The Work of God - Catholic Apologetics | Contents
"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor. 12, 26-27).
The Communion of Saints is the union that exists between all the members of the Church on earth, in heaven, and in purgatory. Those members on earth comprise the Church Militant; those in heaven, the Church Triumphant; those in purgatory, the Church Suffering.
These three Churches, strictly speaking, form but one Church existing in three different states whose Head is Jesus Christ: "so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another" (Rom. 12, 5). Every member has his own place and part to perform, not merely for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole Church: "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speaking in various tongues" (1 Cor. 12, 28). All the good works performed within the Church, and all the Churchs spiritual treasures, are beneficial to all Her members.
The Church Militant is so-called as its members are still but wayfarers, working out their salvation in "fear and trembling" (Phil. 2, 12) struggling against the "world, the flesh and the Devil": "he who endures to the end will be saved" (St. Matt. 10, 22). Only those who persevere can reach their goal; there can no reward for the weak and faint-hearted.
The members of the Church Militant are in communion with each other by:
(i) Obedience to the same visible authority established by Christ Himself, that is, the rock of St. Peter and his successor the Pope of Rome;
(ii) Professing the same faith publicly as one body, such as the recitation of the Nicene Creed at weekly Mass. Through such, all the faithful are "united in the same mind and the same purpose" (1 Cor. 1, 10);
(iii) Assisting one another with their prayers and good works: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6, 2).
In other words, "it is a matter of communion with God through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. This communion is to be had in the Word of God and in the sacraments. Baptism is the door and the foundation of communion in the Church The communion of the eucharistic Body of Christ signifies and produces, that is, builds up, the intimate communion of all the faithful in the Body of Christ which is the Church."1
No member of the Church Militant, whatever his condition, stands alone: "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor. 12, 26-27). The Church Militant is not a collection of individuals having their own "personal relationships with Christ" to the exclusion of all others. To commune with Christ requires a communion with His Body, for one cannot claim to possess the Head to the exclusion of the Body: "and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1, 22).
It is entirely appropriate to describe the Church in heaven as triumphant, for its members are those who have fought the "good fight" and have reached their port of destination. This triumph is reflected in the brightness of the Just in heaven: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 41). Each member of the Church Triumphant will be crowned in reward for his or her victory: "I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day" (2 Tim. 4, 7). The Devil and his cohorts have been frustrated in their efforts to destroy these souls, and now they reign with their heavenly Lord and Master as their eternal reward.
As we are united with Christ our Head in heaven, so are we united with His members triumphantly reigning with Him. Death in no way impedes our union with the Church Triumphant, any more than it impedes our union with Christ Himself. Together, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant unceasingly bless and praise God. Further, we can ask the Saints in heaven to intercede on our behalf to obtain Gods blessings and favors. When those in heaven see that one on earth has turned away from evil to do good they immediately express their joy: "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (St. Luke 15, 10). The Saints enjoy the same Beatific vision as the angels and hence are also witnesses to the struggles of the saints on earth: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" (Heb. 12, 1).
The Church Suffering, though its members have also been found worthy to share in eternal life, are obliged to undergo a period of purgation, or cleansing, for their unforgiven venial sins and / or lack of penance for mortal sin duly forgiven. This purgation, though temporary, is effected by purifying fires that burn at the soul: "If any man's is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor. 3, 15). From the writings of Mystics, Doctors and Saints, we know that these fires burn with a degree of intensity not found on earth, inflicting the acutest pain. Hence, the appropriateness of the term "Suffering."
Our communion with the Church Suffering is effected by praying for the souls in purgatory, by assisting them through good works and penances, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: "But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Macc. 12, 45). Through such acts of charity, the Holy Souls earn an abatement of their sufferings; and they, in turn, will in gratitude pray for us.
Origen, On Prayer 11, 2 (Post 231 AD):
"Now the one great virtue according to the Word of God is love of ones neighbor. We must believe that the saints who have died possess this love in a far higher degree towards the ones engaged in the combat of life than those who are still subject to human weakness and involved in the combat along with their weaker brethren. The words If one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it, or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it are not confined to those on earth who love their brethren. For the words apply just as much to the love of those who have left this present life...the solicitude for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I am not inflamed?"
