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Motherhood of the Entire Church | Henri de Lubac, S.J. | From
The Motherhood of the Church
The foregoing leads us to
a specific and fundamental principle: the Church is our mother. We would not be
Christians if we did not acknowledge in her this essential characteristic. Even
after their secession, the Reformers of the sixteenth century explicitly
acknowledged it.  Calvin attached such importance to it that some reproached
him for setting up in that way a divine "quaternity". In our own century, Karl Barth has gone even farther; he considers that Calvin did not
really understand the full significance of the thesis expressed in this image
of maternity. Why, he asks, does the author of the Christian Institute begin to speak of the Church only in his
fourth book, as one of those externa
media vel adminicula--of the
highest importance without doubt, but still "exterior"--by which God
invites us to and keeps us within the community of Christ?  Our traditional
liturgies have also sung of this Mother. Witness this verse of a hymn from the
Church of Paris for the Feast of the Dedication:
...Christus enim, norma
Quam de lacu
But finally, what is this Church? Is it necessary to consider her only in her
shepherds, in those who, following the first apostles, perpetuate with authority
the Word and sacraments among us? In other words, is it solely a question of
that Church which we call today the hierarchical Church? No, or at least not
always, and never exclusively. The hymn we have just quoted shows very clearly that
it is a question of all those, without distinction, whom Christ has drawn
"out of the lake of misery". And in fact it is precisely that which the
most ancient patristic tradition has already declared and which all Christian
centuries have repeated arid which is again declared today by those who do not
consider it beneath themselves to contemplate this mystery. The Woman who, in the
twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, gives birth and escapes the dragon is the
entire people of God. The whole Church, the entire Christian community is
mother. But she is not mother in the human way. "In carnal marriage",
Saint Augustine explains to us, "the mother and child are distinct; in the
Church, on the contrary, mother and child are one." 
That is a teaching we must analyze closely.
Considered as a "body" or as a "people", Body of Christ or
People of God, the Church appears first of all as a totality. She is, if it can
be put this way, the total consciousness or, better yet, the total being of
believers.  Pastors and faithful are united in one same Church; together
they, form a single People, a single Body. They are all together the flock of
whom Christ is the Shepherd. This is obviously Saint Irenaeus' understanding
when he says, in that doctrinal summary, the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching: "The Lord has given the Church more
children than he gave the Synagogue of the ancients."  In fact, in that
previously cited Letter of the
Churches of Vienne and Lyons,
of which he is perhaps the principal writer and which in any case arose from
the same milieu, concerning the two martyrs Alexander and Blandine, we read the
following lines, which not a few would find strange today, but which reproduce expressions
derived from Saint Paul:
Alexander remained standing before the tribunal and, by signs, exhorted the
others to confess the faith. . . ; he seemed to those who surrounded the
tribunal to be experiencing the pains of childbirth .... As for Blandine, the
last of all, like a noble mother who has exhorted her children and has sent
them victorious on ahead of her to the king, she herself went through all the
struggles of her children as well.
And after having completed this account, the Letter ends
by saying that all the martyrs whose courage it has just celebrated "left
behind them neither grief to their mother, nor dispute, nor hostility between
their brothers, but joy, concord and charity". 
With Hippolytus, and even more with Origen, arises the great theme in Christian
thought, resumed indefinitely ever since, of the structural analogy between the
Church and the Christian soul. Origen condenses it in his concept of the anima ecclesiastica or of the vir ecclesiasticus.
Saint Ambrose expresses it by saying that "it is in the saints that the
Church is beautiful",  and Pascal is merely summarizing a long
tradition when he writes to Mlle. de Roannez that "all that happens to the
Church happens also to each Christian individually".  If, therefore,
the Church is mother, each Christian also is or should be a mother. In his place,
according to his own vocation, in union with all the others, he participates in
the maternal function of the Church.
It is first of all in himself that, through the action of this Church, the
Christian gives birth and growth to the Word of God which he has received, from
which he lives and which he makes bear fruit.
