Jacques Maritain Center : On the Church of Christ


By what right has a layman lacking in authority to treat of such matters (he is not a theologian) ventured to write these pages on the Church of Christ, which is a mystery of faith? I reply that the sole authority one may avail oneself of in speaking to others is that of truth; and that in a profoundly troubled historical moment it is doubtless permissible to an old Christian philosopher who has thought about the mystery of the Church for sixty years to bear on it the testimony of his faith and of his meditation.

There is however a better reply and one of greater bearing: it is that philosophy, which even as ancilla of theology is never in a servile condition (it is rather an "auxiliary" -- on the side of mere natural reason -- than a "servant" of theology), has not only to furnish to the latter a metaphysics (I mean a metaphysics founded in truth); it has also for function, -- at least if in the head of the philosopher it is itself strengthened by faith, -- to enter, yes, onto the proper terrain of the sacra doctrina in order to make there itself an effort of reason and to propose there eventually to the competent doctors new views, I say by title of research worker, and of research worker freer than the theologian himself: for it suffices then for the philosopher to be suitably acquainted with theological questions and theological controversies, without however being charged himself, as is the theologian, with the concern for the elucidations which the historical exegesis of the texts of Scripture can furnish, and with the weight of a whole long patristic and conciliar tradition to be known in detail, to be scrutinized and discussed, so as to order organically and to cause to progress the treasure of truth which it transmits to us (I do not speak of the appreciable number of pseudotheologians who employ themselves today to destroy it).

The philosopher leaves to the proper knowledge of the theologian the great interpretative and constructive work in question. He profits by the fruits of this knowledge. But in his own manner of thinking, the mind with its exigencies and being with its secrets alone face each other; the reason of the Christian philosopher is alone, in order to reflect on them, in the presence of the lofty realities which are presented to him by the theologian. That is why I have said that in the labor of research he is more free than the latter, to whom he proposes views which it belongs to theology to judge in the final analysis.

Let us add, with respect to the present work, that a philosophical approach demands that one regard the mystery of the Church as an object placed before the mind and which one tries to describe. In order to undertake to make thus the portrait of a mystery, it was necessary to be an old philosopher resisting badly the attraction of risks (of the beautiful risks). At least he is without too many illusions about himself. To tell the truth, this book has been written by an ignorant one for ignorant ones like himself, but who like him have a great desire to understand as much as possible, to understand a little.

The book in question has nothing to do with apologetics. It presupposes the Catholic faith and addresses itself above all to Catholics, to our nonseparated brothers who recite the Credo each Sunday and who say: I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It addresses itself to others, -- to our separated brothers, to our friends of non-Christian religious affiliation, to our agnostic or atheistic friends, -- only to the extent that they dialogue with Catholics and desire to know what Catholics believe, even if the latter seem sometimes to have forgotten it.

This book has nothing to do either with a treatise of ecclesiology. It is a kind of meditation which develops freely of itself as the questions arise in the mind, so that in order to have an exact idea of that which the author thinks it is necessary to have followed to the end of the curve which it describes.

After this, is it necessary to state (good authors do not advise that one insist on that which is obvious) that in the subtitle of the work and in the distinction between the person of the Church and her personnel, the word "personnel" has, neither in itself, nor in my thought, absolutely nothing pejorative? I have said "personnel of the Church" as one says "teaching personnel" or "diplomatic personnel." If it pleased someone to take this word in the supposedly humiliating sense of "service people" (a term which on any occasion whatsoever I would be ashamed to employ with disdain), well I would point out to him that there is nothing in the world more honorable than to be engaged by God in his service and the service of his Church, -- equerry of the king of kings or arms valet of his bride, -- and that to belong to the "personnel" of the Church taken in this sense (which moreover restricts unduly my own) is a thing so incomparably great that, very far from being humiliating, it requires to go hand in hand with an incomparable humility.

I note finally that (and for this I apologize in what concerns the presentation of the volume) there are there some very short chapters and others very long. This is no way due to the importance of the subject treated each time, but solely to the more or less great complexity of the discussion required.

11 June 1970

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