St. Jerome, Against Vigilantius 6 (406 AD):
"You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard; and this is especially clear since the martyrs, though they cry vengeance for their own blood, have never been able to obtain their request. But if the Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs."
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Care of the Dead 15, 18 (421 AD):
"The spirits of the dead are able to know some things which happen here, which it is necessary for them to know. And those for whom it is necessary that something be known, not only the present or the past but even the future, - they know these things by the revealing Spirit of God, just as not all men but the Prophets, while they lived, knew not all things but those which the providence of God judged ought to be revealed to them."
St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God Against the Pagans 20, 9, 2 (Inter 413-426 AD):
"Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the Kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
For the unity of the Spirit, by which she is governed, brings it about that whatsoever has been given to the Church is held as a common possession by all her members...The same may be observed in the Church. She is composed of various members; that is, of different nations, of Jews, Gentiles, freemen and slaves, of rich and poor; when they have been baptized, they constitute one body with Christ, of which He is the Head.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 954: The three states of the Church. "When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is":
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.
No. 957: Communion with the saints. "It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from which as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself":
We worship Christ as Gods Son; we love the martyrs as the Lords disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples! (Martyrium Polycarpi, 17).
No. 958: Communion with the dead. In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1, 3; 7).
"All authority," said Christ to His disciples, "in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (St. Matt. 28, 18). Included in this was the power to forgive sins. The following incident in the Gospels testifies to Christs power to forgive sins:
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven. Then some of the scribes said to themselves, This man is blaspheming. But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Stand up and walk? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins - he then said to the paralytic - Stand up, take your bed and go to your home. And he stood up and went to his home" (St. Matt. 9, 2-7).
It was this same spiritual power to forgive sins that Our Lord communicated to His Apostles and their successors after His Resurrection:
"As the Father has sent me, so I send you...Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (St. John 20, 21-23).
In this verse we see that Christ bestowed upon His Apostles the following: (i) mission ("As the Father has sent me, so I send you "); (ii) power ("Receive the Holy Spirit"), and (iii) discretion whether or not to exercise this power ("If you forgive ; if you retain."). This verse cannot be explained away by claiming that the Apostles were simply authorized to go out and preach forgiveness only according to the following injunction: "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (St. Luke 24, 47). If such were the case St. John 20, 21-23 would be utterly devoid of purpose.
The power to forgive sins was the first charism Christ bestowed upon the Apostles after His resurrection. In claiming that Her priests have the power to forgive sins, the Catholic Church is criticized and accused of carrying out a function that is proper to God alone. It is he same accusation Christ Himself had to endure: "This man is blaspheming" (St. Matt. 9, 3). Yet, Christ established the Church to continue His work of salvation in the world after His ascension into heaven. Whatever Christ as Head possesses by way of power and authority is properly possessed by His Body also, that is, the Church. In forgiving sins, priests and bishops act as Christs ministers and instruments; the fact that they may be sinners themselves does not inhibit the exercise or effectiveness of this power.
The main ways by which the power to forgive sins is exercised in the Church are through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. It is through Baptism that the merits of Christs Redemption are applied to us for the remission of Original Sin inherited from Adam: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 5). Penance forgives all actual sin committed after Baptism.
Actual sin can be either venial or mortal. Venial sin is a transgression of the law of God in a slight matter, or in a grave matter when, at the time, either our understanding does not wholly comprehend the full gravity of the evil presented to it, or there is wanting full consent of the will. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against God that brings death to the soul by causing us to lose the friendship of God. For mortal sin to be committed, there must be: (i) grave matter; (ii) full knowledge of the gravity of the act being committed; (iii) full consent of the will to the commission of the act.
There are some who claim that the distinction made by the Church between venial and mortal sin is artificial, and that all sin is equally bad ("sin is sin"). The difference in degrees of sin is clearly indicated by the following verses: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" (St. Matt. 7, 3); " therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin" (St. John 19, 11); finally, "If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal." (1 John 5, 16 - 17).
