Thursday, January 29, 2015


Introduction: Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. and His Theology of the Church
There is a fifty-dollar word that is useful for identifying and finding our place in the Church. It's "ecclesiology." This article will be based on a veiled meaning of that word and its effects on all Catholics -- even those who have never heard of it. But have no fear. We will discuss the word ecclesiology itself in a somewhat concealed sense. That is, we will discuss its importance through the eyes, thoughts and writings of one of the greatest scholars of the modern Church, Cardinal Avery Robert Dulles, S.J. (1918-2008). Cardinal Dulles, in his prolific and numerous books and articles had a knack for making otherwise overly complex theological concepts like "ecclesiology" available to the average reader. He made the study of ecclesiology (without dwelling vexatiously on the word itself) both interesting and helpful to us in our lives as Catholics.

Cardinal Avery Dulles' Famous Book on the ChurchAlthough he was an expert and brilliant Catholic theologian, Cardinal Dulles did not regard theology as an academic discipline reserved for the Church's upper echelon intellectuals. Instead, he wrote his books to help Catholics "in the pews" to enhance their relationship with their parish church or with some other participation in the global Church. This is especially true for his book that we will focus on in this article, namely, his essential, best-selling book -- which he entitled "Models of the Church." This book was his cleverly subtle discussion of ecclesiology without battering the reader with the word itself or otherwise relying too heavily on other "fifty-dollar words." He hoped that his "Models of the Church" would strengthen the faith of regular, customary, salt-of-the earth disciples of Jesus in their everyday relationship to the Church. Before we look at the Cardinal's biography and the exposition of his inconspicuous way of looking at ecclesiology in "Models of the Church," written for the benefit of traditional Catholic churchgoers, let's first discuss a few characteristics of ecclesiology within the overall theology of the Church.

Ordinarily, theology in its many subjects is seen as taught by the church. Ecclesiology is essentially the antithesis of this ordinary approach to theology among theologians within the Church. This is because eccelisiolgy as a division of theology is of or about the Church, i.e., a subject of study by ecclesiologist-theologians. Of course ecclesiologist-theologians study and teach ecclesiology within the Church, so in that sense, while ecclesiology is a specialized discipline, it's still being taught by the Church in the persons of ecclesiologist-theologians. However, "ordinary theology" covers a wide variety of other extremely important teachings of the Church, such as are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ecclesiology appears nowhere in the Catechism.

Ecclesiology as a Sub-category of Other Catholic TheologyEcclesiology is derived from the Greek word, "Ekklesia." For several centuries before Jesus Ekklesia was most commonly used to refer to a societal entity based upon citizenship in a city-state -- in other words, a political term. When used in the Bible, however, "Ekklesia" means "an assembly of God's people." Ekklesiaappears in only two verses of the gospels, and only in Matthew's Gospel: (1) In Mt. 16:18 (where Jesus tells Peter he will be the rock upon which Jesus will build his Church). (2) And in Mt. 18:17, where Jesus says that if a sinful brother refuses to be corrected by two or three witnesses they are to "tell the Church." But, Matthew adds, if the sinner refuses "to listen even to the Church," he is to be treated as "a Gentile or a tax collecter," i.e. excommunicated. In spite of the Gospels essentially ignoring the word Church, it is used many times in Acts of the Apostles. In St. Paul's letters, church is used most frequently in naming a particular local church that Paul founded or otherwise had a personal relationship with, such as in 1 Cor.2:1, where Paul addresses his letter " thechurch of God that is in Corinth."

When "Ekklesia" is used as the underlying source word for "ecclesiology," its broadest definition is simply the theological study of the Church. Thus ecclesiology deals with the study of the origins of Christianity, the relationship of Christianity to Jesus, Christianity's destiny, its discipline, and its leadership. It seeks to answer fundamental questions such as: Who is the Church? What is the relatonship between a believer and the Church? What is the authority of the Church? What does the Church do? How should the Church be governed? What are the roles of spiritual gifts in the life of the Church? What is the ultimate destiny of the Church in Christian eschatology? (i.e., in the "end times.")

Roman Catholic ecclesiology elucidates many patterns, or "models" and viewpoints of the Church. Cardinal Dulles tops the list of theologians describing these models of the Church. He does this in such a way that Catholics may look at themselves in relation to the Church and ask themselves if they have a healthy relationship within the Church, whether on the parish level or otherwise. To help Catholics review and evaluate their relationship within the Church, Dulles, in "Models of the Church," suggests that Catholics consider what they might do to strengthen their relationship with the Church. But before getting into a detailed study at this point of the actual models in "Models of the Church," let's turn to Cardinal Avery's amazing family background and his fascinating biography.

Dulles as "Everyman:" Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., was the first U.S. theologian to be named to the College of Cardinals. He was also the first American Jesuit to receive that honor. He was created a Cardinal in Rome in 2001 by his friend, Pope John Paul II, becoming the first American-born theologian, who was not a bishop, to become a Cardinal. (This had also been the case with the famous English Cardinal, John Henry Newman (1801-90), who, like Dulles, was an academic named to the College of Cardinals not as a bishop but as a brilliant intellectual). Dulles sat in on the meetings of Vatican II as a periti, or theological expert. Dulles noticed that each speaker used the word "church" to express different conceptions of the word. Dulles took notes and later published his observations using the phrase "models of the church." It was before and after these meetings that he met, talked with and befriended Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, the future Saint Pope John Paul II. As pope, John Paul II gave Cardinal Dulles his titular assignment in Rome. This assignment was as Cardinal-Deacon of the Roman church of the Most Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

Dulles was the son of the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who served under President Eisenhower, and for whom Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. is named. Both his great-grandfather, John W. Foster, and his great uncle, Robert Lansing, likewise served as U.S. Secretaries of State. His uncle, Allen Dulles, was the Director of the CIA. While his parents’ religious background was Presbyterian, Dulles was raised in a generally secular household. He entered Harvard in 1936 as an agnostic. It was through the study of philosophy at Harvard that he began to explore the meaning of life. Aristotle taught him to have confidence in human reason. Plato led him to contemplate the nature of absolute being as the foundation for the moral order.

