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Posted October 21, 2014

Book: Figuring out the Church: Her Marks, and Her Masters
Author: Aidan Michols, O.P.
Ignatius Press. San Francisco, CA. 2014. Pp. 187

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The Church is a mystery. Believers who want to enter more deeply into that mystery will reflect on the Church's basic characteristics, the "marks of the Church": what it means for the Church to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Non-Catholics and nonbelievers seeking to appreciate how Catholics regard the Church also will want to understand these "marks."

In this book Fr. Aidan Nichols explores the Church's characteristics. Drawing on insights from four theological masters --- Henri de Lubac, Jean Tillard, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Charles Journet --- Nichols seeks to help Catholics and non-Catholics to "figure out" the Church on at least a fundamental level. The four masters in question do not claim to exhaust the mystery of the Church, nor does Nichols. They do, however, assist the reader in going deeper into the mystery.

. . .Fr. Nichols takes an extremely complex and important topic --- the Church's holiness, unity, catholicity, and apostolicity --- and delivers a marvelously limpid, succinct, and balanced theological portrait.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Catholicity of the Church

Unlike the unity and holiness of the Church, her mark of catholicity is not actually stated in Scripture in so many words. In Christian literature, the earliest appearances of the word catholic, as a qualification of "Church", comes from second-century sub-apostolic texts: the Letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch and The Martyrdom of Polycarp. The word katholikos derives from the secular Greek phrase kath' holou, meaning (literally) "according to the whole", or as one might say "holistic". Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether the primary emphasis in Ignatius and the anonymous writer who wrote the Polycarp martyrdom text lies on the qualitative aspect of the notion of holism --- in which case, likely English renderings of katholikos might be, for example, "authentic", "integral", "pure" --- or alternatively, on the quantitative aspect --- in which case, the natural English translation for katholikos would be "universal."

More generally, that distinction between qualitative and quantitative senses of the word is useful to keep in mind when tracing the development of a doctrine of catholicity in the ancient Church. Painting with very broad brushstrokes, the Greek Fathers seem to have held a mainly qualitative idea of what catholic means, the Latin Fathers, mainly a quantitative one. But that is only a rough-and-ready rule of thumb. Saint Augustine, for example, a Latin writer for whom catholicity is in the main quantitative, the word means communion with the Church as spread throughout the world. In it qualitative sense, the word stands for the holistic or total way in which the Church spread throughout the world entertains the Christian faith. Again, Cyril of Jerusalem, in the celebrated Mystagogical Catecheses preached in the church of the Anastasis, details five reasons why the Church is called "catholic." Of these, four fall under the heading of qualitative catholicity. Cyril says that the Church is catholic because she teaches all the doctrine needed for salvation; because she has available the cure for every sort of sin; and because in her members she possesses every kind of virtue. And yet the reason for calling the Church catholic that he places at the top of his list is undoubtedly an example of quantitative catholicity. The Church, declares Cyril, is called catholic because she extends to the ends of the earth.

Table of Contents:

Part 1
Her Marks
1. The unity of the Church
2. The Catholicity of the Church
3. The Apostolicity of the Church

Part 2
Her Masters
5. Henri de Lubac
6. Jean Tillard
7. Hans Urs von Balthasar
8. Charles Journet

Conclusion: Should we love the Church?