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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/3/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

It is our charge to work toward establishing or restoring all things in Christ

As Blessed John Paul II put it in stark terms in speaking to the bishops of the Antilles on May 7, 2002: "In a time of insidious secularization, it could seem strange that the Church insists so much on the secular vocation of the laity.  But it is precisely this Gospel witness by the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's answer to the malaise of secularization."


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

2/3/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: new evangelization, laity, prophetic office, charity, beauty, restoring all things in Christ

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In a notorious and highly critical letter to Cardinal Manning written in 1867 about John Henry Newman's recent article in the magazine Rambler entitled "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," Monsignor George Talbot (1816-86) snorted: "What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain." 

To some extent, poor old Msgr. Talbot, a converted Anglican priest who had been selected by Pope Pius IX as one of his chamberlains, has unfairly been made a pre-Conciliar whipping post or characterized as monstrous example of clericalism gone wild.  He was, perhaps, too much a man of his time.  Perhaps his judgment was already then in question since in 1868 he was dismissed from the Roman curia and was placed in a mental institution near Paris, where he died eighteen years later in 1886.

Certainly, Msgr. Talbot--who in the same letter characterized Newman as the "most dangerous man in England"--if not then suffering the beginnings of insanity was certainly shortsighted, at least when looked at in hindsight.  Newman was later (1879) created a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, and he was declared a beatus by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.  Blessed Newman's philosophical, theological, moral, historical, apologetic, homiletic, and literary works are a most important addition to the Church's most marvelously rich patrimony.  There is no educated Catholic who should not have read at the very minimum his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and his Idea of a University.  A man is poorer for each work of Newman's that he has not read.

To be sure, Msgr. Talbot's restrictive view of the laity must be rejected.  There is a charge which is imprudent words failed to recognize.  And that is a charge that traverses the expanse between clergy and laity, between the teaching Church the ecclesia docens and the taught Church, the ecclesia docta.  And that charge is the traditio Evangelii, the transmission of the Gospel.  That charge is one given every Christian and comes directly from Christ's prophetic office to all of us.

None of us are exempt from it.  None of us can be dispensed from it.  None of us can evade it.  In fact, none of us should want an exemption or dispensation from it, or seek to evade it.  Why?  Because the Good News ought naturally to flow over from our own encounter with Jesus Christ.  It should be irrepressible, and if it is not irrepressible, then there must be something wrong with our encounter with the Lord.

As Vatican II's Lumen Gentium (No. 35) puts it: "Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of his Father both by the testimony of his life and the power of his words, continually fulfills his prophetic office (munus propheticum) until the complete manifestation of glory.  He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name and with his authority, but also through the laity whom he made his witnesses and to whom he gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech (gratia verbi instruit) so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life."

While perhaps the means the prophetic office is fulfilled or expressed  is different in the clerical state than in the lay state (or the religious state, for that matter), the prophetic office calls us all to spread the Gospel, to be evangelists in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  In ancient Greece, the evangelist (euaggelistes) was the envoy chosen by the victorious army to carry back the good news, the euangelos, to be the herald of good news to the Greek king, that the battle had been won and the king victorious. 

Which one of us does not have good news to tell about the Lord? Which one of us does not have someone about us who has not heard the good news of the Lord's victory in us?

The heart of the Gospel is not merely a series of rules, doctrines, philosophical presuppositions, traditions, rituals, moral norms--what we might call Catholic practice--as important as the entirety of Catholic practice is.  Catholic practice, while certainly important, involves the many spokes of a wheel all of which revolve around, point to, and are joined with, the hub that is the person of Jesus Christ.

At the core of the Gospel is a person, the God-Man Jesus, the Lord, who seeks an intimate relationship with every single human person in the world.  This is not a distant Lord, but rather a Lord who wants an intimate union with each one of us.  He wants to establish a friendship with us.  It is one of the most remarkable and unique features of Christianity relative to other religions.  Jesus is the pearl of great price.

The laity must "declare," as St. Peter put it in one of his epistles, "the wonderful deeds of him who called you of darkness into his marvelous light."  1 Pet. 2:4-10.  How could this be otherwise? 

The love of Christ certainly urges us on to let others know of the Lord: caritas Christ urget nos.  (2 Cor. 5:14).  As Pope Benedict XVI stated in his recent Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (No. 7): "it is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize.  Today, as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth."  (cf. Matt. 28:19)

But if the love of Christ urges us to shout out from the housetops and from the highways of the world, so equally does his beauty compel us not to hide our light under a bushel basket.  As Pope Benedict XVI put it in his Inauguration Homily on April 24, 2005: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.  There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him." 

How is a priest ever to bring the Gospel, either by word or deed, to our fellow co-worker at a refinery, packing plant, grocery store, engineering firm, oil company, stockbroker's office, or bank?  How will Christ and his Gospel of Life ever find their way into our law, unless Jesus is first found in the chambers of our legislatures, our courts, and in the offices of our executive branch brought there by politicians, lawyers, and judges that are also evangelists? 

Is a soul to be lost for want of a priest?  While priests, in their manner, share in the prophetic office of Christ, the laity does also, and God, we must remember, is able to raise up evangelists from the stones of the laity as easily as he can raise up children of Abraham (Matt. 3:9).  We are then Christ's living stones. (1 Pet. 2:5)

Without doubt, the laity must avoid a clerical model in exercising its calling to spread the Gospel, and thus not succumb to the problem of what has been called the "clericalization of the laity."  That, in fact, can only be a temptation on the part of the laity to avoid its calling.  It is, in a sense, an implosion, when what is required is an explosion.

As Blessed John Paul II put it in stark terms in speaking to the bishops of the Antilles on May 7, 2002: "In a time of insidious secularization, it could seem strange that the Church insists so much on the secular vocation of the laity.  But it is precisely this Gospel witness by the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's answer to the malaise of secularization."

St. Josemaría Escrivá, a Monsignor with greater foresight than Monsignor Talbot, put it this way in his Conversations (No. 9): "The layman's specific role in the mission of the Church is precisely that of sanctifying secular reality, the temporal order, the world, ab intra [from within], in an immediate and direct way."  An explosion of the Gospel, and not an implosion.

Yet he also warns that it must be done in such a manner as never to lose the intimate tie to Christ's Church.  "To concentrate solely on the specific secular mission of the layman and to forget his membership in the Church would be as absurd as to imagine a green branch in full bloom which did not belong to any tree.  But to forget what is specific and proper to the layman, or to misunderstand the characteristics of his apostolic tasks and their value to the Church, would be to reduce the flourishing tree of the Church to the monstrous condition of a barren trunk."

No.  Neither liberalism nor conservatism is the order of the day for Catholics: instaurationism is.  In our modern age, the only real difference between political conservatism and liberalism is the velocity at which our civil and political society is going down the wrong path.  There is not enough in our social, civil, and political institutions that we can be satisfied to conserve.  The Christian capital that once was there is spent.

Those social, civil, and political institutions must be restored.  The order of the day is the same today as it was when Jesus first established that order and the Apostles proclaimed it: we are instaurationists.

It is our charge to work toward establishing or restoring all things in Christ, instaurare omnia in Christo (Eph. 1:10), and the most fundamental part of this charge is to bring others to a one-and-one encounter with the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI has been insistent regarding this theme.  In his inauguration mass, the Pope stated that "the Church as a whole and all her pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance." 

The Church as a whole, in need hardly be said, includes the laity.

What is the province of the laity?  In a time of insiduous secularization, it is to spread the Gospel, which is the only cure for the malaise that comes with that secularization.  Through means of the Gospel, we hope to restore all things in Christ.


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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