He had a sudden, powerfully decisive conversion experience, reminiscent of that of St. Augustine, although not while reading Scripture as happened with St.Augustine. On a rainy day Dulles noticed a tree beginning to flower along the Charles River near Harvard, and, as he was later to put it, he never again "doubted the existence of an all-good and omnipotent God." Reading the Gospels led Dulles to the loving and merciful God who redeemed us in Jesus Christ. He was also attracted to the active Catholic liturgical life with which he interacted in Cambridge, Massachusetts while a student at Harvard. He continued his studies and was led closer to the Catholic faith through the Gospels. Eventually Dulles asked a Jesuit priest to instruct him in the faith, and he was received into the Church in 1940. He later explained his conversion to Catholicism by writing, "The more I examined, the more I was impressed with the consistency and sublimity of Catholic doctrine."

He also greatly admired Thomistic philosophers (so named after "Thomas" Aquinas), Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Finally, Dulles entered the Jesuits in 1946 and began a life of studying and teaching theology, and was eventually ordained to the priesthood in 1956. He taught at the Jesuit House of Studies at Woodstock College, the Catholic University of America, and finally at Fordham University in New York. Cardinal Dulles' aim as a theologian was to present the historical tradition of the Catholic Church as it speaks to contemporary culture, and to point the way ahead for the life of the members of the Vatican II Church. He did this in 22 books and over 700 articles and reviews.

His book "Models of the Church" (1974), as revised and expanded in 2002, virtually "exploded" on Catholic theologians as both a complete ecclesiological summation of and prophecy for the life of the Church. However "Models of the Church" defined a renewed theology of the Church not just for formally trained theologians. The book spoke equally to Catholic laypersons, who found it easy reading and instructive on how they were to assert their new roles in a Vatican II Church as "priests, prophets and kings" (cf. 1 Pt. 2:5). Avery Dulles died in 2008 at the age of 90.

A Look Inside "Models of the Church:" Dulles broke down his vision of the Church into an outline of five Models of the Church, in approachable language and Scripturally based lessons that could be readily absorbed. One New Testament book that particularly exemplified Dulles' teaching in "Models of the Church" is the First Epistle of Peter. Peter's Epistle (and Dulles' Models) uplifts the laity from second-class citizenship in the Church to a level equal to the hierarchy in sanctity, though of course not equal to the hierarchy in the latters' unique calling to full-time ministry. As Peter wrote in his letter to the newly baptized laity:
"Once you were no people, but now you are God's people (1 Pt. 2:10)...[Like]living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2:5) [You] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderul light." (2:9)

"Models of the Church" had a lasting influence on how the Church is perceived. It remains a penetrating guide for exploring the nature of the Church and for speaking to average Catholic readers on their responsibility for participating in the Church as God's prescribed path to sanctity and salvation. Cardinal Dulles acknowledged that the foundation for the teaching of theology is a life of prayer. He wrote, "The theologian must participate in the prayer life of the Church and be a praying person himself or herself in order to think the thoughts of God, as we theologians try to do. A theologian who does not pray could hardly be a good theologian."

In his original 1974 edition of "Models of the Church," Dulles defined five basic models of the Church that had always prevailed in Catholic teaching, but were never as clearly described as in "Models of the Church."

His five Models from 1974 (and his later-added sixth from 2002):
(1) The Church as institution, that is, an earthly religious organization with a governing body, laws and moral principles that directs the lives of its members in accordance with God's plan for humanity. This institution is comprised of Catholics with specific roles and responsibilities, lay and clergy. Here the popes have a God-ordained universal jurisdiction over the whole Church on earth. The institutional Model emphasizes the visible structure of the Church. Complicating this picture is the reality that Christianity has fractured over the centuries into a variety of denominations that are institutionally separate from each other.

(2) The Church as mystical communion, that is, the "Mystical Body of Christ" (drawn from St. Paul's Epistles) as lived by the faithful. The mystical communion is a fellowship of people with shared beliefs.and through which the faithful participate in a life of prayer and holiness directed toward communion with God. In relationship to the "Mystical Body of Christ" the institutional Model takes a supporting role, formed to provide shape and support to the mystical communion. The institutional Model structures two types of social relationships upholding the mystical communion as a vital purpose of the Church: (1) a formally structured, visiblesociety and (2) an informal or interpersonal community. This mystical communion emphasizes the Church's role as an institution living as "The People of God" (from Vatican II) joined together in Christ.

(3) The Church as herald, whereby the Church is charged with proclaiming the Bible's message to the world, and reinforcing it among believers. Dulles states that many Catholics have a much better sense of Scripture than they imagine because of their lifelong fidelity to the Mass, where both Testaments are proclaimed publicly on a weekly and daily basis. The Chucrh as herald emphasizes that Catholics are called to take their liturgically taught view of the Bible in their workaday lives to others who may know nothing of the Bible, or who know nothing of the Catholic view of the Bible.

(4) The Church as sacramentHere the Church emphasizes its role as mediator of grace through acts of worship and concern for one another as sisters and brothers in Christ through many elements of sanctification and truth. Further, as sacrament, the Church is an instrument bridging the gap between the earthly and the divine, a conduit for bringing divine grace to humanity. As sacramental, the Church must be a place to form meaningful relationships that open doors to others by sharing the holiness of the Church in the multitude of variant worldy callings in which lay Catholics engage.

(5) The Church as servant, that is, a missionary body sent to minister to the poor, sick, grieving, victimized members of society. Thus the Church exists wherever justice is done and love is made real, in aid and sacrifice for the sake of the least powerful ones. In this Model the Church is responsible for encouraging good works, and helping those in need.

Dulles' outline of the five Models is in clear, concise, non-technical prose that nearly anyone should grasp. Although he was a Catholic Cardinal, Dulles gives the perspectives of Protestant and Orthodox Christians a full and fair hearing. His book is definitely not a defense of an "official" Roman Catholic viewpoint. In fact he points out how Rome's "official" views became increasingly more fine-pointed, even in the years before Vatican II.
In his revised and updated 2002 edition of "Models of the Church," after explaining the five fundamental Models, Dulles added a sixth: The Church as Community of Disciples, in which he stressed the biblical parallel that exists between Jesus' earthly disciples and the modern disciples in the Church. As a modern Community of Disciples the members of the Church are urged to mold their Christian practice in the world along the lines of the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent ahead of him to every town and place he intended to visit. (Lk.10:1-12).

