Vatican II - Voice of The Church
Vatican II - Voice of The Church

The Church a Mystery

By Bishop B.C. Butler

From the first it was emphasised in the council that its task was pre-eminently 'pastoral', and therefore practical. The council was to aim at promoting the effective preaching of the gospel and the improvement of the Christian quality of the life of the Church's members; and to bring the influence of Christ to bear on the whole collection of human activities.[1] This pastoral emphasis seemed to disconcert those who thought of ecumenical councils as concerned primarily with doctrine and dogmatic formulations. They reminded the pragmatists that the Church's first pastoral task is to safeguard the integral wholeness of the deposit of faith. Out of this dialectic were born the council's dogmatic constitutions, the De Divina Revelatione and the De Ecclesia. Of these, the former has, of course, the more exalted theme, which it treats with creative freshness. But the central document of the whole council, and the one which exerted the most pervasive influence on those subsequently debated, was Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

No previous ecumenical council had succeeded in presenting to the world anything like a comprehensive ecciesiology. Vatican I had had ambitions in that direction, but broke off its work after dealing, directly, only with papal supremacy and infallibility. It is only in comparatively modern times that the Church has become the object even of a separate theological treatise; St Cyprian's De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate was, as the title indicates, an exploration of only one aspect of the subject. If you wish to discover what St Thomas Aquinas thought about the Church, you have to search for it under quite different headings in his Summa Theologica. Modern interest in ecciesiology, owing something to the late medieval theorising about Church and state and the controversy, at that period, between conciliarism, and papalism, is largely a result of the Reformation and the Protestant attack on the Church as she existed in the age of the great upheaval. In consequence, Catholic theological writing on the Church has tended to be controversial or polemical, and has concentrated on the visible, authoritarian, juridical and legal aspects of the subject, these being the aspects more often criticised by Protestants. Extreme Protestantism on the other side, while not rejecting the Church as an item in the Christian creed, has at times gone so far as to affirm that the real Church is not 'visible' at all, or at least not visible in any way that permitted her identification as a distinct entity in the historical order. Catholic theologians spent much time in refuting this negation; but, in so doing, they were tempted to say too little about the 'invisible', or 'mystical' or 'mysterious' aspects of the Church; this subject was often relegated to treatises on grace and on ascetico-mystical theology.

Ecclesiology is one of the departments of theology that have profited most by modern biblical and historical research and interest, and in the last decades also by ecumenism.[2] A great deal of work had been done on it before Vatican II opened, though evidence of progress was less abundant in circles more closely connected with Rome.[3]

The last major official pronouncement on ecclesiology before Vatican II was Pius XlI's encyclical Mystici Corporis. We may at once remark that to treat the Church under the dominant aspect of the mystical body of Christ was an advance on a certain treatise de Ecclesia 'which devoted only two pages to the Church's relations with Christ'.[4] We shall find, however, that this particular image, the body of Christ, is not made the unique key to the doctrine of the Church in our constitution. In Mystici Corporis the image is treated not merely as an image but as a concept; and it is applied without qualification to the Church on earth, although it is recognised that the image denotes primarily the whole Church, including the saints in heaven. More important still, the Church as the mystical body of Christ is simply and materially identified with the Roman Catholic communion: Jesus Christ willed to bestow his graces 'by means of a visible Church in which men would be united. . . . And so, to describe this true Church of Christ—which is the holy, catholic, apostolic Roman Church—there is no title more noble, none more excellent, none more divine, than 'the mystical body of Christ'.

From this material identification of the Church as Christ's body with the institutional Church visibly united under the vicar of Christ, the encyclical infers that 'only those are to be accounted really (reapse) members of the Church' who have been baptised, profess the true faith, and 'have not cut themselves off from the structure of the body by their unhappy act or been severed there from, for very grave crimes, by the legitimate authority'. (Note the perilous suggestion that the structures of the visible Church are, univocally, the structures of the mystical body.) 'It follows that those who are divided from one another in faith or government cannot be living in the one body so described (sc. by Eph 4:4, and by its one divine spirit.' On the other hand, sinners, provided that they have not apostatised or been cut off, remain members of the Church if they have once been such.[5]

Thus the encyclical's trend seems to be to establish a simple dichotomy between those who belong visibly to the Roman Catholic communion, and everyone else, be he Christian or non-Christian, religious or irreligious, man of good will or man of bad will. All the former are 'really' members of the Church, the body of Christ; none of the latter classes is. In taking this line, Pius XII was faithful to one set of convictions which are traditional in the Catholic Church, though there were other considerations which, taken together, could suggest that a fully nuanced view of the Church as a reality existing in actual history had not yet been reached. No one can fail to see what difficult problems Mystici Corporis posed for the Catholic theologians who wished to co-operate with the ecumenical movement.

Thus, among the council's problems was that of doing justice to what was positive and genuinely traditional in the ecclesiology of Mystici Corporis, while at the same time giving a more rounded view of the various aspects that must be held together in a complete ecclesiology. It could leave theological synthesis to the theologians; but it must try not to exclude any of the data with which ecclesiology is called upon to deal. A basic consideration here is that 'outside the Church there is no salvation'—a patristic dictum which Roman Catholic theology cannot overlook. On the other hand, it is a firm Christian conviction that, for all who have reached moral adulthood, there is no destiny other than achieved salvation or final condemnation; and it is also certain that God condemns no man unless he is not merely 'juridically' in the wrong but really guilty. Thirdly, it seems to be an empirical fact that very many, whom we have no right to accuse of basic wickedness, in fact die outside the visible communion of the Catholic Church, and we have at least no evidence that such people, by and large, make even an interior act of adhesion to what they recognise as that communion—of which indeed they may never have heard.

From a slightly different point of view, account is required to be taken of those who have been baptised but have never been visibly incorporated into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Baptism, of its nature, incorporates its recipient into the Church, and Catholic theology teaches that the sacramental 'character' of baptism is indelible in this life.

Unity given through baptism is a recurring theme in ecumenical theology, and was a favourite one with Cardinal Bea, the president of the Secretariat for Unity.[6] It seems shortsighted, to say the least, to classify all non-Roman-Catholic baptised Christians along with unbaptised pagans.


