That they may have life and have it to the full: The Church andthe sacramental economy in Holloway's thought

David Barrett FAITH Magazine September - October 2007

“That they may have life and have it to the full”: this is really a central theme to Edward Holloway’s book Catholicism: A New Synthesis. In it we see the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation and the fulfilment of the meaning of not just man but also of the whole of the material order of creation. However, that Biblical quotation from John 10:10 needs qualification. As the translation of this sentence stands, we could easily imagine that Christ comes to give us a fulfilment which is enough for us, which is our full measure, which fills up our potential as human beings. Now all that is true but it is not the full truth. What is translated as “to the full” is in Greek perission, and it would be more appropriate to translate this as “abundantly”. It is better to read the text as: “That theymay have life and have it abundantly.” Is this just a mere quibble over words? Most definitely not. For the measure that Christ comes to bestow on us is not our measure but His; it is the fullness of God’s own life and this is an abundance which excels and surpasses any fulfilment of ourselves that we could ever possibly imagine. As Holloway consistently points out, it is the only destiny God ever willed for us; even so, because it is an abundance beyond our expectations, this is a pure gift to us from God, a gift in the order of charity, and because God never acts imperfectly we find that this gift of sheer love is the greatest gift that could ever be bestowed on us[1].

It is the most that even God could give, the fullness that is Himself in the Divine and not the creature’s way of possessing God[2]. 

‘Unity Law’

It is essential to bear this perspective in mind because this ultimate end of man is what the whole sacramental economy is designed to bring about. We should also note that this end does not relegate the rest of the material order to futility, to no role at all. There is a relation between the structure of matter, the structure of man and the structure of the Incarnation, the Church and the sacraments. Those structures are summed up in what Holloway terms ‘The Unity Law of Control and Direction’. This refers to the fact that every created thing looks to a principle other than itself for final purpose and achievement of its meaning. It looks beyond itself for this fulfilment and cannot give it to itself. Its identity then is established through relation to others. If weexamine a complete being we find that it mediates overall coherence to the parts that compose it, on which it depends to be complete at all; these parts are real in themselves but they are only ultimately intelligible in relation to the whole and in themselves their structure naturally tends towards the higher unity. This is summed up lucidly in the essential principles of the Unity Law:

A thing cannot be its own cause and its own control. It must come into contact with that which it controls, but cannot be caused by it[3].

Everything stands in this relation to everything else. Holloway’s reflections on the notion of the ‘relative substance’ make precisely the same point: material things are not self-sufficient entities, complete in themselves; they have an intrinsic limitation, inherent in them because they are a moment in the history of evolution from which they receive their place and purpose. They contribute to the overall meaning of evolution but only on the basis that they have received and continue to receive their very being from this history of evolving, always unified, being[4].

When we speak of the sacramental economy, we are referring to the means that God uses to give His Divine Life to man. God is man’s Environer, his Bread and his sunshine. Like the rest of the created order, man must receive from his environment the fulfilment he needs, for which he yearns, and he can only do this by coming into direct contact with his environment. This will be given in a way that fits in with man’s nature and through the Incarnation God shows us how: His Son becomes man and He relates to us through His human nature, and this includes the flesh, since this is an intrinsic part of our ability to relate to others and also to God. It is only in relation to Christ that we gain the abundance of life for which we yearn. This life will not be mediated to us in an abstractmanner. It will be concrete and particular, at certain times and in certain places, and so it will involve recognisable rituals and at the same time visible signs which in some way will be material, for time and space are but aspects of what it means to be matter[5]. If life is to be given to our personalities, then the whole person will be involved and the means to administer that life will be adapted accordingly.

From this we begin to see more of that unified cosmic sweep from the poising of the universe to the ultimate consummation in the final resurrection. The whole of God’s plan for man and creation is characterised by a simplicity and beauty which reflect His own Being.


For Holloway, while it is true that the sacramental principle is a continuance on a higher plane of the laws that rule all creation, it is not just that.

