She is Black; but She is Beautiful

Here’s the beginning of a lovely meditation on the Church, by Anthony Esolen:

When Dante rises with his guide Beatrice to the circle of the lovers, symbolized in Paradise by the planet Venus, he is told that the most brilliant and most deeply blessed of all the souls in that realm is Rahab, the harlot of Jerusalem who housed Joshua’s spies and assisted the children of Israel in their conquest of Canaan. That the harlot should be so exalted is no surprise. The fathers of the Church had long seen in Rahab a foreshadowing of the Church, the bride who would share in the triumph of the new Joshua, Jesus, who alone can bring his people into the ultimate land flowing with milk and honey.

Is the Church then a harlot? No, and yes. The Church is like the bride in the Song of Songs, black but beautiful; dwelling amid suffering and sin, and yet blessed and redeemed by her spouse. She is a temple built up with the bricks of truth and mortared with the blood of the martyrs. She is also a market, wherein sinners hawk their wares. She stands faithfully at the foot of the Cross, looking upon the bridegroom who gave His life to make her pure. She also wanders off into the alleys and the dark corners of the city of man, leaving Calvary far behind. She is of divine institution; and every single man and woman who belongs to her is a sinner, including those who have led her down through the ages.

I love this Church, this bride, this sheepfold, this ark, this glorious cathedral. . . .

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