Jules Breton 1827 - 1906
Bénédiction des blés en Artois
Oil on canvas
130 x 320 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Arras, Arras
In the nineteenth century, despite or because of the drive from rural agriculture to urban industrialisation, there was a revival of the Doctrine of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ
Pictures show as these illustrated the close connection between rural areas and Catholicism especially in Brittany and Normandy, areas which had resisted the French Revolution at great cost
It was a popular Catholicism with very deep roots
In the towns and cities with greater change and movement, things proceeded at a different pace and in a different way
Metropolitans and intellectuals from an outside point of view could only look at such processions and try to explain them in anthropological terms
It was the view point of the scientist looking at specimens under a microscope
By its very nature there had to be separation between examiner and examinee and a certain attitude of mind of the examiner towards the examinee
In Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), Pope Pius XII rejected absolutely a rationalistic or purely sociological understanding of the Church: simply a human organization with structures and activities. The Church is more: it is guided by the Holy Spirit
He also rejected an exclusively mystical understanding of the Church because a mystical “Christ in us” union would deify its members and mean that the acts of Christians are simultaneously the acts of Christ
He emphasised the comparison of the Church as the "mystical body of Christ" was a metaphor, an important metaphor, but subject to limitations
This view came to be superseded by the image of the Church as "The People of God" in and during and after the Second Vatican Council
Later came the concept of Church as "Communion"
The picture above really illustrates all three visions to a certain extent
There is also that most important element in the work - empathy - which is absent in a purely so called "scientific study"
Before his retirement in February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI talked about these three concepts: metaphors and visions of the Church, how they developed and how they are all linked
"We know that the First Vatican Council was interrupted because of the Franco-Prussian War, and so it remained somewhat one-sided, incomplete, because the doctrine on the primacy – defined, thanks be to God, in that historical moment for the Church, and very necessary for the period that followed – was just a single element in a broader ecclesiology, already envisaged and prepared.
So we were left with a fragment. And one might say: as long as it remains a fragment, we tend towards a one-sided vision where the Church would be just the primacy. So all along, the intention was to complete the ecclesiology of Vatican I, at a date to be determined, for the sake of a complete ecclesiology.
Here too the time seemed ripe because, after the First World War, the sense of the Church was reborn in a new way. As Romano Guardini said: "The Church is starting to reawaken in people’s souls", and a Protestant bishop spoke of the "era of the Church".
Above all, there was a rediscovery of the concept that Vatican I had also envisaged, namely that of the Mystical Body of Christ. People were beginning to realize that the Church is not simply an organization, something structured, juridical, institutional – it is that too – but rather an organism, a living reality that penetrates my soul, in such a way that I myself, with my own believing soul, am a building block of the Church as such.
In this sense, Pius XII wrote the Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi as a step towards completing the ecclesiology of Vatican I.
I would say that theological discussion in the 1930’s and 1940’s, even in the 1920’s, was entirely conducted under the heading Mystici Corporis. It was a discovery that brought so much joy at that time, and within this context emerged the formula: We are the Church, the Church is not a structure; we Christians, all together, we are all the living body of the Church.
And naturally, this obtains in the sense that we, the true "we" of believers, together with the "I" of Christ, are the Church; every single one of us, not a particular "we", a single group that calls itself Church. No: this "we are Church" requires me to take my place within the great "we" of believers of all times and places.
Therefore, the primary idea was to complete ecclesiology in a theological way, but also in a structural way, that is to say: besides the succession of Peter, and his unique function, to define more clearly also the function of the bishops, the corpus of bishops. And in order to do this, the word "collegiality" was adopted, a word that has been much discussed, sometimes acrimoniously, I would say, and also in somewhat exaggerated terms.
But this word – maybe another could have been found, but this one worked – expressed the fact that the bishops collectively are the continuation of the Twelve, of the corpus of Apostles. We said: only one bishop, the Bishop of Rome, is the successor of a particular Apostle, namely Peter. All the others become successors of the Apostles by entering into the corpus that continues the corpus of the Apostles. Hence it is the corpus of bishops, the college, that is the continuation of the corpus of the Twelve, and thus it has its intrinsic necessity, its function, its rights and duties.
To many this seemed like a power struggle, and maybe some were thinking of their power, but substantially it was not about power, but about the complementarity of the different elements and about the completeness of the corpus of the Church with the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, as structural elements; and each of them is a structural element of the Church within this great corpus.
These, let us say, were the two basic elements – and in the meantime, in the quest for a complete theological vision of ecclesiology, a certain amount of criticism arose after the 1940’s, in the 1950’s, concerning the concept of the Body of Christ: the word "mystical" was thought to be too spiritual, too exclusive; the concept "People of God" then began to come into play.
The Council rightly accepted this element, which in the Fathers is regarded as an expression of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. In the text of the New Testament, the phrase Laos tou Theou, corresponding to the Old Testament texts, means – with only two exceptions, I believe – the ancient People of God, the Jews, who among the world’s peoples, goim, are "the" People of God.
The others, we pagans, are not per se God’s People: we become sons of Abraham and thus the People of God by entering into communion with Christ, the one seed of Abraham.
By entering into communion with him, by being one with him, we too become God’s People.
In a word: the concept of "the People of God" implies the continuity of the Testaments, continuity in God’s history with the world, with mankind, but it also implies the Christological element. Only through Christology do we become the People of God, and thus the two concepts are combined.
The Council chose to elaborate a Trinitarian ecclesiology: People of God the Father, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Yet only after the Council did an element come to light – which can also be found, albeit in a hidden way, in the Council itself – namely this: the link between People of God and Body of Christ is precisely communion with Christ in Eucharistic fellowship. This is where we become the Body of Christ: the relationship between People of God and Body of Christ creates a new reality – communion.
After the Council it became clear, I would say, that the Council really discovered and pointed to this concept: communion as the central concept. I would say that, philologically, it is not yet fully developed in the Council, yet it is as a result of the Council that the concept of communion came more and more to be the expression of the Church’s essence, communion in its different dimensions: communion with the Trinitarian God – who is himself communion between Father, Son and Holy Spirit – sacramental communion, and concrete communion in the episcopate and in the life of the Church."