Emile Mersch was one of the 20th century's greatest theologians. In fact, he probably
ranks as one of the greatest dogmatic theologians in the history of the Church. Our
failure to recognize this could be attributed to any number of external factors: his
premature death and the unfinished state of his masterpiece, the decline in interest in
dogmatic theology in the years before and after the 2nd Vatican Council, his style that
extends his Theology of the Mystical Body to over 600 pages in the slightly
abridged English edition, and so forth. But these reasons do not weigh as heavily as the
intrinsic profundity of his work coming from a penetrating theological vision that makes
more than ordinary demands on our power of understanding. In short, Mersch cultivated his
inner theological vision to the highest degree and challenges us to see along with him
into the heart of the Christian mystery.
In this first part we shall look at his life and writings in Chapter 1, and then the
content of his Theology of the Mystical Body in Chapter 2.
1: LIFE AND WRITINGS
The most accessible and complete sources of information on Emile Mersch's life and
writings are to be found in the first French edition (1) of his Theology of the
Mystical Body, and in a doctoral dissertation by Gregory Malanowski, "The
Christocentrism of Emile Mersch and Its Implications for a Theology of Church." (2)
July 30, 1890. Mersch is born at Marche in Belgium into a fervent Christian family of 4
children. He had a younger brother, Victor, who also became a Jesuit, a sister, Marie, who
died at 21, and another sister, Marie Louise, who was a religious of the Congregation of
the Helpers of Holy Souls. His father was crippled at 38, and bore his affliction
patiently until he death 13 years later saying, "As God wills. That my children may
turn out well." (3)
Emile was a good student of the humanities and loved flowers, birds, trees, local
history, and old buildings, especially the great cathedrals. Before he entered the Jesuits
he planned a trip with a friend to visit the French cathedrals. When his friend couldn't
go, he went alone, but returned after 3 days since he found it no fun that way.
September 1907. He enters the novitiate of the Company of Jesus at Arlon.
1910-1913. He studies philosophy for 3 years at Louvain with Pierre Scheuer and is
influenced by Joseph Maréchal, both founders of the transcendental movement in Thomism.
(4) His early inclinations towards the natural sciences are supplanted by a deepening
interest in philosophy and theology.
1914-1918. Theological studies at Brussels and Louvain with Pierre Charles and Paul
May 20, 1917. Ordained by Cardinal Mercier.
October 28 and November 4, 1917. Mersch gives to his fellow theological students and
teachers a talk on the mystical body that contains the seeds of his later work, and
incidentally arouses some of the same objections that will appear many years later when The
Theology of the Mystical Body is finally published. (5) The road from the vision to
the published book is going to be a long and difficult one.
1920. The Jesuit Superior General, Wladimir Ledochowski sends Père Bulot to speak with
Pierre Charles and Pierre Scheuer about their support for some suspected philosophical
propositions supposedly drawn from the work of Pierre Rousselot's Les yeux de la foi.
January 24, 1920. Mersch speaks with Bulot and writes to the General in defense of
Charles and Scheuer.
August 4, 1920. Mersch receives a letter from his Provincial calling for "a new
orientation for his activities." (6) Apparently his outspokenness has counted against
him. Perhaps his bold theological speculations of 1917 are remembered, as well. Instead of
being assigned to further theological studies, or to teach theology, he is sent to teach
philosophy at Namur and take care of the lay students at the university. He accepts the
situation and continues to pursue his private studies.
1921. Mersch begins a series of articles with one that appears in the Revue
n6oscolastique called "Berkeley est-il empiriste ou spiritualiste?" that will
eventually total 48 articles with more than half of them appearing in the Nouvelle
1924. He collaborates with C. Lemaitre and A. Mativa to create a small book, Saint
Thomas d'Aquin, le théologien, le métaphysicien, le poète.
1926. He is directed to teach a course on religion to the students which gives him
scope for his priestly ministry and theological inclinations, and he enthusiastically
involves himself in creating apostolic action groups, and his students respond to his
genuine interest in them.
1925. Mersch undertakes the spiritual direction of the students at the diocesan
seminary, and later of the students at the Jesuit seminary. One of the Jesuit seminarians
later recounts how when he arrived to see him Mersch would greet him with a large smile
and joyful exclamation and immediately push aside the books and papers that covered his
desk. This is a story which illustrates both his affection for the young men in his
charge, and his dedication to his own studies.
1927. He writes L'obligation morale principe de liberté.
1928. For 7 years he will preach Days of Recollection for members of the Young
Christian Workers' Movement of Namur. He is keenly aware of the differences in temperament
among his young friends and tells them, "Each bird sings as his beak is made."
It is with these young people he feels most at ease.
1920-1929. But the goal of his theological synthesis on the mystical body never leaves
his mind. He realizes that it demands preliminary historical work to trace the history of
this idea in the Scriptures, Fathers and theologians. He makes use of the materials at
hand and spends his vacations in the better equipped libraries in Louvain. He carries his
notes with him wherever he goes, and takes advantage of whatever spare moments he has.
June 1929. He presents his historical studies to the censors of the Order. They
recommend further work, especially in the field of recent Patristic studies, which he does
with the help of P. de Ghellinck. Once again he has to persevere on the long road to the
theological work that he so much wishes to write. Le Corps mystique du Christ, Etudes
de théologie historique, finally appears in 2 volumes in 1933. It meets with
wide-spread critical acceptance, and a 2nd edition appears in 1936. An English translation
is made from this 2nd edition called The Whole Christ, and comes out in 1938.
The reviewers pick up an essential point about Mersch's intellectual work. There is
never scholarship without a desire to feed the spirit. "It is assuredly a book of
science," writes G. Bardy in La vie spirituelle, "but also a book of the
soul." (7) But it has been conceived as a preliminary chapter to his theological
synthesis, "a veritable preface", he calls it.
In this wide-ranging historical study Mersch will devote one part to the Scriptures,
especially St. John and St. Paul, a second to the Greek Fathers, and a third to Western
tradition featuring Augustine, the scholastic theologians and the French School of
Berulle. The result is that when he picks up his pen to begin the formal composition of The
Theology of the Mystical Body he has spent years deeply immersed in the history of
this idea, which has given him not only a sense of its content, but "a general
outline of the history of the development." (8)
Speaking of this kind of development in the early Fathers he writes, "Yet, despite
the important position that it occupies, it is seldom explained for its own sake and ex
professo." (9) But then he realized: "If at first sight one fails to recognize
the doctrine, the reason is not that it is absent, but that it is within. To discover its
presence a superficial glance is not sufficient; one must study, even meditate upon the
innermost meaning of Christian dogmas." (10) Or rather, "They presuppose this
truth in their explanation of dogma." (11)
The scholastics, in their turn, because of their attempts at rigorous exposition,
preferred certain aspects of the doctrine of the mystical body, but at their hands other
aspects regressed from the vigor by which they had been treated by the Fathers, and their
remarks on this subject were often lost in the vastnesses of their summas.
