Scene: The living area of a derelict inner suburban home in Melbourne Australia. The two Demons, civilised in their matching safari suits, sit on two weathered recliners, each facing the other. A pot of tea and a plate of biscuits are on a small table between them. It is a very civil atmosphere befitting the times.
Time: Mid afternoon, an Autumn Wednesday, 1970.
Satan: Let us use this opportunity to make anew our theology; otherwise our position in the Church will continue to create confusion in the minds of believers. And we might as well steal from it, because when it comes to the Church there is nothing like confusion in truth and truth in confusion; and besides the Church needs the bad, the sinful and the evil as much as we need it.
Lord of the Flies: And I would concur by saying that in the secular world the Church does not exist, but to us it must. I begin with the facts as I know them. From the beginning Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealing the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and he gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings. Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him. Abide in me, he said, and I in you. I am the vine, and you are the branches. And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours. He said ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’ And when his visible presence was taken from them, Jesus did not leave his disciples as orphans. Oh no. He promised to remain with them until the end of time; he sent them his Spirit. And as a result communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense. By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation.
S: And I know that there came into existence the organic institution, the Catholic Church, our earthly chariot of fire. And with its advent came grandiloquence, splendour, authority and genius. The comparison of the Church with the human body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him, she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted. The unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ. Christ as head of the Body, and the Church as bride of Christ.
LOTF: One body? Is this still true?
S: This is what the dogma explicitly says.
LOTF: All believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s body become intimately united with him. In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification. This is especially true of Baptism, which unites Christians to Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which is really sharing in the body of the Lord. And the Body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members. In the building up of Christ’s Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit, mind you, who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church. The unity of the Mystical Body also produces and stimulates charity among the faithful. From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honoured, all the members together rejoice. The unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions. For as many of those who are baptized into Christ have also put on Christ. There is neither Muslim nor Hindu, there is neither woman nor free, there is neither black nor white. They are all one in Christ Jesus.
S: Is Christ the Head of this Earthly Body?
LOTF: Correct. Christ is the head of the body, the Church. He is the principle of creation and redemption. Raised to the Father’s glory in everything. He is preeminent, especially in the Church, through whom he extends his reign over all things.
S: And may I add that Christ unites them with his Passover. All his members must strive to resemble him until Christ is formed in them. For this reason they are taken up into the mysteries of his life which was associated with his sufferings as the body with its head, suffering with him, that with him they may be glorified. Christ provides for their growth. To make them grow toward him, their head. He provides in his Body, the Church, the gifts and assistance by which they help one another along the way of salvation. Fascinating, isn’t it! Christ and his Church bound together to make up the whole Christ. The Church is one with Christ.
LOTF: The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride. The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist. The Lord referred to himself as the bridegroom. The Apostle speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride betrothed to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him. The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her. He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body.
S: So the Church is metaphorically a woman organised by men. Interesting.
LOTF: This is the whole Christ, head and body, one formed from many. Whether the head or members speak, it is Christ who speaks. He speaks in his role as the head and in his role as body.
S: What does this actually mean?
LOTF: The two are one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church. And the Lord himself says so in the Gospel. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union as head, he calls himself the bridegroom, as body, he calls himself bride.
S: I might also add that what the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head. For the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members. The Holy Spirit makes the Church the temple of the living God.
LOTF: Indeed, it is to the Church herself that the Gift of God has been entrusted. In it is in her that communion with Christ has been deposited, that is to say, the Holy Spirit, the pledge of incorruptibility, the strengthening of Christian faith and the ladder of their ascent to God. For where the Church is, there also is God’s Spirit. Where God’s Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace.
S: The Holy Spirit is the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body. He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity by God’s Word which is able to build up in Christians. By Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body, by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members, by the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts, by the virtues, which make Christians act according to what is good and finally, by the many special graces, something called charisms, I’ve not heard of it, by which he makes the faithful fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church. More tea?
LOTF: Yes, thank you. I’ve got some information on charisms, if I may Satan. Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms. It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary.
S: And let me now open the discussion which concerns the existence of the Catholic Church. The Church says of itself that it is the sole Church of Christ, all others being false, and which in its Creed professes to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate 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.
LOTF: Qualities no other Christian body or religion has I presume.
S: Only true faith can recognize that only the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. 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.
LOTF: Ah, she’s certainly a beautiful thing!
S: The Church is one because of her source, the highest exemplar and source of this mystery which is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Church is one because of her founder. For the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, restoring the unity of all in one people and one body. The Church is one because of her soul. It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity.
LOTF: What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same. There is also one virgin become mother, and this is her Church. And from the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity. Yet sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity. And so the Apostle has to exhort Christians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
S: What are these bonds of unity of which you speak?
LOTF: Above all, I believe the Church will say that it is simply charity which binds everything together in perfect harmony. For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which provides the universal help needed toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. What the Church demonstrates is how humble a role model it really is.
S: But you must be aware Fly Lord that in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there has arisen certain rifts, which the Apostles, today’s Bishops, strongly censures as damnable. It’s no doubt our fault. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church, for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. Those little devils! The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body, here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism, do not occur without human sin. Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
LOTF: But this is how magnanimous the Catholic Church is. It cannot charge with the sin of separation those who are born into dissenting communities, where in them are brought up in the faith of Christ. The Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers (and sisters). All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ and they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.
S: Such is the power of forgiveness.