Dulles' "Models of the Church" is one of the most logical and readable books about Catholic ecclesiology ever written. The Models are evaluated on their basis in Scripture, their link to Catholic traditional teaching, including Vatican II, and their descriptions of the pros and cons of each Model fairly and honestly. He also examines each Model in light of its ecumenical fitness. As for the ecumenical dimension, each of the Models is constructed so as to follow Jesus' "high priestly prayer" in John 17, where He prays to His Father "that they all may be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you." Jn 17:21. Catholics who want an honest look at a variety of valid means for imaging the Church would do well to read "Models of the Church"

"Models of the Church" offers keen insights to readers on how to deepen their relationship to the Church. It gives readers a particular starting point and then nudges readers into broadening their horizons. Each Model explains (1) what unifies the Church, (2) who the beneficiaries are, and (3) the nature of such benefits. It may be difficult for Catholics not to "rank" one of these Models as most in line with their own preferences. However, ranking is unnecessary as there actually is no correct order for the Models. Dulles' "Models" -- although that word was not used by the Fathers at Vatican II -- were nonetheless the broad categories Church leaders used when speaking of the Church at Vatican II. Dulles did not see his Models as rival definitions but as individual focuses within one definition of Church.

Dulles does not simply sketch out his Models and walk away from his readers. He issues challenges to readers not to be fixated on their "favorite" Model (the one that seems best suited to their personality and style of Church participation). He urges readers who say of a given Model, "That's for me," not to ignore and definitely not to inveigh against participation by fellow believers in other Models. He cautions against Catholics who may have previously criticized fellow Catholics who picked different models different from their own.

The Pro- and Con- Approach to and Use of the "Models:"
"Models of the Church" is a call to Catholics to be accepting of fellow believers who simply have a different style of being Catholic in accordance with an "unpopular" Model. For example, Catholics who see the institutional Model as the best way to be a Catholic will be tempted to criticize other Catholics who follow the servant Model -- or vice-versa. The former can go so far as to condemn followers of the servant model for being left-wing socialists, or even worse (as has actually occurred in places) -- as communists. St. Pope John Paul II, unmistakably not a communist, put the case for the servant Model emphatically: "Private property is under a social mortgage." (Solicitudo Rei Socialis [On Social Concern], 1987.) Whatever we have, he said, we have for the sake of others. What we withhold for ourselves has consequences for all.

And those who prefer the servant Model my rebuke those attracted to the institutional Model as "uninvolved" for making their parish priest the holder of all skills, talents and wisdom, and hence required to work all day and night on every single chore required to keep a parish going. Those who so rely on the institutional Model have a favorite saying when it comes to expressing their view of how to be a good practicing Catholic: "Let Father do it." They often act as if their priest knows as much about nuclear physics as Einstein did. And servant-Model adherents may say such things (as the writer herein actually once heard from a truck-driver for the St. Vincent de Paul society), "I hate the Catholic Church. I just follow the Lord."

There are two modern day Catholic exemplars of the followers of the substance of the Models of the Church, and of more than only one Model. We see in the lives of the following two persons how it is possible to combine dedication to two Models of the Church at the same time, both in saintly fashion, without putting everything they had within them into the one Model to which they had a stronger vocation and for which they had more personal suitability.

The first exemplar is Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (1915-1968), who was a Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey MountainNew Seeds of Contemplation, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Merton was the author of more than seventy books that included poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism, and writings on peace, justice, and ecumenism. Merton was cut off from the outside world, essentially "hemmed in" by the exact strictures of the monastery's rules, regulations and minutely ordered specific times requiring the monks to be in a certain place absolutely on time. Yet, Merton was able through his writings to be a major and world-famous opponent of the war in Viet Nam. He was also well known and sought out as an ecumenical advocate on behalf of Catholicism to eastern religions. He died in Thailand, three years after Vatican II had begun, from an accidental electrical shock he suffered after giving an ecumenical talk to Buddhist monks on the interplay possible between Catholicism and Buddhism.

The second exemplar is Dorothy Day, Obl. O.S.B. (1897-1980). In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with non-violent service on their behalf. She served as editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper from 1933 until her death in 1980. When Vatican II began, she left her busy work on behalf of the poor and homeless and flew to Rome. There she rented an apartment as close as she could find to the meetings of the Fathers at Vatican II and prayed all day long, everyday, for the success of the Council. The Catholic Church has opened the cause for Day's canonization and therefore refers to her with the title Servant of God.

What do we see in the lives of these two Catholics? We see that they were capable of putting two Models of the Church into practice even though -- because of their personalities and vocational styles -- they preferred only one. But when the need called them to add dedication to a second Model of the Church, they gladly adapted the entire style of their lives to the second Model.

Merton was by personal preference and calling an adherent of the mystical communion Model. For his entire adult life until he entered Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky -- as he wrote in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain -- he had been intently searching for a life in Catholicism that would allow him to become a contemplative devotee of Christ based on deep experience of the interior life. Yet, when the war in Viet Nam broke out, and people from the outside world flocked to him and entreated him to write against the war, he took up his pen and argued that the war was against all that Catholicism stood for. He found himself leaving the mystical communion Model and entering fully onto the path of the servant model of the Church. He had to negotiate with publishers for his writings and travel to churches all over America and then abroad to speak to people on his views in opposition to the war. Then, he found himself sought out by followers of contemplation in eastern religions (many of them also monks) who asked him to share with them the place and practice of contemplative prayer in Catholicism. This required of him more travelling all over the world and speaking on Christian contemplative prayer to followers of other religions, including forming a close relationship with the Dalai Lama. His days of living in the silence of the monastery and practicing contemplative prayer were over.

