Sunday, November 30, 2008

The teaching of Vatican II that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church is infallible

In a document entitled "Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 29, 2007, we read (in part):

" 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', that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. 'This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ... This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him'.

"In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen Gentium' 'subsistence' means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.
"It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the 'one' Church); and this 'one' Church subsists in the Catholic Church...

"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.'

"'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.' (For full text see here).

As Fernando Ocariz explains, "Christ founded only one Church his Church — on Peter, with the guarantee of indefectibility in the face of the persecutions, divisions and obstacles of every kind which she would encounter in the course of history (cf. Mt 16:18). Therefore, only one Church exists, which we confess, in the Creed as "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic".

The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that "this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although (licet) many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity".

As is well known this famous expression "subsistit in" was subsequently the object of many and contradictory interpretations. The notion became quite widespread that the Council had not wanted to adopt as its own the traditional statement according in which the Church of Christ is (est) the Catholic Church — as was stated in the preparatory schema — so as to be able to say that the Church of Christ subsists also in Christian communities separated from Rome.
In reality, however, an analysis of the Council proceedings leads to the conclusion that "[t]he phrase subsistit in is intended not only to reconfirm the meaning of the term est, that is, the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. Above all, it reaffirms that the Church of Christ, imbued with the fullness of all the means instituted by Christ, perdures (continues, remains) forever in the Catholic Church".

This meaning of the term subsistit coincides with the common language of Western culture and is consistent with classical philosophical language from Aristotle to St. Thomas; that which exists in itself and not in something else is said to subsist.

"Subsisting is a special case of being. It is being in the form of a subject standing on its own. This is the issue here. The Council wants to tell us that the Church of Jesus Christ as a concrete subject in the present world can be encountered in the Catholic Church. This can occur only once and the notion that subsistit could be multiplied misses precisely what was intended. With the word subsistit, the Council wanted to express the singularity and non-multiplicability of the Catholic Church".

In this Document of the Council, the assertion of the subsistence of the Church of Christ in the Catholic Church is followed by the famous phrase about the presence of many elements of sanctification and truth, belonging to the Church, outside her visible structure..." (Read full text here).

This teaching of the Second Vatican Council is rejected by some who consider themselves to be "traditional Catholics." But as Ralph McInerny said in his wonderful book "What Went Wrong with Vatican II": "Once voted on and promulgated by the Pope, a conciliar document is no longer the victory of one side or the triumph of a faction: it becomes part of the Magisterium of the Church."

Those who reject the teaching of the Second Vatican Council really do not understand (or accept) the infallibility of an ecumenical council. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us authoritatively that: "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself." (No. 891).
The teaching of Vatican II which affirms that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church is infallible. In order to further clarify this infallible teaching of the Church regarding the Church's identity, Pope Paul VI issued the document entitled, "Mystery of the Church" in which he restated in explicit terms that the faithful, "are not free to hold that Christ's Church nowhere yet really subsists today; so that the Church is considered only as an end which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to attain." (Part 1).


Anonymous said...

I believe "Brother" Andre Marie of the SBC cult is one of those who rejects this teaching of the Church. As McInerny has said - and I know you have said this repeatedly as well Paul - the problem isn't with the conciliar teaching but with false interpretations: With those who have tried to hijack the council to promote some sort of liberal agenda (e.g., constant references to the "spirit of the council" rather than the actual texts) So-called "traditional Catholics" have also been a problem at times as some of them have rejected the Council outright as being "heretical" or as having deviated from the Church's tradition.

Such people don't really believe in Christ's promises or His Church. They prefer to be their own "magisterium" and to "correct" Christ and His Church.

Anonymous said...

Pope John Paul II incorporated this infallible teaching of Vatican II in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, No. 10.

But while authentic Catholics accept the Second Vatican Council (one cannot do otherwise and remain in communion with the Church) dissenting "traditional" Catholics do not. "Brother" Andre Marie's mother has said that, "Vatican II was merely a pastoral council, not a doctrinal council. This is history and fact. The changes were brought about by liberal churchmen who undermined the church from within. This, too, is history." This after saying that no one can change Church doctrine. Who said otherwise? Vatican II didn't change Church teaching. It reaffirmed it. But to describe an infallible ecumenical council as "changes..brought about by liberal churchmen who undermined the Church from within" is just silly.

One cannot reject the authoritative and infallible teaching of the Second Vatican Council and call oneself Catholic.

Cleghornboy said...

The CDF document may be found here:

In the document, we read: "Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?" And the response: "The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it."

As Father John Hardon explained back in 1981 (in his Catholic Catechism): "For the first time in conciliar history, this issue was squarely faced and answered. The issue in question was not [whether] the Church is one. No believer in Christ would say otherwise. The issue was [where] this one Church of Christ can be found. The Second Vatican Council's answer is unequivocal. That which constitutes the one true Church - its churchness, so to speak - not merely exists but it subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Behind the [carefully chosen] verb 'subsists' stands the affirmation that the objective fullness of Christ's heritage to the Church - totality of his revelation, totality of his sacraments, and totality of authority to rule the people of God in his name - resides in the Catholic Church, of which the bishop of Rome is the visible head."

Louis Villarrubia's mother is simply wrong in her assertion that the teaching of Vatican II represents "changes" which "were brought about by liberal churchmen who undermined the church from within."

Michael Cole said...

Dei Verbum, No. 10 of Vatican II says that, ".. the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed."

Mrs. Villarrubia's anti-Vatican II rant comes as no surprise to me. Members of the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond are not in communion with the Church and believe themselves to be wiser than the Pope and the Bishops.

The more people who are made aware of the various statements issued by the Diocese of Manchester (such as the one which states clearly that the SBC has "no affiliation" whatsoever with the Roman Catholic Church), the better.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I love that McInerny quote. I went to my bookshelf to read it. Here's the full quote:

"Catholics Cannot Reject the Council

Sixteen official council documents emerged from sessions in which schemata were proposed, altered, replaced, argued, and ultimately voted on. Each of the conciliar documents can be parsed back into a written record of such debates and discussion, but there is no need to characterize such debates in terms of obscurantists and enlightened progressives - not even when, as in the case of the Declaration on Religious Liberty, the debate defines itself in terms of such opponents. For in the end, it is the final document that trumps all earlier arguments and discussion. Once voted on and promulgated by the Pope, a conciliar document is no longer the victory of one side or the triumph of a faction: it becomes part of the Magisterium of the Church.

There is little doubt that, in the minds of many observers, reporters, and even periti, a struggle was going on between the traditionalists and the innovators. Even if this mirrored a struggle among the Fathers of the council, when the dust settled, when the final vote was taken, when a document was approved and promulgated by the Pope, it was the product of the teaching Church. And in Her role as teacher, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. Whatever spirited battles took place in the course of the council, the only spirit that matters is the Holy Spirit, whose influence on the promulgated document is guaranteed."

Anyone who suggests that the Council was "heretical" or that Catholics are free to reject it is not in union with the Church.

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