The Winter, 2014 issue of Communio, on the theme of “Ecclesiam Unam,” is the fourth and last in our series devoted to a reflection on the mystery of the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These four notes of the Church perennially guide our meditation on the supreme mystery: the nature of the Church and her relation to her Bridegroom. The following articles explore the mystery of the Church as historically and transcendentally one, a unity only possible in and through her relation to the triune Godhead.
In “The Unity of the Church,” Roch Kereszty starts with a historical account of the self-understanding of the early Church as one and as universal, beginning with the appearances of Christ at Pentecost. He then reflects theologically on the Church’s unity as related to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The ultimate source of “the Church’s all-encompassing and transcendental unity,” Kereszty writes, is on the Cross, where “we see the perfect revelation of the Father’s sacrificial love by which he glorifies the Son, so that the Son may glorify him.” The author then addresses the problems of Christian unity in a post-Reformation Church, and the experience of the Church’s unity in history; both can only be understood well if we understand the Church to be a subject ontologically and sacramentally united to her Head and Bridegroom.
Ricardo Aldana’s “Ecclesia de Trinitate” delves into the tension that threatens the unity of the Church in light of her historical situation: it is true that she is the Body of Christ and yet seemingly always moving away from him in her sinfulness. Though there are always historical forces eroding Church unity, Aldana points out, they “cannot be conquered by the Church herself; they can only be conquered through the unity of the one and triune God.” The unity of the Church always subsists in an everlasting surrender of the Persons of the Trinity towards each other, and analogically, the world.
In “Conscience, the Emperor, and the Pope: The Witness of St. Maximus the Confessor,” Adrian J. Walker meditates on the unity of the Church through the witness of one of her members: the martyr Maximus, whose bold insistence on the two wills of Christ in the face of an overwhelming majority of Monotheletists in the empire both cost him his life and continues to bear fruit for the Church. In his fidelity to his conscience, which Maximus knows to be a trace of the Eternal Word, the saint affirms that Christ’s “yes” on Gethsemane “unites, without confusion or separation, two things we typically view as disjoined: the full confession of our faith and the flourishing of our nature.”
In other articles in this issue, we have first David L. Schindler’s “‘In the Beginning Was the Word’: Mercy as a ‘Reality Illuminated by Reason.’” In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis stresses that the central missionary task of the Church is mercy. Realization of this task, he says, involves recognizing the priority of reality over ideas, and thus rejecting ideas that are disconnected from realities. Such disconnection, he insists, leads to “idealism” and relativism, both of which, from opposite directions, imply a reality no longer illuminated by reason. Schindler argues that the twin reductions Francis has in mind here—consisting in “objectives more ideal than real,” on the one hand, and “dictatorships of relativism” and subjectivism, on the other—are simultaneous with each other, because they ultimately stem from the same source: the separation of God’s Word from God’s Love as manifest in the pre-sacramental world of nature and the sacramental Church.
In “Fruitfulness and the Rediscovery of Finitude,” Antonio López proposes that the defining anthropological feature of our culture is a rejection of the fruition and finitude proper to the creature, which is particularly expressed in the now-normalized phenomenon of same-sex “marriage.” To be a creature is to appropriate one’s own “not,” López argues, that is to say, that one is not God—not the source of one’s own being. The “goodness of the finite being resides precisely [in the creature being] truly given to itself as finite, as constitutively related to what itself is not. It is this unity of being and not-being that makes finite being good qua finite.” The author goes on to explain that the logic of same-sex “marriage” is a rejection of this negation rather than a joyful reception of the gift of creatureliness.
Charles Péguy was a Catholic poet, essayist, and editor who died in 1914, fighting for France in World War I. We commemorate the anniversary of his death, here, by publishing Paolo Prosperi’s “‘The Mystery of Mysteries’: On Péguy’s Vision of Hope,” which shows how the triptych of Péguy’s “Mysteries” revolves around and draws from the unquenchable virtue of hope in the creature. Drawing especially from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Prosperi ponders the role of hope in the relationship between Creator and created. “Hope,” he writes, “is like the creature’s finest flower, its most beautiful and fruitful reflection of the gratuity of the supreme mysteries that are creation and redemption.”
In Retrieving the Tradition, and returning to the issue’s main theme, we have Emile Mersch’s “Nature and Notes of the Church.” This excerpt from the Belgian theologian’s The Theology of the Mystical Body explains, while providing a meditation on, who and what the Church is, especially with regard to her bodily unity with Christ. This mystical-bodily union, according to Mersch, is indispensable for understanding how the Church’s ontological unity with the Bridegroom is incarnated: “Christ is the bond of inner unity in each member, as he is the body of collective unity in the whole assemblage.”
Finally, we present “A Meditation on Givenness” by John Paul II. Signed in 1994, but not printed until 2006, it appears here in English for the first time. In it, the late pope reflects on what it means to say that creation is a gift: there is a disposition of reception and gratitude written into all of creation. This ontological disposition shows forth in our material and bodily reality in the form of beauty, in which it is man’s privilege to participate and which he must sustain. To do this, we must see the world through the lens of givenness, since we “cannot create beauty unless [we look] with the eyes through which God embraces the world he created in the beginning.”