On the Subsisting Church of Christ)

           Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (June 29,2007)

VATICAN CITY, JULY 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the June 29 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding clarifications regarding the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the Church founded by Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church."

The document has been published in Latin, Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. The complete English-language version is given below:

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The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium," and its Decrees on Ecumenism ("Unitatis redintegratio") and the Oriental Churches ("Orientalium Ecclesiarum"), has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiolgy. The Supreme Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter "Ecclesiam suam" (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter "Ut unum sint" (1995).

The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance in the declaration "Mysterium Ecclesiae" (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church "Communionis notio" (1992), and the declaration "Dominus Iesus" (2000), all published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.


First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council.[1] Paul VI affirmed it[2] and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution "Lumen gentium": "There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation."[3] The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention[4].

Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community,"[5] 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.[6] "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."[7]

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,[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

Third Question: Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity."[11]

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."[12]

Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term "Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all -- because of the apostolic succession -- the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds,"[13] they merit the title of "particular or local Churches,"[14] and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.[15]

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature."[16] However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.[17]

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.[18]

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense.[20]

The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these Responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 2007, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

William Cardinal Levada

+ Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila

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[1] JOHN XXIII, Address of 11 October 1962: "…The Council…wishes to transmit Catholic doctrine, whole and entire, without alteration or deviation…But in the circumstances of our times it is necessary that Christian doctrine in its entirety, and with nothing taken away from it, is accepted with renewed enthusiasm, and serene and tranquil adherence… it is necessary that the very same doctrine be understood more widely and more profoundly as all those who sincerely adhere to the Christian, Catholic and Apostolic faith strongly desire …it is necessary that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which is owed the obedience of faith, be explored and expounded in the manner required by our times. The deposit of faith itself and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine are one thing, but the manner in which they are annunciated is another, provided that the same fundamental sense and meaning is maintained" : AAS 54 [1962] 791-792.

[2] Cf. PAUL VI, Address of 29 September 1963: AAS 55 [1963] 847-852.

[3] PAUL VI, Address of 21 November 1964: AAS 56 [1964] 1009-1010.

[4] The Council wished to express the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. This is clear from the discussions on the decree "Unitatis redintegratio." The Schema of the Decree was proposed on the floor of the Council on 23.9.1964 with a Relatio (Act Syn III/II 296-344). The Secretariat for the Unity of Christians responded on 10.11.1964 to the suggestions sent by Bishops in the months that followed (Act Syn III/VII 11-49). Herewith are quoted four texts from this "Expensio modorum" concerning this first response.

A) [In Nr. 1 (Prooemium) Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 296, 3-6]

"Pag. 5, lin. 3-6: Videtur etiam Ecclesiam catholicam inter illas Communiones comprehendi, quod falsum esset.

R(espondetur): Hic tantum factum, prout ab omnibus conspicitur, describendum est. Postea clare affirmatur solam Ecclesiam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi"

(Act Syn III/VII 12).

B) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 297-301]

"4 -- Expressius dicatur unam solam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi; hanc esse Catholicam Apostolicam Romanam; omnes debere inquirere, ut eam cognoscant et ingrediantur ad salutem obtinendam...

R(espondetur): In toto textu sufficienter effertur, quod postulatur. Ex altera parte non est tacendum etiam in aliis communitatibus christianis inveniri veritates revelatas et elementa ecclesialia"

(Act Syn III/VII 15). Cf. also ibid pt. 5.

C) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 296s]

"5 - Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam ...

R(espondetur): Textus supponit doctrinam in constitutione 'De Ecclesia' expositam, ut pag. 5, lin. 24-25 affirmatur" (Act Syn III/VII 15). Thus the commission whose task it was to evaluate the responses to the Decree Unitatis redintegratio clearly expressed the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church and its unicity, and understood this doctrine to be founded in the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium."

D) [In Nr. 2 Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 297s]

"Pag. 6, lin. 1- 24: Clarius exprimatur unicitas Ecclesiae. Non sufficit inculcare, ut in textu fit, unitatem Ecclesiae.

R(espondetur): a) Ex toto textu clare apparet identificatio Ecclesiae Christi cum Ecclesia catholica, quamvis, ut oportet, efferantur elementa ecclesialia aliarum communitatum".

"Pag. 7, lin. 5: Ecclesia a successoribus Apostolorum cum Petri successore capite gubernata (cf. novum textum ad pag. 6, lin.33-34) explicite dicitur 'unicus Dei grex' et lin. 13 'una et unica Dei Ecclesia' "

(Act Syn III/VII).

The two expressions quoted are those of Unitatis redintegratio 2.5 e 3.1.

[5] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium," 8.1.

[6] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 4.6.

[7] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution, "Lumen gentium," 8.2.

[8] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration "Mysterium Ecclesiae," 1.1: AAS 65 [1973] 397; Declaration "Dominus Iesus," 16.3: AAS 92 [2000-II] 757-758; Notification on the Book of Leonardo Boff, OFM, "Church: Charism and Power": AAS 77 [1985] 758-759.

[9] Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter "Ut unum sint," 11.3: AAS 87 [1995-II] 928.

[10] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium," 8.2.

[11] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium," 8.2.

[12] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 3.4.

[13] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 15.3; cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter "Communionis notio," 17.2: AAS, 85 [1993-II] 848.

[14] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 14.1.

[15] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14.1; JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter "Ut unum sint," 56 f: AAS 87 [1995-II] 954 ff.

[16] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 15.1.

[17] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter "Communionis notio," 17.3: AAS 85 [1993-II] 849.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree "Unitatis redintegratio," 22.3.

[20] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration "Dominus Iesus," 17.2: AAS 92 [2000-II] 758.

