27 May

“‘The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened’ (Matthew 13:33).


The Church, the kingdom which Jesus established in the world for the salvation of men, is endowed with many qualities, some visible and some invisible. It is visible in its hierarchy, in the distinction which exists between the Pope, bishops and priests and laity: the Pope, bishops and priests who teach the message of Jesus to the world and administer the sacraments whereby the grace of Jesus is communicated to men; and the laity who receive and believe the message and accept the sacraments whereby they are saved. But the Church is invisible in the grace which it communicates to men. The sacraments which communicate grace to men can be perceived by the senses of men, but the grace which they impart, since it is a share in the very life of God Himself, is as invisible as the divine life. Thus it is that the Church, which is a visible organism, visible in its hierarchy and its membership in this world, visible in the preaching and professing of the Gospel, visible in its sacraments and divine worship, is also through the grace it imparts invisible like leaven hidden in flour. The hidden leaven, however, does produce a visible effect: the loaf of bread into which it raises and expands the flour. Similarly the grace of God, which is the life of the Kingdom of Jesus, though it produces chiefly a spiritual invisible effect, also produces visible effects in the world of men, a raising and an expansion of the knowledge and the conduct of men. It is this latter effect of the life of the kingdom on the life of the world that we shall now briefly consider.


In the first place the Kingdom of God on earth, through the action of the Holy Spirit, thhe source of life, has raised the minds of men from ignorance to truth. It is through faith, the power to believe which the Holy Spirit gives to men, that men know the basic truths which explain the meaning of existence. Moved and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church teaches men that there is one supreme God, Whose life is so intense that it is shared in its ineffable unity by three divine Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Triune God is absolute, infinite Love, and from the generosity of this Love there flows the creative act whereby God creates the world, gives existence to all that has been, is or will be. In this same infinite generosity God calls His intellectual creatures, angels and men who are created in His own image and likeness, to share most intimately in His own Trinitarian life, to live as children and friends with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But this call is to be answered freely by angels and men, for God has generously given them the freat gift and power of individual freedom.


Unfortunately some of the angels, through pride, rejected the divine call and have been condemned forever to the loss of the promised vision of God, a loss which is the principal element of the hell to which they have been condemned. One of them, their leader Satan, moved by the hatred and envy of good which sin engenders, seduced Adam and Eve, the first human beings. In Adam and Eve the whole human race lost the divine grace which would have ultimately brought all men to the blessed vision of God. But God, because of His infinite love and mercy for men, determined to give men another chance. In the fullness of time He sent His own Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to save men. The Son of God became man, incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who thus became the Mother of God. This incarnate God, known in human history as Jesus the Christ, both Son of God and Son of Mary, gave to the world the message of hope and salvation whereby men are freed from ignorance of their own destiny, of the true meaning of their existence. By His saving death on the Cross, a death which He offered freely to His Father as a payment for the sins of men, He won from the Father the return of divine grace to men, the grace which enables men to share in the life of God in this present world and to grow into the vision of God which is their true destiny after death. To convey this grace to men, to inform men of the divine message of hope and salvation, Jesus established His kingdom, His Church, the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic Church [Mt 16:18]. The Church exists in the world as a visible sign of God’s call to men to share in His divine life [Mt 5:14-16;17-18], to escape from the monotonous, frustrating misery to which mankind is bound if it will not answer the call of God’s love. It is in and through the Church, in union with Christ, Who is the Head of His Body [Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:12], which is the Church, that men offer to God the one true sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus [Mk 14:22-24; 1 Cor 10:16]. It is by uniting themselves with the sacrifice of the Body and the Blood of Jesus on the Cross, a sacrifice which is perpetually re-presented to God and to the world in the sacrifice of the Mass, that men offer to God the worship of adoration, thanksgiving, petition and reparation for sin which is alone pleasing to God. It is through the Mass and the sacraments, whose efficacy stems from the Cross, that God blesses man’s worship with the gift of His grace, molding men into the likeness of Jesus, His well-beloved Son, so that through this likeness they may be acceptable to God and may share in His life.


Down through the ages of time, such time as it is still allotted to man, the Church will bring this message and these means of salvation. If men will heed the divine call and live in God’s grace, they will be rewarded with the vision of God, in which man’s true happiness is alone found, and at the end of time they will rise gloriously from the tomb to live forever even in the body. If they will not heed the call or remain faithful to it in God’s grace, at death they will forfeit forever the vision of God and at the end they will rise ingloriously in the body to suffer eternally even in the body.