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelpians 8, 1 (C. 110 AD):
"The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if their repentance leads to the unity of God and to the council of the bishop. I have faith in the grace of Jesus Christ; and He will remove from you every chain."
Firmilian of Caesarea, Letter to Cyprian 75, 16 (C. 268 AD):
"Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven; and if you retain any mans sins, they shall be retained. Therefore, the power of forgiving sins was given to the Apostles and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, established; and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place."
Lactantius, The Divine Institutions 4, 30, 1 (Inter 304-310 AD):
"...let it be known: that is the true Church, in which there is confession and penance, and which takes a salubrious care of the sins and wounds to which the weak flesh is subject."
St. Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 18, 8 (C. 353-355 AD):
[On Matthew 18:18] The power of binding and loosing given to the Apostles:-
"In our present condition we are all subdued by the terror of that greatest dread. And now, out in front of that terror, He sets the irrevocable apostolic judgment, however severe, so that those whom they shall bind on earth, that is, whomsoever they leave bound in the knots of their sins; and those whom they loose, which is to say, those who by their confession receive grace unto salvation:- these, in accord with the apostolic sentence, are bound or loosed also in heaven."
St. Pacian of Barcelona, Letters to Sympronian 1, 6 (Inter 375-392 AD):
"God never threatens the repentant, rather He pardons the penitent. You will say that it is God alone who can do this. True enough, but it is likewise true that He does it through his priests, who exercise His power."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
As, therefore, He became man, in order to bestow on man this forgiveness of sins, He communicated this power to Bishops and priests in the Church, previous to His Ascension into heaven, where He sits forever at the right hand of God. Christ, however, as we have already said, remits sin by virtue of His own authority; all others, by virtue of His authority delegated to them as His ministers.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 976: The Apostles Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
No. 981: After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles "so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations." The apostles and their successors carry out this "ministry of reconciliation," not only by announcing to men Gods forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:
[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christs blood and the Holy Spirits action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us (St. Augustine, Sermo 214,11).
No. 982: There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest." Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.
"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19, 25-27).
According to God's original plan for humanity, Adam and Eve and their descendants were to live in Paradise on earth until they attained a certain level of grace through a life of meritorious acts. Thereupon, each person would be assumed body and soul into heavenly glory without having to endure sickness, pain, suffering or death. This was the proper end for humanity by virtue of the preternatural gifts of impassability and immortality, gifts that our original parents forfeited by their rebellion against God. Hence, it is now the lot of all men to die, a decree issued against all the children of Adam: "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5, 12).
At death, the human soul departs from its mortal body and immediately comes before the judgment-seat of God; the body returns to the earth from whence it came: "and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12, 7). This judgment the Church calls the particular judgment for it is the private judgment of each individual before God in contrast to the general judgment when all of humanity will be publicly gathered together before Christ at the end of the world: "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another...And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (St. Matt. 25, 31- 46).
The bodies of the dead will remain in the earth until the Last Day, or Day of Judgment, when Gods angel will descend from heaven to call all back to life. At that instant, all departed souls will be re-united with their bodies: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable" (1 Cor. 15, 52). Those who are alive at this time will have their bodies transformed instantly: "we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet " (1 Cor. 15, 51-52).
Every soul shall be re-united with the same body it possessed during life, so that, as the body shared in its good or evil, so may it share in its glory or condemnation: "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (St. John 5, 28-29); "For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5, 10).
Through the resurrection of the body, Christs victory over death is complete: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15, 54-55).
St. Paul tells us that as the sun is brighter than the moon, and one star brighter than another, so shall it be with the merits of the risen at the Resurrection: "There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 40-41).
The bodies of the Just after the Resurrection shall possess four principal qualities:
(i) Impassability: this will render them incapable of pain or suffering: "he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Rev. 21, 4);
(ii) Brightness: this will render their merits as glorious as the sun: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 41);
(iii) Agility: this will give them the ability, as quick as thought, to move from one end of creation to another: "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 43);
(iv) Subtility: this will enable them to pass through material substances: "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15, 44).
