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Yes to Christ, No to the Church?


Can Christ be separated from the Church or the Church from the Christ?

  • No, absolutely not. There is nothing more absurd than to try and separate the Church from Christ. There is no divine or human contradiction between Christ and the Church for the following reasons:
    • the Church is founded on the Apostles who were chosen directly by Christ. The twelve Apostles are "the most evident sign of Jesus' will regarding the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition" (Benedict xvi, Catechesis during the General Audience, Wednesday 15 March 2006): "Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve - designating them apostles - that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed…" (Mc 3,13-16; cfr. Mt 10,1-4; Lc 6,12-16). Through the Apostles, we can trace out steps back to the person of Jesus himself;
    • The Church is the body of Christ and he is the Head of the body (cfr. Eph 5,3). The Head cannot be separated from the body nor the body from the Head: otherwise, there would be two unnatural realities, and a body without a head. Christ "is the Head of the Body, that is the Church " (Col 1,18). Christ and the Church form the "Whole Christ - Christus totus. (…) The fullness of Christ: the Head and the members. Who is the Head and who are the members? Christ and the Church" (Saint Augustine, In Iohannis evangelium tractatus, 21, 8); "The Head and Members are, we can say, one single mystical person" (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 48, a. 2, ad 1). "Just as the Head of the body form one man, so the Son of the Virgin and his chosen members constitute one man, and the only Son of man. According to the Scriptures the whole Christ is the Head and the body. That is to say, all the members together are one body which, with its Head, is the one Son of Man. The Son of God is the sole Son of God, with God he himself is one God. Therefore, the whole body with the Head is the Son of man, the Son of God, God. For this reason we read in the Gospel: "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (cfr. Jn 17, 21). According to this famous passage from the Scriptures the Body is never without its Head just as the Head is never without its Body. The whole Christ, both Head and Body, is never without God" (Blessed Isaac, Discourse 42);
    • if Christ were separated from the Church;
      • There would be a falsification of the reality and of the very mission of Christ himself: there would be "an imaginary Jesus. "We cannot have Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God-made-flesh and his Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in his people" (Benedict XVI, Catechesis during the General Audience, Wednesday 15 March 2006);
      • The very nature of the Church would become something substantially unnatural. If it were separated from its founder and its Head, then it would no longer be the same reality. The Church belongs to Christ, and its origin derives from his very will, from his heart, from his Death and Resurrection, from the outpouring of his Spirit. "The Church has no other light than Christ's; according to a favourite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light is reflected from the sun" (CCC, 748). The Church does not live by itself or for itself but by Christ, with him, for him and by virtue of the mission that he entrusted to it: to announce the Gospel and make known to all men and women the salvation that Christ has gained;
    • we are members of the Church, we are all brothers and sisters, precisely and simply because we are brothers and sisters of Christ. We form the Church because Christ unites us intimately with him. It is he who makes us all into one reality. The more we are united with him the more we are united among ourselves. This is realised in a particular way in the sacrament of Baptism by which we are united to the Death and Resurrection of Christ and, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, by which we are "really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another" (LG, 7);
    • "If the Church is not our mother, then we cannot have God as our Father" (Saint Cyprian - beginning of the III century - De Ecclesiae catholicae unitate, 6);
    • "The Son of God assumed human nature with a union so intimate that in him there is the unique and identical Christ who is the firstborn of all creation but also firstborn of all the saints. And just as the Head cannot be separated from the members, so too the members cannot be separated from the Head" (Pope Leo the Great, Disc. 12 on the passion, 3, 6, 7).
  • The phrase: "Yes to Jesus, no to the Church" is for this reason totally unacceptable and it cannot be reconciled with the will of Christ or with the very nature of the Church.



Is there identification between Christ and the Church?

  • No. There is no identification since:
    • that which Christ "is by nature, the members are by participation; that which He is, he is in fullness, while they are only so partially. Finally, what the Son of God is by generation, his members are by adoption, as it is written: "You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father"" (Rm 8, 15)" (Blessed Isaac, Discourse 42);
    • the Church was instituted by Christ its founder. The difference that exists between Creator and creature exists here also;
    • the Church is made up of sinners while Christ is without sin. "In the Apostles' Creed we profess that we believe the Holy Catholic Church ("Credo [...] Ecclesiam"), and not in the Church so as not to confuse God with his works and so as to attribute clearly all the gifts that he has poured out upon his Church as coming from God's goodness" (CCC, 750).
  • There is no separation or opposition between Christ and the Church, not is there any identification. There is "the distinction of the two within a personal relationship" (CCC, 796). This is the particular relationship with Christ that identifies and characterises the nature and mission of the Church.



What does the word Church mean?

"The word Church refers to the people whom God calls and gathers together from every part of the earth. They form the assembly of those who through faith and Baptism have become children of God, members of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit.



Are there other names and images with which the Bible speaks about the Church?

