Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The People of God as Mankind, the Jews, and the Church. Reflections on 'Lumen Gentium' and Thomas White O.P.

by David Pence

Christianity divided against itself a thousand years ago in the Greek and Slavic countries of Eurasia, and then 500 years later in  German-speaking Western Europe. Over the last several centuries the Gospel form of social organization entered Asia, but not as deeply as the Western economic forces of Marxism and mercantilism. The divisions of Christianity bore bitter fruits in the 20th century.

From Germany, the heart of the Protestant Reformation, there came a pagan warrior hybrid of Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche. From Orthodox Russia, a westernized scientific materialism took shallow but terrible root and expelled the public expressions of Christianity in Czar and Patriarch. In Asia, a Shinto racial cult of the Japanese super-race employed western technology and drove out the white British, Dutch, and Russian imperialists while dividing China into new racial entities of a Greater East Asia co-Prosperity Sphere. The two countries who did the most to defeat the racial empires of Nazi Germany and Shinto Japan suffered the most casualties of the wars. Both Russia and China emerged as powerful military Communist states. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant powers of the United States and the British Empire with the old white Dominions (Australia and New Zealand and Canada) joined a rebuilt Catholic Europe as an integrated union in a military-economic alliance called the West. They rebuilt and integrated their German and Japanese enemies in the alliance and declared a sometimes religious, sometimes economic, war against their previous allies -- the new Communist states of China and the Soviet Union.

In the midst of this bloody century, in the shadow of growing nuclear arsenals, the Catholic Church as the visible worldwide expression of Christianity assembled a Council. What could the Christians say to humanity after such devastating violence and evil ideology had risen within Christendom itself?

More than 2,400 Catholic bishops from 116 countries speaking more tongues than were present at the first Pentecost presented the good news again of Jesus Christ, Son of God -- the light to the nations. At the first Pentecost, Peter surrounded by his fellow apostles and filled with the Holy Spirit braved the streets of Jerusalem and spoke to the "Men of Judea." The King of the Jews and his sacral brotherhood went first to the Jews and proclaimed that the Scriptures had been fulfilled and the Jewish Messiah had come. He had been killed, had been raised from the dead and was establishing the Kingdom of God on earth as it was in heaven. Some 2,000 years later that apostolic brotherhood as Council Fathers would address their opening message (Oct 20, 1962) to all men. Previous Councils addressed the bishops of the Church or the faithful. This Council spoke to all men. It marked a crystallization for the Church in understanding her perfection and mission were tied to a reconstituted humanity.  
Thomas White, a Dominican priest, calls Vatican II (1962-1965) the third  council of modernity after Trent (1545-1563) and Vatican I (1869-1870).  In his article, The Tridentine Genius of Vatican Two, he proposes John Henry Newman as the best guide to understanding these "modern Councils."

Newman described the mysterious reality of the living Church: "Through time, the Church goes from being herself more intensively to being herself more fully, from stem to blossom. It is not merely that there are common ideas that persist, though this is true and especially important. It is also that there is a common dynamic development of the inner life of the Church in the world, a mysterious life spanning across ages, growing in a consistent fashion. Not human political art, but divine supernatural life, is the essence of Catholic Christianity."

The 16th-century Council of Trent

Father White described the Council of Trent asserting the visible unified nature of the Church against the centrifugal momentum of the Protestants: "The Church is as visible as the kingdom of France. The unity of the Christian religion is grounded in something very visible and particular: the seven sacraments. Water, oil, the Eucharist, spoken words of forgiveness, a society of ordained clerics, the grace of married love, these are the humble vehicles, encountered in concrete instances, that communicate to the world the grace of communion with God. In defining the seven sacraments as both signs and true causes of grace, the Council of Trent made everything very tangible: This sacramental economy is at the heart of the Christian life."

Three centuries later, Vatican I faced the totalizing claims of nation states conscripting their adult males into the powerful national armies and the new elevated status of citizen soldiers. Armed Political Community would reorganize Public Life. To answer Napoleon and his offspring, says White, "the Catholic Church insisted on the visible bond among all Christians, in visible communion with the pope, the center of all Christendom. His juridical authority to govern and unite the faithful is the living sign of a deeper vitality that transcends the secular state and the particularities of nationalist politics." The Church unites humanity over and above the totalizing ideologies of the modern nation-state. The Papal States fell, the papal claims grew.