In this way Mersch gained a first-hand sense of the state of this doctrine, and he
gained, as well, some sense of what he wanted to do with his own work. He would formally
examine the mystical body, focusing directly upon it, and using it as a burning glass to
shed an intense light on the unity of the Christian mystery. The time was finally ripe.
1929-1935. The stage is set for the writing of The Theology of the Mystical Body,
which J. Levie, one of the editors of the 1st edition, rightly calls, "the true end
of all his works." (12) The lst version appears during these years.
August, 1935. Relieved of his duties of teaching philosophy he is sent to Louvain to
dedicate himself to his work. A 2nd version occupies him from 1935 to the beginning of
1936. He writes "Amour, mariage, chasteté" as an article which appears in
English as a small book, Love, Marriage, Chastity in 1939.
1937. Having considered a synthesis of moral theology in the light of the mystical
body, he settles for collecting a number of his articles which appear as Morale et
Corps mystique, and he prepares a 2nd edition of this work in 1939. In that same year
an English translation appears as Morality and the Mystical Body.
1940. He begins a more concise and scholastically rigorous final version which he was
close to finishing in May. He tells his confreres that he has condensed and shortened and
virtually finished the final version, but has yet to write the final conclusion and work
on chapters XVI, XX and XXI.
May 10, 1940. The phony war ends when the Nazi armies attack Holland and Belgium.
May 13, 1940. Panzer units advancing through the Ardennes cross the Meuse at Sedan into
France, and start driving for the Channel, a path that will lead them to Dunkirk.
May 14, 1940. Mersch is ordered by his superiors to leave Louvain and, by way of
France, to go to the Isle of Jersey, a route already being cut by the German forces. At
Tournai he is put in charge of some elderly fathers. Heavy bombing causes them to leave.
May 18, 1940. Mersch in an English automobile arrives at the French border at one p.m.
The unexpected German advance has created chaos, and it is difficult to find
transportation. He leaves most of the old priests in neighboring villages, and he takes
the two weakest, saying to the others, "The good God has only given me two
arms." The three of them join a Madame Juste, the wife of a military doctor, her
parents and children. With ten people jammed in the car and Mersch standing on the running
board, they proceed into France.
The countryside is in panic, waiting for the Nazi forces to appear. At the village of
Orchies Mersch, dressed in his clerical garb, asks some soldiers directions, and he is
arrested as a potential spy. He tells Madame Juste to go on without him lest they all lose
their chance to escape, and he asks her to put the two old priests, Henri Fallon and Bruno
Lefevre, in the hospital at Douai, or some rectory in the town until he can catch up. And
he tells Fr. Fallon to take special care of his two suitcases and leather briefcase which
contain the manuscript of The Theology of the Mystical Body.
May 23, 1940. Mersch has been released and says Mass at Raches, having arrived at Lens
the previous evening. The town is being bombed. At about 2:30 p.m. two soldiers arrive at
the rectory where he is staying with the report of wounded not far away. Mersch goes off
to tend them and is never seen alive again. At 4:30 p.m. his body is seen lying along the
side of the road to Douai, apparently a victim of the bombing, though a story later
circulates that he was killed by robbers.
Meanwhile, on May 20th, Madame Juste has arrived at Saint-Pol around 11:00 a.m. and has
stopped by the house of M. Leleux, 101 rue de Bethune. The French military accuse the two
old priests of being spies and interrogate them in the house of one M. Hamon. Fr. Lefevre
is 82, and Fr. Fallon, 72! The interrogation is cut short by the arrival of the Germans.
Fr. Fallon sits down on the side of the road with the leather briefcase and Mersch's two
suitcases. Fr. Lefevre wanders off. On May 21st he is found by a passing priest, to whom
he incoherently talks about Mersch, who takes him to the hospice of the Sisters of St.
Vincent de Paul, where he dies on May 22nd. Later that same day the same priest, Abbe G.
Brisors, is ten minutes from the center of town on the road to Bethune when he comes
across a body propped up against a large electric spool and covered with a coat and hat.
He looks at the man's face and seems to remember him. He looks in the leather briefcase
sitting beside him and sees it is crammed with cheap school children's notebooks. He takes
one out and sees that Mersch's name is on the cover, and he imagines that this is Fr.
Mersch, whom he had once had as a retreat master. He makes no mention of the two
suitcases, which had probably already disappeared. Most likely the briefcase was left by
whoever took the suitcases, for the notebooks would have appeared worthless in contrast to
the personal effects in the suitcases. In this way, Mersch dies, and part of his final
manuscript disappears, never to be seen again. He is buried at Lens, and later his body,
with those of his two companions, is moved to the cemetery of Bricniot at Namur. (13)
THE EDITING OF THE THEOLOGY
OF THE MYSTICAL BODY
After the death of Mersch his editors, Jean Levie, André Wankenne, René Thibaut and
José de Wolf faced a formidable task. (14) Eleven chapters of the final draft were found
in the leather briefcase: I, III, IV and V (these two appear as IV, Parts I and II in the
Ist edition), VI and VIII (which appear as V, parts I and III in the 1st edition), and
what will become chapters VI, VII, X, XI and XIX. Chapters IX and XIII had already been
published as articles, while a proposed chapter on the Old Testament had never been
written, nor had the conclusion, and the book had no title.
Chapters II, VII (chapter V, Part II in the Ist edition), XII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII,
XVIII, XX and XXI apparently disappeared in the two suitcases. To make up for this lack
the editors fell back on the 1935-1939 version. But the travail of the editors was not
over. The 1935-1939 version, itself, had problems. Of the ten lost chapters in the final
version, only chapters II, VI, part II, and XII were complete. The others had omissions.
Mersch hand-wrote his manuscripts and did not like to repeat himself. He would cut out
citations and pieces of text and paste them in the new version. So to supply the lacks as
much as possible, the editors turned to the 1929-1935 version, indicating insertions from
this version in the text of the Ist edition. And when even this failed, they indicated
their best judgment of what the omission probably contained.
