“…[T]he Church is clearly not being considered as coming from an aggregative natural process, but as being ‘an aggregation directed and determined by grace.”
THE CHURCH, THE PEOPLE OF GOD
“‘You shall be my people,’ we read in Lev 26:12. The ancient people of God were constituted through the blood of sacrificial victims; as such the new people of God, the Church, was born of the blood of the Lamb, sacramentally sacrificed on Holy Thursday and effectively sacrificed the next day upon the hill of Calvary. This theological language which depicts the Church as the people of God is neither strange, nor unfounded, nor poetic. It is biblical.
IT IS BIBLICAL
The Old Testament speaks of the ‘people of Yahweh’ and by this indicates that people which was singled out in a unique way in preference to all other peoples. A special, divine election descended upon this people and it is precisely for this reason that they are said to be OF GOD.
But the new election and covenant characterise the Incarnation of the Word and His work whereby He generated a new people, the Church, as the new people of God. This ‘people of God’ was no longer a people chosen among many; it was not a tribe or a nation; rather it was the immense family made up of all those whom God had called to follow Him through choosing them from every race, language and culture.
Rising to such a dignity, this people, considered generically, is not just a random assembly of persons, but is that people brought into unity upon the axis of a common origin, language and goal. The consciousness of their proper origins being in Christ, their proper language and law being that of fraternal love, and their common destination as being eternity are the basis of being the new people of God.
Furthermore, this name must be rightly. Understood. There is a specifying complement – ‘of God’ – which infinitely transcends the particular notion – ‘people.’ The accent, therefore, should not fall upon the notion, but upon the defining adjective. Readily, then, one grasps that the formula ‘people of God’ does not present to us a natural aggregative process, but an aggregation which is directed and determined by grace.
Thus in order to understand what the Church is, one has to look not so much at the concept of ‘people’ as to the specification ‘of God’. It is the latter which takes the vague notion of people and determines it as being in relation to God: from God, in fact, and only from Him the Church is brought forth, gathered and unified. This is the result of a divine initiative which is made concrete in this very special people convoked from all the ends of the earth and across history, a people which is not determinable in a merely sociological key because they are gifted with a pre-eminently and supremely theological relevance.
THE CHURCH, THE MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST
The relevance of the Church as the Body of Christ is this: a most unique patristic-theological conception which, firmly rooted in the New Testament (and markedly so by the Apostle Paul) represents the Church not only as the Mystical Body of Christ, but even as an unfolding process of identification unto its fullness. Obviously I say ‘fullness’ not to propose the hypothesis of a growth in Christ, who possesses the fullness of the divine life itself, but in reference to the whole of the Christian people who make up Christ’s Body and in whom we find fluctuating the divine presence – stronger in some and weaker in others. An analysis of Col 2:10 and Eph 3:19 clearly shows a growth ‘unto all the fullness of God’ which, while it does not pertain to Christ in Himself, speaks of the fullness of the divine life of Christ in the Church. In so far as she is His Body, she is subject to a relative growth (and can unfortunately also be subject to shrinking due to our sins).
Given this profile, it is important that we never separate Paul’s message about the Church-Body of Christ from his other message – the ‘pleroma’ – which regards the ‘fullness of life’ which is not always reflected upon as it should be (in part due to certain exegetical difficulties). The latter, in fact, crowns the vision of the Church-Body and makes it more comprehensible. The Church, in reality, does not lose any of Her social or institutional constitution, but in actual fact draws Her vital nourishment from Her relationship with Christ and She becomes entirely one in Him, the Head of the Mystical Body. In order to illustrate such a profound unity, the truth of the mystical espousals comes to our aid; from this perspective the Church is seen as the Bride of Christ and the reason for this is drawn from the unity which I mentioned.”
– The above is an excerpt of an article by Brunero Gherardini entitled “Ecclesiological Synthesis” published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries) Year VII – Number 3 March 2013.