The Winter, 2013 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Ecclesiam Sanctam.” It is the third in our series dedicated to a reflection on the mystery of the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Meditation on the Church’s holiness must always include not only a view of the Church as spotless Bride of Christ, but also the concrete historical situation of the Church in the world; she is always “both, and.” The Columbian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila once described the Church as “the sewer of history, the tumultuous flowing of human impurity towards immaculate seas.” How can both realities—abject sinfulness and perfect holiness—be held together in one Church? In what does her holiness consist, given the sinfulness of her members? The articles included herein each attempt to shed light on these questions, always remembering that finally, “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.”1
In “The Confession of the Casta Meretrix,” Jacques Servais approaches the above questions through the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and others. Servais asks with Balthasar if the holiness of the Church is consonant with the Church herself—not simply her members—being continuously called to confession. It is, writes Servais, but only if one understands the Church is not a conglomerate, but rather a person. “The personal identity of the Church,” he writes, “is the key to understanding the sense in which she confesses her sins.”
Roch Kereszty continues the reflections from the starting point of the members of the Church. In “‘Sacrosancta Ecclesia’: The Holy Church of Sinners,” he writes that the Church is anima ecclesistica; she takes up all of humanity so that all may grow in holiness within this ecclesial soul. The sanctity of the Church is governed by the great, “et, et”: though she is on earth “always in process, transitioning from harlot to chaste,” she also has the fides ecclesiae, the “perfect faith of the one Spouse, that of Mary and of all those in heaven and on earth who possess the supernatural virtue of faith.”
Antonio López turns his reflections to the one in whom holiness is perfect and therefore perfectly for all. In “‘Blessed Is She Who Believed’: Mary’s Faith and the Form of Christian Existence,” he ponders Mary’s faith, and its unique capacity to reveal in history that love is unconditional assent. Mary’s beauty, writes López, “is her letting God be God in herself and in history.”
In “The Communion of Saints and the Vocation to Holiness,” Marianne Schlosser expands on our theme, looking at what the Second Vatican Council—specifically Lumen gentium—contributes to our understanding of both individual holiness and the sanctity of the Church. “The vocation of all the baptized to holiness,” she writes, “is rooted in the holiness of the Church herself.” Lumen gentium helps elucidate why there are not two holinesses, but rather one, rooted in Christ and his Bride, sustaining the whole of creation.
In our last article on the theme of Ecclesiam Sanctam, “Confirmation: A Sacrament of Christian Initation,” Cardinal Marc Ouellet reflects on the unity of the sacraments of initiation in the Church, and specifically Confirmation’s place and standing therein. The Cardinal suggests that it may be time for the Church to reflect anew on the given order of these sacraments. It is the Holy Spirit, Ouellet writes, who “enables the Christian to witness,” and this power of the Spirit, “will be renewed constantly at the source of Eucharistic kenosis, to which he is joined by Confirmation.”
Turning away from our main theme, we present Thomas W. Smith’s “Political Ambition and the Christian Life.” In it, he explores why politics is architectonic to humanity, and how liberal democracies destabilize themselves by destroying political ambition, replacing it with its hollowed-out substitute: politicking.
Mark Shiffman follows, with his “The Eclipse of the Good in the Modern Rights Tradition.” He suggests there is “a fundamental incompatibility between the classical Catholic natural law tradition and the discourse of natural rights that takes shape in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” Shiffman locates this incompatibility in the nominalism of modern rights theory, and then proposes an alternative understanding of rights based on Simone Weil’s ethic of attentiveness.
Finally, we close the issue with J. Jacob Tawney’s “Content and Form: From Linguistics to Abstract Art.” The author explores Robert Sokolowski’s phenomenology of rational speech, and how the same principles can be applied and extended to the artistic process, especially in regards to the process of abstraction. “The amount of abstraction necessary” in art, argues Tawney, “is directly proportional to the place in the hierarchy of being” of what is being represented.