[Original text: Latin]


Commentary on the Doctrinal Congregation Document
"Dialogue Remains One of the Priorities of the Church"

VATICAN CITY, JULY 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a commentary on the June 29 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The commentary, by the same dicastery, explains the intention of the document that clarifies the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the Church founded by Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church."

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In this document the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responding to a number of questions concerning the overall vision of the Church which emerged from the dogmatic and ecumenical teachings of the Second Vatican Council. This Council 'of the Church on the Church' signalled, according to Paul VI, "a new era for the Church" in which "the true face of the Bride of Christ has been more fully examined and unveiled."[1] Frequent reference is made to the principle documents of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and to the interventions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all of which were inspired by an ever deepening understanding of the Church herself, and many of which were aimed at clarifying the notable outpouring of post-conciliar theology -- not all of which was immune from imprecision and error.

This present document is similarly inspired. Precisely because some contemporary theological research has been erroneous, or ambiguous, the Congregation's intention is to clarify the authentic meaning of certain ecclesiological statements of the Magisterium. For this reason the Congregation has chosen to use the literary genre of Responsa ad quaestiones, which of its nature does not attempt to advance arguments to prove a particular doctrine but rather, by limiting itself to the previous teachings of the Magisterium, sets out only to give a sure and certain response to specific questions.

The first question asks if the Second Vatican Council changed the previously held doctrine on the Church.

The question concerns the significance of what Paul VI described in the above mentioned quotation as 'the new face' of the Church offered by Vatican II.

The response, based on the teaching of John XXIII and Paul VI, is very clear: the Second Vatican Council did not intend to change -- and therefore has not changed -- the previously held doctrine on the Church. It merely deepened this doctrine and articulated it in a more organic way. This is, in fact, what Paul VI said in his discourse promulgating the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium" when he affirmed that the document had not changed traditional doctrine on the Church, but rather "that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation."[2]

There is also a continuity between the doctrine taught by the Council and that of subsequent interventions of the Magisterium which have taken up and deepened this same doctrine, which itself constitutes a development. In this sense, for instance, the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "Dominus Iesus" merely reaffirmed the conciliar and post-conciliar teachings without adding or taking away anything.

In the post-conciliar period, however, and notwithstanding these clear affirmations, the doctrine of Vatican II has been, and continues to be, the object of erroneous interpretations at variance with traditional Catholic doctrine on the nature of the Church: either seeing in it a 'Copernican revolution' or else emphasising some aspects almost to the exclusion of others. In reality the profound intention of the Second Vatican Council was clearly to insert the discourse on the Church within and subordinate to the discourse on God, therefore proposing an ecclesiology which is truly theological. The reception of the teaching of the Council has, however, often obscured this point, relativising it in favour of individual ecclesiological affirmations, and often emphasising specific words or phrases which encourage a partial and unbalanced understanding of this same conciliar doctrine.

Regarding the ecclesiology of "Lumen gentium," certain key ideas do seem to have entered into ecclesial consciousness: the idea of the People of God, the collegiality of the bishops as a re-evaluation of the ministry of bishops together with the primacy of the Pope, a renewed understanding of the individual Churches within the universal Church, the ecumenical application of the concept of the Church and its openness to other religions; and finally the question of the specific nature of the Catholic Church which is expressed in the formula according to which the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church -- of which the creed speaks -- subsistit in Ecclesia catholica.

In the following questions this document examines some of these ideas, especially the specific nature of the Catholic Church together with what is implied ecumenically from this understanding.

The second question asks what is meant by the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.

When G. Philips wrote that the phrase "subsistit in" had caused 'rivers of ink'[3] to be spilt, he would probably never have imagined that the discussion would continue for so long or with such intensity as to have provoked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to publish this present document.

This publication, based on the conciliar and postconciliar texts which it cites, reflects the concern of the Congregation to safeguard the unity and unicity of the Church, which would be compromised by the proposal that the Church founded by Christ could have more than one subsistence. If this were the case we would be forced, as the Declaration "Mysterium Ecclesiae" puts it, to imagine "the Church of Christ as the sum total of the Churches or the ecclesial Communities -- which are simultaneously differentiated and yet united," or "to think that the Church of Christ no longer exists today concretely and therefore can only be the object of research for the Churches and the communities."[4] If this were the case, the Church of Christ would not any longer exist in history, or would exist only in some ideal form emerging either through some future convergence or through the reunification of the diverse sister Churches, to be hoped for and achieved through dialogue.

The Notification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning a book of Leonardo Boff is even more explicit. In response to Boff's assertion that the one Church of Christ "is able to subsist in other Christian Churches," the Notification states that "the Council chose the word "subsistit" specifically to clarify that the true Church has only one "subsistence," while outside her visible boundaries there are only "elementa Ecclesiae " which -- being elements of the same Church -- tend and lead to the Catholic Church."[5]

The third question asks why the expression "subsistit in" was used rather than the verb "est."

It is precisely this change of terminology in the description of the relationship between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church which has given rise to the most varied interpretations, above all in the field of ecumenism. In reality, the Council Fathers simply intended to do was to recognise the presence of ecclesial elements proper to the Church of Christ in the non-Catholic Christian communities. It does not follow that the identification of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church no longer holds, nor that outside the Catholic Church there is a complete absence of ecclesial elements, a " churchless void." What it does mean is that if the expression "subsistit in" is considered in its true context, namely in reference to the Church of Christ "constituted and organised in this world as a society … governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him," then the change from est to subsistit in takes on no particular theological significance of discontinuity with previously held Catholic doctrine.

