JMC : The Christian Mind / by Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B.

Chapter XVII.
The Christian Mind, the Church, and the Eucharist,

I have omitted of set purpose from the preceding chapter several fine passages found in St. Paul's Epistles which at first sight seem to be of the same trend with the inspired phrases I have strung together in a sort of sequence. The texts thus held over have reference more especially to Christ as a power, I might almost say as an executive, amongst the faithful.

Christ is to be trusted and dreaded because He steps in palpably, nay, visibly, into the life of His followers, not merely as a living and lifegiving ideal and principle, as a power of grace, but as one who rewards and punishes, helps the well meaning, and frightens the faithless. It is easy to see how this power of executive adds considerably to the reality of the grace of the Incarnation, and how it gives the Christian mind a very practical, a very positive turn. Nothing could make my meaning clearer than the recitation of those very texts I have purposely held over until now.

The first passage occurs in connection with the excommunication of the incestuous man at Corinth. "I indeed absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, him that hath so done. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus. To deliver such a one to satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (i. Cor. V. 3-5).

Then there is the profession of his great powers as an Apostle of Christ in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels. And every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ; and having in readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be fulfilled. See the things that are according to outward appearance. If any man trust to himself, that he is Christ's, let him think this again with himself, that as he is Christ's, so are we also. For if also I should boast somewhat more of our power, which the Lord hath given us unto edification, and not for your destruction; I should not be ashamed" (ii. Cor. x. 4-9).

Then there is St. Paul's menace to the same Corinthians, in this Epistle, to make them feel the power of Christ, in spite of the apparent weakness of Christ, unless they change their conduct.

"Do you seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me, who towards you is not weak, but is mighty in you? For although he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him: but we shall live with him by the power of God towards you. Try your own selves if you be in the faith; prove ye yourselves. Know you not your own selves, that Christ Jesus is in you, unless perhaps you be reprobates? But I trust that you shall know that we are not reprobates. Now we pray God, that you may do no evil, not that we may appear approved, but you may do that which is good, and that we may be as reprobates" (ii. Cor. xiii. 3-8).

The first and second passage just quoted are easily understood. The third passage is of a typical Pauline style, and a short commentary will not be amiss. St. Paul evidently was not satisfied with his dear Corinthians.

"Do you seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me who towards you is not weak, but is mighty in you?" (ii. Cor. xiii. 3.)

Apparently they were under the impression, that, in vulgar parlance, his bark was worse than his bite.

"Therefore I write these things being absent, that, being present, I may not deal more severely, according to the power which the Lord hath given me unto edification, and not unto destruction" (ii. Cor. X. 10).

St. Paul gives them a warning. He bids them not to be deceived by the apparent weakness of Christ the crucified and of His poor apostle. For behind that weakness there is the tremendous power of His resurrection. That power Christ means to apply, both immediately, and mediately through His apostle. But there is one condition for the execution of this power. It is put into motion as a chastisement for those only who are Christ's. If a man is not Christ's, if he has been cut away from Christ, the Son of God disdains to show His power towards him. Such a man is a reprobate and the worst thing that could happen to a Christian is this, that he has become such that Christ's power does not reach him any more, that Christ is powerless towards him. So if the exercise of power with which St. Paul threatens the Corinthians were to remain without its castigating, its visible effects, it would be a terrible revelation of their spiritual state, it would show the fact that they are reprobates. Then comes that wonderful turn of St. Paul's heart: he is ready to risk his own reputation, to see his power without its effect, to appear a reprobate himself, rather than to see his children suffer from the effects of his excommunication.

"Now we pray God, that you may do no evil, not that we may appear approved, but that you may do that which is good, and that we may be as reprobates" (ii. Cor. x. 7).

It is evident that St. Paul had a clear intuition of Christ's executive power in redressing evil amongst the faithful themselves.

