Jesus, Head of His Church, handing-over the Keys of the Church to the Eleven Faithful Apostles -
by RAFFAELLO Sanzio - from Victoria and Albert Museum, London
And I will give to thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon Earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven:
and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon Earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven.
(Matthew 16:19, Douay Rheims Bible)
Is Macbeth right about us when Shakespeare has him say, "Life's but a Walking Shadow, a Poor Player that struts and frets his hour upon the Stage, and then is heard no more: it is a Tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"? Without Christ, our lives would be as Pathetic as Macbeth seems to paint them. Seemingly, Christ revealed "man to himself" only for those who lived in Palestine while He was alive. Further, was it only these, who had a chance to escape the Incredible Tragedy of Human Existence caused by the Sin of our First Parents?
Of course, this Pessimistic View is not True. God wishes that every single one of us should know himself or herself, and come eventually to the Glories of Heaven. God the Son Died to reveal Man to himself and to give us Life. He became Man that all might come to Know and Love by seeing Him. Christ did not leave us Orphans when He Ascended to Heaven. Rather, He established the Church, which is His Body - Ephesians 5:23: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. He is the Savior of His Body (DRV). Thus, when we see the Church, we see Christ.
The Church carries on the Mission of Christ today. Our need for Christ is satisfied by the Church, i.e., by Christ today. The Rejection of the Church is tantamount to rejecting Christ. The Abandonment of the Church is the abandonment of Christ. To Ignore the Church is to ignore Christ. Rejecting, Leaving, or Ignoring the Church is a Self-Destructive, Suicidal Act because to function as an Image of God, i.e., to be fully a Human Person, and to come to Heaven, we need the Church. The Church is God's incredible Gift to us because the Church continues the Work-of-Christ.
This view of the Church rests firmly on the Tradition that the Church is the Body of Christ - (Ephesians 5:23). A Human Body expresses a Person. Christ's Body expressed His Divine Person. Thus, if it is True that the Church is the Body of Christ, then it is also True that it is the Person of Christ. The Church cannot be Christ's Body without being His Person. The Church has a Body, a 'Visible Reality', which reveals its 'Invisible Reality', Christ. As John Paul II has written, "Christ and the Church are a single Mystical Person".
In teaching that the Church and Christ are One (1) Single Mystical Person, Pope John Paul is echoing the teaching of Saint Paul. Paul affirmed that the Church is the Person of Christ when he referred to the Church as the Body of Christ - (Ephesians 5:23). In 1Corinthians, Saint Paul writes in the famous passage about Charity, "If I deliver my Body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" - (1Corinthians 13.3). Obviously, Paul does not use "Body" here to mean only an Attribute or an Appendage of a Person. Rather, "Body" refers to the whole Person. Earlier, in the same Epistle, the Apostle writes, "The Body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the Body. And God raised the Lord, and will also raise us up by His Power" - (1Corinthians 6:13-14). At first in this Passage, Saint Paul is speaking of the "Body", but then he switches to the Personal Pronoun "Us". When our "Bodies" are raised, it is We ("Us", i.e., our Persons) who are raised. The Body, for Paul, refers not just to part of a Person, but to the whole Person: "It is obvious that here it is not just the body which is meant, but the whole 'I'" - (Heribert Muehlen, Una Mystica Persona). As John Paul II teaches, "Saint Paul often identifies the Church with Christ Himself" when he calls the Church the Body of Christ.
In another Passage of 1Corinthians, Saint Paul identifies the Church with Christ. He is discussing the Divisions in the Church-of-Corinth, and he asks his readers, "Is Christ divided?" - (1Corinthians 1:13). Clearly, for Saint Paul, when there are Divisions in the Church, it is Christ Who is Torn Apart. It is not merely Christ's Body that is Torn Apart, it is Christ Himself, His Divine Person. Thus, Paul identifies the Church with the Person of Christ. In this approach, Paul is only following the Lord's Own Words. On the road to Damascus, Christ asked Paul, "Why do you persecute me?"; Paul answered, "Who are you, Lord?"; Christ answered, "I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting" - (Acts 9:4-5). Of course, Saint Paul was Persecuting the Church, but Christ identified Himself with the Church. Since it is impossible to Persecute a mere body (it is always a Person who is Persecuted), the only possible conclusion is that the Church is the Person of Christ.
The Fathers of the Church, following the lead of Saint Paul, understood the Church as the Person of Christ. Saint Augustine often referred to the Church as the Person of Christ. As John Paul teaches, "This Doctrine . . . is one of the teachings that mattered most to the Bishop of Hippo, and one of the most fruitful themes of his ecclesiology". Saint Gregory the Great taught that "Christ and the Church are one Person". Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Gregory of Nyssa identified the Church with the Person of Christ - (John C. Gruden, The Mystical Christ). Saint Thomas Aquinas accepted Augustine's formulation of the Church as the Person of Christ, using the phrase Una Persona. In another Passage, Saint Thomas refers to the Head and Members of the Church as One (1) Mystical Person (Una Persona Mystica).