Finally they looked at the length of Book I, which formed the philosophical and
theological introduction, and decided to abridge chapters IV and V on the human
consciousness of Christ, and chapters VI, VII and VIII, which was Mersch's treatment of
the unity of the human race from a philosophical point of view. They reasoned that
Mersch's readers would be impatient with the delay in reaching his properly theological
exposition, but as Fr. Levie notes, Mersch "seemed to have developed the subject for
itself without limiting himself to only the aspects of interest to the theology of the
mystical body." (15) Perhaps this indicates something of the ambivalence the editors
felt in shortening the text this way.
To compound all these problems, Mersch's handwriting left much to be desired. Levie
describes it as "small, rapid, irregular, omitting points, accents, any signs of
punctuation, often cutting off the last letters of the words, some of the most difficult
handwriting we have ever encountered." (16)
The critical question, however, is whether Mersch's work has been dealt a fatal blow by
the fate that befell it. I don't believe that it has. There was a certain built-in
redundancy in Mersch's style. Mersch knew he tended to go on. He left notes to himself in
the margins of earlier versions to tighten up the text, but what caused him to go on was
not long-windedness. It stemmed from his highly intuitive nature. "More intuitive
than dialectician," Levie explains it, "he attempts to show, to make it be seen
more than to prove or deduce." (17) Mersch aims at and becomes enthralled with the
central point, the inner vision, and then he tries to express it, first in one way and
then in another. He ends up circumambulating it, and if the final result is somewhat long,
the central vision shines forth, and a certain redundancy, as I said, is built into the
text. A fully finalized version from Mersch's hand would have been wonderful: more
concise, more rigorous in scholastic expression, but what we have contains the essence of
his theological vision. This built-in redundancy cushions the damage of the loss of some
of the chapters of the final version. The 1st French edition appeared in two volumes in
1944, with subsequent editions following in 1946, 1949 and 1954.
In 1951 an English translation, the work of Cyril Vollert, S.J. appeared, and this is
the version we will be citing in the next chapter. Fr. Vollert reasoned that scholars
would go to the Ist French edition, so he stripped away most of its critical apparatus,
making less evident the major problems that the French editors had tried to overcome.
There is still ample room for a truly critical edition of Mersch's Theology of the
Mystical Body, which would take into account what appear to be large differences in
the text of the various versions, and there is room, as well, for a more detailed study of
Mersch's life. A dozen or so archival boxes of Mersch's papers still exist in Brussels in
the Jesuit Archives of the southern Belgium province. They include the various drafts of La
théologie du corps mystique, the handwriting, indeed impenetrable to the ordinary
reader, various sermons and retreats, extracts of spiritual notes and letters of
direction, extracts of letters, an Enchiridion Metaphysicum apparently Mersch's school
notes - letters, the reports of the censors of the Order, various manuscripts, as well as
notes and correspondence about his death. Material well worth a careful examination to
shed more light on the life and inner creative processes of such a brilliant theologian.
THE THEOLOGY OF THE MYSTICAL BODY
While this condensation of Mersch's Theology of the Mystical Body is in no way
to suggest that we forego a direct reading of his book, it can perhaps serve as an
introduction to it. Mersch was keenly aware that he was constrained to analyze the various
dogmas, one after another, when what he was aiming at was a synthesis in which all of them
radiated out from the truth of the whole Christ. "Inevitably," he writes in the
Preface, when the reader "comes to the last page of the book, he will have lost sight
of points made at the beginning; yet such truths will not receive their full illumination
till the end." (1) Mersch diffidently suggests that the remedy might be to read the
book again, and I hope that this chapter will serve as an orientation to that kind of
THEOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL INTRODUCTION
The first three chapters of The Theology of the Mystical Body are quite
straightforward and can be summarized in three interconnected ideas: as Christians we
should think boldly and lovingly about the divine mysteries; theology is a search for the
unity of these mysteries, and this unity is to be found in the whole Christ, both head and
CHAPTER 1: THE UNDERSTANDING
AND SUPERNATURAL TRUTHS
We will not find in Mersch any of the fearfulness and timidity that sometimes afflicts
Christians when they face the prospect of truly thinking about their faith. Far from
thinking being in opposition to faith, it demands it, and Mersch makes his own the
statement of Augustine, "If faith is not charged with thought it is nothing."
But neither will we find in him any trace of a theology pursued as if it were meant to
be a display of human ingenuity decked out in the latest intellectual fashion. Rather, it
is reason enlightened and guided by faith which is to make a wholehearted attempt to
understand the divine mysteries, even "what is mysterious in the mysteries" (3)
that faith has put it in contact with.
Mersch takes as his starting point in exploring the nature of theology the tersely
worded summary of the Ist Vatican Council: "When reason, enlightened by faith, seeks
earnestly, piously, and calmly, by God's gift it attains some understanding of mysteries,
and indeed a most fruitful understanding: partly from analogy with truths it knows
naturally, partly from the relations of the mysteries with one another and with man's last
end." (4) And he reads this text with the intellectual exuberance of someone who
feels himself free to throw himself without reserve into his quest for some understanding
of the mysteries of faith that are at the center of his life. He exclaims again with
Augustine, "Love understanding intensely!" (5)
Mersch's credo is, "Think! Think with all your power, with all your love, with all
your loyalty." (6) To think with love is an essential part of letting our thought be
illumined by faith. We cannot truly penetrate into these divine mysteries which, above
all, are mysteries of love and union unless we love and let our thought be guided by that
love. This is an understanding that comes from our union with Christ and rests on what he
will later describe as the "being of union" that Christ's humanity possesses.
CHAPTER II: THEOLOGY AS SCIENCE
AND AS SEARCH FOR UNITY
In this chapter the guiding thought is provided by St. Thomas, "Everything is
intelligible insofar as it is one." (8) The search for the deepest understanding in
theology is at the same time a search for unity. Mersch is driven by his thirst to see the
source from which all the divine mysteries flow, to search for the "unity intrinsic
to revelation," "the ultimate principle of theology." (9) He will probe
"the relations of the mysteries with one another" until he has arrived at the
luminous center from which they all radiate.
CHAPTER III: UNITY AND
THEOLOGY: THE WHOLE CHRIST
"(W)hat is the unity of dogma? What is the center around which the whole is
organized"? (10) It is none other than Christ, both God and man, head and members,
the whole Christ. And this unity is not just a simple unity of common beliefs and assent,
but a mysterious ontological one, a "super-real" unity. (11) The unity of
theology, and hence its deepest understanding, is to be found in Christ and in the deepest
mysteries of his personality.
