Holiness of the Church

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Among the marks of the Church the oldest ascribed to it is holiness. In the Apostles Creed, whose origin is rooted in the 1st or 2nd century after Christ, is found: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints ." Actually, Scripture gives the basis for this designation, for in the New Testament the Greek word for Churchκκλησίαsignifies the assembly of God. It refers to the calling out or selecting by God of His holy ones (Rom 1.7; Eph 1.4). These are to be erected by God into a holy living temple, His Church (Eph 2.1921; see church, articles on).

Cause of Church's Holiness. Only God is essentially holy (see holiness of god). Creatures can only reflect or share His inimitable holiness. The Church is holy precisely because it is the bride of Christ, called into existence by God in order to manifest the divine holiness in an increasing manner in time through the gradual incorporation of all creation within its holy unity. This fundamental statement indicates the four-fold special relationship to God that makes the Church holy. First, in and through Christ the Church has received from the Father the holy mission to sanctify all men (Mt 28.1620; Mk 16.1516). Second, in and through the redeeming actions of Christ, God has given the Church its essential structurehierarchy of persons, doctrine, sacramental ritesand the sanctifying efficacy of its essential activity. Third, the all-holy God dwells within individual members (see indwelling, divine) and in the Church as a whole (Jn 14.16, 2324, 26; Mt 28.20; 1 Cor 3.1617;6.1920; Eph 2.1922). Fourth, the Church is a virgin bride (2 Cor 11.2), worthy of her lord, and living in perfect fidelity (Lumen gentium 6, 9). Although individuals fail, the Church itself never fails in the integrity of its faith, hope, and love. Through the gifts in her members she is a spouse adorned for her husband (Rv 21.2; Perfectae caritatis 1).

Temporal Realization of the Church's Holiness. In the present age the Church can be said to be holy in two senses. First, the Church is the aggregate of things and persons constituted by God in Christ as the great visible sign through which the divine holiness is imparted to men. God has so wedded Himself to the essential structure and activity of the Church that through them He continuously sanctifies the world. Thus, the Church is holy because it is the means of holiness. It "is spotless in the Sacraments, by which it gives birth to and nourishes its children; in the faith which it has always preserved inviolate; in its sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which it recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary graces through which, with inexhaustible fecundity, it generates hosts of martyrs, virgins, and confessors" (Pius XII Mystici Corporis, par. 65). Thus, the great ecclesial activities are continuously impregnated with the holiness-making power of God. Members become holy by allowing God to sanctify them through these activities.

Second, the Church is holy in that its members actually possess a participation in the divine holiness. "You are a chosen race a holy nation, a purchased people; that you may proclaim the perfections of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pt 2.9). God wills that there be holiness in varying degrees in the members of the Church. He willed that Jesus Christ, as head of the Church, be substantially holy (see hypostatic union); He willed that Mary, Blessed Virgin, be the full and totally human realization of the holiness possible in the Church; and He wills that in every age in varying degrees saints shall concretely manifest aspects of that one holiness coming from God in Christ. Though this holiness is essentially internal by grace, it is willed by God to be manifested externally; and in every age the great saints supremely manifest this holiness, thus constituting in their persons the apologetic mark of holiness by which the true Church can be recognized. Moreover, not only is the Church holy in its members but also all true holiness that is in the worldeven the holiness of those who know not the Churchis ordained to the Church so that outside the Church (or apart from the Church) there is no holiness and no salvation (see sal vation, necessity of the church for).

Paradoxically the Church is holy and yet needing to be purified and renewed (Lumen gentium 8; Unitatis redintegratio 6). Failure of the members to live fervently dims the radiance of the Church's image in the world (ibid. 4) and so her sanctity, while real, is imperfect on earth (Lumen gentium 48). It is a growing holiness, for the Holy Spirit purifies and renews her ceaselessly (ibid. 3, 5; Sacrosanctum Concilium 2; Gaudium et spes 21). Yet at the same time the Church is the "spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb" and "indefectibly holy" (Lumen gentium 6, 39).

Eternal Fulfillment of Church's Holiness. While time lasts, the holiness of the Church will be imperfectly realized. The Blessed Virgin excepted, all members of the earthly Church resist to some extent the active sanctifying power of God working in the ecclesiastical body. Thus, they are sinners, not because of the Church, but because of their free-willed capacity to resist the sanctifying efficacy of the Church's activity. However, at the end of time the holiness of the Church will reach completion. The visible elements through which God sanctifies men in the temporal Churchthe priesthood, Sacraments, teaching authoritywill be replaced by the direct sanctification of God in the beatific vision. This ultimate realization of the Church's holinessa social holiness that will encompass every fiber of men's beings and will be reflected even in the renewed material creation (Rom8.1821)is described in imagery in Revelation. The Church triumphant is pictured as the Holy City coming down from God (21.2), as the dwelling place of God with men (21.3), as the new Jerusalem that has no need of a temple because God Himself and His Son constitute the real temple thereof (21.22), as the city from which all evil and evil-doers have been banished (21.8, 27).

See Also: miracle, moral (the church); mystical body of christ.

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[p. f. chirico/

t. dubay]