Yes, it is profoundly in harmony with the nature of man as a unity of matter and spirit. Picture, symbol and ritual are products of this essential identity: they express the co-operation of both orders of man’s being as meaning is manifested through visible or audible forms. Indeed language itself witnesses to this: the external sounds or written formulations are arbitrary, and so “not determined in a programmed way by the environment acting upon a brain” – and this itself indicates the existence of the soul in man; at the same time in all the variety of sound between the different languages, we find that a unity of meaning is expressed through those sounds and forms. For example, the meaning of the word “dog” is still communicated even if we use the differently sounding words “chien”or “cane”. Here then the material and the spiritual co-operate in a unity so that we have “a spiritual content wrapped up first in a sound and then in a graphic symbol”[6]. Man would inevitably express himself in family and society, and ultimately in religion, by using symbol and rite.

The Incarnation, the Church and the sacraments all flow naturally from such a conception of man. However, there is one important difference and this is where we find that the sacramental principle does not just mirror man’s nature nor the rest of material creation. I said that man would even in religion express his own nature by using rite and symbol: these are manifestations after all of his spiritual and corporeal nature. With the sacramental economy we do not have man expressing himself. The principle agent at the heart of this economy is God the Son made flesh. Thus do the sacraments express the fullness of man’s true template or icon (Christ) and the abundance of life that God gives. This economy is not primarily the expression of our relationship to God but the “one and onlyplenary communication and communion of God with men”[7]. It is Christ who acts in the sacraments as the objective minister and the objective nourishment of man (thereby raising even the material universe to a status never before dreamed of, since Jesus involves it so directly in His work).

The Church

This is true also for the nature of the Church. Holloway consistently points out that the Church is not some Presbyterian gathering of believers who happen to come together because it is convenient to do so. The Church is not our work, our creation. It is the chosen instrument of Jesus Christ by which He mediates to every person and age His divine truth, divine authority and divine love. It is His work. Indeed it is more than this.

The Church is a life in Jesus Christ, not a static imputation. She extends His personality and His salvific work through time[8].

If the Church does not hand on the fullness of Christ’s revelation, His authority, truth and love, then the mission of Christ has failed and man is bereft in his very being. Many do not hold that she teaches faithfully and by His authority the truth of revelation but would nevertheless hold that the love of Christ is indeed alive today. This divides Christ and the unity of His work: He has come to give us life and this life more abundant is an ordered or truthful communion in God’s love which enhances and raises our own being. Christ was clear that He was revealing the Father’s word to mankind and that the Holy Spirit would indeed guarantee the teaching of the apostles and the Church as they hand on this word (cf. Jo hn 14:24-26). If this were not so then Christ would not have providedwisely for His flock. As Holloway writes:  

‘The scandal which is greatest is not that perplexity or heresy ravages the Church, or that the occasion of the greater sin exists beforehand, but that some men who claim and who love the Christian name, can say that the Church does not at all times, in her Palm Sundays, or upon her Cross, live the full life of Christ in mind as well as in heart, and does not possess the full and certain truth of Christ, and the authority to assert and to define it when the crisis comes[9].  

To suggest otherwise would be to have an economy of salvation which could not reach out in fullness to every human being across history. Without a divinely guaranteed proclaimer of the Gospel, we are left with individual interpretation and so the living Christ disappears behind a projected image that mirrors only the hearts and minds of fallen human beings. A divinely guaranteed means of transmission gives us the possibility of a sure encounter with the Redeemer. Anything else would be less than a divine economy: it would be untrue to the identity of man, that ardent seeker of truth, love and life, and it would not be worthy of the Divine Wisdom.

Human Communion

It is Jesus Christ who is the fullness and perfection of the Unity-Law. Just as in the act of the Incarnation He does not ignore the structure of this Law nor the structure of man, so also in the Body called the Church Christ takes account of this structure and perfects it. Man is social and so the Church too is an assembly: God gathers His People together from all the nations. The unity however is greater than that of any secular society. It is based on the Headship of Christ and our own organic union with Him effected by Him. As a result, the authority, truth and love of Christ will be handed on in and through this organic union and so will need to be tangible, evidential and enfleshed[10].  

This is an essential point. Man as this unity of body and soul can only fully meet Christ the Priest, Prophet and King in the way in which he meets and gets to know others. He meets them in certain places and at certain times (it is tangible). The communication that takes place is through real language and actions (it is enfleshed). This communication if it is true means what it says and so can be recognised (it is evidential): that is, the actions and language really do reveal in an evident and clear manner who the person is and what they mean. From this we can realise that the communication of grace is not the giving of a whole sum to man, as if the totality was bestowed on him in one act or from the beginning of man’s existence. It is given in stages and moments, referring to man’sneeds at given moments, helping to reach ever deeper into the rebellion in our hearts. It is a recognisable encounter because it involves ritual, matter, word, space and time – and to be recognisable it would have to use these as well.

