Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Catholic Church - Visible and Invisible

Q - My questions have to do with church history. I've realized that a lot of non-Catholics don't seem to recognize the Church as having been spritually AND physically constructed by God. A lot of my friends seem to view the development of Catholicism as similar to the development of any other denomination and I have always seen it as central to the development of Christianity as a whole. Can you help me straighten this all out?


A - Thanks for the question. I will try to help.

Christ founded one Church. This isn't debated, because the Bible is very clear that there is only one Christian Church. That being said, this Church has both an invisible and a visible reality. It is agreed, by almost all Christians, that the invisible reality exists. This means that one way to define this invisible reality is to understand it is made up of the "elect" who are joined to Christ in faith in Him.

But, this does not negate the possibility of a visible reality.

Just as Christ, in the Incarnation, took on both visible and invisible realities - by joining the divine (spiritual alone) with the human (both spiritual and physical) - so the Church now has visible and invisible realities. In other words, the bride of Christ (the Church) has both dimensions, just as Christ does.

We see the Bible echo the physical when the Holy Spirit enters into (and thus gives "birth" to the Church) at Pentecost. Visible leaders are made in the apostles and they are then sent out to continue the mission of Christ.

Thus, to deny a physical reality to the Church of Jesus Christ is to deny the Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
771 "The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men."184 The Church is at the same time:

- a "society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;

- the visible society and the spiritual community;

- the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches."185

These dimensions together constitute "one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element":
Lastly, we must not forget the physical reality of the Eucharist. The Council of Trent taught:
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.
The Church is made by the Eucharist and united in a physical way to our Lord.

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