Monday, May 21, 2007

Is it more correct to say that the Church is built up by the Word of God and the Sacraments, or that the Church is built by the blood of the martyrs?

It becomes clear to the student of Holy Writ that both statements are true, ie., that on the one hand Christ’s Church is built and sustained by the Spirit’s work of bringing the life of Christ to man, by means of the Word and the holy Sacraments (therefore we call the Spirit the Giver of Life – vivificantem), and that on the other hand, the Church is built upon, and nourished by, the blood of the martyrs. Both truths are scriptural. What does this mean? To the literalist, the answer is to focus on one and deny the other. The true answer is to ponder how the two truths relate to each other. For they do relate to each other intimately, rather than contradict.

The Scriptures teach us a great deal about the value of Christian suffering, and what God can accomplish through it, though sometimes they do so by other means than the blood metaphor. Take, for instance, our Lord’s words in John 12, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Now consider, in light of such words, what St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote on the road to his martyrdom, “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”

Far from being in competition with each other, the two truths of what builds the Church are related in deep and mysterious ways. I call the reader’s attention to the fact that the same Ignatius I just quoted also wrote, "I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ; and for drink I desire his blood.” To interpret our present sufferings in light of the Passion of our Lord Jesus, upon whom we feed in the Blessed Sacrament, is natural. For we are members of His holy Body. Hence the life of Christ is to be found today in His body the Church. Even at the microcosmic level, each member of that Body can say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2). And this is one reason, by the way, that I am not opposed necessarily to those who say that Mary crushes the serpent under foot. For Mary is the type par excellence of the Church. It is our Lord who does this crushing, which itself implies that the Church also crushes the serpent under foot, for in marriage what is one party’s is now the other’s as well, so Christ’s victory is made ours. Paul teaches as much in Romans 16, where he writes, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet.” And for this we pray in the classic litany, for the Lord “to beat down Satan under our feet.” The Lord does the fighting. Indeed, the fighting is already accomplished in His work on the cross. Yet the cosmic battle rages here in time, where His fighting is done in and through the Christian’s life of faith.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP


Fr. Chadius said...

Your post makes me think of that interesting and somewhat puzzling passage, Revelation 6:9ff, which tells of the souls under the altar who had been slain for the word of God and for their testimony. They are given white robes, denoting holiness unto life. Ironically, Jesus had to shed His own blood on the cross. It is precisely this that judges the enemies of God's word and saints.

What saves (Christ's atonement) also has the added effect of judging to damnation those who reject His once and for all sacrifice for sin. As the scripture says, "they shall be without excuse"(Romans 1:20-21). But those who cling to the word of Christ and glorify Him shall be saved and find mercy, forgiveness in Christ even now.

+Fr. Chadius

Latif of the "Haki Gabas" said...

Good points, Fr. Chadius. The cross is at once condemnation of sin and the victory sign of Christ's saints. "By this sign you will conquer" could be said to the Baptismal candidates as well as to Constantine on the field of battle. The Christian, after all, like his Lord, is driven right from his baptism to the wilderness of this life where he is brought into the spiritual conflict with the wicked foe. As Dr. Scaer once wrote, no one is exempt from the combat of faith. There can be no neutral ground. Fr. Beane also handles this warfare nicely in his recent sermon.

The other thought that your comment brings me to is that this battle also takes place within the Christian. The war must rage between Latif as sinner and Latif as saint until this life is spent. To put it another way, the battle between Christ (the New Man in me, or the New Adam) and the enemy is fought on every level of existence, every dimension of reality. Or to put it in terms that bring this back to the cross, the cross both condemns me and is my tree of life. And upon the altar of that cross (under which we saints must suffer in this life) the church throughout the world celebrates her eucharistic Lord. In light of Rev. 6, I also find it interesting that so many altars around the world are in fact built upon the relics of martyrs.