The MOST Theological Collection: The Holy Spirit and the Church

"Chapter 2: The Church As People of God"


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§9. It is the will of God to save people not as individuals, but as members of His People- as we see already in the OT.

If we made a synthesis of the thought of St. Paul it would be this: We are saved and made holy, if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him. This is what Luther overlooked, saying if we just take Christ as our Savior, we need do nothing, for His work is infinite. It is true, His work is infinite, but it is the will of the Father that we be His members, and like Him. Without that, we are not saved. We are not saved as individuals.

We can speak of a merit of heaven in a secondary sense. There are two phases: 1) We get justification, i.e., first sanctifying grace, without any merit at all. It is a free gift, given on condition of faith - which itself is a gift (Eph 2:8). Of course, this does not mean that salvation is given blindly, by a blind predestination. God offers the gift of faith to all, and all receive it if they do not reject it. (We recall the process explained earlier in the context of Rom 2:14-16). (Cf. DS 1525, 1532) 2)The acceptance and possession of this grace gives us a claim to heaven, which could be called a merit, for a merit is a claim t a reward (Cf. DS 1582). We get that inasmuch as by grace we are sons of God, brothers of Christ (Rom 8:17) and like Him (Rom 8:18).

This fact that we are saved not individually but as members of Christ does not deny individual responsibility, nor does it mean one need not work at his own spiritual growth. Such a view has been fostered by a new spirituality, which could be called GUN (cf. OFP 184- 92), i.e., Give-Up-Nothing. The crudest form argues that all creatures are triply good ( and may appeal to Vatican II, On Lay Apostolate §7), so there is no good in giving up anything voluntarily. Cf. Ernest Larkin, O. Carm. "Desacralization and Ascetisism" in Pastoral Life, Dec. 1967, p. 673: "The old spirituality was a 'Jesus and me' piety, the new is centered in the community of God's People in the Body of Christ.... Growth of the person and growth of the community are correlative phenomena." Whether or not Larkin meant to go so far, many have gone to the point of thinking: Just follow the community, make the responses etc. and do not bother about individual spiritual growth. An article in Saturday Evening Post (Nov 28, 1965, p. 42) said: "The older generation of Catholics seem to prefer the purely pietistic and devotional form of faith because they want to be consoled, not challenged. They wish to recite the Rosary, not Encyclicals. 'They are,' says a St. Louis priest, 'spiritual gluttons, soaking up the sacraments, obsessed with saving their own souls, not the souls of Negroes or Latin Americans or with transforming society in Christ." - One can hear the echo of the Pharisee: O God I am not like the rest of men! (Compare gifts to missions from the older generation and today). This is anti-salesmanship!

Larkin also said (p. 671): "Today the question [where to find God] would likely get an answer along these lines: I find God not only in prayer - I have, indeed, real difficulty there... but also and even especially in my neighbor and my work. I do not mean that I have explicit contact with God in my work, except on occasion. But this is not necessary. As long as I am seeking to serve, to be for others, even without conscious reference to God, I am like the good Samaritan and am finding Christ in the least of His brethren." Yes this charity is good, even imperative - but the horizontal must not wipe out the vertical. A priest I know once said: "If I were alone on a desert island I could have no relation with God, for I can have it only through people."

Vatican II does not accept this GUN spirituality. Instead it teaches the value of giving up things, e.g., LG 46: "... the counsels contribute a great deal to the purification of heart and spiritual liberty. They continually stir up the fervor of charity."

LG here speaks of the ancient People of God as holy. That is Hebrew qadosh. Its first meaning is set aside for God, consecrated to God, coming under the covenant with Him. From that follows an obligation to be holy in the sense of being far advanced on the scale of moral perfection. But that is a secondary meaning of holy in Scripture.

The Old Covenant was a prefiguration and preparation for the New. Jeremiah 31. 31 ff. foretold it. Jeremiah probably did not foresee fully how it was to be carried out, that the basic obedience was to be that of Jesus (for this sort of possibility cf. LG §55. But The Holy Spirit can intend and express more than the human writer sees. Hence here LG does say that de facto Jer 31 foretold what Jesus did in the Cenacle. It adds that Jesus brought together Jew and gentile in the new covenant - again, did Jeremiah foresee all this?