Christ's power in helping the Apostle and in fact every Christian in the hard struggle against evil is of course part of the general trust in God. Christ is God, and we trust Him to help us.

"Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me" (St. John xiv. 1).

It could not be said that practical faith in the power of the Son of God is a specifically Christian thing, except in the sense that we give to the Incarnate Son of God the same confidence as we give the Father. No man knew better than St. Paul how to rely on the power of Christ, in his manifold temptations.

"And he said to me: my grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful" (ii. Cor. xii. 9 10).

But the power of Christ mentioned in the texts quoted above is something more specifically Christian. It is based on the personal relation of the Son of God with the regenerate soul. Its efficacy depends on man's intimacy with Christ.

For one that is a "reprobate" will not be attained by that specific power of Jesus. It also differs from the power of judgment, as judgment embraces the good and the bad, the Christian and the infidel, the living and the dead. It is essentially Christ's power over His own mystical body the Church, to keep it pure and healthy.

The act of excommunication on St. Paul's part was only one manifestation, I might almost say, a negative manifestation, of a power that is a most positive, a most life-giving thing, Christ's unceasing energy in building up His own mystical body, the Church. "For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church:

Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones " (Eph. v. 29 30).

This practical faith in Christ's unceasing activity in His Church to build it up, to purify it, is an integral part of the Christian mind.

I must ask my reader to remember the distinction I made at the beginning of this book between the Christian Mind and Christian dogma. The Christian Mind, in my definition, is the practice, the life-philosophy of the more abstract dogma. Now the dogmatic part of the doctrine of the Church has received great attention in modern times. The heresies, generically known as Protestantism, have forced on Catholics the necessity of stating, and re-stating, with growing emphasis and clearness, the claims of the Church, of the Papacy, of the Hierarchy. It has become the best known portion of our whole theology. But it would be the greatest mistake to think that the aforesaid doctrines are mainly controversial, are mainly a protection against the power of error. The doctrines of the Church of Christ have a most practical side for our individual spiritual life: they make the greatest appeal possible to the Christian mind, because it is there we find the power of Christ applied with unfailing efficacy, nay severity.

Christ is powerful amongst us according to the degree of our faithfulness to Him.

"I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.

Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (St. John XV. I 2).

His great work is the sanctification of the individual souls that are the mystical members of His body; and to that work He brings an infinitude of power, but a power that is something sui generis, a power of vitalisation and secretion that is a living organism carried to infinite potentiality. It is a power that is both beneficent and unsparing, as all life is. Of this power we have a divinely inspired account in the message delivered by St. John to the seven churches, in the first three chapters of the Apocalypse. There Christ strikes hard in the very souls of His people.

His speech is "a sharp two-edged sword" that comes out of His mouth. He kills with death the children of a false prophetess (chapter ii). He vomits out from His mouth the angel of the Church of Laodicea (chapter iii).

But I must ask my reader to meditate for himself on that most wonderful section of our inspired Books. Then he will see the Son of God in a new role, the role of executive sanctity. It is Christ's role in His Church. The power He exercises is not that power of help on which we trust in all difficulties: it is, I might almost say, immanent in the body of the Church, not external to it. Christ stands "in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Apoc. i. 13).

He moves them about with a strong arm and He fights against His own careless disciples with the sword of His mouth (Apoc. ii. 16).

It is no small part of the Christian Mind to have a keen realisation of that work of executive sanctity which the Son of God carries out with unceasing activity and unsurpassable power inside His Church, He Himself being the life that energises everything and orders every thing, and He Himself doing the work of assimilation and secretion.

There is nothing we ought to dread more than the misfortune of putting obstacles to the glorious flow of life in the body of the Church through personal infidelity to grace, or through reluctance in conforming with the mind of the Church. Nothing punishes like stunting a life process, and there is not a life that is more vigorous than Christ in His Church.

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot, I would thou wert cold or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth" (Apoc. iii. 15 16).

