Final Examination of Andrew W. Lichtenwalner
For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Thursday, March 1, 2012 2:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125
Rev. Msgr. Paul McPartlan, S.T.L., D.Phil.
The Church as the Bride of Christ in Magisterial Teaching from Leo XIII to John Paul II
The image of the Church as the Bride of Christ is a long-standing and preeminent ecclesial image that continues to offer insights and provoke questions for ecclesiology. Interest in ecclesial bridal imagery reemerged with particular intensity in the Catholic Church in the first half of the twentieth century through the ressourcement. While the magisterium of Pope John Paul II is particularly well-known for its use of spousal imagery, there was a significant trajectory of teaching on the Church as the Bride of Christ in preceding papal and conciliar teaching. This dissertation investigates (1) the use of ecclesial bridal imagery in twentieth-century papal and conciliar teaching from Leo XIII to John Paul II, and (2) the significance and implications of such usage for ecclesiology.
The study first surveys the historical use of ecclesial bridal imagery, illustrating the image’s traditional application in various areas of theology. It then discusses the notion of metaphor in preparation for the subsequent analysis of the nature and use of ecclesial bridal imagery. An exposition of the papal and conciliar teaching follows, wherein key themes and patterns of use of bridal imagery are identified. In particular, the study finds with Pius XII’s teaching a clear shift and intensification in the use of bridal imagery. John Paul II’s use of the imagery is therefore contextualized within a broader range of previous teaching. Finally, the study evaluates the span of this usage found in twentieth-century teaching and considers its relevance for ongoing questions concerning the personhood of the Church, the relation of bodily and bridal imagery, men and women in the Church, and the Church’s identity and eschatological fulfillment.
The study concludes by considering the enduring and prophetic value of ecclesial bridal imagery. As an emblematic and irreducible metaphor, the image of the Church as the Bride of Christ offers a unique window to the mystery of the Church and discloses a dynamic and dramatic ecclesial identity meant to be lived and realized by every member of the Church.