Jacques Maritain Center : On the Church of Christ


The Person of the Church Is Indefectibly Holy
Her Personnel Is Not


In Order to Complete Our Views
on the Personality of the Church

1. I have spoken a great deal already of the person of the Church; I would like to return a last time to this subject, in order to try to provide the final precisions which seem to me necessary, it being well understood that the concepts and the words which we have to use here are analogical, since they concern realities of the supernatural order.

The Church, we have seen, has a "created" soul, which is the grace of Christ diffused in her members and causing them to participate in the infinite grace which is in Him and in the very life of God. Considered in all those of her members who live by grace, and according as they live by it, one must say with Bossuet that the Church is "Christ diffused and communicated."

Let us think of the soul of Christ Himself: this soul, being created, is finite as to its being, but it had already on earth, at least according as at the same time as viator it was comprehensor,{1} and it continues to have in Heaven, where it is only comprehensor, a grace infinite in its order or as to its formal effect, in other words to a point of perfection absolutely supreme and unsurpassable. Since the person of Christ is the uncreated Person of the Word Himself, it is connaturally that He sees God, in other words the grace which radiates in the soul of Christ comprehensor is as it were the asymptote toward which tends without ever being able to attain it the curve of ascending perfection of all the graces receivable by a mere creature. Thus the plenitude of grace is absolute in Christ.

Let us think of the soul of the Blessed Virgin: the grace which is in the latter is not infinite, Mary being a mere creature; but this grace (which increased during her whole life here on earth) is more exalted than that of any other mere creature, since Mary is Mother of God, humble woman at the confines of divinity. Plenitude of grace in the line of that which is accessible to the mere creature.

Let us think of the soul of the Church: this soul is the pleroma of all the graces which are given to men here on earth, in proportion as time advances, and which in Heaven, where they are consummated grace, constitute the glory of the holy angels and of the blessed. For the Church also, therefore, plenitude of grace (to an increasing degree as long as the Church of the earth has not completed her pilgrimage) in the line of that which is accessible to the mere creature.

2. The soul of the Church is the grace of Christ, which, -- consummated grace in Heaven, informs there a multitudinous body of angels and of separated souls who see God, -- and, grace in growth on the earth, informs there and builds for itself there an organized multitudinous body, composed of men who profess the apostolic faith, receive the Sacraments, and recognize the authority of the Pope and of the bishops.

Grace is given to each one individually. But it is one according as it emanates from Christ Who distributes to each a part of His infinite treasure, and according as it binds to each other, in the communion of saints, all those who receive it.

It is by virtue of this unity in its source (Christ) and in its term (the communion of saints) that the soul of the Church, and, forming but a single being with it, the multitudinous body which it informs and builds for itself, can, by reason of the image of Christ which God sees in the being thus constituted, receive supernaturally, as we have noted, a true subsistence, -- perfectly one itself and sealing the whole in its unity, -- which is the metaphysical foundation of the personality of the Church: case absolutely unique, which is the property and the mark of the mystery of the Church.

3. What is the place, what is the role of the Virgin Mary in the economy of this mystery? The theologians have much debated this point.{2} I am going to venture to propose what, in the perspective in which I am placed, seems to me to be true in this matter.

The Blessed Virgin is not above the Church, as Christ is, caput super Ecclesiam. She is in the Church, and in the communion of saints.

It is clear from the very first that the Immaculate One is in the Church as reigning, by virtue of her immense and incomparable holiness, over the whole human and angelic multitude which composes the latter, since she is queen of the angels and queen of the apostles, and omnipotentia supplex. In other words, she is, with all her personal holiness, member of the Church by royal title.

But she is also in the Church by another more important title.

Let us recall that she is universal mediatrix,{3} and that this function includes two aspects. On the one hand, Mary, by her personal initiative, or as "proper cause," prays, beseeches, carries our prayers and our complaints and our miseries before God.

And, on the other hand, God uses her prayers, her supplications, her love itself and the movements of her heart as an "instrumental cause" through the means of which He, who is the principal Agent, gives to the Church and to each of the members of the latter all that which He gives to them. This is why St. Bernadine of Sienna{4} compared her to the neck which joins the head to the body. Let us say -- which seems to me a much better manner of speaking -- that being the Mother of the Church and carrying her so to speak in her womb just as she had carried Jesus, it is through her that God and the glorious Christ cause instrumentally to pass all the gifts and all the graces with which they nourish the Church.