The recovery of this long-standing Tradition of the Church's understanding of itself began with the Venerable Pope Pius XII and the Publication of his Encyclical The Mystical Body of Christ (1943). In that Encyclical, Pope Pius wrote that "the unbroken Tradition of the Fathers from the earliest times teaches that the Divine Redeemer and the Society which is His Body form but one Mystical Person" - (par. 67). It is the Concept of the Church as the 'Mystical Person of Christ', that is the Underlying Foundation of the entire Second Section of the Encyclical. The 'Mystical Body of Christ' had a profound effect on Ecclesiology, and it shaped the thoughts of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
The Second Vatican Council was primarily concerned with the Church. Two (2) of its Four (4) Constitutions considered the Church. The Second Vatican Council began its work by presuming that the Church is the Mystical Person of Christ. The first question that the Conciliar Fathers posed for themselves was, "Church, what do you say of Yourself?" Of course, only a Person can speak and have an understanding of himself. Therefore the Conciliar Fathers, in expecting the Church to formulate an answer to their Question, conceived the Church as a Person. Undoubtedly, this rediscovery of the Personhood of the Church (as taught by Saint Paul, Saint Augustine and the Fathers, Saint Thomas Aquinas) can be traced to the impact and influence of Venerable Pius XII's Encyclical 'The Mystical Body of Christ'.
Differences between the Incarnate and Mystical Christ
Although the Church is Christ, it is obviously impossible to identify the Church with the Incarnate Christ. Further although each Member of the Church is 'Another' Christ, each one is not United with the Second Person of the Trinity, as though God the Son were Incarnate again in each Member of the Church. There are Differences between the Incarnate Christ and the Mystical Christ.
One (1) difference between the Church and the Incarnate Christ lies in the Elements of the Union. In the Incarnation, Two (2) Natures, Divine and Human, are united in One (1) Divine Person. In the Church, Persons, Human and Divine, are joined in a Union with one another.
A Second difference between the Church and the Incarnate Christ lies in the Mode of Union. The Union of the Two (2) Natures in Christ is accomplished through the Grace of the Hypostatic Union. However, the Union in the Church is accomplished through Sanctifying Grace.
Thirdly, the Union of the Church is established through the work of God the Son, of God the Holy Spirit, and of Human Beings. On the other hand, the Union of Natures in the Incarnate Christ is only the work of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
In order to note these differences between the Incarnate Christ and the Church, the Church is called the 'Mystical Person of Christ'. The Church is a Mysterious Union of Persons (the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Baptized) who unite to form the 'Mystical Person of Christ'.
The Union of Persons in the Church, founded on the Work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, is joined to the Union of the Three (3) Persons in the Trinity. Each Member of the Church is joined to all other Members because each Human Member has received the very Life of the Trinity. This Divine Life is bestowed on the Human Members of the Church when they Freely ask to be Baptized. (Of course, infants cannot ask to be Baptized. However, Parents speak for their children and Freely ask the Church to Baptize them.) Thus, Human Membership in the Church is founded on a Personal-Choice, a Will-Act by each Member to commit himself to Christ. Of course, in giving themselves to Christ, they give themselves to all the other Baptized who are 'Other' Christs. Further, in and through Christ's Self Gift to them, they receive the self-donation of all those joined to Christ. The Mutual Self-Giving among the Members of the Church, founded on their own Choices and God's Grace, mirrors the self-donation of each Member of the Trinity to the other Members. Since the Union of the Three (3) Persons in God is a 'Communion-of-Persons', the Union of the Members of the Church is also a 'communion-of-persons'. Of course, since each Human Member of the Church is 'Another' Christ and Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, it is as though each Human Person is invited to participate in the Trinity. In a sense, the Human Members of the Church are grafted-to Christ and therefore to the Trinity. The 'communion-of-persons' of the Church transcends all other communions of Human Persons. (The existence of the Church does not eliminate the Familial and Worker communions Willed by God at the Dawn-of-Creation. However, for Baptized Members of the Church, the Familial and Worker communions become Specifications of the 'communion-of-persons' of the Church.)
As a 'communion-of-persons', the Church is called the People-of- God. The Second Vatican Council taught that "The Universal Church is seen to be a people brought into Unity from the Unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit". It might seem that the Church cannot be One (1) Mystical Person, if many Persons are Members. Of course, Two (2) simple answers come to mind. First, the Church is Christ because each Member has "put-on Christ". Second, might be suggested that the Church is One (1) as the Trinity is One (1) God. Neither of these answers satisfies completely. The first answer still leaves the Primary Question of how it is possible for One (1) Mystical Christ to be formed from many Christs. The second is a bit deceptive because the Church is not One (1) as the Trinity is One (1). In God, there are Three (3) Persons in a single Divine Nature. In the Church, there are many Persons who each possess Human Nature. The Church as One (1) Mystical Person with many Members can be explained more-satisfactorily by examining the Corporate Personality of the Old Testament Jews.
The Jews in the Old Testament, many though they were, were joined together as One (1) Corporate Person. (This idea is not to be confused with a Legal Person, such as a Modern Corporation.) A Corporate Person has Four (4) characteristics:
\ As a Union of Persons forming One (1) Whole, a Corporate Person is a 'communion-of-persons'.
There are Three (3) distinct levels of Corporate Personalities.
\ By the Power of God, the Israelites of Old were formed into the People of God, a Corporate Person, i.e., a 'communion-of-persons'.
As the Direct Heir of the Old Testament People of God, the Church is the new People of God, the new Corporate Personality, i.e., a 'communion-of-persons' forming the One (1) Mystical Person of Christ. As a Corporate Personality, the Mystical Christ is identified with it. The Church, as a whole, is Christ, i.e., His Mystical Person, and each Member is Christ. Galatians confirms this point: "For many of you as were Baptized into Christ have put on Christ . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus" - (Galatians 3:27-28. Also see 1Corinthians 1:2, 1Thessalonians 2:14, and 2Thessalonians 1:1, where the Members of the Church are "in Christ".
[End of Part I on 'Who is the Church?']
Part II - The Acts of the Church
Supporting Audio Clips
|The above Four Audio Clips were produced by EWTN Radio and each is approximately 26 minutes long.|