Tuesday, April 17


Thoughts Ecclesial

It's interesting to me that the thrust of Augustine's argument about "outside the Church there is no salvation" is this: people who leave the Church have set limits to those upon whom they will bestow Christian love, whereas the "Universal" Church is the obligation, not to love friends only, not to love people just like oneself who are images of oneself ("even the pagans do this"), but to love the entire universal Body of Christ without a self-delineating love. Because only this selfless love is salvific (because it is none other than grace itself, the love of God "poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit," Romans 5:5) , and because that selfless, universal love is found in a universal ("katholicos") communion, for that reason there is "no salvation outside the Church," because this fruit of all-embracing love is not possible when one defines oneself into self-selected group.

To say there is "no salvation outside the Church" is to say that the fruit of selfless love which should arise out of baptism cannot take root in a small garden. No: our love is katholicos; it must grow in a universal communion, without a decision to limit it to a select few. This is Augustine's defense of the Church.

It is this vision of "church" which can realize that people who do not cut themselves off from the unity of the Body of Christ in a properly moral act, those who have not deformed their hearts (by regulating themselves to a self-select group of "Christians it is OK to love") can still bear the fruit of salvific, katholicos, and self-sacrificial love.

It is not only God who is love: it is also the Church that is love, and a katholicos love. This spirit must be the animating spirit behind our ecclesiology if it is to be Christian ecclesiology, as opposed to elaborate systems of "who is in" and "who is out." The Church is those who, submitting to the belief and practice received from Christ and held by all, do not reject the challenge to grow--by grace--into a universal love. That is why Luther has been called "heresiarch": not because "sola fides" and "sola scriptura" were the greatest heresy the Church ever faced in themselves, but rather his refusal to submit, in love, to the tradition and teaching of the universal communion. It is not raw doctrinal purity that is salvific, but rather that love which is willing to submit to what the whole Church has recieved from the Apostles about its Lord. This spirit of communion and humility of heart, this catholic love, is what is salvific. Hence a heretic is not so much the person who has no doctrinal error: certainly many Catholics, ignorant of a particular teaching or another, have been in error but died without the formal description "heretic": the truer sense of "heretic" is the one who loves his own opinion over the teaching that binds the communion together, and therefore loves his own opinion more than the universal communion itself. The perfectly sound in doctrine may yet be damned: but the perfectly sound in love is saved precisely by that God-given love.

The Church is where the love which is the love we must have of Christ, the love which is His self-sacrificial and all-encompassing love, grows in our hearts and is born out towards our fellow parishioners. It cannot be knowingly and willingly rejected, especially in favor of a small self-selected group, without deforming our hearts so terribly that it robs us off that "universal love" which is the eventual fruit of baptism. And that is the thrust of Augustine's ecclesiology.

This is not said in any opposition to any of the Church's magisterial teaching on ecclesiology: it is said as precisely the spirit in which the Church's teaching on ecclesiology makes sense.

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