Circular Letter: Summer 1995
Christ & His Living Body, The Church
In Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself, all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1,19). St. Paul insists on the physical dimension of this mystery, “the whole fullness of God dwells bodily” in Christ (Col. 2,9). The Incarnation, therefore, contains the complete revelation: 1) about God, “He who sees me, sees the Father!” (Jn 14,9); and 2) about God’s plan for creation, “to recapitulate all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1,10). Now the Father accomplished this in Christ “when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places far above every principality, virtue, power and domination… He has put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Eph 1,20-21. 22-23).
In this meditation I wish to present and explain two points at the hand of St. Thomas Aquinas: 1) the fact of the full membership of the Holy Angels in the Mystical Body of Christ; and, 2) how Christ incorporates and animates the members of His Mystical Body, such that they be truly one with Him.
The Holy Angels: Living Members of The Church
Christ is sovereign Lord over all the spirits; He exercises His power and authority over both the good and evil spirits. With respect to the Holy Angels, He is also their Head and source of supernatural life in such wise that they are truly members of His Mystical Body. St. Thomas teaches this common doctrine in a number of places, basing his argument on the teaching of the Apostles. The faithful, together with the holy angels, form one body because they all share in one common goal, the fruition of God, to which no one comes except through Christ (III. 8, 4c). Christ humanly enjoys this fruition more perfectly than any creature. He was constituted as the universal principle of grace for all creatures by God (cf. III. 7, 9c). From His fullness we have all received, men and angels (cf. Jn 1,16).
Christ’s Grace Transcends Time
Like the Blessed Virgin who was immaculately conceived and redeemed by Christ in anticipation of the Incarnation, so too were the angels sanctified by the light of Christ at the beginning of the world. Pope Leo XIII similarly taught that the grace of all saints from the Old Covenant is attributable to Christ (Ds. 3329). Insofar as Christ is the eternal sacrament of salvation, God made Him the sign and instrument of all grace in creation; by their willing adherence to Christ, whether future or present, all rational creatures come to salvation.
Gottschalk of Limbourg (d. 1098) celebrated this salvation of the angels by Christ in a poem in which he assigned three motives for the Redemption: “So that the angel not fall / so that fallen man arise / so that the tempter not rise.” St. Bernard, apparently inspired by this text, declared: “He Who raised up fallen man, gave to the standing angel that he not fall. Thus has He led the one out of captivity, and defended the other from falling into captivity. And for this reason He [Christ] was the redemption of both, saving the one, preserving the other. It is clear therefore that the Lord Christ was the redemption for the holy angels as well as their justice, wisdom and sanctification” (Serm. on the Song of Songs, 20).
St. Thomas Aquinas: All Angelic Grace Comes from Christ
St. Thomas presents this doctrine in a number of lapidary texts. In the treatise De Veritate, he writes: “There was a fittingness in this humanity [of Christ] not only to have grace but also to communicate it to other beings,… And because in some sense Christ communicates the effects of grace to all rational creatures, this is why He is in some sense the source of all grace in His Humanity, just as God is the source of all being. For, as all the perfection of being is united in God, in Christ the fullness of all grace and virtue is found, and because of it He not only is capable of the work of grace Himself but can bring others to grace. For this He has the headship [in the mystical body]” (29,5c).
Aquinas affirms that the humanity of Christ is the source of grace “in some sense” because, strictly speaking, God alone is the source of Grace. The qualification here focuses on the manner in which Christ’s humanity can be the source and cause of grace. Before St. Thomas theologians had only acknowledged that the Man Jesus Christ merited salvation for us. St. Thomas was the first to develop and teach that Christ in His humanity is the instrumental cause of all grace. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5,19).
In his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, explaining the verse, “From His fullness we have all received” (Jn 1,18), Thomas writes: “In order to show this singular plenitude of effusion and efficacy of Christ, the Evangelist [John] says, ‘From His fullness we have all received,’ namely, all apostles, patriarchs and prophets, and all the just who were, and are and will be,… and also all the angels.” (Ch. I. lect. 10).
Anticipating the question, “Does this mean that all have received merely some or all of their graces from Christ?” he answers: “Note that this preposition ‘from’ sometimes denotes efficiency or the original cause, as when we say that the sunbeam is or proceeds from the sun. And in this manner it designates the efficiency or the authority of grace in Christ, for the plenitude of grace which is in Christ is the cause of all graces which are in all intellectual creatures. “ (Ch. I. Lect. 10,1).