4. Well, once disengaged before our eyes, it is this aspect, the instrumental aspect which we have to consider, and no longer with regard to the prayer and the love of Mary, but with regard to her person herself. We shall say then that, more fundamentally and more intimately certainly than by her royal title, Mary is in the Church by an instrumental title which is entirely unique. She is not in the Church, after the manner of the other members of the latter, as assumed by the personality of the Church. She is in the Church as immanent in the very personality of the Church, through the instrumental influx, always present in this personality, of the "model"{5} or of the sign by means of which God confers it on the Church. This "model" or this sign which God renders operative in making use of it instrumentally is the person of Mary Immaculate, who is herself the living image of Christ, and whom God uses in order to imprint in the Church (soul and body forming but one), by reason of the image of Christ which He sees in her, the seal of a supernatural subsistence.

The Blessed Virgin being thus rendered, through the divine action, immanent in the personality of the Church, there is nothing in the latter which is not first in Mary. Mary is holy and full of grace before the Church. Was not Mary herself, at the foot of the Cross, the type and the figure of the Church, or rather, at that moment, the Church herself? It is through the instrumentality of Mary that the Church, the Church of Christ come,{6} is holy and full of grace in Heaven and on earth, and that on the earth her holiness and her plenitude of grace increase until the last day. When everything will be consummated, and when the Church will be completely gathered together in glory, then one can think that the holiness and the plenitude of glory of all her members taken together will be henceforth equal to those of their queen, who will have given everything.

5. That meanwhile, and as long as she makes her way on the earth, the person of the Church can be holy while being composed of members who are all sinners to some degree and keep all, to some degree, the wounds of nature left by the first sin, -- we have seen how it is fitting to explain this: personality being a metaphysical completion of the soul and of the body joined together, and the soul of the Church being sanctifying grace itself, it is only according as we live by this grace that we are assumed by the personality of the Church.

The watershed passes through the heart of each man, the pure waters belonging to the holiness of the Church, of which the grace which operates in us makes us participants; the impure waters belonging to our weakness and to our strayings. In the very measure in which I yield to sin I escape from the personality of the Church.

How the Person of the Church Is Visible

6. What to say now of the visibility of this person of the Church who transcends that of her members,{7} and who includes in her only that which in each of her members on earth does not slip away from sanctifying grace?

"Person" in itself or as metaphysical entity is invisible, in the Church as in each of us. In the Church as in each of us it is visible to the eyes through its body, to the intellect through the signs which emanate from it and which manifest it.

Materially considered, or considered as mere human multitude, not as person, the Church is all the baptized, -- whether they live in grace or in sin, -- who are a part of the tissues and articulations of her body and who profess the Catholic faith. Such a multitude is indeed visible, but it is not the person of the Church.

Formally considered, or considered as supernatural person transcending the personality of her members, the Church is all those, in this organized multitude, who live by grace and by charity. This person of the Church is visible to the eyes and to the intellect, but in confuso, not distinctly (except in certain well-determined cases) -- I mean that not knowing the depth of hearts we cannot trace any line which would mark the contours of the person of the Church in the midst of the multitude of Catholic denomination of which I have just spoken. However, without being able to trace the contours of her, we know well that she is there, since Christ said: "I shall be with you until the end of time." We know that for a large part, which remains indistinct for us (if not for the angels), and which is doubtless larger than we think, the members of the organized multitude of Catholic denomination are truly in act (and not only in a virtual{8} or potential{9} manner) a sanctified people, the people of God. We know that a Pope can be a great sinner, but that -- a condition presupposed by his charisma ("strengthen your brothers") -- he will never lose the faith;{10} and that the episcopal body also will never lose the faith (although bishops individually taken can fall into heresy, at least through weakness, -- one saw this too well, and very abundantly, at the time of Arianism). And all the holy works which are produced in the bosom of the Christian community; and all the testimonies which are borne in it to justice and to fraternal love; and the solicitude which appears in it to defend human dignity, to aid the weak and the innocent, to render the structures of human life more worthy of a being made in the image of God; and the light and the charity of which we have been able to receive personally the help close by a good priest or a Christian friend, -- all of this renders visible in confuso the person of the Church.

7. Finally, if one asks by what ways and in what cases she manifests herself, no longer in confuso, but distinctly, so that we are absolutely sure of seeing her face, there are the canonized saints{11} and the Blessed Virgin above them all; absolutely sure of seeing her act, there is the whole sacramental order, and above all the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist; absolutely sure of hearing her voice when she speaks to God, there is the Divine Office;{12} absolutely sure of hearing her voice when she speaks to men, there is the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope speaking ex cathedra, and of the ecumenical Councils establishing and specifying the doctrine of the faith and of morals, as also the ordinary magisterium of the teaching constantly and universally given since the apostolic age by the episcopal body in union with the Pope.

If the preceeding considerations cause in some manner, -- except in the cases which I mentioned just now, -- the visibility of the person of the Church to recede into a certain shadow, I am far from complaining about it: on the one hand, indeed, this separates, as is necessary, and shelters this mysterious and holy person from the unreadable literature (pious or "contesting") of which the common run of Churchmen have the secret, and from the tumult of human words with which they think they have to gratify our ears under the pretext of leading us to God, and to the great silence in which He gives Himself.

