Soul of the Church

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The early Christian creeds point to a faith in the life-giving Spirit (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 42, 150) present in the Church and in the saints, quickening and sanctifying them (ibid. 44, 46, 48, 60, 62, 63). The historical reasons why the Church was originally inserted among the items appended to the third member of the Trinitarian-structured creeds have not been clarified. However, the logic of Christian life soon associated the mention of the Church with the mission of the Spirit, precisely because the Church was paramount among "the realities that could be, and were, regarded as the fruits of the Spirit in action" [J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (2d ed. London 1960) 155]. The Fathers, with a copious range of imagery, present the Spirit as the prime inward principle of all life and unity in Christ's Body, the Church [see S. Tromp's florilegia: De Spiritu Sancto anima: I. Testimonia e PP. graecis (2d ed. Rome 1948); II. Testimonia e PP. latinis (Rome 1932)]. St. Augustine, in particular, compared the Spirit's role in the Church with that of the soul in the human body, thus striking off a fresh analogy destined to influence the whole Western Church; see especially two sermons on the mystery of Pentecost (267.4, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne 38:1231; 268.2, ibid. 1232). As for the Eastern Church, see Chrysostom 's commentary on Eph 4.3 (Hom. 9.3; Patrologia Graeca 62:72).

The Augustinian theme became a commonplace of medieval and later Western theology. However, speculation concerning the headship of Christ interested scholastic theologians much more than the question of the Spirit's role as the soul of the Body.

In recent times this traditional analogy of metaphor has been taken into the Church's documents. [See Leo XIII's divinum illud munus (May 9, 1897: Enchiridion symbolorum 3328).] Pius XII (mystici corporis, June 29, 1943: ibid. 380708) presents Christ's Spirit as the prime inward principle, one and indivisible, of all supernatural life and growth, energies and powers, of Christ's Body (Pius XII Mystici Corporis, pars. 54, 68); a transcendent principle, "infinite and uncreated" (60), which, without prejudice to its transcendence, is an immanent principle, abidingly present and active in the whole Body (55, 60), thus forming the one, holy and living Body of Christ (55). Christ the Head, by communicating His Spirit to the Body, joins and assimilates the Body to Himself (51, 54, 78) with an immediacy of union that establishes His Body, analogically, in a theandric order. Christ is in His members, and they in Him, through His Spirit (77), with a measure of unity such that He is become the bearer, the "sustainer" (52) of His Body; and thus "the whole Christ" (78), Head and Body together, comes into being to serve Christ's work in the world of men.

Bellarmine, although continuing the traditional doctrine, inaugurated another way of employing the body-soul metaphor that found widespread favor in apologetic writing. He compared the soul of the Church to "the interior gifts of the Holy Spirit," while the body became "the exterior profession of faith and the sharing in the Sacraments" (De ecclesia militante ch. 2). However, any maladroit use of this theological construct creates the impression that there is a dissociation between body and soul in the Church. The lasting dissatisfaction with this usage, especially since Mystici corporis, has ensured its obsolescence.

As for its basis in Scripture, it may be said that the metaphor of the Spirit as soul is not biblical, the nearest approach being Eph 4.4 and 1 Cor 12.13. St. Paul used the "Body" theme in a Semitic sense, with Body signifying the whole concrete Person. Hence, only after the Fathers had taken over the Greek dualism of body and soul did it become feasible to elaborate a body-soul development in ecclesiology.

See Also: mystical body of christ; holy spirit; church, articles on.

Bibliography: p. de letter, "The Soul of the Mystical Body," Sciences Ecclésiastiques 14 (1962) 213234. c. lialine, "The Holy Spirit and the Mystical Body of Christ," The Eastern Churches Quarterly 7 (194748) 6994. f. malmberg, Ein Leibein Geist (Freiburg 1960). s. tromp, De Spiritu Christi anima (1960), v. 3 of Corpus Christi quod est ecclesia, 3 v. (Rome 193760).

[f. x. lawlor]