American Religion’s Dismissal of Apostolicity

Quote of the Day for Wednesday, November 24th, 2010:

Henri de Lubac, from The Splendor of the Church, translated from the 2nd French edition (1953) in 1956, and re-published by Ignatius in 1999 (p.86f):

When we recite the Credo we profess our belief in the Church; and if we believe that the Church is both a universal and a visible community, then we cannot – without betrayal of our faith – be content to grant that the universal Church is made visible and concrete to the individual by that particular community which is his, regardless of the separation of these communities one from another. This would only be another way of resolving the problem of unity by an appeal to an “invisible Church”; it would still be a case of “Platonizing” rather than listening to Christ. “From the very morrow of Christ’s death” a

Church was in existence and living, just as Christ had constituted her; the Church as she is should be in verifiable continuity with the community of the first disciples, which was in turn, and from the beginning, a clearly defined group, social in character, organized, and having its heads, its rites and – soon – its legislation. She should be united to the “root of Christian society” by a real and uninterrupted succession; the need for that cannot be got rid of by treating it as something “profane”, “mechanistic”, or “legalistic”.

… Ruminating tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, about the English Separatists and Puritans who spawned this great social and political experiment in North America, their religious character, and how they continue to influence this culture – and not just with turkey dinners at harvest time!

As submerged as American culture still is (comparatively) in religion and/or religious sentiment (at least outside the halls of our “influence” institutions), there are few sentiments more culturally pervasive than the indigenous distrust of what is called “organized religion.” This is pretty clearly traceable to the influential prejudices of the pilgrims, with their congregationalist, dis-organized (or even anti-organized) religion, and it’s hard not to rue the possibility lost in the process.

When you close yourself off to the body as an historical reality (e.g. by “spiritualizing” it), you close yourself off to precisely that which is redeemed in the historical Christ event of Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Thus, you close yourself off to the transcendence that belongs to the historical Church in its regeneration as the Body of Christ. Christ may remain truly Christ – how could He be otherwise? – but the community lacks the characteristic unity, sanctity, heritage, and universality that marks the Church as the living manifestation of Christ’s continued presence in the world. That’s no trivial poverty.