An Examination of Subsistit in: A Profound Theological Perspective

Author: Fr. Karl Josef Becker, S.J.

An Examination of Subsistit in: A Profound Theological Perspective

Fr. Karl Josef Becker, S.J.

The last 150 years have witnessed a deepening awareness among the faithful of the nature and universal mission of the Church. Various elements have contributed to this awareness: the intention of Vatican I to promulgate a Document that would contain a comprehensive treatment of the Church1 (a project which due to circumstances was never actually completed); the Encyclical Letter Satis Cognitum (1896)2 with which Leo XIII intended to re-focus the attention of the faithful on this topic; and in the same vein, the more profound treatment of the same theme by Pius XII in his Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis (1943).3

With the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council dedicated one of its most important Documents to the subject of ecclesiology and in this way opened up even broader horizons. And subsequently, the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio offered directives for the ecumenical movement.

These diverse elements have stimulated within Catholic thought a debate which has been both lively and enriching, but which has also been characterized by certain misunderstandings; most importantly, perhaps, regarding the meaning of the phrase subsistit in (subsists in).4

For instance, there is now a widely held view that the expression subsistit in was introduced because of the recognition of elementa veritatis et sanctificationis (elements of truth and sanctification) present in other Christian communities and therefore with the intention of weakening the identification of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. In order to evaluate this contention we need to examine carefully the actual intention of the Council.5

The Teaching of 'Lumen Gentium', n. 8
1. An Analysis of 'Lumen Gentium', n. 8

The relationship between Christ and the Church is described (in different ways) in each of the three paragraphs of this number.6 That it is a reciprocal relationship is indicated by the opening phrase of the first and the second paragraphs. The first paragraph begins with the expression UnicusMediator Christus; while at the beginning of the second paragraph we find the expression unica Christi Ecclesia. The link between these two singularities is made manifest in a phrase from the first paragraph which states that Christ through his Church veritatem et gratiam adomnes diffundit.

The Council then expounds the constitution (internal), the foundation and the perpetuation of the Church. Christ constituted the Church as a realitas complexa with two aspects, one visible and the other spiritual,7 giving it a hierarchical structure. This Church was founded upon Peter and the Apostles to whom has been entrusted its growth and guidance. This is the Church that we profess in the creed to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic".

This Church exists perpetually8 and subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops, "although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling towards Catholic unity" (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

That these descriptions of the Church of Christ indicate a single reality clear from the uniformity of the three expressions used in the text which each point to the same aspect: societas organis hierarchicis instructa (speaking in general); Petro... ac ceteris Apostolis (speaking about its perpetuation). The unity of this reality is also indicated by the phrase Haec Ecclesia (this Church), which is found twice in the second paragraph. What is being referred to here is the same reality referred to in the first paragraph, namely, the Church which we confess to be Catholic in the creed.

It follows that each of these descriptions refers to the Church founded by Christ, the Church governed by the Pope and the Bishops, the Church which communicates grace and truth to all, the one Church of Christ which is the Catholic Church. The subordinate phrase, which begins licet, simply affirms that the presence of elements of sanctification and of truth outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church does not invalidate any of the previous statements.9

Clearly, therefore, for Lumen Gentium, n. 8, the one Church of Christ is none other than the Catholic Church and it is only within this context that the term subsistit can be interpreted. To understand why this term appeared in the text we need to examine the Acts of the Council.

2. An Examination of the Acts of 'Lumen Gentium'

Aeternus Unigeniti

The remote background to the assertions of Lumen Gentium, n. 8, is to be found in the initial schema Aeternus Unigeniti. To interpret this Document correctly two points must be borne in mind.

In the first place the schema states that the one Church of Christ is the Catholic Church:

"Docet igitur Sacra Synodus et sollemniter profitetur non esse nisi unicam veram lesu Christi Ecclesiam,eam nempe quam in Symbolo, unam,sanctam, catholicam et apostolicamcelebramus. ...ideoque sola iure Catholica Romana nuncupatur Ecclesia" (n. 7).10

While the final text of Lumen Gentium retains the first assertion, which is doctrinal, the second, of a merely terminological nature, is dropped.

