CHURCH/WORLD AND APOSTOLATE/PASTORALISM: brief theological considerations.

During Benedict XVI’s last interview with the German journalist Peter Seewald, he said that the correct interpretation of Vatican II and the relationship existing between the Church and the world were two issues as of yet unresolved in the Church of today. I am of the opinion that the questions in the book-interview of Crepaldi-Fontana about the social apostolate in the life of the Italian Church, and posed to both the Church in Italy and the Church at large, have to be situated in this broader ecclesial and ecclesiological frame work.
Contemporary ecclesiology as proposed by both the Magisterium and theology has often considered the mystery of the Church on the basis of several biblical images developed and deepened by the Fathers of the Church.  Among others, the most frequently considered images are: People of God, universal Sacrament of salvation in Christ, Mystical Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit.

The common denominator thereof is the fact that the Church issues forth from God and is ordered to God. It is the people called together by the Trinity: “The eternal Father, by virtue of an absolutely free and arcane plan of wisdom and goodness, created the universe and decreed that men were to be uplifted to participation in His divine life”. This participation in the life of Grace always comes about in and for the Son. A communion that begins on earth and will become perfect in Heaven when God, true life and utmost happiness, will be Everything in everyone. Communion which comes to be in the today of the Church because “He wanted to assemble the believers in Christ in the holy Church”. Therefore, the world was created with a view to the Church. The theological perspective is so clearly evident to the Tradition of the Church that St. Augustine affirmed it in these terms: Mundus reconciliatus Ecclesia.

The Church, therefore, is a reality which, albeit having a historical-earthly dimension, transcends that dimension like God, who, even though He created everything and became incarnate, transcends the world and history. The Church is the People of God, but its intimate essence consists in being the mystical Body of Christ  and in Him the universal sacrament of salvation. The Body of which He is the Head and the Church its members. The visible and historical part of the Church is made up of the persons who belong to it at a specific time in history. The invisible part is primarily God, and then its members in Glory or awaiting Glory. It is on the basis of this its nature that the Church constructs its relationship with the world.  Were this mystery of the Church to be eluded, the outcome would be a false and reductive vision that could equate the Church to a multinational humanitarian company or an NGO with branches all over the world.

At this point we have to consider what is meant by ‘world’. Coming to mind is the commentary by Most Rev. Crepaldi in which he evokes the multi-semantic nature of the word and reiterates its dual meaning. The first meaning is positive. Understood by world is God’s creative working: humanity, animals and things. Hence, a reality issuing forth from God’s heart and hands, and bearing with it the uniqueness, truth, goodness and beauty so expressive of the Artist’s style. In line with a millennium old Catholic tradition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the world with its movement, its becoming , and its contingency and order, can also provide “converging and convincing arguments” regarding the existence and the knowledge of God. A living and dynamic humanity which, albeit having its profound identity (nature) in  statu viae, that is to say towards a becoming perfect in Christ in the rationale of already and not yetness. A total Christ, who, paraphrasing St. Augustine,  is always united with His Church, that St. Thomas defines as instrumentum coniuctum of Christ’s human nature inseparable from His divine nature. A humanity wounded by original sin and which God saves in Jesus Christ. Salvation which, through Spiritum et ecclesiam, comes to the men and women of each generation, who, encountering Christ, enter into communion with God and among one another. Understood in this way, the world is predestined to be of God and in God. This is an awesome dimension of being.

Nonetheless, the word ‘world’ also has a negative meaning. Sacred Scripture itself, especially in John’s writings, understands the world as the place of sin whose head is Satan, the Prince of this world. In this manner the word ‘world’ indicates a part of humanity that, together with the structures of sin to which it gives life, takes a stand against God and the order He gave to creation. Together with Biffi, Most Rev. Crepaldi affirms Barth’s commentary about how Gaudium et spes had only reserved limited consideration to this negative meaning. Consideration that also remained alien to ensuing theological and ecclesiological reflection and yet cannot be overlooked without lapsing into limping and naive theology, or, even worse, ideological theology that takes not the entirety of the revealed datum, but only part  of it, and this part dependent on the intellectual schemas suggested by a certain philosophy.


