Vatican II and the Church

Before the Council opened, Pope John XXIII in a 1961 encyclical recalled how Jesus had founded the Church 'to hold the world in an embrace of love, so that men and women, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of being, and their ultimate salvation' (Mater et Magistra, 1). Through all four sessions of Vatican II the bishops and their advisers, together with other Christians who had been invited as observers, reflected on and prayed over the nature and mission of the Church, which, in one way or another, became the theme of all sixteen documents promulgated by the Council. At the end of Ch. 2 and in later chapters (e.g. Ch. 7), we have summarized some of the achievements of Vatican II; in Ch. 9 we will have much to say about Gaudium et Spes. But what was special or new about the teaching on the Church?

In particular, the dogmatic constitution of 1964 Lumen Gentium ('The Light of Nations'), to which ten other documents were attached either simultaneously or subsequently, expressed fresh teaching which filled out Vatican I's Pastor Aeternus. On the very day that the bishops and the Pope approved Lumen Gentium, 21 November 1964, they also approved a decree on Catholic Eastern Churches (Ecclesiarum Orientalium) and a decree on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). The former decree guaranteed the preservation of the spiritual heritage of Catholics who belong to Eastern Churches (e.g. their traditions for the Eucharist and the administration of the other sacraments and for government through patriarchs), and encouraged relations with Eastern Christians not united with Rome.206 The

206 Chapter 4 above cited some later doctrinal results in the christological agreements with the Copts (1973) and with the Assyrian Church of the East (1994).

latter decree built on a key affirmation: the Church founded by Christ 'subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him'; yet 'many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines' (Lumen Gentium, 8). The document went on to list many ways in which the Catholic Church is 'joined' with other Christians (ibid. 15). In the aftermath of Vatican II, Catholics have also been 'joined' through dialogues and consultations with the vast majority of other Christians. By early 2002 twelve such official international dialogues or consultations were in progress with most Christian Churches, including the Orthodox Churches, the Ancient Oriental Churches, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Methodist Council, the Disciples of Christ, the Pentecostals, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Mennonites, and the World Baptist Alliance.207 In other ways the Catholic Church also has contacts with such groups as Old Catholics, Quakers, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Through the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Rome), similar offices at national and local levels, and all kinds of personal initiatives of individual Catholics, the ecumenical outreach of Vatican II's view of the Church has produced much fruit, even if organic Christian unity and the healing of the divisions triggered in the eleventh and sixteenth centuries still remains a matter for prayerful hope.

Lumen Gentium also went far beyond Vatican I's Pastor Aeternus by dedicating specific chapters to bishops, priests, and deacons (ch. 3), to the laity (ch. 4), and to religious (ch. 6).208 These chapters, in their turn, were reinforced and applied in the fourth and final session of the Council by five decrees: on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus), on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), on the Training of Priests (Optatam Totius), on the Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis), and on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem). Lumen Gentium, along with Apostolicam Actuositatem, was also supplemented by a declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), which recognized that parents are

207 The order follows the information provided by 8th Forum on Bilateral Dialogues , Faith and Order Paper, 190 (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002), 75—7.

208 By including chapters on the laity (ch. 4), the universal call to holiness (ch. 5), religious life (ch. 6), and the Blessed Virgin Mary (ch. 8), Vatican II introduced remarkable innovations Up to that time no council of the Church had ever dealt at such length with those themes.

'primarily and principally responsible' for the education of their children in faith and other matters (no. 3); apart from married Catholic priests who have children, the overwhelming majority of Catholic parents are laypersons. The three chapters of Lumen Gentium and the six subsequent documents present the Church as a richly varied community, brought into unity by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This sense of the origin of the Church in the tripersonal God's action to save all people emerges strongly from another decree that depends on Lumen Gentium, the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes (7 December 1965). A paragraph of Lumen Gentium considered how those who have not yet received the Gospel are 'related to the People of God in various ways': from Jews and Moslems through to those who, without any personal fault, 'have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God' (no. 16). In preaching to all the universal salvation brought about by Christ, the Church aims to 'heal, raise up, and perfect' everything good that God has already sown in 'the minds and hearts' of individuals and the 'rites and customs of peoples' (ibid. 17). Ad Gentes lends substance to those two paragraphs. It opens with a richly trinitarian picture of the divine plan to gather together the whole of humanity into the communion of eternal life (nos. 2—4). The message of Jesus Christ is to be preached everywhere, yet in ways that respect everything that is found to be good and true and that acknowledge how the Holy Spirit and the Word of God bless people before the missionaries of the Church arrive (nos. 4, 11).