A decisive step was taken when it was decided that the first chapter of the Constitution on the Church should be entitled not (as was the first chapter of the rejected draft) 'The Nature of the Church militant', but 'The Mystery of the Church'. It is true that, in New Testament and most patristic usage, the word 'church' refers either to a local community of baptised Christians, or to the totality of the Church actually living at a given time in history. Only by degrees did the thought of the multitude of past Christians who had departed to heaven, or to purification after death, lead to a clear verbal distinction between the Church 'militant', the Church 'triumphant', and the Church 'suffering', and so to a vision of the one Church in three differing phases of her existence. The question arises, how far all that is said about the Church in the Bible is, in fact, predicable, without qualification, of the Church militant. Even after the first draft of a document on the Church had been criticised in the first session of the council, and then quietly discarded, the new document in its first presentation was still almost wholly concerned, in fact, with the Church on earth. A decisive enlargement of view was necessitated by the decision, during the second session, to include a treatment of our Lady in the constitution; and this was followed by a decision to add a chapter on 'the eschatological character of the pilgrim Church and her union with the Church in heaven'. The implications of the chapter title, 'The Mystery of the Church', thus had justice done to them.

This first chapter, after an introductory paragraph, opens with a group of three paragraphs in which the Church is set forth as sprung from the purpose of God the Father 'to call together those who believe in Christ in the holy Church'; as the reign of Christ, God's Son, a reign or kingdom already present in the Church in mystery; and as indwelt and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 'Thus the whole Church is seen as a people whose unity has its source in that of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit' (n. 4).

Continuing, the constitution considers the Church in the light of Christ's preaching of the reign of God, which reign was manifested in the very person of Christ, Son of God and Son of man, who 'came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many', and was shown to be present by Christ's miracles. Those who believe Christ's preaching 'receive the Kingdom' and they become, through the sending of the Holy Spirit by the risen Christ, the Church, which 'is given the mission of announcing the reign of Christ and God and of restoring it in all nations, and constitutes the germ and beginning of this reign on earth, while still aspiring to the perfected reign' (n. 5).

The charge has often been made against Catholic theology that it crudely identifies the kingdom of God with the visible Church. The constitution may be said to take a middle line in this matter. It sees the 'perfect kingdom' as the object of the Church's eschatological hope, and makes the kingdom the content of the Church's preaching, and its inauguration the purpose of her work. On the other hand, it affirms that the Church herself is 'the germ and beginning' of the reign of Christ and God on earth. Scripture scholars will observe that there is a blurring of ideas here. The New Testament distinguishes from the reign of God that kingship of Christ which, at the end of all things, Christ will 'hand over' to his Father; the constitution fails to make this distinction. There is probably another equivocation in our text, having its roots in the New Testament itself. The Greek phrase which we have translated sometimes as 'kingdom', sometimes as 'reign', of God is, in fact, susceptible of both these meanings. It can refer to God's supreme rule over his creatures; and it can refer to his 'realm', or the sphere or population over which this rule is exercised. In the former sense, the reign of God 'is not an organisation, an institution; it knows no development, it does not include both the just and sinners; it does not depend on earthly and human factors'; and in this sense the Church is not the reign of God. In the sense, however, of God's 'realm' the biblical term can be applied, with due qualifications, to the Church—especially if, as in this passage of the constitution, distinctions have not yet been drawn between the visible-institutional and interior-spiritual aspects of the Church.[7]

The constitution next mentions a number of biblical 'images' of the Church: sheepfold, flock, God's field, his vineyard, his building (of which Christ is the foundation), the house of God's family, his temple, the 'Jerusalem which is above', 'our mother', the bride of the immaculate lamb. This rather discursive passage is not unimportant. The accumulation of figures helps us to realise that we are reflecting upon a mystery and approaching it from several standpoints—not analysing an object of scientific enquiry with the help of concepts that must be fully consistent each with all the others. We are not defining the Church,[8] but groping towards some insight into its unfathomable and mysterious depths.

Only now does the constitution concentrate its attention on the view of the Church as the body of Christ:

The Son of God, in the human nature united to himself, by his death and by overcoming death by his resurrection, redeemed man and transformed him into a new creature (cf. Ga 6:15; 2 Co 5:17). For by communicating his Spirit, he mystically constituted his brethren, called together from all peoples, as his body. In that body the life of Christ is poured into believers ... By baptism we are conformed to Christ: 'in one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body' ... In the breaking of the eucharistic bread we really share in the Lord's body, and are raised to communion with him and with one another ... Thus are we all made members of his body, 'and each of us members of one another' ... The head of this body is Christ ... That we might be constantly renewed in him, he has given us of his Spirit, who being one and the same in the head (i.e. Christ) arid in the members, so enlivens the whole body, unifies it and gives it (vital) movement, that his role could be likened by the holy fathers to that which the life-principle or soul fulfils in a human body. Christ loves the Church as his spouse and the Church for her part, is subject to her head (n. 7).

It is important here to notice two points. First, the metaphor of the 'body' is often so interpreted as if that term could be used univocally both of a single human organism and of a 'body politic'. The constitution on the whole avoids this confusion, keeping to the former understanding of the term. Secondly, the body of Christ as here described is given its substance and reality not by juridical links but by sacramental ones. It is to be observed that, in the first paragraph of the constitution, the Church herself is described as being 'in Christ as it were a sacrament or sign and instrument of inward union with God and of the unity of the whole human race' (n. 1). Such a notion of the Church, more profound and more genuinely religious than the notion (true within its limits of reference) of her as a quasi-political society in relations, sometimes amicable and sometimes hostile, with civil governments, finds its complement in the teaching of this paragraph, that the Church is founded in, and built up out of the sacraments and the sacramental life. When it is borne in mind that, in Catholic theology, not the Church but Christ himself is the real agent in the sacraments, it begins to become clear that the Church herself is totally 'referred to' and dependent on Christ.

The first chapter of the constitution concludes with a section relating this teaching to the doctrine, more familiar to our modern manuals of theology, of the Church as a visible institution. It tells us that Christ established his holy Church, a fellowship of faith, hope and charity as, on earth, a visible structure (compaginem), and continually supports her (as such); by her means, thus visibly structured, he pours forth grace and truth to all men. What, then, is the relation between this institutional notion and the sacramental, 'mystical' notion of the Church?

