An Ecclesiological Exploration of the Four Marks of the Church

An Eccumenical Option for the Church in Nigeria

by Philip Chika Omenukwa (Author)
©2014 Thesis XXII, 462 Pages


The vibrancy of faith and the fast growth of different churches in Nigeria seem to obscure the reality of some precarious historical challenges that call for crucial and genuine ecclesiological inquiry. The Nigerian Church’s unique history loaded with various facets of indoctrination and the peculiarities of her constituents demands an urgent ecclesial and theological attention. Following an exploratory, analytical, critical and historical methodology, this book finds Francis Alfred Sullivan’s explication of the intricate nuances of the Four Marks of the Church as a fitting ecumenical model for the Nigerian ecclesial situation. It delves into this model and presents the findings through a catechetical prism as an alternative for effective and sustainable de-indoctrination. The author also finds dialogue as a probable effective tool for de-indoctrination, but also acknowledges that legitimate ecclesiological dialogue does not rule out difficulties in the process. He therefore argues that the consciousness of the ecumenical worth of the Four Marks of the Church as well as faithfulness to the principles of dialogue will lead to the resolution of much of these differences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Vorwort
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • General Introduction
  • Structure of the Work
  • The Aim of the Work and the Choice of Sullivan
  • Chapter One:Francis Sullivan and his Notion of the Church
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 An Overview of the Life and Works Of Francis Sullivan
  • 1.1.1 Early Life and Education
  • 1.1.2 Developments of Sullivan’s Ecclesiological and Theological Thoughts
  • 1.1.3 Historico-Theological Context of Sullivan’s Ecclesiology
  • 1.1.4 Sullivan’s Theological Method
  • 1.1.5 The Theological Vision of Sullivan
  • 1.2 Sullivan’s Notion of the Church
  • 1.2.1 The Church: Any Possibility of Definition?
  • The Church as Mystery of Faith
  • The Church as a “Kind of Sacrament”
  • The Church as the Work of the Trinity
  • The Church and the Kingdom of God
  • The Church as the Body of Christ
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter Two:The Marks of the Church
  • Introduction
  • 2.1 The Oneness of the Church
  • 2.1.1 The Church’s Oneness as Understood in the New Testament Period and in the Early Christian Church
  • 2.1.2 The Essential Constitutive Bond of the Unity of the Church
  • Oneness of Apostolic Faith
  • Oneness of Sacramental Life
  • Oneness of Apostolic Ministry
  • 2.1.3 The Foundational Source of the Unity of the Church
  • 2.1.4 The Notion of Unity in Diversity
  • 2.1.5 The Theological Implication of the Profession of Oneness of the Church
  • The Oneness of the Church as a Gift and a Task
  • 2.2 The Holiness of the Church
  • 2.2.1 The Biblical Notion of Holiness
  • 2.2.2 The Essential Constitutive Elements of the Holiness of the Church
  • Holiness of the Constitutive Elements
  • Holiness of Consecration
  • Holiness of Grace and Charity
  • 2.2.3 Grounds for the Indefectibility of the Holiness of the Church
  • Holiness as the Fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice
  • The Church as the Bride of Christ
  • The Abiding Gift of the Holy Spirit
  • 2.2.4 The Theological Implication of the Profession of Holiness
  • Holiness and Sinfulness as Constitutive Components of the Church’s Holiness
  • The Implication of Holiness as Renewal in ever Continuum
  • The Holiness of the Church as a Gift and a Vocation
  • 2.3 The Catholicity of the Church
  • 2.3.1 The Identity of the Church’s Catholicity
  • 2.3.2 The Catholicity of the Church and some basic Distinctions
  • Catholicity as Primarily Distinguished from Catholic and Catholicism
  • Catholicity as Primarily Distinguished from a Geographical Concept
  • Catholicity as Primarily Distinguished from a Statistical Concept
  • Catholicity as Primarily Distinguished from a Sociological Concept
  • Catholicity as Primarily Distinguished from an Historical Concept
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Understanding of Catholicity
  • 2.3.3 Some of the Essential Features of the Catholicity of the Church
  • Catholicity as Unity in Diversity
  • Catholicity as Apostolicity of Faith
  • Catholicity as Vocation to Holiness of Life