For St. Thomas, therefore, it is clear that the holy angels not only received particular graces, powers and lights from Christ for the sake of their ministry on earth, but that their very holiness and Beatific Vision came to them through Christ. Every light, grace and admonition coming from the angels, therefore, has its origin in Christ. Therefore, to ignore the angel is to ignore Christ who sends them. “I saw another angel coming down from heaven having great authority [given to him, namely, by Christ]; and the earth was made bright by his splendor. Listen to his voice, do not rebel against him, … for My name is in him” (Apoc 18,1; Ex. 23,21).
Christ Vivifying His Body the Church
Now that we have verified that the Holy angels are one with us and equal members in the Mystical Body of Christ, Who “is our life” (Col 3,4), we should like to comprehend more deeply how He vivifies His Body, the Church. We believe that by Baptism we die and rise with Christ, being mystically incorporated into Him as His members. By sharing in His Eucharistic Body “we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another” (Cath. Catec. 790; cf. Eph 4,25). Hence, we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3,27f). How are we to understand this incorporation into Christ? How does His grace become the life principle for our souls and for the Holy Angels? Similarly, how are we to understand our spiritual union with one another and with the holy angels? By ‘spiritual union’ tradition means more than a mere moral union that comes down to loving and willing the same things, for example, the glorification of God and the salvation of souls. Recall, that the Arian heretics wanted to reduce our union with Christ to just such a moral union. St. Hiliary, a Father from the 4th Century, responded: “The Apostle namely, teaches that this unity of the faithful derives from the nature of the sacraments when he writes to the Galatians: ‘Whoever has been baptized into Christ, has put on Christ. There is no more Jews or Greeks, nor servant or freedman, nor man nor woman, but you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3,27f)”.
What begins in baptism is brought to perfection in the Eucharist: “In the sacrament of His Body He actually gives us His own flesh, which He has united to His divinity. This is why we are all one, because the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in us. He is in us through His flesh and we are in Him. With Him we form a unity which is in God…. He is in us through the mystery of the sacraments. This is surely what He wished us to believe; this is how He wanted us to understand the perfect unity that is achieved through our Mediator, who lives in the Father, while we live in Him, and Who, while living in the Father, lives also in us. This is how we attain to unity with the Father. Christ is in very truth in the Father by His eternal generation; we are in very truth in Christ, and He likewise is in us… we draw life from His flesh just as He draws life from the Father” (De Trinitate, VIII. 14-17).
Christ’s Soul & Grace, The Life of the Church
When St. Paul calls the Church the Body of Christ he is not just using a convenient metaphor, but is specifying the ontological reality of our supernatural oneness in Christ. It is this unity which explains the life and operations of the Church. Christ teaches this truth when He compares Himself to the vine. “I am the vine and you are the branches” (Jn 15,5). It is not just a question of bearing fruit, but a question of life itself. Cut off from Christ, the vine, the branch “withers” and will be thrown into the fire (Jn 15,6). Let us return to St. Thomas commenting on the Church as Christ’s Body and His fullness:
‘”We may ask why there should be so many members in a natural body, namely, hands, feet, bones, etc. The answer is that they serve in the diverse works of the soul, of which it is capable of being the cause, principle, which are in its capacity. The body, namely, is formed on account of the soul, and not vice versa. Accordingly, a natural body is a certain fullness of the soul. Unless a body be complete with all its members, the soul cannot fully exercise all its operations.
“Now this same holds true for Christ and the Church. And since the Church has been instituted for Christ, the Church is said to be the His fullness, the fullness of Christ. That is to say, whatever virtue [power] there is in Christ is, as it were , in some fashion, to be realized in the members of the Church itself. For all the spiritual capacities, namely, and gifts, and whatever can be in the Church, which are superabundantly present in Christ, flow from Him into the members of the Church and are perfected in them. Therefore St. Paul adds: Christ ‘fills all in all’ (Eph 1,23), namely when he makes such a one, who is a member of the Church, knowledgeable after the perfect wisdom which is in Himself, and makes another just after the perfect justice, and so on” (Comm. on Eph., Ch. 1, 8).
Now, what has he said in plain language? Simply this: the body expresses and manifests the soul. We have eyes because the soul has the power to see, but it needs physical organs for sight; we have ears because the soul has a capacity for hearing, but needs physical organs for hearing. Similarly, the body expresses the soul’s physical capacity for life, for growth, for health, delight, well-being, for procreation, etc. In short, all the capacities of the body reveal and actualize the soul’s inner capacities.