St. Paul in Eph 2:13-17 says Jesus made both Jew and gentile one in Himself. This of course applies only to the Jews who accepted Him, not to those who rejected Him then and now. In Romans 11:16-19 St. Paul makes a comparison of two olive trees, tame and wild. The tame tree stands for the original People of God. Many branches fell off it, i.e., rejected Christ the Messiah the fulfillment to which the OT looked forward. In their places were engrafted many branches from the wild tree, that of the gentiles. So in one sense we can speak of a new covenant, as Jeremiah did, for it is going beyond the old, is its fulfillment; in another sense, the new is the continuation and perfection of the old.

So, sadly, we see that Jews today who reject Christ are not members of the people of God. Romans 11:1 says God has not rejected His people. Right, but most of them have rejected Him. Rom 11:29 says that the gifts of God are without repentance, that is, He has not canceled His call or invitation to them to be part of His people. But It is one thing for Him to call, another for them to accept. Most of them still do not accept. Some Catholics are claiming today that a modern Jew need not accept Christ, can continue to reject Him and still be saved. This is true and false: It is false that they can be saved by deliberately rejecting Christ; it is true that they, like pagans, could be saved in the process we described starting with Romans 2:14-16.

We have the dignity and freedom of sons - in contrast to being in slavery in the old law, as St. Paul expresses it, e.g., in Gal 4. The word son expresses relationship in nature (we have a share in divine nature as 2 Pet 1. 4 tells us) and ability to inherit - what we have not earned, and expresses freedom from slavery. Yet slave is a suitable word, and Paul often uses it, e.g., in Rom 1. 1, to refer to himself. Slave expresses the fact of our total dependence on God, the fact that we owe Him everything, even if He did not reward at all. In Lk 17, 10 Jesus tells us: "When you have done all things that are commanded to you, say: We are unprofitable servants, we have done what we owed." That is, God cannot gain anything from our "service".

God dwells in us as in a temple. We say He is present wherever He produces an effect - in sustaining creation, in making a soul radically capable of the vision of God.

The People of God is destined for the kingdom of God, Heaven, which was begun on earth, will be fully completed in the next world. Even though here we are sons, yet St. Paul said in Rom 8. 23 that now "even though we have the first fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption as sons." It means we have the start, not the completion now. Further, Paul in the same passage says all creation groans now along with us, but that it will finally be freed from the slavery to corruption.

So this People of God is on pilgrimage, for we have not here a lasting city, as Hebrews 13:14 says. We need to meditate much on the fact that this is not our city, that we are only in a waiting room as it were.

LG says that we are a people purchased by Christ by His blood, the price of redemption. That price is paid not to satan, who held our race captive, but to the objective order. We saw the answer in comments on §3 above (cf. also OFP chapter 4).

Christ has given us the Church as the means of a visible union, so that it may serve as a channel of grace to all men, as the universal sacrament. For every grace given to men before Christ was given in anticipation of Christ , and now it is given through the Church, even to those who - as explained above - do not recognize the Church. For if they follow the Spirit of Christ, even though not knowing that it is that Spirit, they belong to Christ, and as His members, they receive grace. Grace is given even in advance of that membership, so that they may become His members by following the Spirit.

§10. Christ the Priest has made a kingdom of priests. All share in different ways in the one priesthood of Christ. Yet there are differences - not only in degree, but also in kind. (Cf. OFP chapter 11). For the ordained priest acts "in the person of Christ" and "effects" that is, brings about the sacrifice. Pius XII explained, to the Liturgical Conference at Assisi, Sept 22, 1956 (AAS 48. 717): "When the consecration of the bread and wine is validly brought about, the whole action of Christ is actually accomplished. Even if all that remains could not be completed, still, nothing essential would be lacking to the Lord's offering." So it is wrong to say, as some have said, that the priest merely makes Christ present, then all, on the same level, can offer Him.

LG 34 clarifies what is meant by spiritual sacrifices: "For all their works, prayers, and apostolic endeavors, their married and family life, their daily work, their relaxation of mind and body, if they are carried out in the Spirit, even the hardships of life, if they are patiently borne, become spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ which are offered devotedly to the Father in the celebration of the Eucharist, along with the offering of the Lord's Body." (On married life as a spiritual means, cf OFP chapter 16. )

Pius XII, in Mediator Dei (AAS 39-555-56), explained in more detail. There are two senses in which the faithful can be said to offer the great sacrifice: First, "It is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice through the hands of the priest from the fact that the priest at the altar in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, does so in the person of Christ, the Head [of the Mystical Body, of which they are members]." The second sense is that of the spiritual sacrifices just mentioned: "The statement that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest does not mean that... they perform a visible liturgical rite... instead, it is based on the fact that the people join their hearts in praise, petition, expiation and thanksgiving with the prayers or intention of the priest, in fact, of the High Priest Himself, so that in the one and same offering of the Victim... they may be presented to God the Father."