In fact, precisely because the Church willed by Christ actually continues to exist (subsistit in) in the Catholic Church, this continuity of subsistence implies an essential identity between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. The Council wished to teach that we encounter the Church of Jesus Christ as a concrete historical subject in the Catholic Church. The idea, therefore, that subsistence can somehow be multiplied does not express what was intended by the choice of the term "subsistit." In choosing the word "subsistit" the Council intended to express the singularity and non "multipliability" of the Church of Christ: the Church exists as a unique historical reality.

Contrary to many unfounded interpretations, therefore, the change from "est" to "subsistit" does not signify that the Catholic Church has ceased to regard herself as the one true Church of Christ. Rather it simply signifies a greater openness to the ecumenical desire to recognise truly ecclesial characteristics and dimensions in the Christian communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the " plura elementa sanctificationis et veritatis" present in them. Consequently, although there is only one Church which "subsists" in one unique historical subject there are true ecclesial realities which exist beyond its visible boundaries.

The fourth question asks why the Second Vatican Council used the word "Churches" to describe the oriental Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Notwithstanding the explicit affirmation that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church, the recognition that even outside her visible boundaries "many elements of sanctification and of truth"[6] are to be found, implies the ecclesial character -- albeit diversified -- of the non-Catholic Churches or ecclesial Communities. Neither are these by any means "deprived of significance and importance" in the sense that "the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation."[7]

The document considers above all the reality of the oriental Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church and, making reference to various conciliar texts, gives them the title "particular or local Churches" and calls them sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches because they remain united to the Catholic Church through the apostolic succession and the valid celebration of the Eucharist "through which the Church of God is built up and grows in stature."[8] The Declaration "Dominus Iesus" explicitly calls them "true particular Churches."[9]

Despite this unequivocal recognition of their "being particular Churches" and of their salvific value, the document could not ignore the wound (defectus) which they suffer specifically in their being particular Churches. For it is because of their Eucharistic vision of the Church, which stresses the reality of the particular Church united in the name of Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist and under the guidance of a Bishop, that they consider themselves complete in their particularity.[10] Consequently, given the fundamental equality among all the particular Churches and among the Bishops which preside over them, they each claim a certain internal autonomy. This is obviously not compatible with the doctrine of Primacy which, according to the Catholic faith, is an "internal constitutive principle" of the very existence of a particular Church.[11] It will, therefore, remain necessary to emphasise that the Primacy of the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, is not seen as something extraneous or merely concurrent with that of Bishops of particular Churches. Rather it must be exercised in service to the unity of the faith and of communion within the limits that proceed from divine law and from the divine and inviolable constitution of the Church contained in revelation.[12]

The fifth question asks why the ecclesial Communities originating from the Reformation are not recognised as 'Churches.'

In response to this question the document recognises that "the wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist."[13] For this reason they are "not Churches in the proper sense of the word"[14] but rather, as is attested in conciliar and postconciliar teaching, they are "ecclesial Communities."[15]

Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress in the communities concerned and even amongst some Catholics, it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of "Church" could possibly be attributed to them, given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church.

In saying this, however, it must be remembered that these said ecclesial Communities, by virtue of the diverse elements of sanctification and truth really present in them, undoubtedly possess as such an ecclesial character and consequently a salvific significance.

This new document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which essentially summarises the teaching of the Council and the post-conciliar magisterium, constitutes a clear reaffirmation of Catholic doctrine on the Church. Apart from dealing with certain unacceptable ideas which have unfortunately spread around the Catholic world, it offers valuable indications for the future of ecumenical dialogue. This dialogue remains one of the priorities of the Catholic Church, as Benedict XVI confirmed in his first message to the Church on April 20, 2005 and on many other occasions, especially during his apostolic visit to Turkey (28.11.06-1.12.06).

However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith. Only in this way will it be able to lead towards the unity of all Christians in "one flock with one shepherd" (Jn 10: 16) and thus heal that wound which prevents the Catholic Church from fully realising her universality within history.

Catholic ecumenism might seem, at first sight, somewhat paradoxical. The Second Vatican Council used the phrase "subsistit in" in order to try to harmonise two doctrinal affirmations: on the one hand, that despite all the divisions between Christians the Church of Christ continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand that numerous elements of sanctification and truth do exist outwith the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church whether in the particular Churches or in the ecclesial Communities that are not fully in communion with the Catholic Church. For this reason, the same Decree of Vatican II on ecumenism "Unitatis Redintegratio" introduced the term fullness (unitatis /catholicitatis) specifically to help better understand this somewhat paradoxical situation. Although the Catholic Church has the fullness of the means of salvation, "nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from effecting the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her."[16] The fullness of the Catholic Church, therefore, already exists, but still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners "until it happily arrives at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem."[17] This progress in fullness is rooted in the ongoing process of dynamic union with Christ: "Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians."[18]

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[1] PAUL VI, Discourse (September 21, 1964): AAS 56 (1964) 1012.

[2] Ibid., 1010.

[3] G. PHILIPS, La Chiesa e il suo mistero nel Concilio Vaticano II , (Milano 1975), I, 111.

[4] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, "Mysterium Ecclesiae," 1: AAS 65 (1973) 398.

[5] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Notification on the book of Father Leonardo Boff: "The Church: charism and power": AAS 77 (1985) 758-759. This passage of the Notification, although not formally quoted in the "Responsum", is found fully cited in the Declaration Dominus Iesus, in note 56 of n. 16.

[6] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, "Lumen gentium," 8.2.

[7] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, "Unitatis Redintegratio," 3.4.

[8] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, "Unitatis Redintegratio," 15.1..

[9] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITHI, "Dominus Iesus," 17: AAS 92 (2000) 758.

[10] Cf. COMITATO MISTO CATTOLICO-ORTODOSSO IN FRANCIA, Il primato romano nella comunione delle Chiese, Conclusioni: in "Enchiridion oecumenicum" (1991), vol. IV, n. 956.

