Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ's Church,
by Monsignor G. Van Noort, S.T.D.,


Article III

THE CHURCH'S HOLINESS

I. Preliminary Remarks:

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its means (or principles).

Proof: 1. from the purpose for which He founded the Church;
2. from the metaphors which He used in describing the Church;
3. from an enumeration of the means of sanctification at its disposal:

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its members (or its effects).

Assertion 1. A harvest of outstanding holiness can never be wanting in the Church.

Proof: 1. from Christ's purpose in founding the Church and the aid He promised;
2. from the fact that the Apostle calls the Church the body of Christ, which Christ nourishes and cherishes;
3. from the fact that Christ wanted His Church to be recognizable by its abundant holiness;
4. from Old Testament prophecies.

Assertion 2. The harvest of holiness, to the extent that it is a minimum requisite to justify one's pointing to the Church's members as holy, does not extend beyond the limits intimated in the above Proposition.

Proof: 1. one has no right to expect all members of the Church to be actually holy.
2. one cannot expect either that of those who are actually brought to holiness, very many will reach a heroic degree of sanctity.

Corollary. The Church can be called unqualifiedly holy.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its charisms, that is, that the Church in every age be enriched with certain miraculous gifts through which God manifests its holiness.


Article III
THE CHURCH'S HOLINESS

I. Preliminary Remarks

Holiness consists in union with God, the supreme Norm of rectitude. It implies two things: being cleansed of anything that can sully, and adhering staunchly to God through love.1

Sanctity has unlimited degrees, for everyone is capable of yet greater holiness. For the present discussion it will suffice to distinguish just two degrees: ordinary, by which one is habitually free of mortal sin, and heroic, by which one surpasses in a notable way the common run of people who live virtuous lives.

Holiness is taken here in its strict sense, such as applies to rational creatures alone. Holiness can, however, be predicated analogously of irrational things like churches and altars, inasmuch as they are set apart for divine worship; or, inasmuch as they have some power to make men holy, like the sacraments, or are signs of inner holiness, like miracles.

Christ's Church is holy on several counts: e.g., because of its Founder and Head, who is the only-begotten Son of God; because of its purpose, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of mankind; about these there is no difficulty. Catholic teaching states in addition that the Church, by the institution of Christ and therefore necessarily and irrevocably, is adorned with a threefold external and visible holiness: that of its means of sanctification, that of its members, and that of its charisms.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its means (or principles).

That is, that the Church possess means suitable to produce moral holiness in people, even perfect and outstanding or heroic holiness.

Proof: That Christ endowed His Church with means of this type is proved:

1. By the purpose for which He founded the Church: He gave himself for us, to redeem us from every kind of iniquity and cleanse a people for his very own, zealous for good deeds (Tit. 2:14-15). Christ loved the Church, and delivered himself for her, that he might sanctify her by cleansing her in the bath of water with the accompanying word, in order to present to himself the Church in all her glory, devoid of blemish or wrinkle or anything of the kind, but that she may be holy and flawless (Eph. 5:25-27). It makes little difference whether one understands the Church in all her glory, devoid of blemish or wrinkle as applying to the Church of this present world, which sparkles with perfect holiness in at least some of its members, or as applying to the Church in the glory of heaven. For the Church Triumphant is made up only of those who were sanctified while here on earth. Now, if it was Christ's will that people be guided to even outstanding holiness by the Church, He certainly must have endowed it with effective means for the attainment of perfect holiness.

2. By the metaphors which Christ used when He called the pastors of His Church “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), and compared the Church itself with yeast (Matt. 13:33). Both of these figures indicate the sanctifying influence which the Church, by the institution of its Founder, is to exercise.

3. By an enumeration of the means of sanctification entrusted to the Church. Our Lord entrusted to the apostles and their successors: (a) sound doctrine, containing both precepts and counsels; (b) sacraments, the instruments of abundant grace, chief of which are baptism (Eph. 5:26-27) and the Eucharist (John 6:54—59); (c) sacred authority, the purpose of which is to instruct all men in Christian perfection:

He established some men as apostles, and some as inspired spokesmen, others again as evangelists, and others as pastors and teachers, thus organizing the saints for the work of the ministry, which consists in building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to unity in faith and deep knowledge of the Son of God. Thus we attain to perfect manhood, to the mature proportions that befit Christ's fullness (Eph. 4:11-13).

The perfect manhood of Christ signifies the fulness of Christian perfection.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its members (or its effects).

That is, that in every age very many of the Church's members be brought to a state of ordinary holiness, and at least some be shining examples of outstanding or heroic holiness. This harvest of holiness may be quite abundant at one time, less satisfying at another.

There are two points to be proved: 1. that a harvest of even outstanding holiness can never be wanting in the Church; and 2. that the harvest of holiness required to justify one's pointing to the holiness of the Church's members does not, for all practical purposes, have to exceed the limits just determined.

Assertion 1. A harvest of even outstanding holiness can never be wanting in the Church.

