The Only Name, Part II
Since my last post, I have been approached with several questions by TJ Humphrey, another author at this site. Two in particular have forced me to reconsider some details of my original argument. Therefore, rather than proceeding to biblical exegesis, I will shortly attempt to crystallize the theological positions I took one month ago in this publication. Each question will be dealt with in turn.
What is the Roman Catholic definition of “the Church”?
The Church is most succinctly defined as “the presence of Christ on Earth.” However, this presence is always realized through the medium of the human person, albeit in various forms. From the Catholic perspective, the Church manifests itself in the human person in three ways, which ought to be thought of as flowing from a single source (Christ) and into a single definition (the Church). These three are the sacramental, vocational, and doctrinal aspects of Christ’s presence on Earth.
The sacramental existence of the Church is its lifeblood; here we find the sanctifying and justifying graces of the Church. The pinnacle of the Church’s sacramental existence is the Seven Sacraments; the pinnacle of the Sacraments is the Eucharist. However, just as one might access the Sacrament of Baptism without tasting the Body of Christ, one might gain access to a portion of sanctifying grace without the aid of the Seven Sacraments. In the same way, however, just as Communion is normatively necessary for the salvation of the human person, the Sacraments are normatively necessary for our salvation.
The church’s vocational existence, or its mission, is animated by its sacramental aspect All natural and supernatural, or cardinal and theological, virtues are in some way the mission of the Church. However, it is the theological virtues which the Church is specially tasked with executing, and Charity in particular. Therefore, once again, one may partially participate in the Church’s existence on earth without entering fully into the Church.
Finally, the doctrinal existence of the Church gives the entire system a structure. These teachings outline the eternal truth of the Gospel, and all its implications. These implications unfold from our perspective in time, yet are rooted in a Being Who exists outside of time. The assent of the human mind is a crucial, yet incomplete, aspect of a person’s membership of the Church.
These three aspects define the Church, and the partial presence of any aspect constitutes the presence of the Church in some way, however limited. The fullness of the Church, however, can only be experienced when the human person participates in each aspect to the maximum degree of which he is capable.
If there is a boundary marker between those who are inside and those who are outside, what makes the insiders “insiders”?
Hopefully, the response to the first question partially answers the second. Those who are fully inside the Church are those who receive the sacraments, assent to the teachings, and fulfill the mission of the Church. Those who are fully outside of the Church are those who entirely reject these gifts. All of humanity will, one day, be concentrated in one of the two extremes. For now, there is still much grey in the world. Protestants, for example, reject some (but not all) of the Church’s teachings and sacraments. What will happen to these souls is not for us to decide. God will know His own.
In my next post, I will return to my original plan to explain the exegetical basis for my argument. Until then, I look forward to hearing from Mr. Humphrey and others as to whether I satisfactorily answered his query.
Photo credit: Michael McGimpsey. Original image found here.