On the other hand, and above all, this brings to light the difference which it is important to recognize between the person of the Church and her personnel.


The Personnel of the Church Is Neither
Indefectibly Holy Nor Always Inerrant

1. What I call the personnel of the Church is the men who, by the fact that they belong to the secular or regular clergy, are recognized servants of the Church, and, in particular, those of them who from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy have the responsibility of authority with regard to the Christian people.

Their mission sets them apart, but as to personal behavior and to the wounds of nature they are men like the others, and members of the Church like the others, all exposed to falling more or less gravely into error and sin. And those who have the responsibility of authority can, in the very exercise of this responsibility, err more or less gravely, either in their conduct in matters of practical decision and of government, or in what they say and what they do in matters of doctrine (except when the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium of the Church is in play, and when they find themselves then protected from all error concerning faith and morals).

Of these failures and of these errors the historians can draw up very long lists. Some of them, -- failures of omission or of commission, -- have been very grave. To tell the truth, when one reflects on that of which men who hold such a formidable power as a power directly received from God would be capable, if they were left to their sole forces and to their sole instincts;what appears the more astonishing is that the failures and the errors in question have not been much more numerous still and much more grave.

2. The sins into which, with regard to their own moral behavior, certain members of the personnel of the Church happen to fall, -- whether it is a question of pride of spirit or of the weaknesses of the flesh, or of the allurements of prestige and of riches, -- have certainly repercussions on the flock which they are commissioned to tend and on the manner in which they lead it. However it is not these failures and these errors concerning individual morality which interest me here, but indeed those which concern the exercise of authority in the Church.{13}

For what poses a problem is the fact that through a personnel liable to err in the exercise of the authority which it has received from God, -- for example when it holds as incompatible with the faith assertions which are not, or as guilty of moral aberrations someone who later will be canonized, -- we could, in the cases which I mentioned at the end of the first part of this chapter, be put in the presence of the person herself of the Church, see her act, and receive from her the truths revealed by God which it belongs to her to propose to us.

Proper Causality and Instrumental Causality

1. The key which gives the solution of the problem is, shall I say, the distinction between proper causality and instrumental causality.

Let us recall first some metaphysical truths of an entirely general order. When a human creature acts as proper cause, or as principal agent, he has in the created order, under the motion of God Who inclines him to what is just and good, the full mastery of his act, and he can, through the liberty with which he is endowed, and according to a law of nature which God engages His honor to respect always, take an absolutely first initiative of nothingness which shatters this motion toward the good, and it is an evil or disordered act which he produces then.{14}

When this same human creature acts as instrumental cause, under a motion which comes from God, the act which he accomplishes as instrument{15} cannot clearly but be righteous to this extent.

2. It is the same, proportionately speaking, with the personnel of the Church. With regard to his private morality, a member of this personnel is in the same case as any other human creature. With regard to what he does as servant of the Church, and especially in the exercise of the authority which he has received from God, he is, according to the divine promise made to the Church of Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit, Who inclines him to the right judgment and to full fidelity to truth, in short to the good for which he has been constituted servant of the Church.

But if he acts as proper cause, the assistance of the Holy Spirit is an aid which is offered to him and from which he can slip away through his fault.

It can happen also that without withdrawing from the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and without fault on his part, the limitations of human nature and those of the historical development, and the obstacles of every sort created by them, prevent him from having knowledge of such and such a particular truth which it would be necessary for him to see in order not to err, or in order to make a right judgment in such and such given circumstances.

In short, when he acts as proper cause, a member of the personnel of the Church is liable to error.

On the contrary, when he acts as instrumental cause in the hands of the First Cause, the assistance of the Holy Spirit is a divine motion which passes through him in order to produce its effect; then he acts, he speaks, but it is the Holy Spirit Who acts through him and speaks through him.

There are certainly many cases in which such or such members of the personnel of the Church speak and act through Him. But is is only in the cases which I mentioned above that we are sure that they speak and act thus.

I have just spoken of the cases in which a man acts, under the assistance of the Holy Spirit, not as proper cause, but as instrumental cause moved by the Holy Spirit.

What matters to me now is to envisage the same distinction between proper causality and instrumental causality with regard to this "principal agent" which is the person of the Church. I hold that every member of the Church, especially every member of her personnel, can act either as proper cause, or, if God wishes it, as instrumental cause brought into play by the person of the Church.

The thing is essential to my eyes, because it is only when someone acts or speaks as instrumental cause brought into play by the Church that it is the Church herself who acts or speaks (through him), in other words that we are then in the presence of the person herself of the Church, as it happens when the Pope speaks ex cathedra.