CHAPTER IV: UNITY: THE HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
OF CHRIST AND THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRISTIANS
Until now it has been relatively easy to follow Mersch on his voyage of discovery. From
the 70 pages or so of the first three chapters we have extracted three closely linked
ideas: as Christians we should love to understand, and this means a search for the unity
of theology which is to be found in the depths of the God-man Jesus.
But now our going becomes more difficult. In this chapter which existed in two chapters
in the original manuscript, Mersch's leisurely pace is greatly accelerated. He has shown
that the unity of theology is Christ, but now he refines this insight further. The center
of this unity is "Christ consciousness, his human consciousness" (12) and it is
as if in saying this his mind becomes inflamed.
Consciousness is an intrinsic dimension of being itself, "a way of existing
fully." (13) The more something is, the more it is present to itself. The very source
and mystery of existence, who is God, must be completely conscious of himself and all
In contrast, we receive existence from God, and it is an existence very much bound up
with the fact that our spirits are profoundly united to matter, and through matter with
the whole material universe, and profoundly united to all other human spirits. Our
consciousness follows upon this particular kind of human existence and strives to expand
itself by understanding our relationship to all these other realities.
If the whole mystery of Christianity is to be found in the God-man, and if
consciousness is an intrinsic aspect of spiritual being, then what will the human
consciousness of Jesus be? It will be the very "first principle in the supernatural
order" (14) and the very "doctrine taught by Christianity." (15) If we are
to be Christians we must enter into this consciousness and share in it. On a supernatural
plane this consciousness must become the very "consciousness of our
Mersch has gazed into the depths of the Christian mysteries and glimpsed how all of
them are rooted in Christ, indeed, in the very consciousness of his humanity. The rest of
the book will be devoted to exploring just what that means.
CHAPTER V: THE TEACHING OF
PHILOSOPHY ON MAN AND HIS UNITY
This chapter, like the proceeding one, has been condensed, this time from three
chapters in the original draft, which is an indication of the importance it had in
Mersch's mind. At first glance we might wonder why this was so, for it is a chapter
devoted to philosophy rather than theology. But a moment's reflection allows us to grasp
Mersch's strategy. How can we understand our union with Christ that comes through his
humanity if we fail to grasp the mysterious nature of the unity of mankind of which it is
a supernatural intensification? The idea of the natural unity of mankind, understood in a
metaphysical way, is at first strange to us, for it is a topic not often discussed in
depth, but Mersch has understood its importance and gone further in exploring it than
anyone else I know.
"Man is a certain immensity. In his relation to the universe he is more than a
part: he is a center, a totality, a culmination." (17) "(W)ithout man the
universe is truncated and inexplicable: it has no center, no ultimate, no issue. It is
nowhere conscious; therefore at no point does it take possession of its own being, and so
it does not exist intrinsically... Man is the intrinsic end of the world, and is the
relatively last end for the world." (18)
But he is this intrinsic end in virtue of his spirit which is profoundly united to
matter, and through the body to the universe so that the universe, itself, enters the soul
and "the soul's thought is, in a very real sense, the thought of the universe."
(19) It is in terms of the human spirit, or spiritual form and its union with matter that
Mersch describes first the unity of the universe in man, and then the unity of all mankind
in every man. Following St. Thomas, Mersch sees that the human form is the very last among
the spiritual forms. If it existed as a purely spiritual form without matter, it would be
one, and contain in itself all the qualities of the material things which we see in the
universe, and all the positive qualities we see in mankind. But in actual fact such a
unitary human form is impossible. The human form, while spiritual, is meant to be united
to matter, and matter means multiplicity so that the universe culminates, not in one human
being, but in the human race.
Each human being only becomes fully human in becoming one with the universe and the
whole of mankind. This takes place through memory and imagination, and in a deeper way
through intellectual understanding which is "capable of expressing the very being of
the object it knows, and therefore to have an ontological immensity of an absolute
order." (20) And what the human intelligence is most geared to know is other human
beings and, indeed, it must know them in order to be fully itself.
All human beings participate in what it means to be human. They have this or that
concrete human form, which is a partial reflection of the full meaning of the human race,
and therefore, "all men are one through their form." (21) Each human being,
through their human form, which is the very principle of their human consciousness, is
intimately connected with every other human. Paradoxically, the very spiritual nature
which makes us most ourselves in knowledge and love, and in the self-possession of being
we call consciousness, unites us to all other humans in their intimate personal depths,
and unites us, as well, to the entire universe.
I can't overemphasize the importance of what Mersch is saying. By reflecting on the
very human soul, or form, he glimpses its interconnectedness with the universe and with
every other human being. This connection is not simply extrinsic, as if we sensed or
imagined or thought the universe and the rest of mankind from the outside. it is
intrinsic. The very nature of the human spirit as the least and last in the hierarchy of
spiritual forms demands union with matter in order to actualize itself, or put in other
words, it demands the whole universe in order to become itself, and at the same time it
demands to be united with every other human being. True spiritual awareness and
self-possession, far from leading to egotism and selfishness, requires our presence to
other human persons in their depths.
These powerful reflections allow Mersch to conclude by examining a topic that is rarely
ever talked about: the natural end of mankind, a natural escatology, which is "man
such as no one has ever imagined him; man as completely man." (22) This is the human
race in a state of realized unity in which it is closest to God by being what God meant it
to be. Each individual human being becomes himself by being united with the rest of
mankind that shares the same nature. This union with others will be definitively realized
in death, which will allow each , person to "have a revelation of his human immensity
and of other human immensities that are interior to themselves and one another." (23)
After death we will possess ourselves fully in our own consciousness, but again, far from
this sealing us up within ourselves, it demands that we be present to the very
consciousness of others. It will be through this communion of consciousnesses that we will
know God as the author of this tremendous mystery, which is humankind.
What Mersch is doing in this chapter is allowing us to see something of the splendor of
the human race, which we are all too often blind to. Instead of us feeling like
insignificant parts of a giant mass of humanity, each of us is a center of the human race,
and each of us by our very form and spiritual consciousness is called to realize our deep
communion with the universe, and with the whole human race.
Mersch is pioneering here a metaphysics of human unity that manifests its full stature
in the natural end of mankind, and as fascinating as this exploration is, he is carrying
it out as an indispensable prerequisite for his attempt to understand the humanity of
Chapter V completes Book One which can be summarized as follows: Love understanding,
and search for the unity of theology, which is to be found in the whole Christ, and more
precisely, in the human consciousness of Jesus. But if we are going to understand Jesus'
consciousness, we have to understand the mystery of what it means to be a human being,
both in relationship to the universe and to the whole human race.
