In this article Father Joseph Clifford Fenton answers the charge that "the school theology since the Middle Ages has in some way neglected to consider the Church as the Body of Jesus Christ". The concept of "body" and "soul" of the Church comes up in this writing. There have been some less than precise analogies of this concept by Catholic theologians that have confused the issue and have given the Feeneyites ammunition to denounce all that is taught in theology manuals if it does not suit their purpose. It is important to have a right understanding of things in so far as this is possible. This is why the safer course is to go with what Saint Robert Bellarmine, the greatest doctor in the Church on Ecclesiology, says over those who disagree with him, unless a Pope or perhaps another Doctor of the Church were to do so, and this has yet to happen.
Lay-people should also accept whatever the Church teaches even if they are not sure what it is. We get caught up in places where Angels dare not tread. Instead of making ourselves the arbiters of truth on technicalities that only trained experts are qualified to respond to, we should simply accept the fact that non-members of the Church can be saved because that is an infallible doctrine of the Church. The unschooled debating technicalities, that calls into question what the approved great minds of the Church have clearly taught, harm the Church, as does condemning others on issues you are not qualified to speak on as this confuses and embitters Her members and potential faithful. I speak as one unschooled which is why I present the teaching from a reliable source.
Or better put, "I receive Thee, redeeming Prince of my soul. Out of love for Thee have I studied, watched through many nights, and exerted myself: Thee did I preach and teach. I have never said aught against Thee. Nor do I persist stubbornly in my views. If I have ever expressed myself erroneously on this Sacrament, I submit to the judgement of the Holy Roman Church, in obedience of which I now part from this world."
These words were spoken by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Yet some untrained laypeople and partially trained laypeople and therefore dangerous laypeople dare to oppose what sainted Doctors have taught, claiming it is de fide that there is no such thing as baptism of blood and baptism of desire? It is one thing to admit you are confused on the issue or to admit you are not sure about the teaching. But quite another to insist that those who agree with the Sainted Fathers, Doctors and Popes on the issue, but disagree with you are not Catholic and going to Hell.
God left us a treasury of graces which can be applied to non-members of the Church and help bring them to salvation through conversion or through being attached to the Church at the moment of death. It is quite humbling to consider how just one Ave uttered from our lips, or indulgence applied for a soul who is not a member of the Church, or a soul of God's choice, can be enough to be the difference between its salvation and damnation. You and I can be the difference between whether one is faithfully departed or not. We all should pray for the gift of perseverance and for a happy death.
As we know, some things will be accomplished whether we pray for it or not. Others won't be accomplished no matter how much we pray for it.
The third category is that some things won't be accomplished apart from our prayers. That one Ave from an individual's lips can be what leads a soul to have the proper disposition at death to die in a state of sanctifying grace. No prayer is wasted but some of our prayers will benefit the mystical body of Christ in a way that is different than what we are asking. One might ask that his leg heal, another that his dog stop biting him, another still that the media will go away, but these prayers if not in conformity to God's will, will be applied by God to where they will be best utilized; such as to the benefit of a soul in Purgatory or to one on their death bed. We will have no idea what a difference our prayers have made until we reach our end.
"Yet this, also, must be held, marvelous though it may seem: Christ has need of His members. First, because the person of Jesus Christ is represented by the Supreme Pontiff, who in turn must call on others to share much of his solicitude lest he be overwhelmed by the burden of his pastoral office, and must be helped daily by the prayers of the Church. Moreover as our Savior does not rule the Church directly in a visible manner, He wills to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out the work of redemption. That is not because He is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross He left to His Church the immense treasury of the Redemption, towards which she contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery, and an inexhaustible subject of meditation, that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ offer for this intention and on the cooperation of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially of fathers and mothers of families, a cooperation which they must offer to our Divine Savior as though they were His associates." (Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII) [emphasis added - JG]
God saves all through the Roman Catholic Church. Sanctifying grace comes to all who obtain it through the Roman Catholic Church, through the offering of Mass and as a result of your prayers and mine. Non-members of the Roman Catholic Church can be joined to God through the Roman Catholic Church without realizing it. God knows, and there is no need for the unschooled to speculate, and less need for us to "impose" those speculations on others.
