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Daughter Zion

Joseph Ratzinger (in Credo for Today), reflecting on the gospel reading for this feast of the Immaculate Conception, writes:

Mary is identified with daughter Zion, with the bridal people of God. Everything said about the ecclesia in the Bible is true of her, and vice versa: the Church learns concretely what she is and is meant to be by looking at Mary. Mary is her mirror, the true measure of her being, because Mary is wholly within the measure of Christ and of God, is through and through his habitation. And what other reason could the ecclesia have for existing than to become a dwelling for God in the world?God does not deal with abstractions. God is a person and the Church is a person. The more each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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This is a pretty picture in Benedict's best style but what ever happened to the church of saints and sinners?

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is today's feed from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Reni's Mary is another pretty picture, though probably not a great likeness of the original, either.This is today's featured artwork, so the link will only work to bring up Guido Reni's Imaculate Conception today:

Whoops. That is "Immaculate Conception" What a mistake to make on Dec. 8!

The Pope writes: "God does not deal with abstractions. God is a person and the Church is a person. The more each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself."Isn't it an abstraction to conceive of the Church as a "person"? Some 20th-century theologians have thought of the Church as a person (Journet, along with his close friend Jacques Maritain), Balthasar, Bouyet), and Yves Congar has a very judicious article on the question, unfortunately never translated into English. In it he points out that Aquinas referred to the Church a few times as "una mystica persona," but reading those passages, I can't say I understand what he means by it. The statement runs parallel to another made by Pope Benedict, that the Church is a single historical subject. I confess not to understand this. By a historical subject, I take him to mean an agent who acts in history, affects history, makes history. But just as the Church at any time is the communion of Churches, I do not see how it can be considered to be an agent apart from them, except in them. And, of course, the Churches consist of believers (they are "assemblies of believers"), and the Churches are not agents except in and through their members acting either individually or collectively. And they do make a difference in history, or at least are supposed to. St. Augustine occasionally speaks of the Church as a "virgin," and appeals to 2 Cor 11:2-3 as NT basis for the notion: "I have betrothed you [plural] to one husband, presenting you [plural] as a chaste virgin [sing.] to Christ. My fear is that, just as the servant seduced Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted and you may fall away from your sincere and complete devotion to Christ." Paul's preaching, received in faith by the Corinthians, represented the betrothal; the marriage would be consummated when Christ returned. Virginity here, as Augustine noted, has no reference to bodily integrity, but to the integrity of the heart, of the mind, of faith; and as Augustine explicates the metaphor, it becomes clear that he thinks that the Church is a chaste virgin, faithful while she waits for the marriage, to the degree that its members are virginal in their faith, their minds, their hearts. In other words, there is no Ecclesia Virgo except in her members.I want to write an article about this some day.

Joseph,As a student of the great Augustine, Ratzinger will certainly insist that the Church is a mixture of wheat and chaff (a corpus permixtum) until the eschatological harvest.The passage I quoted (appropriate for the feast) was from the section on "Incarnate of the Virgin Mary." However, here is a passage from the section on "The Forgiveness of Sins," which may address your point:"the Christian cannot leave behind 'metanoia' or his willingness to change after he has become a Christian as though it were something from the past that no longer concerns him. There is still within him, after all, the tension between two gravitational forces: the gravitation of self-interest and egotism, and the gravitation of truth, of love. The first is still his 'natural' gravitation, which designates, so to speak, the more likely state of affairs. And the second force can remain within him only if he counteracts again and again the gravitation of selfish interests to follow the gravitation of truth and is willing to change accordingly and if he is ready, finally, to allow himself to be molded away from himself and into Christ."

Clearly, my comment above was addressed to Joseph G.Joseph K. raises a significant issue. That theologians of the stature of those he mentions are pointing in a certain direction indicates to me that there is a crucial insight to be wrestled with. Another name to add is that of the deceased (2006) German Catholic theologian, Heribert Mhlen whose book "Una Mystica Persona" presents an ecclesiology that is under the sign of the Holy Spirit.

My reaction was not unlike that of Joseph K. but not being a theologian, I hesitate. Still here goes. One question is this. What definition of person is Benedict using.? Certainly not the Boethian one, an individual substance of a rational nature. Then there is the question of image and metaphor. God does not use images and metaphors, but we certainly do and especially in thinking about matters that exceed our intellectual powers. But it is important that, as I think St. Thomas says somewhere, that we recognize an image and a metaphor for what it is. In 2 Cor. 11:2-3 as I understand it, Paul is envisaging himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian community, his spiritual daughter. It is his duty and hope, as a Jewish father, to delivers his daughter unsullied, i.e., as a virgin, to her divine spouse. Of course he has heard some things about the virgin-community that have caused him anxiety. Now is this envisaging of the situation a metaphor? Or are we dealing with an analogy? Or what?

Has the Pope shown any metanoia toward the real Jewish people (not a mystically personified Zion) he offended by rehabilitating the Lefebvrite star performer Williamson? Not according to a damning article which is to appear in Sueddeutsche Zeitung today (Wed.). In it Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos gives another cocky interview, showing a copy of the draft constitution for a Personal Prelature for the Lefebvrites, with notes in the papal handwriting. Is this interview a preparation for yet another papal gesture towards the beloved Lefebvrites? For a previous interview with the same Cardinal see

Here is the article I referred to:

Not being a theologian or a philosopher I admit to feeling somewhat frustrated by the slippery way Ratzinger uses abstract terms, defining them and redefining them to suit his purposes of the moment. The passage quoted has a number of logical "stoppers" in it, which might or might not be explainable in some artful and smooth way, but they asserted with such confidence as to discourage rude questions. (For example, (Is "person" usually understood to mean a fit habitation for God?)I am reminded of a passage from a favorite book:There's glory for you!' `I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"' `But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected. `When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.' `The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.' `The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.' Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!' `Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'

Sorry. In line 4 above, "they are asserted." (This isn't my week.)

Susan,Humpty would be right, of course, if he had the clout to impose his definitions on his listeners. Unfortunately, popes often do have that clout. And I say it's a sin to do so. To change the meaning of an important word is to deform historical understanding. In the thread above about Christology, this very issue becomes apparent. "ousia", etc., having been given different meanings are now stumbling blocks for theologians and their readers.But it is also true that when we assert a word with a literal meaning we also drag in a penumbra of meanings also associated with it. Those can play havoc with the truth also. Think of code words -- they say something literal, but drag in other meanings and judgments which are sometimes the real message intended by that speaker. All the more reason to re-define those important words with their original meanings. Don't let the Humpty-Dumpties of this world reign!Lawyers understand this very will, I think. This is why they cling to their "jargon". Legal terminology is special not in order to confuse, but in order to be clear. If that requires more study of the earlier meanings, so be it. And the same should be required, I think, of theology.

Fr. K., I'm sure you've considered this, but I've never quite understood how the primacy (ontological or not!) of the local churches is compatible with the obvious references to a single Church in Ephesians and Colossians. That Church is apparently everlasting and universal in scope.

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