Ecclesiology: Beginnings of the ChurchCourse Level: Intermediate

Course Summary

As a topic Ecclesiology, the theology of church, studies the church in itself, that is, as an institution with a 2000-year history. This course is the first in a series of three courses, which together will give the student a basic understanding of a topic that is essential for effective catechesis. The first part, Ecclesiology: Beginnings of the Church, introduces the student to the theological study of the Church. The student will become familiar with basic terms and concepts that are essential for understanding the Church's nature and mission, and how these have been a constant theme in the Church's evolution as a "living organism"¯ throughout history.

Prerequisite for this course: "Scripture: New Testament"¯

While complete in itself, this course is designed to lead into the other Ecclesiology courses.
[Catechists and lay ecclesial ministers are required to take all three courses in order.]

Successful completion of this course earns 2.5 CEU's. Click here for more information about CEU's.

General Course Objectives

  • Exhibit knowledge of the critical questions in ecclesiology that appear in the New Testament
  • Explain what it means to say that the Church is a living organism with an ongoing 'biography'
  • Understand both the difference and the relationship between the history of the Church and the theology of Church (ecclesiology)
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of how recent New Testament scholarship affects how we understand the Church
  • Describe how the Church tries to meet the challenge of its relationship with the world in every age in which it has found itself from its beginnings to the present.

Course Materials

  • Required Book: Frederick J. Cwiekowski The Beginnings of the Church Paulist Press, 1987 ISBN: 0809129264; ISBN-13: 978-0809129263
  • Required Book: Bill Huebsch Vatican II in Plain English. Volume 2: The Constitutions Ave Maria Press, 2008 ISBN: 1594711062; ISBN-13: 978-1594711060

Course Structure and Highlights

  • Week 1: The World of Jesus and the Early Church
    • Understand in a general way the principal tasks of ecclesiology
    • Recognize how a "pre-critical" view of the Church differs from a view shaped by biblical scholarship
    • Achieve a basic understanding of the three stages of tradition by which the doctrine and the life of Jesus have come down to us
    • Grasp how both the Jewish and Gentile worlds of Jesus and the early Church influenced the foundations of the Church
  • Week 2: The Early Church Communities
    • Expand the student's understanding of how scripture scholarship is an essential tool in doing ecclesiology
    • Deepen the student's appreciation for how "church history" begins in the New Testament, and how the early Church saw in its experience the action of the Holy Spirit directing the Church's life
    • Learn what is meant by the historical-critical method of scripture scholarship and how this affects our understanding of the Church
  • Week 3: A Living Organism: Change and Adaptation
    • Trying to gain a sense of what it might have felt like to be a member of the Church between 60 A.D. and 80 A.D.
    • Gaining an understanding of how events that had a profound effect on Judaism in this period had an effect as well on the development of the Church.
    • Recognizing and appreciating how change, transition, and development— predictable characteristics of a living organism—raised the issues of structure and leadership for the ongoing community.
  • Week 4: The Church Comes Into Its Own
    • Recognize and appreciate the changed situation surrounding John’s gospel, and how the context shaped the text.
    • Reinforce awareness of the different “church questions” evident in the synoptics and in John.
    • Understand the significance in the change of apostles’ image from “fishers of men” to “shepherds.”
  • Week 5: Launching the Future of the Church
    • Understand how the experience of the New Testament Church can serve as guide, encouragement, and challenge rather than as a blueprint in facing contemporary ecclesial issues.
    • Appreciate key differences between a “pre-critical” model of Church and the Church of Vatican II.
    • Demonstrate comprehension of the essential connection between contemporary scripture scholarship and Vatican II ecclesiology.