To know the Church in all its resplendence it is necessary, at a certain point, to sense in one’s inmost soul what it is. And the author uses the term sense because, in fact, it would be something like a mystical tasting, hearing, seeing, breathing and, even a touching of the Church, as it were… Without a light from the Holy Spirit, all is reduced to a mathematical theorem which can serve as the basis for long conferences or weighty theoretical books in which only the intelligence will be applied, but not the heart.
Allegory of the Church – Strasbourg Cathedral (France)
Let us invoke a metaphor in order to better grasp the difference which exists between intellectual and experiential understanding, the latter originating in a mystical grace. Let us suppose that someone has never eaten a particular fruit, such as a mangosteen. It is described to him as a fruit of medium size, with tough skin, the colour of beetroot, and which when opened contains snow-white sections, whose smooth flavour seems to rival cherry mixed with honey. But an abstract definition is not enough: the person needs to take a mangosteen in his hands, put some of the pulp in his mouth and taste it… Then, yes, based on his senses, he will construct in his mind a synthesis of everything: skin, colour and flavour, and he will promptly draw his conclusions and form a judgement.
“The Church resembles an immense soul…”
For Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira this supernatural phenomenon, a direct contact with the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Roman Church, touched his sensibility in such a way that he began to consider it as a person. This was a mystical image which he evidently developed in order to better explain to others what was going on in his heart:
“Seeing all these aspects of the Church, I sometimes had a curious impression. I would say: ‘The Church resembles a person. It does not resemble an institution, but rather an immense soul, which is manifested in a thousand different ways, which has movements, grandeurs, sanctities, perfections, as if it were a single soul expressing itself through all the Catholic churches of the world, all the statues, all the Liturgies, all the tones of the organ, all the tolling of the bells… This soul has wept at the Requiems, rejoiced with the ringing of the bell on Holy Saturday and at Christmas vigils; it weeps with me, it rejoices with me. I see a soul in the Church, more than an institution.’”
In the following passage, Dr. Plinio is more profuse in his explanation:
“What I am speaking of is, of course, the Divine Holy Spirit, but when one is a child, the distinction is not so clear: I had the vague notion that the Church was a living institution […] as if it were a person, along the course of history, with the multiple mercies of a mother, the patience of a mother, the dignity of a mother, the savoir-faire of a mother, the knack of a mother; it is a Mother-Church! […] The most welcoming, most intimate, the kindest, most forgiving Mother that one can imagine; but also, the Queen most worthy of praise imaginable, a virginal warrior, à la St. Joan of Arc, capable of winning every victory, without losing her feminine delicacy, with effective strength, surpassing every marshal; inspirer of heroes!”
From that moment onwards, a love was born within him that grew unceasingly… It was a love of devotion, so that during his entire life, the Church was his most deeply rooted passion; a love that was most pure and detached; a love unto slavery, but one which, far from being oppressive, brought him liberty; such love that it was almost an adoration of the Church. Come what may, he was ready to serve it!
“The Catholic Church is for me more than my father, more than my mother, more than my life, more than everything that I could have; I love the Catholic Church with such a love that it has overtones of adoration! For it is the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ!”
A mystical union with the Holy Church
Dr. Plinio had been prepared since his birth, or perhaps even earlier, by a grace which led him to effect a mystical espousal with the Catholic Church. This is a singular phenomenon, for such a supernatural alliance almost always occurs between the soul and God who usually presents Himself through the features of the most holy humanity of the Saviour.1
Dr. Plinio is one of the few in History to be espoused to the Church. Already in his infancy, without yet knowing the name or the phenomenon owing to his tender age, he entered into this unimaginably profound spiritual matrimony, unconditionally surrendering himself and uniting himself to the Church with eternal bonds.2 Here are his words:
The sun reflected in dewdrops
“How I love this soul! I have the impression that my soul is a little resonance or repetition of it! […] Everything that I love is like this soul. And this soul is like everything that I love. I only love this soul. And other things I do not love, for they are worth nothing. I know that this kind of soul is not a soul, but is the ideal of my life […]. Something makes me feel a little like a drop of water reflecting the sun. I am the drop of water; there is the sun, but looking at that drop we can see the whole sun reflected in it. In the manner of a miniature and of a reflection, not substantially, I contain that soul entirely.”
