Dom Gréa’s “The Church and Her Divine Constitution” (1)

Dom Adrien Gréa (1828-1917) stands alongside Lacordaire and Guéranger as one of the great re-founders of Catholic religious life in post-Revolution France. His life’s mission was to restore regular canonical life, or the common life of priests living under a rule. Toward that end, he founded the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception.

Several sections of his master-work on ecclesiology (The Church and Her Divine Constitution) are dedicated to justifying the existence of communities of canons within the diocesan structure, a point that, from the vigor with which he argues it, seems to have been ill-received by his contemporaries.

We will post several short excerpts from the work in which Dom Gréa makes a forceful argument that canonical life is the ideal state of life for the clergy, as seen in the Fathers and in the history of the Middle Ages.

L’ÉGLISE ET

SA DIVINE CONSTITUTION

PRÉFACE DE LOUIS BOUYER, De L’oratoire

1965
CASTERMAN

domgrea
Dom Adrien Gréa

(excerpt from the Preface)

The book of Dom Gréa concerning the Church and her divine constitution is one of those books that transcends their time and are susceptible to being much better understood at the remove of several generations. Their handicap is that they can never avoid showing visible traces of the moment when they were written. It is thus that the reader of Dom Gréa today must pass over the sometimes too facile and incantational rhetoric masking statements not always very precise. But these weaknesses, which have been ameliorated by the notes of the present edition, should not disguise the profound merits of the synthesis proposed by this exceptional book.

One might say that it was addressed to that moment in time, after years of meditation on the doctrine of the mystical body that were consecrated by the encyclical Mystici Corporis and that the schema De Ecclesia of the Council bears to their maturity. The whole idea of the organic and quasi-personal character of the Church, which was developed through two or three generations, finds here, in a theory of the Church marked by its magnificent fullness, its most perfect fulfillment. But at the same time, perhaps the most striking peculiarity of Dom Gréa is that he in no way presents these aspects in opposition with the institutional, or more precisely, hierarchical aspects. Quite to the contrary, it is the idea of hierarchy, of holy order, that governs his synthesis. His merit is to give it such a profound and living conception that it even appears that the hierarchy, properly understood, far from oppressing the living elements of the Church, is that which gives them, along with their exterior coherence, their interior and supernatural continuity.

A second noteworthy trait of his construction is the liturgical conception that he tends to give of the Church. That She is first of all a society of worship, founded on the truth of Christ which She extends to the universe in such a way as to bring it share in the grand act of religion of the Mediator. That is what Dom Gréa helps us to recapture. Too many fallacious extensions of the concept of Church, and especially of the mystical body, have led us to a certain vagueness on this point that the ample and luminous treatments of this book should help to dissipate.

—–

Le livre de Dom GRÉA sur L’Église et sa divine constitution est de ces livres qui échappent à leur époque et qui sont susceptibles d’être bien mieux compris à quelques générations de distance. Leur handicap est toujours qu’ils portent malgré tout des traces visibles du moment où ils furent écrits. C’est ainsi que le lecteur de Dom GRÉA, aujourd’hui, doit passer par dessus l’éloquence parfois un peu trop facilement incantatoire où s’enveloppaient des références pas toujours assez précises. Mais ces faiblesses qu’on a palliées par les notes de la présente édition, ne doivent pas dissimuler les mérites profonds de la synthèse proposée par ce livre exceptionnel.

On peut dire qu’il reparaît à son heure, après des années de méditation sur la doctrine du corps mystique, consacrée déjà par l’encyclique Mystici Corporis, et que le schéma De Ecclesia du concile porte à leur maturité. Tout ce sens du caractère organique et quasi personnel de l’Église, qui s’est développé depuis deux ou trois générations, y trouve, dans une théorie de l’Église d’une magnifique plénitude, le plus parfait exaucement. Mais en même temps, la particularité peut-être la plus frappante de Dom GRÉA est qu’il ne développe nullement ces aspects en opposition avec les aspects institutionnels, et plus précisément hiérarchiques. Bien au contraire, c’est l’idée de hiérarchie, d’ordre sacré qui domine sa synthèse. Son mérite est d’en donner une notion si pro- fonde et vivante qu’il apparaît aussitôt que la hiérarchie, bien comprise, loin de rien comprimer des éléments vivants de l’Église est ce qui leur donne, avec leur cohérence extérieure, leur continuité intime et surnaturelle. Comment la hiérarchie est ce qui permet à l’Église, Corps du Christ, d’être une permanente épi- phanie du Christ, on ne peut mieux le saisir qu’en suivant Dom GRÉA.

Un second trait marquant de sa construction est la notion en quelque sorte liturgique qu’elle tend à donner de l’Église. Qu’elle soit avant tout société de culte, fondée sur la vérité du Christ qu’elle répand dans l’univers de manière à amener celui-ci à s’associer au grand acte de religion du Médiateur, voilà encore ce que Dom GRÉA nous aidera à ressaisir. Trop de fallacieuses extensions de la notion d’Église, et surtout de corps mystique, nous ont amenés à un certain vague sur ce point que les amples et lumineux exposés de ce livre devraient contribuer à dissiper.

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