Secondly, the schema mentions the elementa Ecclesiae which reappear in Lumen Gentium, n. 8.

In chapter XI of the schema on ecumenism, De Oecumenismo, we find mention of fratres separati, christiani separati and christiani dissidentes always in the plural form, and also of Communitates christianae, either seiunctae or separatae, again always in the plural form, followed by the affirmation: "In iis enim elementa quaedamEcclesiae exsistunt ut potissimum Scriptura Sacra et Sacramenta...".11

Already, therefore, in the preliminary schema the expression elementa Ecclesiae existed alongside the affirmation Ecclesia Christi est Ecclesia Catholica. And no one was of the opinion that the mention of the presence of these elements of the Church of Christ in other communities was a reason to change the term est.

The process of development from Aeternus Unigeniti into Lumen Gentium was marked by a number of events, some of them quite surprising. In this context we are only able to describe those which touch upon and which are strictly necessary to our theme.

The Development of the Schemas

In the first half of November 1962 Mons. Gérard Philips wrote the so-called "Belgian Schema" Concilium duce Spiritu,12 basing it on Aeternus Unigeniti. Subsequently, in the first days of February 1963 he wrote another schema entitled Lumen Gentium.

In this new schema, finished on 26 February and given to a subcommittee of the Doctrinal Commission as a basis for the work of the Council,13 the above-quoted sentence from AeternusUnigeniti, n. 7, regarding the unicity of the Church of Christ reappears, omitting only the word veram. But the elementa Ecclesiae, already mentioned in Aeternus Unigeniti, n. 51, 1 and 3, are here placed in a subordinate sentence introduced by the term licet:

"Docet autem Sacra synodus et sollemniter profitetur non esse nisi unicam lesu Christi Ecclesiam, quam in Symbolo unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam celebramus, quam Salvator redivivus Petro et Apostolis pascendam tradidit.

"Haec igitur Ecclesia... est Ecclesia Catholica..., licet elementa quaedam sanctificationis extra totalem compaginem inveniri possint".14

Once again the conclusion is inevitable: the presence elsewhere of elements of sanctification in no way calls into question the fact that the Catholic Church is the one Church of Christ. The import of the text is not, therefore, that the Church of Christ is to be found wherever there may be elements of the Church, and in the Catholic Church in a more profound way than elsewhere. Two numbers further on, the affirmation about the Holy Spirit working outside of the Catholic Church is repeated.15

This revised Schema Lumen Gentium16 was given to the Fathers on 22 April 1963, and on 30 September of the same year it was presented on the floor of the Council with a slightly expanded version of the sentence beginning with licet:

"...licet extra totalem compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis inveniri possint, quae ut res Ecclesiae Christi propriae, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt".17

Both the first and the second part of the phrase come from Aeternus Unigeniti.18 The Commentarius for the Fathers that accompanies this number notes:

"Docet sollemniter Sacra Synodus hanc Ecclesiam, quam in Symbolo confitemur, esse Ecclesiam Catholicam, a Romano Pontifice et Episcopis in eius comunione gubernatam".19

After the discussion on the floor of the Council the text was revised. This textus emendatus — which is decisive for us — was given back to the Fathers on 3 July 1964 and was again presented on the floor of the Council on the following 15 September, Number 8 (previously n. 7 of the earlier text) affirms:

"Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia Catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae, ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt".20

The Relatio Generalis on the introduction and the first chapter states:

"Mysterium Ecclesiae tamen non est figmentum idealisticum aut irreale, sed existit in ipsa societate concreta catholica, sub ductu successoris Petri et Episcoporum in eius communione".21

It is very important to note that in explaining the sense of the phrase subsistit in, the phrase exsistit in is used. It is also necessary to quote four explanations from the Relatio Generalis on the individual numbers:

The first refers to the title of the chapter and reads: "alia ceterum Ecclesia praeter Ecclesiam Christi non exsistit".22

And as far as the Fathers are concerned this Church is the Catholic Church.