For our part if we do what we can to convert people they will be validly baptized if they have not been already. We fearlessly state the fact that there is no salvation outside the Church and that non-members can be saved by that Church at the moment of death due to their attachment to Her, noting that they become actual members at the moment of death.
If approved and properly trained theologians racked their brains over the technicalities of these issues, who are we to proclaim de fide anything other than what the Church has defined. Namely, that there is no salvation outside the Church and that non-members of that Church can be saved. Anything else is a trap of the Devil to get us to fight each other instead of uniting to convert the world so we do not have to worry if they are members of that Church, inside that Church, joined to that Church, part of the soul of the Church, etc. or not.
Any of my own writing could be erroneous or could explain a truth in a faulty manner, but this is less likely when coming from the greatest theologian of the 20th Century, Fr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, S.T.D.:
"The recent Encyclical Mystici Corporis has naturally aroused a great deal of interest in the teaching about Christ's Mystical Body. One curious by-product of that interest has been the frequently repeated assertion that the school theology since the Middle Ages has in some way neglected to consider the Church as the Body of Jesus Christ. That is a serious charge. It deserves attention.
"The implication seems to be that the writers of theological works used in seminaries and universities since the Middle Ages have failed to bring out the truths presented in the dogmatic portion of the Mystici Corporis. If the accusation has any legitimate foundation then the Encyclical should contain a teaching utterly alien to the literature of school theology from the middle fifteenth century until at least the beginning of the twentieth. The analysis of the Mystici Corporis text will show whether the charge is justified or not.
"The dogmatic section of the Mystici Corporis is divided into two parts. In the first part the Holy Father describes the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. In the second he tells about the union of the faithful with our Lord.
"Pope Pius XII begins his first section by telling why the Catholic Church is aptly described as a body. He informs us that the Church is thus described because it is a visible and organized, possessing a visible rite of initiation, visible sacramental worship and visible members. It is called the body of Christ because our Lord is at once its founder, its head and its support. The term Mystical Body of Christ is applied to the Church since it is distinct from our Lord's physical body and at the same time superior to an ordinary society or moral body in that it has a principle of unity absolutely independent of and superior to the members.
"In the second section of the dogmatic, the Mystici Corporis speaks of the two types of bonds or communications by which men are joined to Christ within the Church. Those men who are united to our Lord by professing His faith, being subject to the legitimate spiritual rulers He has set over His sheepfold, and partaking in the Eucharistic worship which He instituted, are said to be joined in bodily and visible communication with Christ. The second type of communication is spiritual and invisible. It consists in the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Our union with Christ is perfected by God the Holy Ghost dwelling within us. It is expressed in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is pre-eminently the Act of the Mystical Body.
"In the light of the actual text of the Mystici Corporis the charge made against the school theology would seem to be groundless. The various elements which are brought together in the Encyclical's dogmatic section have all been considered in the standard literature of sacred theology since the Middle Ages. Moreover, several of the theses used by the Holy Father have been developed in the school theology since the controversies against the early Protestants.
"There is certainly no ground for saying that the thesis on the visibility of the Catholic Church has been neglected since the Middle Ages. These conclusions received their scientific development at the hands of the Controversialists. Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius (1579) felt called upon to refute the objections of Brentius by proving that our Lord Himself, and not Peter Soto (1563), was ultimately responsible for this thesis.
"Although earlier theologians commonly taught that our Lord was the Founder of the Church, this portion of theology did not begin to have anything like its present theological development until around the end of the seventeenth century. The post-mediaeval school theologians dealt with our Lord's function as the head and the support of the Mystical Body, not only in the treatise De Ecclesia Christi but also in various parts of the section De Verbo Incarnato. The concept of the Church as the Mystical Body was never absent from the school theology. It is found quite well developed in the Summa de Ecclesia of the Cardinal John de Turrecremata (1468), one of the first great theologians after the Middle Ages. It was the turning point of the most important controversies in ecclesiology from his time to our own.
