Twentieth Century Theology

The Mystery of the Temple, by Yves Marie Congar

As the subtitle says, this book is about "The economy of the presence of God in his creature, from Genesis to Revelation". Congar was a great Dominican theologian, very important for ecclesiology in the 20th century and at the Second Vatican Council.

Juan Luis Lorda-September 6, 2019-Reading time: 7 minutes

This book is not one of Congar's best known, and yet it allows him to study in depth the place of the Church in the world, between the creative and saving action of God and its consummation in Christ. It also has a relevant ecumenical aspect, because, in this story, the Church is shown as a leaven towards the unity in God of all men, and even of the whole cosmos. Congar's reflection was always presided over by an ecumenical concern, which is also reflected in this book and is one of the keys to its genesis.

A delicate moment

The mystery of the temple was completed in Jerusalem at a difficult time in his life (1954). We know him externally from the ecclesiastical history of those years and internally from his recollections collected in Diary of a Theologian (1946-1956) (Trotta). He had to suffer, up close, the misunderstandings about "the new theology", which included everything that had emerged in France in the last thirty years: from worker priests to patristic studies, all seasoned with an understandable apprehension towards the communist influence in the post-war world.

His great book, a pioneer in the ecumenical theme, Disunited Christians (1936) had aroused criticism. And they arose again with the publication of True and false reforms of the Church (1956), which, seen decades later, is an almost prophetic book. Congar was always a theologian who wanted to advance, but he was very clear that one advances in communion with the Church. To avoid greater evils, the Order of Preachers withdrew him from teaching at Le Saulchoir and sent him to Jerusalem for a few months, where he signed the book.

A biblical theology

This book is very close to Jean Daniélou's first book, The Sign of the Temple or the Presence of God (1942). Jean Daniélou had obtained a very good result by following a great theme through the stages of the Covenant. One of the great "discoveries" of biblical theology since the 1920s was to read the Bible in this way, on the plot of salvation history or covenant history. Because Revelation really follows a historical rhythm, with anticipations and fulfillments that go from the creation and vocation of Abraham to Jesus Christ, passing through the time of the Patriarchs, of Moses and the Exodus, of the Prophets, of Christ himself, of the Church that he founds, and of the heavenly (and apocalyptic) Jerusalem, where everything is consummated. One always learns by reading each aspect of the revelation on that background plot and with that historical progression.

To Daniélou, the rhythm of the stages of Revelation served to brilliantly expose the manifestation of God's presence from the cosmos to the glorious Christ. And then to show the mystery of the same God, in God and uswhich is a brilliant book and one of the most beautiful in 20th century theology. On the other hand, Congar makes an "ecclesiological" reading, more detailed and profound; centered on the interior effect on the Christian (indwelling), but also on the mystery of the Church, which is formed by the communion of all those who have received the same Spirit. The same economy or dispensation of the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation reaches every member of the People of God and gathers the Church into the Body of Christ, as the Temple of the Spirit.

On the other hand, as always, one can appreciate Congar's intense work as a theologian. He read everything and wrote down a lot. All his writings, and this one too, are very sensitive to what has been published, with monumental erudition, but also with an acute discernment, and with a clarity that characterized him. Sometimes, with so much material and so many suggestions, he did not manage to round it all out. But this book, perhaps because it follows such a clear plot, is remarkably complete and finished.

The content

He divides the subject matter into two parts, between the Old and New Testament, and adds three appendices, which we will comment on later. He goes through, first, the stages of the Patriarchs, the Exodus and Moses, the temple of David and Solomon, the Prophets and what the temple represents in the last history of Israel. As for the New Testament, he divides it between the relationship of Jesus with the temple, and the Church as a spiritual temple.

The rhythm is perfectly announced in the Introduction: "It has been our intention to present this great theme of the temple, admirably comprehensive and synthetic, following the stages of its revelation and realization, which also coincide with the stages of the economy of salvation (...), within a trajectory that embraces all of History - and the whole Cosmos - from the beginning to its end, from what was a germ, to the fullness, dominated by the Person of Jesus Christ". "As in every development, there are anticipations and reiterations in the one that concerns us" (The mystery of the Temple, Estela, Barcelona 1964, 9 and 11).

A progress of internalization

With regard to Daniélou's study, he extends the idea of the temple in Christ to the whole mystical body and focuses on the interior effect on each Christian: "God's plan is to make of humanity, created in his image, a spiritual and living temple, where he not only dwells but also communicates himself and where he receives the worship of filial obedience (...). The history of God's relations with his creation - and especially with man - is nothing other than that of an ever more generous and profound realization of his Presence in the creature" (9).

"This history of the indwelling of God among men advances toward a definite goal characterized by maximum interiority. Its stages coincide with the same stages of interiorization. In their progress they go from things to persons, from passing encounters to a stable presence, from the simple presence of action to the living gift, to intimate communication and the peaceful joy of communion"; "The realization of the Presence in messianic times, that is, in the stage initiated by the Incarnation of the Son of God in whom and through whom the promises are realized, is achieved with the Church" (11-12).