[11] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, "Communionis notio," n.17: AAS 85 (1993) 849.

[12] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Considerations on the Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church, n. 7 and n. 10, in: L'Osservatore Romano, English Edition, 18 November 1998, 5-6.

[13] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, "Communionis notio," 17: AAS 85 (1993) 849.

[14] CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, "Dominus Iesus," 17: AAS 92 (2000) 758.

[15] Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, "Unitatis Redintegratio," 4; John Paul II, "Novo millenio ineuente," 48: AAS 93 (2001) 301-302.

[16] SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, "Unitatis Redintegratio," 4.

[17] Ibid, 3.

[18] BENEDICT XVI, "Deus caritas est," 14: AAS 98 (2006) 228-229.



The Subsisting Church of Christ
Interview With Father Augustine Di Noia

VATICAN CITY, JULY 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Some 40 years after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See is reminding the faithful of an "essential" conciliar teaching.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released today the document titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church." The brief text clarifies what Vatican II meant when it said that the Church founded by Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church."

In this interview with Vatican Radio, Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, discusses the major issues concerning this document.

Q: Could you outline the major points that the document addresses?

Father Di Noia: There really are two main points, and then some minor points.

The main point is to address the question of whether the Second Vatican Council changed the Church's teaching on the nature of the Church herself, and this document tries to clarify this point to say no -- it was a development, a deepening, but definitely not a kind of change in the sense of altering the way in which we think of the Church.

And the point is -- the fundamental point -- and this is the second thing, is how to interpret the expression of the Second Vatican Council, "Lumen Gentium," paragraph 8: "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church." It's this "subsists" that has caused a tremendous amount of questioning, and we're trying to address this.

Briefly, the point is, that instead of saying that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church, the "subsists" is used to say the same thing [...] in order to make it clear that across the whole of history, and in the present, we are not in the state of having an imperfect Church that has yet to become the Church of Christ, but that the fullness of what Christ wanted the Church to be, he has established in the Catholic Church.

Then, of course, the other points, in order to explain how other Churches and ecclesial communities relate to this; the Vatican council did not want to exclude the possibility that there were in fact elements of ecclesial life -- valid sacraments or the means of grace. I mean, all of the Church/ecclesial communities that read the Scriptures, in that sense with faith, have a certain element of what Christ intended the Church to be.

Q: Why was it decided to have this document come out at this time?

Father Di Noia: That's an important question.

I suppose it has to do with the reaction to an earlier document, the famous " Dominus Iesus" that came out, if you recall, in 2000.

I remember that when I was working for the bishops' conference in the United States, and we had received advanced copies of this document, and I was asked to prepare the bishops for " Dominus Iesus," I said well, there is absolutely nothing new here, so the bishops will be fine with it. But as you know, the reaction to " Dominus Iesus" was extremely, let's say, contestative. I mean, it was a very difficult document.

What we saw was the people [...] didn't understand that not simply we had to speak of Christ as being the universal savior, but that the Church was the principle means by which the grace of Christ would be communicated to the world, and that, if you recall, created most of the controversy, certainly ecumenically.

So this was kind of a wake-up call. I'd say that "Dominus Iesus" was a wake-up call, that 30 years after Vatican II, people seemed to have forgotten something very essential that Vatican II taught. And so it was out of that moment that the cardinal members of the congregation -- and also other people, bishops and so on, raising questions about this -- the congregation decided to proceed with a clarification.

The document is called "Responses to [Some] Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." It is a very narrow point, it's a relatively short document, as you know, and the commentary attached, so it's a very precise set of responses to questions that have arisen.

Q: How does this new document relate to previous documents speaking about the nature of the Church and ecumenism that have been released?

Father Di Noia: The response, the responses really, because there are a couple, do not add anything to the preceding teaching of the magisterium, but really are meant to recall and make more precise the authentic significance of the various doctrinal expressions used to speak about the Church in past magisterium.

See it's a very important point that -- experientially -- that when you go into a Catholic Church, essentially this document is reaffirming this point, this very fundamental point, that when you go into a Catholic Church and become a participant in the community there, with the round of Mass, and the sacrament of penance, and baptism, and confirmation, and everything else that goes on there, you will find everything that Christ intended the Church to be.

And even though there are divisions in Christianity, that does not mean that the Church does not exist perfectly. You see it's not that we have to repair or heal the divisions, we do have to seek the unity among all the different Christian communities that Christ willed, but the fact that not all Churches are in communion with the Sea of Peter does not mean that the Church is wounded to the effect that it no longer exists in its integrity.

Q: How can this document help in ecumenical dialogue?

Father Di Noia: The commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is as Benedict XVI himself has said, and certainly Pope John Paul II said frequently as well, "irrenunciable."

That is to say, the Church is not backtracking on its ecumenical commitment. As you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity, that is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be in order to achieve a sort of false sense of consensus.

It is a fundamental condition of dialogue really, that the participants are clear about what their self-identity is so that in a sense they are being truthful; they are coming to the table with a clear expression of what they understand themselves to be.

So in that sense it is never a backtracking of dialogue to be clear about what you are, but it's an essential condition for it, otherwise the results that you achieve, they're easily undermined by the truth about it.


Another Commentary:

The Goods of the Church at Work, Elsewhere

by Dr. Jeff Mirus
July 11, 2007

In a most interesting series of questions and answers issued yesterday, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attempted to clarify Vatican II’s teaching on the nature of the Church of Christ, and its identity with the Catholic Church. This was deemed necessary because of continual confusion over what Lumen Gentium meant by saying that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church.

The Problem of Subsistence

I first read the paragraph in question late in 1967 or early in 1968 (I was sixteen when the document was issued in 1964), and I can still remember consulting several dictionaries, as well as studying the context, to gradually get at the meaning intended by the Council Fathers. But now no one needs to struggle. Before continuing, see Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church for the complete text of the CDF’s clarification, which is brief and to the point.

