St. Edmund Campion Catechism Group - Series 4 Lesson 14

Theology for Beginners: Chp 14. The Mystical Body of Christ
Theology for Beginners: All chapters
Magisterium: Pius XII Mystici Corporis
Penny Catechism: Q83-109
Catechism of the Council of Trent (The Roman Catechism): The Creed Art. 9
Slides: The Church, Vatican II - The Religion of Man (text)
Catholic Encyclopedia: Mystical body of the Church
Aquinas 101:
Summa Theologica: 
Companion to the Summa
Ite Missa Est article: Paradigms To Order

The Mystical Body of Christ


  1. Recap:

    Chapter 1: Why study theology?

    - Theology is wisdom which is the knowledge of all things in relation to their highest cause.

    - Theology is the greatest of all sciences by the sublimity of its object: God; and by the certitude of its conclusions: the certitude of faith.

    - Theology teaches us our finality: the finality of man is the supernatural perfection of all his faculties - the greatest among these are his intellect and will.

    - Theology helps us attain our finality in respect of ourselves by the perfect love of God.

    - Theology helps us attain our finality in respect of our neighbour: if we love God, then we love everything He loves.

    Chapter 2: Spirit

    - A spirit is an immaterial intelligent living being (types: God, the angels and the souls of men)

    - A soul is defined as the first principle of life of those material things which live (plants, animals and men). Plants, animals and men have souls, but only the souls of men are spirits.

    - Properties: a spirit does not change in its being, does not corrupt, does not die (and is therefore eternal), has no mass, no shape, and no place e say that spirits are subsistent, which means that they have all they need to exist - they do not need a body to exist (like a plant or animal soul).

    Acts: to know and love. No material organ is required for these activities.

    Chapter 3: The Infinite Spirit

    God is the Infinite Spirit. 

    - God is all knowing, all loving, all powerful

    - God is His own existence

    - God was not created, He does not change, He has no past and future, God perpeturally in the present.

    - God is naturally everywhere: by His essence (per essentiam), by His power (per potentiam), by His knowing (per scientiam)

    God is Actus Purus, He cannot ever be in potency to doing anything; He is His action.  St. Thomas says that He is Actus Purus – one , simple, infinite and perfect action which is always in the present.

    Chapter 4: The Blessed Trinity

    The Blessed Trinity is the term used to express the central doctrine on the Christian religion: the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, these Three Persons being truly distinct from one another. There is one being, with one nature and there are Three Persons. The Blessed Trinity is known only by revelation, but can subsequently be explored by reason.

    Chapter 5: The Three Persons

    In an attempt to understand as much as possible about the Blessed Trinity using revelation and our knowledge of the intellect and being (by the science of metaphysics), St. Thomas, building on theologians before him, makes a best attempt to reconcile the unity of God and the distinction of the Three Persons in God. God has one nature by which the Three Persons operate. The distinction of the Three Persons is discerned in the mutually opposed relations resulting from the act of God knowing Himself and loving Himself. The Persons, are distinguished as the subsistant relations or Paternity, Filiation and Passive Spiration.

    Most of us, however, do not have a sufficient grasp of metaphysics to understand this complex theory and so a simpler one is proposed: In the act of knowing Himself, God generates a mental Word which is identical to the Generator. In the generator we discern the Father, in the generated, we discern the Son. These are Persons Who will naturally love each other, this love being personified in the Holy Ghost

    Chapter 6: Making the doctrine of the Trinity a living and loved reality

    For most people something like that happens when they embrace a mystery of the faith revealed to them by the Church:

     - first there is an intellectual response as they grasp the theological exposition of the mystery

     - then a vital response as the wonder and beauty of the mystery draws the observer in

     - then a loving response as the mystery becomes a light and a power in our lives.

    Chapter 7: Creation

    God created all things from nothing and sustains all things in existence from moment to moment - all for His glory. 

    Chapter 8: The nature of man

    Man is made in the image and likeness of God, possessing an intellect and a will. He is different from the animals because he loves the things he knows whereas animals are attracted to the thing they sense; and he can choose what to love whereas animals are attracted to things by nature. Man is capable of moral good or evil, whereas animals always act according to their nature. The ultimate purpose of man is to know and love God. The ultimate purpose of non-intelligent creatures is to adorn creation for the glory of God.

    Chapter 9: The Supernatural Life

    Man is made for the Beatific Vision (that perfect possesion of God in heaven) but with his fallen nature he is radically incapable both of attaining this end and remaining in this state of perfect happiness. By sanctifying grace, man begins a supernatural life here below. He is transformed by grace and receives supernatural virtues and the Gift of the Holy Ghost with grace. He begins to live and act with the life and actions of God. He enters on to the path to heaven and progresses towards it. If he die in a state of grace, then the supernatural life within him is perfected to the point of perfect bliss in union with God.

