John Foster AYOUNG man entering a seminary today to study for the priesthood, and comparing his present situation with that of twenty-five years ago, would be aware above all else of the new importance now being given to doctrine about the Church herself.
Certainly no other doctrine in modern times has received such development and enrichment.
Today it has pride of place in the course of theology, is fusing into a new order and harmony biblical, ethical, catechetical, liturgical studies, and is at the heart of the deep personal and spiritual formation of the future clergy.
THE extent of the change which has come about in the presentation of this central mystery of Christianity is particularly striking when one remembers that only 25 years ago the thesis de Ecclesia (concerning the Church herself) was a minor thesis in a general apologetics course, mainly anti-Protestant in inspiration and, consequently, more a defence of the hierarchic government in the Church than anything else.
Today it has flowered into an immense outward breathing of a living Presence in the world, the vital underlying principle of unity for a world humanism in the making.
Take the word "universal", for example. The simple truth of the catechism answer that "catholic means universal" is now capable of being understood in its purest sense. Once interpreted as "a spreading outwards", it is now seen as "a gathering together". Universal: a bringing together, a natural turning of mankind in all its richly-variegated hues and along all its labrynthine ways to find completion in the Totu,v Christus, Christ's Social Body, the Church.
The gathering together its oneness, in an already existing oneness: the raising up and restoring back into unity with God every human person and every human value.
DOPE PIUS XII spoke once of the Church's tireless and gentle following of the providential road of time and circumstance as the deep meaning of her vital mystery of adaptation.
"As Christ assumed a real human nature, so the Church likewise assumes the fullness of all that is authentically human, and by elevating it makes it a source of supernatural power in whatever place and under whatever form she finds it."
Today we are at the beginning of a pew missionary era in the history of the Church. The mark of this era is already recognisable as that of an organic universality Yesteryear it was deemed ade• quate that the Church was established with her life of truth and grace in every part of the globe Today the situation demands more. Her presence in the very heart of present human history must become an organic presence. Whereever she is. she must inaugurate an exchange of life and energy, both between herself and others, and between nations themselves.
This is not only to complete her own expression or to bring any one people or group of peoples to their full development as members of the Malian family but in the interests of human solidarity itself and of universal mankind.
FVERY nation or
people contributes to the life and development of the Church whatever they represent of humanity: and she in her turn breathes into it her own divine principle of life, thus effecting the mysterious synthesis of the divine and the human which is the fullness and completion of the Body of Christ.
But where our missionary era differs from that brought to such a fine conclusion by Pope Pius XI is that the possibilities of the Church's mission to mankind have become considerably enlarged.
One can illustrate the point best by comparing what are regarded as two most significant gestures by Pius XI and Pius XII as missionary Popes. 1926 and 1939 were the dates. The short interval between them indicates the rapidity with which the situation facing the Church had changed and how remarkably quickly she reacted to it.
Many will still remember the occasion in 1926 when the Pope of the Missions consecrated six Chinese bishops in St. Peter's. Rome, thus voicing his belief in a native hierarchy and clergy as the finest flower of missionary effort. fn the first year of Pius Xll's pontificate twelve bishops "truly representative of peoples or groups of peoples of the most varied kind" were anointed by him in the same basilica.
THE word "foreign" was henceforward no longer to be attached to the missionary work of the Church in pagan lands, for the gesture of Pius XII meant that the foreign missionary lands had now graduated to a normal existence in the Church, no longer had a distinct existence of their own as foreign missionary countries.
Each had now to be seen as ready and capable of making its own specific contribution to the supernatural and super-human life of the Church, as also to a new community of nations.
All this means that within the space of very few years the Church had recognised that her mission to mankind had arrived at a new stage in its continual development.
Now, in very reality, the possibilities svere open to her of becoming the actual vital principle of unity in modern world society. Shc was in a position to blend the nations of the world together, supplying the only basis of unity for a world facing a crisis of unification.
HE second mission
1 ary era of the Church which reached its climax with native hierarchies and clergy and the emergence of a strong laity under Pius XI had shown that peoples and nations could reach their highest aspirations only with the sufficiently spiritual impetus of Christianity.
The third missionary era inaugurated by Pius XII was to build up on this authentic concept of nationhood a gathering together of all the nations into a true Christian internationalism and in a proper spirit of collaboration and exchange.
Sociologists and industrial psychologists tell us today that in our highly-involved and complex industrialised, urbanised society, the progressive emancipation of mankind has now reached a stage when the present executive society must, to survive, develop into an educe-, tional one in which the individual person will enrich himself to become again responsible for the building of a new community.
Pius XII in advocating a missionary charity in the hearts of the faithful "which instead of taking oneself as a model in judging others opens one's mind sincerely and wide in an effort to understand them. to esteem and love them" was placing the stamp of a universal concern and solicitude on authentic Christian life.
He was stating that every Catholic was a missionary, not in the old romantic sense, but in the new realistic sense of a consciousness of being at one and the same time both a member of the human race and of an organically universal Church, with much to give but also much to receive.