"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Friday, November 12, 2010

St. Josaphat and the Internal and External Unity of the Church

St. Josaphat of Polotsk

Today is the feast day of St. Josaphat of Polotsk, an Eastern Rite bishop who gave his life for the unity of the Church on this day in 1623. (Read an account of his martyrdom here.) The following is an excerpt from the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Dei, promulgated on this day in 1923 by Pope Pius XI in commemoration of St. Josaphat. In this excerpt we see the nature of the unity Christ established in His Church.

The Church of God, by a wondrous act of Divine Providence, was so fashioned as to become in the fullness of time an immense family which embraces all men. The Church possesses-a fact known to all-as one of its visible marks, impressed on it by God, that of a world-wide unity. Christ, Our Lord, not only entrusted to His Apostles and, to them alone, the mission which He had received from His Father when he said: "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations;" (Matt. xxvii, 18, 19) He also wished the College of Apostles to possess perfect unity, a unity based on a twofold and well-knit bond, one bond internal, that of the selfsame faith and charity which is "poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost" (Romans v, 5); the other external, that of the rule of one of the Apostles over all the others, for He conferred upon Peter a primacy over the Apostles as a perpetual principle and visible foundation for the Church's unity. At the close of His mortal life, he impressed upon the Apostles in the strongest possible terms the supreme need of this unity. (John xvii, 11, 21, 22) In His last soul-stirring prayer he asked His Father for this unity and His prayer was heard: "He was heard for his reverence." (Hebrews v, 7)

The Church was born in unity and grew into "a single body," vigorous, animated by a single soul, of which "the head is Christ from whom the whole body is compacted and fitly joined together." (Ephesians iv, 15, 16) Of this body, following the reasoning of St. Paul, He is the visible head who takes the place of Christ here upon earth, the Roman Pontiff. In him, as the successor of St. Peter, the words of Christ are being forever fulfilled: "Upon this rock I will build my Church." (Matt. xvi, 18) And the Pope who, down the ages, exercises the office which was bestowed upon Peter never ceases to confirm in the Faith, whenever it is necessary, his brethren and to feed all the sheep and lambs of the Master's flock.

No prerogative of the Church has been assailed more bitterly by "the enemy" than this unity of government, by means of which the "unity of the Spirit" is joined "in the bond of peace." (Ephesians iv, 3) It is quite true that the enemy has never, and never will, prevail against the Church. He has, however, succeeded in wresting from her bosom many of her children, and in some cases, even whole nations. These great losses were brought about in many instances by the wars which divided nations, by the enactment of laws inimical to the interests of religion and of virtue, or by an unbridled love for the passing goods of this world. (continue reading Ecclesiam Dei)

St. Josaphat, pray for us, that all those who seek to follow Christ would be reconciled in full and visible unity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.