Christian reflection has come to see sacraments as signs of spiritual realities; these spiritual realities they not only signify but convey. Already St Paul, who knew of baptism as an act of immersion in water, saw it as a sign of the Christian 'dying' and 'being buried' with Christ, in order that he might 'rise' out of it to a new life in Christ. That the physical act of immersion should carry such a Christian signification, it needs, of course, to be marked off from ordinary immersions—e.g. an athlete's plunge into a bathing pool—by some further determination, normally a form of words. Similarly, the Eucharist is distinguished from an ordinary meal by the prayer of thanksgiving which links it up with Christ's redemptive work. The complete sacramental sign is the complex of act and explanation: the immersion, together with the form of words. It is, of course, a highly 'conventional' sign; it is to be ranged not with the smoke which is a 'sign' of fire, but with language.

As a conventional sign, a sacrament has its natural milieu—as all such conventional signs have—in a human fellowship with its own traditions and common life. Seen outside that milieu, it becomes either ambiguous or non-significant. Herodotus tells of an Egyptian monarch who discovered that the first articulate sound made by children who had been kept separate from all educative influences was brekos. He assumed that this curious noise might be a word in some existing language; and when he found that it existed in the vocabulary of the Scythians, for whom it meant 'bread', he concluded that the Scythian language was the original one. The noise, assumed by him to carry a signification, was yet meaningless until related to a particular human context, that of the Scythians and their conventions of intercommunication. For an example of ambiguity, we may take the written word 'Fund' which means something different in a German context from what it means in English; or the spoken word 'succour' which conveys a quite different meaning from its English one to an American listener.

Sacraments therefore presuppose a fellowship of men living on earth who have to communicate by physical signs. If the Church has sacraments at its core and as the source and sustenance of its life, the Church is a concrete human fellowship. As fellowship tending to community, it needs a structure; only through social structure does a number of human individuals become a community. There is thus no incoherence between the council's vision of the Church as basically sacramental and its presentation of the same Church, on earth, as a visible structured human community.

The constitution's originality, however, emerges in the most carefully chosen language in which it combines its 'mystical' and 'institutional' views of the Church: 'The society equipped with hierarchical organs, the visible group, the earthly Church, is not to be viewed as a different entity from the mystical body of Christ, the spiritual fellowship, the Church endowed with heavenly blessings; they constitute one complex reality, made up of a human and a divine element. It is no trivial analogy which likens the Church to the mystery of the Word incarnate. The (human) nature assumed by the divine Word serves him, to whom it is indissolubly united, as a living organ of salvation; in like fashion the social structure of the Church serves Christ's Spirit, who vivifies it, for the increase of the body (sc. of Christ).' If we may add a gloss to this passage: the divine Word, in becoming incarnate, did not lose his divine ubiquity. There was, during his incarnate life, a special truth in saying that the word of God was there where his human nature was; but it would have been grossly untrue to say that the same word of God was not everywhere else in the universe.

Having thus passed from the Church's mystical to her visible aspect, our chapter proceeds to an identification of her. There is a story in St John's Gospel that certain Greeks told Philip 'we would see Jesus'—who would not wish thus to identify the Word made flesh? So, too, granted that the one Church has a visible aspect, we want to know where she can be found.[9] And—again using a most carefully selected form of words—the council states: 'This Church, established and arranged in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by Peter's successor and the bishops in his communion.' There is a deliberate preference of the phrase 'subsists in' instead of the simple 'is'. We have here the measure of the constitution's advance upon Mystici Corporis, and a foundation for the Decree on Ecumenism and for other elements of the council's teaching and proposals. An exclusive material identification of the Church and the Roman Catholic communion is carefully avoided.

It is doubtless appropriate that after this restatement of a doctrine and an identification that are fundamental for Catholicism, the chapter ends with what amounts to a renunciation of the 'triumphalism' charged against the Catholic Church not only by non-Catholics but by some of her own sons. The Church, we are now told, is called to follow Christ's own path, in poverty and persecution. She is set up not to seek earthly glory but to give a practical lesson of humility and abnegation, concerned with every human affliction, and seeing Christ in the poor. But while Christ 'knew no sin', the Church embraces in her fold men who are sinners; she is both (in one aspect) holy and (in another) in need of constant purification and ever aims at both penitence and renewal. It is on this path that, strengthened by the power of her risen Lord, she manifests, though 'in shadows', the mystery of Christ till the day when that mystery will be shown forth in full light. Thus we are reminded of the paradoxes in which the 'mystery' of the Church finds expression: a lofty claim that impels to humility, suffering and compassion; a holiness that does not dispense from penitence; a sacramental actualisation of Christ which transcends itself in an eschatological hope; a divine origin and a lowly human visage.


The constitution, having moved on in the course of its first chapter from reflection upon the total mystery of the Church to her earthly existence as a structured community, might have been expected to turn next to a delineation of her hierarchical structure. In fact, however, it first devotes a whole chapter to a consideration of the Church on earth as the 'People of God'. The order of exposition thus adopted is in line with the council's vision of hierarchy, government, and teaching authority as all constituting a form of 'ministry' or service of the Christian community and indeed of all mankind. In the order of means to the Christian end, there is a genuine subordination of ordinary Christians to the hierarchy; but in the order of ends, the hierarchy itself is subordinate to the whole People of God. As we shall see, the council's vision of the hierarchy is essentially sacramental rather than jurisdictional; and it is a constant Catholic principle that, like the Jewish sabbath, the sacraments are 'for the sake of men', not vice versa.

The chapter on the People of God begins with a fundamental assertion: 'At every time and in every nation, whoever fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to God'—a reference to St Peter's observation in the house of the Gentile centurion at Caesarea. The council does not here explain what is meant by this 'fear of God and working of righteousness'. Later on, however (n. 16), it remarks that 'divine providence does not deny help needful for salvation to those who, without their own fault, have not yet reached an express recognition of God and who strive to attain to a life of rectitude—in which striving they are (in fact) helped by God's grace'. We shall hardly be going beyond the intention of the constitution if we identify the fear of God with a genuine docility towards the reality of 'ultimate concern', and the working of righteousness with a basic obedience to conscience even though conscience is inculpably misinformed.