  • 2.3.4 The Intrinsic Demand of the Profession of Catholicity
  • Catholicity as a Gift and a Task
  • 2.4 The Apostolicity of the Church
  • 2.4.1 Understanding the term “Apostle”
  • 2.4.2 The Meaning of Apostolicity
  • Apostolicity of Origin
  • Apostolicity of Doctrine
  • Apostolicity of Life
  • Apostolic Succession
  • 2.4.3 The Theological Implication of the Profession of Apostolicity
  • Apostolicity as a Gift and as a Task
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter Three:The Dynamics Of Sullivan’s Ecclesiological Articulation of the Four Marks of the Church
  • Introduction
  • 3.1 The Oneness of the Church
  • 3.1.1 The Church of Christ “Subsists” in the Catholic Church
  • Controversy as to the Legitimate Interpretation of “subsistit in” instead of “est”
  • Argument Based on the Constitutive Understanding of its Etymological Foundation
  • Sullivan’s “subsistit in” as a Legitimate Recognition of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities
  • 3.1.2 The Church as Communion
  • The Name Church as an Indicative Sign of Communion
  • Sullivan’s Understanding of Communion as the Theology of the Second Vatican Council
  • Sullivan’s Understanding of Unity in Diversity as Constitutive Component of Communion
  • 3.2 The Holiness of the Church
  • 3.2.1 The Biblical Idea of Holiness
  • 3.2.2 Holiness of the Church as a Consequence of the Nature of the Church as a Mystery
  • 3.2.3 The Qualification of the Holiness of the Church
  • The Church is Indefectibly Holy
  • The Church is Imperfectly Holy
  • 3.3 The Catholicity of the Church
  • 3.3.1 Sullivan’s Understanding of the term “Catholic”
  • 3.3.2 Sullivan’s Distinction Between Catholicity and Catholicism
  • 3.3.3 Sullivan’s Elaboration on the “Gift” and “Task” Nature of Catholicity
  • 3.3.4 The Implication of the Catholicity of the Church
  • 3.3.5 Catholicity vis-à;-vis the Doctrine: “Outside the Church there is no Salvation”
  • The Thesis: Extra ecclesiam nulla salus
  • 3.3.6 The Church as a Universal Sacrament of Salvation
  • 3.4 The Apostolicity of the Church
  • 3.4.1 The Apostolic Origin of Episcopal Ministry
  • Sullivan’s Appreciation of Apostolic Succession
  • 3.4.2 The Bishops as the Bearers of the Pastoral Teaching Office
  • The Magisterium and the Centrality of the Word of God
  • The Magisterium and the Thesis of Infallibility
  • 3.4.3 The Ecclesial Vocation of Theologians in the Church
  • A Complementary Relationship as an Ideal between the Bishops and the Theologians
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter Four:Nigeria and the Birth of Christianity within Her Geographical Confines
  • Introduction
  • 4.1 The Highlights of Major Nigerian Tribes
  • 4.1.1 The Yoruba: People, Religion and Worldview
  • 4.1.2 The Hausa: People, Religion and Worldview
  • 4.1.3 The Igbo: People, Religion and Worldview
  • 4.1.4 Other Minor Ethnic Groups in Nigeria
  • 4.2 The First Early Moments of Missionary Engagements in Nigeria
  • 4.2.1 Early Missionary Expeditions in Nigeria
  • Factors Responsible for its Collapse/Failure
  • A Blurred Missionary Vision
  • A False Presumption of the People’s Cultural Beliefs and Politico-religious Structure
  • Absence of a Holistic Approach to Missionary Engagement
  • 4.3 The Second Moment of Missionary Engagement in Nigeria
  • 4.3.1 Ideological Missionary Presuppositions of African Image
  • 4.3.2 The Protestant Missionary Action in Nigeria
  • The South-Eastern Nigerian Case
  • Some Evangelical Applause in the Method of the Protestant’s Missionary Engagement
  • The Participation of the Indigenes in the Evangelical Drama
  • A Qualitative Response to the Fundamental Needs of the Evangelized as a Person
  • Some Evangelical Flaws in the Method of the Protestant’s Missionary Engagement
  • A Conscious Display of Self as the Ideal of Christian Action
  • An Unhealthy Romance with the European Commercial Agents in the Evangelization Work
  • The Initial Missionary Complacency
  • 4.3.3 The Historical Episode of the Catholic Mission in Nigeria
  • Sketchy tit-bits of Early Missionary Action in Southern Nigeria
  • Sketchy tit-bits of Early Missionary Action in Northern Nigeria
  • Sketchy tit-bits of Early Missionary Action in Eastern Nigeria
  • The Missionary Methodology of the Catholic Missionaries
  • Enlightenment through Catechetical Instructions, School Apostolate and a Committed Engagement in Religious Activities
  • Evangelical Methodology of Formal Education
  • A Qualitative Response to the Fundamental Needs of the Evangelized as a Person
