|Eternal Rome, Eternal Mediator?|
Continuing to follow De Chirico’s presentation of the Catholic system as consisting of two pillars, the second element is the Catholic Church’s understanding of itself as the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This axiom is connected to the first in the following way:
“Between the orders of nature and grace, a mediating subject is needed to represent nature to grace and grace to nature, so that nature will progressively and more fully be graced and grace will eventually achieve its final goal of elevating nature. That mediation is the theological raison d’être [reason for the existence] of the Roman Catholic Church and the chief role of the Church within the wider Roman Catholic system.”
Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1075-1080). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pg 56 in the printed edition.
Consider the role that Rome has assumed for itself, with the way that the Lord thinks of worldly empires. Speaking to Cyrus, who defeated the Babylonians and who enabled the Israelites to be released from their “Babylonian Captivity”, God says:
“I will go before you and level the exalted places, …” (Is 45:2)
It is the Lord himself who enables history. The Lord raises up empires, and they come to think of themselves as “permanent”. The Lord himself continues to stress that he understands this process in Is 45:5-7:
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, am the Lord, who does all these things.
Then in Chapter 46, there is a picture of the Idolatry of the Babylonians, after which the Lord emphasizes his uniqueness by comparison:
“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?
But here is the attitude of Babylon. They think that the glory rests with themselves:
You said, “I shall be mistress forever,” so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end. Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me…”
You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” (Is 46:7-8, 10).
Note how this comports with the attitude – the “infallible doctrine” of Papal Rome. Allison describes this as “the second” of the two pillars which supports the entire Roman Catholic system. He describes it this way:
As the incarnate God-man Jesus Christ mediated grace to nature—the first and primary manifestation of the principle of incarnation—so the embodied, concrete Catholic Church mediates grace to nature in an analogous manifestation of the incarnational principle.
Specifically, Catholic theology “establishes a strong link between the incarnation of Christ and the Church as the prolongation of the Incarnation whereby the latter [the Catholic Church] acts as altera persona Christi [another (or a second) person of Christ], standing therefore between God and the world.” Moreover, this mediatorial institution is characterized by hierarchy; just as there is the higher realm of grace and the lower realm of nature, so within the Catholic Church there is the higher realm of the clergy, who have the specific authority and responsibility to mediate grace, and the lower realm of the laity, who are to be open to and receive grace.
At the head of this hierarchically structured, grace-mediating Church stands the pope.
This vision of the Catholic Church as the mediatorial agent between the grace of God and the world of nature is supported by several key considerations: the Christological analogy, the concept of the Church as the mystical body of “the whole Christ,” and the notion of the Church as sacrament.
The Christological analogy has already been treated when the incarnational principle was addressed above: As the Son of God became incarnate and thus mediated divine grace to nature, so the Catholic Church as the ongoing incarnation of the Son of God mediates divine grace to nature.
Specifically, “the Church is seen as the same person as the Son of God who continues and renews the unique event of the Incarnation, being in herself the locus where the continuation of the Incarnation takes place and where the mission underlying the Incarnation is made present in an on-going way.”
Reasoning from the traditional doctrine that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human, the result is that “in an analogous way the Church is made up of divine and human elements which are combined in the theandric [God-man] institution of the Church itself. The Church is deemed to be co-essentially divine and human, the two aspects being intertwined and inseparable in such a way that the human aspect carries the divine and the divine aspect is embodied in human forms.”
At first glance, this affirmation seems to be fraught with difficulties and dangers, and Catholic theology takes pains to clarify the analogy between Christ and his Church, underscoring both continuities and discontinuities between the two: “While the Son of God owns divine nature in a proper, ontological, and substantial way, the Church derives her divine elements by participating in the life of Christ which makes him present within the Church and through it.”
Accordingly, Christ is not totally identified as the Church; rather, the Church is a prolongation of the incarnation of the Son of God, mediating the grace of God to the world as the incarnate Christ mediated the divine grace to the world.
A second support for this mediatorial role for the Catholic Church is the concept of the Church as the mystical body of Christ. Quite evidently, this understanding is rooted in the Pauline metaphor of the church as the body, of which Christ is the head.
The apostle explains that this reality was God the Father’s work to exalt his Son: “He [the Father] put all things under his [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1: 22– 23; cf. 5: 23; Col. 1: 18, 24).
Furthermore, Paul employs the sacrificial nature, love and respect, and intimacy of the relationship between husband and wife to illuminate the nature of the unity between Christ and the church, concluding, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5: 32). Accordingly, the Church is the mystical body of Christ.
“The core of the metaphor refers to the indissoluble, organic bond between head (i.e. Christ) and members (i.e. the Church) within the unity of a single body so that what can be ascribed to the head can also be ascribed in some measure to its members.”
The implication of the [Roman Catholic] Church as this mystical body of Christ is key: “The [Roman Catholic] Church [and especially its hierarchy] is therefore organically related to, and pervasively inhabited by Christ and also subordinated to him in that both the Church and Christ are differently located, yet inseparable parts of the same body. While the members are dependent on the head in the sense that they receive from it direction and serve its cause, they are also so inextricably united to it as to form a single body so that the head cannot operate apart from its members and cannot be separated from them.”
Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1089-1126). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 56-58 in the printed edition.
The Roman attitude is that it has been given stewardship “for all time”. As the CCC says, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time”.