by Peter Hebblethwaite
( January 6, 1995) Human no less than divine elements are part of the church's constitution. It must be taken both for what it is and what it could be, if it is to be truly loved. These thoughts are from a lecture delivered in 1984 in the state of Washington.
Vatican II's document on the church, Lumen Gentium, has a helpful phrase: "The church, or in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly in the world through the power of God." We cannot say this of any other human group or association. People band together for all kinds of reasons -- to collect stamps, to advocate causes, to defend themselves, or simply because they need someone else. The church is a unique association because of what it does to time and in time. It becomes, as T.S. Eliot says, the point of intersection of time with timelessness.
Now, there are people who abuse this idea. The church is a mystery, they say, therefore you must not criticize it. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been known to suggest this.
Or they say: Modern Catholics are so tied up with the nuts and bolts of the church, with electing bishops or ordaining women, that they lose sight of its deep underlying reality.
These half-truths point to the fundamental problem in thinking about the church and consequently in loving the church. For we can always speak in a double register.
The church is divine, yes, in its origin, sustenance and goal; the church is human, all too human, in its membership and leadership. We cannot yank these two apart and say: I am going to concentrate on loving the divine component while loathing the human one. That would be a kind of schizophrenia.
We do not love the church for its own sake nor sacralize the institution, putting it beyond reach of criticism, or even debate. "We do not 'confuse the institution of the papacy with the kingdom of God,'" said Henri de Lubac in his great work Catholicism of 1974.