BOOK TWO: THE COMING OF CHRIST
CHAPTER VI: CREATION
Mersch clearly distinguishes between the natural knowledge we can have of creation and
creation as a supernaturally revealed truth. In the first, we arrive at some idea of the
creator by examining the things around us. With the second, we see the universe as a gift
from our loving Father. In the first kind of knowledge we do gain some idea of God as the
maker of all things, but we have no idea of God as Trinity, while in the second we are in
the context of the Trinity.
When Mersch takes the second perspective, he is immediately faced with a thorny
question that has vexed theologians for centuries. How does the coming of Christ relate to
creation and the state of original justice of the human race? When God created the
universe and gave supernatural life to our first parents, did He have the Incarnation in
mind, or put in a negative fashion, if there had been no original sin, would Jesus have
If we say that the purpose of the coming of Jesus was to bring about redemption, then
how can creation and our original supernatural life be intrinsically related to Him? If
the Incarnation is due to sin, how can it be the culmination and very center of the human
These questions are all the more real to Mersch because his avowed purpose is to bring
all the dogmas in relationship to Christ. He tries to embrace both positions: "The
decision that decrees creation was one of the phases of the single decree that willed the
Incarnation." (24) And a little further on he writes, "Nothing indicates that
the Incarnation would have taken place without sin... At the same time, the Incarnation is
willed for itself, for a redemptive Incarnation is but an Incarnation pushed to the
extreme; the Incarnation is an act in which God gives Himself, and when God gives Himself
to sinners, He gives Himself the more generously." (25)
This same problem appears in a slightly different guise when Mersch looks at the
question of original justice. "No doubt sanctifying grace in this original period was
not quite the same as ours. It had no sin to efface and was not the grace of the redeemer
as such. Yet, if what we have said is correct, it was given solely in view of the God-man
who was to come." (26)
Mersch has his eye on his exploration of the human consciousness of Jesus, even while
he struggles with these issues: "If, as we shall bring out later, a divinization is
incomprehensible without a literal and substantial union with God, we have to conclude
that in Adam too it was impossible without such a union. This does not mean, evidently,
that Adam received the hypostatic union. Nor does it mean, if Adam had not sinned, a
God-man would have been born of his race, that is, a God-man free from suffering and
wholely glorious. For, in the hypothesis we are discussing, Adam was chosen as the first
sinner and as a man to be restored; the question of what would have happened had he not
sinned does not arise. We mean only that Adam was willed as the ancestor of the race from
which Christ was to issue, and hence as the ancestor of a divinized race." (27)
Mersch is struggling here, and the struggle will continue in the next chapter when he
takes up the question of original sin. In what sense is it possible to say that Adam was
chosen as the first sinner, and isn't it possible to ask what would have happened if he
had not sinned, and what sense can we make out of Adam having a substantial union with God
when, as we will see, Mersch's whole vision of our supernatural being is founded on the
union of the sacred humanity with the Word?
CHAPTER VII: ORIGINAL SIN
Mersch is keenly aware of the deficiencies of the traditional ways of explaining
original sin. They stem, in part, from the intrinsic difficulty of the problem. How can
the sin of Adam be imputed to us when we did not commit it? If we try to mitigate the
problem by minimizing the nature of original sin, itself, we are faced with the words of
the Council of Trent that declares that we have received from Adam a sin which is the
death of the soul. Further, if there is no original sin, then exactly what is Jesus
redeeming us from? Still further, human experience teaches us that there is something
seriously wrong inside ourselves and in the human race as a whole that gives rise to the
most horrible crimes.
But the problem remains: how can a sin be a sin if we had nothing to do with committing
it? Mersch is tempted to ask: "How could I have committed a sin if I was not
born?" (28) One attempt to resolve this dilemma has been to create a juridical
explanation in which sin is imputed to us by God because of the sin of Adam. But this is
not very palatable. How can we be held accountable by God for a lack of grace when that
grace was a gift to our nature that God, in fact, did not give us because it was lost by
Adam? We are created by God, and so can we say that it is God, Himself, who is creating us
in this state of original sin? "The sin is said to consist precisely in this
privation (of grace); hence this consequence follows - we scarcely dare express the
thought - that it exists in Him or because of Him. It is He who, by His way of regarding
men, makes them sinners." (29)
Even St. Thomas' explanation of original sin Mersch finds incomplete. Thomas says that
original sin is transmitted to us by way of origin. We are all one with Adam inasmuch as
we have a common nature, and the disorder that we experience, which descends from Adam, is
voluntary, not by our own will, but by him "who by the motion of generation moves all
who take their origin from him... (S)o original sin is not a sin of this particular person
except so far as he receives his nature from the first parent." (30) And how does
Adam move us? Like the will moves the members of the body so that if the will commits a
crime, the hand can be said to have committed it, as well.
What is lacking here, according to Mersch, and even more so in any kind of juridical
explanation, is an understanding of "the supernatural, mystical, real, almost
organic, and in any case vital unity that can bind all men together in Adam as that sort
of unity does bind them together in Christ." (31) There is "the absence of any
explanation that might enable us to understand a certain physical, ontological presence of
all nature in Adam, a real union of all men in their first origin." (32)
Mersch sees that the dogma of original sin must be situated between a deeper
understanding of the natural unity of the human race and the supernatural unity we have in
Christ. He begins to sketch a more adequate solution. We are still called to grace,
despite the sin of Adam that lost supernatural life for us. "There is no inexplicable
divine decree declaring men sinners when they have as yet done nothing; there is nothing
but an inconceivable tenderness that continues to pursue men, whatever evil they may have
committed. The privation of grace which is their sin is but the negative expression of an
interior orientation toward the grace that God is keeping for them, and this orientation
itself is but the effect corresponding in them to the eternal offer that refuses to be
"The supernatural elevation, by supernaturally perfecting men from the social as
well as from the individual point of view, establishes a supernatural solidarity in virtue
of which a collective sin will destroy the elevation." (34) Original sin becomes a
kind of supernatural tension. God could have created the human race simply in a state of
nature, but "once it has received grace it is wounded to death when it loses grace,
because the gift has actuated splendors of life which were but possible before and which,
vanishing with the grace that departs, leaves nature bereft of what had become its supreme
necessity..." (35) Grace was a gift freely given by God, but once given it was so
supernaturally human a gift, so to speak, that it became the very center around which the
whole personality revolved. And each of us "In losing grace therefore... loses a life
that has been his own, and so this sin is for him the death of his soul." (36)
CHAPTER VIII: MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS
With a deep and sure perception Mersch grasps the root of devotion to Mary: "The
essential thing about Christ is that He is God, man, and one... The essential thing about
the Blessed Virgin is her part in making her son what He is, a causality in making Him
perfectly man." (37)
Jesus takes on human nature, not in some abstract sense, as if He found it floating in
some platonic heaven of the forms, but our nature; He becomes part of "the concrete
human race." (38) All of Mary's prerogatives flow from this fundamental fact, and at
a stroke Mersch can avoid a misplaced Marian piety that focuses on the unessentials and,
indeed, on the unknown details of Mary's life, and avoid, as well, an emotionalism that
tends to obscure her union with Jesus, and to avoid them both without in the least
diminishing his devotion to her. Indeed, he will become lyrical in praise of Mary in
showing how her role is inseparable from Jesus.