Those who heed the call of Jesus and enter into His kingdom in this world form with Him one Body, His Church. They live with Him, in Him and by Him. The bond of their union with Him is not only the external profession of faith by which they give their allegiance to Him and to His message but it is also the invisible bond of grace and charity by which they share in His divine life and by which they live in union with Him, with His Father and His Holy Spirit, and with one another in the Communion of Saints, which is His Church.


At the end of time Jesus, the Son of God to Whom God the Father has given all judgment, will come with His angels and His Apostles to judge all men. When by His judgment the good have been separated from the wicked, then will all men see the true final dimensions of His kingdom. Then will all men and angels see the final result of that leavening action which the Church, the Kingdom of God, is now exercising, partly visibly and partly invisibly, in this present world.


This, all too briefly and inadequately, is a summary of the great truths which God reveals to the world in and through His Church, His kingdom on earth. Those who receive it humbly and lovingly in faith are enriched intellectually, immeasurably beyond those who will not accept it. Through the revealed word and the incarnate Word of God they have learned the secrets of the innermost core of being, of existence. Though they live in the midst of the bewildering and frustrating complexities of sinful human history, they know, in faith, that beneath all apparent contradictions and beyond all hopelessness there lies the one Truth and Love which is God, the foundation of hope. In the golden age which flourishes in each civilisation which comes to be in human history, they are not so beguiled by the beauty and perfection of the world man has made as to forsake the God Who is the Author of man’s perfection. In times of barbarity and decadence, such as come at the decline of all purely human civilisations, they are not so disheartened as to hate and reject, or to hopelessness and despair. Armed with the saving Truth of God, with the knowledge of the hope-engendering Love of God, the member of Christ’s kingdom lives serenely in the midst of the calm or the turbulence of human history, knowing that the God Who underlies and permeates all history will in His own good time manifest the meaning of it all.


The Church, of course, is primarily interested in transmitting to men the knowledge of the divine revelation which Jesus, her Founder and Head, has entrusted to her. But, as a kingdom founded on universal charity, on love for all men and for all that is truly human, she has in the course of history interested herself in the discovery and transmission of all true knowledge.

In the beginning, as was natural, her interest was chiefly in theology, the application of human reason to the proper understanding of divine revelation and of the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible) in which the story of God’s revelation is contained.


In the case of Sacred Scripture it is the Church herself who preserved these inspired books for the world. As early as 382 A.D. A Council of Rome under Pope Damasus drew up the list of the books of the Old and the New Testaments. The list was reaffirmed by the third Council of Carthage in 397, by Pope Innocent I in 405 and by Pope Gelasius I in 495. It was not until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the Church, faced with the attempts of some of the ‘Reformers’ to remove from the Bible texts which could not be reconciled with their new doctrines (Luther [threw out books ‘clashing’ with his brand new doctrine including] the Epistle of St James which said, ‘So also, faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself,’ a statement which contradicted Luther’s teaching that faith alone was necessary for salvation), reaffirmed both the divine inspiration of the Bible and the list of books of the Bible which the Church had accepted from the beginning.


The first traces of this effort can be seen in the works of the early Christian apologists, especially Justin the Martyr and Tertullian. Justin, a pagan philosopher converted to Christianity, sought, even if not quite correctly, to show that the human wisdom of the pagans had been anticipated by and even perhaps drawn from the divine reveltions contained in the Bible. Tertullian, with a mind more legal than philosophical, sought to give more precision to the terms in which the Christian mysteries were to be affirmed. In the middle of the second century A.D. We find a theological school functioning at Alexandria in Egypt, a famous centre of Greek and Jewish learning. In the middle of the third century a new theological school was founded at Antioch. From this time on, the Church has never lacked schools of theology and theologians. Before the breakdown of the Roman Empire the Church had produced the enduring theological works of the Great Cappadocians, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Western Church the powerful theological understanding manifested in the works of the great St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Africa.


Even after the collapse of the empire in the face of the barbarian invasions of Europe and Africa, and in spite of the disruption of the Christian world by the Mohammedan conquests, ecclesiastical study and learning did not cease. Christian monks, especially the Benedictines, a monastic order founded at Monte Cassino in 529 by St Benedict, preserved in their monasteries copies of the books of the Bible, of the works of the Christian apologists and theologians, and even the works of pagan writers. They conducted schools for the education of the young and the training of clerics for the service of the Church and the civil authorities. In the seventh century Irish monks conducted schools in Ireland and sent teachers to the Continent to conduct schools there. Under the great Emperor Charlemagne a nnew impetus was given to learning by the founding of his famed Palace School under the guidance of a group of scholars drawn from all Europe. During the Carolingian Renaissance under the successors of Charlemagne interest in learning increased. The study of theology was furthered by the reintroduction of the use of Aristotele’s Logic. A new interest in classical Latin literature led even to a revival of works of poetry.


