2. The eternal Father, by a free and hidden plan of His own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world. His plan was to raise people to a participation of the divine life. Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave people to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ, the Redeemer “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature”.(2) All the elect, before time began, the Father “foreknew and pre-destined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that he should be the firstborn among many brethren”.(3) He planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ. Already from the beginning of the world the foreshadowing of the Church took place. It was prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the Old Covenant.(1*) In the present era of time the Church was constituted and, by the outpouring of the Spirit, was made manifest. At the end of time it will gloriously achieve completion, when, as is read in the Fathers, all the just, from Adam and “from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,”(2*) will be gathered together with the Father in the universal Church.
2 Col. 1:15.
3 Rom. 8:29.
(1) Cfr. S. Cyprianus, Epist. 64, 4: PL 3, 1017. CSEL (Hartcl), III B p. 720. S. Hilarius Pict., In Mt 23, 6: PL 9, 1047. S. Augustinus, passim. S. Cyrillus Alex., Glaph in Gen. 2, 10: PG 69, 110 A.
(2) Cfr. S. Gregorius M., Hom in Evang. 19, 1: PL 76, 1154 B. S Augustinus, Serm. 341, 9, 11: PL 39, 1499 s. S. Io. Damascenus, Adv. Iconocl. 11: PG 96, 1357.
The Church is the creation of God.
Just as God created the universe, so He raised men and women up to share in His divine life. After the Fall, God did not abandon humanity. Rather, he created a path of salvation through Christ. He called those who believe in Christ together and formed them into the Church. Prefigured from the beginning, and especially in the history of Israel, the Church has been established by God, filled with and guided and made known to all by the Holy Spirit. The Church will come to full glory at the end of time, when all the just and the elect will be gathered together with the Father. The Church, then, is eternal, because Christ is eternal and the Church is His Body.
The Church is the creation of God, and not of men. The Church is essential in God’s plan of salvation, and not optional. Those who regard the Church as the creation of men and as a poor representation of the mission of Christ in this world fail to understand the full significance of the Church in God’s plan of salvation.
Yes, so often Catholics fail to live faithfully the Gospel. Yes, so often bad men infect the Church with their designs. Yes, so often the Church seems more a harbor of sinners than a refuge of the just. Christ even warned us that this would happen in His parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30). But, that is only to see the Church in her temporal and institutional manifestation, made up of sinners and saints, and saints who sin. The Church is more than this. The Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, the creation of the Father, and the instrument of salvation. If we see only with the eyes of this world than we fail to see the full picture.
We cannot participate in God’s plan of salvation without participating in the life of the Church. It’s really that simple. All who desire Christ must ultimately make their way to the Church, either in this temporal realm or in the heavenly.
This is a good thing, for in God’s plan of salvation, He will not only redeem sinners and transform them into righteousness, but He will bring the Church to full glory. The work is the same, since the elect are the family of Christ, which is the Church. The Latin ecclesia means assembly or congregation. But, it is deeper than this. It is the assembly of those who are called. Called by God, we are united to Christ as His Mystical Body.
What do the Council Fathers mean by saying that the Father “foreknew” the chosen, and what does St. Paul mean when he speaks of being “predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son”? According to Fr. George Haydock’s commentary on Romans:
“This foreknowledge of God, according to S. Augustin, is not merely a foreseeing of what men will do by the assistance and graces of God’s ordinary providence, … but is a foreknowledge including an act of the divine will, and of his love towards his elect servants; (as to know in the Scriptures, when applied to God, is many times the same as to approve and love) God therefore hath foreseen or predestinated, or decreed that these elect, by the help of his special graces, and by the co-operation of their free-will, should be conformable to the image of his Son, that so his Son, even as man, might be the first-born, the chief, and the head of all that shall be saved. … God hath preordained that all his elect shall be conformable to the image of his Son. We must not here offer to dive into the secrets of God’s eternal election: only firmly believe that all our good, in time and eternity, flows originally from God’s free goodness; and all our evil from man’s free will.”
The Father knows who will be saved, but He does not decide their salvation for them. Rather, by their own free will, in cooperation with God’s grace, they freely choose Christ. Those who choose Christ are then predestined to be conformed to His image.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.