"The teaching on the double bond of union with Christ within the Catholic Church was developed by Catholic controversialists and school theologians from John Driedo (1535) and James Latomus (1546) to St. Robert Bellarmine (1621). The doctrine on the indwelling of the Holy Ghost was found in treatises De Missionibus Divinis. The various tracts De Eucharistia, De Sacrificio and De Sacerdotio brought out the truth that the Mass is the Act of the Mystical Body.
"There is not one dogmatic element in the Mystici Corporis neglected or overlooked in the standard literature of school theology since the Middle Ages. Obviously not every author taught every point. Again, there were various individual writers and teachers who presented elements of the Mystical Body doctrine imperfectly and incompletely. The charge however is leveled at school theology as such, and that charge cannot be sustained.
"Still, it is one thing to say that the older school theologians did not neglect the theology of the Mystical Body and quite another to deny that the Mystici Corporis and the various competent theological treatises on this same subject in our own time represent a definite progress in theological science. Modern theologians such as Mura, Tromp and Gruden have advanced the work of sacred theology considerably by writing their treatises on the Mystical Body. They have performed a work which previous theologians had left undone, not because the older writers failed to consider the teaching, but simply and solely because the science was not far enough advanced in previous times for the sort of work these recent theologians have accomplished.
"What Pope Pius has done, and what the modern school theologians of the Mystical Body have done, is to bring together from every part of theology the various theses which will help men to appreciate the ineffable truth of the Catholic Church's union with our Lord. In doing this they acted in accordance with the principle laid down by the Constitution Dei Filius of the Vatican Council, which taught that men might obtain from God a certain understanding, - and a most fruitful understanding, - of the divine mysteries through the use of analogy with things known naturally and by a comparison of the mysteries among themselves and with the last end of man. The twentieth century theologians of the Mystical Body have simply arrived at a more perfect presentation of their doctrine by bringing together elements which are explained in many parts of sacred doctrine.
"The writers of school theology from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth are not guilty of neglecting the teaching on the Mystical Body simply because this section of sacred doctrine has been developed in our own times. They knew and explained the theology of the Mystical Body even though they did not write the complete twentieth century type of treatise on this subject. The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and the older school theologians were quite well aware of the fact. The theology of the Mystical Body is that portion of sacred doctrine in which we find the scientific exposition of the revealed message about the connection of the Catholic Church with our Lord. The school theologians knew and taught the theology of the Mystical body. A complete theological treatise on the Mystical Body is one in which all the theological elements pertinent to the Church's union with our Lord are brought together and compared, for the sake of a still more perfect and profound understanding of the mystery. The complete theological treatise on the Mystical Body is one of the glories of our own day. It would be naïve in the extreme to blame earlier theologians for not having done what has been distinctively a twentieth century work.
"The theses which have formed the school theology on the Catholic Church since the first part of the eighteenth century were developed in scientific theological form by the classical ecclesiologists from Cardinal John de Turrecremata to Francis Sylvius (1649). As a group these men devoted great attention to the teaching on the Mystical Body. Some of them, like the brilliant controversialists John Eck (1543) and Cardinal Hosius made the Formula "Body of Christ" serve as a definition of the Church. All of them joined the term "Mystical Body of Christ" to a great number of other designations, all of which served as names and figures of the Catholic Church. The classical ecclesiologists used all of these names in their proofs. The term "Body of Christ" in any one of a dozen variants occupied one of the most prominent positions among these names.
"These names or figures listed and used by the schoolmen were designations, both proper and metaphorical, found in the Scriptures or in the fathers and applied to the Catholic Church. Some of them, like Ager and Convivium were taken from our Lord's parables of the Kingdom. Others, as for example Corpus, Columna and Firmamentum are found in St. Paul's epistles. Still others, like Amica and Fons came from Old Testament passages which the Fathers applied to the Church.