The breadth of view thus shown by the council might cause surprise to some who are aware of the Church's constant teaching, already referred to above, that 'outside the Church there is no salvation'. But the constitution at once goes on, after thus describing the subjective conditions of salvation, to affirm the opposite pole of our human paradox: 'It was God's good pleasure to sanctify and save men, not individually and without any interrelationship among themselves, but to establish them as a people that should acknowledge him in truth and give him holy service' (n. 9). This states, in a preliminary broad generality, the objective aspect of man's salvation, which, on the Christian view, is something we cannot achieve for ourselves, but is a gift from God, with qualities therefore deriving not from our own nature or self-determination but from God's will. While every genuinely conscientious man will be saved, salvation itself is not a private possession but a participation in a common, communal, social salvation.

God's dealings with Israel in the period of the Old Covenant were a figure of the 'new covenant' in Christ, whereby those who believe in him are constituted, through baptism, 'an elect race, a royal priesthood, a people of choice . . . who were once not a people but are now the People of God' (1 P 2:9f). This, the Church of Christ, his messianic people, has Christ as its head, and the Holy Spirit dwells in its members' hearts 'as in a temple'. Its law is the 'new commandment' of Christ's own charity; and its end is the Kingdom of God, inaugurated on earth by God himself, and to be expanded until he consummates it at the end of history. Though it may not actually comprise all men, it is yet the germ of unity, salvation and hope for the whole human race, is used by Christ as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent into all the world by him. Thus it enters into human history, but transcends all limits of space and time. It is itself a priestly people, and all its baptised members share in this priesthood, itself a participation of the one priesthood of Christ.[10] But it is important that the priesthood of the whole People of God is not regarded as a purely metaphorical thing, but as really founded in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. And by a truly priestly act the Church's members are said to offer—not merely assist at the offering of— the eucharistic sacrifice.

The Church participates not only in Christ's priesthood but in his prophetic role. Christians are a prophetic as well as a priestly people. A prophet is a mediator of God's word of salvation, a spokesman of God. The Church as a whole bears witness to the gospel, a witness derived from the 'unction of the Holy Spirit' (cf. 1 Jn 2:20 and 27). And here the council repeats a common Catholic teaching that 'the whole body of the believers cannot be deceived in believing'. It is in virtue of the resulting 'sense of faith' (sensus fidei) that God's people, guided by the teaching authority, adheres indefectibly to the faith once delivered, penetrates its meaning ever more deeply, and applies it in practice with growing fullness (n. 12).

This doctrine, of which Rousseau's theory of the General Will may be regarded as a somewhat degenerate, and of course de-supernaturalised, offspring, is important because it enriches the meaning of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church. Too often the Church's infallibility has been seen as a peculiar prerogative of the hierarchy, not to say of the Pope in person. Such infallibility, seen in isolation, while the body of the faithful is viewed as the passive recipients of its utterances, takes on an oracular colouring, as if the Pope were in receipt of private messages from on high; or else the idea is suggested that the hierarchy, or the Pope, is in possession of a sort of secret tradition of truth, like the Acta of Julius Caesar which Mark Antony claimed to have secreted in his own house. But, in fact, if we follow the thought of Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility, infallibility is a gift of Christ to the Church primarily, of which the hierarchy or the Pope is the organ. The Sacred Tradition is expounded by the 'teaching Church'; but it lives in the People of God as a whole, with a life derived from the Holy Spirit, who 'animates' the Church (De Ecciesia, n. 7), and guaranteed by a divine promise of the Church's indefectibility. The duty of the Pope or the hierarchy, before expounding Christian doctrine, is to listen with docility to 'what the Spirit saith to the churches'.

It may be suggested that the constitution could have developed a little further what it has to say about the sensus fidei. This 'understanding enlightened by faith' is described as the means by which the infallibility of the whole believing Church is brought into action. We shall see, however, that the Church's organ of infallible definition, the magisterium or teaching authority of the episcopal college and its papal head, claims respect, in varying degrees, for its pronouncements even when they are less than infallible. It would have been helpful if, in this present section of the constitution, it had been made clear that, similarly, the 'mind of the faithful' deserves respect even when its opinions fall short of moral unanimity. The point is recognised in practice elsewhere, when the clergy are urged to listen to and take account of the views of the faithful, and when the place of 'public opinion' in the Church is recognised.[11]

So far, the prophetic function of the People of God has been presented as an 'unction of the Holy Spirit' enabling that People to bear witness to the unchanging truths of the gospel. Now a further paragraph draws attention to the 'special graces' poured out by the same Spirit on Christians of every rank in the Church and enabling them to work for her renewal and edification. Such graces are here given the New Testament name: charismata. These may be ordinary or extraordinary; and a warning is interposed that extraordinary charismata are not to be rashly sought and are subject to authentication by the Church's leaders—whose task, however, is not 'to quench the Spirit' but to 'prove all things and hold fast to that which is good' (cf. 1 Th 5:12 and 19—21). This paragraph, so pregnant and so carefully balanced, is characteristic of the second Vatican Council. The image of the Church which the modern pre-conciliar Roman Catholic Church had succeeded in conveying to the public was of a guardian of tradition and a bulwark against revolutionary change; an image of conservatism. Conservatism, however, can degenerate into resistance to even legitimate change; it can too easily become reactionary obstructiveness. Yet conservation is a major duty of the teaching and governing authority of a religious society which must ever look back to its ancient charter of foundation and to the first proclamation of its saving message. We cannot look to the episcopal college as such, still less to the Roman See as such, for the dynamic, creative, ingredient of Christianity, for the perennial sources of its unpredictable novelty. These sources spring from the action of the life-giving Spirit of God, an action that is applied to the very roots of human personality and that is no respecter either of persons or of office. A humble nun, a country curé, a young Belgian city pastor, a French layman holding a university chair of philosophy, an industrialist or a trade union official, may be the recipient of such 'special graces'. Sometimes these graces may be so unusual and at first questionable as to merit the epithet 'extraordinary'; and especially in such cases it has to be borne in mind that while all such inspirational graces are given for the good of the Church as a whole and of mankind as a whole, there is no automatic guarantee of the genuineness of an alleged inspiration which threatens the settled order. It is in such circumstances that ecclesiastical authority has to fulfil its delicate role of judgment and control, yet without stifling genuine inspiration. One may be allowed to think that the second Vatican Council itself set a magnificent example of such prudent yet welcoming judgment on a great mass of theoretical and practical experimentation clamouring for recognition in the early decades of the present century. Indeed, it may be said to have substituted for an image of the Church in which its static element was predominant the image of a dynamic Church whose potentialities, under the wise guidance of the episcopal college, are immeasurable. The Church's life does not flow down from Pope through bishops and clergy to a passive laity; it springs up from the grass-roots of the People of God, and the function of authority is co-ordination, authentication and, in exceptional cases, control. The council's Decree on the Lay Apostolate may be said to find in this paragraph of Lumen Gentiutn the theological justification of its best and most creative instructions.[12]


In their distinct and complementary ways, both the sacraments (including that of Holy Orders) and charismata are directed to the renewal and edification of the Church. And it is steadily emphasised by the council that the Church has a mission to all mankind and exists to promote our common human welfare. She is, in fact, 'as it were a sign and instrument of the unity of the whole human race' (n. 1) and she 'both prays and labours that the fullness of the whole world may pass into God's people, the Lord's body and the temple of the Holy Spirit' (n. 17); she is, in fact, 'a germ of salvation for the whole human race' (n. 9).

