Monday, March 13, 2017

Fr. Antonio Royo Marín on the Theology of the Apostolate

[800] Article 4
The Apostolate

664. The apostolate, in whatever its form, carried out with a true supernatural spirit, can and ought to provide to the Christian a true source of sanctification. We are going to examine the concept of the apostolate, its degrees, obligation, forms, and relations to Christian perfection.

665. I. Concept. We are going to detail its nominal meaning and its real content.

a) NOMINALLY, the word “apostle” comes from the Greek term ἀπόστολος, derived from the verb ἀποστέλλω (“to send”), and signifies an envoy, messenger, or ambassador.

In the New Testament this word is sometimes used to designate the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, to which there is added the names of Matthias, Paul, and Barnabas, [801] who are apostles by antonomasia (par excellence); but at other times the name of “apostle” is also given to every kind of preacher of the Gospel, including those not belonging to the church hierarchy. Thus St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: “Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners: who are of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7).

It should be noted that the words “mission” and “apostolate,” as well as “missionary” and “apostle,” are etymologically equivalent. “Mission” and “missionary” come from the Latin verb mitto, which means “to send”; this is exactly the same as the words “apostle” and “apostolate,” which as we have said before come from the Greek verb ἀποστέλλω, which also means “to send.”

b) REAL MEANING. The nominal or etymological significance of the word apostle has set us on the path to its true meaning or real content. For in the understanding of the Church which interests us here, an apostle is, in the end, nothing but an envoy of God sent to preach the Gospel to men. St. Paul expressly says so (Rom. 1:1), and it is the common doctrine of the entire tradition of the Church. The expression apostolate has no meaning other than the work and activity proper to the apostle.

666. 2. Degrees. However, the word apostle is undoubtedly analogous and is applied in many different ways to different subjects of attribution. Accordingly, we can distinguish without effort, based on the data of Sacred Scripture and of tradition, up to six degrees or distinct categories of apostolate:

1. The apostolate in its most eminent grade, as the supreme analogate in its analogical scale, corresponds by right to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is sent by the Father in order to bring to the world the good news and message of redemption (Jn. 3:17, 8:16, 17:3, 8, 18, 21, etc.). From Him all other apostles receive the mandate and apostolic mission (Jn. 20:21).

2. In the second place, the apostolate corresponds to those apostles par excellence, in other words, the twelve apostles chosen by Christ, to which is added the names of Matthias, Paul, and Barnabas, and those sent by Him to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15).

3. Occupying the third place is the Roman Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the remaining apostles and heirs of the ordinary mission that Jesus Christ has committed to them although not of the extraordinary mission as founders of the Church nor of the personal charisms if we make exception for the Roman Pontiff in referring to the privilege of infallibility.

4. Fourthly, simple priests sent by the Pope and the bishops with any jurisdictional mission that participates directly in the authority of the Church.

5. The laity involved in any apostolic organization, among which Catholic Action stands out, which, without participating in any manner in properly ecclesiastical or jurisdictional authority, nevertheless partakes in the official activities of that authority under the direction of the hierarchy and as their instruments. [802]

6. In the broadest sense, finally, the name of apostle can be applied to any person who performs some action of the apostolate (catechesis, giving good council, etc.) although it would be through his own initiative and not with any official mission.

667. 3. Obligation. Having explained the notion of the apostle, the apostolate, and the different degrees in which one can participate in the latter, it will be of interest to demonstrate before all the obligation of the apostolate on all the members of Christ without exception. No one may be excused from this sacred obligation although it affects Christians in many, diverse ways according to the higher or lower position in which they have been placed by Divine Providence on the scale of analogous degrees that we finished enumerating above.

Here are the principle reasons or theological foundations of the universal obligation of the apostolate:

1. It is a requirement of charity in relation to God, to our neighbors, and to ourselves.

a) RELATING TO GOD. The love that is selfish and sensual is exclusive: it does not want anyone to participate in its joy; it wants to savor it by itself. It is very easily understood because of the limitation and smallness of the creature upon which this love has fallen. But the love of God, which rests on an infinite and inexhaustible object, far from diminishing, grows and becomes truly massive even when in the depths of one’s being one does not feel the blazing of the fire of the apostolate. A love of God that remained indifferent to apostolic concerns would be completely false and illusory. “There is only one thing I desire,” said St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “to make God loved.” It is the fundamental and primary desire of all souls who are authentically in love with God. We will come back to this when discussing the relationship between perfection and the apostolate.

