Blog Template Theology of the Body: Ecumenical Acumen: The Church Triumphant

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen: The Church Triumphant

I have been stewing this week over a line which I recently read.  It goes like this:

"I am not persuaded by that account of Roman Catholic ecclesiology which could fairly be called triumphalist, in contrast to mainstream RC ecumenical literature -from Congar to Bea to Willebrands to Kasper, and many others, including Pope John Paul II. For those to whom ecumenism is not really interesting (though conversion in the sense of "submission" is!), the best antidote to this that I know of is John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint."

The "triumphalism" mentioned here is a common term of reproach leveled at the Catholic Church for the claim that she has the fullness of divine revelation and the right to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of humankind. This "triumphalism" might be most easily contrasted with the proposal that it is right and proper for the Body of Christ to be disseminated by schisms, such that she shows forth to the world the wounds of Her Savior rather than the seeds and presence of His immanent Kingdom, and that the Church thus ought not to proclaim propositional truths about herself and her people; rather, she and her members ought to commit themselves to the sort of ecumenism that perpetually seeks to re-construe an identity, in the kind of irenical group-grope that I have described as a telling of riddles in the dark, or at worst, a confused whine for attention.

I have a few responses to the statement repeated above, and you may have to read them here as time permits; but my first response is that the Church is Christ's, and He is not one to equivocate. The Church has no subsistence apart from Him; her doctrines and disciplines have no grounding other than what He established.  She is no covenanted community of like-minded individuals, which serves as a resource for their mutual self-actualization, on the model of a neighborhood YMCA. She has no life apart from His; and it is by reason of this utter dependence on her Lord that Christians from the very beginning have recognized a mystical identity between the Lord and His Church, to whom He has joined Himself, "in one flesh," as St. Paul tells us.  The Church must be one with Christ, because she has no existence otherwise. And thus what we confess about Jesus, we properly say about the Church; there is nothing else to say about her. 

(And if we shy away from speaking about the Church as we speak about the triumphant Christ- perhaps in the laudable attempt to be humble about her- then we will only succeed in talking about her as though she were our own creation, not His; and that is to make much more of ourselves and the Church than we ought)

And in this regard, let us note that Christ is either the Son of David, of whose Kingdom the increase shall have no end, as the Angel said to Mary, or He isn't; He is either the victorious Bridegroom, or He isn't; He is either the Lord who leads us in triumphal procession (I Thessalonians somewhere) or He isn't. And yes, this Lord was meek and merciful, a servant, the one broken for our offenses; the same one is still Lord. And if we are willing to confess these things about Jesus, then we must be willing to say also that if the Church is the Church, she will share in His Kingdom as a spouse shares, she will lead the triumphal procession with Him, and in meekness, mercy, and service, she will stand in time and space for His dominion. Her members will fail, as we see time and time again; but beyond them, beyond me, beyond us, she is that body who subsists not in our frail flesh, but only in her Lord's triumphant, risen self.

And another thing- those who want to quash the Catholic triumphalism which annoys them must both deny the Church's mystical identity with her Lord (as though she had an existence of her own) and the presence of His Lordship in the visible present; they must insist instead that the Church exists invisibly, somewhere in the nebulous ether, hoped for but unidentifiable here and now. Yet the Church's Lord did not live among us nebulously or spiritually; thus, neither does His Church. He was and is fully man, and in such unequivocal ways.  He lived the life of a poor man, a working man, undefended and undefined by the structures of wealth and social position that sometimes mask a mere human person and make one seem to be nebulously other than one really is.  His death by public execution left no room for doubt as to the actual death that He suffered with respect to His humanity. He confronted doubts afterwards by asking His disciples to touch His wounds. When He wanted to found His Church, He turned to another sweaty working man and told him to stand for Jesus in the world, concretely. This Lord is not one to confuse His people by equivocal appearances; and, for those who live on their persuasions, He is no rhetorician either. This is the Lord, who founded a Church, to whom we are called to submit.  Unequivocally.

(As for "mainstream RC ecumenical literature" and the magisterium's Ut Unum Sint... till next time)