The problem, of course, is that many have wondered why Vatican II didn’t just say that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. Some of these, no doubt citing the “spirit” of Vatican II, have declared that the phrase “subsists in” was a way of jettisoning traditional teaching about the nature of the Church. The clarification addresses this from several angles and, in doing so, explains the choice of the expression “subsists in” as follows:

    The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity".

A further elaboration may help drive this point home. Essentially, the Church teaches, and has always taught, that the Church of Christ is fully present only in the Catholic Church, and truly identifiable only with the Catholic Church, but that: (1) Some of the various goods characteristic of Christ's Church, while properly belonging only to the Catholic Church, are also found at work elsewhere, scattered among other bodies; and (2) Some persons who are beyond visible, juridical membership in the Catholic Church can, by virtue of these operative goods (including the action of the Holy Spirit) actually be joined to the Catholic Church in a mysterious way.

A Few Examples

To take but one critical example, a moment’s reflection will reveal that the sacrament of baptism is one of these spiritual goods instituted by Christ in His Church, which is now scattered outside the Catholic Church, where it still bears good fruit and impels toward Catholic unity. Many non-Catholic Christians have valid baptisms, and insofar as anyone is validly baptized, he is (as we might say) “baptized Catholic”. There is, after all, but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). Another of these “scattered” goods, properly belonging only to the Catholic Church, is Sacred Scripture, which is available worldwide, both within and outside of particular Christian bodies.

In the same way, persons can be joined to the Catholic Church in various partial or imperfect ways without being formal or juridical members. Presumably, anyone who has been baptized but has not rather specifically repudiated the Catholic Church is so joined in some partial and mysterious way. And even before Vatican II, we knew from the teaching of Pius XII that anyone who seriously seeks to know and do the good can be “ordered to the Church by a certain desire and wish of which he is not aware” (inscio quodam desiderio ac voto) and so, though without the fullness of Catholic certainty, he may attain salvation (Mystici Corporis Christi, No. 103). Vatican II clarified and elaborated this teaching.

These concepts are ecclesiologically very important, and have been the subject of rich study and magisterial explication especially over the past sixty years or so. The Church has never taught that one must be a formal, juridical member to be saved, but only that one cannot be saved if one is altogether “outside”, that is, wholly disconnected or unrelated. In addition to the detailed teachings on this point in the modern period, some very old teachings speak of the possibility of being “joined” to the Church in some way, without specifying formal membership. (It is vexing to me, and a weakness in this essay, that many years ago I had a few of these older teachings in a file, which I have since lost. Thus, as we grow older, do we more frequently remember that there are things we once knew!)

Errors on All Sides

In fact, the whole question of the role of the Church in salvation has been frequently misunderstood through preconceptions about what various expressions “obviously mean”, with too little attention to what the words actually say. On one side, “Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus” (outside the Church there is no salvation) is a case in point. The Feeneyites and some other Traditionalist groups erroneously insist that this means one must be a formal member of the visible Church to be saved. Worse still, many Catholics assume that this is what the Church used to teach, but that she has since changed her mind, and now it simply doesn’t matter. Neither assertion is accurate.

On the other hand, misinterpretations of Vatican II have been just as bad. I have already alluded to those who have wished to see in the phrase “subsists in” a meaning which is not there, namely that the Church of Christ is really present and working equally everywhere, with Catholicism only one of the many forms taken by Our Lord’s salvific work. Or perhaps they have profoundly not wished to see this meaning, but have erroneously believed it was there, and so, for this and other equally specious reasons, have ended by rejecting the Council altogether, or by explaining it away.

Whatever excuse there may have been for misunderstanding in the past, there can be no excuse now. The keys to understanding things properly are in the clarification issued by the CDF.


Dossier on the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI: Summorum Pontificum cura
by N. Bux, S. Vitiello

The Antecedents

The Sacrosanctum Concilium

There is a paragraph in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that would seem to have a bearing on the question of the canonical status of the Missal of St Pius V (henceforth also referred to as “Old Mass” or “Old Rite”). Before specifying the ways in which the rite of Mass is to be revised, Sacrosanctum Concilium states in paragraph 49:

    For this reason the sacred Council, having in mind those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation, has made the following decrees in order that the sacrifice of the Mass, even in the ritual forms of its celebration, may become pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree.

    Quapropter, ut Sacrificium Missae, etiam rituum forma, plenam pastoralem efficacitatem assequatur, Sacrosanctum Concilium, ratione habita Missarum, quae concurrente populo celebrantur, praesertim diebus dominicis et festis de praecepto, ea quae sequuntur decernit.

This passage presumes that there are two forms of the rite of Mass, one with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation (cum populo), and one without the assistance of the faithful (sine populo). It would seem to be the Council’s intention that the revisions, which are introduced in the subsequent paragraphs of Sacrosanctum Concilium, concern only the rite of Mass cum populo. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy obviously envisages that the Old Mass continues to exist as the priest’s form of celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice sine populo; this would also mean that priest have a right to celebrate the Old Rite as a private Mass.

The Constitution Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI (1969)

Pope Paul VI’s Constitution Missale Romanum of 1969 is, as the subtitle makes clear, “a promulgation of the Roman Missal revised by the decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council”. The Constitution merely proposes a new form of the Mass, but it does not contain any clauses that would indicate the abrogation, that is, the abolition by total substitution of the Missal of Pope St Pius V.