LOTF: And furthermore, there are many elements of sanctification and of truth which are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church. For instance, the written Word of God, the life of grace, faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ’s Spirit uses these other Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to His Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to Catholic unity.
S: What is this unity of which you speak? This is something we are quite averse to. How is it possible to unify difference?
LOTF: Let me say that Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and its members hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples. He actually said: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may know that you have sent me.” The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.
S: I would imagine that certain things are required in order for the Church’s disparate to respond adequately to this call. For instance there need be a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation. Such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity. Also a conversion of heart as the faithful try to live holier lives according to the Gospel, for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ’s gift which causes divisions. And prayer in common too. Because a change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, which merits the name spiritual ecumenism.
LOTF: I like that phrase, spiritual ecumenism. Tell me more.
S: Well that means a fraternal knowledge of each other. An ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests. A dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities. A collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. The concern for achieving unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. But it must realize that this holy objective, the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ, transcends human powers and gifts. This is why the Church places all its hopes in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for it, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. And do you reckon like me that the second coming might do it?
LOTF: I’m not sure Satan. You know what humans are like. They’d probably vilify him in some way, and afterwards put him in a mental institution, a broken man.
S: you’re probably right. Now get this. The Church is holy. The Church is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. The Church, then, is the holy People of God, and her members are called saints. United with Christ, the Church is sanctified by him, through him and with him she becomes sanctifying. All the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of humanity in Christ and the glorification of God. It is in the Church that the fullness of the means of salvation has been deposited. It is in her that by the grace of God its members acquire holiness.
LOTF: That is a big call right there.
S: Well, the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real, though it occasionally admits, kicking and screaming I might add, to being imperfect. In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired. Even after all these years. Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, though each in his own way, are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect. Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called. Charity governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification.
LOTF: I would imagine then that if the Church is really a body composed of different organs, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all, a heart. A heart burning with love. And I can also imagine that this love alone is the true motive force which enables its members to act. If its heart ceased to function, its priests would forget to preach the gospel, and its martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Church love is the vocation which includes all others. Its universe is its own, comprising all time and space. It says it is eternal!
S: Now it must be remembered too that Christ, holy, innocent, and undefiled, knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of his people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation but still on the way to holiness. The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified. If the Church’s members move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
LOTF: This is something I can’t get my fly blown head around. Why does the Church call itself Catholic Satan?
S: The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense. First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head. This implies that she receives from him the fullness of the means of salvation. He has willed correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia. Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race. All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled. He made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one. The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.
LOTF: And who belongs to the Catholic Church?
S: All men (and women) are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered. The Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, are called by God’s grace to salvation. And fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who, by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He and she remain indeed in the bosom of the Church, but only in body but not in heart.
LOTF: Sounds like the Church still has a lot of work to do.
S: Absolutely. There are those who have not yet received the Gospel but are related to the People of God in various ways. For example, consider the relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God. The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter, the Jews, waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
LOTF: What about the other big one, Islam?
S: The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims. They profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. The Gospel is patiently waiting for all Muslims to come to it. And they will come, eventually. The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the common origin and end of the human race. All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.
LOTF: But you know as well as I do that in their religious behaviour, however, men (and women) also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them. Very often, deceived by the Evil One, (we’ll take the credit), men and women have become vain in their reasoning, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, or the lie of God for their own truth, and instead they would rather serve themselves.
S: Believers certainly fear us, don’t they!
LOTF: They do, but not atheists. And to reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father has willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is the world reconciled. She is that bark which in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.
S: The Church does warn that outside the Church there is no salvation. So how are we to profit from this affirmation, repeated ad nauseam the Church Fathers?
LOTF: Re-formulated positively, all salvation which comes from Christ the Head must only be through the Church which is his Body. Basing itself on Scripture and tradition, the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is absolutely necessary for salvation. The one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation. He is present in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men (and women) enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they who cannot be saved are those who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
S: Now we’ve got some of those. Protestants I believe. But I’m at a loss as to why we don’t get more.
LOTF: Well, missionary work is a requirement of the Church’s catholicity. Having been divinely sent to the nations as the universal sacrament of salvation, the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all peoples. Catholics must go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make people share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love. And it is from God’s love for all that the Church in every age receives both the obligation and the vigour of her missionary dynamism. The love of Christ urges them on. Indeed, God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth that is, God’s willing the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.
S: So it takes the commanding missionary position.
LOTF: Ha Ha. Not a bad joke there Satan! On her pilgrimage, the Church does experience the discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted. A lot of people just don’t get it. Only by taking the way of penance and renewal, the narrow way of the cross, can the People of God extend Christ’s reign. For just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and in oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.
S: So there are weaknesses that we can always exploit.
LOTF: By her very mission the Church travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world. She is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God. Missionary endeavour requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ, and continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are a sign of God’s presence in the world, leading to the foundation of local churches. It must involve a process of enculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each people’s culture. There will be times of defeat. With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that the Church touches and penetrates them and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic. The Church’s mission stimulates efforts towards Christian unity. Indeed, divisions among Christians prevent the Church from realizing in practice the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her sons who, though joined to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all its aspects.
S: Ah dogma. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it!
LOTF: The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel. Believers can profit from this dialogue by learning to appreciate better those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God. They proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and the goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil. This role of the Church is for the glory of God, the CONFUSION OF THE DEMON, and the happiness of humanity. The road goes ever on.
S: More tea?
LOTF: Don’t mind if I do. Care for an iced VoVo?