  • Charitable Works
  • Rehabilitation Homes
  • Hospitals and Maternity Homes
  • Workshops and other Homes of Formation
  • Buying and Freeing of Slaves
  • 4.3.4 Some Evangelical Flaws in the Method of the Catholic Missionary Engagement
  • A Dichotomization of the African Person
  • A Late Involvement of the Indigenes in the Evangelization Work
  • 4.4 The Dark Moments of the Evangelization History
  • 4.4.1 The Interior Dimension of the Dark Moment
  • The Negative Effects of being a National Church
  • Insensitivity to the Feelings of the Local People
  • A Politically Motivated Expulsion of the Sierra Leonean ‘Indigenous’ Evangelizers
  • 4.4.2 The Exterior Dimension of the Dark Moment
  • The Christian Mission at War
  • The Mission of Double Standard and of Division
  • 4.5 Consequences of the Early Rivalry among the Different Denominations
  • 4.5.1 Separation and Division among Brothers and Sisters
  • 4.5.2 The Birth of African Independent Churches
  • 4.5.3 The Growth and Effect of Pentecostalism
  • 4.5.4 A Sketchy List of Church Communities in Nigeria
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter Five:Ecumenism, the Church in Nigeria and the Ecumenical Option of Sullivan’s Four Marks of the Church
  • Introduction
  • 5.1 Understanding Ecumenism
  • 5.1.1 The Term Ecumenism
  • 5.1.2 The Birth of Ecumenical Spirit
  • 5.1.3 The Ecumenical Movement among Non-Catholics
  • The International Missionary Conference: Edinburgh
  • The Faith and Order Movement
  • The Life and Work Movement
  • The World Council of Churches
  • 5.1.4 The Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Movement
  • The Pre-Vatican II Ecumenical Initiations
  • Ecumenism and the Vatican II Council
  • Post-Vatican II Ecumenical Initiations
  • 5.2 Ecumenism and the Church in Nigeria
  • 5.2.1 The Birth of Ecumenical Initiatives in Nigeria
  • 5.2.2 Factors Responsible for the Ecumenical Consciousness
  • External Factors
  • Internal Factors
  • 5.2.3 Remarkable Ecumenical Efforts in Display in the Church in Nigeria
  • Northern Christian Association (NCA)
  • Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN)
  • Evangelical Church of West Africa ECWA/Tarayya Ekklesiyayin Kristi a Nigeria (TEKAN)
  • The Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN)/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN)
  • Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC)
  • Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN)
  • The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
  • The Bible Commission of Nigeria
  • The Establishment of National Ecumenical Centre
  • The Declaration of Joint Statements
  • Joint Christian Media Services
  • Joint Church Unity Octave
  • Joint Advancement of Christian Education
  • 5.2.4 Christian Unity in Nigeria and its Antecedent Problems
  • Internally Constituted Problems (The Churches Themselves)
  • Externally Constituted Problems (The Government)
  • 5.2.5 Other Obstacles on the road to a sustainable Ecumenical Engagement in the Nigerian Church
  • 5.2.6 Successes and Failures of Ecumenical Engagements in Nigeria
  • 5.3 The Ecumenical Application of Sullivan’s Ecclesiological Elucidation of the Marks of the Church in Nigeria
  • 5.3.1 The Profession of Oneness
  • Understanding the One Church of Christ as a Communion of Churches
  • 5.3.2 Understanding Communion as sharing the same Faith and the same Gospel Message and Fraternal Love
  • 5.3.3 Understanding Legitimate Diversity as an Intrinsic Constituent of Communion
  • 5.3.4 The Profession of Holiness
  • Understanding Holiness as a Gift and a Task
  • Consequences of the Profession of Holiness
  • The Demands of the Profession of Holiness
  • 5.3.5 The Profession of Catholicity
  • The Relational Quality of Catholicity
  • Understanding Legitimate Diversity as an Intrinsic Constituent of Catholicity
  • Understanding Catholicity as a Motive for Evangelization
  • 5.3.6 The Profession of Apostolicity
  • The Bishops as Agents of Ecumenical Realization
  • The Theologians and Teachers of Faith as Agents of Ecumenical Realization
  • Understanding Apostolicity as a Motive for Evangelization
  • 5.3.7 Using the Four Marks of the Church as Veritable Instruments of Ecumenical Dialogue
  • 5.3.8 The Missionary Mandate of the Four Marks of the Church
  • Concluding Remarks
  • General Evaluation and Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Archival Sources
  • Other Sources


