Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 21 November, 1964
CHAPTER I: THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
5. The mystery of the holy Church is already brought to light in the way it was
founded. For the Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is,
the coming of the kingdom of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures: "The time
is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk. 1:15; Mt. 4:17). This kingdom
shone out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ. The word of
the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field (Mk. 4:14); those who hear it with
faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ (Lk. 12:32) have truly received
the kingdom. Then, by its own power the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest (cf. Mk.
4:26-29). The miracles of Jesus also demonstrate that the kingdom has already come on
earth: "If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come
upon you" (Lk. 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). But principally the kingdom is revealed in
the person of Christ himself, Son of God and Son of-Man, who came "to serve and to
give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45).
When Jesus, having died on the cross for men, rose again from the dead, he was seen to
be constituted as Lord, the Christ, and as Priest for ever (cf. Acts 2:36; Heb. 5:6; 7:
17-21), and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father (cf. Acts
2:23). Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully
observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of
proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she
is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom. While she slowly grows to
maturity, the Church longs for the completed kingdom and, with all her strength, hopes and
desires to be united in glory with her king.
6. In the Old Testament the revelation of the kingdom is often made under the forms of
symbols. In similar fashion the inner nature of the Church is now made known to us in
various images. Taken either from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the
land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage, these images have their
preparation in the books of the prophets.
The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is
Christ (Jn. 10:1-10). It is also a flock, of which God foretold that he would himself be
the shepherd (cf. Is. 40:11; Ex. 34:11 f.), and whose sheep, although watched over by
human shepherds, are nevertheless at all times led and brought to pasture by Christ
himself, the Good Shepherd and prince of shepherds (cf. Jn. 10:11; 1 Pet. 5:4), who gave
his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10: 1 1-16) .
The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God (1 Cor. 3:9). On that land the
ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the
reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again
(Rom. 11:13-26). That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly
cultivator (Mt. 21:33-43; cf. Is. 5:1 f.). Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and
fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ
without whom we can do nothing (Jn. 15:1-5).
Often, too, the Church is called the building of God (1 Cor. 3:9). The Lord compared
himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the corner stone
(Mt. 21:42; cf. Acts 4:11; I Pet. 2:7; Ps. 117:22). On this foundation the Church is built
by the apostles (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11 ) and from it the Church receives solidity and unity.
This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells-
the household of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:19, 22); the dwelling-place of God among men
(Apoc. 21:3); and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of
worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared
in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are
built into it (I Pet. 2:5). It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out
of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her
husband (Apoc. 21:1 f.).
The Church, further, which is called "that Jerusalem which is above" and
"our mother" (Gal. 4:26; cf. Apoc. 12:17), is described as the spotless spouse
of the spotless lamb (Apoc. 19:7; 21:2 and 9; 22:17). It is she whom Christ "loved
and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her" (Eph. 5:263. It is
she whom he unites to himself by an unbreakable alliance, and whom he constantly
"nourishes and cherishes" (Eph 5:29). It is she whom, once purified he willed to
be joined to himself, subject in love and fidelity (cf. Eph. 5:24), and whom, finally, he
filled with heavenly gifts for all eternity, in order that we may know the love of God and
of Christ for us, a love which surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph. 3:19). While on earth
she journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:6), the Church sees
herself as an exile. She seeks and is concerned about those things which are above, where
Christ is seated at the right hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with
Christ in God until she appears in glory with her Spouse (cf. Col. 3:1 1).
7. In the human nature united to himself, the son of God, by overcoming death through
his own death and resurrection, redeemed man and changed him into a new creation (cf. Gal.
6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17). For by communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his
body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation.
In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe and who, through
the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his passion and
glorification Through baptism we are formed in the likeness of Christ: "For in one
Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). In this sacred rite
fellowship in Christ's death and resurrection is symbolized and is brought about:
"For we were buried with him by means of baptism into death"; and if "we
have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be so in the likeness of
his resurrection also" (Rom. 6:4-5). Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the
breaking of the eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one
another. "Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who
partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17) . In this way all of us are made members of
his body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27), "but severally members one of another"' (Rom.
As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are
the faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). Also, in the building up of Christ's body there
is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according
to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the
welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1-11). Among these gifts the primacy belongs to the
grace of the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are
endowed with charisms (cf. 1 Cor. 14). Giving the body unity through himself, both by his
own power and by the interior union of the members, this same Spirit produces and
stimulates love among the faithful. From this it follows that if one member suffers
anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members
together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26).
The head of this body is Christ. He is the image of the invisible God and in him all
things came into being. He is before all creatures and in him all things hold together. He
is the head of the body which is the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the
dead, that in all things he might hold the primacy (cf. Col. 1:15-18). By the greatness of
his power he rules heaven and earth, and with his all-surpassing perfection and activity
he fills the whole body with the riches of his glory (cf. Eph. 1:18-23).
All the members must be formed in his likeness, until Christ be formed in them (cf.
Gal. 4:19). For this reason we, who have been made like to him, who have died with him and
risen with him, are taken up into the mysteries of his life, until we reign together with
him (cf. Phil. 3:21; 2 Tim. 2:11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12, etc.). On earth, still as pilgrims
in a strange land, following in trial and in oppression the paths he trod, we are
associated with his sufferings as the body with its head, suffering with him, that with
him we may be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:17).
From him "the whole body, supplied and built up by joints and ligaments, attains a
growth that is of God" (Col. 2:19). He continually provides in his body, that is, in
the Church, for gifts of ministries through which, by his power, we serve each other unto
salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we may through all things grow unto him
who is our head (cf. Eph. 4:11-16, Gk.).
In order that we might be unceasingly renewed in him (cf. Eph. 4:23), he has shared
with us his Spirit who, being one and the same in head and members, gives life to, unifies
and moves the whole body. Consequently, his work could be compared by the Fathers to the
function that the principle of life, the soul, fulfills in the human body.
Christ loves the Church as his bride, having been established as the model of a man
loving his wife as his own body (cf. Eph. 5:25-28); the Church, in her turn, is subject to
her head (Eph. 5:23-24). "Because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead
bodily" (Col. 2:9), he fills the Church, which is his body and his fullness, with his
divine gifts (cf. Eph. 1:22-23) so that it may increase and attain to all the fullness of
God (cf. Eph. 3:19).
8. The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy
Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which
he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical
organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community,
the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of
as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complete reality which comes together
from a human and a divine element. For this reason the Church is compared, not without
significance, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature, inseparably
united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat
similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who
vivifies it, in the building up of the body (cf. Eph. 4:15).
This is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy,
catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's
pastoral care (Jn. 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it
(cf. Matt. 28:18, etc.), and which he raised up for all ages as "the pillar and
mainstay of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a
society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the
successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements
of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are
gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.
Lumen gentium, 58
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