b) RELATING TO NEIGHBOR. The charity relating to our neighbor obliges us to desire and procure every kind of good for him, principally those in the spiritual order that are ordained to his eternal beatitude. It is impossible, therefore, to love one’s neighbor with a true love of charity without the affective and effective practice of the apostolate, at least to the measurement and degree compatible with our state in life and with the means and methods within our reach.

c) RELATING TO OURSELVES. It has rightly been said that material charity benefits more the one who gives than the one who receives because, in exchange for something material and temporal, one acquires a right to a spiritual and eternal reward. This same principle should apply, for greater reason, [803] to the great spiritual charity of the apostolate. It is certain that the recipient also benefits in the order of the spiritual and transcendent, but without any prejudice, even before this, comes a great benefit to the benefactor. By submitting ourselves to apostolic labors for the good of our brothers, we accrue on a grand scale our capital of merit before God. Hence in this manner the apostolate is not only an obligation but simultaneously an excellent practice of the love of God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

2. It is a consequence of the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ.

God used the apostle St. Paul to give to His Church the doctrinal treasure of the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ. It is an infinite treasure of inexhaustible fecundity for the Christian life. Much has been written on it, and we have the fortune of possessing a wonderful synthesis in the enlightening encyclical of Pope Pius XII.1 Perhaps in no other aspect of this doctrine are offered possibilities as magnificent for the theologian as those relating to the universal duty of the apostolate that flow from it naturally and without effort. In fact it is inconceivable that the members of one and the same supernatural organism should remain indifferent to the health and well-being of the others.

a) BAPTISM, by which we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, has linked us in such a way to our Divine Head and each one of us to the other that no one can “wash one’s hands of” the other without committing an attack, a true crime against the members of that same Mystical Body, which has inevitable repercussions even to its Divine Head. The “you did it to Me” of the final judgment will have its perfect application both in the line of the good and the bad (Mt. 25:40, 45).

b) CONFIRMATION. The demands of Baptism are invigorated and reinforced with the sacrament of Confirmation, which makes us soldiers of Christ and gives us the necessary strength to wage the battles of the Lord. The mission of the soldier is to defend the common good. A selfish soldier is a contradiction. For this reason he must be confirmed an apostle by an intrinsic demand stemming from his own fallen condition.2

668. 4. Forms. However, even here there is room for distinct modes and grades. Not all Christians are obliged to practice the apostolate in the same degree and, above all, in the same form. It is possible to characterize the apostolate as a state, as a life, and as a practice.

a) AS A STATE, the apostolate corresponds properly to the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, the legitimate successors of the apostles, to whom [804] Christ has entrusted the august mission of perpetuating the apostolic functions and ministries even to the consummation of the ages (Mk. 16:15).

b) AS A LIFE, it corresponds to any priest who has legitimately received the apostolic mission to announce the Gospel to the people. Within this fierce phalanx of the apostles of Jesus Christ, priests occupy an outstanding place because of the transcendent importance of their apostolate, these missionaries in a land of infidels and charged with expanding the dominion of the Christian faith until it has invaded the entire world.

c) AS A PRACTICE, it is the exercise of any apostolic activity whether with a canonical mission or not. This latter is that which extends also to the lay faithful, who must exercise the apostolate—in virtue of those demands that we noted above—at least in their particular environment with all the means at their disposal.

669. 5. Relations between the Apostolate and Christian Perfection. Having examined the concept of the apostolate, even if only with the extreme brevity that the extension and nature of our work obliges us, let us now see what its intimate relations with Christian perfection are.

a) THE APOSTOLATE, A FORMAL PART OR EFFECT OF PERFECTION. St. Thomas beautifully proves that apostolic zeal is an effect of charity.3 Above all, when charity attains to a great intensity, it tends to overflow into the exterior. It is impossible to love God “with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength”—the first commandment of the Law, in the perfect practice of which Christian perfection consists—without the soul feeling a devouring zeal for the glory of God and an insatiable craving for the apostolate. In this way the apostolate is inevitably a formal effect of Christian perfection. There is not nor can there be any form of Christian perfection that can prescind from or not want to have anything to do with this apostolic giving of one’s self towards others. In the Church of Christ all is united and collective. Egotistic isolation is a sin, and the sanctity that cares not for the good of others is an illusion. None, not even cloistered nuns or contemplative religious, can renounce being an apostle without committing a crime against the Mystical Body of Christ and without destroying the very contemplative life in its integrity. The nun of the cloister and the contemplative too have a most elevated apostolic mission that, at the same time that it is an indispensable duty, constitutes for them one of their most precious peals of glory. They are not to be apostles through the exercise of the word or exterior activities diametrically opposed to the spirit of their contemplative vocation, but they are to be, in an eminent [805] degree, apostles through their prayer, through their sacrifices, through their example and witness before the pagan society of our day.