The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate (28 October 1965), likewise recognizes both the activity of One who enlightens everyone and the Church's duty to proclaim Christ everywhere as the way, the truth, and the life (no. 2). This declaration unpacks Lumen Gentium (no. 16) by not only reflecting very positively on the faith of Jews and Moslems (nos. 3—4) but also by showing appreciation for the spiritual gifts of Hinduism, Buddhism, and 'other religions' (no. 2).

By illustrating the links between Lumen Gentium and ten other conciliar documents, we hope to have shown something of its wealth of teaching on the Church. But nothing substitutes for a careful, personal reading of its text. As a guide for such reading what further points do we underline as particularly valuable about its account of the Church? At least six themes deserve special mention.

First, Lumen Gentium remains faithful to the preaching of Jesus by insisting on the encompassing power and promise of the Kingdom of

God. The present and future reign of God is steadily growing to its final completion. The Church exists for this Kingdom and is to be understood in its light, and not vice versa.

Second, the biblical movement bore fruit in the variety of images for the Church listed and explored by Lumen Gentium: for instance, the Church as a flock or sheepfold; as a cultivated field or choice vineyard; as God's building, temple, or city; as Spouse of Christ; as Mother; and as the Body of Christ (nos. 6—8). The 1943 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, displaced the long-standing model of the Church as a perfect society. Vatican II, while developing this theme, gave a certain preference to a model deeply rooted in the OT: the Church as the People of God (Lumen Gentium, 9-17). The generous variety of images and models witnessed to the spiritually rich reality of the Church which goes beyond any simple definition. Their exuberant multiplicity continues to pay tribute to the splendour of the Church, which shares something of the inexhaustible truth of Christ.209

In the last chapter we noted how baptism incorporates all believers into Christ, who is priest, prophet, and king. All the faithful share in these dimensions of Christ's redemptive work, even if the 'common priesthood' of the baptized is to be distinguished from that of the 'ministerial' or ordained priesthood (ibid. 10-13). This third theme of Lumen Gentium also provides the basic scheme for presenting the ministry of bishops: as 'heralds' or 'teachers', the supreme 'priests' of their dioceses, and 'shepherds' or 'pastors' (ibid. 25-7). A year later the Council used the same triple scheme in tracing the role of presbyters who take part in the function of Christ as 'Teacher, Priest, and King' (Presbyterorum Ordinis,, 1, 4-6), and in describing laypersons as 'sharing in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ' (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2). Thoroughly biblical and traditional, this triple scheme of Lumen Gentium and of two decrees that depend on it shows the centrality of Christ, in whose life and work all members of the Church share.

Fourth, this teaching serves to follow through on the Christ-centred vision of the Church that Lumen Gentium developed from its first two words: it is Christ who is 'the Light of the nations'. The Constitution went on to sketch a comparison between the Incarnate Son of God, who unites in his person humanity and divinity, and the Church which is both a visible

209 See A. Dulles, Models of the Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2nd edn. 1992).

organization and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there are limits to the comparison. Christ lived an utterly sinless life, whereas the Church is both 'holy and always in need of purification' (Lumen Gentium, 8). Through baptism the followers of Christ are 'truly sanctified' and 'made partakers of the divine nature'; they are all called to a life of holiness, i.e. to the 'fullness of Christian life and the perfection of love' (ibid. 40). Nevertheless, the holiness of the people of God on earth, while 'real', is always 'imperfect' (ibid. 48); the Church must constantly 'follow the path of penitence and renewal' (ibid. 8).210 In a word, the Church is simultaneously holy and sinful—a description vividly and fully exemplified by what St Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians and by the confession of sins at the Eucharist celebrated in St Peter's Basilica on 12 March 2000. In a striking way that liturgy featured seven representatives of the Roman Curia asking pardon for sins of the present and past. The drawings created by Sandro Botticelli (1447—1513) to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy., which were exhibited later that same year in Rome and early in 2001 at the Royal Academy of Arts (London), included the same vision of the Church. The illustration for Canto 32 of the Purgatorio juxtaposes (1) virtues who hold candlesticks, the four Gospel-writers, a healthy young tree, the beautiful Beatrice, and the chariot of the Church moving through history with (2) monstrous outgrowths and a prostitute being courted by a giant. By setting monstrosities alongside a group ascending into heaven, Botticelli powerfully conveyed a sense of the earthly Church as being both sinful and holy.