    Chapter 10: The Fall

    Despite sanctifying grace, supernatural virtues, Gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the praternatural gifts, Adam fell for the temptation to become like God. This was the sin of pride. He was left bereft of everything supernatural and praeternatural, and therefore incapble of attaining that for which he was made: the Beatific Vision. The act against the injunction of God is called Original Sin, the consequence of this act (the deprivation of grace and gifts) is also called Original Sin. The Divine Will ordained that the Original Sin (consequence) be suffered by all the offspring of Adam. 

    Chapter 11: The Redeemer

    Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Who operates through a divine nature as God, and through a human nature as man. The two natures are hypostatically united in the Person which allow him to act as a man but with acts of infinite value because His Person is divine. By taking to himself his human nature at the Incarnation, Jesus Christ was able to redeem mankind.

    Chapter 12: The Redemption

    The Redemption is the (a) freeing of man from the debt (in justice to God) of sin, and (b) the restoration of man's supernatural union with God. Our Lord Jesus Christ objectively redeemed all mankind by His Incarnation, Life, Passion & Death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. It is for man to participate in this act of redemption by living a life of faith, hope and charity through the means that the Church provides (teaching, laws and liturgy). Such a life constitutes mans subjective redemption.

    Chapter 13: The Visible Church

    The visible Church is a hierarchy of baptised souls united under one head (Jesus Christ) who adhere to the teaching of the Church, submit to the authority of the Church, and worship God with the liturgy of the Church. Members of the visible Church may be living members (when they are in a state of sanctifying grace) or dead members (when they are in mortal sin).

  2. The idea of a body formed of individuals

    If anyone has ever seen a shoul of fish moving in perfect unison, there is a sense of a single body. Indeed, by reason of their unity of movement and identity of species, the collective body of fish is given a name: shoal. In the same way we have flocks of sheep, herds of cows, schools of dolphins, parliaments of owls, and troops of monkeys. There is something more than proximity and species that unites them: the reason of unity may be origin (from the same family) or hierarchy (an order of authority). Men too are bound together into groups: families, communities, societies, companies etc. for multiple reasons: birth, or skills, or interests, or activities, or purpose.

    The Church is the same. It binds chosen men and angels together into one body, but unlike any other union in the universe, the reason of unity is above the order of nature, and immeasurably more intimate - it is the unity of living the same Life. Every living member of the Church lives by participating in the Divine Life (by sanctifying grace). Inevitable with this unity of Life, there is a unity of love and obedience and intention, but these are consequences rather than causes of unity. The unity by grace is called the Mystical Body of Christ.

  3. The unity of Life in the Church

    - The unity of Life, is the union of every soul and angel to our Our Lord Jesus Christ by their participating in His Divine Life to make us "one person in Jesus Christ" (Gal 3:28).

    - This is what Christ meant when he said "I am the Vine, you are the branches." (Jn 15:5) and "I am in My Father and you in Me and I in you" (Jn 14:20).

    - This is why He said to St. Paul on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:1-8).

    - St. Paul repeats this doctrine time and again: "God made Christ the head to which the whole Church is joined, so that the Church is His body." (Eph 1:22).

  4. The closeness of this unity

    Closer than the closest human reason for unity between souls (e.g. marriage, maternity, paternity, friendship) is the union of Life between the members of Christ, which is not a natural union, but a supernatural one.

    In consequence, members of Christ Mystical Body have a greater reason of unity with Christ by grace than the Blessed Virgin Mary had because of her maternity of Christ! She, of course, had an intensity of supernatural union with Her Son by grace which was immeasureably above all other God's creatures.

  5. Consequence of this unity

    - We should love our neighbour as we love Christ, for our neighbour is one of His members, or at least our neighbour is desired to be one of His Members by Christ.

    - "For the rest, let us gladly glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in us. In our weakness and in our love, we shall thus become one with Him, and there shall be one Christ loving Himself." Eugene Boylan's This Tremendous Lover.

  6. The "subsistit in" debate of Lumen Gentium

    (see slides 35 & 36 of Vatican II -  The Religion of Man)

    Much ink has flowed in this debate owing mostly to

    (a) the ambiguity of the phrase in both Latin and English: "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church." and

    (b) the heterodoxy that now exists in the hierarchy of the Church. 

    - One party interprets the expression as meaning that other churches besides the Catholic Church may be part of the Church of Christ [anathama sit]. They use the English meaning of the verb "to subsist". This erroneous interpretation has its roots in the abandonment of the distinction between the natural and supernatural order.

    - The opposing party holds that the expression means that the Church of Christ is identical with the Catholic Church [true]. They use the Latin meaning of the verb subsistere.