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The soul of the Church

"No one should say, 'Ive received the Holy Spirit; why do I not speak in the languages of all nations?' If you want to have the Holy Spiritlisten, brothers and sisters: the spirit by which anyone of us lives is called one's 'soul,' and you know what the soul does in the body. It enlivens all the members; it sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, smells through the nose, speaks through the tongue, works with the hands, walks with the feet. It is present at once to all the members so that they may live; it gives them all life, gives each of them its task. The eye doesnt hear; the ear doesnt see; the tongue doesnt see; the ear and the eye dont speak; yet each of them lives, the ear lives, the tongue lives: they have different tasks, but a common life. Thats the way Gods Church is: in some holy ones it performs wonders; in others it tells out the truth; in others it maintains married chastity; in some this, in others that: individuals doing their own parts, but equally alive. What the soul is for the human body, the Holy Spirit is for the Body of Christ that is the Church. In the entire Church the Holy Spirit does what the soul does in all the members of the human body. But notice what to avoid, what to keep, what to fear. It can happen that some member of the human body is cut offa hand, a finger, a foot; but does the soul follow the separated part? It lived while in the body; cut off from it, it loses its life. Thats how things are with a Catholic Christian: while in the body, he is alive; but cut off from the body he becomes a heretic, and the Spirit does not follow an amputated member. If, then, you wish to live by the Holy Spirit, maintain charity, love the truth, desire unity, so that you may attain eternity. Amen." (Augustine, Sermon 267, 4; PL 38, 1231)

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"That's how things are with a Catholic [upper case] Christian: while in the body [the Catholic Church], he is alive; but cut off from the body he becomes a heretic, and the Spirit does not follow an amputated member."I left the institutional Church of Rome because I found it anything *but* lifegiving.And I'll let "the Spirit" speak for itself. Augustine in this quote can speak for himself.And I'll speak for myself: We disagree.

Heresy (sometimes):"Sometime things are discovered most often when the tumult and shouting die and we have a chance to analyze what has happened. It is the formulation of faith in language, however traditional, that has turned out to lend itself to instances of Wilful theologizing of conduct unworthy of the faith. Orthodox language about God's "fatherhood" which is used to condone the oppression of women would be an example. Here is where the language of tradition itself may need modification. Saying things in the same words as before may not be good enough after we have learned how these words can be misused or misunderstood to countenance practices which contradict their deeper meaning. Getting this right takes a lot of time and much historical experience. But we need to learn where we have turned the gospel into a lie and try to restate it so that this cannot happen again." Lewis Mudge, Gathering Around the Center: a Reply to Thomas Oden, Christian Century, 4-12-95.

I appreciate St. Augustine's metaphor in the selected quote and I am certainly in great sympathy with it. We are part of a community and that sense of community is something that needs to be appreciated in a deeper way. Augustine is doing just that. I am not sure that invidualism had the same hold on the culture of his time as it has ours but this is a good reminder of how the Spirit works and a good definition of Church as being identified as all the baptized (and maybe even unbaptized in a certain sense!).There is a flipside to the metaphor. Just as some people when they are not doing well or are traumatized will practice various forms of self-mutilation to the body, so too can the Church. So we must be careful not to mutilate our members. We must care for our body and treat it well. Proper rest, exercise and nutrition. Do not stress the body beyond its limit.The body needs to be integrated and losing members is a loss that contributes to the sickness of the entire body. We should do everything we can do to promote the health of all members.

"...and the Spirit does not follow an amputated member."Then is the Spirit like or unlike the Good Shepherd, who leaves the other ninety-nine and goes in search of the one sheep that has strayed? Comparisons limp, I know, and maybe they are most instructive when two limp in opposite directions. Certainly, it makes one think, which is the point of metaphors and presumably a good thing.Lost fingers and toes aside, I should think the Spirit would go after heretics, to woo them back with sweet reason if possible and, if not, to minimize the damage they might do. I had actually thought that St. Augustine was one of the Spirit's chief helpers in that effort.

I thought this was just a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12, but failed to pay attention to that unfortunate sentence about heretics. But maybe this can still be salvaged. Maybe the end of the excerpt explains what Augustine means by being in the Church: "maintain charity, love truth, desire unity". Surely that's a program that has the approbation of even the readers who think that they are the ones being called heretics. Following such a program is not the same as belonging to the "institutional Church of Rome" that JJ left. If we connect the dots in that particular way, "the Spirit does not follow an amputated member" could be rephrased as: "the Spirit does not follow the uncharitable liars who create divisions". Then we can all feel confident that surely it's not about us :)

John 10:16 "There are other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring,As I recall, Augustine sent away his concubine who was the mother of his son and got engaged to a teenage girl from a prominent Italian family in accordance with the request of his mother. Fortunately for the girt the marriage did not take place. Were these two really saints or just early Christian social climbers? His lousy social life does not mean that later on he did not have some good ideas. However, Jesus, who pursues the sheep who go astray and restores them to the fold trumps the words of Augustine.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.