It is Mary who allows the Word to become flesh, and does so in a fully human way by
accepting in her heart and living out in her life what that union means for the whole
human race. Difficult themes like Mary as the mediatrix of graces and the dogma of the
Immaculate Conception are convincingly explained by Mersch as he unswervingly holds to his
central tenet; it is through Mary that Jesus becomes one with us in the unity of the human
race, and she does this by freely and lovingly accepting to be the mother of God, not only
in the moment of the Incarnation, but in the whole mystery of redemption so that she
becomes the mother of the whole Christ.
BOOK THREE: CHRIST
CHAPTER IX: CHRISTOLOGY AND THE MYSTICAL
Mersch draws close to the heart of his work in this chapter. His early thoughts in
Chapter IV on the human consciousness of Jesus will now be greatly expanded and deepened
in this concentrated meditation on the Incarnation. What happens to the humanity of Jesus,
he asks himself, so that it is the humanity of the Son of God? it must become Godlike, for
its deepest center is the personality of the Word, the second person of the Trinity; yet
at the same time this assumption of the human nature must make it more fully and perfectly
human, "a 'transcendent' humanization." (39) When Jesus takes our human nature,
it does not become less, but more human, and it is made more by its contact with God, the
very source of all being, and this intensification of Jesus' human nature must be
understood not only in a personal sense, but in a social one, as well, and it is an
examination of this social perspective that is going to be Mersch's special contribution.
The assumption of a human nature by the Word profoundly effects that nature, not by
making it something else, for that would destroy the very purpose of the Incarnation, but
by making it more fully and deeply human. But precisely what happens to this human nature
when it becomes the human nature of the Word? What perfection comes to it from its very
union with the second Person of the Trinity? Mersch calls this, "the great question
in all theology." (40)
The human nature of Jesus subsists with the personality of the second person, but that
very union with the Word transforms this human nature so that it has an "entity of
union." (41) just as the soul animates the body and gives it a "being of
union" so that it displays in gestures and facial expressions the riches of the human
spirit, this union with the Word makes the humanity of Jesus display the richness of
divinity. But the humanity of Jesus "does not differ from ours except in the
intensity of its existence." (42) And this intensification effects both its
individual and social aspects.
If human nature on the natural plane is already profoundly social, what will an
intensification of that nature cause it to be? Men and women by their very spiritual forms
possess a certain illimitation and universality by which they are called to be in union
with the rest of the human race. "What, then, will the form be in this Man, who is
illimitation and infinity itself?" (43) Jesus becomes the source and agent of the
divinization of mankind and the very center of the human race.
Here we approach the center of Mersch's vision; "...Christ's humanity has its
mystic fullness and illimitation through union with God, and it has its union with God
through union with the Word. Hence it is attached first and directly to the Trinitarian
life as such." (44) And this humanity, in virtue of its intimate link with us, brings
us into the life of the Trinity.
CHAPTER X: REQUISITES FOR COMPLETE
Once again, as was the case with original sin, Mersch is dissatisfied with an overly
juridical view of redemption. Even though most of the Thomist school had gotten
sidetracked into the intricacies of this juridical view, Mersch, following St. Thomas,
wants to explore the "persona mystica" we form with Christ. But before he can do
this, he has to develop his ideas on sin and death.
Sin makes us break with the infinite being and our own natures. (45) The sin that
redemption is meant to repair "is the totality of sin, that is, original sin so far
as it has penetrated into each man and has been assimilated and actuated in different
degrees through actual sins..." (46) It is this kind of sin "committed in the
order of grace and the Incarnation" (47) that Jesus came to save us from. In Adam we
had lost a social solidarity in grace that is restored in and through the humanity of
Mersch also elaborates a philosophy of death following the reflections he had begun in
Chapter V. Dying must be a free and conscious act "that crowns the series of human
acts and crystallizes it." (48) The very act of death sums up all the free acts that
went before, and if this is what happens in us, what will death be in the God-man?
CHAPTER XI: NATURE OF THE REDEMPTION
"The preceding chapter has brought out, step by step, what the redemption ought to
be. We must now consider what it actually is." (49) Mersch is going to apply two now
familiar principles to this question. First, he will have nothing to do with the
redemption that somehow remains extrinsic to us, imputed to us from the outside, in view
of the suffering and death of Jesus. Redemption is a gift of God, but it is wrought by the
God-man. If it can be said to descend from God, it also takes place in the center of
mankind through the humanity of Jesus.
The second point is precisely this social dimension. Jesus is the very center of unity
of the human race, and this is where his redemptive death has its effect. God, by a kind
of exquisite tact, allows mankind in the God-man to effect redemption, which is then
worked out in the members of his mystical body. The pain and suffering that Christians
experience are not some arbitrarily decreed punishment, but the price of reorienting the
very depths of their souls back towards God. "Sin has contorted man in such a way
that he cannot stand upright again without dislocating his bones." (50) By the
Incarnation Christ is profoundly united to a sinful race, and his redemptive death is the
way he draws this race back to the Father.
Mersch is taking us on a voyage of discovery in which the very mysteries of the faith
begin to reveal their interconnections, and could almost be said to be one mystery, and we
are seeing this multi-faceted mystery from the inside, for we are brought within it by our
union with Christ. In the case of the redemption: "Men receive this redemption, not
as a gift coming from another, but as a grace incorporating them into that other. They
receive it by becoming one with Christ..." (51) We are not simply passive recipients
of redemption, either, but active participants by our own life, suffering and death in
union with Christ.