To clarify further: A sacrifice consists of an external sign and interior dispositions. The outward sign is there to express and even promote the interior dispositions. In the Cenacle the outward sign was the seeming separation of body and blood; on the cross, it was the physical separation. But in both cases the real value came from the interior, His obedience to the will of the Father- cf. Rom 5. 19 and LG 3 and Paul VI, cited in our comments on LG 3. The most essential sharing is in the interior dispositions, without which the death of Christ would have been a tragedy, not a redemption. So it is very unfortunate to so stress external things, such as making responses, that the impression is given that there is nothing else. The exterior without the interior is what God rebuked in the Jews, through Is 29. 13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

LG adds that the people should exercise their priesthood too "by the witness of a holy life, by self-denial and active charity." This means the opposite of conforming to the world. And they are also to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks them for the reason for their faith - that is, they should know apologetics. (Cf. W. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today).

§11. The sacred nature of the priestly community is especially seen in the Sacraments. Baptism makes one a member, gives the obligation of professing the faith in the world, especially by not conforming themselves to this world (cf. Rom 12:2), but by living even publicly in accord with the principles of the Spirit of Christ. Confirmation gives a title to special strength of the Holy Spirit when that is needed to proclaim the faith. Gifts of the Holy Spirit come when sanctifying grace is first received, but are increased with increases in grace, especially with Confirmation. There are three levels of guides a person may follow (cf. OFP chapter 23). Lowest is the whim of the moment, not worthy of a human being. Aristotle (Ethics 1. 5) calls living according to pleasure a life fit only for cattle. On the next level, one follows reason, which de facto will be aided by actual graces, yet reason remains the chief control. Above this, on the third level, if a soul is well advanced, can come the special guidance on the wave-length of the Holy Spirit - received not by a discursive process of reason, but in one stroke. These works of the Gifts often do not give certitude - when there is a chance to consult a director or superior. If there is no such chance, they may give certitude - but there is danger here of self-deception, hence the importance of external guidance. And we should notice too, that the clear instances of functions of the Gifts on this third level, do not normally appear until one is quite advanced spiritually. The Gifts bring other favors too, especially infused light and even infused contemplation (cf. OFP chapter 22). As we saw in §10 the members of the priestly people also have a role in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Sacrament of Penance brings reconciliation with God and with the Church - we recall St. Paul's words that when one member suffers, all suffer (1 Cor 12. 26). And even the rabbis knew this, as we saw in the quote from Simeon ben Eleazar. The Anointing of the Sick commends the soul to the suffering and dying and rising Jesus. Holy Orders says LG are appointed to nourish the Church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ. We note word is mentioned first, and recall St. Paul in 1 Cor 1. 17: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach." The Semitic pattern means the one is more important than the other. Marriage is sanctified by a special Sacrament, for it is meant as a path to holiness Cf. OFP chapter 16, esp. p. 149) citing the words of Paul VI: "Marriage and the Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life, even though the most common, the one on which most of God's children are called to travel. Rather it is a long path toward sanctification." Parents, says LG, "by word and example, are the first to proclaim the faith to their children " in what LG calls "the domestic church". For all are called to work for the perfection of the Father Himself(Mt 5. 58):"Be you perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect."(cf. OFP chapter 15, with quote from Pius XI that all are called to perfection in every walk of life).

§12. Besides sharing in Christ's priesthood, the people have a share in His prophetic role. In the NT prophet does not basically mean one who foretells the future, though that may happen - rather, he is one with the grace to make moving exhortations to the people. So a sharing in Christ's prophetic role really means the grace to bring the influence of Christ into the world by example, a life of faith, and love, and by trying to "sell" the principles of Christ in the world. We think of Romans 12:2,"Do not be conformed to this world." This is of course the opposite of conforming to the world, of trying not to be different. The laity as such can penetrate into places where priests and religious do not go.

The whole body of the faithful have an anointing, that is, a grace from the Holy Spirit that helps them recognize what is true. Hence if the entire Church, people and authorities both, have ever believed (strict sense, of accepting as revealed) a thing, that cannot be in error. It is infallible. Of course, this does not apply to subtle and debated points in theology. Further, this does not mean that the authorities merely echo what the people believe - rather, the people believe as an echo of the authorities, even though historically, some movements, leading to definitions, have had a start at grassroots.

