Date of Award


Document Type



Santa Clara : Santa Clara University, 2020.

Degree Name

Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL)


Thomas Cattoi


This thesis seeks to elaborate an African ecclesiology that brings into conversation African notions of family and Ratzinger’s theological reflection on koinōnia. The model of Church-as-family was popularized by the 1994 Synod of African Bishops, and since then it has been espoused by numerous African theologians, who view it as the African response to the communion ecclesiology elaborated by the Second Vatican Council.

This thesis, however, seeks to present a unique perspective of Church-as-family. In the first place, while the prevalent African family ecclesiologies tend to present the aspect of communion or fellowship in ways that undermine the institutional and juridical dimensions of Church-as-family, this thesis seeks to present a balance of the two aspects. It achieves this goal by bringing Church-as-family into dialogue with Ratzinger’s communion ecclesiology, which is itself a corrective to an imbalanced Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology opposing eucharistic fellowship and communion. In the second place, while prevalent African family ecclesiologies make very little or no reference to the missionary dimension of Church-as-family, locating the ecumenical impulse of the Church-as-family solely in a theological analysis of the ‘extended family’, this thesis appropriates the Ratzingerian themes of co-existence, pro-existence, and vicarious representation and presents the missionary and ecumenical impulse of the Church-as-family through a theological analysis of the roles of the 'extended family' and the 'firstborn son'. The firstborn son is here conceptualized as an embodiment of vicarious pro-existence.

The uniting factor in the dialogue between the Church-as-communion and the Church-as-family is the functional equivalence of koinōnia and family solidarity. The Church as family or as communion reinterprets authority and hierarchy in terms of service. In this dialogue, the following conclusions are evident: the Church is born from and in the Eucharist; the communitarian and institutional dimensions are inseparably tied together in the Church's self-understanding; the Church, seen either as communion or family, is missionary by nature; the Church is not closed-in or inward looking, but is open to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue; finally, the Church remains a community open towards its eschatological realization.

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