In this section de Lubac rehearses yet another exhibit in his argument for the Christian faith as primarily social. Here again he argues from patristic history combined with Scripture (and the Fathers’ reading of it).
In the first several decades of the Church it was easy for Christians to conclude, on the basis of such passages as Mt 25, 2 Tim 4:8, and Heb 11:39-40, that final consummation of Christian joy and reward would take place only at the time of judgment at the end of the world. After all, the Faith was new enough that it was easy for them to recall every Christian generation which had passed before them.
What is interesting, however, is that, even when many generations had passed and the Church finally became aware that perhaps the return of Christ was not quite so imminent as it had previously seemed, Christians – more or less universally – still clung to the idea that all would experience final joy, or the beatific vision, together, as one community.
So much so that in the fourteenth century Benedict XII had to censor the view that departed saints had to wait until the final resurrection to enjoy the beatific vision. Now, the point here is not that Benedict XII was wrong to censure this view: he was in fact right to do so, correctly condemning this “transposition into the order of time a genuine causal dependence.” (123)
The point is this: why did the Church so doggedly insist that the beatific vision will be enjoyed by the community as a whole? The answer is that she understood deep in her bones the social nature of the Church and her salvation.
To this end de Lubac quotes St. Thomas:
The end of a reasonable creature is to attain to beatitude, and that can consist only in the Kingdom of God, which in turn is nothing other than the well-ordered society of those who enjoy the vision of God.” (Contra Gentes lib. 4, c. 50, quoted on 130)