04 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium I

From the focused subject of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we move now to the broader subject of the Church, as expressed in the constitution Lumen Gentium.  I always get this and Gaudium et Spes confused -- Lumen Gentium means "light of the nations," but this document is not the constitution on the Church in the modern world.

The first paragraphs of Lumen Gentium set forth a bit of exegesis on the history and mystery of the Church, beginning with its prefigurement in the Old Testament and continuing through Christ inaugurating the heavenly kingdom on Earth.  The part I found the most compelling was the section on the relationship between Christ and the Church in paragraph 6:
Often the Church has also been called the building of God. The Lord Himself compared Himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles, and from it the Church receives durability and consolidation. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which dwells His family; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This Temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Holy Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. John contemplates this holy city coming down from heaven at the renewal of the world as a bride made ready and adorned for her husband. 
The Church, further, "that Jerusalem which is above" is also called "our mother". It is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb, whom Christ "loved and for whom He delivered Himself up that He might sanctify her", whom He unites to Himself by an unbreakable covenant, and whom He unceasingly "nourishes and cherishes", and whom, once purified, He willed to be cleansed and joined to Himself, subject to Him in love and fidelity, and whom, finally, He filled with heavenly gifts for all eternity, in order that we may know the love of God and of Christ for us, a love which surpasses all knowledge. The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord, is like in exile. It seeks and experiences those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until it appears in glory with its Spouse.
The allusions to Holy Scripture in this passage are bountiful.  Of particular interest to me is the reference to Ephesians 5 (the subject of my marriage post in the upcoming Seven Sacraments series).

In paragraph 8, at the end of the section on the mystery of the Church, we find one of the more controversial passages in all of the Council documents:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. 
The two highlighted phrases above gave rise to objections by traditionalists that Lumen Gentium changed the traditional thinking that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church (the Latin reads subsistit in, not est) and that this passage seems to indicate that Protestant communities contain elements of sanctification and truth.  The latter, if it is to be interpreted as these traditionalists claim, would at least implicitly call into question the traditional Catholic teaching of extra ecclesiam nulla salus -- if "elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the bounds of the Church, could salvation not also be found there?

Due to the controversial nature of this passage, there have been several attempts to clarify what was meant by this text.  One such clarification came in Dominus Iesus, a 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This document was authored in large part by Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation, and Pope John Paul II gave it his seal of approval.  For our purposes, relevant passages can be found in paragraphs 16-17:

With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.
This section is clear that whatever elements of truth are found outside the visible bounds of the Church are only present due to a sharing, albeit imperfectly, in the fullness of grace entrusted to the Catholic Church.  This passage was not abundantly clear on the subsistit in controversy, however, so the CDF issued further guidance in 2007 in the form of answers to specific questions regarding the Church's doctrine on the Church herself as expressed in Lumen Gentium.

This brief document sets forth the Church's authoritative interpretation of the controversial passage from Lumen Gentium.  In response to the question "What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?", the CDF (with Pope Benedict XVI's authoritative approval) replied:
Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”. 
In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth. 
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.
According to the CDF, the use of subsistit in instead of est "indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church" and was not intended to change the traditional doctrine.  That, as they say, is that.

Tomorrow: the "People of God" and the Church's relationship to members of other faiths.

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