General Introduction

The fourfold description of the Church as is found in the Constantinopolitan Creed dates back to the time of the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, and was reaffirmed at Ephesus (431 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD) respectively.1 This Creed subsequently has become commonly functional in the Christian Churches of both East and the West. Apparently, this creed presents a picture suggestive of uniformity of doctrine among these Churches, which when not properly considered, may conceal differences inherent in the ecclesiology of each of the Churches. Being therefore article of faith, it has to be taught and learnt, and in learning it, a process is inaugurated. This inauguration is of course a formation/an indoctrination, which involves of necessity a process of de-indoctrination. This is because, in every construction which indoctrination upholds, a deconstruction cannot but be effected as a matter of necessity, a legitimate expression of de-indoctrination. It is in this process that peculiar doctrinal tenets characteristic of each Church are furthered. It is also in this that the distinguishing quality of each Church is maintained.

Interestingly, Sullivan observes that there was a time when theological elaboration of the four marks of the Church consisted of an apologetic demonstration of the full possession of these marks by the Catholic Church as well as other Churches. An attitude of this kind, according to him, created an atmosphere of both suspicion and tension among Churches, since most Churches proudly laid claim to the possession of these marks as well. Consequently, there was the mutual exclusion of one Church by the other. This practice, among others, heightened the already strained relationship that was existent among the Churches. Such a theological venture narrows the consideration of the Church to its “visible or empirical aspects”2. Working from this standpoint therefore, our concern here is devoid of any apologetic demonstration in defence of the Catholic Church as possessor of these marks, but involves a deeper analysis of these marks as veritable instruments of ecumenical engagement following the models of Sullivan’s ecumeno-ecclesiological elaborations. The particular interest will be to explore and recommend them as veritable ecumenical paradigm for the Church in Nigeria. ← 1 | 2 →

According to Sullivan, these four marks express an undefined dogma of faith.3 Being a dogma of faith, its daily proclamation whether overtly or covertly ought to place a demand on believers to struggle to accomplish the challenges inherent in such a declaration of faith. That is to say that these are not mere marks, but are simply located at the heart of the Church’s life of faith and doctrine. It is with particular reference to this that Sullivan remarks; “we cannot say ‘we believe in the Church’ without believing in its oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity”4. To believe in these and what they imply is the first step to a realized ecumenism and ecumenical formation. This is the major crux of our study, which borders principally on the utilisation of the four marks of the Church as veritable instruments of de-indoctrination, which is urgently needed in the Nigerian Church for a sustainable ecumenical engagement.

Structure of the Work

The work is structured in five chapters with a general introduction and a general conclusion. The first chapter has two major sections: an overview of the life and works of Francis Sullivan, and Sullivan’s notion of the Church. The second and the third chapters have overflowing interpolations, intentionally structured to serve the purpose of this research. Although they have some kind of similitude, they still retain some unique constitutive peculiarities. Chapter two deals specifically with a conscious elaboration of the marks of the Church independent of Sullivan’s considerations of them, bearing in mind that Sullivan’s perspective will be handled in chapter three. In chapter three, Sullivan’s interpretation of the conciliar usage of the thesis of subsistit in as is seen in Lumen gentium will be treated as well as the description of the Church as communion; the qualification of the Church’s holiness; the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus; the bishops as holders of the pastoral teaching office; and the ecclesial vocation of the theologian in the Church. Chapter four will be a brief but articulate discourse on Nigeria and the birth of Christianity within her geographical confines. Here, special attention will be given to the missionary rivalries that were existent in Nigeria ← 2 | 3 → especially at its early moment of missionary expedition, which partly contributed to the proliferation of many churches in Nigeria. In chapter five, the fundamental thesis of ecumenism and its historical beginnings will receive some considerations. Also, the ecumenical success already accomplished in the Nigerian Church will be treated without losing sight of areas of possible improvement. Thereafter, I will make ecumenical recommendations with a profound ecclesiological use of Sullivan’s ecclesiological appreciation of the marks of the Church. I think such a task can best be accomplished with the adoption of descriptive, explanatory and analytical methods of theological reflection.

