Thursday, July 12, 2007

CDF issues document on the Church

With the great fanfare created by the release of the Motu Proprio on the July 7th (and due to take effect as of the 14th September) another document, this time from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, may not receive it's due. Of course that won't be the case on this blog as I'm dedicating this post to the document, its commentary and the issues discussed in it.

For those not in the know, two days ago the Congregation (hereafter referred to by CDF) released the document entitled: "RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH."

The first thing to note is that this document is very short. Not including footnotes the actual text would probably take up no more than one and half A4 pages. So there is no excuse not to read it!

The second thing to note is the presentation used is that of the question and answer format with five questions in total. This creates simple bite sized bits for everyone to chew on (although if you are a fuzzy wuzzy you may find the swallowing part hard but let Summa Theologica warn you that anyone who spits it out does so to their own detriment).

The last thing to keep in mind is the last section of the document:

"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."

Before I go on, the first thing to do if you haven't already done so is READ the document.

The main questions that I want to focus in on are two and three. Both these questions concern the expression used by Lumen Gentium "subsists in."
While these words have a very precise meaning they have caused no little confusion since the conclusion of the Council. Let me quote from the document:

"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."

This last section repeats what was explained to the Council Fathers in the relatio (here the relator is explaining to the Fathers the reason for the usage of subsists):

"Now, the intention is to show that the Church, whose deep and hidden nature is described and which is perpetually united with Christ and His work, is concretely found here on earth in the Catholic Church." as cited by O'Conner in The Church of Christ and the Catholic Church, Homiletic and Pastoral Review January 1984.

To say that something subsists means that it exists in itself and not in something else. It is the manner of the existence of a substance. This is the opposite of accidents which do not exist in themselves but need a substance in which to inhere (as explained in an earlier post, one miracle involved in the Mass is that the accidents continue to exist despite the fact their substance - bread, wine - is no longer present for them to exist in).

To say that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church is to answer the question "where can Christ's Church be found?" As a complete concrete subject, it is found in the Catholic Church. They are not therefore two separate things distinct from each other.

This brings us to the other part of the equation. The "elements" that exist (not subsist) outside the Church.

Christ entrusted to his Church certain gifts that are capable of operating outside the bounds of his visible Catholic Church. This is commonly referred to as the "soul of the Church". For example the Pius X catechism says:

22 Q: In what does the Soul of the Church consist?

A: The Soul of the Church consists in her internal and spiritual endowments, that is, faith, hope, charity, the gifts of grace and of the Holy Ghost, together with all the heavenly treasures which are hers through the merits of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and of the Saints.

Now it is the Church's clear teaching that grace is to be found outside the Catholic Church (if this were not so no unbeliever could be converted because an act of faith requires the action of grace).

For instance the Dogmatic Constitution Unigenitus of Clement XI issued September 8 1713 we find the condemned proposition:

"Outside the Church no grace is granted."

Few people have any problem with this. But there can be a problem in trying to put all these truths together. Given that all these things which belong to the Christ's Church and are just as much a part of her can be found in many places, where is that Church found as a fully existing reality? This is what subsists solves.

When answering the question why "is" was not used the documents says (my emphasis):

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"

Now an objection is occasionally raised by some concerning a passage in Mystici Corporis Christi of Pius XII in which he used the verb "est" (is). Just as "subsists" is taken from it's context I believe something similar is happening here. The sentence in question is the entirety of paragraph 13 of that document but let's back up a little starting in paragraph 12 (my emphasis and added comment):

"As He hung upon the Cross, Christ Jesus not only appeased the justice of the Eternal Father which had been violated, but He also won for us, His brethren, an ineffable flow of graces. It was possible for Him of Himself to impart these graces to mankind directly; but He willed to do so only through a visible Church made up of men, so that through her all might cooperate with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. As the Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony He would redeem mankind, so in the same way throughout the centuries He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure. [11]
13. If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ [note: "this...Church" is thus refering to the "visible Church" mentioned above] - which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church [12] - we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression "the Mystical Body of Christ" - an expression which springs from and is, as it were, the fair flowering of the repeated teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Fathers."

Because the encyclical is discussing the Mystical Body, and hence the visible existence of the Church the word "is" has been used. This visible Church is the Mystical Body is the Catholic Church. It isn't until later in the encyclical that Pius XII begins to discuss the soul of the Church.

What I personally found to be an even better read than the document itself was the commentary on the document issued by the same Congregation (in truth the commentary is about three times as long!) I'll let readers digest this post before posting some particularly clear and enlightening sections from the commentary.

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