The idea that the Church can use the instrumentality of one of her members, so that through him it is she herself who speaks or acts, is, I believe, a new idea, which has therefore need of being explained and justified. Without entering into too many technical details, it seems to me that such a justification scarcely presents any difficulty, from the moment that one admits the central notion, upon which I am insisting so much in this book, of the personality, in the strong or ontological sense, supernaturally conferred by God on the Church by reason of the image of Christ present in her. Case absolutely unique, the personality of the Church is as really personality as that of an individual man, but, -- and this is the proper mystery of the Church, -- it is the supernatural personality of an immense multitude composed itself of human persons, or free agents, whose natural personality is transcended by this personality supernaturally conferred on the Church.

Consequently it is in two different senses that it is fitting to understand the word "member" of the Church. I shall say that a man is a mere "numerical member" of the Church according as he is a unity in the multitude which composes the latter, in the manner in which such or such an individual is a unity in the multitude of the citizens of a country. He acts then as proper cause.

And I shall say that he is a "functional member" of the person of the Church when the latter uses him in the manner in which I, an individual person, use one of my members or one of my organs in order to do that which I intend to do, -- in the manner for example in which I use my hand in order to write. Then my hand is the conjoined instrument which I use in order to do that which I wish. Likewise when the Head of the whole Church of Heaven and of the earth, the Lord Jesus, wishes to use someone as a functional member or a conjoined instrument of the person of the Church, it is the action of the person herself of the Church which passes through the instrumentality of this someone.

The man in question is a free agent, and it is upon his liberty itself, as conjoined instrument of the person of the Church, that the all-powerful motion of Christ, Head of the person of the Church, exercises itself, without even his being conscious of it (for it is freely, as in his ordinary conduct, that he decides and acts); he is then acted upon in order to act; it is the person herself of the Church who speaks or acts through his instrumentality when he speaks and acts. And in such a case he cannot err; it is the infallibility of the Church of Heaven and of the earth, the infallibility of the person of the Church which passes through him.

The Sacramental Order

1. The sacramental order belongs itself entirely to instrumental causality. It is God alone Who is the cause of the efficacy of the sacramental words, as principal agent using them instrumentally.{16} This is why a Sacrament is as really effected by a morally bad minister as by a morally good minister, and by an inattentive minister as by an attentive minister; I shall return in a moment to this last point.

With this however all is not said. I think indeed that to this consideration on the effectuation of a Sacrament by God alone as principal agent, it is fitting to add another one bearing on the minister as human subject moved himself instrumentally when he utters the sacramental words: so that we have to distinguish between the instrumentality, with regard to God alone, of the sacramental words and of the human act which produces them insofar as it has them for term, and the instrumentality, with regard to God and to the person of the Church, of the man from whom they emanate, and of the act through which he produces them insofar as it proceeds from his subjectivity.

In this second consideration, I say that the human subject (and his act insofar as it proceeds from him as subject) is at one and the same time instrument of God and instrument of the person of the Church. It is necessary indeed to remark that if the person of the Church serves herself as instrument{17} for God and for Christ, she can however, in the sense which I have just specified, be at the same time, in the order proper to the mere creature, second principal agent, using as instrument such or such of her members, in particular such or such of her ministers.

This causality of the person of the Church intervenes in absolutely no way in the efficacy (it depends on God alone) of the sacramental words. But how would the person of the Church not be, in the created order, principal agent using instrumentally the priest (and his act insofar as it proceeds from him as subject), if it is true that the priest effecting a Sacrament acts in persona totius Ecclesiae, in the person of the whole Church?

Why is a Sacrament as really effected by an inattentive priest as by an attentive priest? Because, says St. Thomas,{18} it is indeed true that, the priest being an animated instrument, and moving himself in some manner himself, it is necessary that there be in him the intention to "do what Christ and the Church do." But supposing that this intention is absent from the mind of the priest, or that a distraction renders him inattentive to it, the required intention is there all the same, quia minister sacramenti agit in persona totius Ecclesiae, because the minister of the Sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church. Expressions such as agit in persona totius Ecclesiae or ex parte totius Ecclesiae{19} have an acceptable sense only if one understands that the person of the Church is then second principal agent.{20} It is necessary that the intention of the Church be really there, and truly active. It is the intention of the person of the Church which, through the instrumentality of the priest, informs and animates the act of the latter.

What does this mean, if not that when the priest effects the Sacrament, his act, insofar as it has for term the sacramental words, is certainly the instrument of God alone; but that this same act, considered insofar as it proceeds from the decision of the human subject, is at one and the same time the instrument of God and that of the Church, who, moved herself by God and by Christ, applies to act, through an instrumental motion, this human subject who is the priest, in other words acts herself through the instrumentality of the latter? It is the person of the Church who speaks through the priest, when the latter, be he inattentive or be he morally bad, utters the sacramental words.

