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