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" Head," " organs" of various kinds, a membership of about 400 million: the Roman Catholic Church. This was " founded." as we say, by Our Lord for a wholly spiritual purpose, part of which was the teaching and training of its members (a fortiori of its "officials") according to the principles of " the Kingdom," and the proclaiming to " all nations " of the ways of God to men.
Here then we have a " body," with a clearly recognisable " membership": those who do not enter that specific organisation, are not members of that body. So long as we remain on that plane, there can be no question about it.
But there is another plane, or perhaps more than one.
Even if we confine ourselves us that body, its religious, supernatural elements force us to make distinctions.
Thus a man is either " in the state of grace" or " in mortal sin," that is, his condition of soul ia such that if he died now, he would either be eternally saved--or lost.
With this in mind, we have to admit that, while all the members of that body are baptised and should be " in the state of grace," yet not all are. If they are not, then—for the moment at least—all the trouble which they and others have taken that they might belong to the Church founded by Christ is wasted. The purpose of those efforts was that the individuals concerned should share in that vital union with God " in Christ," which is the life of the Mystical Body. But they have deliberately broken away from that union, by going against their conscience, and unless by God's grace they come back, they are lost for ever. Do they cease being " members" of the Church ?
Unless their sin includes apostasy. the answer is No. But it is a temptation to say that at least they are no longer members of the Mystical Body : only our fear of enslavement to words makes us hesitate until we mave looked a little further.
For, even as between Catholics. Christ's influence can he more manifestly at work in the sinner attempting to make good than in " the ninety-nine who need not penance." The former may be momentarily in mortal sin. yet his curve is upward; that of the others may be flat, or downward even, And God sees beyond the present moment.
In any case, we have among the realities to be considered, those members of the Church who have, as far as they are concerned, cut themselves off from the source of grace and of supernatural life. They are in the Church indeed, but, in one sense at least, not of it.
have now to look at other
realities: the men and women outside the " body" which the Catholic Church is. They present the widest differences, from the holiest member of the sacramental. liturgical, hierarchic Orthodox Churches to the most degraded of pagans, civilised and uncivilised.
For our present purpose we need only consider three sets of alternatives, which themselves overlap in a confusing way : baptised, or unbaptised; in " the state of grace," or not: in good faith, or in bad faith.
By baptism (which we presume to be validly received) a man is brought into a certain indissoluble
relationship with Christ and with the Church—whether he knows it or
not; a relationship impossible apart from baptism. Received in child hood or in humble dispositions, it introduces him to the life of the Mystical Body, and disposes his soul to receive further gifts and stimuli of this life.
Of course. like the Catholic, ,he can by his own sinful action break away, but when he does, he will usually find it harder to return.
Secondly, even without baptism. a man can be " in the state of grace."
God alone can read the secrets of
the heart, but something at least equivalent to Faith, a belief in God
and a trust in Him for salvation,
and a sincere attention, to the claims Of conscience, seem likely to con stitute an adequate response to the promptings of grace in his soul, and. as Unplying a genuine love of God, to entitle him to be admitted to that " state."
After sin, repentance at God's prompting may be difficult for him too, but the way back to the "state
of grace" is not closed against him. Lastly, for all, whether baptised rnnot, whp are not members of the
visible body of the Church in the juridical sense, there is the question why they are not so. This is really
only a particular case of the preceding principle, in so far as it presupposed loyalty or disloyalty to conscience.
If conscience in no way records the fact that the Catholic Church is
the body to which God wants all men to belong, the fact of not belonging to it can in no way be a
trangression of God's will : it is no sin, nor can it rob a man of the state of grace he may have come to. It is equally obvious that where there is bad faith, where, that is, the necessity of the Catholic Church is recognised, however obscurely, and yet nothing is done about it, then by the resistance to the call of conscience a man forfeits his " state of grace" or prevents himself ever reaching it. Naturally there is more likelihod of had faith in an apost ate than in one who has never known the Catholic Church from the inside.
THIS is all familiar ground, but the process of analysis leaves one a little hesitant about its coherence.
On the one hand we have the visible empirical Church, some
members of which are curt off from the true life of the Mystical Body: on the other we have men who may be enjoying life to the limit of their present capacity, who have no visible relationship with the Catholic Church.
Yet we are told that there is but one Church, which is Christ's
Mystical Body; and that to belong to the one one must belong to the other.
Are we not faced with a flagrant contradiction ? How can we speak of the necessity of belonging to the visible Church when it teaches that salvation is yet possible to those who recognise no allegiance to it ?
It is not unusual to come up against apparent contradictions where the supernatural is concerned. &sides the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation at once comes to mind as an example. The truth is that we have not the mental equipment to grasp the in wardness of that union by which a human frame and a human mind were the frame and the mind of the
Son of God, or how the growth and development of that man were corn
patible with the transcendent perfection of God Himself. We hold the two ends of the chain : we cannot see how the intervening links combine.
If that is so with the Incarnation, and in so many other Casts, it would be strange if we could put clearly before our minds the " inwardness " of that corporate union of mankind with God, which is the Church. 1 here is always a " mystery" where God's grace is at work, and a humble approach to it is called for. We may thereby be granted some new hint or suggestion as to the nature of this wonderful creation of God for the good estate of man.
IT may help towards an elucida
tion of the problem if we consider the notion of dimensions.
