‘being’ and the essential way in which people understand and generate meaning.[11] The perfection of relationship is love. There is relationship within oneself, as the Church fathers perceived, recognizing in the multiplicity and unity of the human person an echo of the Trinity.[12] Outside of oneself is the world, filled with things and neighbors, and God, who transcends all and through relationship with whom life flows into the world. In each of these relationships, love looks different, as Augustine noted. The things of the world are loved by being rightly used, that is, by being referred to what ought to be enjoyed. People and self are loved not as ends in themselves, but for the sake of their Creator. Only God is to be loved for his own sake—that is, worshipped. When all these loves are rightly ordered in a person, this is called charity.[13]

These relationships of charity, which are the very essence of the theandric City, can be summed up by the word eucharistia or ‘communion,’ to borrow from Alexander Schmemann.[14] The sacrament of the Eucharist is the epitome of the theandric City. In it, all of the strands of human activity are united. Bread and wine, the products of human craft, are used as vessels of divine life and symbols of the presence of Christ. This act is accompanied by story and by invocation—words laden with truth beseech the epiclesis of the Spirit of truth and gather the Church into the historia salvationis. Finally, in the act itself, the congregation stands in right relationship to all—things are rightly used and the individuals in the assembly are united in one Body under their head, Christ, who is adored as the beginning and end of everything.

World, being, community, and even God’s own self are given to humanity as gift.

In the Eucharist, the human community offers the world and itself to God, whose Spirit descends, bearing life and consummating both world and people in union with Christ, who ascends to the Father, bearing all upward with him into the Kingdom of God. World, being, community, and even God’s own self are given to humanity as gift, as the overflowing bounty of the Father’s ecstatic love.[15] All are united in Christ by the Spirit and lifted through him back to the Father in thanksgiving and in joy. This is called communion because all the Church is joined as one in this joy-in-response, the Eucharistic activity of the human community. As Adam and Eve and their sprawling family filled, ruled, and tended the earth, gathering around the table piled high with the divine bounty, nourished in body by things, nourished in soul by truth, nourished in their whole being by the kenotic goodness (which is nothing other than love), offering and receiving all through Christ in the Spirit-Gift—as they synergistically built the theandric City, in other words, all would become the blessed Body of the Lord. Such is God’s eternal plan.

But the City was hardly underway before something went terribly wrong. When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, it was no transgression of a merely arbitrary rule—it was the splintering of the entire cosmos. For the fruit that they ate they used neither to nourish themselves nor to commune with God, but to seize on their own that which can only be received as a gift—divinity.[16] “You will be like God,” whispered the serpent (Gen 3:5). To the fruit was attributed a power that it did not have, and the transgression severed all the relationships of the City in the making. In disobedience and in self-will, Adam and Eve fell out of communion with God, and thereby fell also out of communion with one another and within themselves. Ashamed of who they now found themselves to be—having replaced the trinity of self, love, and self-knowledge with Freud’s id, ego, and superego or self, selfishness, and self-loathing—they were quick to cast the blame on others. So, they hid themselves from the presence of God, and the communion of life, of all in all was broken. In all history, no more grievous words were uttered than those of the Lord God, knowing already what had transpired: “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen 3:9), for two seats at the banquet table were now empty.

Pieter Breugel the Elder, The Tower of Babel (1563); courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Casting aside the theandric project, the children of the man and woman now took up a project of their own—the city of man, with man as its sole builder and end. Wandering in the desolation of the wilderness, “they found a plain in the land of Shinar . . . Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth’” (Gen 11:2, 4). Once more, human beings sought to elevate themselves to godhood and to possess the heavens—things that only God can give, and only to the lowly and penitent. There is no evil in towers or cities, but there is great wickedness in pride and idolatry. The key phrase here is “let us make a name for ourselves”—or, as the Vulgate renders it, “celebremus nomen nostrum,” let us celebrate our name. The word celebremus was already laden with liturgical meaning in the time of St. Jerome, a connotation not to be neglected. Humankind is, as Schmemann writes, homo adorans, a worshipful and liturgical being.[17] Every city has its temple, whether the Parthenon or One World Trade Center, and the deity of the Tower of Babel is humanity itself. Here, humanity’s name is glorified; here, all things are filled with the self-referential and self-expressive significance that humanity alone arbitrarily gives them—a twisted sacrament, bearing not life, but nothingness. Here, human beings become not co-workers with God, but merely workers in the Marxist sense, with no end but themselves.

All three strands of human activity were present here, perpetuating the corruption with which they were blighted in the Fall. As discussed above, human beings misused the world again, abusing their priestly power in arbitrary self-will. Language also fractured on two levels. First, as in the garden, the human community spoke lies to one another, pretending that they could make themselves gods by building a tower. Second, the true God, mercifully bringing their self-destructive project to an early end, scattered their languages. This refers not only to the diversification of language and culture, but also to the dislocation of words from meaning. People can no longer understand each other, for when they speak, they do not communicate what they mean but only use words as signs that point to meaning, always imprecise and often misconstrued.[18] Truth was lifted out of the reach of mortal tongues, for mortal minds had already spurned it. By the disjointing of words and Word, the human community was scattered. The extension of love to one whom you cannot understand is difficult, thus the human family fractured into tribes and the communion of the theandric City gave way to individuals, incurvatus se, crippled in their ability to truly love and know each other and themselves. This liturgy of Babel goes on still—war and violence, abuse and vengeance, greed and lust, and all the injustice and fear of a corrupted polity composed of envious and bickering relatives, the dis-communion of all from all.