Proof:
1. From Christ's purpose in founding the Church and the aid He promised. He founded the Church that it might lead men to even perfect holiness; besides, He promised it effective and perpetual help (Matt. 28:20) for the attainment of this purpose. Therefore the Church can no more fail in producing holiness than it can in preaching truth.

2. From the fact that the Apostle calls the Church the body of Christ, which Christ nourishes and cherishes (Eph. 5:23, 29). But if the Church is always animated and made fruitful by the Spirit of Christ, it must at all times produce a harvest of holiness which will be proportionate to such a Spirit; this must include even perfect holiness.

3. From the fact that Christ wanted His Church to be recognizable by its abundant holiness:

“You are the light of the world. It is impossible for a city to escape notice when built on a mountain top. . . . Just so let your light shine before your fellow men, that they may see your good example and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16; see 7:16-17).

This demands that the Church be resplendent with holiness, even outstanding and striking holiness.

4. From the Old Testament prophecies, which describe the Church as a kingdom of surpassing holiness: Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace (Ps. 71:7). And they shall call them, the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord (Isai. 62:12). And the nations shall know that I am the Lord the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary shall he built in the midst of them forever (Ezech. 37:28).

Assertion 2. The harvest of holiness, to the extent that it is a minimum requisite to justify one's pointing to the Church's members as holy, does not extend beyond the limits intimated in the above Proposition.

Proof:
1. One has no right to expect all the members of the Church to be actually holy, for Christ Himself forewarned us that there might be and in fact would be very many sinners in His kingdom. Read the parables of the cockle, of the net, of the wise and foolish virgins.2 Besides, it is clear from the writings of the apostles that even in the primitive Church not all were holy (I Cor. 5; 11:18 ff.; II Cor. 12:20-21). It is enough, then, that there are many in the Church who actually attain holiness.

2. One cannot expect either that of those who are actually brought to holiness, very many will reach a heroic degree of sanctity. Even ordinary holiness is quite a difficult attainment, won only by relentless striving. That is why it is so truly remarkable that so many men and women from every class of mankind, through the influence of the Church, actually do attain it. But heroic sanctity is a sublime state reached only by supreme effort and the most gruelling work. In any field of endeavor those who rise to any notable extent above the common level are usually quite rare. Again, heroic sanctity, at least in the strict sense, is a miracle on the moral plane, involving a very special assistance from Cod. But miracles are something out of the ordinary in the realm of grace as well as in the realm of physical nature. The conclusion should be evident.

Corollary

Granted the holiness of the means at its disposal, the Church, even though perhaps it clasps to its bosom more sinners than saints, can be with justification called unqualifiedly holy. For the saintly members of the Church, since they have been formed through its influence, belong to it precisely because they are holy, but this can not at all be said of sinners. The latter are what they are for the simple reason that they do not follow the standard of life set up by the Church and neglect the means that it provides for them. It would be ridiculous to stigmatize a society because of those members who shun the influence of that society's principles. Even should they be in the majority, they would by no means be representative members.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church be holy as to its charisms, that is, that the Church in every age be enriched with certain miraculous gifts through which God manifests its holiness.

Charisms have an essential relationship to holiness, both because they are signs that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, and because ordinarily they are enjoyed by those who are outstanding for perfect holiness.

Proof:
That Christ willed His Church to he favored with charisms in all ages is proved by His unqualified promise:

“Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to all creation…. And in the way of proofs of their claims, the following will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will take up serpents in their hands, and if they drink something deadly, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and these will recover”
(Mark 16:15-18; see John 14:12; I Cor. 12:4-11).

This promise is general, restricted by no time limit, and therefore it cannot be confined to the apostolic age. And Christ added nothing about the measure in which the promise (which was made to the Church, not to individual Christians) should be fulfilled. Consequently there can he a profusion of miraculous gifts in one age and a relative scarcity of them in another, in accord with the needs of the Church or with the decrees of divine Providence, but they will never be totally lacking. As a matter of fact, they abounded in the Church's infancy, and the chief reason for this was suggested in the treatise on The True Religion (no. 114, 3).


Notes

1. See S.Th. Il-Il, q. 81, a. 8; Salaverri, op. cit., p. 895.
2. Matt. 13:24-30; 48-50; 25:1-12. At the same time, note that the wicked people found in the Church are there not as a result of the Church's influence, but in spite of it, and as the result of completely extraneous circumstances: 'Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? How, then, is it overrun with weeds?' 'That is the work of an enemy!' he replies. Furthermore, all the people in the Church have at least one foot on the path to holiness: they profess the true faith, they are subject to legitimate rulers, and they partake of the sacraments at least to some extent. See C. Journet, Church of the Word, op. cit., p. xxvii; p. 95 ff.; R. H. Benson, op. cit.

(Monsignor G. Van Noort, S.T.D., Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ's Church, Translated and Revised by John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D., S.S.L. & William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D., The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1957. pp 133-140.)


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