I know that I am very rash in proposing thus a complementary explicitation to the classical treatise of the Sacraments. But since I undertook to write this book, it is necessary indeed that I omit nothing in it of what seems to me essential.{21}

2. Thus therefore it is necessary to say that God alone is the principal agent who accomplishes the Sacraments, in causing the efficacy of the sacramental words uttered by the priest. But let us not hesitate to add that the person of the Church is, in the created order, another principal agent (second) who uses as instrument the minister of the Sacrament in the instant that this human subject, be he distracted or inattentive, utters the words which God alone renders efficacious.

When a priest or a layman confers Baptism on someone, it is the person of the whole Church who confers Baptism on him through the instrumentality of this priest or of this layman. When a priest gives absolution to a penitent, it is the person of the Church who gives him absolution through the instrumentality of this priest. It is the same for all the other Sacraments.

And when a priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is the person of the Church who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass through the instrumentality of this priest. I recall here that the person of the Church is a single and same person in her state of glory and in her state of earthly pilgrimage: it is the Church of the earth who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass; but since she is the same person in Heaven and on earth, one can say that through the Church of the earth and the instrumentality of her priest the Church of Heaven also offers this Sacrifice, "carried to the altar of almighty God by the hands of his holy Angel," per manus sancti Angeli tui.{22} For it is also, and above all, Christ who offers it through the instrumentality of the priest and through that of the Church.

The Jurisdictional and Magisterial Order

1. Contrary to the sacramental order, the jurisdictional and magisterial order, -- through which the personnel of the Church governs itself, exercises its pastoral mission with regard to the people of God, and teaches the latter, -- accords in general a very large part to the proper causality of the ministers of the Church. But, as I indicated a moment ago, instrumental causality has also its part in it: for it is very often as instrument of the Holy Spirit, -- and of the person of the Church, as second principal agent, -- that great servants of the latter, known and unknown, have spoken and acted in the course of the ages, and continue to do so. I note that then instrumental causality (and therefore inerrancy) and proper causality (and therefore possibility of error) find themselves intermingled.

It is that which happens for example with the holy Doctors, the holy preachers, the holy missionaries. And it is above all, it seems to me, that which happened with the Fathers of the Church; in reading them one feels oneself at many moments carried away by a divine breath, which comes from the Holy Spirit and passes through the person of the Church; whereas at other moments it is the phantoms of Plato or of Plotinus which one meets in them, or those of the contingencies of the epoch in which they lived, with the solicitudes of polemics and the hazards of battle which they included.

2. But when it is a question of the ordinary magisterium of the Church, then, if proper causality keeps its part in that which concerns the mode of distribution of the teaching, descending from degree to degree in order to attain hic et nunc the Christian people, it is wholly subordinated to instrumental causality with its inerrancy, which is alone in play in the teaching itself of the truths of faith universally given all along the centuries by the episcopal body, in other words in the "ordinary magisterium of the whole Church dispersed over the earth."{23}

And when one comes to the extraordinary magisterium, to the decrees of the ecumenical Councils in matters of faith and of morals and to the definitions made by the Pope ex cathedra, then (although, in that which concerns the redactional aspect, the style of the conciliar or pontifical documents bears inevitably the marks, sometimes quite pompous, sometimes very discreet, of the ecclesiastical style in a given epoch) the Pope speaking ex cathedra, or the bishops called together by him in ecumenical Council, act, -- I mean in the strict measure in which there is aimed at in what they say the formal teaching to be given (whereas the side issues which do not fall under this aim are not matter of faith), -- under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as instrumental agents of the person of the Church integrally considered (herself acted upon by Christ and the Spirit) when the latter, in her essential unity of Church who sees and of Church who believes, but above all as Church who sees, expands the field of infallibility of the Church of the earth. They are thus the voice of the person of the Church integrally considered speaking to men,{24} and it is her infallibility which is communicated to them.

The Encyclicals of the Pope

1. A special question, quite difficult but one which I do not wish to evade, presents itself with regard to the papal encyclicals. They are not infallible documents; and yet they have an authority such that the assent of our intelligence to them is required. How to explain this? For the intellect is incapable of an adhesion which would be wholly honorary. It can adhere to that which is proposed to it on the authority of a word only if it is sure that through it it holds the truth between its hands.

I think therefore that it does not suffice to say that an encyclical is not an infallible document. It is necessary to add that always it brings us inerrancy or contains the infallibly true. In other words, proper causality and instrumental causality are intermingled in it. If it is not an infallible document, it is because for a certain part the one who wrote it acted as proper cause, liable, however wise he may be, to err in some measure. If it requires the adhesion of my mind, it is because, for a certain part also, and one which matters essentially, the one who wrote it acted as instrument of the Holy Spirit and of the person of the Church, and to this extent could not err. I shall say that when the Pope writes an encyclical, he expounds, explains and develops himself, in his manner, something long meditated concerning which a light come from above has divinely enlightened him. Could one not say, in this sense, that an encyclical is not formally, but is virtually, a teaching ex cathedra?