Dorothy Day's personality and personal preference as a Catholic were the exact opposites of Merton's. She was totally dedicated to the servant Model, and worked hard and long hours putting the Catholic Worker newspaper together. It was a newspaper that successfully emphasized the need for Catholics in parishes and universities to give of their lives and themselves to the poor and homeless -- whom she felt strongly called to serve through spreading publication of the newspaper. Yet, when she read about Pope John XXIII's [the subsequent canonized saint's] convening of Vatican II as an ecumenical Council, she realized that the Council was potentially of more service to the poor and homeless than her newspaper. Hence, in her apartment in Rome, praying for the success of the Council, she had left behind her dedication to the servant Modeland taken up Merton's mystical communion Model.

Returning to the workings of the Models, let us consider more on what the institutional Model is all about -- hierarchical authority, a word that some Catholics highly respect and which makes them feel secure in belonging to the Church. However the word "institution" makes other Catholics feel that their freedom and individual style of adhering to doctrines of the Church is threatened by clerical "bigshots." The "institutional Church" refers to the organizing and governing body that decides what the orthodox or standard beliefs of the faithful should be. In general, anything that has to do with structure, discipline, law, government, identity and definition represents the institutional Model of the Church. Even a short-lived organization develops an institution to support its existence. How much more, then, has the Church needed its structure to survive over the centuries.

The bad news about institutions, of course, is that they tend to collect baggage as they journey through the years. Institutions by nature resist change, promote passivity among unempowered members, and attract power-mongers to their hierarchies. Clericalism, the "priest-first" mentality that some clergy and some members of the laity often unwittingly support, stifles prophetic voices that challenge the status quo. Consider your reaction to the term "the establishment" and you know how you stand in relationship to the institutional Model. Some of us naturally embrace institutions, while others tolerate them only reluctantly.

The "warning sign" of some believers' view of the institutional Model of the Church has tended to be "There is no salvation outside of the Church." It was as if the institution were synonymous with the Kingdom of God. Narrowly understood, this is not a teaching of the Catholic Church.

The mystical communion Model of the Church at times in the past has tended to be the opposite of the institutional Model of the Church. If the hierarchy was running largely on the institutional Model of the Church, the laity was equally attached to the "otherworldly" aspects of the Church: Mass in Latin, priests set apart from the laity by vows, holy rituals, popular devotions to the mysteries of Mary's life, the sufferings of Jesus or the miracles of the saints. The veil of incense hung like a curtain over this world. But what was inside this world was a real sense of union with the Divine that the Church after Vatican II, for many, has failed to recapture.

The downside of an emphasis on mystery is that it can lead to an otherworldly approach to our life of faith. Is Catholicism merely a system for the personal perfection of its members? Is it only about fostering a "God-and-me" relationship, or is there a responsibility to the world beyond the sanctuary. The mystical communion Model of the Church, left unchecked, can lead to a split in a person's perception of the world: some things holy and sacred, most things secular and profane. But the world is not bad, nor is the life of the spirit simply good in an undifferentiated way.

The upside of the herald Model of the Church is that it provides a reason and method for outreach to the world. It does not keep the gift of faith to itself, as the mystical communion Model might be tempted to do. The Church as herald fulfills Jesus' command to take the gospel "on the road." It is a teacher, a guide, a lighthouse to those who are lost in the night. The herald Model of Church is quite fearless. But the herald Model also can be simply preachy. The herald Model can tell everyone what to do, but does nothing itself to actually change the world for the better. The herald who substitutes words for action is fooling no one. It tends to make hearers of the herald want to say, "Practice what you preach."

The sacrament Model of the Church places its emphasis on the assembly, just as the herald Model highlights Scripture. The community itself becomes a source of revelation. The sacramental Model works best if you enjoy people, make friends easily, and like to share. But it will be a hindrance to authentic spirituality if you are shy, private, prefer sacred space to be silent and would rather be alone with God. The sacramental Model is valuable because it makes the necessary shift from "I" to "We" in the religious enterprise. Alas, the problem with any utopian community is the same: What about when it springs a leak? Since, unlike the institutional Model, most authority resides within the community itself in the sacramental Model of Church. The sacramental Model can have conflicting discernments about where this ship ought to be sailing.

If you're attracted to the servant Model of the Church, you may think,"Who cares about worship style?" The gospel challenges us to do what Jesus did, and the Church is primarily concerned about how we serve others. There may be an underlying attitude with servant Church members that, when aired, sounds like, "Don't talk to me about Church. I'm too busy saving the world." A person devoted to the servant Church Model is a creature both admirable and fierce. But servants who lose perspective will begin to forget that the Lord is in those they serve and begin to mistake themselves for the Messiah. When you begin to think that the salvation of the world depends on you, you know you've gone too far.

The herald and servant Models, naturally are in tension, just as the emphasis on ritual of both the mystical communion Model and the sacrament Model is lost on servant Model adherents. And the servant Model frequently butts heads with the institutional Church as well. You might call the the servant Model the "maverick" of the bunch. The good news about the servant Model is obvious. Certainly Christians must do as Christ did: "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Mt. 25:40) However, Church-as-servant believers may neglect prayer, Scripture and the Church community in favor of their work: "My work is my prayer; the people I serve are my gospel."

The Marks of the Church: No matter where you find yourself within Cardinal Dulles' Models of the Church, and you should try to find where that is, you know you are a faithful Catholic if you adhere to four basic elements or marks of the Church. They are found in the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

As the Catechism defines oneness in the Church, "The Church is one because of her source. The highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit." (n. 813) The Church isholy because grace -- God in action -- operates through the Church and the love of Jesus is manifest within it.

The Church is catholic or universal, meaning that the same fullness of Christ, the same Spirit and gifts are present in all Church communities throughout the world. St. Paul encouraged all churches to live in "harmony" with one another, "that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15:5-6). The catholicity of the Church is found in pondering the ultimate mission of the Church: to bring it about that God's name be glorified throughout the world and that Jesus Christ be universally recognized as God's gift to all humanity. (cf. Rom. 15:7-13)

The Church also believes its authority is based on apostolic succession, the idea that the authority of the Church comes from Jesus' commission to the Apostles. That authority was passed from leader to leader, from generation to generation, through laying on of hands, a gesture of conferring leadership performed during ordinations.

