Sunday, March 22, 2009

Themes in Lumen Gentium Part II


Ratzinger calls the most controversial point in Lumen Gentium point number 8 that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic subsists in the Catholic Church. (2005, p. 144) The Constitution notes; "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in (subsistit ) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him" (LG 8). In 1985 the CDF issued a notice concerning Leonardo Boff's "ecclesiology of relativism" (2005, p. 145). Boff denied that the historical Jesus' thought about or founded a Church. There was no "catholic" Church but merely various local Churches. Although some modern scholars have taken this misguided view, the fact that Jesus gathered and group of Apostles and consciously gave them a mission to fulfill in his absence, makes such thinking fruitless to anyone who accepts the historical reliability of the New Testament.

In reference to the passage cited from Lumen Gentium 8, Vatican II changed the earlier formula of Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi: "The Catholic Church is (est) the one Mystical Body of Christ." Cardinal Ratzinger comments on the distinction between subsistit and est:

The term subsistit derives from the classical philosophy, as it was further developed in Scholasticism. The Greek word corresponding to it is hypostatis, which plays a central role in Christology, for describing the unity between divine nature and human in the Person of Christ. Subsistere is a special variant of esse. It is "being" in the form of an independent agent. That is exactly what the Council is trying to tell us here. The Council is trying to tell us that the Church of Jesus Christ may be encountered in this world as a concrete agent in the Catholic Church. p. 147

The Universal Call to Holiness

Chapter 5 contains four sections (LG 39-42), including a preamble and three paragraphs, and is the shortest chapter of the constitution. This does not indicate that it is not important; on the contrary, it has a central place because it recalls the principal teachings. (de La Soujeole, p. 40)

The placement of this chapter five in Lumen Gentium is interesting. The Constitution begins with a chapter on the Mystery of Church. The word mystery echos Ephesians 1:9 in the Pauline corpus. The Greek term mysterium is equivalent to the Latin sacramentum. The Fathers of the council tell us, "The Church exists in Christ as a sacrament or instrumental sign of intimate union with God" (LG 1). Having shown the oneness of the Church in Christ the next chapter as the Chapter highlights the catholic nature of the Church. The Church is the People of God, and beginning with Adam and Eve the story of God's salvation history unfolds. God chose Israel to be his special people and now through Christ we too have been "grafted in" to God's People (Romans 11:17). By virtue of our union with Christ all of the faithful share in His priestly and prophetic ministry (LG 10, 12) and share in the missionary character of the Church (LG 17). Chapter three discusses the hierarchical nature of the Church and the episcopate, chapter four is on the laity, chapter five is on the universal call to holiness and chapter six is on the religious state. Chapter six on the religious state explicitly states that the council fathers did not want to describe the religious as an intermediate condition between the clerical and the lay, so they placed it after chapter five. The way in which the chapters are organized underscores the nature of the Church as one, catholic and apostolic before discussing its inherent holiness
(see the chart below). While the faithful of the Church may enjoy many callings the vocation to holiness is universal. The council father's note; "Though there are different ways of life and different duties, it is the same holiness which is cultivated by all who are led by God's Spirit. . ." LG 41.

The Church As a Living Organism*

*adapted with changes from Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole, O.P.


1.The mystery of the Church

(permanent identity) 

One and unique

Nature of the Church 

2.The People of God

(The mystery in history) 


3.The hierarchical structure of the Church

(the mediation between Christ and the Faithful) 


Edification of the Church 

4.The Laity

(receivers of Apostolic mediation and mission)

5. The universal call to holiness in the Church 


Vocation of the Church 

6. Religious 

7. Eschatological nature of the pilgrim Church and its union with the Church in heaven 

Realization of the Church 

8. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church


The preamble begins by restating that the Church is a mystery and that consequently only faith can grasp its profound identity. The particular issue to believe here is the holiness of the Church, which comes from its union with the only Holy One, Christ Jesus. This holiness is not, however, given and definitive; rather, it calls for the holiness of each member of the community, which is their sole purpose. (de La Soujeole, p. 40) What about the contradiction, the Church is holy, but its members are sinners? Fr. de La Soujeole notes; "It is necessary to distinguish the sancta (i.e., the Church's holy and sanctifying realities: the truth of the Gospel and the authentic sacraments) and the sancti (i.e., the people who receive the sanctifying realities)." p. 41. Fr. de La Soujeole notes;

Thus in remaining faithfully connected to the sources of grace--the Gospel and the authentic sacraments--holiness, as a gift of God, begets holiness when accepted, as the human vocation, which is progressively realized (p. 41).

We can define holiness as the assimilation to Christ and the Gospel's penetration of all aspects of life (p. 41).What about the ways and means of holiness? Lumen Gentium does not give a specific plan but emphasizes the sacraments, the Word of God, prayer, asceticism and sacrifices. Through the practice of virtue the lay faithful should imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of God" (LG 36). Even daily work "should climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity" (LG 41). Later in the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity the council Fathers note;

"The laity should vivify their life with charity and express it as best they can in their works. They should all remember that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance and voluntary acceptance of the labors and hardships of life whereby they become like the suffering Christ." (Apostolicam actuositatem, 16)


de La Soujeole, Benoît-Dominique O.P. "The universal Call to Holiness" in Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering, eds. Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal "The Ecclesiology of the Constitution Lumen Gentium", in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion. Trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005) pp. 123-152.


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