Let one apply oneself therefore to becoming aware of the infallibly true content which is there: the means to be employed to this end is to discern that which the encyclical has for positive objective and for essential intention to teach us.{25} Of the truth of this I cannot doubt, whereas I can doubt such or such reasons adduced, or desire complements of which the absence annoys me. And if I am incapable of effecting the discernment in question, there remains to me always to tell myself that the Pope is more wise than I, so that of what he says my intellect lays hold as of a precious gangue of which it knows that it contains gold veins of indubitable truths.{26}

2. There are three manners of adhering to an encyclical. The first is to make to it a bow full of reverence, while inveighing against it and judging it inopportune and badly founded. I prefer, in order not to be offensive, to abstain from qualifying this first manner.

The second manner is to adhere to it as if from one end to the other it was an infallible document. He who reads thus an encyclical gives then more than what is asked of him. But as he does it in a spirit of faith, this can be for him the occasion of great graces.{27}

The third manner is the one which I have just indicated, and which I believe normal. It asks that one attempt an effort of the intelligence (is it possible to live by the faith, be one a village illiterate, without having to exercise one's intelligence?). But this third manner does not make of the success of the effort in question a condition of the adhesion which one gives to the pontifical document.

A Final Precision on the Notion of Personnel of the Church

1. I began this chapter by indicating in a few lines what I mean by "the personnel of the Church," and who the ones are who are a part of it. I terminate it by a few considerations concerning the men from whom the personnel of the Church derives its authority all along the course of history, without one being able however to regard them as having themselves been a part of this personnel.

In the sense in which I understand this word, it is necessary to say that the Pope and the bishops are at the summit of the personnel of the Church, as doctors of the faith and pastors of the flock of Christ: the Pope, successor of Peter; the bishops, successors of the apostles. Would it be necessary therefore to say that Peter and the other apostles were also a part of the personnel of the Church? I shall certainly be careful not to do this. If the Pope and the bishops constitute the high personnel of the Church, it is because their authority is that itself of Peter and of the other apostles according as the latter is transmissible. But there were also in the apostles an authority and a privilege absolutely intransmissible.{28} They were the men chosen and established by Christ Himself (be it after his Resurrection, like Paul), or (like Matthias and Barnabas) by the apostolic college itself, by the light of the Spirit of Christ, in order to be the historical foundations of the Church of Christ, her instructors for ever and her norms in the faith, and in order that for all the centuries to come their word would make known to the people of God the revealed truth brought by Christ in its plenitude. They were here on earth at the origin of the Church of Christ come; it is through them, under His all- powerful hand, that Christ founded her and caused her to come into existence.

And at the same stroke they were constituted in her the pillar to which is attached, in order to unfold itself in the course of time, the chain of those who form her personnel. How could they have been themselves a part of this chain? Instruments of Christ in order to cause to appear in time the person of the Church in achieved act, -- of the Church of Christ come,{29} -- how could they have been a part of the personnel which supposes her already constituted and pursuing her duration, and have been like it, in certain given cases, her instrumental agents? It is of Christ alone that they were the instrument.

They served the person of the Church of the earth more and better than anyone here on earth: but as her models for ever, companions here on earth, if I may say, of the risen Christ, and His instruments in the work of foundation of His Church.

2. If therefore, as I wrote at the beginning of this chapter, "the recognized servants of the Church, in particular those who from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy have the responsibility of authority with regard to the people of God," constitute the personnel of the Church, it is according as they came after this age of fire which was that of the foundation of the Church. In men whose function and authority were no longer assigned except for the conservation of the Church in existence and her permanence in duration, the part of proper causality, with the fallibility which it includes, quickly become much greater than in the giants of holiness pressed by the charismas of the 'to-cause-to-surge-into-being.' And as to instrumental causality itself, it is no longer as burning each with a heroic flame, as the apostles in the work of foundation, that they were henceforth the instruments of Christ and of his Spirit; they were, by reason of human weakness and human mediocrity, capable of slipping away often from divine inspiration: it was necessary therefore indeed that of the person of the Church accomplishing here on earth her divine work they be also, in certain given cases, the instruments.

