Vital Signs

Catholic Rome

St. Thomas Aquinas maintains that our intellect cannot grasp anything except through our senses. Recognizing this truth is essential to understanding the city of Rome and—beyond Rome—the Catholic Church, because Rome means nothing without the Church, and the Church loses her identity if is deprived of her Roman character.

The Church has five characteristics: She is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, the final characteristic both summarizes and condenses the previous ones: The Church is Roman. Her Roman character is tantamount to the Church's dimension as an institution.

The most noble description of the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ; this definition refers to the spiritual and supernatural dimension of the Church. But the Church itself has a body, an historical institution that receives life from her spirit but is as necessary as the spirit to the life of the organism as a whole. This institution is the papacy.

Today, much is said about the pope as a person, and perhaps no other pope has been the subject of as much literature as John Paul II—an exceptional figure, with such an overwhelming personality that it makes us forget about the institution behind the man. The institution is not this or that pope but the papacy—established by Jesus Christ to perpetuate His historical mission until the end of time.

The symbolic language of the Church—the...

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