The other explanations refer to n. 8. The second: "...ecclesiam, cuius de scripta est intima et arcana natura qua cum Christo eiusque opere in perpetuum unitur, his in terris concrete inveniri in Ecclesia Catholica".23

A third: "Ecclesia est unica, et his terris adest in Ecclesia catholica, licet extra eam inveniantur elementa ecclesialia".24

A fourth: "Quaedam verba mutantur: loco 'est', I.21, dicitur 'subsistit in', ut expressio melius concordet cum affirmatione de elementis ecclesialibus quae alibi adsunt".25

This explanation is surprising, because the emphasized word adsunt— one should note that this is the second time that the verb adesse is used — refers to the verb in the subordinate phrase (beginning with licet), which fact does not use the expression adsunt but on the contrary employs inveniantur.

Meeting of the Commission of 25 and 26 November 1963

Using information contained in the Relatio Generalis we are able to attempt an explanation for this surprising discrepancy. The Relatio Generalis shows that on 25 and 26 November 1963 the full Doctrinal Commission had once again been occupied with the text.26 The archive records of those meetings and the letters of the theologians present help to clarify the text.27

One month previously, on 28 October, a subcommission had been set up undertake a revision of the text, which was revised based on the discussions on the floor in the following manner:

"Haec Ecclesia in hoc mundo ut societas constituita et ordinata, adest in Ecclesia catholica asuccessore Petri episcopis in eius communione gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis inveniantur quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt".28

This text was proposed to the plenary meeting of the Theological Commission on 26 November. At this meeting Mons. Philips explained the alteration:

"Deinde paucis etiam verbis of citationibus adductis dicitur: In hoc mundo societas constituta et ordinata Ecciasia 'adest in' Ecclesia catholica, ubi ponebatur 'est' Ecclesia Catholica. Curnam autem proponitur haec mutatio? Quia in Aula proposita est et etiam, quia... melius potest dici postea quod adsunt alibi elements.

"Si autem non placet, possumus mutare".29

Philips, therefore, wanted to say that the Church of Christ adest in the Catholic Church while outside of her structure adsunt elements of the Church. Mons. Philips gives two reasons for the change of terminology from est to adest, both of which need to be examined.

He justifies this new vocabulary, in the first place, with the words: Quia in Aula proposita est. In the discussions and in the animadversions scriptae, however, the term does not appear;30 in fact, the whole discussion is around the word est, which is mentioned positively by some and is contradicted by no one. There is no discussion on this matter.31

We have no alternative than to conclude, therefore, that the change of the term est to adest was the product of the work of the subcommission that proposed the new text to the Doctrinal Commission. Perhaps further study in the archives could throw more light on this point.

In the second place Philips spoke to justify the phrase adest Ecclesia with a reference to adsunt alibi elementa, even though the text states elementa... inveniantor. The report that was presented to the commission gave the same explanation in written form:

"Quaedam verba mutantor: loco 'est' I. 21, dicitur 'adest in', ut expressio melius concordet cum affirmatione de elementis ecclesialibus quae alibi adsunt".

Perhaps the term adsunt is used only to express the sense of the text and not what was actually written (inveniantur).

Following this discussion during the meeting of 26 November many of those present substituted adest with subsistit in their personal copies of the text, as is attested in their papers.

The documentation in the secret Vatican Archives about this meeting and its subsequent discussion is rather limited. We have short summaries and also a tape recording of the discussion.

The summaries tell us very little: nothing at all about the meaning of the new formulation. Three points, however, are certain.

H. Schauf wished to substitute adest with est, while S. Tromp responded by proposing subsistit in. It was Philips, the chairman of the discussion, who noted the acceptance of the term subsistit in. The change from adest to subsistit came, therefore, not from the Bishops but from members of the Commission, in the same way as the change from est to adest. It is not possible to identify the meaning that those present attributed to the term subsistit in.

The tape recording is more informative. It shows that Schauf disagreed with the term adest because in his opinion it was imprecise. Immediately Tromp replies:

"Possumus dicere: itaque subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, et hoc est exclusivum (said very forcefully), in quantum dicitur: alibi non sunt nisi elementa. Explicatur in textu".32

In his opinion, therefore, the term subsistit in expresses a property that is exclusive to the Catholic Church.