This work can only be accomplished by the agency of Christ because to Him alone does it belong to be the food and life of man, present ontologically to each of His members. This work He consummated by the Sacrifice of His death and Resurrection. By this same Sacrifice represented in the Mass He gathers all men together into Himself so that they may relate to the Father in the Spirit in the same way as the Son; and by this Sacrifice they receive deliverance from sin and the fullest unity possible on earth with God and they are fully membered one to another. Finally, and perhaps most importantly,through this Sacrifice perfect praise and thanksgiving is offered to the Father. In it all is Christ the ever-living Priest, who is at the same time our Bread of life. All creation, especiallyman, finds completion in Him: “the Exemplar of the flesh is the flesh of the Word of God”[11].  

Ministerial Priesthood

In order to gather “the sons and daughters of God around the table of their Daily Bread, the Life that ever intercedes for them and begets new sons and daughters of the Father, the Bread also of life and immortality”[12] there is needed an office in the Church, a ministerial role that shares in the unique Mediatorship of Christ. He fulfilled the order of society – priest, prophet and king – in His own Incarnate Self. In the Church there will need to be special office bearers who will have a real share in His unique Office. The sacrament of Holy Orders is the instrument He uses. Through the sacred character which they receive, men cooperate with Christ in His work of redemption and salvation: they are called “to an intimate participationwith Him in His words and works, His loves and cares”[13]. As a result this is no delegation from the community but a gift from the Son of God made man. Through this gift to certain men He continues His one task which consists in “the teaching and fulfilling in divine truth and divine love with a divine authority, and in the feeding and nourishing unto Eternal Life of the whole personality of a man, in body and in soul”[14].

Through their ministry, we receive a guarantee that the full work, truth and love of Christ is not lost in history but remains ever present because it is He who is the source and agent of the sacrament these men have received. They represent Him and in their work it is Christ who acts directly through, with and in them. His shepherding cannot be an abstraction, a vague spiritual influence from on high; it must be something that affects in a real way, a way that is tangible, evidential and enfleshed. This guarantees that the doctrine of the faith will develop organically in history, with a competent authority to judge and guide this development, competent because it derives from Christ. In this unique Tradition, it would make sense therefore that Christ’s infallibility be part of theChurch’s essential constitution, the “fifth mark” of the Church, as Holloway suggests[15].  

As with any society, there is need for an ultimate authority. In the Church, under the one King, a Bishop will be the final arbiter, especially in disputes. The Papal office therefore also flows fittingly from the nature of man. As in all other matters, the source of Papal authority is not the people but the Lord Jesus Himself. Without this unique office in the Church, there is not the fullness of the Magisterium of Christ: through the Pope this Magisterium descends and actuates the college of Bishops in their authority to teach in the name of Christ, received in Holy Orders. Holloway sees the office of the Papacy as the ultimate degree of ascent of the Bishops as they share in Christ’s office. “The office of Peter is integrated directly into the office of the Personal Priesthood ofOur Lord Jesus Christ.” Like a curate or vicarius (vicar) whose office is integrated into that of the parish priest (“Curates come and go, but the parish priest abides forever”), so it is with the Pope in relation to Christ. Christ is the Supreme Priest, whose priesthood could never be equalled or fully attained by any creature. However the office of the Pope is the highest that any creature could get to – and it is arrived at by the grace of Christ. This does not involve a special papal character. Nevertheless, “the office of Peter, in the Church, under Jesus Christ, should then... be looked upon as the final power of actualisation of the priestly character at its final apex of adhesion into Christ of the power of Order in the Church”[16]

