Vatican II's Ecclesiological Riddle

Study Published by L’Osservatore Romano

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2005 ( The Second Vatican Council teaches that “the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church” and remains in her forever “in its fullness,” notes a study published by L’Osservatore Romano.

A long article in the Dec. 5-6 Italian edition of the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper clarifies interpretations that arose from that historic meeting of the world’s bishops, which attenuate the identification between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church.

Some post-conciliar interpretations erroneously hold that there is no essential difference between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.

The article appears on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.

The study, signed by Jesuit Father Karl Josef Becker, focuses on No. 8 of the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium,” which affirms that “the one Church of Christ … subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by Bishops in communion with him.”

The meaning of “subsistit in” — the article’s title — has given rise to heated theological debates.

From a long analysis of the path followed by the Council to come this affirmation, and taking into account what the conciliar decree “Unitatis Redintegratio” affirms on ecumenism, Father Becker draws two conclusions.

Toward unity

First is that “the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church and it remains in her forever in its fullness. Before, during and after the Council, the doctrine of the Catholic Church has been, is and will be this.”

Second, the theologian clarifies that “in the other Christian communities there are ecclesial elements of truth and sanctification that are proper to the Catholic Church and drive toward unity with her.”

Why are the elements called “ecclesial”? asks the theologian. Among his answers, he states that “they are ‘ecclesial’ as they are proper to the Catholic Church.”

In a broad sense, it can be said that “the Church of Christ acts in Christian communities, as Christ, insofar as the head (not body) of her, acts in these communities. Christ and the Holy Spirit act in them, reinforcing the elements that drive toward Christian unity in the one Church.”

“Whoever who defends with the Second Vatican Council the permanence of all the salvific elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, is totally willing to take into consideration the problems opened by Vatican II. Moreover, he finds in her doctrine clear directives as to how to address and resolve them,” concluded the article.

The article is expected to be published in its entirety in the various language editions of L’Osservatore Romano.

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