Humanity reaped from its own City its only possible fruit—death. But God did not abort his eternal plan.

Humanity reaped from its own City its only possible fruit—death. But God did not abort his eternal plan. He sent his Son, as he had always intended, to consummate the project given long ago to Adam.[19] While the first Adam in dying became the foundation for the city of death, the new Adam in his Resurrection and Ascension became the foundation for the City of life—the theandric City reborn, which Christ in his person brought into the world. “Repent,” Christ proclaimed, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Turn away from your broken city of wickedness and desolation; become citizens of the City which God has prepared for you from the foundation of the world. This new city is the City of God, built upon the stone rejected by the builders, that is, by humankind (cf. Ps 118:22 and Acts 4:11); this stone has now become the chief cornerstone of the cosmos made new. Adam was meant to use the world as the means of communion-in-community with God; Christ is in his Body the restoration of that communion—divinity and humanity hypostatically united. Adam was meant to tell, sing, and pray the truth; Christ is the truth embodied, speaking the words of life (cf. Jn 14:6). Adam was meant to be the head of a family that filled the world in communion with God; Christ is the way through which that communion is restored, for he is love in person. Where Adam failed, and humanity with him, Christ fulfilled.

This City of God is none other than the Church—the Bride of Christ and the temple built of living stones, a tabernacle for the glory of the Lord. At Pentecost, this new City was inaugurated, reversing the division and confusion of Babel. Gathered not in pride, but in prayer—not striving to clamber into heaven, but waiting patiently for heaven’s descent to earth—the apostolic community received the Holy Spirit, the gift of God who transmakes both world and humanity into the divine, and who on this day transmade these disciples into the catholic Church. Significantly, this outpouring of the Spirit immediately produced speech, which was mistaken by the crowds at first for the confused uproar of a second Babel. But the words that the Apostles spoke did not divide tribe from tribe, for “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). While Babel scattered the languages of humankind, Pentecost miraculously gathered them in the Gospel of Christ. The words of life and truth unite those once scattered by the words of death and falsehood. That day, three thousand souls emigrated from “this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40) and were baptized into the family of God.

These converts joined the apostolic community in a new way of life. A new day dawned in their hearts and a new age was ushered into the world—the age of the theandric City, built by the grace of Christ in humanity. In the life of this civitas humanior are discernible the three strands of communal human activity, not abolished, but filled with new significance. Importantly, the economic and social order of the saeculum are not erased by the Church—rather, they are used rightly at last. The Church is not an otherworldly community, but necessarily exists within the world, using artifacts, languages, and cultures, and relating in human ways.[20] Immediately after the story of Pentecost comes a description of the new Church’s activities, worth quoting at length:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul . . . And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)

Note the first strand: that the community used food and possessions for the sake of life, both theirs and that of the world. No member of the community went unnourished, for all was shared, tearing down the worldly city’s divisions between rich and poor, elite and outcast. All the time, this community was engaged in Schmemann’s continual eucharistia, breaking bread together and receiving it with thankful joy. Fulfilling God’s ordained purpose for the world, they treated all goods and artifacts as gifts from the divine bounty, using them for the life of body and soul by offering them up to God in almsgiving and thanksgiving. In the descent of the Spirit, even bread becomes the means of communion-in-community.

David Anthology, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Secondly, the Church used words rightly, teaching the truth, praying together, and praising the Lord of heaven and earth. The venite faciamus of Babel gives way to the venite adoremus of the liturgy. Christ’s Gospel redeems human language, so that human beings can once again fulfill their call as homo adorans. The Word of Life speaks through the words of the Church, telling the historia salvationis, perpetuating the call of Wisdom on the street-corners and at the city gates. At every Baptism, moreover, the Church christens her new members, naming them with Christ’s own name as Adam once named Eve, so that their story also may be integrated into the story of God’s family. “And of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her.’ . . . The Lord records as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there’” (Ps 87:5–6). Every family on earth, writes St. Paul, takes its name from the Father (see Eph 3:15).

Finally, the people of this new City stand in right relationship once again. Having been restored to communion with God through Christ and by the Spirit, they now live in right relationship with one another day by day. They give worship to God alone; in fellowship, they serve one another generously, gaining favor with even their worldly neighbors; set in order within themselves, their hearts are glad; they use the things of the world rightly as instruments in bringing life to this communion of all with all. This is the community of love, inspired by charity, united in Christ. The Church is the fulfillment of humanity and thereby of the cosmos.