The question arises: What is the content of the notion of salvation; or, for that matter, of 'our common human welfare'? Over a large field the Christian can and does accept the values recognised by well-intentioned non-Christians. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today has much to say about the dignity and freedom of the human person and the harmony and stability of a social life that recognises the rights of the person. It by no means disapproves of modern interest in natural science or of technological advance. It has special chapters on marriage and the family, on culture, on economic and political life, and on the urgent, permanent and ever-changing problem of peace between peoples. But it would be a mistake to think that the Church's only role is to recognise such commonly accepted values and to offer her services in promoting them. She is something more than an international friendly society. And if she were not something more, it is doubtful whether she would have a valid message of hope for man, who has never found in the wisdom of statesmen or of philosophers the means to achieve his recognised ends.

The Church's message is of a transcendent value and of the existence of means for its attainment; and as this value is inclusive of all values, it is implicit in her message that she has the clue also to man's attainment of the finite values of this life.[13]

The Church's message, in fact, concerns holiness, and a chapter of Lumen Gentium is devoted to the subject of 'The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church'. The chapter begins with a reminder that the Church herself is 'indefectibly holy'. Such an assertion is liable to provoke questioning when we contemplate the actually existing Church, the People of God in its actual dusty pilgrimage on earth, 'always in need of purification', as the constitution itself has told us. But we are aware, when we thus speak of purification, that the existing Church on earth is a field of tension between what we may call an ontological presupposition and its actual embodiment. The Church is founded in the holy sacraments, in the sacramental reality of divine grace flowing from our redemption. A baptised person is one who, as St Paul says, has died with Christ and risen again with the risen Christ to a life of Christian holiness. We may say, then, that the God-given purpose of the Church is that in her we should 'become' what through her sacraments we already 'are': you have died with Christ, mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. As the constitution puts it: Christ died in order to sanctify his spouse the Church; therefore all in the Church are called to holiness. Or again: 'Christ's followers . . . have in the baptism of faith been made truly sons of God and sharers in the divine nature; hence they have really been made holy. Their task is to preserve in their life and to perfect the holiness which they have received by the gift of God' (n. 40). And again: 'All Christ's faithful are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity', and this means holiness.

The programme of the quest of holiness is not something separate from the ordinary conditions of life of the faithful. On the contrary, it is by faith in God's providence in these conditions and by co-operation with his will in them that they will both practise charity and bear witness to it. And although charity is something which we realistically practise, it is at the same time 'the first and most necessary of God's gifts to us' (n. 42). It is not mere love of our fellow human beings, but a love of God above all things and of our neighbour for God's sake (ibid.). The greatest of all witness to it is borne by the suffering of martyrdom, which is a grace given to few, though all are bound to bear witness to the gospel and endure consequent persecution.

This is solid, practical teaching; and what is most striking is the forthright statement that holiness—sanctity—is not a special divine call issued to a privileged Christian elite but a universal invitation implied in baptism, the sacrament of Christian initiation. There are factors in Catholic history that have tended to convey the impression that the Church recognised two (or more) classes or castes of Christians, according as believers were given a divine call to ordinary or to extraordinary goodness. The canonisation of saints has had the effect of putting a small group of past heroes of the faith upon a pedestal that seemed to remove them from the common lot of Christians. And a theology of 'states of perfection' (members of religious orders and congregations being in a state of 'perfection to be acquired', while bishops are in a state of 'perfection acquired') has introduced a similar, and perhaps more dangerous, notion of class distinction among Christians even in this life. An aspect of modern moral theology has worked in the same direction. The textbooks of moral theology studied in seminaries by prospective priests have usually been composed with a particular eye for the ministry of the sacrament of penance, and have tended to concentrate on the minimal conditions required for giving absolution and hence authorising approach to Holy Communion. It is easy to slip over from the laudable principle that one must not demand more than is strictly necessary to the dangerous notion that one may not expect and need not seek to elicit more than this minimum. Needless to say, actual pastoral practice has frequently been admirable; but an effect of the moral theology books may have been, in the end, to encourage in the minds of some Christians the idea that 'holiness is not for me', indeed that it would be somewhat presumptuous to aspire to it. Similarly, it is possible that some members of religious orders or congregations have been tempted to a sort of spiritual pride or vanity by the thought that they are in a 'state of perfection'. All such misconceptions are swept away by the constitution. While there is no suggestion that holiness admits of no gradations or that a general call to holiness may not become the basis of a more specific and even more urgent divine invitation, it is clearly laid down that a horizon of infinite holiness is opened up for everyone by his incorporation through baptism in the body of Christ, who is the archetype of all creaturely holiness.

Nevertheless, the constitution does devote a separate chapter to the subject of 'Religious', which is the somewhat unfortunate generic name given in western tradition to those who dedicate themselves by a special act, usually in the form of a public 'profession', to a lifelong deliberate quest of closer union with God through prayer and asceticism. Monasticism, both eremitical and cenobite, has been a feature of the Church from the fourth century onwards. The Fathers of the Desert were, in fact, already foreshadowed in the order of dedicated virgins existing in the pre-Constantinian Church, and perhaps in the New Testament class of 'widows who are widows indeed'. In the Middle Ages the west saw a fresh development of the 'religious life' in the establishment of the great orders of friars, and more recent centuries have seen a prodigious growth of religious congregations, usually devoted to some specific service or services to the needs of the Church and the world. Amongst these, the missionary congregations deserve a particular mention.

