The Soul of the Church

Inasmuch as the Church is visible and supernatural, it has a visible, external element; and an invisible, internal element by which the visible element is informed, elevated, and determined, just as the living body is informed by the soul. Hence theologians distinguish in the Church the Body and the Soul. Although generally it is possible to refer anything which is visible, external, and determinable to the Body; and anything which is of itself invisible, internal, and determining to the Soul; yet ordinarily that distinction is made on the basis of the internal, supernatural life. So that, properly speaking, the term "Soul" is applied to the formal principle of this supernatural life in the members of the Church and consequently in the Church itself. This formal principle, or Soul, is made up of the supernatural internal gifts of faith, hope, and charity, sanctifying grace, and the other virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost.

From the 16th century, the Catholic theologians expressed more definitely the theological doctrine of the distinction between the Soul and the Body of the Church, in this formula: the Body comprehends the visible element or the visible society, to which one belongs by the external profession of the Catholic Faith, by participation in the sacraments, and by submission to legitimate pastors; and the Soul comprehends the invisible element or the invisible society, to which one belongs in virtue of the fact that one possesses the interior gifts of grace. This distinction, implicitly contained in the teaching of Saint Paul, in Saint Augustine, comparing the action of the Holy Ghost on the Church to that of the soul on the human body, and in subsequent theologians who adopted the same language, is formally expressed by Bellarmine in his study on the members of the Church. According to him, men belong to the Body of the Church by virtue of external profession of the faith, and participation in the sacraments; and to the Soul of the Church through the internal gifts of the Holy Ghost, faith, hope, and charity. He draws three general conclusions relative to the members of the Church. There are those: This teaching has generally been followed by Catholic theologians. They teach definitely, however, that the True Church is essentially the Church visible. They presuppose an interior principle which vivifies the Church. This interior principle of life is the Soul of the Church without which it could not be the True Church. This teaching does not imply any weakening of the Catholic doctrine on the necessity of belonging to the True Church in order to obtain salvation. In the case of invincible ignorance, or of absolute impossibility, this necessity obliges only in voto, i.e., being included in the efficacious desire to do God's Will which must exist in every good man.

This theological teaching is found explicitly in many ecclesiastical documents. The encyclical Satis Cognitum of Pope Leo XIII, after having shown how the Church is at one and the same time visible and spiritual, teaches that the Body of Jesus Christ, which is the visible Church, is a body living and animated. This presupposes a principle of supernatural life informing this body. Hence the union of these two elements is absolutely necessary to the True Church, just as the intimate union of the body and soul is necessary to human nature.

New Catholic Dictionary

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