Finally the Pope and the bishops are not chosen and designated by Christ Himself (Whom however one of the Twelve betrayed) or by the college of His apostles, but by men for whom it can happen that, succumbing to the wounds of our nature or to historical circumstances, they slip away, to the extent that God permits it, from the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whether it is a question of the Christian community designating itself its leaders, -- which was the case in the very first times; or, as today, of the cardinals electing the Pope, and of the Pope naming the bishops. As to the person of the Church, she confers upon the members of her personnel, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, an authority which comes from God, but it is not she either who designates them and chooses them; they are chosen and designated by other members of her personnel. It is an inevitable and normal thing that this personnel recruit itself; so that the person of the Church is not by any title, even not by the title of designation,{30} engaged herself in what her personnel can do or say except in the measure in which it is instrumental agent in her regard.

{1} Cf. my book On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus, pp. 50-87. According to the interpretation which I have proposed there, it is in the higher part or the supraconscious paradise of His soul that on earth the grace of Christ was limitless (grace of Jesus as comprehensor). In the lower part of His soul, or the world of consciousness, this grace was finite (grace of Jesus as viator), and it did not cease to grow until the death on the Cross.

{2} Cf. the beautiful book of Father M. J. Nicolas on the mystery of Mary, Théotokos, Tournai, Desclée, 1965.

{3} As the second Council of the Vatican recalled (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Sect. 60), Christ is the sole Mediator, in the full and rigorous sense of the word. But nothing prevents, says St. Thomas (Sum. theol., III, 26, 1), that others than Christ be termed mediators, in a secondary and "ministerial" sense. And in this sense, the mediation of Mary "is altogether first, altogether unique. If the beings whom God, by His Incarnation, brings closest to Him are also those whom He associates more closely in His action upon others, it is indeed His mother that Christ associates with Himself first and more closely than any other for His work of 'divinization' of the world, of universal extension of the effects of the Incarnation. . . . At each of these three moments: the Incarnation, the Redemption, the glorious Life of Christ, her mediation is the extension to men of her divine maternity." M. J. Nicolas, Théotokos, Desclée, 1965, p. 190.

{4} Quadragesimale de evangelio aeterno, sermo X, cap. 3, Opera omnia, Lyon, 1650, t. II, p. 57. "Nam omnium gratiarum quae humano geners descendunt, sicut quod Deus generalis est dator et Christus generalis mediator, sic per gloriosam Virginem generaliter dispensantur. Nam ipsa est collum Capitis nostri, per quod omnia spiritualia dona Corpori ejus mystico communicantur. Ideo Cant. 7 de ipso dicitur: Collum tuum sicut turns eburnea. (Cant. VII, 5; cf. V, 4)."

{5} The second Council of the Vatican has insisted on the role of model which Mary had with regard to the Church. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Ch. 8, Sections 63, 64, 65.

{6} The Church of Christ to come was, since Adam and Eve penitent, the Church in preparation. The Church here on earth was only formally constituted -- with her organic structure in achieved act, and with her personality -- as Church of Christ come, after the flames of Pentecost on the Apostles and on their queen.

I would be inclined to think that the Church of Heaven was formally constituted as such, with her body unified under her eternally living Leader, and with her personality, from the day of the Ascension, -- the Blessed Virgin having thus been here on earth, for a time (as from Pentecost as regards the Church of the earth), the instrument which God used in order to give to the Church her personality in Heaven and on earth.

{7} Except that of the Blessed Virgin, through the instrumentality of which, we have just seen, the Church receives her personality, and which is immanent in this personality.

{8} If they have lost grace and charity, but not the faith.

{9} If they have lost the faith.

{10} This is why the questions which the medieval theologians posed to themselves concerning a Pope who would become heretical seem to me wholly academic. Envisaging the case, by an hypothesis which I consider to be gratuitous, it is necessary to say, with Cardinal Journet and the theologians in question, that the Council would not at all have to depose this heretical Pope (as if the Council was superior to the Pope), but only to state the fact of heresy, the fact that he himself, having ceased, by his heresy, to be a member of the Church, has divested himself of his primacy in the Church; in short the Council would only have to "take cognizance of an accomplished fact." (Cf. Ch. Journet, "Le Pape et l'Eglise," in the newspaper La Croix, October 3, 1969.)

{11} Each of them shows us some aspect of her face, no one of them shows it to us entirely; for no one is as holy as she. In each appears the perfection of charity, -- according to his own mode, -- but his individual limitations and those of his environment and of his time reveal themselves also.

{12} Cf. Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sect. 84: "By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine Office is arranged so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is worthily rendered by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by Church ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in an approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressing her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father."

Ibid., Sect. 99: . . . . . The divine Office is the voice of the Church, that is, of the whole mystical body publicly praising God."

{13} I am not forgetting that the fomenters of schism and the great heresiarchs were also, at first, members, and often very noteworthy members, of the personnel of the Church; but they broke with the latter, and find themselves therefore outside the field of my present reflections.