The Bull Quo Primum, issued by Pius V in 1570, codified and consolidated the immemorial and universal custom that had regulated the Roman liturgy through the centuries from the time of Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century. Two points are worth noting here:

    First, to Quo Primum we can, in any case, apply can. 21 CIC: “In dubio revocatio legis praexistentis non praesumitur, sed leges posteriores ad priores trahendae sunt et his, quantum fieri potest, conciliandae”. For all practical purposes this means that if the Old Mass has lost its privileged position, it nevertheless continues to exist and the faithful have a right to it.

    Secondly, the Constitution Missale Romanum did not explicitly abolish (as the law required) the immemorial and universal custom on which, before Quo Primum (and later together with it), rested the Old Mass. Therefore it continues to exist although it is perhaps no longer protected by a written law. This was noted by scholars, but even then no supplementary law was passed to abolish that custom.

Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, whom Paul VI put in charge of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, wanted to obtain an explicit ruling to the effect that the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 abrogates the Old Mass, so that the latter would be suppressed de jure. To apply for such a ruling to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Conciliar Documents, he needed permission from the Cardinal Secretary of State. On 10 June 1974 the Secretary of State refused to give the requested permission on the grounds that such an attempt would be seen as “casting odium on the liturgical tradition” (A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 300-301).

The Indult Quattuor Abhinc Annos of Pope John Paul II (1984)

On 3 October 1984, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Indult Quattuor abhinc annos in which he allowed bishops to grant the Old Mass to those faithful who would request it. An indult is a measure by which somebody invested with authority in the Church can grant, in order to favour the salvation of souls (which is the purpose of canon law, before which all laws must bow), an exception to the law (derogation); it is akin to dispensation, but with a wider scope.

An indult, therefore, presupposes the existence of a law which has to be relaxed, in our case a law which had forbidden or abolished the Old Mass. As we have seen, such a law does not exist, and therefore in this case, strictly speaking, “indult” is a misnomer, since the faithful even today have a right to the Old Mass on the basis of the non-abolished immemorial custom.

The Commissio Cardinalitia of 1986

In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed a commission of nine cardinals to examine the legal status of the Old Mass. The commission consisted of Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Bernard Cardinal Gantin, Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, Antonio Cardinal Innocenti, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, Petro Cardinal Palazzini, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Alfons Cardinal Stickler and Jozef Cardinal Tomko and it was instructed to examine whether the New Rite of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI abrogated the Old Rite, and whether a bishop can prohibit his priests from celebrating the Old Mass.

The commission met in December 1986. Eight of nine cardinals answered that the New Mass had not abrogated the Old Mass. The nine cardinals unanimously determined that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priest from celebrating Mass according to the Missal of St Pius V. The commission judged the conditions for the 1984 indult too restrictive and proposed their relaxation. These conclusions served as functional guidelines for the Commission Ecclesia Dei, but they were never promulgated.

In this context, it should be noted that the Holy See does recognize the right of the priest to celebrate the traditional Mass; this is borne out by the fact that whenever priests are unjustly suspended for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of their bishops, the Roman Curia always nullifies the penalty whenever the cases are appealed. It is the present jurisprudence of the Church that, upon appeal, any suspension that an Ordinary attempts to inflict on a priest for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of the bishop is automatically nullified.

The Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta of Pope John Paul II (1988)

On 2 July 1988 Pope John Paul II promulgated his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei in which he expressed his will to guarantee respect for the rightful aspirations of those attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, and in order to achieve this aim he established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

In a letter to the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia dated 11 May 1990 Cardinal Mayer gives an authoritative interpretation of the Motu Proprio. The President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission criticizes the Congregation for Divine Worship for sabotaging the Pope’s intentions, and then proceeds to explain the privilege granted by Ecclesia Dei while at the same time suggesting that the old Mass was never really abolished:

    It should be noted that the somewhat pejorative language of Quattuor abhinc annos with regard to “the problem of priests and faithful holding to the so-called Tridentine Mass” was completely avoided in the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei. In the latter document issued by the Supreme Pontiff himself reference is simply made to “those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition” (5, c) and “those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition” (6, c). It would seem unduly prejudicial to continue referring to allusions in the earlier document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments which have been superseded by a papal Motu Proprio.

Cardinal Medina on the Third Editio Typica of the Missal of Paul VI (2002)

Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship writes in a letter of 21 May 2004:

    I reaffirm my personal opinion that the abrogation of the Missal of St Pius V is not proven and I can add that the decree that I signed promulgating the third typical edition of the Roman Missal does not contain any clause that abrogates the ancient form of the Roman Rite. (…) And I can also add that the absence of any abrogation clause whatsoever did not happen by chance, nor as it caused by inadvertence, but was intentional.

An English version of this letter is published in Mass of Ages, November 2005, p. 28.

The present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, was himself involved in the Commission; I should like to end with a quotation from his book God and the World (published originally in German in the year 2000):

    For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so any of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church.

J. Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald,San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002, 416.

Bibliography by Uwe Michael lang

– Neri Capponi, “Bishops against the Pope: The Motu Proprio ‘Ecclesia Dei’ and the Extension of the Indult”, in The Latin Mass, Winter 1996

– Georg May, Die alte und die neue Messe. Die Rechtslage hinsichtlich des Ordo Missae, 4. durchgesehene und durch ein Register ergänzte Auflage, Sankt Augustin: Richarz, 1991


1. The Ordo Missae and the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani promulgated with the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of Paul VI, constitute – as the said document itself states - a “renovatio” of the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V by decree of the Council of Trent in 1570, and in fact the Constitution praises the Missal for the fruits of evangelisation and holiness gained in four centuries by both priests and faithful.

Pope Pius XII – the Constitution recalls– noted the need for revision and enrichment, calling for a revision of the Ordo of Holy Week; thence “huiusmodi Missalis Romani renovatio nequaquam ex improvviso inducta putanda est”. Even the Roman Missal of 1570 was the result of comparison and revision of ancients manuscripts and liturgical fonts, including eastern fonts, brought again into the light.

