Church as witness

Ever since the first Easter in 33 AD, the body of Christian believers witnesses to the bodily resurrection of the Messiah. Christian faith is ecclesial because it is as a corporate body that it witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. Every individual believer may have a (weak or strong) conviction that Christ has defeated death: and that is just what they have, a conviction, or a belief or an opinion. This belief is incommunicable: it may shape a person’s life, but it cannot be transferred or shared. The Church as a whole, however, is a testimony to the resurrection. That is not because there is safety in numbers or because a very large number of convictions is more convincing and persuasive than just one. The Church does not ‘evidence’ the resurrection of Christ in and of itself. That many people believe that Christ ‘rose again on the third day’ is not evidence of the resurrection of Christ. The Church and its subjective belief did not roll away the stone, and the believing Church is not evidence of the resurrection. But the Church is evidence to the resurrection of Christ from the dead: that is, it witnesses to it, attesting it. The Church is a sign.

In 1870 the First Vatican Council stated that ‘the church herself by reason of her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her own divine mission’.[1]

The Church is a ‘motive of credibility’, a sign that Christianity is believable. The Second Vatican Council asserted that

this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires ... to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church ... the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.[2]

Lumen Gentium says that the Church is a ‘sacrament’ or ‘sign’ of humanity’s union with God: that is, it attests to the intimate bond between God and humanity, just as a wedding marks the love of a man and a woman and bonds them together.

  • [1] Decrees of the First Vatican Council (1870), Dei Filius, 3.12.
  • [2] Documents of Vatican II (1962-1965), Lumen gentium 1.1.
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