The opposite of these gifts will be the fate of the reprobate, as just punishment for their lives of sin and self-indulgence:
(i) Darkness: Their bodies will be dark and "they will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame" (Is. 13, 8);
(ii) Passability: Their bodies will suffer endless pain and torment, burning forever in the fire without being consumed: "for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched" (Is. 66, 24);
(iii) Heaviness: Their bodies will be weighed down and sluggish: " to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron" (Ps. 149, 8);
(iv) Carnality: Their souls will be subject and enslaved to their bodies: "To set the mind on the flesh is death" (Rom. 8, 6).
The thought of the future resurrection should be our great incentive to yield our bodies "as slaves to righteousness for sanctification" (Rom. 6, 19). It is our great hope, the crown of our faith: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain" (1 Cor. 15, 13-14).
The Didache 16, 3 (C. 90-150 AD):
"And then will appear the signs of the truth. First, the sign spread out in the heavens; second, the sign of the sound of the trumpet; the third, the resurrection of the dead. Not the resurrection of all men, but as it was said: The Lord will come, and all His saints with Him. Then the world will see the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven."
St. Justin Martyr, The Resurrection 8 (Date Unknown):
"Indeed, God calls even the body to resurrection, and promises it everlasting life. When He promises to save the man, He thereby makes His promise to the flesh: for what is man but a rational living being composed of soul and body?"
Athenagoras of Athens, The Resurrection of the Dead 12 (C. 177-180 AD):
"And the body is moved to what is proper to it in accord with its nature, and undergoes the changes allotted to it; and among the other changes of age, appearance and size, is the resurrection. For the resurrection is a species of change, the last of all, and a change for the better in those things which remain at that time."
Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Dead 63, 1 (Inter 208-212 AD):
"Therefore, the flesh shall rise again: certainly of every man, certainly the same flesh, and certainly in its entirety. Whatever it is, it is in safe keeping with God through that most faithful Agent between God and man, Jesus Christ, who shall reconcile both God to man and man to God, the spirit to the flesh and the flesh to the spirit."
St. Hippolytus of Rome, Against the Greeks 2 (Ante 225 AD):
"Not in vain, then, do we believe in the resurrection of the body. Moreover, while it is dissolved at its proper time because of the transgression which took place in the beginning, and is committed to the earth as to a furnace, to be reshaped again, not in its present corruption, but pure and no longer corruptible, so also to every body its own soul will be returned; and the soul, being clothed with it again, will not be grieved but will rejoice with it, the pure abiding in the pure. Just as the soul now abides with the body in this world in righteousness, and finds the body in no way unco-operative, so to, in all joy it will receive the body again."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 18, 1 (C. 350 AD):
"The root of every good work is the hope of the resurrection; for the expectation of a reward nerves the soul to good work. Every laborer is prepared to endure the toils if he looks forward to the reward of these toils. But they who labor without reward - their soul is exhausted with their body...He that believes his body will remain for the resurrection is careful of his garment and does not soil it in fornication, or abuses his own body as if it belonged to another. A great precept and teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, therefore, is belief in the resurrection of the dead - great and most necessary, but contradicted by many..."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
Not only will the body rise, but whatever belongs to the reality of its nature, and adorns and ornaments man will be restored. For this we have the admirable words of St. Augustine: There shall then be no deformity of body; if some have been overburdened with flesh, they shall not resume its entire weight. All that exceeds the proper proportion shall be deemed superfluous. On the other hand, should the body be wasted by disease or old age, or be emaciated from any other cause, it shall be repaired by the divine power of Christ, who will not only restore the body unto us, but will repair whatever it shall have lost through the wretchedness of this life. In another place he says: Man shall not resume his former hair, but shall be adorned with such as will become him, according to the words: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." God will restore them according to His wisdom.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 989: We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.
No. 994: But there is more. Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: "I am the Resurrection and the life." It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him, who have eaten his body and drunk his blood. Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life, announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order. He speaks of this unique event as the "sign of Jonah," the sign of the temple: he announces that he will be put to death but rise thereafter on the third day.
No. 996: From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition. "On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body." It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?
No. 1000: This "how" exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christs transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after Gods blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4, 18, 4 - 5).
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