The Aim of the Work and the Choice of Francis Sullivan

The aim of the research and the choice of Sullivan as a theologian in discourse compliment one another. The choice of Sullivan borders majorly on the influence and mark he has made in the academia, as well as the ecumenical import of his ecclesiological elaboration of the four marks of the Church.

Understandably, so many questions confront most believers as they make the profession of faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Why must this profession of faith be made? Of what relevance is it to the contemporary Church and her members? What is the relevance of a profession of oneness of faith in the face of manifest disunity among Christians of different denominations; holiness even as the Church experiences crises caused by sins, failures and weaknesses of her members; catholicity even when two third of the world’s population is yet to be evangelized and; apostolicity when virtually every contemporary Church avows her apostolic mandate? Remarkably, many Christians accept these marks without recognizing any existing Church as possessing the qualities enumerated in the Creed. I will in my consideration of these issues, pull certain apparent disparate strands of ecclesiological considerations together, because according to Sullivan, they are intrinsically connected.

However, while Sullivan’s theological contribution is of interest to me, it must be immediately noted that the choice of him is to enable me make some ecumenical recommendations for the Church in Nigeria. That is to say that the ecumenical terrain upon which these views are to be utilized is the ecclesial situation of the Church in Nigeria, which is torn apart in bits by unhealthy rivalries and mutual suspicion existent among the different Churches and ecclesial communities found within her geographical confines. The basic preoccupation in this regard embraces ← 3 | 4 → a determined effort, with an eye to fashioning out suggestions that will make for a good encounter among all these Churches existent within the Nigerian geographical circumscription. Because, “die Zertrennung der Christen ist ein Skandal und ein Hindernis für das Zeugnis der Kirche…”5 (The Christian division is a scandal and a hindrance for the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church).

Much as one does not play down the efforts put so far in forging a common ground for Christians in Nigeria, the fact remains that there are some peculiar, yet particular, added factors to the general division of Christendom in this case. The historical cum doctrinal factors that saw the emergence of divisions in Christianity coupled with the historical circumstances surrounding the missionary evangelization in Nigeria give the Nigerian situation a definite shape. More so, other factors as the civil war and the mentality of a tribal sovereignty and superiority elicit the struggle for independence in every aspect of life, even in religion, in the mind of an average Nigerian.

In such an environment that has unique ecumenical difficulties like the Church in Nigeria, a contextual ecumenical engagement presents itself as a veritable ecclesiological option since it takes into account the unique constitution of each particular circumstance. This contextual ecumenical engagement finds plausible elaboration in the ecumenical import of the four marks of the Church. The fact of the matter is that Christian faith and tradition are always anchored in a context from which they are given expression. To that effect, any attempt at an elucidation of the core deposit of faith, may be required to take cognizance of both the tradition and the specific context in question. It is in such a relationship between faith, tradition and context that Christianity’s strength is located; a strength that may have to be described theologically, as the incarnational driving force of the Christian faith.6 Such a contextualization is in complete agreement with the spirit of aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council, which Sullivan is its passionate crusader. Consequently, Sullivan’s theological elaborations especially the ecumenical elucidations of the four marks of the Church assume a fitting response to the peculiar ecumenical situation of the Nigerian Church. ← 4 | 5 →


    1.  Sullivan, The Church We Believe In, 3; See also, Küng, The Church, 263.

    2.  Sullivan, The Church We Believe In, 4.

    3.  Sullivan, The Church We Believe In, 211–212. By underscoring the fact that “there are two kinds of dogmas of faith: those that have been solemnly defined and those that have not”, he classifies belief in the four marks of the Church among the dogmas of the faith that are undefined.

    4.  Ibid. 211.

    5.  Ökumenischer Rat der Kirchen, Mission und Evangelisten – Eine Ökumenische Erklärung, quoted in Chigere, Foreign Missionary Background, 367.

    6.  Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a time of Upheaval, 30.