By the twelfth century theologians were well on their way to a great synthesis of all theological learning. Peter Lombard composed his ‘Four Books of Sentences,’ in which he tried, with great success, to organise systematically all theology. Efforts such as this came to greater success in the thirteenth century, especially in the masterful Summa theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas, a theological synthesis whose influence has lasted until the present time.


After the Golden Age of Scholasticism (as it came to be called) in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, theology and philosophy declined in quality until the attacks of the ‘Reformers’ on the authority of the Church brought on a revival. At first, as circumstances dictated, the efforts of theologians. Were devoted to a defence of the Church as God’s mouthpiece in the world. But a more serious danger soon threatened the leavening action of the Church in the world. Under influence of the philosophical errors of Descartes, Locke, Hume and Kant, philosophy was corrupted and fell into the decadence of relativism, the theory that since nothing is absolutely true then anything and everything, even contradictory propositions and contradictory religious doctrines, can be simultaneously true. Moreover (according to relativist theory), since contradictory views can both be true, even in matters of religion, there can be no exclusively true divine revelation recognisable as such. According to this view then all religions are equally true or none is true, and since (as they say) there can be no rational justification of any particular religion, the ultimate foundation of any religion would have to be purely subjective and emotional.


This is the modern religious error which the Church, the teacher of mankind, faces. Against it the Church at the Vatican Council reaffirmed its belief in the power of the human mind to discover the existence of God and to recognise as divine the revelation which the Church is divinely commissioned to teach to the world. This particular struggle is not yet over; the Pope and bishops and the philosophers and theologians of the Church are still labouring to effect a reconciliation of the spirit of the times with the eternal truths of God’s revelation.


As we have already suggested, the Church has not only fostered the pursuit of theological knowledge. She has also preserved and promoted general knowledge. The classical works of paganism, literary, historical, scientific, philosophical and theological, were preserved by the Church through the so-called Dark Ages of medieval Europe. They were learned and taught in conjunction with religious knowledge. Though for centuries learning was the privilege of the nobility or of the wealthy, the Church was always interested in the instruction of the poor. For centuries clerics of the Church were among the most learned men of their times, and the Church was always solicitous to give clerical training to the children of the poor. The great medieval universities (such as the Sorbonne at Paris and Oxford) were founded under the aegis of the Church and staffed by clerics of the Church. The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century urged the foundation of elementary schools. Great teaching orders, such as the Jesuits, the congregations of teaching brothers and sisters, have been founded to give the benefits of education to all. Like her Master, Jesus, the Church strives to bring to all men the truth which will make them free.


The leavening work of the Church has not been restricted to the field of knowledge. Through her influence and example the moral tone of mankind has also been elevated. In the pagan and corrupt world in which the Church was born, she appeared as the champion of a highly elevated moral code. She reprobated not only sinful external actions but even sinful internal desires and decisions. Not only was adultery forbidden, for example, but even the sinful lusting of the heart after forbidden impurities. Not only was chastity in marriage inculcated, but virginity (for both men and women) was extolled. As a consequence of original sin human beings are all too prone to forget God in the pursuit and enjoyment even of legitimate pleasures such as those of marriage. As an example of true dedication to God, man’s true destiny, the Church holds up to the eyes of the world its celibate priests, its consecrated monks and nuns. By their practice of virginity they are an example to the world of the utter dedication to God which is the fundamental duty of all men. Besides, by their faithfulness to their dedication they prove to the weak, the timid and the ungenerous that the grace of God, purchased by the Blood of Jesus, can really set men free from the tyranny of the devil, the world and the flesh. Moreover, from the beginning the Church has taught the world that heroic virtue is possible, not through human justice but through the supernatural charity, the supernatural love of God and man which God gives to men with His grace. Sin has begotten discord and hatred in the life of humanity. Grace and charity will not only restore men to union with God but also enable men to live in harmony and love with one another.