Necessary is an authentic comprehension of the Church/world couple because consequent thereto is the pastoral action of the Church.  Things just don’t add up if the Church-Body of Christ is not also understood as a supernatural reality other than the world, distinct even if not separate, the bearer of a gratuitous quid that the world cannot give to itself and awaits in order to be saved.  Most Rev. Crepaldi notes the Rhanerian way of understanding the Church/world relationship that seeks to give the Church a new dimension by considering it part of the world. According to Rahner, Grace is a gift of God to everyone and cannot be obstructed or frustrated by resistance on the part of the human heart of by aleatory instruments such as the sacraments. Insofar as unnecessary are the sacraments and even the awareness of grace in order to possess it, there may be people who are Christians but don’t know that: the so-called “anonymous Christians. In rather critical terms, Kasper himself states: “Rahner remains snagged […] in the meshes of the idealistic philosophy of identity, and remains prisoner of being and awareness as identical”.


If the Church is a part of the world; if God grants Himself to one and all, also to whoever does not want Him and does not know Him; if the natural order and the supernatural order coincide; if liberty and necessity are equivalents; if each person is already saved by the very fact of existing in history, there is no reason for the Church to exist and act on the basis of its identity; historical humanity is already ‘Christified’ automatically and there is no need for the working of Christ and the Church together in order to reach each person born into history. Moreover, there is no more free will, and hence man no more. Emerging anew as a sort of filigree is Kierkegaard’s criticism of Hegelian idealism to which Rahner is firmly anchored.

Either directly or indirectly, but with less depth and fewer distinctions than in Rahner himself, this ecclesiological perspective seems to be present in many positions voiced by theologians, pastors and so-called ‘adult’ laypersons. But it is a non Catholic perspective, a quite false and dangerous perspective for the understanding of self that the Church must have today. In the light of this perspective pastoral work changes and becomes pastoralism. The pastoral work or the apostolate of the Church is the continuous coming to be of the Church. A coming to be with two active agents: God and the People hierarchically ordered. A doing of Christ present in the Church widespread in time and space. A coming to be that seeks to create union between God and man, and among men. A coming to be that generates saints along the journey of history and battles against the evil work perpetrated by the world. Therefore, an acting or working of the Church beginning from its dogmatic, moral, liturgical and disciplinary identity (agere sequitur esse). The apostolate is a consequence of the selfsame nature of the Church insofar as created is a virtuous circle between being and doing, and insofar as life is an inseparable unity which does not mean the various elements thereof cannot by distinguished.  As Vignelli writes: the apostolate cannot change dogmas, laws and rites; it deals with neither the quod (what) nor the quid (why), but only the quomodo (how): in other words, rules, methods and means”. We could argue that it is the dimension of praxis that always goes hand in hand with theory. A forging ahead that is always mutually supportive and enriching.

If the apostolate is not integrated in this ecclesiological perspective it runs the risk of no longer being the art permitting the encounter of man with God in the Church, but of becoming a place of peer-to-peer encounter striving to attain existential wellbeing and not salvation. Ensuing there from is the Church’s adaptation to the requests expressed by the way people think at a given moment in time. The aim of the apostolate ends up becoming the effort to adjust the Christian announcement to changes in time as they occur. A metamorphosis takes place: the apostolate becomes the end and no longer the means.

The apostolate therefore turns into pastoralism that Most. Rev. Crepaldi defines as follows: “The desire to encounter other-than-self in the concrete situations of life and subordinate doctrinal questions to this encounter. It is the Catholic version of the prevalence of praxis over theory”, or, if we so wish. “the complete acceptance of secularization as autonomy of the world”.

This approach destroys the apostolate and gags the Church today. A reality that does not speak and does not dialogue, but just keeps quiet and goes along, loses its presence in an historical situation, especially in socio-political terms. And yet, so many Catholic intellectuals and pastoral agents assert that the Church today must just accompany the world like a passive caregiver, receptive to the world’s every whim, and quote Vatican Council II in this regard while forgetting words like these: “This Sacred Council […] teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium 14).


Rev. Lillo D’Ugo