Our immortal Donoso Cortés wrote the following phrase: “I believe that those who pray do more for this world than those who fight and that if the world goes from bad to worse, this consists in that there are more battles than there are prayers.”4 As a missionary bishop once affirmed, ten Carmelite nuns praying could help him more than twenty missionaries preaching.

There can be no doubt. The love of God when legitimate and true enkindles within our souls a love of neighbor. The apostle St. John arrives at the saying that he lies who says that he loves God but does not also love his neighbor (1 Jn. 4:20), and among the acts of love, not one is more authentic than the apostolic zeal and ardor for procuring our neighbor’s spiritual good.

b) INTIMATE UNION, NECESSARY FOR PERFECTION TO BE AUTHENTIC AND THE APOSTOLATE FRUITFUL. Between perfection and the apostolate there must be—necessarily so when authentic—a most strict relationship and a reciprocal and continual influence. It is a classic formula that the interior life is the soul of the whole apostolate and the guarantee of its efficacy. This affirmation is supported by very firm principles of Catholic theology.

As it is known, in establishing the comparison between the active life and the contemplative, the Angelic Doctor concludes that the latter is more perfect and meritorious than the active since, among other reasons that he explains there, the direct exercise of the love of God, which is the object of the contemplative life, is more perfect and meritorious than the love of neighbor, which is the immediate object of exterior activities.5 But a little afterwards he adds that the mixed life is more perfect than either of the others considered in isolation because it unites the best aspects of both and more closely imitates the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme model of perfection.6

The difficulty is in specifying the true concept of the mixed life, for there is no state of active life that does not claim for it some directing principle or source influence from the contemplative life. Hence if one does not proceed with much caution and theological rigor, one will come to the danger of concluding that the properly active life does not exist and that all apostolic activity—whatever may be its origin, end, and manner of fulfilling—enters fully into the concept of the mixed life and is, therefore, superior to the merely contemplative life. This would be a [806] most grave error that would affect not only the serene realm of theoretical principles but would also have enormous and pernicious repercussions in practice.

No! Not all apostolic activity is beneficial when it is cut off from the further excellencies of the mixed life and as if it worked in an ex opere operato manner. This excellence, according to the Angelic Doctor and the universal theological tradition, is what proceeds from the fullness of contemplation.7 It is an overflowing of one’s own supernatural life. It has two absolutely inseparable aspects: to contemplate and to communicate to others what has been contemplated: contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere.8 Neither of the two aspects can be neglected without damaging in a radical manner the concept of the mixed life. Without the contemplative element, we would have pure exterior activity: the active life. Without the apostolic giving of one’s self in exterior activity, we would have pure contemplation: the contemplative life. And in neither of these two cases would we have achieved the concept of the mixed life. The mixed life is, therefore, only that in which apostolic activities would be an effect and a redounding of one’s own contemplation. From which it must be concluded that when these apostolic activities, however numerous and intense they may be, do not emanate from an authentically contemplative soul that is ablaze with the love of God, they cannot claim to be part of the dignity and excellence of the mixed life: they are mere exterior activity, the active life pure and simple, greatly inferior in itself to the contemplative life and—a fortiori—to the authentic mixed life as well. That is why the Angelic Doctor carefully insists that when a contemplative is called to apostolic activities, this ought not to be done in a manner of subtraction, subtracting and reducing anything from the contemplative life, but in a manner of addition, adding in a manner that further enkindles one’s own life of union with God: hoc non fit per modum substractionis, sed per modum additionis (“this is done by way not of subtraction but of addition”).9

Is this to say that an apostle who does not live a profound and exuberant interior life is unforgivably condemned to sterility and failure? Applied to the priest in the totality of his ministry, it seems to us not to be the case. It would do no good here to invoke the argument that “one cannot give what one does not have.” The reason is that a good part of the ministerial activities of the priest has an intrinsic efficacy—ex opere operatothat functions independently of the personal worthiness of the one who administers the sacraments. In this sense, the priest does not give of his own but only what is of God, that is, that which God puts into his hands, however unworthy and sinful those hands may be. This is true. But one cannot entertain the slightest doubt that in all those other activities the efficacy of which depend in a good part on the proper dispositions of the instrument—ex opere operantis—(and these are all those activities of the priest except those we referred to in the valid administration of the sacraments), the supernatural efficacy of his apostolate will be in direct and immediate proportion to the degree of sanctity and perfection of the minister of God, and a poor curate in Ars, ignorant and scorned but aflame with divine love, will convert [807] more sinners and bring more souls to God than all the professors of the Sorbonne in Paris combined.