Here, once again, arises a little-discussed point, but one which is extremely rich, mysterious and of paramount importance within the Church, which the author judges to have been the “neural hyphen” by which Dr. Plinio identified himself with it: an exalted vision of all Creation, communicated by Our Lord Jesus Christ as Head, to His Mystical Spouse. This vision, brought to its ultimate consequences, eventuates in the connection of this same order of the universe with God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, within whom all exists, and outside of whom exists nothing.
Indeed, God is present in all things in various ways: by essence, that is, sustaining at every instant that which He created; by potency, because everything is subject to Him, who has the power to annihilate any creature; and by presence, because from eternity everything is under His gaze.3 However, this theory of the three presences, which is generally studied in theological texts, is found in the Church in a living manner!
The sacral vision with respect to the order of the universe, transfused by the Church into Dr. Plinio’s soul, completely and profoundly defined him and gave consistency to his vocation, because even before knowing the doctrine relating to the Catholic Church, to grace and to everything else that he later came to know, he loved order with all the strength of his soul because he intuited its correlation with God. The description which follows is illuminating in this respect:
“There is something which might be called the backbone of my thinking and which brings with it a graduated love of all that is verum, bonum and pulchrum – truth, goodness and beauty. This love constitutes the fundamental element by which I am united to the Holy Catholic Church. It is because I knew the Holy Catholic Church as the focal point of this attitude of soul and counselling it in every way and on every count, that I loved the Church so much. But it is because, originally, I loved that principle. This imparts much order and much detachment to the soul. For with this order comes the propensity to love all things, not for their relationship to me, but for the relationship they have with God. It is the practice of love of God.”
Accordingly, he grew up in complete fidelity to the covenant established at the very first moment in which he felt consonance with the soul of the Church. The following passage is both a profession of faith and an acknowledgement of this sentiment:
“The attitude of my soul every day, at every minute, at every instant is to search with my eyes for the Catholic Church, to be imbued with its spirit, and to have it within my soul, to have myself entirely within it, […] in such a way that I can say at the moment of my death: ‘Truly, I was a Catholic man and entirely apostolic, Roman, Roman and Roman!’ […] If you wish to know me and to follow me, seek to discern in what manner the spirit of the Church exists in my soul. […] How could this love be as it is, if I had not seen the Church in a particular way? That which one loves is loved because one has seen it, has understood it, ultimately, because one has adhered to it with one’s entire soul. But in such a way that the term adhered is weak; one has immersed oneself, has penetrated, has let oneself be penetrated, has established an espousal of soul, in the measure that human weakness permits, that is indissoluble and complete, for life and for death, for time and for eternity! This is our belonging to the Catholic Church, so that one can, in a sense, say what St. Paul said with respect to Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘It is no longer I who live; but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal 2:20)! We are called to make this true in the following way: ‘It is no longer I who live, but the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church that lives in me.’”
“Without the Catholic Church I would not have wisdom”
In various conferences over the years, he adamantly declared to have taken the Holy Church as his model, in a position of continual obedience.
“Ever since I was small, looking at the Catholic Church, and not only the Church but at that which it poured out upon sacred Christian Civilization, I took all of it as certain, infallible, indisputable, point by point, seeking to investigate each time I did not understand something; and the question was: ‘What is the principle of wisdom that exists behind this? I need to discover and acquaint myself with this principle of wisdom.’ […] And this was the enthusiasm of my entire life: the Church as manifested in its dogmas, laws, disciplines, institutions, in both greater and lesser things, even in the design of a priest’s vestments.”