This view of the Magisterium that ‘descends’ does not deny the real teaching authority of the Bishops as a college. Yet it is clear that they only have this teaching office because they are in hierarchical communion with the head: the head gives cohesion and gives a guarantee to this teaching. Furthermore, the actualisation of the episcopal character is not accomplished because of the Bishop’s own action of succeeding to Peter, as if it arose from him. It happens by the grace of Christ which acts continually through and in this character that He has given. This fits in with the Unity-Law where fulfilment is given through the environment: the creature does not award the fulfilment to itself from its own sufficiency. Perhaps it might help to give an example. Suppose an Orthodox Bishopwere to become a Catholic and is permitted to exercise his episcopal office. He already has the sacred character of a Bishop but until he comes into hierarchical communion with the Pope the full possibility of this is not brought to fulfilment: he cannot share in the definitely guaranteed ability to teach granted by Christ to the College of Bishops. This juridical expression is more than juridical. It gives the episcopal character an actuated power to teach with Christ’s own authority. This power was there in potential but through episcopal communion with the Successor of Peter it achieves realisation of this. It is a work of the grace of the sacrament and if it is a work of grace then it is a work of Christ. This analogy gives us an insight into the actuation that a Pope receives in hissacred character with election to the Papacy.

The Sacraments in the Unity Law

So far we have seen how in Holloway’s perspective the Church is a direct consequence of the work of Christ and is His work. He it is that gathers and joins to Himself the scattered children of God and through Himself in the Spirit they are united to the Father. The sacraments too flow seamlessly:

[A sacrament] is the enfleshing... of an objective gift of God, given objectively by God in Christ, enwrapped in matter as befits the nature of Man, and as befits the economy of God who became enwrapt with a human soul and body for the perfection and the beatification of His creature[17].

In chapter 19 of his book, Holloway gives a history of the early Christians’ growing understanding of the sacraments. Without going into detail here, he shows how they understood that through the basic elements of the sacraments (water, oil, hands, etc.) a real gift or status was bestowed upon the Christian. The co-operation of the material elements in this was analogous to the way God the Son becomes incarnate. By the prayer of the minister the elements were brought into unique relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit so that by their means the grace and life of God are communicated to the recipient:

The ethos of the early Church is a mentality of direct and living union with God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, who operates with a transforming power through ministers and through matter, through sacramental signs which are causative outwardly of the gift they effect inwardly, and especially through the Eucharist[18].

The sacraments are the means therefore that are used directly by God in Christ to give us the abundance of divine life. This follows an incarnational pattern. It does involve the person of the minister but only insofar as that person is sacramentally in the position of being Christ’s living extension, as it were. The sacraments confer grace ex opere operato. This involves a causality which Holloway calls physical and perfective: physical, because it is Christ, God made man, who acts directly through the material elements of the sacraments; perfective, because this is the fullness of God’s one work in creation, which creation finds a special fruition when matter calls out for spirit and the two are joined in one unity which we call “man”. The sacrament therefore is not just a convenientinstrument, a kind of rite that better signifies the giving of grace, where the matter is not directly involved in the bestowal of grace but merely through its meaning and use in a rite occasions the giving or even just expresses what is there already. Christ directly acts in and through the material elements so as to bestow on the personality of the recipient the gift of His own life. This is a gift which the symbolism of the sacramental rites are designed to signify. They are thereby structurally open to the direct ministering of Christ. In this way Christ ministers to men according to their very natures and according to the nature of the cosmos which was made through Him, imbued as it is with the pattern of the Unity-Law.

Part II, looking at the application of this to disputed issues in modern theology, to be published in forthcoming issue.


[1]Holloway suggests that this insight can help resolve the Nature-Grace debate.
[2]Edward Holloway, Catholicism: A New Synthesis (Faith Keyway, Surrey, 1976), 109.
[3]Agnes Holloway, God’s Master Key: The Law of Control and Direction, (Faith Keyway, Surrey, 1988), 92.
[4]Edward Holloway, Catholicism, 334-337; Perspectives in Philosophy, vol. 2, (Faith Keyway, Surrey, 1995), 38-49. The absence of this insight gave the scholastic notion of substance a whiff of nominalism.
[5]Edward Holloway, Catholicism, 206. My summary means to say that because matter is an essential component of the means that God uses to give His life to spiritual-material creatures, the way He gives that life will involve and take into account all that characterises matter: space and time being aspects of matter will thereby necessitate that His life be conferred at particular times and places, with certain sacraments being repeated to enhance and rejuvenate the life of grace in the person.
[6]Edward Holloway, Catholicism, 309-311.
[7]Ibid., 310.
[8]Ibid., 280.
[9]Ibid., 284.
[10]Cf. Ibid., 288.
[11]Ibid., 293.
[13]Ibid., 297.
[14]Ibid., 298.
[15]Ibid., 296.
[16]Ibid., 301-302.
[17]Ibid., 312.
[18]Ibid., 317.


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