My family does not yet believe in Saints. “Greet the saints around you,” yes. Capital-S, lives-of-heroic-virtue Saints, no.
Nor do their religious assemblies put much stock in the glories of Church. Their churches are local groups of believers, gathered for worship and service, governed by men and women in loose affiliation with like-minded believers. The believer is primary; the assembly is malleable—or if it is not, one simply finds or forms a new assembly more in line with one’s own beliefs.
Hence, while browsing in a Catholic bookstore, The Splendor of the Church caught my eye. Like Fr. James V. Schall’s title, The Order of Things, the title of Fr. Henri de Lubac’s book begs for attention.
More properly, His Eminence Cardinal Henri-Marie de Lubac († 1991), Henri de Lubac loved Christ’s Church for his entire life. He lived in service and fidelity to the Church, even during “the dark years.” Indeed, Méditation sur l’Église (retitled in English, The Splendor of the Church), was written during those years.
What makes this book remarkable? It is because The Splendor of the Church confirms that, long before the Church embraced me; long before the richness of catholic (which is to say, universal) Christianity became evident to me, the glories of the Church had been extolled for 20 centuries. For those of us from less than supportive families, or living in less than sympathetic communities, it is a great joy to be reminded history is on the side of the Church, and other women and men were drawn by the same transcendence.
The Catholic Church is a “standard raised among the nations” … a rallying point for all, “inviting those who as yet have not faith, and assuring her own children that the faith which they profess has the firmest of foundations” … She is the mountain visible from afar, the radiant city, the light set in a candlestick to illuminate the whole house. She is the imperishable building of cedar and cypress, which defies the passage of time in its awe-inspiring massiveness and gives to our ephemeral individualities their measure of confidence. She is the “continual miracle,” always announcing to men the coming of their Savior and manifesting His liberating power in examples without number; the magnificent vaulting under which the saints, like so many stars, sing together of the glory of the Redeemer.¹
When a Catholic wants to expound the claims the Church has on his obedience he feels a certain embarrassment or, rather, a certain melancholy. It is not that her title-deeds are inadequate. But when taken in the dryness of the mere letter, the claims do not do justice to something that is, as far as he is concerned, essential. He can point to the facts of history, develop the arguments that are suitable to the occasion. But when he has done all this, all he has done is to establish the fact that we ought to submit, as a matter of justice and our own good; he has not been able to convey the spontaneous leap of his own heart to obedience, nor the joy he feels in his submission.²
Thus, when we say to the Church, in the words which the Apostle used to Christ, Who founded her: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life,” this is not in virtue of some fatigue of spirit, which seeks to place itself under an authority to escape the effort of thought and the labor of living; rather it is, as Newman put it, in virtue of a sense of coming to rest in the Catholic plenitude.³
And that, by God’s grace, is Christianity Richly!
¹ Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), p. 46.
² Pages 265-266.
³ Page 271.