Returning to the Relatio Generalis of the meeting of 15 September 1884 we are now in a position to propose an explanation: the justification of the commission that is published in the Acts is the justification of the earlier text, not that resulting from the discussions.

The text of the Relatio Generalis still refers to the first modification (from est to adest). In all likelihood, therefore, the redactor had not noticed that the last modification introduced by the Commission (from adest, to subsistit) should have required a revision of the text of the Relatio corresponding to the new terminology.

This new terminology was introduced not because of the licet; it does not contradict it, but rather maintains it explicitly. Rather, it resulted from the opposition to adest which seemed too imprecise. The fact that the Relatio Generalis was not revisited has had the result that its explanation on this point no longer corresponds to the new formulation of the schema.

In order to complete the picture we must briefly mention that in the meeting of 30 November 1964 the two most important amendments concerned subsistit and both were rejected.33

Some Conclusions

Let us summarize the conclusions from our research thus far:

1. The Bishops never questioned the phrase "Ecclesia Christi est Ecclesia Catolica"; in other words, they clearly believed that the Church of Christ is identified with the Catholic Church.

2. Attempts to explain or translate the term subsistit in which do not take into account this affirmation of faith cannot be justified from the Acts.

3. From the very beginning S. Tromp had defended the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, maintaining and reinforcing this conviction in the Conciliar Schemas. It is unthinkable that, at the last moment, he changed his mind.

4. Mons. Philips adjunct secretary to the Commission, wrote in his book "...there (that is, in the Catholic Church) we find the Church of Christ in all its fullness and vigour...".34

5. No explanation was ever given for the change from est to adest, and from adest to subsistit. It is possible that some saw in the term est the possibility of denying or of not giving sufficient attention to ecclesial elements in other Christian communities. But if this hypothesis is granted, then the justification for the change would be terminological and not doctrinal.

We must now turn our attention to the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio in order to explain the above-mentioned conviction of the Bishops concerning the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church.

Analysis of the text of 'Unitatis Redintegratio' and research into the Acts

At the same time as the Schema on the Church was being discussed the Council was also working on the Schema on Ecumenism, both being promulgated together during the same session on 21 November 1964. It will be helpful to us, therefore, to investigate the Church vision which the Fathers expressed in Unitatis Redintegratio, both in the final text and in the preparatory discussions.

The Text of Chapter One of 'Unitatis Redintegratio'

In Chapter One, De catholicisoecumenismi principiis, the Council lays out the Catholic doctrine of the Church.

After his death and glorious Resurrection the Lord Jesus sent the Spirit, whom he had promised, to call the Church (the People of the New Covenant) into the unity of faith, hope and charity. This Spirit is the principle of unity in the Church. In order to establish the Church, Christ entrusted to the College of the Apostles the munus docendi, regendi et sanctificandi. He chose Peter, among the Apostles, on whom he would build his Church. Christ desires to make his Church grow and become perfect in unity by means of the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and the Successor of Peter. Thus, the Ecclesia unicus Dei grex makes its pilgrimage towards the heavenly Fatherland.

After this description in paragraph 2, the third paragraph begins:

"In hac una et unica Dei Ecclesia iam a primordiis scissurae quaedam exortae sunt".

It is very significant that the phrase Dei Ecclesia describes the Church which Christ entrusted to the Successors of Peter and the apostles. In paragraph 3 this Church is called Ecclesia Catholica five times.

Number 4.3 expresses the hope that:

" ...omnes Christiani, in una Eucharistiae celebratione, in unius unicaeque Ecclesiae unitatemcongregentur quam Christus ab initio Eccliesiae suae largitus est, quamqueinamissibilem in Ecclesia catholica subsistere credimuset usque ad consummationem saeculiin diescrescere speramus".