"In the writings of the classical ecclesiologists all of these names or figures of the Church played an important role. They were not used merely to show the affection of the writers for our Lord's Church. They entered into the proof and the explanation of the various theses about the Church. Thus the classical ecclesiologists employed the titles Navis, Sponsa and Arca in presenting the theses Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. The names Sagena and Area were used to show that sinners as well as righteous men were to be found in the ranks of the Church Militant. The visibility of the Church was attested in passages which spoke of it as Civitas and Mons. In each case the classical ecclesiologist took either the passage in Scripture referring directly to the Church or the patristic statement in which a scriptural text was appropriated to the Church and employed this statement in proposing his own thesis.
"There were a great many of these names. Turrecremata explains twenty five of them and Francis Sonnious (1576) eighteen. Thomas Stapleton (1598), Francis Suarez (1617), St. Robert Bellarmine) (1621) and Francis Sylvius (1649) all employ over forty of them. Each name was used to show the existence of one definite set of characteristics in the Catholic Church. The very multitude of these names tended to protect these classical theologians against the temptation to carry any single analogy to extravagant lengths. [Emphasis mine as is anything else bolded - J.G.] They could not easily forget that the same organization which St. Paul called the Body of Christ had been compared by our Lord to a net in which both good and bad fishes were enclosed. The Church which was called the garden enclosed was also known as the sheepfold of Christ, containing those sheep over whom our Lord had set His vicar on earth. As a result we look in vain through the writings of these classical school theologians for the errors relative to the Mystical Body reproved in the Mystici Corporis.
"Nevertheless the name Mystical body was vital factor in the writings of the classical theologians. In the days of the classical ecclesiologists the most important controversies in the treatise De Ecclesia hinged upon various ways of interpreting the term body of Christ. These theological differences were settled in a scholarly way [obviously by trained theologians - J.G.], without the acerbity [such as the sourness and roughness shown by the untrained and non-theologians prominent in our day - J.G.] that marked the debates about efficacious grace. As a result they are not as well known as the dispute between the Thomists and the Molinists, even though they contributed a great deal towards our theology of the Catholic Church. The principals in these discussions are among the best theologians in the history of ecclesiology.
"The first of these controversies had to do with the designation of member of the Church. The name Mystical body of Christ indicates the Church as receiving a vital influx from our Lord. The great Dominican Cardinal John de Turrecremata considered a member as a living part of a living organism. As a result he refused the title of member to Catholics in the state of mortal sin. Although sinners as well as righteous men could belong to the Church or be parts of the Catholic Church, they had no right to the dignity and the designation of members.
"The restricted use of the term member continued for some time. Theoretically St. Robert Bellarmine did not approve of it, but in practice he habitually spoke of sinful Catholics as being within the Church rather than as members of this society. Gregory of Valentia (1603) rightly considered that this difference with reference to the title of member was a matter of slight importance. Adam Tanner (1632) and Francis Sylvious finally rejected Turrecremata's terminology since it rested upon an unwarranted analogical use of the word member.
"Like Turrecremata and like the other classical ecclesiologists, James Latomus taught that the Mystical Body of Christ is the actually existing Catholic Church. However the great Louvain controversialist believed that the title Mystical Body belonged primarily to the group living the life of charity within that Church. The actually existing Catholic Church, the Ecclesia permixta, possesses all of her spiritual resources and dignities by reason of the righteous among her members. Thus, according to Latomus, the Ecclesia permixta is properly though not primarily designated as the Body of Christ. Alphonsus a Castro (1559) drew a somewhat similar distinction between the names Corpus Christi and Ovile Christi. St. Robert Bellarmine's teaching on the unity of the Church was instrumental in turning the school theology away from this manner of interpreting the doctrine of the Mystical Body.