{14} Cf. my book God and the Permission of Evil. -- If this first initiative of nothingness does not take place, the divine motion, received first as shatterable, is then rendered unshatterable.

{15} He accomplishes it freely, for he could have, supposing his will had been previously perverted, rendered himself inapt, having already opted for evil, to receive this instrumental divine motion (which is given at once as unshatterable). He can also mingle in that which he is instrumentally moved to do elements of his own invention which can not be righteous.

{16} Cf. Sum. theol., III, 64, 1.

{17} In the broad sense of the word, according as God uses her in order to move the minister of the Sacrament, as I indicate here, and according as it is Christ Himself Who offers to God the Sacrifice of the Mass through the instrumentality of the Church. -- Cf. note 21.

{18} Sum. theol., III, 64, 8, c and ad 1, ad 2.

{19} III, 64, 1, ad 2.

{20} It would be futile to think that the expression has a merely juridical sense and that "to act in the person of the Church" is only to act as representative of the latter: for then, if the intention of the Church is not in the priest, the words pronounced by this "representative" belong to appearances and to fiction. It is necessary that the intention of the Church be really there, even if the priest is distracted and inattentive. (If the representative of a country says to a country at war "my country is sending you a thousand airplanes in order to help you," and if these airplanes are not really sent, the assurances given by this representative are only appearance and fiction.)

{21} In order to sum up everything, I shall say that in the sacramental order there are three persons to be considered:

God omnipotent, Who uses the humanity of Christ, conjoined instrument of His divinity, and Who is the principal Agent, supreme and absolutely first;

the holy and indeficient person of the Church, the Offerer here on earth of worship and of sacrifice, and the Effector of the Sacraments, who is at one and the same time second principal agent and, in the broad sense of the word, instrumental agent of God;

the minister of the Sacrament, who is instrumental agent in the strict sense, the instrumentality of whom the person of the Church uses according as he is human subject through whom she acts, and the instrumentality of whom God uses in giving efficacy to the words which he pronounces and to the gestures which he accomplishes when he confers the Sacraments and when he offers the Sacrifice.

{22} Canon of the Mass.

{23} Pius IX, Denz.-Schön., 2879. -- Cf. Charles Journet, L'Église du Verbe Incarné, t. II, p. 534.

{24} Cf. above, Ch. VII, pp. 55-56.

{25} It is in regard to this essential intention that I understand the assertion of Pius XII when he says (encycl. Humani Generis) that the teaching of the encyclicals belongs to the, ordinary magisterium.

{26} Cf. Charles Journet, L'Église du Verbe Incarné, t. II, p. 568, note 1. (My language is very different, but what it enables me to say is, I believe, very much in accord with this very illuminating note.) -- Cf. also Georges M. M. Cottier, Régulation des naissances et développement démographique, Paris, Desclée De Brouwer, 1969, Introd., p. 9.

{27} I could give examples, which have come to me from fervent Christians of whom I am honored to be the friend.

{28} Cf. Ch. IX, pp. 84-85 and note 15.

{29} If it is true that, as we have seen in Ch. III, God gives to the Church her supernatural personality by reason of the image of Christ which she bears in her, one must conclude that it was only as Church of Christ come that she began to receive this personality. Formerly, at the different stages in which the Church still in sketch gradually took shape, the grace of Christ to come undoubtedly caused such a "moral person" to aspire to become person in the primary and ontological sense of the word. But it was once Christ come that such was the case, and that thus the mystery of the Church was brought to its consummation.

{Cf} above, note 6 to Chapter XI.

{30} With regard to the Pope, it is fitting to add that the choice made of him, -- whatever the mode of election may be, -- implies a certain acceptance or ratification on the side of the person herself of the Church, in this sense that then, as principal agent using the electoral college as an instrumental cause, she diverts it from designating anyone who would be incapable of guiding the bark and of preserving intact the transmission of the faith. Without such an acceptance or ratification, which makes of the bishop of Rome the leader of the Church of the earth, the members of the whole hierarchy constituted under his auspices and in communion with him cannot be held to be the "personnel of the Church."

The choice in question has moreover nothing to do with the private merits of the man thus designated (so much the better if he is a saint, so much the worse in the contrary case). It is a question of bringing to the Sovereign Pontificate, in given (and sometimes unfortunate) historical circumstances, someone who is sufficiently qualified for the government of the Christian people in all that which concerns the faith and the deposit of the revealed truth. One has remarked that "customs and politics placed aside," the government of a drunk-with-pride and debauched simoniac such as Alexander VI "was generally profitable to the Church. This Pope proved to be always a vigilant guardian of doctrine: he gave several Bulls concerning questions of dogma and of worship. He worked for the propagation of the faith, especially in the New World, which had been discovered at the beginning of his Pontificate" (J. Paquier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, t. 1, pp. 726-727).

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