We Are the Church: To conclude this article, let us consider how a central definition of Church remains, namely, in St. Paul's metaphor of the Body of Christ. There is no Church "out there" apart from you and me and many others like us who together comprise the Body of Christ. Like the story of the Israelites in the Old Testament and the story of the disciples around Jesus, the story of the Church is now our story. If we are passive in our membership or absent altogether, then the whole Church suffers -- much as one failing organ makes the whole body malfunction. No part of the body is without its place, its value and its dignity. Our part in the Church is beyond price. In both an ecclesiological sense and a practical day-to-day sense, Cardinal Dulles' Models of the Church give us the sense of the fullness that the Church gives us in our walk with the Lord. We are His Church. We are our Church. The Church is not an "it;" it is an "Us." We are the Church. 
--Tony Gilles

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Pretend for a moment that you have a friend in Germany named Hans, and you are going to spend a few weeks of your vacation at his home in Frankfurt.  Everything goes fine for a few days until you awaken in the middle of one night with a terrible cough and sore throat.  You knock on Hans’ bedroom door and say to him, using your inadequate German vocabulary for what you think translates the English word, “doctor” into German, as you say, “I need to see a doktor!”  Hans mumbles back to you in his sleepy German, “What kind of doktor do you want to see?  A Doktor of Philosophy,  a Doktor of Mathematics or a Doktor of Science, or some other kind of Doktor?”  Hans thinks you are talking in your sleep with your excited utterance for the need of a doktor. You in turn think Hans likewise is talking in his sleep with his “crazy questions” to you.  “What on earth are you talking about?” you ask. “I’m sick; I need to see an emergency-room physician.”  Hans has by now opened his door and says to you, “Oh, you don’t need a doktor; you need an Arzt!”

Using the German language to introduce an essay on “Doctors of the Church” demonstrates that in German, the word we use in English for “Doctor” is primarily a mis-use, whereas the Germans use their word Doktor literally and correctly.  The ordinary English use of “Doctor” is, in German, Arzt, or a “physician. What is the principle definition, not just in German, but in English as well, of “Doctor?”  The answer is found in the number 1(first) definition of the English, “Doctor,” in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged), as follows: “A religious scholar who is eminent in theological learning and personal holiness and usually an expounder and defender of established doctrine.”  Webster’s example of the correct usage of “Doctor” in a sentence is, “St. Jerome was one of the great Doctors of the church.”  Only farther down the page in Webster’s (p. 666), do we get to the number 2 definition of “doctor,” as “one skilled or specializing in healing arts: a practitioner of medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine.”

English has become something of a lazy language, whereas the Germans learn from elementary school on up the accurate and precise use of their words, and strictly use their language based on that principle. This is why they have so many more words in their formal vocabulary than does English (about one-third more than English).  The German use of the Latin, doctores ecclesiae, or “Doctors” of the Church,” is their word that the English Webster’s uses to define our word, “Doctor,” which in German is “Doktor.”  But enough German for one day!  Now that we know the formal definition of “Doctor” in the Catholic phrase, “Doctors of the Church,” we shall move toward answering the questions, “What is a Doctor of the Church in Catholic usage? Where does the phrase originate?  Who were (and are) the Doctors of the Church?  What did they, and what do they, contribute to our Catholic faith?

Introduction: A Catholic Theology of the Intellectual Life

The continuity of reason and faith is a central pillar in Catholic thought. One principal example of this professsion is St. Pope John Paul II's 1998 encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). There the pope affirms the Catholic teaching that the human quest for truth, most particularly the truth that transcends us and is God, is a quest to grow in our humanity, a quest to know who we are as humans and to know our place in the natural world. What is more, the human desire to know is given to us by God, a gift that comes from God's own desire to be known. In other words, human striving toward knowledge and truth can result in the fulfillment of God's will, an assent to God's dream that we might come to know God as God is. Intellectuals clearly have a major role to play in this search, a search that is not for the benefit of themselves alone but for the benefit of all people.

The foremost group of Catholic intellectuals, that from the early church to recent times, most strongly undergirds the foundation of humanity's search to know God as God is, has been given the name "Doctors of the Church." We will explore the meaning of this phrase and come to know what they have done for the church, and further, no matter how ancient some of them are, what they are still doing for the church. They are saints and teachers, monks, priests, bishops, and nuns. They faced opposition and exile, were chased and harrassed by secular rulers, often times wanderers and hermits in hiding. They lived in periods of confusion and conflict. Yet, their teachings and insights not only brought peace and understanding to the Church of their time, but continue to anchor the Church of today.

They brought clarity to the fragments of Church knowledge, and simplicity to the complex expression of dogma. They used speeches, documents, poems, and songs to reach the people of their time -- and through their written records they reach us today. With Pope Benedict XVI, who named the last two Doctors in 2012 before he retired from the papacy, their total number comes to thirty-five as of 2012. We take an incredible journey through time to better understand these individuals who explored and explained the critical teachings of the Church. They were masters at defining the Christian understanding of that most difficult of all relationships -- the Church and the world.

First, let's make sure we understand the title "Doctors" given to these greatest of intellectuals in the Church.

Part One: Defining "Doctors of the Church" Correctly

So what is the correct definition of the English,"Doctor," in the phrase "Doctor of the Church?" The answer may surprise you as we turn to the foremost source for defining the fundamental meaning of English words. The correct English usage of "Doctor" is found in the first (i.e., primary) definition of the English word "Doctor," in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (Merriam-Webster, Unabridged), as follows: A Doctor is "[a] religious scholar who is eminent in theological learning and personal holiness and usually an expounder and defender of established doctrine." Webster’s example of the correct usage of "Doctor" in a sentence is: "St. Jerome was one of the great Doctors of the church." Only farther down the Dictionary's page 666, where "Doctor" is defined as above, i.e., "as a religious scholar," do we get to the second (i.e.secondary) definition of "doctor," as "one skilled or specializing in healing arts: a practitioner of medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine."