BOOK IV: THE BLESSED TRINITY
CHAPTER XII: FILII IN FILIO: THE LIFE
IMPARTED BY THE TRINITY
Mersch is deeply rooted in the best of the theology Of the past as his historical
study, The Whole Christ, amply illustrates. But this does not prevent him from seeing
where this tradition has failed to find satisfactory expression, for example, in the case
of a too juridical view of redemption, or has not pursued a promising path like the social
dimension of the mystical body. Precisely by being keenly aware of the theological
tradition he is working out of, he can be critical of it and see when and where he is
trying to advance it. But he advances that tradition from within. He is innocent of an
egocentrism that can mar theology by excessively seeking to be up to date and to remake
all anew. While Mersch knows that tradition can ossify into a false kind of dogmatism, he
is also aware that at its best it is the effort of the Church community to understand the
divine mysteries, themselves.
In this chapter he begins by invoking the Scriptures and Fathers in regard to the
Trinity, which he sees as the central and most sublime mystery of Christianity from which
all life comes. Once he has situated himself within the best Trinitarian theology he can
find, he proceeds to write some of his most powerful pages.
He starts with a paradox. All creation, tradition says, is a work common to the three
divine persons, rather than to any particular one of them. But the same tradition also
asserts that we become the sons of God through the Son. And Mersch feels that the tension
between these two ideas has not been harnessed adequately to produce new theological
insights. His own approach is to look at the humanity of Jesus and our incorporation into
that humanity. The Incarnation can be viewed in two complementary ways. The principle of
this work is the three persons in common, but the term of it is that one of the divine
persons becomes man. It is only the Word, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, who
becomes incarnated. The human nature that is taken up by Jesus is transformed by becoming
the humanity of the second person of the Trinity. It has a new entity of union, as Mersch
puts it, a filial perfection. The deepest center of this humanity is the Son, and through
the Son, the Trinity. Mersch cites the medieval analogy in which the humanity of Jesus is
like the air that is illuminated by the sun of the divine Word. As long as the air is
united to the sunlight, it is radiant with a glory that is its own particular way of
participating in this light.
But we are one with Jesus, so we, too, are sons, not by nature, but by adoption. The
filial character of Christ's humanity becomes our own. If, as creatures, we are the result
of the action of the three persons in common, and are thus works ad extra, our union with
Jesus draws us to share in his Sonship. We become rooted in the Trinity through the
humanity of Jesus. In this way the term of our incorporation is to make us enter ad intra
into the life of the Trinity, and this perspective is Mersch's gift to the centuries long
reflection that the Church has carried on about the Trinity. The sacred humanity of Jesus,
and us as members of that humanity, are works ad extra that are drawn to the Word, and
because of their union with the Word exist ad intra and enter into the life of the
CHAPTER XIII: REVELATION AND THE TRINITY
For Mersch the whole of revelation is to be found in the humanity of Jesus. just as
ontologically this humanity is transformed by its union with the Word, so, too, in the
order of knowledge, it possesses a filial knowledge of the mystery of the Trinity, a
knowledge born of union.
The very self-awareness that Jesus has of himself as a human being finds its ultimate
termination and completion in the person of the Word. This human consciousness, in virtue
of this union with the second person, possesses a knowledge of the inner life of the
Trinity. Once again Mersch is determined to take the deepest and most central perspective.
While it is true that revelation, to be accessible to human beings, must be uttered in
words, these words are an expression of the mystery of the Incarnation, indeed, of the
mystery of the very consciousness of the humanity of Jesus inasmuch as that consciousness
is transformed by its union with the person of the Word. The humanity of Jesus has a
Trinitarian consciousness, and since we are all supernaturally one in this humanity, all
of us are called to share in that same consciousness. If our very being has been
supernaturally transformed so that we are sons by adoption, so, too, are we sons in our
very way of knowing.
Mersch has put into place the foundations for the kind of knowledge that comes through
faith. This knowledge is a share in the knowledge of the humanity of Jesus, and so it is a
"verbal" knowledge, a knowledge of the Word. Since Christians are ontologically
members of the Word, "they must be conscious of this membership in the Word."
(52) In virtue of our participation in the humanity of Jesus, we possess an inner sympathy
and connaturality with Jesus. Christ teaches us without through his words in the Gospels,
and in the life of the Church, but He also teaches us within, and this teaching within is
the very transformation that Mersch has been discussing, which allows us to grasp the full
import of the external words. This teaching within is the very process of transformation
by which we are made sons in the Son, and are given the ability to recognize in the
external words this same mystery.
CHAPTER XIV: THE HOLY SPIRIT
Mersch will now look at the role of the Holy Spirit, but always in the context of the
whole Christ, and he will follow the pattern he used to describe how the humanity of Jesus
is related through the Word to the Father, and how we, as Christians, share in that
The Son not only receives all from the Father, but together with the Father, breathes
forth the Holy Spirit. This means that the humanity of Jesus, in virtue of its union with
the Word, will not only have a filial character, but it will be the humanity of the
Spirator. "Although the assumed humanity is not the divinity nor spiration, it
subsists in Him who is the Spirator of the Holy Spirit and is truly and intrinsically the
humanity of Him from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds." (53) The reality of being the
Spirator in the humanity of Jesus is an "entity of union," a "love of
union," another of the "series of theandric realities" Mersch has been
We, too, if we are truly united to the humanity of Jesus, must share in that mysterious
reality, and somehow, in union with Him, breathe forth the Spirit. In bold, yet loving
pages, Mersch explains how the humanity of Jesus, both head and members, is the humanity
of the Spirator, and how the Church, both "possesses yet receives" (55) the Holy
Spirit. As members of the body of Christ, we are sanctified by the Spirit and are called
to help in the sanctification of others.
BOOK V: IN CHRIST
CHAPTER XV: THE SUPERNATURAL
It will come as no surprise that Mersch will deal with the supernatural by applying the
same principles he has so successfully used in the previous chapters. The first treatises
on the supernatural appear in the 16th and 17th centuries because they demanded a
"reflex judgment," (56) a new kind of consciousness that was only then emerging.
But these treatises made progress at a price which, in this case, was looking at the
supernatural in us as a work ad extra, an accident that modified us, and they did not keep
in clear focus the vital relationship between the supernatural and the humanity of Jesus,
and through that humanity the Son, and through the Son the inner life of the Trinity. This
was a theme that earlier centuries had developed, but not in a reflexive way. Mersch wants
to bridge the gap between these two perspectives, and consciously view the idea of the
supernatural in terms of the essential relationships that constitute it.
The supernatural is "of a different order," a "divinization." (57)
It does not change us into something else, but causes us to be ourselves in a deeper and
higher way. But what can be more interior to us than the very being that God has given us?