The mouth of the Father has begotten a pure Word; this Word appears a second
time, born of the saints. Constantly producing saints, it is also itself
reproduced by its saints. 
Here originate the innumerable variations on the birth and growth of the Word
of God in the soul that have multiplied ever since. While derived directly from
Scripture, the patristic teaching on the motherhood of the Church was
occasioned rather by the paschal catecheses that provided the framework for
baptismal ceremonies. This new, more subtle theme is found more in the
celebration of Christmas feasts. The Western Middle Ages saw, in the three
Masses said at Christmas, a symbol of the three births of the Word: the first being
the eternal birth in the bosom of the Father; the second, his historical birth
from the womb of the Virgin as a result of his Incarnation; and the third,
fruit of the second, his spiritual birth in the womb of the Christian soul.
 Each of these three births is produced, in its way, in silence and in secret.
"The soul which has received the seed of the Word", says Origen,
"forms this received Word within her until she herself gives birth to the
spirit of the fear of God."  Saint Bernard, who drew great inspiration
from Origen, also celebrates the birth of the Word in the soul, and the
Cistercian school has followed his example. "Faithful soul", says
Guerric d'lgny, preaching on the Annunciation, "open your breast very
wide, expand your affection, fear to be confined in your heart! Con- ceive the
one whom no creature can contain."  This is not, however, merely a
theme of one particular school. It is encountered again everywhere. The
Christian soul, affirms Rupert of Deutz, "truly becomes mother of the Word
of God."  The Rhineland mystics, Tauler and many others, hold forth on
the subject at length.  Bérulle sees in the mystery of the Incarnation,
without prejudice to its historical reality, "a permanent mystery and not
a momentary action."  And Saint Francis de Sales says the same thing
in another way: "It is the good Jesus to whom we must give birth and
produce within ourselves."  This simple language is that of John XXIII
in his Christmas message in 1962: "O Eternal Word of the Father, son of
God and son of Mary, renew once again in the secrecy of souls the wonderful
marvel of your birth! " 
Such a doctrine is profound. It is the common possession of both Eastern and
Western spirituality. Even in our own time, the Russian Orthodox Leo Zander
writes: "If the Church is and remains I the body of Christ, perpetuated by
the Spirit, we, her members, are all called to conceive the Lord who is born in
our soul so that we might participate in the divine life." We have there,
vividly expressed, the very essence of Christian mysticism; and contrary to
what might first appear to be the case, this doctrine, while interiorizing the
mystery, does not in itself lead to any individualistic distortion. Still,
however justified, in ecclesiology itself, this application of spiritual maternity
to the soul of every Christian may be, it is undoubtedly more important and in
any case more immediately consistent with patristic thought to consider this
maternity as that of the entire Church, which all the faithful living the life
of Christ participate in spreading. That is to say, therefore, a maternity of
all, indivisibly, with respect to each one, and of each one with respect to
all. The more each one, on his part, is an adult in Christ--which means, as we
have seen, the more intimately he is bound to his Church--the more he exercises
this maternity. 
Clement of Alexandria understood it in this way when, after having spoken of
the "perfect" ones in Christ who are all the more "little
children", he went on to reunite them all in "a single virgin become mother--whom
I love to call the Church.".  This was also Newman's understanding of
it when, recounting in his Apologia the impression produced in him by the
assiduous reading of the Fathers, he said: in this Church of the Fathers
"I recognized my spiritual Mother . . . . The renunciations of her
ascetics, the patience of her martyrs, the irresistable determination of her
bishops, the joyous impetus of her forward progress, exalted and confounded me
at the same time."  We could add that it is still understood in this
way even today by those Russian believers who, without being associated with any
official hierarchy, edit the little mimeographed journal entitled the Message of Salvation: "Inestimable Mother", they say in
fact, "unforgettable Mother, radiant and all beautiful, Mother of sorrows,
born on the Cross, you who give birth on the Cross, Mother of innumerable children,
how sweet it is to meet you!" 
1 See the texts of Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Du Plessis-Mornay quoted in de Lubac,
La foi chrétienne, 231-34.
