Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The analogy borne by any society of men to an organism is sufficiently manifest. In every society the constituent individuals are united, as are also the members of a body, to effect a common end; while the parts they severally play correspond to the functions of the bodily organs. They form a moral unity. This, of course, is true of the Church, but the Church has also a unity of a higher order; it is not merely a moral but a mystical body. This truth, that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, all its members being guided and directed by Christ the head, is set forth by St. Paul in various passages, more especially in Ephesians 4:4-13 (cf. John 15:5-8 ). The doctrine may be summarized as follows:

  • The members of the Church are bound together by a supernatural life communicated to them by Christ through the sacraments ( ibid. , 5). Christ is the centre and source of life to Whom all are united, and Who endows each one with gifts fitting him for his position in the body ( ibid. , 7-12). These graces, through which each is equipped for his work, form it into an organized whole, whose parts are knit together as though by a system of ligaments and joints ( ibid. , 16; Colossians 2:19 ).
  • Through them, too, the Church has its growth and increase, growing in extension as it spreads through the world, and intensively as the individual Christian develops in himself the likeness of Christ ( ibid. , 13-15).
  • In virtue of this union the Church is the fulness or complement ( pleroma ) of Christ ( Ephesians 1:23 ). It forms one whole with Him; and the Apostle even speaks of the Church as "Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12).
  • This union between head and members is conserved and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. Through this sacrament our incorporation into the Body of Christ is alike outwardly symbolized and inwardly actualized; "We being many are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17).

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
1 Once the king had settled into his palace and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
2 for you have said: love is built to last for ever, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by ... Read More

Reading 2, Romans 16:25-27
25 And now to him who can make you strong in ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 21st, 2014 Image

St. Peter Canisius
December 21: In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter