Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Lehner, Ulrich L.

Second Advisor

Mattox, Mickey

Third Advisor

Wood, Susan


Current historical narratives paint post-Tridentine Catholic ecclesiology as dominated by juridical concerns, uniformity, and institutionalism. Purportedly neglected are the spiritual, diverse, and missional aspects of the Church. This dissertation curbs such narratives by examining the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suárez’s theology of ecclesial unity and catholicity, particularly as presented in his Defensio fidei (1613) and his De virtute et statu religionis (1608-25). Though Suárez refers to the Church as a “political body,” he does not mean by this phrase that the Church is an “ecclesial nation-state” as some have accused, but that the Church is a people united by the invisible bond of faith and a common way of life (chapter 1); the Church is the societas of those spiritually united to Jesus Christ. This Christological account of unity permits a more inclusive understanding of ecclesial membership than some of his contemporaries, especially as pertains to those on the fringes of the Church. Indeed, Suárez’s gradated account of ecclesial membership and notion of “imperfect union” even anticipates certain developments at Vatican II (chapter 2). Yet Christ not only draws all to himself, but sends the Church out on mission by the power of her own catholicity. For Suárez, catholicity is a manifold attribute of the Church accounting for doctrinal fullness and uniformity as well as a diversity of persons and gifts, all of which serve the propagative mission of the Church. The Church’s catholicity is thus missional because it urges her centripetally to the ends of the earth “lest Christ be made poor beyond measure” (chapter 3). Suárez’s understanding of the unity and catholicity of the Church finds its fullest expression in the twofold purpose of his own religious order, the Society of Jesus. Drawing on St. Ignatius and the Jesuit tradition, Suárez applies ecclesiological language to the Jesuits in order to argue for their legitimacy and necessity in the Church. Suárez considers the Society a most excellent instantiation of the ecclesial way of life, and thus his description of the Society can inform and stretch our understanding of his ecclesiology, and his ecclesiology can in turn shed light on his defense of the Jesuit order in the De religione. Suárez’s description of the purpose of the Society expresses just how missional the Church is called to be.



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