A way of understanding salvation

The conclusion of the second part summarizes admirably what has been achieved: "In the beginning, God only comes suddenly, he intervenes in the life of the Patriarchs by means of a few touches or passing encounters. Afterwards, as soon as a people is constituted to be its peopleexists for the latter as being peculiarly your God (...). Since the patriarchs and up to the construction of the Temple, the precarious and movable character of the Presence means not only that it has not yet been truly realized, but also that it has not yet been truly realized, but also that it has not yet been truly realized. is notas it seems to be, local and material (...). The prophets (...) do not cease to preach (...) the truth of the presence linked to the effective reign of God in the hearts of men. God does not dwell materially in a place, but dwells spiritually in a people of the faithful" (265-266).

"The Incarnation of the Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary inaugurates an absolutely new stage (...), the Mosaic worship disappears before the perfect sacrifice of Christ (...). There is now only one temple in which we can validly worship, pray and offer and in which we truly encounter God: the body of Christ. (...) Beginning with Jesus, the Holy Spirit has truly been given; it is in the faithful, a water springing up to eternal life (Jn 4:14), it constitutes them as children of God, capable of truly reaching him through knowledge and love. It is no longer a question of a presencebut of a habitationof God in the faithful. Each one personally and all together, in their very unity, are the temple of God, because they are the body of Christ, animated and united by his Spirit" (266-267).

"But in this spiritual temple, as it exists in the fabric of the History of the World, the carnal, still continues, not only present, but dominating and obsessing. When everything has been purified (...) when everything proceeds from his Spirit, then the Body of Christ will be established forever, with its Head, in the house of the Lord. God" (267). Perhaps by highlighting so vividly the "carnal" in the Church, he recalls the bad time she was going through, which is not mentioned at any point in the book.

A way of understanding grace

"We are precisely on the borderline between the visible and the invisible, between the corporeal and the spiritual. From this point on, the profound history of creation will be that of the communications by which God will realize in it an ever more intense presence of Himself" (268).

He recalls the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the debates on the modes of presence, by creation (ontological) and by grace. "The second, grace, in fact, converts us efficaciously toward God, so that we can grasp and possess him by knowledge and love: yes, grasp and possess him. to Him. Not in his likeness, but in his Substance. Therefore, by this way, a true divinization can take place. The Fathers and theologians are careful to make it clear (...) that it is no longer a question of a Presencebut of Inhabitation" (269).

A way of understanding the Church

This allows him a beautiful and profound connection between Christ the Eucharist and the Church: "In Christ, a human flesh becomes the temple of God (...) The regime of existence of the Church, which flows from this same Incarnation, finds here its most profound law. The regime of existence of the Church, which flows from this same Incarnation, finds here its most profound law. (...) The whole regime of the Church is also a regime of presence and action through a body (...) According to Scripture, the body born of Mary, and which hung on the tree, is not the only one that deserves the name of the body of Christ. This title belongs also, in all truth, to the bread offered in the Eucharist in memory of him and to the community of the faithful, to the Church (...). In them is realized a single and identical mystery, the mystery of the Passover, of the Transitus to the Father. This mystery, accomplished in one, though for all, must become that of all in one. (...) The physical body of the Lord, taken as nourishment in the sacrament, constitutes us fully in his members and forms his communional body. Such is the dynamic linking of the three forms of the same mystery" (271-273).

It is truly a fruitful and meaningful connection. "The Eucharist, the sacramental body of Christ, nourishes in our souls the grace by which we are the spiritual temple of God; it is the sacrament of unity, the sign of the love by which we form one body, the communional body of Christ. It is, finally, for our own bodies, a promise of resurrection. It is also, for the whole world, the germ of glorious transformation by the power of Christ. It has, therefore, a cosmic value" (276-277).


The book also contains three interesting appendices. The first is a chronological overview of the History of Salvation, where Congar assumes, with nuances, the different sensible opinions on the dating of the texts. The other two appendices are theological. The first, very interesting, deals with The Virgin Mary and the templeThe second deals with the profound relationships and parallels found in Scripture, collected by the Fathers and expressed in the Liturgy. The second deals with the Presence and Inhabitation of God in the old and in the new and definitive disposition.. It is a matter of thinking about the economy of the Holy Spirit: how he has been given in history, fully in Jesus Christ, who gives him to his Body, the Church. But also how he acts before: with a real efficacy, but at the same time with a distinction. John the Baptist, "the greatest of those born of women" was sanctified and yet he still belongs to the ancient disposition. There is undoubtedly an anticipation, which allows all men to be linked in some way with the Spirit, but there is also a newness, when Christ rises and transmits his Spirit to the Church.

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