Similarly, the Mystical Body is related and united to Christ. All the holiness and vitality in Christ longs to find expression in the Church. Christ has a “need” for His Mystical Body in order that the divinized greatness of His soul be expressed and manifested in creation for the glory of the God. All the goodness contained in the Church down through the ages, the glory of the Blessed Virgin, the hierarchies and the ministries of the angels, the fervent charity of Her saints, the fortitude of Her martyrs, the purity of Her Virgins, the wisdom of Her doctors, her liturgy and the power of the sacraments, only begin to express the richness and power of the grace hidden in Christ, Who has an insatiable desire to enrich and draw souls to Himself.
In the beauty of the living Church in time we witness the beginning of the recapitulation of all things in Christ. In the Divine Wisdom this restoration did not take place at the moment of Incarnation; rather for our sake Christ “was made a little less than the angels” (Ps 8), accepting suffering and death. But having once died for us, He also rose for us in the power of the Spirit, so that we no longer live for ourselves but for Him and in Him.
The Trinitarian Dimension
His resurrection is the beginning of the recapitulation of Creation which will only be completed on the last day. Now, just as baptism is an immersion in His death, so too is it a resurrection as a new creature with Christ’s own life principle, which according to His humanity is His soul, and which according to His Divinity is the divine essence common to all three persons of the Blessed Trinity. So it is that Christ attributes His personal mission, His works to the Father from whom He proceeds, and attributes the works that proceed from His humanity to the Spirit, in as much as the Spirit proceed from Him and the Father, in as much as His humanity is an instrument of the Divinity for restoring our union with God.
Consequently, while our vivification is proper to Christ in His humanity, it is also appropriated to the Spirit of Christ, the Sanctifier. Thus, St. Augustine can write, “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ” (cf. Cath. Catec. 797). Now the Holy Spirit accomplishes this precisely in and through the soul of Christ, for as Man He is the sole Mediator (1 Tm 2,5), mediating even the life in the Spirit.
Thus, the finality of the Mystical Body, of the recapitulation in Christ, is that God “be all in all” (1 Cor 15,28), that we come to share in the Life of the Trinity. Every grace simultaneously manifests the beauty and power of Christ’s soul (life) and the workings of the Triune God, Christ in unity with the Father and the Spirit.
St. Cyril of Alexandria presents this Trinitarian dimension of the life of grace wonderfully :
“If in Christ, all of us, both ourselves and He Who is within us by His own Flesh, are members of the same body, is it not clear that we are one, both with one another and with Christ?
“With regards to our unity in the Spirit, we may say, following the same line of thought, that all of us who have received one and the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, are united intimately, both with one another and with God…. Just as Christ’s sacred Flesh has power to make those in whom it is present into one body, so the one, indivisible Spirit of God, dwelling in all, causes all to become one in spirit.
“If the one Spirit dwells in us, the one God and Father of all will be in us, and He through His Son, with gather together into union with one another and with Himself all who share in the Spirit” (Comm. on John. Office of Readings. 6th Wk. Easter, Tuesday).
The Church: The Mystical Person of Christ
Now, all of this takes place in and through the Humanity of Christ, in whom all in heaven and earth are united. And since this is a spiritual or supernatural reality, our oneness with Christ, the angels and saints is a conscious, loving personal unity,… so much so that following the tradition of the Church, we may speak of ourselves as one mystical person in Christ. Pope Pius XII taught: “It is clear that this union [of Christ and His members] is the closest possible… The very ancient and constant teaching of …the Fathers shows us that the Divine Redeemer together with His social Body constitutes one mystical person,… Our Savior Himself in His sacerdotal prayer did not hesitate to compare this union with that marvelous unity by means of which the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son (cf. Jn 17,21-23)“ (Mystici Corporis. Part II, 1).
The Christian Life Issuing from Union
The ramifications of this truth are overwhelming for the spiritual life on all sides. By being ‘one mystical person’ in Christ, we can better appreciate and dare to call God ‘our Father’. We can understand how St. John Eudes would have us offer all the merits and love of Christ to the Father as our own personal love and treasure, and how, again, he would have us offer the Father’s love to Christ as an infinite, eternal love which is our own possession. We understand how, by and large, we do better to pray plurally, “we”, even when alone, both in praising and in requesting, since spiritually we are never alone and in isolation. We understand more deeply our own bond and unity with our Guardian Angel in Christ, and our angel’s indefatigable love and solicitude for us. Finally, we understand how it is, that when two or more are united in Christ’s name, that He is present with them, and how we may constantly exercise this unity in charity and prayer with our Holy Angels, who are always with us.