This essay will not misuse the English word, doctor, in its secondary definition. Instead, we will use only the primary definition ofdoctor. So let's eradicate "one skilled or specializing in healing arts" as we proceed with this study of "Doctors of the Church," and focus only on "[a] religious scholar who is eminent in theological learning and personal holiness."

Part Two: What is the Catholic History and Usage of "Doctors of the Church

We must date the four earliest Doctors of the Western Latin Church not by a particular date, because, for one thing, they themselves didn't even know they were "Doctors," and never referred to themselves and each other by that title. The first four Doctors -- addressed by this title only informally and colloquially in their own day by educated Christians, and not by the hierarchy of the organized Church -- only came to be called by that title formally and with honor by the Church's magisterium centuries after they had served as what much later came to be called "official" Doctors. As for dates of origin of the title, the average early Christians in the years when the four earliest Doctors of the Western Latin Church served the Church naturally knew their servants. These early Christians would have been the best people to answer the question of the Doctors' titles by dates of origin as servants and leaders of the early Church. However, since we don't have common records of these dates, we must approximate the dates of service of the four earliest doctors from the dates when they lived.

Setting aside the fact of their only being called Doctors formally and officially centuries after their deaths, the Church, in 1298, had eventually come to an agreed-upon recognition at the highest levels of who these first four Doctors of the Western Latin Church were, namely: (1) St. Augustine (354-430), (2) St. Ambrose (339-97) (both bishops in the Western Latin Church), (3) St. Pope Gregory I ("the Great" -- pope from 590 to 604) and the leading Catholic Scholar of Scripture, (4) St. Jerome (342-420). This first date, 1298, that we have for the recognition and naming of these earliest Doctors was the date of the first formalized recognition and selection of Doctors -- by Pope Boniface VIII (1234-1303). This date is roughly seven centuries after the dates of death of the four earliest Western Latin Doctors.

As for the application of the title Doctor, we find that at first, "Doctor" was merely a colloquial epithet or "nickname" of sorts that passed to eminent theologians from time to time by scholars and bishops of the Latin West. However, the Eastern Greek Church has never applied the phrase "Doctor of the Church" to its own eminent and universal teachers, although Rome has always used the title "Doctor" for the Greek equivalents of Western Doctors of the Church. The Greeks instead use the words "Theologian" and "Hierarchs" [The Anglican Church likewise does not use "Doctor of the Church" for its saints who also happen to be Doctors of the Catholic Church. Instead, the Anglicans refer to such men as "Teachers of the Faith."]

A second, post-1298 date for formally recognizing and naming men as Doctors of the Church in the Latin West is 1567, which was during the papacy of St. Pope Pius V (1504-72). He named St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) as a Doctor of the Latin West, and in the same year named the following eminent theologians of the Greek East -- calling them "Doctors" in spite of the Greeks disdain for the western title Doctor. These Greek theologians honored by St. Pope Pius V in the Latin West with the title "Doctor" in 1567 were: (1) St. John Chrysostom (347-407) (Bishop of Constantinople); (2) St. Basil the Great (330-379) (Priest, monk, preacher and heresy fighter); (3) St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-389) (Priest, monk, briefly Bishop of Constantinople before resigning and writing a theology of the Holy Spirit); (4) St. Athanasius (298-373) (Bishop of Alexandria, theological leader at the Council of Nicaea). By 1567, then, the Church had firmly decided that its Doctors were a different, higher intellectual class of Catholic prelates, and from that date onward "Doctors of the Church" became a permanent order of men honored by recognition, service and dignity within the Church, much like "The College of Cardinals" had become a permanent order of service by 1586.

The title "Doctor," was used in naming these men in 1298 and 1567, respectively, simply because that title had been in use by the scholarly Roman philosophers of themselves. (The Church co-opted many words from pagan Roman Latin, such as, for example,diocese.) The Church's usage of Doctor was an informal philosophical designation going back to Roman intellectuals such as Cicero, who described Plato as a Doctor. Roman philosophers thus used Doctor to describe someone who engaged in Doctrina("teaching"), which meant for them the act of instructing or training students in the higher forms of education, especially in classical Latin. Thus the Church's title "Doctor" was at first simply an analogy drawing its meaning from pagan Roman scholars who themselves, centuries before Christ, were first called "Doctors" -- not "of the Church" of course, but of "philosophy, science, mathematics and literature."

The first Christian application of the term doctor to the life of the Church was by Tertullian (160-225), an African Church Father, although a layman, who in his treatise, Objection against Heretics (c. 200), uses Doctor both to refer to priests and also to indicate how all Christian teachers depend ultimately on the Holy Spirit. Tertullian explained his rationale as follows: "If the apostles themselves, who were appointed as doctors to the nations, were to follow the Paraclete as their doctor, how much more room was there for us in the saying, 'Seek and you shall find' -- we to whom teaching comes further down through the apostles, just as the apostles had their teaching through the Holy Spirit."

Unfortunately for the Church, Tertullian in 206 joined an heretical sect, Montanism. Yet, he influenced early Latin Christianity, establishing Doctor as a generic term for all who gave instruction in the faith with the greatest degree of eminence and universality. Long after Tertullian, Doctor had come to be used routinely for the following eminent, universal and leading teachers of the faith of the Church, who now, in the present life of the Church, may be categorized as follows: Among the present 35 Doctors of the Church, and as of the year 2012, 27 are from the Western Latin Church and 8 from the Eastern Greek Church; there are 18 bishops, 12 priests, 1 deacon, 4 religious sisters; 26 come from Europe, 3 from Africa, 6 from Asia. More Doctors (12) lived during the 4th Century than any other century.

What, then, is the role within the Church's history and in its present day of a "Doctor of the Church" in Catholic usage? Who were (and are) the Doctors of the Church? What did they, and what do they, contribute to our Catholic faith? To answer these questions, let's start by imagining we are entering St. Peter's Basilica and looking toward the very back of the great church. Since at least the 1200's, an ancient wooden chair, named the cathedra Petri, or "St. Peter's Throne," has been venerated in the rear of the cathedral as the throne on which the Apostle Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, sat when he taught the faith to early Christians.