"The far-reaching controversy relative to the proper definition of the Church militant of the New Testament was likewise decided in the light of the name Corpus Mysticum. Some of the classical ecclesiologists, notably Suarez and Sylvious, were convinced that an occult heretic should not be numbered among those who belong to the Catholic Church. [Yet the R & R's believe a public heretic does belong to and can even head [!] the Catholic Church - J.G.] Basing their argument upon the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, they reasoned that a man who belongs to the Church should have some part of that life. Since faith is the fundamental act in the supernatural order, they concluded that the man who rejected the faith received no vital influx from Christ and hence should not be considered as a member of the Church.
"Thus they insisted upon defining the Church as the society of those who actually have the divine faith, rather than as the congregation of those who profess that faith. [If an occult heretic Pope professes the faith, or at least does not deny it, then no harm is done to the flock or the visible unity of the Church - J.G.] A good number of early school theologians used that type of definitional.
"Other theologians, among them St. Peter Canisius (1597) St. Robert Bellarmine and Gregory of Valentia, preferred to define the Church in function of the profession of faith rather than in terms of the divine faith itself. These theologians also used the concept of the Mystical body to substantiate their own conclusions. They distinguished two ways in which the members of the Mystical body are connected with our Lord. They spoke of an external and an internal communication within the Church and they held that the external communication alone was sufficient to constitute a man as a member of the Church. Thus the occult heretic, lacking the inward bonds of faith and charity, could still be numbered within the ranks of the Church Militant through his possession of the external communication. [An occult heretic can be a valid Pope . . . that goes to Hell. Such a scenario would be sad, but quite possible. But it is not occult heretics that head the Novus Ordo but manifest public heretics who therefore are not members of the Catholic Church let alone the head of it. - J.G.]
"The Mystici Corporis speaks of these two bonds of union with Christ and describes them as St. Robert Bellarmine did in his De Ecclesia Militante. It is interesting to note that in the De Ecclesia Militante the inward and outward bonds of unity with our Lord are designated under the names of the soul and the body of the Church. Years before St. Robert, James Latomus had fully described these two bonds of unity and had designated them as the spiritual and the bodily communication with the Church. St. Robert simply took the distinction which Latomus had employed to show the effects of excommunication and used that distinction to show that even occult heretics might be truly within the body which is the Church of Jesus Christ, in as much as they possess a real, though external bond of unity with the head of that Church. Catholic Theology since his day has accepted his argument and his definition. It has thereby approved his use of the Corpus Mysticum.
"The concept of the Mystical Body enters into most of theses of the De Ecclesia Militante as proof or an explanation of St. Robert's teaching. The other names of the Church are used with it. St. Robert, like the other classical ecclesiologists, never permitted himself to forget that the institution he was describing and defending was the society which St. Paul had described as Christ's Body. As a result the theses of the classical theology on the Catholic Church are conclusions formulated and developed in the light of the Mystical Body concept. These were the theses which entered and remained in the school theology De Ecclesia Christi. Whatever else it may have done, that school theology certainly did not neglect the doctrine of the Mystical Body.
"At least one misconception which crept into the works of some theologians after the time of St. Robert and his fellows came from an unregulated application of the Body-analogy rather than from any failure to consider it. A good number of subsequent theologians, impressed by St. Robert's use of the terms body and soul of the Church, hastened to include them in their own writings. Unfortunately however they neglected the purpose for which St. Robert had employed these terms. Thus the body and the soul of the Church came ultimately to be considered as societies in some way distinct from one another instead of what they had been in the De Ecclesia Militante, factors by which men were joined together in the unity of the Catholic Church.
"It took well over a century and a half to complete this twisting of St. Robert Bellarmine's teaching. The process however began with a contemporary of the great Controversialist. In his immensely popular seminary manual, the Breviarium Theologicum, John Polman (1649) merely copied what St. Robert had set down about the soul and the body of the Church without giving any hint of the purpose for which these terms had been used. The casual reader of Polman would hardly suspect that his terms referred to factors which had long been known in ecclesiology as the inward and the outward bonds of unity within the visible Church of Jesus Christ.