The Church appeared in the world of men preaching this high moral ideal. Over the centuries it has succeeded in realising this ideal in varying degrees. On the level of the individual person it has had from the beginning startling successes. In the first three hundred years of its existence thousands of Christians publicly manifested their dedication to God to the extent of giving up their lives for Him during the Roman persecutions of Christianity. The leavening vitality of the Gospel, its power to lead men to prefer God to all else, is all the more noticeable in the fact that the early Christian martyrs are found not only among the nobility and the military forces (who might be expected by reason of their breeding, position or training to be brave in the profession of their faith) but also among the women, both rich and poor, and children. These early martyrs were the first Christian saints. Their example of preference for God even over life itself has been imitated by all the martyrs for Christ down to the present time.


Even in times and places where the Church has not been actively persecuted, the Church has never been lacking in examples of men and women totally dedicated to the love and service of God and man. From St Martin of Tours (the first non-martyr to be recognised as a saint by the Church) to St Maria Goretti in this present time (a young girl who preferred death to loss of chastity) the history of the Church shows a procession of saints choosing God rather than the seductive pleasures of the world. In addition to the canonised saints of the Church, from the very beginning of her life on earth the Church has inspired countless thousands to forswear the pleasures of the world and its power for the love of God in monasteries and convents.


In a world corrupted and debased by the indulgence of the flesh St Mary Magdalene and St Augustine give testimony to the power of God to convert and save the sinner. In a world torn by restless human ambitions and the marches and countermarches of military conquest, St Benedict and St Scholastica forsake worldly ambition for the peace and the love of God. In a world beginning anew to love money and wealth overmuch St Francis of Assisi gives up all his worldy possessions to the poor and embraces his Lady Poverty for the love of God and man. In a world in which nationalistic aims are seeking to divide and conquer the Church of Christ St Ignatius founds the Society of Jesus to defend and spread the Kingdom of God universally among men. In a world in which misguided men were trying to find God outside His own Church, insisting that no intermediary be interposed between the individual and God, God raised up a St Teresa of Avila and a St John of the Cross to show that true unity with God is to be sought in the fruitful bosom of His Church.


But it is not only in the lives of individual saints that the power of the Gospel has been manifest. Through the influence of the Church social morality in general has also been raised to higher levels. Even though the ignorance and weak wills of men have made the process slow and uncertain at times, the Gospel of Jesus has brought great benefits to mankind. From the beginning the Church has made no distinction between slaves and freemen. Over the centuries this has gradually led to the abolition of slavery in Christian nations. The Church’s doctrines and its reverence for Mary, the Mother of God, has likewise led many nations to raise the position of women in society. In a truly Christian society they cannot be regarded as either the slaves or the playthings of men. Even the horrors of war were mitigated under the influence of the doctrine of Christ. In the Middle Ages (the great ages of faith thus far in the history of the world) the Church even induced men to practise the Truce of God, whereby they abstained from battle on certain feast days. In modern times with the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution the Church has fought for the rights of both capital and labour, for the right and necessity of labour unions to exist and to function for just wages. In large part the present world, even when expressly anti-Catholic, is living under the influence and heritage of the great elevation of morals brought to the world by the preaching and practice of Christian moral doctrine.

Of course the Church has not been completely successful in elevating the moral conduct of all men, even of all those nominally members of the kingdom of God. Nor does she ever expect in this present world to be completely successful. Jesus has told her more than once that she will always count among her members good and evil men. The Church He has told her is like a net which brings up both good and bad fish, or a field in which both good grain and weeds will grow. It is God Who will separate the good from the evil and manifest His judgement at the end of the world. So the Church is not dismayed at the scandalous behaviour of some Christians, even though at times they be in high places, perhaps as in the cases of some few Popes, even in the highest place of all. In spite of all individual defections the Church continues to preach Christian morality to the world.


Today the Church faces the horror of totalitarianism, a godless totalitarianism which denies God, rides roughshod over the dignity of individuals, reduces men to statistics. Almost alone in the world she still cries out that God gave Himself on a Cross for the salvation of all men and that therefore each human being is in himself of inestimable value, a child of God, a brother of Jesus the Christ.


How this present struggle of the Church with the power of the devil and the bad will of men will be resolved we cannot at present see. But, whether the Church grows or diminishes in the present world, it still remains true that she will be until the end a leaven in the world, secretly or openly building up the kingdom of heaven until it reaches the stature already determined by God. At the end of time with the general judgement of God the true proportions of the kingdom, the full extent of the leaven of the Church, will be revealed in the final Kingdom of God.”
– Martin J. Healy, S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)


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