This one and only Church (cf. nn. 2 and 3), in which is the fullness of unity willed by Christ (4.1), is the Church which has been entrusted with all the truths revealed by God and all means of grace (4.5). The phrase subsisterein is the same as in Lumen Gentium:, n. 8. end means permanere, as also in Unitatis Redintegratio. n. 13.2.35

These principles put forward by the Council in the first chapter of UnitatisRedintegratio mirror exactly the doctrine of Lumen Gentium, 8: the Church of Christ is and always will be the Catholic Church.

Discussions According to the Acts

What emerges from the doctrinal part of Unitatis Redintegratio is confirmed by the discussions which are reported in the Acts. These discussions about Unitatis Redintegratio correspond in part with those concerning Lumen Gentium.

But the response of the Doctrinal Commission to the changes adopted in the first chapter of Unitatis Redintegratio was distributed to the Fathers on 9 November 1964 and put to a vote the day after, thus after the discussions about subsistit in.

To the numerous Bishops who thought that the Schema (which had the same title as the final Document) failed to give a sufficient exposition of Catholic doctrine, the secretary responded:

"Postea clare affirmatur, solam Ecclesliam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi".36

Another proposal from the Fathers, which made the same request but with even greater clarity, received the same response:

"In toto textu sufficienter effertur, quod postulator."37

To a later request to express the unicity of the Church more explicitly the secretary replied:

"Ex toto textu clare apparet identificatio Ecclesiae Christi cum Ecclesia Catholica, quamvis ut oportet, efferantur elementa ecclesialia aliarum communitatem".38

To reinforce the point he refers to two expressions in the text, "unicus Dei grex" (the one flock of God. Unitatis Redintegratio — final redaction — 2.5) and "una et unica Dei Ecclesia" (the one and only Church of God, Unitatis Redintegratio final redaction — 3.1).39 Another three responses insist on the unicity of the Church.40 What is being expressed in these answers is nothing other than the teaching of Lumen Gentium: "Textus supponit doctrinam in constitutione 'De Ecclesia'expositam".41

And in fact the Dogmatic Constitution is expressed in exactly the same way. Having spelled out in the first paragraph of n. 8 the essential elements of the Church constituted by Christ, it then summarizes them again in the opening phrase of the second paragraph and thus indicates clearly the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church:

"Haec est unica Christi Ecclesia, quam in Symbolo unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam profitemur...".

The significance of the word est is very important; it expresses the total identification of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. It is clear, then, that neither the Bishops nor the Secretariat for Christian Unity saw in the phrase subsistit in a change or a weakening of the 2,000-year-old doctrine of the Church according to which the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.42

Summary of Conclusions

We are now in a position to complete the conclusions drawn after our investigation into Lumen Gentium.

6. The phrase subsistit in cannot possibly be interpreted in a way which would contradict the meaning of est. This is completely clear from both the opinions of the Fathers and the responses of the Secretariat.

7. There are three possible interpretations of the phrase subsistit in:

— "to be realized in";

— "to subsist" in the ontological sense of the scholastics;

— "to remain, to be perpetuated in".

"To be realized in": nobody sees the Church of Christ as a purely idealistic or spiritual reality. But if it is conceived as a complex reality, both spiritual and visible, entrusted to the leadership of the apostles under Peter and his Successors, then the question arises as to what difference there is between est and subsistit in.

"To subsist" in a Scholastic sense: The scholastics knew subsistere, but not subsistere in. And subsistere meant for them exsistere in se, non in alio.43 Does it mean to say that the Church of Christ exists in itself in the Catholic Church?

"To remain, to be perpetuated in": S. Tromp, as an excellent Latinist, knew well that in classical Latin and even more in Medieval Latin this was the real meaning of the word. And this sense corresponds well to the doctrine of the Council, according to which all the means of salvation instituted by Christ are found for ever in the Catholic Church.

We find a confirmation of these conclusions of our research in the Allocution given by Paul VI to the Council Fathers during the session in which Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio were solemnly approved. The Pope affirmed:

"Huius vero promulgationis potissimum commentarium illud esse videtur:

"Quod Chrisitus voluit, idipsum nosmetipsi volumus.

"Quod erat, permansit.