If his eyes rested, for example, on the celebration of the Mass, he would analyse the gestures, the measured pace with which the priest and the acolytes would move about the sanctuary, the bow they would make while praying the Confiteor, the splendid colours of the adornments… And he would ask himself: “Who invented this? Who was that man who first determined that things must be done in this way at Mass? It was not a man; it was the Church!” And from a single detail he would arrive at a solid understanding, permitting him to enter further into the spirit of the Church. “Only later did I come to know that the soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit. He, present in all of those manifestations, suggested to the men of the Church down through the centuries that they choose those wonders. It is He who caused these reflections of God to be born in the Church.”
In sum, the enchantments of Dr. Plinio were not restricted to one or another aspect of the Church; rather, everything to do with it was divine to him, and he did not fail to love anything…
“My spirit was fortunately incapable of functioning except in accordance with Our Lord and with the Church. Because that is the only standard by which all things can be properly evaluated. […] I realize that I do not see, and the little that I do see, I see better by looking through it; and it is through it that I can see everything! It was thus that I was able to remain faithful; it was thus that I acquired wisdom. It was not through a composition of my own mind. With what love do I say it: it was learned from the Catholic Church, just as a son learns in the arms of his mother. Without the Catholic Church, this son would not have had any wisdom at all. Everything comes from her: grace, teaching, everything!”
A life distinguished by fidelity to the Church
The author saw Dr. Plinio moved to tears for only two reasons: on certain occasions, due to the remembrance of Dona Lucilia, especially soon after her passing away; and on others, with regard to the Holy Church. Of these, the three most striking moments were, undoubtedly: when, at the end of the 1950s, he withdrew to a small room at the back of the house where he habitually gathered with his followers, and wept long and copiously, foreseeing with his discernment of spirits, the difficult times that lay ahead for the Church; during Holy Week of 1966, speaking once again on the sufferings afflicting her; and, finally, on June 7 of 1978, the anniversary of his Baptism, on hearing himself referred to as a son and fruit of the Holy Church, “vir catholicus, et totus apostolicus, et ‘totissimus’ romanus.”4 This tribute enraptured his heart, for it was, in his estimation, what could most cause him honour, joy and glory.
The celebration of Holy Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Caieiras (Brazil)
The words he uttered on this last occasion are not a rigorous doctrinal description of the Church, but they express the poetry of a man who speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit, as one in deep and direct contemplation of the Church:
“That Church which I love so much, that I become unable to speak of it. And simply in pronouncing its name, I am unable to go on speaking the world of praises and of love which exists in my soul. […] If someday it were to die, I would die loving it with a love that has tones of adoration. But when I were to see it dying, I would also die, because life would be nothing any more. My very bones would disarticulate; my entire life would be undone, because the sun would be no more: the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church.”
At that moment he sought to explain the reason for his tears. The author believes that this strong emotion overcame him because the grace of his union with it was so powerful, authentic and irresistible, that in his heart there remained no space for anything else, like St. Teresa of Avila whose intense love of God caused her to feel her soul imprisoned in her body. Such was the love Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira had for the Church during his long and luminous life, an ever-growing love unfolding in a thousand flashes. ◊
Taken, with minor adaptations, from:
O dom de sabedoria na mente, vida e obra de
[The Gift of Wisdom in the Mind, Life and Work of ]
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Città del Vaticano-São Paulo: LEV;
Lumen Sapientiæ, 2016, v.I, p.211-222
1 Cf. ROYO MARÍN, OP, Antonio. Teología de la perfección cristiana. Madrid: BAC, 2006, p.741; ARINTERO, OP, Juan González. La evolución mística. Madrid: BAC, 1952, p.481, nota 1.
2 The essential element of mystical marriage is the permanent and indissoluble union with God, which has as its principle the simple possession of the state of grace (cf. ROYO MARÍN, op. cit., p.741-743).
3 Cf. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiae. I, q.8, a.3.
4 From the Latin: “A Catholic man, entirely apostolic and fully Roman.”