It must be confessed that this chapter is not among the best of the constitution. This is probably because the theological presuppositions of the religious life have not yet received adequate attention. It will suffice here to draw attention to two points in the chapter.

First, it is clearly stated that membership of a religious order or congregation does not constitute a 'third state' in the Church alongside those of the laity and the sacramental ministry. Baptism, by which one becomes a member of the Church, and Holy Orders, by which one becomes a member of the clergy, are divinely instituted sacraments imparting a divinely given status. But religious profession, while grounded in 'the words and example of the Lord', is not a sacrament, and is, in fact, open to both lay people and clergy. It gives rise, to use a convenient modern distinction, not to a structure or institution of the Church, but to a structure or institution in the Church.

Secondly, to speak of a structure in the Church is to invite the question of the structure's ecclesial role. Religious are 'specially related to the Church and the mystery of the Church, and so their spiritual life must be devoted to the good of the whole Church' (n. 44). And, in fact, 'the profession of the gospel counsels' [14] is said by the constitution to stand forth as a 'sign' of eschatological significance. God's people has 'no abiding city' on earth, but seeks a future home; and the religious state, freeing as it does its adherents from the earthly cares of family, property and career, bears witness thereby to our general Christian inheritance of a 'new and eternal life' and to our future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly Kingdom (n. 44). We may compare some words written before the promulgation of our constitution: 'The state of life according to the counsels . . . develops to the maximum, and realises in one's mode of being, the hope of glory which was given in baptism: virgins anticipate that completeness which, like every. Christian, they have already received in substance. The idea of virginity as an anticipation of eschatology . . . is fully traditional. It implies the mortification in man of what still bears the character of this world, even though it is good in itself; and it implies, more positively, an exclusive concern for prayer and life in the Holy Spirit. . . . If such (dedicated persons) return to the haunts of men . . . they do so as witnesses of the Kingdom, to pass on the word of the gospel and to disclose to the world the meaning of the mysterious movement by which it lives.'[15] Such a view of the theology of the religious life, deeply biblical in its approach, holds promise for the future. The council has but sketched out the idea; it will be for theologians to take it further.


Among the movements of thought and interest in the Church of the half-century culminating in Vatican II, one of the most vigorous was concerned with the Blessed Virgin Mary.[16] It has been both devotional or practical and literary or theological. Two and a half million pilgrims visit the shrine of our Lady at Lourdes annually. There were forty-three Marian congresses in the year 1954. Written works (books, brochures, pamphlets, periodicals, omitting 'the more popular non-scientific periodicals') were appearing at the rate of about a thousand a year.[17] Real or alleged apparitions of Mary (without her divine Son) have been frequent for a century and a half. Recent Popes, up to and including Pius XII, had given their support to this movement, and a culminating moment was reached when, in 1950, the Pope defined the doctrine of our Lady's assumption into heaven. Meanwhile, there was a strong demand for a further definition of Mary as mediatrix of all graces.

On the other hand, this great movement stood somewhat apart from most of those which were preparing the 'renewal' of Catholic theology, piety and practice. These movements were on the whole seeking their inspiration on the one hand from a return to patristic and, still more, to biblical Christianity; and on the other hand were reaching out towards cooperation with similar movements in non-Catholic Christian bodies—this is obviously true of the ecumenical movement; but most of the others had an 'ecumenical' dimension. The Marian movement, however, could hardly claim to be ecumenical at all. For Protestantism, the place of Mary in Catholic belief and devotion was a chronic stumbling-block. Much the same was true of Anglicanism; Newman's long hesitation, as in other respects he drew nearer to Roman Catholicism, will be remembered. Anglican theologians were especially disconcerted by the definitions of the immaculate conception (1854) and of the assumption. As regards eastern Orthodoxy, while it was true that its devotion to the Mother of God was most impressive and deeply embedded in its tradition, its theological approach was very different from that of the Latin Church, and it had no love for the two modern definitions. And if the Marian movement was not ecumenical, it was also not strongly marked by a desire to 'return to the sources'. On the contrary, it was ever looking forwards, seeking to build on its most recent triumphs as uncriticisable bases for some still loftier exaltation of Mary, uncontrolled by serious regard for earlier tradition.

The Marian movement presented the second Vatican Council with a serious, indeed an agonising, problem and dilemma, and it threatened to split the council along a different line of demarcation from the usual one between 'conservatives' and 'progressives'. On the one hand, if there is any meaning in the notions of charismata as a dynamic element in the Church, and of the sensus fidei as a guide to the real content of the Sacred Tradition, the movement was a phenomenon which could not be overlooked by theology or by practical prudence. On the other hand, many theologians and most ecumenists were gravely anxious about a development which seemed to be heading off at a tangent and endangering the very possibility of fruitful dialogue with non-Catholics.

An abortive attempt to submit a draft document on our Lady 'Mother of God and Mother of men' took place in the council near the end of the first session. In the course of the second session (1963) an idea, already mooted before the council opened, began to exert its influence: Why not include the subject of our Lady in the constitution on the Church? The proposal was submitted to a vote, and was passed by the narrowest of all conciliar majorities (forty votes out of 2,188). This very closely contested decision was of the greatest importance. It ensured that Marian theology would not be viewed in isolation from the general corpus of renewed Catholic theology, but would take its place within the wider and controlling perspectives of a theology of the Church as the 'sacrament of salvation'. It also meant that the document prepared on this subject before the council opened would be revised to make it a coherent and organic part of the great Constitution on the Church. Such revision would mean, incidentally, that the resultant chapter would benefit by the theological insights that were becoming more and more dominant as the council progressed. This is not the place to recount the painful process of gestation of this chapter, but a few words about the theology of the chapter itself will be relevant to our theme.

The chapter is entitled: the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church. 'Mother of God' here renders the late Latin word deipara, a translation of the Greek theotokos. The title theotokos was already in use to designate our Lady in the early years of the fifth century, when it was challenged by Nestorius. It was sanctioned by the ensuing ecumenical Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431), one of the four ecumenical councils appealed to in early Anglican documents, and one of the seven recognised by eastern Orthodoxy. The title was viewed by the Council of Ephesus primarily in its Christological implication: the son of Mary was not just a man uniquely indwelt by God the Son; he was God the Son incarnate. The Marian repercussions of the title, however, were and are obvious. It became a powerful influence in the growth of Christian devotion to our Lady, and has always remained at the heart of eastern Orthodox piety. Similarly in the Constitution on the Church it controls the development of the chapter on our Lady and ensures that its Mariology will be deeply rooted alike in tradition and in the basic themes of general theology.