Hence, an intimate and deep union between the contemplative life and the active is indispensable in order to come to the authentic notion of the mixed life and to assure the authenticity of Christian perfection and the fruitfulness of the apostolate. Therefore it is necessary to avoid with all caution the errors and dangerous deviations of both extremes.

c) ERRORS AND DANGEROUS DEVIATIONS OF BOTH EXTREMES. Without any doubt, in the field of the apostolate there are greater errors and dangers that arise from an exaggerated overestimation of the active life than from an unhealthy exaltation of the contemplative life: the activism or Americanism, which was called by the most recent Popes the heresy of action, is a much deadlier error than quietism. In any case, every error is pernicious, and we ought carefully to avoid both vicious extremes in order to come to the just and balanced middle in which virtue consists.

a) The excess of uncontrolled activity almost always leads to the heresy of action and the personal failure of the man who lives in such a way. Well known are the words of a man as apostolic as Cardinal Lavigerie: “For an apostle there is no middle ground between complete sanctity—at least desired and pursued with fidelity and tenacity—and absolute perversion.” Unfortunately, experience daily confirms the somber perspective of this phrase. The man, devoured by the fever of action, submits himself more and more to exterior activities: paperwork, statistics, organizations, the press, radio, cinema, the devouring fever of movement…

Does he live a life of profound piety, of continual and intense prayer? Does he recite the breviary digne, attente, ac devote (“worthily, attentively, and devoutly”)? Does he make a long preparation in order to celebrate the Holy Mass and deepen and prolong his thanksgiving afterwards? Does he do spiritual reading, meditation, and acts of personal piety? “There is no time for this!” he says. “The times are very bad; the forces of evil have organized themselves to oversee everything more and more; it is necessary to oppose them by the barricade of our resistance, from organization to organization, activity to activity. If only we could attend to everything! We would love very much to live the life of prayer, to keep in constant contact with our Lord in the tabernacle… What a pity! We do not have the time for this.” Such is how these poor souls run astray. The result of this insensible reasoning tends to be the loss of the spirit of faith, lukewarmness and boredom in the prayer life, and, all too often, a noisy and belligerent defection and the scandal of final apostasy.

b) Quietism. In diametrical opposition to this great error, another great aberration disguised as supernatural prudence tries to take refuge in darkness and sloth. It is quietism, a ridiculous caricature of recollection and the contemplative life, which coincides in reality with the most repugnant selfishness when it does not fall into the abyss of sensuality as history has so often testified. The quietist “does not want to meddle in anything.” Under the pretext of concentration and prayer, he fortifies himself into a castle of isolation and idleness without thinking of anyone outside of himself or preoccupying himself with anything other than his own interests. He has not heard—or does not want to hear—the anguished cry [808] of the Divine Redeemer: “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Lk. 12:49).

He is very comfortable not “meddling in anything” or to abandon for a single instant his sweet idleness—il dolce far niente—, but it is not acceptable, when he has such a contemptible attitude, to call himself a disciple of that divine Master Who precisely for meddling in every affair was put to death on the height of the cross.

d) THE JUST AND BALANCED SOLUTION. It is precisely to avoid carefully and equally both vicious extremes. The just and balanced solution was given to us by the Angelic Doctor in that gem of an expression which we have already mentioned above: Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere: To contemplate the divine realities through prayer and study and then to communicate to others the clean and crystalline waters that spill over from the fullness of our own supernatural life.



1 We have collected an extensive summary of this encyclical in another place in this work (cf. n. 78).
2 Cf. III,72,2.
3 I-II,28,4.
4 Donoso Cortés, Obras completas t.2 p.227 (BAC, Madrid 1956).
5 Cf. II-II,182,1,2.
6 Cf. II-II,188,6.
7 «Ex plenitudine contemplationis derivatur» (II-II,188,6). “Proceeds from the fullness of contemplation.”
8 «Et hoc praefertur simplici contemplationi. Sicut enim maius est illuminare quam lucere solum, ita maius est contemplata aliis tradere quam solum contemplari» (ibid.). “And this work is more excellent than simple contemplation. For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one's contemplation than merely to contemplate.”
9 Cf. II-II,182,1 ad 3.


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, OP, The Theology of Christian Perfection, trans. by Richard Grablin (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 2015), 800–808.

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