Chapter One
Francis Sullivan and His Notion of the Church


This first chapter is structured into two sections. In its first section, a general overview of the life and works of our author Francis Alfred Sullivan1 will be presented. The historical and theological context of his theological elaborations will be surveyed in view of their possible influence on his works. The first section will be concluded with an investigation into Sullivan’s theological method.

In the second section of chapter one, our preoccupation will turn to Sullivan’s notion of the Church. Particularly significant is the fact that Sullivan refrained from proffering any definition of the Church. He however begins his reflection by explaining in what sense “we believe in the church.”2 Thereafter, he treats other themes, such as: the Church as the work of the Trinity, the Church and the Kingdom of God, the Biblical images of the Church, the Church as the Body of Christ, and the Church as one “complex reality.”3

His treatment of each of these themes will be carefully studied. Let us now begin with the first part of this section namely; an overview of Sullivan’s life and works.

1.1  An Overview of the Life and Works of Francis Sullivan

In this section, some considerations are made in the selection of the themes under study. Themes that will help us to strike a point at understanding the person of our author are judged particularly important at this moment. To that effect, topics such as; the early life and education of Sullivan, the developments of his ecclesiological ← 5 | 6 → and theological thoughts, the historical and theological climate within which he operated and in fact his theological vision will form constitutively the major focus of this section. We begin first with the early life and education of Francis Sullivan.

1.1.1  Early Life and Education

Francis Sullivan was born on 21st May 1922 in Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America to George Edward and Bessie Sullivan. Francis Sullivan occupies a pride of place on the rostrum of twentieth and even twenty-first century theology.4 His early beginning is something of interest, because in it one witnesses a progressive and speedy rise of a genus. Worthy of note is the fact that already at the age of sixteen; Sullivan graduated from Boston College High School and proceeded to the Jesuit Novitiate in 1938, which then allowed entry as early as the age of fifteen.5 Also in 1945, Sullivan obtained his masters degree in Philosophy at Boston College in Weston. Immediately after this, he became instructor in Latin, English, and Algebra at Fairfield Preparatory College for two years (1945–1947). ← 6 | 7 → This duty was halted for another academic endeavour on Classics at Fordham University in 1948.

Having devoted much of his life to theology, his early beginning in philosophical study may if care is not taken be mistakenly overlooked. Although his first and only published work in philosophy was in 2003, one could still see in that, a heavy blend of some theological thoughts.6 Judging from the foregoing, one may assert with ease that apart from his course requirements in the University as a young Jesuit seminarian, his interest was more in theology than in philosophy, yet his philosophical discipline was of immense benefit to him in his theological elaborations.

The choice of such a topic as “Clement of Alexandria’s Attitude toward Greek Philosophy” for his master’s thesis in philosophy was very much revealing of his theological thirst. Desire therefore yielded to reality when after his master’s in philosophy, the right moment materialized for him to begin his academic sojourn as a student of theology. Theology was a new academic encounter which saw him to his priestly ordination in 1951 in Weston College. Studying theology within this time formed an entirely new experience for Sullivan, because of its profound distinctness from the scientific considerations of Classics which has, till this moment, influenced notably his academic sojourn. Theology became as it were a subject of more fascination to him than Philosophy, although he never abandoned the fundamental principles of philosophy which he heavily employed in his theological explications.7

Having obtained his Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1952, a new opportunity of continuing his doctoral studies at the Gregorian University Rome was offered to him. This was a new opportunity that became a turning point in his entire life and carrier. With a gradual evolution of time, the course of his life and his academic engagement became clearer and more distinctively perceived. Central to this is the influence his academic endeavour in the Gregorian University Rome had on him. Basically, this constituted in itself his very first departure from the regular and daily activities of the Jesuit life and formation, which impacted ← 7 | 8 → heavily on him directly or indirectly in his subsequent approach to life and issues of various kinds.

Although, a student of Fundamental Theology, Sullivan’s initial encounter with philosophy and the Patristics became veritable instruments at his disposal for use in his theological studies. In his doctoral dissertation, Sullivan was not drawn to any of the fields of Fundamental Theology. He chose to further his already developed interest in Patristics. He therefore opted for a study in the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia.8

This apparent manifestation of stubborn insistence to base his doctoral work on a patristic figure, rather than Fundamental Theology ought not to be perceived as a first step in disobedience. This should rather be conceived, as one of such smart ways typical of intelligent people, in which difficult situations of this nature may be overcome with prudence. Moreover, the choice of subject for his project ordinarily could not have been restricted to the unquestioned designation of his Superior. However, discovering that professors at either the Biblical Institute or the Oriental Institute could direct dissertations at the Gregorian, Sullivan wrote under the supervision of Fr. Ignacio Oritz de Urbina at the Oriental Institute, who had written on Theodore. In any case, Sullivan completed his research in 1955, published his work in 1956 and obtained the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology. With this, the first stage of his life as a student was brought to a successful conclusion.

