By Devin Watkins
“Like Salt and Yeast – Notes for a Theology of the Consecrated Life of the Church” hits the bookshelves of the Vatican Publishing House (LEV) on Friday, bearing a preface by Pope Francis.
The book, whose Italian-original title is “Come sale e lievito - Appunti per una teologia della Vita Consacrata della Chiesa”, was written by two Italian Franciscan priests: Fathers Valentino Natalini and Ferdinando Campana.
The authors seek to take stock of the Church’s teaching on a range of topics related to consecrated life, including consecration, prophecy, mission, liturgy, eschatology, spirituality, and holiness, and also offers reflections on the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph.
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In his preface for the new book, Pope Francis begins by laying out why the Church can be considered beautiful.
“The Church is beautiful because she is loved by her Bridegroom and Lord,” he says. “And the love of the Bridegroom has made her fruitful, beautiful and happy.”
Launching into the topic of consecrated life, the Pope points out that the Church has always been composed of three states of life: the single life, married life, and consecrated life.
He adds that these are not three separate compartments in constant competition, or even three islands in a vast ocean.
“The holy People of God discerns well when within itself it can count three brothers or three half-brothers, three enemies who ignore or fight each other, or three splendid creatures who support each other and give themselves to each other to help the other grow.”
None greater than others
Pope Francis goes on to note that throughout the Church’s history one or another of the three states of life has been held up as the best, offering a guaranteed path to holiness.
He says this tendency has often coincided with a “dark time in her human affairs”, leading to abuse and misguided claims.
The Pope adds that proponents of the consecrated life have, at various times in history, claimed a form of autonomy with respect to the other two states of life.
He says this presumption risks making the Church “a jumble of self-referential subjects, proud and presumptuous of their own prerogatives, forgetting that one arrives first when all three subjects arrive together at the goal.”
Deepening the mystery
The Pope then praises the book as written by “an experienced and proven, 90-year-old theologian who examines the Magisterium with the purity of a neophyte”, who is assisted by a younger confrere who is “a liturgist, a lover of theology and spirituality, and a long-time, dear friend of mine.”
Fathers Natalini and Campana, says Pope Francis, seek to “make the Bride more beautiful and attractive” with their book on consecrated life.
He notes that they are guided by the great Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and two Apostolic Exhortations by Pope St. John Paul II: Pastores dabo vobis on priesthood, and Christifideles laici on the laity.
Pope Francis concludes his preface expressing his desire that the text might “help us deepen our understanding of the mystery of the hierarchical Holy Mother Church.”