Jacques Maritain Center : On the Church of Christ


The Revealed Data Concerning the Church

It is fitting first of all, clearly, to recall some of the texts which deliver to the Christian, concerning the Church, that which has been revealed in human words by the Word of God.

Matt. 28, 19-20: "Jesus [risen] came forward and addressed them [the eleven] in these words:

'Full authority has been given to me
both in heaven and on earth;
go, therefore, and make disciples of
all the nations.
Baptize them in the name
of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Teach them to carry out everything I
have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always,
until the end of the world!

The apostles are sent
into the entire world, and
Christ will be with the Church
at each instant
until the end of time.

Matt. 16, 15-18: "'And you,' he said to them, 'who do you say that I am?' 'You are the Messiah,' Simon Peter answered, the Son of the living God!' Jesus replied, 'Blest are you, Simon son of John! No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. I for my part declare to you, you are 'Rock' (Kepha) and on this rock (kepha) I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it.'"

Primacy of Peter,
and assurance
that the Church of Christ
is invincible to evil.

John 21, 15-17: "When they had eaten their meal, Jesus [risen] said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord,' he said, 'you know that I love you.' At which Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.'

"A second time he put his question. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?' "Yes, Lord,' Peter said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus replied, 'Ten my sheep.'

"A third time Jesus asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because he had asked a third time. 'Do you love me?' So he said to him: 'Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"

Primacy of Peter.
It is by reason
of the love of
charity that
this primacy,
like all authority
in the Church,
is conferred.

Matt. 12, 28: "If it is by the Spirit of God that I expel demons, then the reign of God has overtaken you."

The kingdom of God
has already begun
here on earth,
in Christ and in
the Church
{1}. We
say: "Thy kingdom
come," in order that
it come in the
world transfigured.

Ephes. 1, 17 and 1, 22-23: "May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly . . . . He has put all things under Christ's feet and has made him, thus exalted, head of the church{2}, which is his body: the fullness of him who fills the universe in all {3}."

Ephes. 4, 15-16: "Let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head. Through him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love."

Col. 1, 17-18: "He is before all else that is. In him everything continues in being. It is he who is head of the body, the church."

The Church is the mystical Body
of Christ

Ephes. 5, 29-30: "No one ever hates his own flesh; no, he nourishes it and takes care of it as Christ cares for the church -- for we are members of his body.

'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,
and shall cling to his wife,
and the two shall be made into one{5}.'

This a great foreshadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church.

The Church
is the Bride of Christ{6}.

Ephes. 5, 25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves the church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word, to present to himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort."

The Church is
the Bride of Christ. And
she is without stain or wrinkle
or anything of that sort,
but holy and immaculate

("indefectibly holy,"
the second Council of the
Vatican will say){7}.

I Tim 3, 14-15: "I am writing you about these matters so that if I should be delayed you will know what kind of conduct befits a member of God's household, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark{8} of truth."

Inerrancy of the Church.
She is the pillar
and bulwark
of truth.

I Pet. 2, 9-10: "You, however, are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works' of the One who called you from darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's people."

The Church is the People of
, a name
which has been brought
to full light by the
second Council
of the Vatican{9}.

* * *

These texts show us in the clearest manner that the Church of Christ, holy and immaculate, is herself one of the mysteries which God has revealed to men and to the angels. She is a mystery of faith, and a supernatural mystery in the integral sense of the word (quoad substantiam since she is the mystical Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ and the Plenitude of Christ, and since she lives by Him and by His grace ("by the truth in love," as St. Paul says).

He who loses from view that the Church is herself a mystery of faith has not in his thought the idea of the Church. He can certainly speak of her, and speak of her abundantly; he does not know of what he is speaking.

There are three who are holy and immaculate, although each in a different manner, and by different title: Christ because He is God; the Blessed Virgin because she was born without stain; the Church because, "purified in the bath of water by the power of the word," she shines, sine macula, sine ruga, with the purity in which she was born of the water and of the Spirit.

{1} Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. I, Sections 3 and 5: Christ "inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of the Father. By His obedience He brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly in the world through the power of God."

"In Christ's word, in His works, and in His presence this kingdom reveals itself to men. . . . The miracles of Jesus also confirm that the kingdom has already arrived on earth: 'If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you' (Lk. 11:20; cf. Mt. 12:28). . . . The Church consequently, equipped with the gifts of her Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility, and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Walter M. Abbott, S. J., ed.: The Documents of Vatican II, New York: Herder and Herder; Association Press, 1966, pp. 16, 17-18.)

{2} "Kai edôken kephalên huper panta tê ekklêsia." The Vulgate translates: "Et ipsum dedit caput supra omnem Ecciesiam." Head over all the Church.

{3} Cardinal Journet translates: . . . . l'Église, qui est son Corps, l'achèvement de Celui qui s'achève de toutes manières en toutes choses." And he adds: "En sorte que saint Jean Chrysostome peut écrire que le plérôme (c'est-à-dire l'achèvement, la plénitude) de la Tête est le Corps, et le plérôme du Corps, la Tête." (L'Église du Verbe Incarné, Paris, Desclée De Brouwer, 1951, t. II, p. 53.) This difference in translation comes from the fact that one gives to the last word plérouménou the sense either of a passive participle or of a middle participle. Cf. A. Feuillet (Le Christe Sagesse de Dieu, pp. 277-292), who opts for the passive and translates: "l'Eglise est la plénitude, la totalité des richesses de Celui qui est rempli de toutes manières [le Christ, rempli par Dieu]."

{4} Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. I, Sect. 7.

{5} Gen. 2, 24.

{6} Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. I, Sect. 7: "Having become the model of a man loving his wife as his own body, Christ loves the Church as His bride."

{7} Indefectibiliter sancta. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. V, Sect. 39. -- Cf. Ch. I, Sect. 6.

{8} stulos kai edraiôma. The word edraiôma signifies "that which renders unshakeably firm." This is why the Vulgate translates it by firmamentum.

{9} Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. II, Sect. 9, where this text of St. Peter is cited. See also further on, Ch. IX, pp. 133 et seq.

Summarizing this chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Cardinal Journet points out that the Council took up again there "apropos of laymen that which had been affirmed in general of the whole Christian people. 'Laymen,' it is said there, 'are members of the people of God in which there is no inequality in regard to race or to nation, to social condition or to sex, they are brothers of Christ who came in order to serve not to be served. They share in the salvific mission of the Church, in her prophetic mission, in her royal service.' The innovation here -- it is evident in the Constitution De Ecclesia as well as in the general orientation of the Council -- is the no longer secret and painful, but imperious, 'growth-in-awareness,' -- not certainly of an inadequateness to the world of her essential and structural catholicity, -- but of the immensity of the effort to be accomplished, two thousand years after the coming of Christ, in order to rejoin the ever-increasing mass of humanity. . . . The Church turns toward her lay children with the concern less to preserve them from evil than to send them into the midst of the dangers with God in their heart, in order to bear witness to the Gospel." (Charles Journet, "Le Mystère de l'Eglise selon le IIe Concile du Vatican," Revue Thomiste, 1965, pp. 34-35.)

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