In Sacred Scripture we find many images which bring out various complementary aspects of the mystery of the Church. The Old Testament favours those images that are bound to the people of God. The New Testament offers images that are linked to Christ as the Head of this people which is his Body. Other images are drawn from pastoral life (sheepfold, flock, sheep), from agriculture (field, olive grove, vineyard), from construction (dwelling place, stone, temple), and from family life (spouse, mother, family).



What is the origin and the fulfillment of the Church?

The Church finds her origin and fulfillment in the eternal plan of God. She was prepared for in the Old Covenant with the election of Israel, the sign of the future gathering of all the nations. Founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, fulfilled by his redeeming death and Resurrection, the Church has been manifested as the mystery of salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth.



What is the mission of the Church?

The mission of the Church is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God begun by Jesus Christ among all peoples. The Church constitutes on earth the seed and beginning of this salvific Kingdom.



In what way is the Church a mystery?

The Church is a mystery in as much as in her visible reality there is present and active a divine spiritual reality which can only be seen with the eyes of faith.



What does it mean to say that the Church is the universal sacrament of salvation?

This means that she is the sign and instrument both of the reconciliation and communion of all of humanity with God and of the unity of the entire human race.



Why is the Church the 'people of God'?

The Church is the 'people of God' because it pleased God to sanctify and save men and women not in isolation but by making them into one people gathered together by the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.



What are the characteristics of the people of God?

One becomes a member of this people through faith in Christ and Baptism. This people has for its origin God the Father; for its head Jesus Christ; for its hallmark the dignity and freedom of the sons of God; for its law the new commandment of love; for its mission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; and for its destiny the Kingdom of God, already begun on earth.



Why is the Church called the "Bride of Christ"?

She is called the "Bride of Christ" because the Lord himself called himself her "Spouse" (Mark 2:19). The Lord has loved the Church and has joined her to himself in an everlasting covenant. He has given himself up for her in order to purify her with his blood and "sanctify her" (Ephesians 5:26), making her the fruitful mother of all the children of God. While the term "body" expresses the unity of the "head" with the members, the term "bride" emphasizes the distinction of the two in their personal relationship.

Why is the Church called the temple of the Holy Spirit?

She is so called because the Holy Spirit resides in the body which is the Church, in her Head and members. He also builds up the Church in charity by the Word of God, the sacraments, the virtues, and charisms" (Compendium, 147-154; 158-159).



What are the key characteristics of the Church?

  • The Church is:
    • one, "because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity" (Compendium, 161);
    • holy, "insofar as the Most Holy God is her author. Christ has given himself for her to sanctify her and make her a source of sanctification. The Holy Spirit gives her life with charity. In the Church one finds the fullness of the means of salvation. Holiness is the vocation of each of her members and the purpose of all her activities. The Church counts among her members the Virgin Mary and numerous Saints who are her models and intercessors. The holiness of the Church is the fountain of sanctification for her children who here on earth recognize themselves as sinners ever in need of conversion and purification" (Compendium, 165);
    • catholic, "that is universal, insofar as Christ is present in her: "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church" (Saint Ignatius of Antioch). The Church proclaims the fullness and the totality of the faith; she bears and administers the fullness of the means of salvation; she is sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race" (Compendium, 166);
    • apostolic "in her origin because she has been built on "the foundation of the Apostles" (Ephesians 2:20). She is apostolic in her teaching which is the same as that of the Apostles. She is apostolic by reason of her structure insofar as she is taught, sanctified, and guided until Christ returns by the Apostles through their successors who are the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter" (Compendium, 174).
  • "These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate the essential features of the Church and her mission. The Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities. Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason" (CCC, 811-812). As the First Vatican Council noted, the "Church herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission" (DS, Filius 3).



Why is the Church always in need of purification?

Since it is made up of sinners. All the members of the pilgrim Church here on earth, including its ministers, are sinners and must recognise that they are such. They must accept God's pardon in all humility and conquer sin in themselves and in each other with greater resolve. "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (LG, 8)



Who belongs to the Catholic Church?

"All human beings in various ways belong to or are ordered to the Catholic unity of the people of God. Fully incorporated into the Catholic Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, are joined to the Church by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion. The baptized who do not enjoy full Catholic unity are in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (Compendium, 168).



Why did Christ institute an ecclesiastical hierarchy?

Christ entrusted the mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing to his sacred ministers. They exercise this mission as "servants of Christ" (Rm 1,1), in the imitation of Christ himself, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2,6-8).



What is the meaning of the affirmation "Outside the Church there is no salvation"?

"This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation" (Compendium, 171).



Why must the Church proclaim the Gospel to the whole world?

"The Church must do so because Christ has given the command: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). This missionary mandate of the Lord has its origin in the eternal love of God who has sent his Son and the Holy Spirit because «he desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth» (1 Timothy 2:4)" (Compendium, 172).

Primicerio
of the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles, Rome
Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli

NB: For further information about the topics discussed, please see the following Pontifical documents:
  • Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (Lg); Sacrosanctum Concilium (Sc);;
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), nn. 748-945;
  • Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Compendium), nn. 147-193;