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Neither Triumphalism or Indifferentism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 11 July 2007 19:45
Tom over at the remarkable Disputations has a really thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the recent CDF document about what exactly is meant when we say that the Church "subsists" in the Catholic Church.

Much of the commentary I've seen on St. Blog's about the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" has to do with the quality of secular news reports on it. The CDF document itself, it's pointed out, says nothing new, and in fact says:

The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the Catholic doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

Until yesterday, though, my own understanding of the conciliar expression:

"... the one Church of Christ... which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth", ... 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."

amounted to something like, "Well, you see, the Church erected by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, don't you know." And my answer to the question, "Why didn't they just say 'is'?," was a variation adapted to time and place of, "Because, on the whole, they decided to say 'subsists in.'"

With yesterday's document, though, the penny has fallen, at least a little.

"Subsists in" 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....Subsistence accounts for the second-order phenomena of disunity in a way that identity or predication does not.

But wait. There's more.

Catholic ecclesial doctrine -- at least as it's framed in recent CDF documents -- distinguishes three kinds of Christian communities:

Particular Catholic Churches, led by a bishop in communion with the Bishop of Rome(collectively,the Catholic Church}.

Particular Churches with true sacraments that are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Christian Communities that lack a sacramental priesthood.

The Lazy Reporter's Guide to Vatican Pronouncements directs you to identify all the bad things written about the second and third kinds, and indeed that can be done.

With careful editing, we can get:

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities... suffer from defects...."

"... these venerable Christian communities [i.e., Particular Churches not in communion with Rome] lack something in their condition as particular churches."

"... these Communities [that] do not enjoy apostolic succession ... are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church [and] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense."

Nothing new here, right?

But yesterday's document also includes a knock against the Catholic Church!

A gentle knock, to be sure, but a knock nonetheless:

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.

This, I take it, is part of the development and deepening of the Catholic doctrine on the Church that occurred at the Second Vatican Council. Sure, the Orthodox are hosed up by not being in communion with the Successor of Peter. And sure, the other Christian communities are even more hosed up by lacking apostolic succession and all that implies.

But Catholics are also hosed up! We lack the fullness of universality, the "plenitudo catholicitatis"!

The Catholic Church may possess the mark of catholicity, but she isn't fully catholic in history as long as there are Christian communities outside her.

(The commentary on the CDF document distinguishes "the fullness of the means of salvation," which the Catholic Church has, and "the fullness of catholicity proper to her," which "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.")

And it's looking at herself in this way -- not merely as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church calling to those Christians outside her fold, as the one who has lecturing those who have not, but as a Body herself genuinely wounded and lacking -- that informs the Church's post-conciliar efforts in ecumenism and Christian unity.

Not a take-it-or-leave-it triumphalism, not a mix-n-match indifferentism, but a true-to-your-proper-nature catholicism.

Oh, and we should never forget that the proper nature of Catholicism has been given to the Church, not by Council or Pope, but by Jesus Himself. As the commentary puts it, "progress in fullness is rooted in the ongoing process of dynamic union with Christ."

I knew this before, of course, maybe even a little better than I knew why Lumen gentium says "subsists in," but something in the brevity and clarity of yesterday's Q&A made it pop out for me.

Sherry's comment:

Tom's commentaries are always worth reading but this is exceptional even for him.

It reminds me of Fr. Michael Sweeney's noting that the Instruction on the Collaboration of the Lay Faithful in the Ministry of Priests that came out in the 90's and caused such a furor, actually represented a development of the theology of the laity and contained some of the strongest language asserting that the entire purpose for the existance of the ordained priesthood was not for its own sake but for the sake of holiness and mission of the royal priesthood (the laity).

So often, we don't carefully read church teaching because we approach simply as fuel for our pre-existing ideological conflicts. Is it "for" or "against" my position? But if we can get past the defensiveness and read in a spirit of faith, hope, and docility, very exciting things start to pop out.


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