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An overview of the conceptualizations of the Catholic Church from the theology of Bellarmine to contemporary understanding of the church as communion shows both continuity and development from one concept to the next rather than an abrupt change to a new model that discards the model preceding it. This essay examines the church as perfect society, church as mystical body, church as sacrament, church as people of God, and church as communion, demonstrating that the various conceptualizations represent development, balance, correction, and a deeper penetration in the understanding and articulation of the prior conceptualizations. The church as body of Christ develops the spiritual and Christological dimension of the church as society. The church as sacrament offers a way of differentiating between Christ and the church while at the same time retaining the close correlation between the two. The church as people of God introduces historical consciousness into the definition of the church. The church as communion synthesizes the strong sacramental and spiritual identity of the church with its organizational structure.
Wood, Susan K., "Continuity and Development in Roman Catholic Ecclesiology" (2011). Theology Faculty Research and Publications. 35.
Accepted version. Ecclesiology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May 2011), DOI: © 2011 Brill Academic Publishers. Used with permission.