In the proëm of this chapter the council states its theme: Mary is 'a supereminent and most unique member of the Church and the Church's type and exemplar; the Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honours her with a sense of filial piety as a most loving mother' (n. 53). The description here of Mary as a member, though unique, of the Church is deliberate and important. It has been observed that there are two alternative emphases in the Christian attitude to our Lady, as in the Catholic attitude to the Pope. The Pope can be seen either as 'in' the Church (on earth) or as 'above' her. Similarly, our Lady can be seen either as 'in' the whole Church or as 'above' it. There is truth in both attitudes. The danger of the 'transcendent' emphasis is that its object will become, for theology, as it were detached from the total corpus of le fait chrétien. The constitution lays its emphasis on our Lady's inherence in the Church. It was partly for this reason that it avoided a direct designation of her as 'the Mother of the Church',[18] preferring to reverse the turn of phrase and say that the Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, 'pays homage to her with filial affection, as to a most loving Mother'. The proëm adds that the council does not intend to set forth 'a complete doctrine concerning Mary', nor to settle theological questions not yet fully elucidated. 'Hence nothing here puts out of court opinions which are freely propounded in the Catholic schools of theology about her who holds in the holy Church a position which is at once the highest after Christ and the closest to us' (n. 54). Among the disputed questions thus referred to must be reckoned the theological explanation of our Lady's mediatorial position and of her share in her Son's redemptive work. It must be admitted that, while both these truths have the support of venerable tradition (already St Irenaeus viewed Mary as her Son's co-operator in his redemptive work), modern Maniologists have entered into subtleties of explanation of them which many find rather unhelpful to their devotional life.

The council avoids the term 'co-redemptrix', but states that Mary in conceiving, bearing and nourishing Christ, in presenting him to the Father in the temple, and in her compassion with him as he was dying on the cross, co-operated uniquely with the Saviour's work, by obedience, faith, hope and ardent charity, for the restoration of the supernatural life of souls. This statement should be evaluated along with that of the preceding paragraph, which affirms that our only mediator is Christ, and that all the Blessed Virgin's influence on men arises not from any necessity but from the divine good pleasure, and flows from the superabundance of the merits of Christ. It depends utterly on that mediation and draws from it all its power. We infer that her co-operation with him in his passion was itself not a complementary but a dependent factor in our redemption.

The modern title of our Lady, Mediatrix, is mentioned in the constitution, though without the addition 'of all graces': 'The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Help, Adiutrix, Mediatnix' (n. 62). But at once an explanation is appended: 'Such invocation is understood in no way to subtract from or add to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one mediator. No creature can be reckoned alongside the incarnate Word, the redeemer; but as Christ's priesthood is in various ways shared in by both ministers and the believing people, and as the one goodness of God is really diffused in various ways among creatures, so also the redeemer's unique mediation does not exclude but gives rise to a varied co-operation among creatures, all springing from that one source' (n. 62).

There was strong opposition in the council to any mention of the Marian title of Mediatrix. Ecumenists held that it would constitute a difficulty for the ecumenical dialogue. It was also feared that the simple faithful, less accustomed than theologians to reflect upon and understand the notion of participated values, might be led to think of the Mediatrix as in some sense on the same level as Christ the mediator. On the other side it was felt that the doctrine had become so traditional, and had received such official approbation from recent Popes, that to omit or obscure it would amount to a treason. The constitution steers a middle course which was not entirely to the liking of either group in the council. It mentions, as we have seen, the title Mediatrix but mentions it alongside other less controversial titles, and at once seeks to avoid any interpretation which would derogate from the unicity of Christ. The explanation offered is indeed, from the Catholic point of view, unexceptionable. As the first Epistle to Timothy says that there is one mediator, so—and in the same sentence—it says that there is one God. And the Gospels tell us that 'none is good save God'. Yet we do, in fact, admit that by creation and again by grace there is in creatures a participated goodness, limited, derived, and entirely dependent on God's goodness, just as we admit that creatures have a being which is participated from the unique being of God. More particularly, Catholic doctrine teaches that the goodness of acts of virtue (e.g. of faith) is a real, creaturely, but derived goodness. And we believe that we can really help one another on our road to God, and thus, dependently on God and his grace, co-operate with our redeemer towards one another's salvation. Fundamental objection to this teaching of the constitution about our Lady can only come from those who hold that man's justification is only imputed and not really participated; and discussion between holders of this view and Catholics must obviously range over a far wider field than any particular title accorded by the latter to our Lady.

The constitution is careful to mention explicitly the chief points of defined Marian doctrine: not only the theotokos but the immaculate conception and the assumption. But it chooses to present her to the faithful mainly in her biblical rOle, within the context of the history of salvation. Her unique contribution to this history, as 'the daughter of Sion' whose consent to Gabriel's message gave us our redeemer, is continued by her intercession for us in heaven. Both in her life on earth, where her humble and obedient faith gave birth to Christ, and in her heavenly glory, she is the type and example of the Church as our spiritual mother and as predestined to a like glory in the world to come. She is the model of Christian holiness in her own devotion to her Son and his work, and is an object of the devotion of the Church and its members, which, however, is essentially different from the worship which can only be paid to God. The tendency of all genuinely Christian devotion to her is to lead us on to know, love, glorify and obey her Son (n. 66). She has indeed a mediatorial role; it in no way hinders but rather promotes 'the immediate union of believers with Christ' (n. 6O).[19] The council ratifies in principle such devotion to Mary, while warning preachers and theologians against both excess and defects in this sphere, and against anything that could convey a false impression of the Church's real doctrine concerning the Mother of God. True devotion is such as leads the believer to an imitation of Mary's virtues.


[1] John XXIII, Humanae Salutis, Christmas 1961, convoking the council.

[2] For an outline, cf. 0. Rousseau, 'La Constitution Lumen Gentium dans le cadre des mouvements rénovateurs de theologie et de pastorale des dernières decades', in L'Eglise de Vatican II, ed. G. Baraüna, Tome II, pp. 35ff.