Italy around the time of Christopher Columbus (born in Genoa c. 1450)

At Vatican II the Church met as a concrete and visible reality. There were three corporate bodies referred to as the People of God. The People of God in history and nature were first and foremost all of humanity under Adam and Eve, and then Noah and his sons. The Jews were then elected as a separated people. The Jews were forged into a new covenant by a series of separations that kept them holy for the laws of God and presence of God which they experienced in a unique way. The sacred always implies separation; and the election of the Jews was just such a setting aside. This necessary separation allowed the matrix within which the message of the angel could be delivered to the virgin. The third group called the People of God is the Church. She would play a more integrative role as both a template and scaffolding for humanity. If Noah's Ark had to keep the drowning out, the Church's Ark was throwing lifelines everywhere. Father White describes the Church as "the key to the mysterious working of grace in all of humanity." He then turns this around to make a statement about the human race: "This is the deeper mystery of the human race: the visible, sacramental ecclesiality of life in Christ… is the key to unlocking the inner secret at work in that world. At the heart of the world is the mystery of Christ and the Church."

The Second Vatican Council's document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, put it this way: "The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race."

[From White's essay] "Vatican II  universalizes or expands the comprehension of what is already present at Trent. The human person is called into a visible and invisible fellowship with God, within a unified ecclesial body...

"Trent taught that the infusion of faith, hope, and love together turn the human person freely and voluntarily away from sin and back toward God, all through the power of Christ.  Charity, however, is not only interior but lived out in the street... The inner core of this Catholic militancy is based on a deep understanding of the all-embracing character of religion. Since charity impels the human person toward the service of God in all things, it is not feasible to ask the religious person to quarantine his or her belief behind the walls of private life. Catholic charity bears fruit through public, Christian institutions.

"A plant under attack from disease will protect the roots and the stem and let the flowers go. These earlier configurations of Catholicism are like the root and the stem of modern Catholicism, wherein the life of the modern Church is expressed in concentrated fashion. But we cannot do without the Second Vatican Council. The stem and the root are meant to flower, and the flowering of the Church occurs through the Christian life of charity and the public, credible proclamation of the truth, the realities of her life developed and articulated at Vatican II. "...Both Divine authority and human rationality flowers at Vatican II, bringing to greater fullness what is in seed at Trent and stem at Vatican I."

The October 20, 1962 Opening Message of the Council was addressed by:

                                          The  Fathers of the Council to all men:
"This very councilor congress of ours so impressive in the diversity of races, nations, and languages -does it not bear witness to a community of brotherly love and shine as a visible sign of it? We are giving witness that all men are brothers, whatever their race or nation."
"We trust the Holy Spirit, call on our brethren, fellow Christians and all men of good will that through love, God's Kingdom on earth may may already shine out on earth in some fashion as a preview of God's eternal kingdom."  

The Council demonstrated an apostolic masculine love, a form of Charity which is the public manifestation of Christian culture. It is seen in every diocese as a bishop and his presbytery, every monastery with an abbot and his monks, every religious order with a Superior and the members. This is the Pope and his bishops. It is Christ and then Peter and the apostles. It should come as no surprise that this form of love is grounded in the natural order of humanity. These same brotherly bonds of affection are the masculine sinews of political fraternity and citizenship in nations under God.


The Church has been convoked by a Divine Authority as a sacramentally visible order. The nations (both explicitly Christian and those drawn into a larger matrix shaped by Christian forms) are being called into an ordered love to embrace God as Father and all men as brothers while rejecting and expelling the Evil One with his murder and deceit. The Church, indeed, is a great mystery -- it is a seed that can only be fully perfected in the ordered blossoming of the human race as a fraternity of nations protecting a universal Church. The original People of God were Adam and Eve and their descendants. After the great diabolical scattering, a new People of God were set apart to flower in Mary, Mother of the Church. Then the third People of God were given birth to reintegrate the sons of Adam in our final perfection as the Body of Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment