Towards Understanding the Crisis – part 2

Towards Understanding the Crisis - part 2

Jacques Maritain wrote a very important book on the Church. He explains how the Church is holy and yet has sinful members. It provides the context for understanding the sex abuse crisis, so that we can avoid the superficial opinions such as this one “Some media commentators are even asking if the Church can survive the crisis.” This is repeated by Philip Jenkins at NPR.

Maritain writes:

“It is fitting here to recall that the mystical Body is a collective body, and to be attentive to the ambiguity of the word member,’ which signifies now one of the constitutive parts of an individual living being, now one of the human persons who form a part of a community. If one of my ‘members’ is sick, I am myself sick. But if a ‘member’ of a learned society or of a political party catches the flu or the cholera, one cannot say for all that that this learned society or this political party has the flu or the cholera.
It is true that the Church is neither a learned society nor a political party nor any mere community whatsoever; she is a person. Yes, but a collective person, — whose unity (of grace) is of the superior and divine order, — and thus the sin of the human persons who are her members, and who each possess free will, and are each capable of following the instinct of grace or of resisting it, is not her sin.
‘Holy’ and sinful at one and the same time, it is in the members of the Church that the paradox resides, and that it resolves itself. Far from having, indeed, the plenitude of grace which in the person of the Church as in that of the Virgin Mary excludes all possibility of sinning, we others, members of the Church here on earth, and the best among us, live by grace and charity only more or less imperfectly (when we live by them); and it is therefore without any contradiction that we can be, in a measure, sanctified ones by the Blood of Christ, while remaining, in another measure, sinners and ungrateful ones.
As soon as one has understood that, by a unique privilege, the Church possesses, by virtue of the image of Christ present in her, a subsistence and personality of grace which in its supernatural unity transcends the natural personality of her members, — that which seemed an enigma becomes decipherable to the mind. That the Church has sin in her members and that she is wholly mingled in sin, — this does not at all make her to be herself sinful, because her personality transcends that of her members, and because they are invested with her personality only to the extent that they live by her life of grace and of charity. One understands at the same stroke that the Church in her own person is ‘indefectibly holy,’ and that she is nevertheless composed of human persons who are all here on earth sinners to some degree, whether it is a question of ‘living’ members who in the measure in which they are living are assumed by the personality of the church while slipping away from it to the extent that they fail, or whether it is a question of the ‘dead’ members more or less anchored in evil or more or less ready to live again, who have withdrawn from the personality of the Church and from her soul, but who belong to her body (and at the same stroke, virtually and initially, to the soul which informs the latter) by the faith (‘dead’ itself without charity) which they have kept, as also by the Baptism which they have received and the other character — imprinting Sacraments which they have been able to receive: inert shreds in which the blood no longer passes, but which the person of the Church considers still to be her own and for which she is more than ever sollicitous. For they were living by her life when she had received them from God in order to lead them to eternal life, and behold them now tom away from her life, and on the way to losing eternal life.
All of this, — it is the very mystery of the Church.”

The book is On the Church of Christ, the chapter is “Church Penitent.” It may be found on line at the Jacques Maritain Center website. Click here..

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