November 7, 2010

"The decisive element is not this or that person, but all mankind"

FromThe Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam...

...It is clear therefore, in the light of the redemption, that the Church did not come into being only when Peter and John and Paul became believers. It became objectively existent when the divine Word united His nature with human nature in the unity of His person. The Incarnation is for Christians the foundation and planting of that new communion which we call the Church. The Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God came into being as objective reality at the moment when the Word was made flesh. Apart from the Greek Fathers it was especially St. Augustine, the great and saintly doctor of Hippo, who perceived this connection between the Incarnation and the Church and by its means established anew the supernatural sublimity of the Church's nature.

We must take this connection to heart if we would appreciate the Catholic conception of the Church in all its profundity. Only so shall we understand why the idea of community is its dominant idea, and why the community cannot be the product of the faithful, a creation of these or those persons, but must be a supra-personal unity, a unity which permeates and embraces the whole of redeemed humanity. As such a unity the Church is nothing vague or undefined, but the actual inner unity of redeemed humanity united with Christ. In the Catholic conception of the Church the decisive element is not this or that person, but all mankind.
Two important consequences follow from this. One of these has already been developed, the fact, namely, that the organ of the redeeming spirit of our divine Savior, its incarnation and manifestation, is not the individual personality, but the community as community. The spirit of Christ is realized in the community. Therefore the visibility of the Church does not consist merely in the visibility of its individual members, but in the visibility of its compact unity, of its community. But where there is a community, a comprehensive unity, there is distribution and co-ordination of functions. That is the second consequence that follows from the mystery of the Incarnation. The Christian unity is no mere mechanical unity, but a unity with inner differentiation, an organic unity. The Body of Christ, if it be a true body, must have members and organs with their special tasks and functions, which, each in its measure, serve the development of the essential form of the body and which therefore serve one another.

When St. Paul, the first apostle to formulate the expression "Body of Christ," develops this conception in the twelfth Chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, he already stresses this point and speaks of the organic functioning of this body: "Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all . . . For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: so also is Christ.... God indeed hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracle-workers, then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches." It is therefore the view of the apostle that the community is of its nature differentiated, that the body works as a unity through a diversity of organic functions, that the unity of the whole attests the unity of the spirit of Jesus. It is true that St. Paul does not distinguish the various functions of the one organism with theological precision. Such precision came with later developments and with the speculation that sprang from them. Time made it clear that some of the gifts, such as those of the apostolate, of teaching, and of government, belong to the nature of the Church and could not be discarded; whereas others, such as the gifts of prophecy, miracles and tongues, were the manifestation of a superabundant Christian life, and to be regarded not as structurally necessary to that life, but rather as signs and expressions of it.

But the fundamental thought, that the Body of Christ is and must be an organic body, that it works by its very nature in a manifold of functions, and that this manifold is bound together by the one Spirit of Christ into an inner unity: this thought is native to St. Paul, and it is the heritage and fundamental principle of the whole Christian Gospel....
Posted by John Weidner at November 7, 2010 6:43 PM
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