[3] The work of S. Tromp, Corpus Christi quod est Ecciesia: I, Introciuctio Generalis, II, De Spiritu Christi Anima, comes from a professor of the Gregorian University, Rome. Its author was secretary to the Preparatory Theological Commission and the conciliar Doctrinal Commission.

[4] Mentioned by C; Moeller, 'Le Ferment des Idées dans l'élaboration de la Constitution', in L'Eglise de Vatican II, ed. G. Baraüna, Tome II, pp. 85ff.

[5] It will be observed that, whereas the former quotation could be so interpreted as to allow membership of the body to baptised non-Catholics who had not 'cut themselves off by their own unhappy act or been severed there from by legitimate authority', the second quotation seems to exclude all who are 'divided in faith or government'.

[6] Cf. A. Bea, The Unity of Christians, pp. 32ff

[7] B. Rigaux, 'Le Mystère de l'Eglise à la Lumière de la Bible', in L'Eglise de Vatican II, ed. G. Baraüna, Tome II, pp. 223ff.

[8] Contrast Tanquerey, Brevior Synposis Theologiae Dogmaticae, p. 154: 'The Church of Christ can be defined as 'a society of men in their earthly condition under the teaching and ruling authority of legitimate pastors, and especially of the Roman Pontiff, men united by profession of the same Christian faith and communion in the same sacraments, with a view to the attainment of eternal salvation.' Note that this definition relates solely to the Church on earth, and that it identifies it without qualifications with the Roman Catholic communion in its visible structure. The sixth edition of this excellent manual carries the date 1925.

[9] Cf. J. M. Cameron, Images of Authority, pp. 70ff., e.g. 'It is only within the linguistic community of the Church that the sacraments have their authentic meaning'.

[10] To this important statement of 'the priesthood of all' baptised believers, there is added an explanation that the 'ministerial or hierarchical priesthood' is essentially different from it, since the ministerial priesthood has its own powers of forming and ruling the priestly people, of consecrating the eucharistic sacrifice 'in the person of Christ' and offering it in the name of the whole People of God. This explanation anticipates what will be said in the third chapter of the constitution, where the ministerial priesthood is considered in its own right.

[11] On public opinion, cf. the Secretary of State's letter to the Nice Semaine Sociale, 1968, quoted in The Tablet, 23 July 1966, pp. 852f.

[12] It would be a mistake to suppose that the 'charismatic' gifts of God are always directed to immediately 'religious' or 'ecclesiastical' action. The People of God is mankind as a whole, in so far as mankind responds to the gift of redemption. This response is a total response in a total situation, and will find expression—more often perhaps than in the sphere of the 'sacred'—in secular activities of every kind. The word 'ecclesiastical' has unfortunately taken on such a sacristy complexion that modern theologians, in search of a word better able to suggest the realities of the redeemed life, have taken to using the neologism 'ecclesial' when they wish to break free from clericalism.

[13] After giving a talk, to a group concerned to forward the cause of world government, on the teaching of John XXIII's last encyclical, Pacem in Terris, I was faced with the question: Granted that John's vision of a universal commonwealth based on accepted moral principles of justice and charity is attractive and looks like being the answer to our problem, how can we hope to attain it, experienced as we are in the failure of human will to match human insight? A partial answer to this question could be that man has unplumbed resources, and the urgency of our present world need is such as to call these hidden powers into action. But the full Christian answer is surely that the Church, in offering more than man needs for any earthly end, does actually offer him strength and grace for the achieving also of his earthly ends.

[14] Religious are said to 'profess the evangelical counsels' as publicly committing themselves, usually in the western Church by vows, to practise our Lord's counsels, especially celibate chastity, poverty, and obedience. One may think that the theology behind this phrase requires examination. It suggests, prima facie, that Christ both promulgated a law for everyone and counselled a minority to add to obedience to this law conformity with certain optional recommendations. And this, in turn, suggests that Christianity is a kind of higher legalism (the 'law of charity' replacing the Mosaic Law) for a Church in which there would be two classes of members, those who contented themselves with legal conformity, and those who chose—or were called—to graduate into a higher, but voluntary, class. Obviously scripture texts can be found in support of this opinion (though it might be hard to discover a 'counsel' of obedience). The question is, whether these texts demand this theological explanation, and whether the deeper view of St Paul, that Christians are 'not under law but under grace', is not basic to the gospel. It must be borne in mind that when Christ offered the two precepts of charity as the two greatest commandments of the Law, he was answering a Jewish question and presumably accepting Jewish presuppositions. An adequate theology of the religious state would need to take account of such considerations and to consult scriptural exegetes. It is quite true that St Paul appears to give a standing to religious virginity above that of Christian marriage. Our Lord, however, suggests that such virginity is not so much a free option as a particular vocation; it may be asked whether, for a man or woman who has such a vocation, fidelity to it is any more a matter of 'counsel' than, for the married man, is fidelity to his wife. The second Vatican Council did not face these difficulties. It did, however, steer clear of any suggestion that the so-called gospel counsels have relevance only for those who, by religious profession, assume an obligation to fulfil them literally. The spirit of the counsels must surely inspire all fully Christian living.

[15] G. Lafont, 'Les Voies de la Sainteté dans le Peuple de Dieu', in Guillou et Lafont, L'Eglise en Marche, pp. 200f. The imprimatur of this book carries the date 16 May 1964. Lumen Gentium was promulgated in November of the same year.

[16] Cf. R. Laurentin, Mary's Place in the Church (the French original is entitled La Question Mariale). The author of this book is an outstanding authority, and had great influence in conciliar circles, above all from the moment when it was decided to treat of our Lady within the limits of the constitution De Ecciesia. Reference may be made also to his earlier Court Traité de theologie mariale.

[17] For the figures, cf. Laurentin, Mary's Place in the Church, pp. 9—11.

[18] Subsequently the Pope, in a public session of the council, himself, motu proprio, assigned this title to our Lady. He immediately gave his own exegesis of it: she is the Mother of God's People, that is of all the faithful—a subtle substitution of a numerical aggregate for an organic unity, of which unity Mary, of course, is a member.

[19] This point needed to be made. A common criticism, whether justified or not, of some 'Marian piety' is that it tends to interpose Mary between the Christian and his Saviour. A similar charge has been made against the Catholic priesthood, despite the Church's full acceptance of St Augustine's doctrine that, whoever may serve as the human instrument of the sacraments, the real agent is always Christ himself.