1.1.2  The Development of Sullivan’s Ecclesiological and Theological Thoughts

Administratively, the wave of change ought not to be resisted especially when it has much to do with the common good. Sullivan’s initially planned assignment of taking up the teaching of Fundamental Theology in Boston, gave way to the ← 8 | 9 → emergence of a new need of relieving Timothy Zapelana, the chair of ecclesiology in Gregorian at the time of his duty, because of reasons of age and health. With an enthusiastic acceptance of this great task and aware of its enormous demands, Sullivan gradually, steadily, and methodically blossomed in his theological engagement.9

More still, with the dawn of the Second Vatican Council and its effects, a new era of theological enterprise was created. Sebastian Karotemprel analyzed this, as the most important religious event of the twentieth century that created a new stage of encounter for every theologian. In his words; “Vatican Council II, by any standard, was the most important religious event of the twentieth century. It affected the course of the history not only of the Catholic Church but also of other Christian Churches and the relationship with the world and its religions”10. Sullivan makes the following testimony about the theological effects of Second Vatican Council, especially as it concerned his task as a professor of ecclesiology in Gregorian:

A little over twenty years ago, when lectures at the Gregorian University were still being given in Latin, I wrote a Latin text-book for the use of my students, in which I included several theses de magisterio. At that time I would never have thought of ← 9 | 10 → writing a book on this subject in English for the general reading public. Still less would I have expected that people would know at once what the book was about, if I used the Latin word Magisterium as its title. Since then, however, much has happened to focus attention on the Magisterium, to the extent that it has become practically a household word.11

The point in discourse is that the Second Vatican Council re-articulated the theology of the Church so that the subject as Sullivan had been teaching it which was largely based on Paul XII Mystici corporis was no longer judged adequate. More still, professors at this time were no longer expected to merely publish Latin versions of their class notes as books.

A statistical analysis of the publications of Sullivan, with special interest on the years of production, and the areas of concentration of the published works is quite revealing about the developments of his ecclesiological and theological thoughts. One observes that his first published work was on Christology, with particular emphasis on the Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia.12 This had much to do with the publication of his doctoral work. His interest in the Christology of Theodore can easily be traced back to 1951 in the very year of his priestly ordination, when Sullivan had already written a work on Theodore, which he described as “Some Reactions to Devreese’s New Study of Theodore of Mopsuestia”13, which he all the more elaborated on another work captioned “Further Notes on Theodore of Mopsuestia”14. The later was in response to the work of John L. McKenzie on his interpretation of the commentary of Theodore of Mopsuestia on John 1: 46–51.15

As we have already noted, Sullivan’s option for Theodore of Mopsuestia has much to do with his deep interest in the patristic figures, as well as his personal flare for Latin.16 Equally, his knowledge of other languages like Italian, German, and French were all facilitators in the development of his theology. ← 10 | 11 →

Although Sullivan is remarkably known for his theological works on the magisterium and ecumenism, some of his works are equally pneumatological.17 This distinction between ecclesiology, christology and pneumatology, ought not to be strictly considered as if one is completely divided from the other.18 An instance of this is seen in Sullivan’s article in 1975 entitled; The Ecclesiological Context of the Charismatic Renewal.19 Apart from these exceptions, the dominant percentage of Sullivan’s theological elaborations leaned more on ecclesiological issues.


XXII, 462
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Ecumenism Mission Igbo Hausa Yoruba Roman Catholic Reform Pre-Reformation Sullivan, Francis A.
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XXII, 462 pp.

Biographical notes

Philip Chika Omenukwa (Author)

Philip Chika Omenukwa is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu (Nigeria). He holds a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the Imo State University (Nigeria) as well as a Master’s Degree in Theology and Religious Studies from the Catholic University Leuven (Belgium). He holds a Doctorate Degree in Systematic Theology from the University of Würzburg (Germany).


Title: An Ecclesiological Exploration of the Four Marks of the Church
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486 pages