With regard to the rites of the Ordo Missae the Constitution states: “probe servata eorum substantia, simpliciores facti sunt”. Furthermore it says the Missal was revised introducing, in addtion to the venerable patrimony of the Roman Liturgy, new norms for celebration.

2. Despite some perplexity provoked by certain modern language versions, the “renovatio” of the other parts of the Missal is part of the physiological process of formation of liturgical books beginning with the ancient Roman Sacramentaries and eastern Euchologies of which, as we know, there were various editions, although one never abrogated the other. If the Gregorian Sacramentary and the Missal of St Pius V, for example, had been abrogated, how could one have drawn from them for the “renovatio”? Novus simply means the latest, ulterior development, not something different. Precisely because of coherent progress, the Missal is the tool of a degree of liturgical unity, in which there exist “legitimas varietates et aptationes”(cfr Sacrosanctum Concilium, n 38-40).

Now, everyone knows that the new Ordo contains no few variants; indeed in the Editio Typica of 2000 they are even more numerous and are indicated, for example, with terms such as “vel” and “ pro opportunitate”. So it happens that on the one hand, some use these variants to distort, defer or even omit certain parts; on the other, there are those who prefer to use always the same eucharistic prayer and formulas. So, why should we wonder that some ask to use only the Roman Canon, certain prefaces and the ritual structures of the Roman Missal in the 1962 Edition issued by Pope John XXIII, and erroneously referred to as the “Tridentine rite”?

Therefore Vatican II operated in the context of tradition and in tradition is set the legitimacy of the Ordo of Paul VI which is not in opposition to that of his predecessor, it never has been. So, no liturgical book or part of it has been abrogated, unless it contained errors: which happened precisely for the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani in 1969 when it had just been published and which Paul VI suspended for certain doctrinal ‘inaccuracies' and then had published again in May 1970 with amendments made at paragraph 7.

3. Everyone is called to acknowledge the Missal as an eloquent expression of Church Tradition: it is senseless to de-legitimate anything of the old rite - it would be like severing the roots - from which the new comes, revealing the fecundity of the old. John Paul II recalled that “in the Roman Missal of St Pius V, as in many Easter Liturgies, there are beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses a most profound sense of humility and reverence before the holy mysteries: those prayers reveal the very substance of the Liturgy”( 21 September 2001).

Not to mention the criteria of reciprocal generosity and mercy which should exist in the Church, following the Lord's example. Precisely this was the sense of an Indult issued by John Paul II on 3 October 1984 to celebrate Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 and now the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI; this does not discredit the Liturgical Renewal as such but concern for the unity of the Church prevails 1. Because rather any hardening of positions, for the Liturgy must be valid the principle of Ecclesia semper reformanda, with the wise balance of nova et vetera taught by the Gospel

We can conclude with an important text of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who gave a conference on 24 October 1998 for pilgrims who had come to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei issued by John Paul II:

    “The Council did not reform (in the sense of re-invent) the liturgical books, it ordered their revision and issued certain basic norms for that revision. In the first place the Council gave a definition of the Liturgy, and this definition is the term of comparison for every liturgical celebration. Whoever overlooks these norms or puts aside the normae generales found at paragraphs 34 - 36 of the Constitutio De Sacra Liturgia (SC), is certainly guilty of disobedience towards the Council! It is in the light of these criteria that liturgical celebrations must be assessed, whether they follow the old books or the new ones. It is good to recall here that Cardinal Newman observed that throughout her history the Church never abolished or banned orthodox forms of liturgy, something which would have been quite alien to the ecclesial spirit. An orthodox liturgy, that is, one which reveals the true faith, is never a compilation of various ceremonies, performed according to pragmatic criteria, constructed in a positivistic and arbitrary manner, today in such a way, tomorrow in another. Orthodox forms of a rite are a living reality, born of a dialogue of love between the Church and her Spouse. They are the expression of the Church's life and have nourished faith, prayer and true life of generations and in specific forms they incarnate both God's initiative and man's response. These rites can come to an end if those who used them in a particular epoch die, or if the living conditions of those people should change. The Church authority has the power to define and limit the use of such rites in the different historical situations, but she can never simply ban them! So the Council ordered the reform of the Liturgical Books but it did not ban the previous ones” (Notiziario 126-127 di UNA VOCE).

Rigidity and uniformity requested by certain well known liturgists, has never been part of the Church's liturgical practice. The Indult was a call for tolerance, the Motu Proprio amplified and, hopefully, implemented it more fully.


Cfr O.Nu?baum, Die bedingte Wiederzulassung einer Me?feier nach dem Missale Romanum von 1962, in <Pastoralblatt> 37(1985), p 130-143.


A recent article:

The Doctrine on the Church: Intramural Debate and Extramural Reactions

by Thomas Ryan, CSP

On Tuesday July 10,2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document reaffirming Catholic ecclesiology entitled "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church".  The succinct, three page document contains an introduction followed by five questions with five answers. In essence, it simply reaffirms the teaching of the Second Vati can Council regarding the theology of the Church (ecclesiology), as well as modern encyclicals and magisterial documents.

Why, an ecumenical colleague asked, did the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) feel it was necessary to restate these points, already expressed in Dominus Iesus in 2000?  The short answer seems to be: to resolve an in-house disagreement.

The main drafter for Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Belgian theologian Gérard Philips, prophetically said that rivers of ink would be spilled on the change from is to subsists in with regard to the relationship between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. He was dead right.
There has been an ongoing debate within the CDF itself around the meaning of  “subsists in” which, in both classical and medieval Latin, signifies “to remain, to be perpetuated.”

