Several days ago, I (Neil) posted on the question “What is the Laity?” Fred from Deep Furrows generously responded and we carried on a very interesting discussion (I will post more on Nicholas Boyle and Hans Urs von Balthasar in a few weeks, when I can cite Boyle directly). Fred also undertook to answer the original question with a “different perspective” and I would like to repost his answer here for our edification and with gratitude:
I would like to address this question drawing upon two points from Balthasar.
First, Balthasar sees secular institutes as drawing lay and cleric together: “here the two converge into one: the world’s movement toward God and God’s incarnational movement into the heart of the world” (The Laity and the Life of the Counsels, 160). If you don’t grasp the lay character of secular institutes, you will totally miss Balthasar’s discovery of the distinctive role of the laity. The Christian task, the lay task, is to follow the counsels of Christ – members of secular institutes do this directly and married people do this by analogy, following the spirit of the counsels.
Second, Balthasar sees the lay state as being the goal of the ministerial state. The point of Christ’s Incarnation is that everything that exists sacramentally wants to penetrate the world as yeast penetrates dough:
“All Christian activity is the incarnation of the invisible grace in the visibility of the world: the activity of parents for their children; of the educators who have to give form to the noblest material; of the doctors, lawyers and judges, thinkers and planners, authors, publishers, and booksellers. The material that all these employ is worldly and, as such, is both Christian and non-Christian. Their Christian working – the sowing of the seed, the kneading of the dough, healing and raising up, judging and evaluating, separating and uniting, clearing the ground and planting anew – is all the working of the Church in the field where she is truly at home: the world.
Truth and life display themselves in this activity in a progressive incarnation: with the new answers there continually arise new questions, and the layman must encounter these in his free responsibility and power of making decisions in his maturity. In this, he will pay heed to, and follow, the directives of the Church’s ministry; but the ministry and its representatives will remain in a genuine dialogue with the truth that is brought forth, developed, experienced, and very often won only at the cost of hard suffering in the sphere of life” (Spouse of the Word, 328-329).
How does one wield power? through obedience.
How does one manage wealth? through poverty.
How does one relate to others? through virginity that is fecund.
What is the lay task? To make Jesus Christ present in the world. This includes the cultural work of forming the world.
This task is not only bearing Christ to the world, but discerning the value that is there even in forms that are not explicitly Christian and offering these forms up to the Father in Christ – because Christ has already conquered the world (see Ephesians, Colossians).
Balthasar finds this lay task demonstrated in Reinhold Schneider’s vision of history:
“What most fascinated me in this work was the omnipresent drama of the encounter between two missions that are equally original and yet stand in a deadly mutual conflict: the mission of one who is entrusted with the task of administering the earthly realm and the mission of the saint as the real symbol of the kingdom of God that descends into the world” (Tragedy Under Grace: Reinhold Schneider and the Experience of the West, 11).
Balthasar’s Tragedy Under Grace reflects on the history of Europe, which is the history of the laity.
This post is something of a response to one at Catholic Sensibility: What are the laity for? Now, I don’t disagree with Neil’s post, but wanted to bring a different perspective to a worthy topic.