|The Roman Catholic Magical Mystery Tour|
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.
[For most “cradle Catholics”, it is no big deal, just another day at the office. But for converts, still oo-ing and ah-ing over the “Magical Mystery Tour” through the “nature/grace” continuum, where sin is not such a big problem.]
This section of blog posts on “Eternal Rome, Eternal Mediator?” is of course intended to bring out the second of De Chirico’s two “core doctrines” of Roman Catholicism, the first being the “nature/grace interdependence”, and the second here being “Rome’s self-understanding”, which he calls the “Christ/Church understanding”, stated earlier as the [Roman] Catholic Church’s understanding of itself as the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Allison investigates the history of this idea:
Definitive support for this concept of the mystical body comes from Augustine’s proposal of the totus Christus (the whole Christ); as he explained, “the whole Christ consists of Head and body. The Head is he who is the savior of his body, he who has already ascended into heaven; but the body is the Church, toiling on earth.”Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1127-1165). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 58-60 in the printed edition.
In other words, the whole Christ refers to Christ as head, in the totality of his divine and human natures, together with his body, the church. For Augustine, the Pauline passages cited above cannot be understood merely metaphorically or symbolically; on the contrary, when Paul calls the church “the body of Christ,” he is describing the church in terms of its actual reality.
The reason for this interpretation is the profound unity between the two through the incarnation; though ascended into heaven, Christ is still intimately united to his Church. Support for this unity was found in Matthew 25:31–46 and Acts 9:4–5. As for the latter passage, Augustine explained,
Were it not for the body’s linkage with its Head through the bond of charity, so close a link that Head and body speak as one, [Christ] could not have rebuked a certain persecutor from heaven with the question, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9: 4). Already enthroned in heaven, Christ was not being touched by any human assailant, so how could Saul, by raging against the Christians on earth, inflict injury on him in any way? He does not say, “Why are you persecuting my saints?” or “my servant,” but Why are you persecuting me? This is tantamount to asking, “Why attack my limbs?” The Head was crying out on behalf of the members, and the Head was transfiguring the members into himself. [Augustine, Sermon 341, in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, Part 3: Sermons, vol. 10, Sermons 341–400, ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1995), 19.]
Christ’s impassioned cry when his church was suffering underscores the intimate unity between the two. Accordingly, Augustine formulated this idea: “Christ is not simply in the head and not in the body, but Christ whole is in the head and body.”
Taking a realistic view of this concept, Augustine projected it onto his doctrine of Christ, proposing that there are three ways to understand Christ—his divine nature, his human nature, and his ecclesial nature—with the latter meaning “in some manner or other as the whole Christ in the fullness of the Church, that is as head and body, according to the completeness of a certain perfect man (Eph. 4: 13), the man in whom we are each of us members.”
Augustine’s totus Christus lies at the heart of Catholic theology’s concept of the mystical body of Christ, mediating the divine presence and grace. As a final support for the mediatorial agency of the Catholic Church, Catholic theology turns to the notion of the Church as sacrament, a category that is “paramount in dealing with the profoundly mysterious, yet vitally important relationship between Christ and the Church” as the ongoing incarnation of Christ.
According to Vatican Council II, “the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament” in that it is “a sign and instrument . . . of communion with God and the unity among all men.” Importantly, the Church as sacrament envisions itself both as representing the union with God and the unity of the human race and as working to actualize the reality that it symbolizes.
“In other words, there is an intertwined relationship between her nature as sign and her role as instrument, in such a way that in being what she is, the Church performs her role efficaciously, and in doing what she does, the Church enacts her nature properly.”
In summary, the second pillar of the Catholic theological system, in addition to the nature- grace interdependence, is the Catholic Church’s self-understanding as the prolongation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ—the Christ-Church interconnection. As such, the [Roman Catholic] Church functions as the mediator between nature and grace.
Additionally , because the nature-grace continuum is characterized by a hierarchical structure, so also the Catholic Church as the mediating agent is characterized by a hierarchical structure.
Several lines of justification for this self-understanding are offered. One support is the Christological analogy: As the Son of God became incarnate and thus mediated grace to nature, so the Catholic Church as the ongoing incarnation of the Son of God mediates grace to nature. A second warrant is the concept of the Church as the mystical body of Christ.
When combined with Augustine’s proposal of the totus Christus, it means that the whole Christ, in the totality of his divine and human natures, together with his body, the Church, is currently present as and in the Catholic Church. A third support is the notion of the Church as sacrament, a sign and instrument of the union with God and the unity of the human race.
Of course, the ideas that are embodied in this concept came into being many centuries after Christ and the Apostles taught and shaped their own concept of what it meant to be “the church”.