As an example of the ongoing debate, in December 2005 the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano carried a substantial article by one of the CDF’s consultors, Fr. Karl Becker, SJ, as to whether the change from is to subsists in meant that the council no longer maintained that the Church of Christ is identified with the Catholic Church, but recognized that it is also present, though less fully, in other Christian Churches, so that the Church of Christ extends beyond the limits of the Catholic Church. His answer is “no,” the council maintained the total identity between the two.

In the June 2006 issue of Theological Studies, Jesuit ecclesiologist Fr. Francis Sullivan of Boston College took him on in an article entitled “A Response to Karl Becker, S.J., on the Meaning of Substitit In”.  Sullivan argues that “what motivated the approval of the change from est (is) to subsistit in was that it would make it possible for the council to acknowledge the fact that outside the Catholic Church are not only elements of the Church, but that there are churches and ecclesial communities.”

Subsequent conciliar teachings affirm this understanding. Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical That All May Be One said, “The elements of sanctification and truth present in the other Christian Communities, in a degree which varies from one to the other, constitute the objective basis of the communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic Church. To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them” (no. 11). 

Ten years later, however, Becker was still unconvinced, ending his article by saying, “It is certainly now the duty of theology to clarify definitively the meaning of this phrase (subsists in).”  So, to all appearances, the CDF, under the new leadership of Cardinal Levada, has sought to clear the air and move on.  As one colleague said, “The problem the text addresses is not from Vatican II liberals; the problem is from Vatican II reactionaries. Ultimately, this is good news that just looks like bad news.”

The Up Side and the Down Side

There is an up side and a down side to the CDF document.

The Up side is that Responses clearly affirms “that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church.”

It further states that the expression “subsists in” was “adopted to bring out more clearly the fact that there are ‘numerous elements of sanctification and of truth’ which are found outside” the Catholic Church.

The down side, however, is that since the point of the exercise was to clarify the language earlier used, the same words which landed with a thud in earlier renderings reopened old wounds when brought forth once again.

Even Cardinal Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in his book That All May Be One, regretted the CDF’s “insensitive language” in its declaration Dominus Iesus (2000) and observed that “the nerves here are raw and the pain threshold correspondingly low.”

Phrases like “we believe they suffer from defects” or “they cannot be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense” are not likely to win friends and influence people to draw closer.
Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber, a man who understands the importance of defining terms, reflected in a statement entitled "Lost Chance," that "it would also be completely sufficient if it were to be said that the reforming churches are 'not churches in the sense required here' or that they are 'churches of another type' — but none of these bridges is used" in the Vatican document.

The language of the document is necessarily theological and technical (most of the footnotes are in Latin), and one wonders whether there might be a more appropriate forum for its release than the general news media which, even in the best of cases, will look for the controversy, and possibly leave the Church looking silly.

As one friend wrote, “I first saw it in a small paragraph under International News. Next, it was joke in Conan’s opening monologue indicating the Pope says God loves us all but He likes me best. It escalated to an editorial cartoon with the Pope stating that ‘All other Christian communities are defective,’ and intensified when the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries, issued a critical letter charging that the document took ecumenical dialogue back to the era before the Second Vatican Council.”

Unfortunately, some people who have not read the document believe the hype, while others experience concern and fear that the advances of the churches in relationship to one another have suffered a setback. As the editorial of the London Tablet queried, “Why chill the ecumenical atmosphere like this?”

An Invitation to Dialogue

In a statement the day after the release of Responses, Cardinal Kasper framed it as an invitation to dialogue: “The declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does nothing else than to show that we do not use the one and same word ‘Church’ completely in the same sense.  Such a statement helps to clarify and to promote the dialogue.”

Speaking of dialogue, it would be wonderful to see the Catholic Church in this and other documents theologize about the development of dogma informed by ecumenical dialogue. Theologians engaged in the ecumenical dialogues have done consistent work over forty years and more broadly engaged the richness of a variety of theological traditions than have CDF theologians.

In other writings Kasper has stated that we have now reached the core of our differences—our institutional, ecclesiological differences. In the encounter with the ancient Oriental and Orthodox churches this is represented by the Petrine ministry as a sign and service to the unity of the episcopate and the local churches. In the encounter with the churches of the Reformation, it centers on the question of the apostolic succession of the episcopate.

According to Catholic understanding, both are constitutive for full church communion and, therefore, eucharistic fellowship depends on the solution of these questions. Because the Reformers did not maintain the apostolic succession in the episcopacy, the Catholic Church considers the communities issuing from the Reformation to be ecclesial communities but not “churches in the proper sense.”

Or, to say it in a more respectful way, they are churches of another type. When one looks at the historic record, it is clear that they have manifested a different understanding of the Church of Christ and have not exhibited a desire to be church in the Catholic sense. The historical picture suggests a widespread understanding among churches of the Reformation that unity only requires an agreement on the fundamental understanding of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments (baptism and eucharist), that different understandings of ministry are acceptable, as are different institutional forms and confessions of faith. Some of this terrain is shifting today due to the theological work of , for example, Churches Uniting in Christ.

The Catholic Church is obviously convinced that its institutional “elements”, such as episcopacy and the Petrine ministry, are gifts of the Spirit for all Christians, and it wants to offer them as a contribution, in a spiritually renewed form, to the fuller ecumenical unity of Christ’s Church.

Spiritually renewed form? We recognize that we, too, can learn from the Orthodox and Reformation traditions how best to integrate the episcopate and Petrine ministry with synodical structures. This is likely the only way in which an ecumenical consensus could be reached about the Petrine and episcopal ministries.

This does not mean the insertion of other Christians into a given “system” but mutual enrichment and the fuller expression and realization of the one Church of Jesus Christ in all the churches and ecclesial communities.

To this latest statement from the CDF there was agreement across the board on at least this: it was straight talk about an important subject.

Rev. Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.