"When God has communicated Himself to a thing by the being that is interior to the
thing, He can still communicate Himself by the being that is interior to Himself."
Mersch has only to recall the main lines of his synthesis to express how this comes
about. The supernatural is our elevation in the humanity of Jesus, and all that implies.
If, as a work ad extra, it can be seen as an accident residing in us, as a work ad intra,
it is a "new type of being" that brings us into the Trinitarian life, the very
interior of being, itself. In contrast to the act of creation by which we exist, this
supernatural life comes about through a "causality of union" which gives rise to
the entity of union we met before. The idea of contingent being must be complemented with
an ontology of this new kind of supernatural being.
CHAPTER XVI: NATURE AND NOTES OF THE
As he did in studying the supernatural, Mersch does not want to study the Church in
itself, but rather, in the light of Christ, its "inner principle and cause."
(59) This is the Church as "nothing but a continuation of Christology." (60)
Like Christ's humanity, the Church has a visible, outer, empirical existence, and an
inner, mysterious one. This inner existence is one of adoptive sonship, "diffused
throughout all mankind..." (61) The notes of the Church by which it makes itself
known can also be expressed in the light of Christ's humanity. The very humanity of Jesus
in its concrete human existence shone with the light of His divinity, and there was a
harmony and connaturality between this divinized humanity and the grace working in every
person so that they could recognize in Jesus the fullness of what He was. In a similar
way, though obscured by the weakness and imperfections of its members, the Church as the
body of Christ shines with more than an earthly light and draws people to itself, or more
precisely, to Christ through it. This is the foundation of the traditional notes of the
Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. All these notes have their source in Jesus,
for the Church has no other unity or holiness or universality in space or continuity in
time than that which springs from the Incarnation.
CHAPTER XVII: THE FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH
"When we were considering the notes of the Church, we saw that Christ abides and
lives in the Church. We now go on to show that Christ thus remains in the Church to act in
it." (62) He acts in the Church by His teaching, governing and sanctifying offices,
all of which Mersch will naturally view from the point of view of the whole Christ.
The humanity of Jesus, "subsisting as it did in the Word, was in itself a human
teaching without limit, and was so great that it could not express itself fully except in
the totality of the human race." (63) It does this both in a visible and in an
invisible way, invisibly by enlightening "the consciousness of every man within"
(64) and visibly by the Church which is the continuation of Christ in space and time.
In a similar way, doctrinal development does not consist in any new content of
revelation, but in a progressively deeper assimilation by the members of the Church of the
mystery already present completely in Jesus. Faith is no intellectual timidity of
intellect, afraid to really think, but a more piercing and luminous vision that arises out
of our union with Christ and the Church. (65) In a like manner, the Church governs both
exteriorly and interiorly. This interior governing "is a charity that enables us to
evaluate, judge, will, and love in the way that is fitting for members who have been
raised to the supernatural life..." (66)
CHAPTER XVIII: SANCTIFYING OFFICE
OF THE CHURCH: THE SACRAMENTS
Mersch completes his discussion of the functions of the Church by turning to its
sanctifying role, again in the light of Christ's humanity, for all the Church's power of
sanctification flows from this source. During his life Jesus' humanity was a sign that
brought people into contact with his divinity. His "sacred humanity is the great
sacrament." (67) And this sacramentality expresses itself in all his acts, and
especially in his act of dying. The Church is the continuation of this humanity, and as
such is a sacrament, itself, and the seven sacraments are expressions of the activity of
Jesus through it.
Mersch proceeds to examine the common nature of these sacraments, and then examines
each one of them in turn, emphasizing, as is his wont, their social dimension which shows
how they are sacraments of the whole Christ, both head and members.
By baptism the Church gains new members. By confirmation these members become adult
participants in the Church, and by penance they are restored to it, while extreme unction
is penance's "consummation." (68) These four unite us to the Church, . while
marriage is the source of new members of the body of Christ, and holy orders provides the
ministry of the sacraments, but the Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence, for it is
Christ, himself, in his supreme act of dying, and the Mass makes Christ present in the
very midst of the lives of the members of the Church.
CHAPTER XIX: SANCTIFYING GRACE
The sacraments are part of the exterior structure of the Church, that is,
"interiorly animated by a supernatural life. This life is grace." (69) Once
again Mersch will not look at grace as theology often did in the past as if it somehow
existed by itself, but in relationship to the supernatural mystery of the life we have
through the humanity of Jesus. "The Blessed Trinity is the ultimate transcendent
source of all grace, and the humanity of the Word is its first interior principle."
Mersch launches into a brilliant summary of his central vision that forms the axis of
his theology of the mystical body: the humanity of Jesus, in virtue of being the humanity
of the Word, receives an entity of union which is "like a flash of intelligence that
can appear in the eyes." (71) This new way of being is the divinization of this
humanity that, far from destroying its nature, makes it to be itself more intensely by
elevating it to share in the life of the Trinity through the Word. The humanity of Jesus
is divine by union and the principle of grace, and all grace comes to us through this
humanity which is so intimately united to the human race.
Sanctifying grace, then, is our participation in the new life we have in the Trinity.
"It is our very soul as internally ennobled and elevated by the indwelling of God and
for this indwelling. Or we may say that it is the union of God in man, so far as this
union produces an 'amelioration' that perfects man's nature with a perfection that is
transcendent and supernatural, for it confers on us a sort of intrinsic proportion with
God Himself." (72) Once again Mersch calls for a new ontology to explore this new way
of being, a "meta-metaphysics" (73) which he has laid the foundation for with
the development of the idea of the entity of union.
CHAPTER XX: ACTUAL GRACE
If sanctifying grace can be looked at as a state of divinization arising from our union
with Christ, actual grace is the activation of that state even though there can be actual
graces that precede the state of sanctifying grace. Actual grace is God's elevation of our
cooperation in the process of divinization, and it comes through Christ's humanity which
needed actual grace in order to act as the humanity of the Word. This actual grace was due
to his humanity by the very fact of the Incarnation.
Our call to divinization demands a divinized activity, "a transcendent
strengthening of human energy." (74) Actual grace, itself, can be viewed as an
"entity of union" by which God elevates all our acts so they are fitting for our
new life in Christ. Mersch has no interest in analyzing actual grace as if it stood alone,
and still less in understanding it in any juridical way. In his mind both sanctifying and
actual grace can only be understood in light of the union we have in Christ, and the same
can be said for supernatural merit which is an approaching and obtaining of our