Let us suppose we are living in Flatland. We can only imagine things in two dimensions : we have no experience of thickness or of height. We have an acute perception of distances, of straight ways and of ways round. If we were told that there is a third dimension, that as we can go this way and that, other creatures exist who can go up and down too, we should—if we could trust our informant—have to take it on faith, unable as we are to imagine what up and down may mean. Or again, living as we do in our three-spatial dimensions, we find it difficult to imagine a fourth, let alone the it dimensions which the mathematician plays with so confidently. Yet that the fourth dimension is " real " we can have no doubt, since from it can he derived all kinds of knowledge about our three-dimensional world which would otherwise be closed to us. • So that we have in both these illustrations instances of a reality which includes varioui truths the compatibility of which we are unable to picture. So would I see the Church, which in its full dimensions I call the Et-cies-1a, reserving for the moment the word "Church " for the visible organisation. The Ecclesia includes both the state of grace and the visible organisation. Speaking of the latter. we often speak as if we were in Flatland—overlooking for the time all the up-and-down. Or else we speak of it in Euclidean terms— oblivious of the truths of the nonEuclidean geometries, with their multiple dimensions.
WHEN we speak, then, of the necessity of belonging to the Church in order to be saved, we are leaving out of consideration all that dimension to which belongs the state. of grace. That this is so is shown by our ignoring the fact that members of the Church may be in mortal sin and in as much danger of being lost as any who do not belong to the Church.
On the other hand, when we speak of the salvation of those who do not belong to the Church, we are thinking of their union with God by His grace—with or without baptism— and neglecting for the moment the question of their relation to the Church.
If, before, we were talking • in Flatland--or, shall we say, " Floorland "—we might say we are here talking in "Wall-land." In fact, just as the Catholic sinner had a dimension missing, lying flat on the ground, so the others have a dimen
sion missing clinging flat to the wall. Both are incomplete in different ways.
But the Ecclesia in her solidity can include both: not only the pharisaic Monsignor or religious, but also the sincere Reunionist, who is eclectic in his concessions to the horizontal; not only the sinning member of the Church, but the nonsinning, if misguided, repudiator of the Church.
Incomplete as each is. their respective relationships to the Ecclesia are very different. The first, by his baptism and the availability of countless spiritual aids, is all the more inexcusable if he does not recover the freedom of the dimension of grace which he has lost; the other, who possibly is not even baptised, may, for all the grace that he enjoys, never come to recognise that new dimension which the Church would give him. The first is incomplete through his own fault. but, please God, only for a time; the second is incomplete through no fault of his (as we suppose). but there is more likelihood of his remaining so, though we grant that this state is not a fatal one.
The first, if he does not recover himself, will remain " floored "; the second, if he does not slip. can at least reach the ceiling.
yET they have something in common. Indeed, so has every Catholic, whether sinner or not, with every non-Catholic, be he in the state of grace or not.
No one is in a finished state until his death. Everyone, by each stimulation of conscience in the course of his everyday life, is being called on to shape himself. or to exercise and thus to reinforce that moulding of himself which he owes to God's grace. A neglect of this, a refusal in principle to concur in this law of life, cannot leave unaltered one's relation to God Who
has made man so. One and all have to maintain " good faith."
This means that in each one's attitude there must he included the readiness for new unexpected obligations — however they may come—new realisations of God's will for each one personally,
The Catholic may be faced with the choice between his job (or even his freedom or his life) and his faith. The non-Catholic may be faced by the choice between the life he has been used to, and—becoming a Catholic. Both are being " tried"; both are being offered a precious spiritual development and both will be succoured by grace if they resolve to accept the offer. But the possibility of such tragic and sublime choices involves the need to exclude from one's normal outlook any sense of complacency, of being the "finished " product. of " perfectionism."
This humility before God's Providence is of the very essence of the vertical dimension. It need not be very explicit, but without it the Catholic remains flat on the floor, and the non-Catholic has lost his hold upon the wall.
To live according to it is all that
matters; but the real personal obligations arising from it will vary immensely, and their external fulfilment will be very different. "Extra Ecelesiam mina salus ": there can be no exception to this necessity of belonging to that vertical dimension of the Ecclesia.
But the vertical dimension is not unrelated to the horizontal basis, to the " Church " in the narrower connotation which we have given it, That narrower connotation is, of
course, only an abstraction. In reality the Church includes the vertical too, and the fact that some of her members are crawling in Flatland does not deprive the Church of her solidity. The Church is always holy, be her unholy members never so many. But all who share in the vertical are related really, though in different ways, to the sheerly 'empirical" Church. Her members, who know her to be God's chosen home for those who believe in Him, can have no share in the vertical if they repudiate her, however good they may be in other ways. And those who know her not for what she is belong to the vertical (if they do at all), not by the mistaken ideas, religious or otherwise, which are theirs, but partly by what they already have of hers, and chiefly through that readiness of soul to respond to God's call wherever their conscience may point to. For that means that the day when they recognise the Church for what she is—Christ's own foundation—they will not hesitate to "leave all things" and follow the call.
The service of God " with limitations " is no service " in spirit and in truth "; but an unqualified readiness for God's will creates just as real a relationship with the true visible Church as exists between a pillar and the socket prepared to receive it, even before it is lodged home.
In fact, however little they may be aware of it, the "saints " "outside" " the Church" maintain their position within the Ecclesia only in so far as they are in a real, if subconscious, relationship with that visible body which is known as th•• Roman Catholic Church.
if-TAVE we come any nearer to defining " membership of the Church "?
We have recognised that there is an ambiguity in the terms " member" and " body" and we can guard ourselves against uncon scious paralogisms. We are now aware that we have to do with a single complex reality — called Ecclesia above--of which we can only deal with certain aspects at a time, but never comprehensively with the whole.
This one reality is indeed the Church of Christ, His Mystical Body, and, as the Catholic sees it. its only visible, organic, and organised manifestation is the Roman Catholic Church. The menibership of this visible body is plain for all to see.
As for the rest, for those who are not members, and yet share in the life of Christ's Church, to speak of their being its "members" would be confusing. They belong to it in spirit, and that is already much: their wish and ours is that we should one day, all alike, be the visible members of the one visible Church of Christ.