1. Alfred Loisy, a prof of Biblical science once wrote that Christ came to preach the Kingdom and it’s the Church that emerged. Many understood this to imply an opposition between the message announced by Jesus and the existence of the Church. Alfred Loisy was a French prof in Paris at that time (early 1900’s) and the intellectual climate then was marked by anti-clericalism. Catholic Biblical studies, also at that time, was still “in awkward stages”, so to speak. Pope Pius X was launching a crusade against modernity which, he felt, was threatening the Church. So the statement of Loisy gave such a resounding negative echo. Many people “read” in his statement a clear opposition with the Church as an institution.
2. Now Jesus was a Jew and he participated in the Jewish practices of his time. He was quite faithful to the Law and he wanted it “accomplished” fully. It was not his intention to suppress it. He had his way of reading the Law which was quite different from the usual understanding at that time.
3. Jesus did not start a “new religion”, so to speak. But his words and deeds challenged a certain way of practicing/observing the Jewish faith. He had a different approach to ritual purity and the Sabbath, for example. He triggered a ferocious hatred against himself among religious authorities who eventually had him put to death. Then Jesus assembled around him disciples, notably the Twelve. They were to become his witnesses—witnesses to his Resurrection. They were to go “to the ends of the earth” to share the Good News.
4. During the early years of its existence, the young community of disciples did not really distinguish itself from Judaism. It was a kind of “sect” within Judaism. But then a bit later many in Antioch, of Greek and Roman origins, were welcomed into the community. Yes, many were welcomed.
5. It became quite a source of difficulty for the Jewish members of the community. The problem was discussed in Jerusalem. The total acceptance of Gentiles in the community during this “council” in Jerusalem opened the door for a more universal community. Meanwhile Paul himself was active in preaching and his message was systematically refused by Jews. So he turned to the Gentiles; it was a new turn of events. Soon there were many who joined the community (communities) of which the newcomers knew practically nothing of Judaism. But they adhered to the message of Jesus announced by the Apostles.
6. Technically Jesus did not start a religion with keys and laws and rites and a priestly class. He assembled around him a group of disciples who he invited in his footsteps. This group kept memory of Jesus and his message. The fruits of the disciples’ sharing were different according to cases of encountering others. Soon new communities of new disciples were organized. Technically the new communities were communities of disciples—it was a “discipleship” movement, so to speak. People were touched by the preaching of the Apostles and they felt the impact of Jesus and the message of Jesus. The key word here is “touched”. The people were touched. Remember that it was commanded by Jesus. The Apostles introduced people to knowledge of the Gospel; they invited them to discipleship which, today we would say “discipleship in the Church”. The Church is primarily a community of discipleship where people confess the faith and want to share that. People have been so touched they want to share.
7. The synagogue tradition was, more or less, a model to follow for the organization of communities. Elders and persons in charge were chosen. Slowly rules were set to get things more organized—and to settle any difficulties and possible litigations. A regular Sunday get-together was organized and it was a time for prayer and celebration and memory of the sacrifice of Christ.
8. The communities lived their faith in Christ and “invented”, so to speak, practices and observances that were to shape the styles of each community. But something was common to all of them: the faith in the person of Christ with his message and the desire to share that faith. Slowly over the course of time these communities took different institutional directions. The community life in Rome was different from, say the community life in Ethiopia. Each community had its problems and organizational accents.
9. Gradually the “heads” of the different communities—now known as “bishops”—had to meet regularly to discuss issues about faith and organization. They gradually played more important roles in structuring all the communities. Well, as history will tell us, councils were organized to discuss big issues that threatened the life of the communities. The “I believe” was then formulated.
10.In 313 the Roman Emperor, Constantine, promulgated the so called “edit of Milan” and the communities—now a Church—took a more formal status. Many Roman practices were adapted. There was a closer tie between Church and the Roman political power. And history continued…with the famous etcetera.
11.This development over the centuries was not exactly prefigured in the mind of Jesus. He never saw it coming to that. What Jesus really underwent was…well, the Incarnation. That “law of incarnation” continued in history. The Church, over time, showed all the features of being marked by incarnated beings called “humans”.
12.Many are quick to point out the “bad things” that happened in Church history. And there is also a quick conclusion to saying that the Church has been “so bad” over the centuries. So the question is asked: is that the kind of Church that Christ wanted?
13.But we can add that over the long history of the Church there were also persons who, through their ways of living, words and actions, marked historical periods. They sowed without ceasing the person and message of Christ. When Jesus told his disciples to go and preach “to the ends of the earth” he invited them to consider him as model and assured them of his support. That’s it!
14.For the rest, Jesus let his disciples free to pursue their mission according to their styles and imagination…according to their incarnated existence.
15.Well, there are persons within the Church herself who may be so disappointed with the Church they have. Many tend to forget that the Church is composed of incarnated humans. They would like to see a Church where the incarnation—or the law of the incarnation—does not take place. If there is a Christological Docetism, there is, I suppose, an ecclesiological Docetism too.
16.But really, the Church is holy by virtue of her calling and not because of the presence very pious people. In other words, there are indeed, disappointing realities in the Church…but she remains holy. There are also people—sinners, if we’d call them—who continue the construction and re-construction of the Church according to the Gospel and according to how Christ wanted the mission to go on. Living communities here and there continue to live the life of the Church. They continue to pray too.