Our zeal and fervour to do the works of Christ, if we have the Christian Mind, is more than an ordinary generosity in the service of God. It is a specific love of the life of Christ in us, and in the Church, with its necessary counterpart of fear lest we should at any time put obstacles to that glorious, but unsparing life. We are in dread of the two-edged sword, lest it cut us off like putrid members. As we love the life, so also we dread the life, which is Christ.

Here I find the opportunity of writing down one of St. Paul's most powerful passages, setting forth that absolute reciprocity between our life and Christ's life, a reciprocity founded on the larger mystery of Christ's indwelling power in us and in His Church.

"A faithful saying: for if we be dead with him, we shall live also with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us. If we believe not, He continueth faithful. He cannot deny Himself (ii. Tim. ii. 11-14).

The doctrine of the Church, which Christ builds on Peter, the Rock, is of course a specifically Christian doctrine. It is so intimately connected with the Incarnation that the Church without the Incarnation is not even thinkable. For the Church is essentially and intrinsically the body of Christ, of God Incarnate. "And he hath subjected all things under his feet and hath made him head over all the Church. Which is his body and the fulness of him who is filled all in all" (Eph. i. 22 23).

But as the Christian Mind takes the practical view of the more abstract dogma, I consider that a realisation of the activities of the Son of God inside His Church, activities of mercy and severity, is the practical view corresponding to the great dogma. Our obedience to the Church, our love for her, our devotedness to her, our daring, and our enterprise in her cause, as well as our humble service in the lower grades of usefulness, will spring from such a conviction, as from their natural fountain head.

"But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity" (Eph. iv. 15 16).

What I said of the Church applies with equal truth to the doctrine of the Eucharist, which is connected inseparably with the doctrine of the Church. It is a dogma that is of course specifically Christian in tenor. It is as original as the Incarnation itself. It is part of the mystery of the Son of God.

The attitude of the Christian Mind, as something different from the intellectual acceptance of the dogma, and also as something different from the actual partaking of the sacrament, is less easily described on account of the vastness of the object.

We may view the Eucharist and make it a most real activity in so many different ways, and the saint is still to be born who has applied to his soul all the treasures which are hidden therein. The Eucharist is the life of Christ, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ; it is the companionship of Christ; it is the blessing of Christ, it is the triumph of Christ, as well as His sweet humility.

Our minds see all those things in the Eucharist and many more. He is food and drink. He is priest and victim, He is our introduction to God, and our badge of brotherhood with man in this one and indivisible thing. His Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that we have a practical demonstration of the vital possibilities of the things of the Incarnation.

The Church does so much with the Eucharist, and who knows what she will do with it in future ages? From time to time a real flash of genius comes over her, and she sees what new use she can make of her great treasure.

The modern frequency of the Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament is one of those glorious intuitions concerning the possibilities hidden in her old, old, and infinitely cherished treasure, the mystery of the body and of the blood of Christ.

To St. Paul's mind the dominant feature of the Eucharist mystery is the death of the Lord, shown forth in it.

"For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come" (i. Cor. xi. 26).

But he sees other spiritual virtues in it. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the union between the faithful.

"The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread" (i. Cor. X. 16 17).

The Eucharist is also the line of division between the Christian and the pagan world as represented by its sacrifices. "But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils and not to God, And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils. You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord and of the table of devils" (i. Cor. X. 20 21).

St. Paul has recourse to the Eucharist to decide in a peremptory way what ought to be the Christian's mental attitude with the much mooted question of the meat that came from the heathen sacrifices.

I do not intend to pursue further the possible practical developments of the Christian Mind with regard to the Eucharist, simply because the subject appears to me well nigh inexhaustible.

For all practical purposes the Eucharist is, to the Catholic mind, Christ on earth, with an infinite adaptability to human needs. We need not wonder then if the Church uses the Eucharist as her daily spiritual currency in the Kingdom of God, to purchase grace and salvation for the living and the dead.

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