The fundamental problem

The ecclesiological legacy of the Middle Ages is clearly one of unsolved problems, but the issue which Augustine had implicitly raised is no less genuine or important because of its inadequate treatment by the medieval theologians. For what is at stake in the Augustinian dialectic of “city of God” and “Catholic Church” is really the fundamental problem of the Christian Church in every age – the need for the Church to be a visible community in the world without regarding itself as the Kingdom of God, to have concrete and particular forms without absolutizing them, to be a renewing force in the world yet always open to renewal, and to be at once worldly and transcendent.

The unfinished business of one generation is always high on the agenda of the succeeding generation, and this case is no exception. The doctrine of the Church, far from being a peripheral concern, is one of the most critical issues in the Reformation controversy, and the Reformation as a theological event is not an individualistic protest against churchly Christianity but a struggle between two opposing understandings of the Church.

(John Tonkin, The Church and the Secular Order in Reformation Thought, pp. 34–35)

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