Also, at the time of Arianism, the people kept more faithful than did the Bishops, though St. Jerome's outburst was a great exaggeration. Really, the Emperor, at two regional councils, had gotten the Bishops, by threats and deception, to accept an ambiguous creed - not one that was strictly erroneous. (Jerome wrote, in Dialogue against the Luciferians, 19: "The whole world groaned and was surprised to see itself Arian.")

What if people today stop believing something once believed? What was once established as infallible cannot become erroneous or doubtful by the falling away of a later time.

LG next speaks of charismatic gifts. There are two kinds of graces - sanctifying and charismatic. Sanctifying graces include habitual (or sanctifying) grace, and actual grace. Habitual grace automatically makes the recipient holy. Actual grace is aimed at that, it is the grace sent at a given moment to lead and enable one to do a particular good thing.

Charismatic graces are not aimed at sanctification, though indirectly they may help. They are for some particular benefit to the community. There are two kinds - the miraculous and the non- miraculous. The miraculous include tongues, healings etc. The nonmiraculous include the grace of being an apostle, a teacher, a speaker, a good parent etc. So in this latter sense, all have one or another charism.

God offers sanctifying graces abundantly to all - they were earned by the infinite price of redemption, within the New Covenant. But as to charismatic miraculous graces, the Spirit gives as He wills, without regard to merit - hence priesthood is given without regard to merit. In Mt 7. 22-23 Jesus says at the end some will say: "Have we not prophesied in your name, cast out devils in your name, worked wonders in your name?" And He will say: "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you". - So one may not even have the state of grace, and yet be able to work miracles!

As to the miraculous type - LG advises we should not rashly desire them. That would leave an opening for self-deception, or diabolic deception. And whether or not they are genuine is to be judged by the Church authorities. Not all cases of these this are from the Holy Spirit. Some are from an evil spirit, some merely autosuggestion.

§13. All are called to be members of the kingdom. In Jn 10:16 Jesus says: "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them, and they will be one fold, one shepherd." Originally this referred to the union of gentiles and Jews in the Church - a thing the first Christians were slow to understand. Does it predict all will be Christian at the end of the world? Definitely not, for in Lk 18:. 8 Jesus says of the end: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth?" Cf. also 2 Thes. 2:3. Could it be that at some time before the end there will be a great age for the Church, when all, or nearly all will enter? St. Paul predicts the conversion of the Jews in Rom 11. 25-26: "A blindness in part has come upon Israel until the fullness of the gentiles enter. And so all Israel will be saved." (saved here means enter the Church. Paul knows, as he shows in Rom 2:14-16, that many can reach final salvation without formally entering the Church by visible adherence. Cf. LG 16). There is a fascinating resemblance here to Lk 21. 24: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the gentiles until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled." We wonder, is that fulfilled in the reestablishment of Israel in 1948 and the full capture of Jerusalem in l967?

We do not know if the conversion of the Jews is to come just before the end, or sometime before it - seems more likely just before the end. Elijah is to return. Perhaps he will be agent of their conversion. So a great age might not include the Jews.

The Church, the People of God is present in all nations, but this does not take away anything from the temporal welfare of those nations. Rather, it is a benefit, for the Church purifies what is useful and good in these communities.

The People of God is made up of various ranks, and persons with varying gifts. Included are those who follow Christ most closely, by religious life.

The Chair of Peter presides over the whole community of love. Within the community, riches are shared (Mystical Body and Communion of Saints).

§14. The Church, a pilgrim on earth, is necessary for salvation. So anyone who, knowing that the Church was founded by Christ as necessary would fail to enter, could not be saved.

They are fully incorporated who receive Baptism, and accept the visible Church fully. They get this not from their own merits but from grace. (Cf. Romans 9 on God's decision to give full membership in the Church, and notice Acts 16:6-7, and compare 1 Cor 1:26-30; Ezek 3:5-7 (note Ezek 5. 6-"[Jerusalem] has rebelled against my laws more than the nations"; Jonah 3; parable of good Samaritan, and the account of the 10 lepers healed. Note also Mt 11:21, where Jesus says that if the miracles done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have penance in sackcloth and ashes.

In passing, we observe the mention of full membership, which seems to imply the existence of a lesser degree of membership. Please recall also our comments on §§ 5 & 8.

