Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Church is not an association but a community “called by God.” In order for it to truly be a “Church” as Saint Paul intended, i.e. a “place where God truly dwells” and as a “community structured around warm interpersonal relations founded on the family,” we must be “a place for God’s charity” where he is “present in this world and in our history.” In continuing his presentation on the life and ideas of Saint Paul, Benedict XVI spoke today about the Apostle to the Nations and the Church before a crowd of almost 30,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square for the general audience.
The term Church, he said, “comes from the Greek ekklesia, and is taken from the Old Testament where it means the assembly of the People of Israel called by God. [. . . .] Now it is the new community of believers in Christ.”
The word refers to “assemblies of God that exist in given places, but also to unity, that of the Church as one entity,” which “is not just the sum of various local Churches, but is instead the various local Churches together as the Church of God, which comes before them as their fulfilment.”
Paul almost always spoke about the “Church of God,” by which he meant that “God had called it,” that the “unity of God creates the unity of the Church wherever it is;” the one and only Church of God, “bride of Christ.”
“Paul knew that not only do we not become Christians by coercion but also that in the internal configuration of the new community, the institutional component was inevitably tied to [. . .] the announcement made to all nations, uniting them as one people of God,” Benedict XVI said.
“We know that as a young man, Paul opposed the Church of Christ” because he saw threats to the “faith in one God” and to its “tradition” as defined by circumcision, cultic purity and observance of the Sabbath, something which Jews “paid in blood”.
Saint Paul realised however that “in meeting the Risen, Christians were not traitors. On the contrary, the God of Israel had come for every nation and every nation found its fulfilment in the one God,” in the “one People of God” and in the “Church of God in Christ.”
“At the heart of Saint Paul’s preaching stands the turning point of his life” and “the purpose of his evangelising work was to set up the community of the faithful in Christ.”
“We do not know why the community picked the word ekklesia,” but “continuity with the Old Testament is certainly crucial for it explicitly expresses a call ab extra, i.e. a call by God who unites individuals into a community.” Hence, from this “the exclusively Pauline concept of the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’ follows.”
Two aspects of this concept need elucidation for Benedict XVI. First, in the sociology of Ancient Rome, “the body was made up of parts and cannot exist without them.” Thus a “people is like a body made up of different parts, each with its own function, but all, even the most insignificant, are necessary for the whole to exist.”
In this sense, Paul “acknowledges that the ecclesial body has various parts as well as a structure that protects it from the dangers of disorder and disintegration.”
Yet he also said that “the Church is not just an organism but becomes the true Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, wherein everyone receives his body.” And “in receiving it we truly become His body, one body and one spirit in Christ.” For this reason “reality transcends any sociological image” for “not only are we one thing in Christ but we are also only one in Christ.”