Catholic Doctrine: The Sense of the Church (2)

September 21, 2019

It Is Necessary to Believe in the Church

The Church, into which we are incorporated through baptism as member of the body of Christ, is an object of faith that cannot be reduced to a superficial, statistical, or sociological analysis. The quantitative element cannot explain the profound reality of the Church. Similarly, a too legal approach of a society ruled by laws and rites cannot account for its spiritual nature, since the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, rests on this mysterious bond which personally unites every soul to Christ and brings them together in Him, as members of the same body, all the sons of God.

A Visible Society

The Church is essentially a spiritual reality. Undoubtedly, it materializes before our eyes by means of visible realities. The ecclesiastical hierarchy, the sacraments, the dogmatic formulas, the ecclesiastical laws and institutions, all this ensemble of visible realities are an integral part of the constitution of the Church of Christ. Where these realities are, there is the Church of Christ, identical to the Catholic Church. Through her is spread the action of God and of Christ, herleader, her invisible head.

Let us refrain from dreaming of a purely spiritual, disembodied Church that disregards these physical realities. Dehumanized, it will evaporate. Because Christ founded his Church on Peter and his successors. He put at her head the Twelve [Apostles] who continue in the current hierarchy. It was Christ who gave the Twelve and their successors the power to teach and to govern His church. It is He who instituted the sacraments through which He sanctifies the members of His Church and unites them.

Jesuit Fr. Yves de Montcheuil explains how only the faith enables us to grasp the invisible and spiritual realities that pass through the visible realities to which they are linked:

“The unbelieving Jews saw Christ, they heard Him, that is, they saw the existence of what was visible in Him. One cannot, however, say that they believed in Christ, that they knew Christ, that they really knew who was the One they were seeing, for they saw in Him only one man among other men. Only the faithful disciples who believe that Christ is the Word made flesh, that He is the Son of God incarnate, truly know Him; only they have the right to say that they know who He is.”

“Similarly, unbelievers can observe the existence of this society called the Catholic Church: seeing it only as a human society, they do not know it. Because they do not take it for a supernatural reality which, while having a body, is not reduced to this body. For us who have thefaith, it is necessary for us to get used to always considering the Church as a spiritual, supernatural reality that manifests itself through a body. This body, this visible element is part of itself: it is indispensable to its existence and its action, just as the Body of Christ was essential and indispensable to Him. But it is not just that. Moreover, just as what gives the meaning of humanity to Christ is His union with the Word, so that one cannot say of the one who knows Christ only as a man that he knows Him, even in part, but it must be said that he completely misunderstands it,—thus the one who only sees the Church in what may be called its sociological or juridical reality, the external organization by which it more or less resembles other human societies—this person does not know half of it, but misunderstands it” (Fr. Yves de Montcheuil, Aspects of the Church, (Aspects de l’Eglise),Cerf 1949, pp. 17-18).

So, just as the skeptical Jews missed out on the reality of Christ, true God and true man, and have misunderstood the Son of God, even though they recognize his existence, so it is a total misunderstanding of the Church to reduce it to its purely visible aspects and to its human elements.

To be ignorant of the spiritual and invisible aspect of the Church is to make it a corpse, a body without a soul, to disfigure it, and to put aside the remedy and the antidote to discouragement or to the too human reactions in the face of man’s deficiencies and the betrayal of clerics.

FromLe Sens de l’Eglise (The Sense of the Church) by Fr. Gaston Courtois, Fleurus, Paris, 1950.

Next : The Supernatural Mission of the Church