The Church considers catechumens, not yet baptized, as her own (suos). Cf. St. Ambrose's sermon on Valentinian II in 392.

§15. There are others who are baptized, but who do not profess the full faith, or do not recognize the Holy See. Yet they are joined with the Church. We recognize the lack of clarity in the word joined with (coniunctam). We discussed this previously, when we quoted this text. We saw however that these persons can really be members of the Church, in an imperfect way, without adherence to the visible Church. The Decree on Ecumenism, in § 3 says: "Those who are justified by faith in baptism, are incorporated into Christ, and so are rightly adorned with the Christian name, and are rightly recognized by the sons of the Catholic Church as brothers in the Lord."

§16. Further, there are some who have not accepted the Gospel, but are ordered to the People of God by various reasons. In the first place, the Jews, who belong to the Old Covenant, from whom Christ descended, though they do not accept Him. God's call to them is still in force, without repentance. Romans 11 foretells their final conversion. Meanwhile, the image of the tame and wild olive tree indicates that they have cut themselves off, and so are not members of the people of God. Yet even these, if in good faith, can reach final salvation, as we saw, and can have an imperfect membership, like those spoken of in Romans 2:14-16 Cf. again our comments on §5 above.

Still farther out are the Muslims. (There was never any authentication for the alleged revelations to Mohammed. Nor did he himself ever claim to work a miracle, still less a miracle worked in such a framework as to establish a tie between the miracle and the claim). They do know the one merciful God who will judge all on the last day.

There are also those who "in shadows and images seek the unknown God." These are the pagans, in idolatry. Yet in view of what we said earlier, some of these can even be considered members in an imperfect way if they meet the conditions of Romans 2:14-16, which we discussed above in §5. LG 16 does add something of great importance: "They who without fault do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with a sincere heart, and try under the influence of grace to fulfill His will, known by the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation." This is reaffirmed by the words of John Paul II in his Encylical, Redemptoris missio 10. LG adds that whatever good and true is found among them, is a preparation for the Gospel." But LG adds, paraphrasing Romans 1, that very often men, deceived by the Evil one, have become vain in their thoughts, and have exchanged the truth of God for the lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator, or, living and dying in this world without hope they are exposed to extreme despair". Hence for them the Church sends out missionaries.

We can go beyond LG here without contradicting it, by saying that one who may claim he does not believe in God, may be merely rejecting a false notion of God, and yet, by following the Spirit of Christ which makes known to him interiorly what God wills, such a one may be objectively belong to Christ, and even be in a very imperfect way a member of His Church, as we explained in §5 above. However, they live without subjective hope of eternal life, inasmuch as they do not know of it - but objectively they are not without hope, in the way we have described. However, even though they have a chance for salvation, they are in greater danger, have less security - hence the importance of missions - which today have declined though a false notion of ecumenism and of the anonymous Christian. They are saved not through but in spite of their false worship, and we say God can accept their good will shown in following the Spirit without knowing what it is.

But we must insist that they have a real chance for salvation, for we think of the reasoning of St. Paul in Romans 3. 29-30: "Is He the God of the Jews alone? Is He not the God of the gentiles(pagans) too?" Paul means if God did not make provision for the salvation of pagans, He would act as though He were not their God, neglecting them, leaving them to certain eternal ruin. But He is their God too, and therefore we must hold He does make provision. LG teaches that too. So did Pius IX (DS 2866): "God... in His supreme goodness and clemency, does not allow anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." It means that if someone keeps the moral law as he knows it, he will be saved. Pius IX does not explain how the requirement of faith is met in them - yet he assures us that somehow it is met. We have made the suggestion above: In following the lead of the Spirit of Christ, interiorly making known to them what God requires, they are objectively accepting God, accepting the Spirit of Christ, and so can even be said to belong to Christ = members of Christ = members of His Church, though in an imperfect way.

§17. Christ sent the Apostles to preach to the whole world. Hence the Church must continue to fulfill this. For even if a person can be saved as described above, without hearing of the Church and the Gospel, yet they are in a less secure position, and are not fulfilling the command of Christ to accept the Church.

Every follower of Christ has the obligation to spread the faith, so that the prophecy of Malachi 1:11 may be fulfilled: "From the rising of the sun even to its going down, my name is great among the gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation." The sense of this text of Malachi is disputed by scholars. One of the acceptable positions is that here used by LG. We do not know if the Council meant to determine the meaning of the text, or only to use it for an illustration.