 Dogmatique, vol. 4,. t. 2, fasc. 3 (Geneva, 1971), 2.
Never, Barth goes on, here in agreement with Emil Brunner; "would an
apostle have dreamed of considering the community as a mere 'external means'
serving the salvation of individual Christians."
 ... Now Christ, the model of what all may be, Has taken Church, our mother,
for his bride, Unlocked the prison of her misery-- His love is she. (trans. A.
 In psalm. 127, 12 (PL, 37:1684).
 Cf. Hans Urs von Baithasar, Théologie
de l'histoire, 2d ed., trans.
R. Givord (Fayard, 1970), 125, 136.
 Demonstration, c. 94 (L.-M. Froidevaux, SC, 62:161).
 In Eusebius, Hist. eccles., 1., c. I, n. 49 and 55: c. 2, n. 7 (G.
Bardy, SC, 41:18, 20-21, 25).
 De mysteriis, c. 7, 11. 39: "...In his formosa est Ecciesia" (B. Botte, SC, 25 his , 176).
 Cf. dc Lubac, Exégèse
médiévale, 2:558-71. "The
heart of every Christian", Newman will say, "should represent the Catholic
Church in miniature, for the single Spirit makes the entire Church and each of
her members a temple." "Con- nection between Personal and Public
Improvement", in: Sermons
Bearing on Subjects of the Day,
new ed. (1879), 132.
 Hippolytus, In Daniel, 1. I, c. 10 (Bardy and Lefèvre, SC, 14:88).
 It is to the degree that this characteristic of the dependence of the
third birth with respect to the second is forgotten that an extra-Christian
mysticism or gnosis will develop
 Origen, In Levit., hom. 12, c. 7 (Baehrens, 466). Cf. 1 Jn 3:9.
 Sermo II in
Annuntiationem (SC, 166,
Morson, Costello, Deseille [19701, 41).
 Rupert, In Isaiam, 1. 2, c. 91 (PL, 167:1362 AB).
 Von Balthasar, De
l'intégration, 259: "The
supernatural fruitfulness of the soul arises entirely from the 'germ of God' .
. . . But once the Word has been received, the cooperation of the soul is the
indispensable condition of its growth. This explains the interweaving motifs of
maternity and sonship, closely related to that of the believing soul, something
which German mysticism has grasped very distinctly since Eckhart, but which
Origen had already clearly seen."
 Opuscules de piété, 55, 2 (ed. Rotureau, Aubier , 205).
 Letter of January 24, 1608.
 Cf. de Lubac, Exégèse
médiévale, 4 (1964), 506-13.
Jean Daniélou, Le mystère de
l'existence (1968), 67-68.
 Henri de Lubac, Histoire
et esprit (Aubier, 1950),
 Paedagogus, I. I, c. 6, 42 (SC, 70, Marrou and Harl ,
186); cf. 25 and 32-34 (156 and 168-72). In the sixth Stromaton, c. 16, 146, Clement, referring to Exodus 20:12, will see the
mother whom he must honor rather as "divine gnosis and wisdom".
 Apologia pro vita sua, trans. Michelin-Delimoges (Bloud and Gay,
 Cf. André Martin, Les
croyants en URSS (Fayard,
1970), 166. Lumen Gentium, c. 8, n. 6.
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Henri de Lubac, S.J. (1896-1991) was a French Jesuit and one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. De Lubac was
ordained a priest on August 22, 1927, pursued further studies
in Rome until 1929, and then became a faculty member at Catholic Faculties
of Theology of Lyons, where he taught history of religions until 1961.
His pupils included Jean
Daniélou and Hans Urs
von Balthasar. De Lubac was created cardinal deacon by Pope John Paul II on February
2, 1983 and received the red biretta and the deaconry of S. Maria in Domnica,
February 2, 1983. He died on September 4, 1991, Paris and is buried in
a tomb of the Society of Jesus at the Vaugirard cemetery in Paris. For more about his life and a listing of his books published
by Ignatius Press, visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.
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