It is in the day of this theandric City that we now live. Her goods, her words, and her relationships are the liturgy of the Church—the very life of the Trinity poured out for the life of the world from the side of Christ as love.[21] This life the Church receives in bread, in word, and in charity, and pours it in her turn into the wounds of the world. Synergos with God, this community works ever with the Spirit to build up the City of God within the world upon the foundation of Christ. This theandric City breaks into the dying city of humanity in every home, in every market, in every office, on the highways and byways, besieging the crumbling gates of hell and unfurling the banner of light in the midst of darkness and death. Kavanagh’s interlocking series of transactions with reality receive and pour out life into the city and the world; they are the economy of God, extending salvation to all people: “for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). This is the theandric activity of the Church—her leitourgia, or freely rendered service, on behalf of the cosmos and her oikonomia, re-ordering the world until life flows freely through Christ to all humankind.

We have seen that, in the beginning, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to build a City—a theandric and synergistic dispensation whereby human beings would participate in the life of God and in the divinization of themselves and of the world. This City would receive God’s kenotic goodness in things, his truth in words, his love in community, pouring that goodness thence into the world and gathering it all back up into liturgy to lift it back up to God in free thanksgiving and praise. These human activities, meant to be channels of grace, became instead channels of death through sin. But in his mercy, Christ made himself the foundation for the restoration of the theandric way of life—the Church, which now cooperates in the construction of God’s economy of life and love, restoring things, words, and people to their telos in the liturgy.

As this liturgy unfolds in the heart of the darkness of the human city, that city is transformed, and all things, words, and communities are drawn up into the perpetual eucharistia of Christ’s Body, through which the Spirit will transmake them into divinity—until Christ is all in all. St. John, the Apostle of love, saw this in his vision of the eschatological fate of the two cities. He saw the old city of Babylon, laden with luxuries and riches, consumed by a fire that would never be quenched. All the great men of the world stood far off and wept, crying, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come” (Rev 18:9–10). And she shall deceive the nations no more. But John saw also another City—the Bride of the Lamb, the final dispensation, the glorious Church of Christ. Significantly, she descends from God in heaven to the earth as God’s gift of himself to all. She shall come from God, but she shall be adorned by the treasures of humanity’s craft—jewels, gold, pearls. She shall be utterly transparent, that the glory of God may shine perfectly in and through this human community and all of its activities, a perfect sacrament. And out of her streets shall flow the river of life. In Zion, the theandric City, God shall dwell in communion with humankind in saecula saeculorum.

Featured Image: Donald Jackson, Letter to the Seven Churches with the Heavenly Choir (detail), Copyright 2011, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations come from the ESV.

[2] “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Gen 1:29). “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen 9:3).

[3] Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 34.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 40.

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia,” in Tree and Leaf (London: HarperCollins, 2001), ll. 3.1–3, 5.9–11.

[7] Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology, 24.

[8] Ibid., 33–34.

[9] See C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 54–60. Lewis originally got this idea from conversations with his friend Tolkien, who was largely responsible for Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

[10] This act of naming one another is vastly important, as is evident in the biblical narrative. Names are not simply a means of distinguishing one person from another. They actually cut to the heart of an individual’s essential identity—as in so many ancient cultures, names not only identify, they also tell a story, and they contain, in sum, a person’s way of being in the world. This is true even of names such as “mother,” “brother,” and “grandfather.” These words identify a type of personal relationship, but they also tell us about who the people in this relationship are.

[11] I use “being” in its true sense as a participle—the participle of ‘to walk’ is ‘walking’; the participle of ‘to be’ is ‘being.’

[12] See especially Augustine’s De trinitate, Book XIV.

[13] For Augustine’s discussion of ordinate love, see especially De doctrina christiana 1.3–4, 26–29.

[14] See Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 1973), 14ff.

[15] Cf. Schmemann’s discussion of the Eucharist in ibid., 23–46.

[16] See ibid., 16–18.

[17] Ibid., 15.

[18] Augustine discusses this topic at length in the De magistro. The problem with teaching is that a teacher can only communicate with signs—he cannot directly impart the meaning of his words to the intellect of his students. Signs can easily be misinterpreted and the reality behind the signs is never contained in them. For this reason, at best, one’s discourse only circles around the truth, never precisely conveying what one means. Even objects can only be described by analogy or comparison, never in their very essence. And even Plato took an entire volume to finally decide what Justice is—if you accept his definition! Words do not suffice to convey realities—as Michael Polyani said, “We know more than we can say.”

[19] Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 19.

[20] See Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology, 4: “Since Christian worship swims in creation as a fish swims in water, theology has no option but to accept the created world as a necessary component of every equation and conclusion it produces. Christian theology cannot talk of God, any more than Einstein could talk of energy, without including the ‘mass’ of the world squared by the constant of God’s eternal will to save in Christ.” The economic and social order of secular life are not the problems—the problems are greed, lust, and pride. God desires to redeem the whole of human life, not to place mankind back into the au natural state of the garden.

[21] See Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), 58ff. “In the ‘hour’ of the Cross and the Resurrection [the river of life] sprang forth from the incorruptible and life-giving body of Christ. From that moment on it has been and is liturgy. A new period thus began within ‘the present time’ . . .”

David Welch

David Welch is a candidate for the Master of Theological Studies at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in the early and medieval history of Christianity.