The next major date (after 1298 and 1567) leading to the further solidifying of the permanent class of Doctors in the Church was 1656. In that year, the famous sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, entered into a project assigned to him by Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667), to make the cathedra Petri into a reliquary. The pope was himself an intellectual and determined to enshrine the cathedra Petri in a manner befitting its importance as the symbol of the teaching authority of St. Peter. Alexander realized the importance of emphasizing to the faithful who visited St. Peter's Basilica, and from there throughout the Church, the growing Catholic theology of the intellectual life. Underlying the pope's desire for a reliquary was his belief that St. Peter had the first, although perhaps a primitive vision (for a fisherman Apostle) of the Catholic intellectual life. Alexander believed that St. Peter's own teaching, seated on his famous Throne, had given rise to an understaning of the importance of eminent teachers in the Church. Accordingly, he persuaded Bernini to sculpt four statues of famous Doctors of the Church -- two from the West and two from the East -- and to add his statues to the reliquary structure which the great artist was making to surround the cathedra Petri 

Bernini enclosed the cathedra Petri inside a huge structure with large marble pillars. Onto the pillars he sculpted four towering bronze figures, appearing to support St. Peter's teaching throne -- and artistically actually doing so. (Bernini later also sculpted in a side altar in St. Peter's the famous reclining figure of St. Theresa of Avila in an ecstatic mystical state. Little did the sculptor know that in fact he had added one more Doctor to the Church -- this time a woman, to be formally selected in 1970 by Pope Paul VI -- to the four males sorrounding St. Peter's Throne.) Artistically, the four figures have enormous power and expressivity, and were used by Bernini to illustrate that the Catholic intellectual tradition descended in time from the early Church, initially to support the "seat of learning," or St. Peter's Throne. The four statues added to the reliquary of the cathedra Petri were two Doctors from the Latin West -- St. Augustine and St. Ambrose -- and two from the Greek East -- St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom.

Part Three: An Historical Interruption -- The Schism Between Eastern and Western Churches

Naming two doctors from the Western, Latin Church, and two from the Eastern, Greek Church, as statuary symbols based on Bernini's 1656 sculpture was an ecumenical gesture on the part of Pope Alexander VII. To explain this statement, we should investigate the historical background underlying a full-scale Schism between two parts of the Church, namely, the Latin Western Church in Rome and the Greek Eastern Church in Byzantium (a city later named Constantinople). A rancorous division between Cardinals named by the Pope in Rome on the one hand, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, on the other hand, reached its climax in the year 1054. The resulting schism between West and East would come to have an influence on the selection and naming of Doctors of the Church. Greek Eastern Christians in Byzantium wanted their candidates named Doctors, and Rome wanted theirs.

The Byzantine Church did not like the Roman bishops' efforts to set Rome up as the chief center for all of Christianity, both west and east, under the Bishop of Rome. The Greek Patriarch, Archbishop Michael, advanced the claim that it was Constantinople and not Rome that infallibly preserved the ancient faith. Michaell closed all the Latin-rite churches in Constantinople. Pope Leo IX (1048-1054) responded by sending a delegation to Constantinople, headed by Cardinal Humbert, to determine if the two churches could reach some kind of accord. Humbert was not the right man to send to Constantinople on a mission of reconciliation.

He arrived in the city and began issuing orders to Byzantine bishops as if they were his servants. He proudly displayed a list of more than 90 heresies of which he proclaimed the Byzantine Church was guilty. Patriarch Michael refused to negotiate with Humbert and his team, prompting them to leave Constantinople and return to Rome, departing on July 16, 1054, but not before they went to the holiest, most important mother church of the Greek east, Hagia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom"), and placed a decree excommunicating Patriarch Michael on the main altar. Not to be outdone in hostility, Michael in turn excommunicated Humbert and St. Pope Leo IX (1002-54), the latter of whom had taken no part in the controversies other than appointing Humbert.

This digression away from the efforts to solidify further the permanence of the class of Doctors of the Church was relevant to our discussion of Doctors of the Church. It can be seen that, with both churches excommunicating theologians from the other side and insulting each other in harsh and condemnatory language for six hundred years that the notion of recognizing Doctors of the Church from either side and naming them as great and eminent teachers of the one, true faith, tended to make overly complicated the process of naming Doctors in a formal manner.

Part Four: Summarizing the Doctors of the Church from St. Augustine to St. Hildegard of Bingen: The Stunning Addition of Women As Doctors

The phrase "Doctors of the Church" was not new with in the seventeenth century with Bernini and Pope Alexander VII, nor was it invented by the bishops of Rome. However, with Bernini's masterpiece enclosing the cathedra Petri in the figures of four Doctors of the early church, and with Pope Alexander VII's personal expertise and interest in writings that were adjudged to be eminent in their sacred doctrine and scholarship, the bishops of Rome established an unbreakable bond between papal teaching authority and Christendom's most prestigious community of eminent theologians -- the Doctors of the Church. Just as the popes asserted ultimate authority over the canonization process for those persons nominated for sainthood (and as they became the leading authority figures making such nominations), so too, by the end of the sixteenth century, the popes had asserted the prerogative formally to recognize and select Doctors of the Church.

After Pope Alexander VII's tenure as pope, and after the building of St. Peter's Basilica was completed, more recent Doctors came to be selected. Gradually three criteria emerged as essential conditions necessary for someone to be declared a Doctor: (1) eminent teaching, (2) outstanding sanctity, and, of course, (3) official declaration by the church. When a saint is declared a Doctor, criterion number (2) tends to be pushed to the forefront, so that the saint's writings don't necessarily have to be masterpieces of theology. Likewise, criterion number (1) can make up for issues related to the saint's failure to excel in saintly charisms like working miracles. For example, perhaps the greatest Doctor in the Church's listing for having achieved eminent teaching, St. Thomas Aquinas, stirred up grumblings among some in the church about his opposition to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, tending to make his sanctity appear less outstanding.


