“Prophecy” Adrian von Ziegler, from the album “Feather and Skull”, (2013)
Nothing in the history of mankind was smaller and more humble in its beginnings than the kingdom of heaven. It’s founder was born in a stable, in abject poverty. He grew up in poverty, and worked as a humble carpenter for the first 30 years of his life, unrecognized and completely unknown.
He completed his mission, the mission for which he came into the world, in only 3 years of preaching to poor people. His doctrine was so simple that even the unlearned peasants could understand it. His public life ended in his murder by the religious and civil authorities of his day.
When Jesus died the Church was established by a mere dozen ordinary men gathered about a humble peasant woman, Mary. But this tiny core grew with such vitality that in only a few years it spread into all the countries of the vast Roman Empire.
This growth, unfolding in spite of vigorous persecution, started in the hearts of the Virgin Mary and a few poor fishermen and unfolded over a few centuries into a gigantic tree, extending its branches into all regions of the globe, with people of every tongue and nation taking shelter in its shade.
The Church is more than just a society of men. As Hilaire Belloc famously wrote: “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”
Harsh sentiments indeed but a harsh truth withal. How is it than only one institution in the history of mankind has lasted through the millennia?
For example, (All Hail the mighty Wikipedia) we can trace one civilizational (is that a word?) line, the Mycenaean civilization emerging in circa 1600 BC. Around 1100–1050 BC, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities like Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns were sacked and the region entered what historians see as a “dark age”.
During this period, Greece experienced a decline in population and literacy. Ancient Greece refers to a period of Greek history that lasted from this dark age to the end of antiquity (circa 600 AD). In common usage it refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire.
Traditionally, the Ancient Greek period was taken to begin with the date of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, and the traditional date for the end of the Classical Greek period is the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, so roughly 4 or 5 hundred years (give or take a few hundred years) depending upon which “historian” one is following on any given day.
The Roman Republic and the mighty Roman Empire dates from about 500 BC (Republic) until 1453 AD (fall of Constantinople). The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. , with large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Africa and Asia.
The city of Rome was the largest city in the world c. 100 BC – c. AD 400, with Constantinople (New Rome) becoming the largest around AD 500, and the Empire’s populace grew to an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants (roughly 20% of the world’s population at the time).
The 500-year-old republic which preceded it was severely destabilized in a series of civil wars and political conflict, during which Julius Caesar was appointed as perpetual dictator and then assassinated in 44 BC. Civil wars and executions continued, culminating in the victory of Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the annexation of Egypt.
Octavian’s power was then unassailable and in 27 BC the Roman Senate formally granted him overarching power and the new title Augustus, effectively marking the end of the Roman Republic. The imperial period of Rome lasted approximately 1,500 years compared to the 500 years of the Republican era. The first two centuries of the empire’s existence were a period of unprecedented political stability and prosperity known as the Pax Romana, or “Roman Peace”.
Anyway, the point of that little history lesson about the typical chaos of human affairs in all societies, institutions and civilizations is to illustrate the passing nature of even the most robust human efforts.
With only a little mental effort, in some other alternate history where human civilizations are less fragile and less prone to collapse, we can imagine us still speaking ancient Greek “Mycenaean” in an everlasting Mycenaean world civilization, or maybe some ancient Chinese tongue in another “time line”.
And of course, the chaos of “modern times” points to ever increasing self-destructive imperative as we become more “advanced and more efficient” in our killing and destruction of each other.
What is different about the Church, the mystical body of Christ? What’s different is that the Church is more than merely a society of men, but rather a society of men who have for their Head, Jesus, the son of God; the Church is the whole Christ, that is, Jesus and the faithful incorporated in Him, and forming one Body with Him.
Occam’s Razor points to the simplest, most likely, explanation, that being that the Church is in fact NOT a human institution.