"A more seriously confused use of St. Robert's terminology on the Mystical Body entered some manuals of school theology through the writings of Charles du Plessis d'Argentre (1740) and Honoratus Tournely (1729). D'Argentre, whose Elementa Theologica appeared some years earlier than the Praelectiones Theologicae de Ecclesia Christi of his older Sorbonne confrere, used the concept of the Mystical body for his fundamental teaching on the Church. 'So great is the analogy between the Mystical Body of the Church and the natural human body that you can easily understand the essence and the properties of the former through the latter.'
"D'Argentre could never be accused of neglecting the concept of the Mystical Body. However he was somewhat careless in handling his analogy, and failed to check his teachings properly with the dicta of traditional theology. He paid comparatively little attention to the other names of the Church. As a result he drew inferences quite at variance with the pronouncements of his predecessors.
"He was among the first to suggest that the Church could be defined in function of what St. Robert had named the soul of the Church, despite the fact that St. Robert himself had brought up the concept of the inward bond of unity and applied the name soul to it precisely in order to show that it should not be an element in such a definition. Furthermore, at the hands of D'Argentre, this inward communication became the soul of the Church, a basic factor in several faulty explanations. He used the visible Church itself, rather than the external bond of unity as the co-relative of this soul and taught that catechumens who died before being received into the Church might be saved through belonging to its soul. [Here is something our Feeneyite friends might read and I believe may rightfully cause them to cringe. There are other sentiments like it in Imprimatured and the Nihil Obstated theology manuals of the pre-Vatican 2 variety. Analogies are analogies. By definition they are not perfect or exact but only similar. They are used to make things easier to understand but faulty or exaggerated analogies can in fact complicate matters. If the doctrine of baptism of blood and baptism of desire were based on such faulty analogies then the Feeneyites would have something to gripe about. But baptism of blood and baptism of desire are not based upon faulty or imperfect analogies, but rather the infallible ordinary teaching of the Magisterium. Obviously catechumens can be saved but they are not members of the ["soul" of the] Church - J.G.]
"Tournely listed a great number of names and figures of the Church. In his theses however, the name Mystical Body is used more than the others. The same tendencies which appear in D'Argentre's work are manifest in his. As a matter of fact, Tournely went further astray than had his younger colleague. Where D'Argentre had suggested a definition of the Church in function of the soul, Tournely actually offered such a definition. Futhermore Tournely was much more effective in popularizing this confusion. Herter's Nomenclator Literarius lists D'Argentre's Elementa Theologica as a rare book. Tournely's manuals were among the most popular handbooks in the history of theological education.
"Where Tournely had simply offered a definition of the Church in terms of the soul, the brilliant German Jesuit Heinrich Kilber (1783) made a triple definition of the Church the basis of his ecclesiology. Two of Kilber's formulae describe the Church "inadequately," one in function of the soul alone, and the other in function of the body alone. The inadequate definition in the light of the body is similar to St. Robert's definition of the Church itself. The definition which described the Church "adequately" took in both the soul and the body. The famous Sorbonne theologian Louis Legrand (1780) finally defined the soul of the Church as a society in some manner distinct from the visible Church itself.
"Although some few school texts incorporated Legrand's teaching about the soul of the Church into their treatises De Ecclesia, this misapplication of the Mystical Body concept was never very influential among the Scholastics. Popularizers rather than proponents of the school theology employed it. The school theology as a whole continued the theses of the classical ecclesiologists, these constructed in the light of an accurate Mystical Body teaching. The school theology since the middle ages prepared the way for the Mystici Corporis." (JOSEPH CLIFFORD FENTON, Washington, D. C., March 1944)
Understand that the phrase "The Mystical Body of Christ" is a phrase that distinguishes Catholic Church from the Physical Body of our Lord. Do not get confused by the term "mystical" and think it means something other than or more than the Catholic Church. The Mystical Body of Christ IS the Catholic Church, plain and simple.
For those who love Truth, it is time crack open Mystici Corporis again and re-study this masterful work written seventy years ago.