Until 1970, no woman was named a Doctor of the Church. There are several ways to analyze and respond to this pre-1970 vacancy of women from within the Church's major office for establishing and honoring its elite group of intellectuals, the Doctors of the Church. Why were not women called by the Church to join men -- men who from the early Church to recent times, truthfully and capably sought after the Catholic foundation of humanity's search to know God as God is? Was the Catholic theology of the intellectual life stunted and diminished by the lack of women's voices within the search by the Church's Doctors to answer God's calling for humanity to know God as fully as humanly possible? These are questions that cannot be answered, because we cannot know how the history of Doctors of the Church would have been different had women been present from earliest times. The reason for this is self-evidently persuasive. Because the history of Doctors of the Church did not include women, we have nothing with which to compare the absence of women against the selection only of men as Doctors of the Church.

Further, the exclusion of women was not a Catholic decision; rather, it was a global historical decison. Women in the Church up until the 20th Century were treated like women in every other human institution. Women simply were not given educational opportunities equal to those given to men until the beginning of the mid-20th Century. The Church did not cause this situatiion The Church simply lived in a world where women were not educated to the highest extent to be qualified as Doctors of the Church. But since 1970 and through 2012, at least as a start, the absence of women from the society of Doctors of the Church has been eliminated, just as women's rights have improved generally throughout the world in the last half-century.

Pope Paul VI, St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have taken a courageous and innovative stance on including women among the Doctors of the Church. We cannot expect, nor can we require, that the four women selected as Doctors will teach, write, think and evangelize exactly as male Doctors. Women Doctors will bring fresh and invigorating visions into the community of Doctors of the Church. However their visions will not simply be a duplicates of what male Doctors do and have already done. Women will be Doctors in different ways from the ways male Doctors have been and are Doctors. Women Doctors will be just that -- Doctors as women.

The future addition of women to the rank of Doctors will contribute greatly, enormously and conclusively to the Catholic theology of the Church's intellectual life. The history of women's absence from the ranks of Doctors of the Church is over. By adding the first four women to the Doctors, the Church's eminent teaching mission has already grown in positive directions, and can only improve as more and more women are added in upcoming years. It is pointless to condemn the Church for not living in accordance with universal historical norms of past centuries in which women were excluded -- not just from being Doctors of the Church, but from nearly every human endeavor. Now history will go in a new direction. Four women are now Doctors of the Church. More will be selected. This process can only enrich the calling of Doctors of the Church and heighten the service of the male and female Doctors to come.

The Church cannot be blamed for not naming women to become Doctors of the Church until 1970. It was not the Church that should be held accountable for patterns of history restricting women from living fuller lives -- whether in the Church or in global society as a whole. The Church has lived until the 21st Century hemmed in by history, as has every other human institution. History is now changing, and the Church will change with it. This will lead to more women becoming Doctors of the Church in years ahead.

The four women who have now become Doctors of the Church are (1) St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), and (2) St. Teresa of Avila (a/k/a "St. Teresa of Jesus") (1515-82), both named Doctors in 1970 by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). The third woman Doctor, named in 1997 by St. John Paul II, was (3) St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-97), popularly called "The Little Flower," which was the sub-title of her autobiography; she was also called "St. Therese of the Child Jesus." The fourth and latest woman Doctor was (4) St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), selected by Pope Benedict XVI on October 7, 2012.

[Pope Benedict, on the same day as his naming St. Hildegard a Doctor, also named St. John of Avila (1500-69), a trusted counsellor of St. Teresa of Avila, as a Doctor.]

The Holy Spirit will guide the Church in its selection of women as Doctors of the Church. Hence we have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to, as the Spirit brings new life to the Church.

Conclusion: Naming the Thirty-Five Doctors

Fourteen Doctors Already Discussed Above: (1) St. Augustine (354-430), (2) St. Ambrose (339-97), (3) St. Pope Gregory I (590 to 604); (4) St. Jerome (342-420); (5) St. John Chrysostom (347-407); (6) St. Athanasius (296-373); (7) St. Basil the Great (330-379); (7) St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-389); (8) St. Athanasius (296-373) ; (9) (St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274); (10) St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380); (11) St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582); (12) St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897); (13) St.Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179); (14) St. John of Avila (1500-1569) .

The remaining twenty-one Doctors:

Doctor                              Translated Latin Title       Date Selected        Ministry as Doctor
St. Bonaventure                 Seraphic Doctor              1588                      Cardinal Bishop of Alban
St. Anselm                         Magnificent Doctor        1720                       Archbishop of Canterbury
St. Isidore of Seville          (No Title)                        1722                       Bishop of Seville
St. Peter Chrysologus        (No Title)                         1729                       Bishop of Ravenna
St. Leo the Great                (No Title)                        1754                       Pope
St. Peter Damian                (No Title)                        1828                       Cardinal Bishop of Ostia
St. Bernard of Clairvaux    (Mellifluous Doctor)       1830                       Priest, O.Cist.
St. Hilary of Poitiers          (No Title)                         1851                      Bishop of Poitiers
St. Alphonsus Liguori        (Most Zealous Doctor)    1871                      Bishop of St. Agata
St. Francis de Sales           (Doctor of Charity)           1877                      Bishop of Geneva
St. Cyril of Alexandria      (Doctor of the Incarnation) 1883                   Archbishop of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Jerusalem        (No Title)                         1883                       Archbishop of Jerusalem
St. John Damascene          (No Title)                          1890                      Theologian
St. Bede the Venerable      (NoTitle)                          1899                       Priest, Monk, O.S.B.
St. Ephrem                         (No Title)                         1920                       Deacon
St. Peter Canisius              (No Title)                          1925                       Priest, S.J.
St. John of the Cross          (Mystic Doctor)               1926                       Priest, Mystic, O.C.D.
St. Robert Bellarmine        (No Title)                         1931                       Theologian, S.J.
St. Albert the Great           (Universal Doctor)           1931                       Theologian, O.P.
St. Anthony of Padua        (Evangelical Doctor)       1946                        Priest, O.F.M.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi   (Apostlic Doctor)             1959                       Priest, O.F.M.

--Tony Gilles

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: