Lumen Gentium: The Church as Living Organism

Much has been said about the Second Vatican Council, and much has been misunderstood. One of the pivotal documents of the council is the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium which illustrates the nature of the Church as a living organism. This is accomplished in a systematic way by showing the organic growth of the Church, how the Church is nourished, and the end toward which the Church is tending. A special emphasis is given to Mary, and in doing so, illustrates the theology of the Church.

Lumen Gentium presents the theology of the Church like the Old Testament presents the theology of revelation and the Kingdom of God (LG 6). One must begin with the first paragraph where the Church is referred to as a sacrament in Christ. This is key to understanding the nature of the Church as it’s unfurled throughout the document. The Church is a sacrament because it points toward its nature as one body who thus manifests Christ in the world.

A primary way in which Lumen Gentium illustrates the organic nature of the Church is through the use of images and metaphors. The Church is referred to as “…a piece of land to be cultivated, the tillage of God (LG 6).” The Church is shown to be like an ancient olive tree who has its roots in the prophets, and thus points toward an essential aspect of the Church, that of union between Jew and Gentile. The key theme running throughout all the images in Lumen Gentium is unity.

Lumen Gentium cites Ephesians to exemplify the spousal imagery which is so prevalent throughout the Old Testament and New Testament (LG 6). The spousal imagery elicits an understanding which lays the foundation for presenting the theology of the Church as truly being united with the resurrected body of Christ, like a bride to a groom. From this point forward, Lumen Gentium reiterates the union of the Church with Christ and in doing so, shows how the Church is a living organism because the Church is made of living people who themselves are united to the living God in and through the body of Christ. Essential to this theology is the role of the Holy Spirit.

In Lumen Gentium one reads, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made his brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body (LG 7).” The body of Christ becomes the pivot point in the ecclesiology of the Church, and thus the Church as “sacrament” is further clarified. The sacramental nature of the Church as first pointed out in the first paragraph of Lumen Gentium, leads one to the fount of nourishment which are the sacraments of the Church. In this way, the role and mission of the Holy Spirit is also further manifested:

“In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified (LG 7).”

The hidden nature of the Church points directly to its eschatological nature.

Although the Church is united to the body of Christ, the Church has yet to be revealed in its full glory. The hiddenness of the Church is an important part of the theology of the Church and Lumen Gentium makes this clear in chapter seven: “…for the Church is already signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect (LG 48).” Referring back to article seven, the Church is a body who is composed of many parts, each with their own role to play, and they all operate under the same Spirit. The Church is a sign of future glory, whose pledge of inheritance and is the Holy Spirit (LG, 48). This is particularly manifest in the Virgin Mary.

The final chapter of Lumen Gentium presents the role of Mary in the Church and in doing so, gives a concrete picture of the theology of the Church:

“The Church indeed, contemplating her hidden sanctity, imitating her charity and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother.”

This quote puts the final stamp on the nature of the Church as a living organism who gives life by being united to Christ. In this way we can understand how Mary is an eschatological icon for man and an archetype of the Church. The Church is journeying toward the eventual end for which God created it and we all have our role to play.

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