XXIII. Concerning the dignity of the Church.
The Church is the Bride of Christ.
Contemplate, devout soul, how much benefit God has furnished for you, since He has called you into the consortium of His Church. “My love is one,” the Bridegroom says in the song (Song of Solomon 6:8). It is certainly one for there is one true and orthodox Church, the beloved bride of Christ. The Spirit of Christ is not found outside of the body of Christ. Whoever does not yet have the Spirit of Christ is not his (Romans 8:9). Whoever is not Christ’s, is not able to become a participant in eternal life. All outside of Noah’s ark were forced to perish in the flood. Outside of the spiritual ark of the Church, all are destined for eternal destruction. Whoever does not have the Church as his mother on the earth will not have God as his Father in heaven. Contemplate, devout soul, how many thousands of souls descend into hell every day because they are outside of the bosom of the Church. It is not your nature that differentiates you from them, but only the grace of the merciful God. When the Egyptians were enveloped in complete darkness, the Israelites alone were in the light (Exodus 10:23). So also, only in the Church is the light of the knowledge of the divine found. Whoever is outside of the Church passes from the darkness of ignorance in this present life into the darkness of damnation in the subsequent life. Whoever does not have a share in the Church militant will never have a share in the Church triumphant. The following things are indeed most intimately joined: God, the Word, faith, Christ, the Church, and eternal life.
The holy Church of God is a mother, a virgin, and a bride. She is a mother because every day she gives birth to spiritual sons for God. She is a virgin because she keeps herself blameless from any association with the devil and the world. She is a bride because Christ has betrothed her to himself by an eternal covenant and given her the pledge of the Spirit. The Church is that ship that carries Christ and his disciples (Matthew 8:23) and transports us at long last to the port of eternal blessedness. The Church navigates her established course through the sea of this age with the rudder of faith, having God as her pilot, angels for oarsmen, and the company of all the saints for her passengers. In the middle of her, her mast is the cross of salvation, on which is suspended the sail of the evangelical faith, by which she is lead by the breath of the Holy Spirit to the security of eternal rest. The Church is that vine that God has planted in the field of this world, watered with His own blood, surrounded with the protection of angels, having constructed the winepress of his own passion in her, having removed the stones and offensive things from her. The Church is that woman clothed with the sun (Revelation 12:1) because she is clothed with Christ’s righteousness. She tramples the moon underfoot because she despises the world, which is subject to manifold changes.
Contemplate, devout soul, this dignity of the Church and give the thanks owed to God. Indeed, the benefits that God grants through the Church are great, but they are not obvious to everyone. It is like a closed garden and a sealed fountain (Song of Solomon 4:12). Therefore, no one recognizes these highest blessings in the Church unless he himself is in it. This bride of Christ is black on the outside, but beautiful inside (Song of Solomon 1:5). Certainly all the glory of the daughter of the king is inside (Psalm 45:14). This ship is struck with various storms of persecution (Matthew 8:25). This vine is lifted up by being bound and enlarged by being cut back (John 15:2). The infernal dragon himself plots against this woman in many ways (Revelation 12:7). The Church is as beautiful as a lily, but a lily between thorns (Song of Solomon 2:1). The most beautiful garden is the Church, but only when the north wind of tribulation blows through it do its aromatic spices at last flow out. The daughter of God is the Church, but she is completely hated by the world. She expects a heavenly inheritance. Forced to live as a foreigner in this world, opposed in her sojourn, silent in suppression, courageous in silence, she conquers in fortitude. The Church is the spiritual mother, but she is forced to stand under the cross, just as Mary, from whom Christ was born into this world, was standing under the cross (John 19:25). The Church is a palm tree because she grows all the more under the weight of tribulation and temptation.
Contemplate, devout soul, the dignity of the Church, and beware lest you engage in anything unworthy of her. The Church is a mother, so beware lest you despise her voice. She is a mother, so you ought always to cling to her breasts. The Church’s breasts are the Word and Sacraments. The Church is a virgin. If then you are really her son, abstain from the embraces of the world. You are a member of the virgin. See to it that you do not associate the members of the virgin with prostitutes and with Satan through sin. You are the bride of Christ. See that you do not send away the pledge of the Holy Spirit that has been given to you. You are the bride of Christ. Pray without ceasing so that the Bridegroom may hurry to bring you into the heavenly marriage banquet. For the Bridegroom may come in the safety of the night. Be vigilant therefore lest the Bridegroom will come and find you sleeping and close to you the door of eternal salvation (Matthew 25:10). Shine with the oil of your faith, lest in the coming of the Bridegroom you may be forced to wish for it in vain. You have been carried in a ship. See that you do not throw yourself into the sea of the world (Matthew 8:25) before you arrive at port. You have been carried in a ship. Pray, lest you be absorbed by storms of affliction and the waves of temptation. You are called into the Lord’s vineyard (Matthew 20:1). See that you labor strenuously. Let the thought of the denarii ease the labors of the day. You are the vine of the Lord. Throw away all the worthless branches, all the fruitless works of the flesh. Regard all the time of your life as a time of pruning. You are a branch in the true vine (John 15:1). See to it that you remain in it and bear much fruit, because the heavenly farmer takes away the branches that do not bear fruit and purifies them, in order that they may bear more copious fruit. You have clothed yourself by faith (Galatians 3:27) and you have been covered with the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2; Revelation 12:1). See to it then that you tread the moon, that is, all earthly things underfoot and esteem all these things lightly in respect to the good things of heaven.
O good Jesus, who has led us into the Church militant, lead us also at long last into that Church triumphant.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
The Bride of Christ
Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations 23: