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The Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Creed

December 28, 2013

250px-Nicaea_iconIn many ways, the Church, the Bride and Body of Christ, defies description even as our Lord, perfect God and perfect man, defies description. Even as the perfections of God are beyond number and comprehension, so the attributes of the Church are as innumerable as the depths of Christ’s divinity are unfathomable. With a divinely keen eye, the holy fathers of the second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 381) have identified four attributes that are essential for us and for our salvation: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. Even as the unity and holiness of the Church that we examined last week are intimately related to Christ, so are her catholicity and apostolicity.

Christ embraces all of humanity, encompasses all of humanity, and unites all of humanity in Himself. And so does His Church. Being catholic, καθολική, can be defined in terms of conciliarity, that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all (Saint Vincent of Lerins, PL 50.637) with the emphasis being placed neither on geography, nor on demographics, but instead on an interior, spiritual state of faith whose primary point of reference is the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided. In explaining this essential attribute, Saint Justin Popovich refers to Saint Paul in his letter to the Colossians, “The Lord Christ, the God-man, has by Himself and in Himself most perfectly and integrally united God and Man and, through man, all the worlds and all created things to God. The fate of creation is essentially linked to that of man (cf. Romans 8:19-24). In her theanthropic organism, the Church encompasses ‘all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers’ (Colossians 1:16).”

The catholicity of the Church is an extension of the catholicity of the Incarnation that we recently celebrated.  By uniting God to man by becoming Incarnate, the Lord Christ touches all of creation with His grace and love, uniting earth and heaven in His person. Likewise, in the Church, earth and heaven are united under one roof of the Father’s heavenly house and united in one gathering around the throne of the Holy Trinity.  Welcoming all to the banquet of the Lamb, the Church reaches out to the world with a universal love that enables that union with God in Christ to be realized in the hearts of the faithful who in turn are moved to love God and neighbor with a Trinitarian love that seeks not its own. No one escapes the munificence of God’s gift of love first revealed at the Incarnation and which continues in His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  God’s love in His self-offering is not culturally, historically, or linguistically limited. It is truly universal, catholic in the sense of being in everything (καθ᾽ ὅλου) without ever meaning a conglomerate of many things (καθ᾽ ὅλα). In this sense all are invited to the banquet of God’s unifying and transfiguring love.

Saint Justin Popovich explains this teaching when he writes, “The theanthropic catholicity of the Church is actually an unceasing christification of many by grace and virtue: all is gathered in Christ the God-man, and everything is experienced through Him as one’s own, as a single indivisible theanthropic organism. For life in the Church is a theanthropic catholicization, the struggle of acquiring by grace and virtue the likeness of the God-man, christification, theosis, life in the Trinity, sanctification, transfiguration, salvation, immortality, and churchliness. Theanthropic catholicity in the Church is reflected in and achieved by the eternally living Person of Christ, the God-man Who in the most perfect way has united God to man and to all creation, which has been cleansed of sin, evil, and death by the Savior’s precious Blood (cf. Colossians 1:19-22). The theanthropic Person of the Lord Christ is the very soul of the Church’s catholicity. It is the God-man Who always preserves the theanthropic balance between the divine and the human in the catholic life of the Church. The Church is filled to overflowing with the Lord Christ, for she is ‘the fullness of Him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:23). Wherefore, she is universal in every person that is found within her, in each of her tiny cells. That universality, that catholicity resounds like thunder particularly through the holy apostles, through the holy fathers, through the holy ecumenical and local councils.”

As the God-man Christ is the ultimate point of reference for the meaning of catholicity, so He is also the key to understanding the apostolicity of the Church, for He is “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1), the Apostle of (meaning the one sent by) the Divine Father, the Apostle of the Holy Trinity. The Apostles—illumined, purified, and perfected in Christ—were then sent to offer this same illumination, purification, and perfection in Christ to all of humanity. Saint Justin continues, “The holy apostles were the first god-men by grace. Like the Apostle Paul each of them, by his integral life, could have said of himself: ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20). Each of them is a Christ repeated; or, to be more exact, a continuation of Christ. Everything in them is theanthropic because everything was received from the God-man. Apostolicity is nothing other than the God-manhood of the Lord Christ, freely assimilated through the holy struggles of the holy virtues: faith, love, hope, prayer, fasting, etc. This means that everything that is of man lives in them freely through the God-man, thinks through the God-man, feels through the God-man, acts through the God-man and wills through the God-man. For them, the historical God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the supreme value and the supreme criterion. Everything in them is of the God-man, for the sake of the God-man, and in the God-man. And it is always and everywhere thus. That for them is immortality in the time and space of this world. Thereby are they even on this earth partakers of the theanthropic eternity of Christ.”

The catholicity and apostolicity of the Church speak to us about the vastness and specificity of God’s providential love for each one of us. Christ includes all and is sent to all through His servants, the Apostles, the Martyrs, and all the Saints. Being catholic and apostolic, the Church open her arms to all and seeks out every lost sheep. Someone cares about us. A great cloud of witness—who have lived, suffered, and reached that goal for which we  long—encompasses us (Hebrews 12:1). We are not left orphans (John 14:18).  The Fall left us desolate and divided.  The wondrous work of the Lord Christ through His birth, life, crucifixion, and Resurrection unite us to one another and to our Heavenly Father.  Our Savior Christ is as close to us as the Church militant on earth and as wonderworking as the Church triumphant in heaven. This knowledge should help us realize that we are all connected to one another and all connected to Christ. We all have the same goal. We all have received the same gift. A goal and a gift that contains all that is good, all that is holy, all that is precious, and all that is true. That gift is Christ who can be experienced and lived in His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. With gratitude for such a gift, may we also strive to become universal bringing all of humanity into our hearts and apostolic seeking to offer Christ to a suffering world.

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