Fifth, we come to an issue not developed by Vatican I: the 'magisterial' or teaching role of bishops in and for the Church. We can summarize what Lumen Gentium says as follows (20—5). This magisterial role belongs to the whole 'college' of bishops (as successors to the college of apostolic witnesses) and to individual bishops united with the bishop of Rome. The bishops generally fulfil this magisterium on a day-to-day basis (various kinds of 'ordinary' magisterium). When assembled in an ecumenical council, they may teach some revealed truth to be held unconditionally

2io The humble realism of Vatican II contrasts with Vatican I's robust but one-sided stress on the Church's holiness: 'To the Catholic Church alone belong all the manifold and wonderful endowments which by divine disposition are meant to set forth the credibility of the Christian faith. Nay more, the Church by herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything that is good, with her Catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable testimony of her divine mission' (Dei Filius , DH 3013; ND 123).

and definitively (the 'extraordinary' magisterium). An exercise of the extraordinary magisterium obviously occurs only rarely, as, for instance, with the solemn teaching of the college of bishops at Vatican I or with the papal definitions about the Blessed Virgin Mary recalled above. It is the day-to-day teaching or ordinary magisterium that helps much more to enlighten and encourage the life of Catholics. They should listen respectfully to the teaching of bishops and popes, even when it is not a question of a papal ex cathedra teaching (see above) or a solemnly defined conciliar teaching being proposed about some matter of revelation. From Lumen Gentium we can glean three pertinent questions that should be posed. Who is teaching something (the pope, or the local bishop, or bishops gathered in a national conference, or an international synod)? What are they teaching about (matters which come directly from the divine self-revelation in Christ or other matters that, while often being extremely important, are not as such revealed truth)? What degree of authority is being claimed for the teaching? In the case of the Pope, for instance, the varying degrees of authority being claimed for non-infallible teaching are normally easy to identify: an encyclical letter addressed to all Catholics and sometimes to all men and women claims higher authority than what is said at papal audiences on Wednesdays.

Among other things, Lumen Gentium went here beyond earlier teaching in two significant ways: on the ordinary magisterium and collegiality. First, Vatican I in its first document, Dei Filius, had spoken very concisely of the 'ordinary and universal magisterium' of the Church being able to propose truths of faith which have been divinely revealed and are to be believed (DH 3011; ND 219). Vatican II spelled out the conditions for such infallible teaching coming from the ordinary magisterium: in communion among themselves and with the bishop of Rome, authentically teaching on matters of (revealed) faith and morals, and agreeing that some doctrine is to be held definitively, the bishops around the world pronounce infallibly on the doctrine of Christ (Lumen Gentium, 25). Such infallible truths from the ordinary magisterium, sometimes called non-defined dogmas, may sound remote and recondite. But they include all kinds of matters vital for the living of Catholic and Christian faith. No council or pope has ever, for example, solemnly and explicitly defined that Jesus is the Saviour of all men and women, from the beginning to the end of world history. This truth about human redemption is central to the life and mission of Catholics, but has never come up for formal definition.

The term 'collegiality' was new to Vatican II, even if its ultimate background is to be found in the college of apostles led by St Peter. Through their episcopal ordination and through being in communion with the head (the bishop of Rome) and the other bishops, new bishops become members of the worldwide college (ibid. 22). This doctrine of episcopal collegiality has been reflected in formal meetings: notably, episcopal conferences at the national level and, at the international level, episcopal synods which have met regularly in Rome since 1967. In both cases many bishops and other Catholics would like to see episcopal collegiality being more strongly encouraged and exercised. We return to this theme in our final chapter.

Sixth, Lumen Gentium also innovated by dedicating a chapter to the Mother of God in a way that rethinks her position within the history of human redemption and in reference to the Church founded by her Son (nos. 52—69). She was the first to benefit from his merits, as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception shows, and the first to share fully in his resurrection to glory, as the dogma of the Assumption shows (see above). She belongs within the Church as both Mother of the Church and the most eminent disciple of her Son—something expressed by the 'Lady Chapel' of many ancient and modern churches and by a scene cherished by Christian artists, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered in prayer around Mary (Acts 1: 14; 2: 1—4).211 Lumen Gentium ended by praying that Mary would continue 'interceding with her Son in the fellowship of all the saints', until the whole human family 'may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into the one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity (no. 68). On the same day that Paul VI promulgated this constitution (21 November 1964), he proclaimed Mary 'the Mother of the Church'. In that way the Pope welcomed the Council's decision not to make extravagant claims about her but to recognize her significance when the Church was visibly constituted around her at Pentecost.

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