More than anything else, Scripture and the Liturgy teach us that with respect to the Holy Angels we are called to a union in prayer and adoration. They bring our prayer before God, and rejoice to participate in our worship and liturgy. In the Life of St. Gertrude the Great we read: “As the Feast of St. Michael approached, St. Gertrude prepared herself for Holy Communion by meditating on the care which the angels had of her by the divine command, notwithstanding her unworthiness; and as she desired to render some return to them, she offered in their honor the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, saying, “I offer Thee this most august Sacrament, O most loving Lord, for Thy eternal glory in honor of the princes of Thy kingdom and for the increase of their felicity and beatitude.” Then our Lord drew this oblation to Himself in an ineffable manner, thereby causing the greatest joy to these angel spirits, who appeared even as if they had never before experienced such blessedness and superabounded in delights. Then each of the choirs of angels, according to their rank, inclined respectfully before St. Gertrude, saying, “Thou hast indeed honored us by this oblation, and we will therefore guard thee with special care” (Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude, Rockford, Tan. 1983, ch. 64, p. 462).
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
Prayer of the Angel of Portugal
Most Holy Trinity,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
I adore you profoundly,
and I offer you
the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity
of Jesus Christ
present in all the tabernacles of the world
in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and offenses
by which He Himself is offended,
and through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart
and the Immaculate Heart of May,
I pray for the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.
CHRIST, The Source of Purity
We should desire union with Christ in order to share in His purity, and not suppose that we can conquer purity outside of His grace. Preaching on Mary Magdelene, St. John Chrysostom exclaimed: “She is called a virgin who was formerly a prostitute. Christ took this prostitute and made a virgin of her.
“Oh what a marvelous deed!
“In human relationships, when a virgin enters wedlock, she ceases to be a virgin. But in this relationship with Christ, even a prostitute who has been espoused by Him becomes a virgin!” (Homilies. PG. 52,402)
Useful and Useless Fear
A Vision of Julian of Norwich: Mystic from the 14th Century
For I saw four kinds of fear. One is fear of assault, which comes to a man suddenly thorough timidity. This fear is good [i.e., useful], for it helps to purge a man, as does bodily sickness or such other pains which are not sinful; for all such pains help one if they are patiently accepted.
The second is fear of pain [i.e., damnation], through which a man is stirred and wakened from the sleep of sin; for anyone fast asleep in sin is not for that time able to receive the gentle strength of the Holy Spirit, until he has obtained this fear of pain and of the fire of purgatory. And this fear moves him to seek comfort and mercy of God; and so this fear helps him as though by chance, and enables him to have contrition by the blessed teaching of the Holy Spirit.
The third is a doubtful fear. If it be recognized for what it is, however little it may be, it is a kind of despair. For I am certain that God hates all doubtful fear, and he wishes us to drive it out, knowing truly how we may live (love).
The fourth is reverent fear, for there is no fear in us which pleases Him but reverent fear, and that is very sweet and gentle, because our love is great. [The first two fears are useful, but not intrinsically pleasing.] And yet this reverent fear is not the same as love. They are different in kind and in effect and neither of them may be obtained without the other.
Therefore, I am sure that he who loves, fears, though he may feel little of this. Whatever kinds of fear be suggested to us other than reverent fear, though they appear disguised as holiness, they are not so true. And this is how they can be recognized and distinguished, one for the other. The more that one has of this reverent fear, the more it softens and strengthens and pleases and gives rest. And false fear belabors and assails and perturbs. So that the remedy is to recognize them both and to reject false fear, just as we should an evil spirit who presented himself in the likeness of a good angel. For it is so with an evil spirit; though he may come under the disguise and likeness of a good angel, with his dalliance and his operations, however fair he may appear, he first belabours and tempts and perturbs the person he speaks to, and hinders him and leaves him in great unrest. And the more he communicates with him, the more he oppresses him and the further the man is from peace. Therefore it is God’s will and to our profit that we recognize them apart. For God wants us always to be strong in our love, and peaceful and restful as He is towards us. And He wants us to be, for ourselves and our fellow Christians, what He is for us. Amen.” (Showings, ch. 25 from ‘Short Text’. Paulist Press, NY 1978, pp. 169-70).
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