"Catholic From the Outset" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | July 5, 2011"Catholic From the Outset" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | July 5, 2011


"For us Christians, the world is the fruit of an act of love by God who has made all things and in which he rejoices because it is 'good'; it is 'very good,' as the creation narrative tells us" (Genesis 1:1-21). — Pope Benedict XVI, Pentecost Sunday 2011 (L'Osservatore Romano, English, June 15, 2011).

"The Church was catholic from the outset; her universality is not the result of a successive inclusion of various communities." — Benedict XVI, Pentecost Sunday 2011.


Before inventing the vapid "Fourteenth or Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time" business, the Church used to identify those days as "The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost," "the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost", and so forth. The liturgical season and its teaching were kept in mind. Symbolically and actually, the time after Pentecost is the time of the Holy Spirit, the time between the sending of the Apostles into the world and the Second Coming. What is going on is the essential purpose of Christ's being sent into the world: the salvation of sinners and the proper worship of God as that was established by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The major event in world history has taken place, namely, the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is a divine event that is at the same time historical. It really happened. What follows the time of Christ's actual life on earth is the time during which the nations and individuals within them make up their minds about reality, about whether they will accept or reject the offer of salvation that was made present in the world with Christ's Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

Ultimately, this decision is what the time after Pentecost is about.

As usual, Benedict XVI has given us an insightful reflection on the meaning of Pentecost and the nature of our time in this world. In recalling the period from Holy Week to Pentecost, Benedict says that "the Church has thus re-lived what happened at her origins, when the Apostles gathered in the upper room of Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles."

Psalm 104 in the Pentecost Mass reads: "May the glory of the Lord endures forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works." Of this passage, the Pope remarks: "This is what the Church wants to tell us: the Spirit Creator of all things and the Holy Spirit whom the Lord caused to come down from the Father upon the community of the disciples are one and the same. Creation and redemption belong to each other and constitute in depth one mystery of love and of salvation." This passage is of remarkable importance. We do not have one God who created us and another who redeemed us.

Creation is not one thing and salvation something else entirely unrelated. We were created in order that we might achieve God's initial purpose which, with the fall, required our redemption from sins. Creation was intended so that beings—rational beings—capable of salvation could exist, could have time and space in which freely to decide how they would stand to God, the Creator and Redeemer, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their Trinitarian wholeness. "For us Christians, the world is the fruit of an act of love by God who has made all things and in which he rejoices because it is 'good'; it is 'very good,' as the creation narrative tells us." The world thus does not exist by chance, though there is chance in it. What is created is "very good." It is intended to be.

In classical religious philosophy, we have often heard God spoken of as "totally Other," as if not even God can breach the gap between creature and Himself. But this conception of God is the result of a rejection of, or a not knowing of, divine revelation. The Christian God reveals Himself in order that He might be known as much as possible—face to face ultimately by the rational creature. "God is not totally Other, unnameable and obscure. God reveals himself; he has a face. God is reason, God is will, God is love, God is beauty." Deus Logos est. Deus voluntas est. Deus Caritas est. Deus pulchrum est. We do not have two different faiths, one for creation and another for redemption. The two belong together.


The sacred letters that designate God in the Old Testament, letters we usually see as "Yahweh", were not to be spoken or written by the Jews. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the ability to recognize and affirm that Christ is God. "'Lord' is the title attributed to God in the Old Testament, the title that in the interpretation of the Bible replaced the unpronounceable name." Benedict adds: "The Creed of the Church is nothing other than the development of what we say with the single affirmation" 'Jesus is the Lord.'" We make our own those words that spell out more fully that Jesus is the Lord. Thus, the whole Creed explains what it means to say "Jesus is the Lord." We identify and keep distinct the Father and Son and Spirit.

When we say, "Jesus is God," we mean that this man Jesus is indeed God. We also mean that God is Jesus. The truth of this statement changes the world. God was present in the world in the life of Jesus, who left us a memorial of his abiding presence. The different graces and endeavors that we do all can work together in the Spirit. The one center does not deny the many things ordered to it. All the sacraments give us, in their own ways, divine life and grace. "The Holy Spirit is Creator; he is at the same time the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but in such a way that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God."

The Spirit gives life to the Church. The Church is not "born from the human will, from man's reflection, from his ability or from his organizational capacity; if this were so she would have ceased to exist long ago, as happens with all that is human." The centuries-long existence of the Church that still affirms what it did in the time of Christ is one of the secular mysteries of modern social science. The Holy Spirit is active from the beginning. The cloud of smoke at Mt. Sinai comes from the same source as the fire at Pentecost over the Apostles. The God of Sinai, the Lord, is the same Lord that is Jesus. "He who sees Me has seen the Father."

The Old Testament Covenant contained intimations of a more universal mission. Benedict is struck by the "unusually long" list of people from all walks of life and from many nations that are listed in Acts. "With this (list) we are told something important, that the Church was catholic (universal) from the very outset, that her universality is not the result of the successive inclusion of various communities." The universality was already part of the Spirit that constituted the Church and bound us together in the only ultimate community that would last forever. This "catholicity" or universality was intended for all men insofar as all shared in the same invitation freely to enter eternal life. The Holy Spirit created the Church to be the Church of "all peoples," not just this one or that.

The Church is not holy because of "her members' ability but because God himself with his Spirit has never ceased to create her, purify her, and sanctify her." The Pope cites the passage from John 20. The disciples were "glad that they saw the Lord." The disciples thought that they had lost their Friend, Jesus, but He was suddenly with them again. The lost friend, however, came from true death on the Cross. He is not just anyone. He is the Truth.

Benedict ends with the following lovely passage: "He (Christ) is not just anyone; indeed he is the Friend and at the same time the one who is the Truth that gives life to men and women; and what he gives is not just any kind of joy, but joy itself, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet, it is beautiful to love because I am loved and it is the Truth who loves me." We can love because we are first loved. We can know not just a joyful occasion, but Joy itself in the inner life of the Trinity.

"For us Christians, the world is the result of an act of love by God who has made all things." "The Church was catholic from the outset." "It is beautiful to love because I am loved and it is the Truth who loves me."

Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth (Part 2) available March 10, 2011
Other Recent Books by Pope Benedict XVI
All books by or about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Excerpts from books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Articles about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:

• Pentecost: The Harvest of the Holy Spirit | Carl E. Olson
Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Vatican II and the Ecclesiology of Joseph Ratzinger | Fr. Maximilian Heinrich Heim
The Church Is the Goal of All Things | Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn
Motherhood of the Entire Church | Henri de Lubac
Excerpts from Theology of the Church | Charles Cardinal Journet Creation | Adrienne von Speyr
Creation, Salvation, and the Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Church Is the Goal of All Things | Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn
The Gift of God | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Creed and the Trinity | Henri de Lubac

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!