"Quae volventibus saeculis Ecclesia docuit, eadem et nos docemus".44

The Catholic Church has always defended her total identity with the Church of Christ and she has continued to do so since the Council.45

The Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Mysterium Ecclesiae affirms:

"Unica est Ecclesia 'quam Salvator noster, post resurrectionem suam Petro pascendam tradidit (cf. lo. 21, 17), eique ac ceteris Apostolis diffundendam et regendam commisit (cf. Mt 18, 18 ff.)... atque haec Christi Ecclesia', 'in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a Successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata'".46

The Notification of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on L. Boff's book "Church: Charism and Power" declares:

"But the Council had chosen the word subsistit exactly in order to make clear that one sole 'subsistence' of the true Church exists, whereas outside her visible structure only elementa Ecclesiae exist; these — being elements of the same Church — tend and conduct toward the Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium, n. 8)".47

In its turn the Declaration Dominus Iesus, n. 17, summarizes the affirmation of Mysterium Ecclesiae.48

The Church of Christ is operative in Christian Communities (UUS, n. 11)

Another interpretation of the phrase subsistit in has on occasion been suggested on the grounds of Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, n. 11, paragraph 3:

"Prout eiusmodi elementa sunt in ceteris Communitatibus christianis, unica Christi Ecclesia praesentiam habet in eis efficientem".

From this it is deduced that if the Church of Christ is present also in other Christian communities, then it does not subsist only in the Catholic Church. Whoever was responsible for the redaction of this text has in all probability allowed himself to be inspired by the discussion on UnitatisRedintegratio.

In an attempt to explain why certain Christian communites are described as "ecclesialis" the relator of the Schema of Unitatis Redintegratio writes:

"In his coetibus unica Christi Ecclesia, quasi tamquam in Ecclesiis particularibus, quamvis imperfecte, praesens et mediantibus elementis ecclesiasticis aliquo modo actuosa est".49

In order to understand this phrase correctly it is necessary to pay attention to the terms Quasi, tamquam, quamvis imperfecte, aliquo modo, which are demonstrations of modus loquendi potius descriptivus et pastoralis.50 This was not included in the final conciliar text but remains a valuable demonstration of the extreme caution with which the Secretariat proceeded.

Pope John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, n. 11.3, does not use the phrase subsistit in, but "is present and operative". Whoever wants to explain this expression must remember its conciliar roots. We are dealing here with a Pope who did not use subsistit in, who wished always to keep us faithful to the Council, who therefore wanted to respect the intentions of the Council, whose relator had a very moderate and prudent attitude, and who used terms like quasi, tamquam, quamvis imperfecte, aliquo modo to approach an affirmation, without stating it formally. It is certainly now the duty of theology to clarify definitively the meaning of this phrase.


The 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) for ever in the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately in the 40 years since the Council a great many books and articles have proposed an interpretation of the phrase subsistit in which does not correspond to the doctrine of the Council. Among the many reasons that could be put forward for this situation, it would seem that the most relevant is a problem which the Council left open and which centres on two affirmations made by the Council with equal clarity:

1. The Church of Christ in all its fullness is and remains for ever the Catholic Church. Before, during and after the Council this was, is and will remain the teaching of the Catholic Church.

2. There are present in other Christian communities ecclesial elements of truth and of sanctification that are proper to the Catholic Church and which impel towards unity with it.

Why are these elements called "ecclesial"?

One response would be that they are ecclesial because they are proper to the Catholic Church. This would be true to the teaching of the Council.

An alternative response would be that they are "ecclesial" because they give to these Christian communities a collective identity and that this identity merits the name "Church" or that at least the description "ecclesial". That these communities have a collective identity is certain; that this characteristic merits the name Church is open to question. What is intended with the name "Church" and how is it to be demonstrated that it is theologically correct to apply the name to non-Catholic Christian communities?

A third response would be to justify the term "ecclesial" on account of a presence and an action of the Church of Christ. Now, in a proper sense this is not acceptable because the Church of Christ, that is, the Catholic Church, in its integrity is not present and operative in the Christian communities. A partial subsistence in being is a contradiction in terms, because it would be simultaneously both complete and a partial existence.

However, this could be possible in an analogous sense. If, for instance, one says that the United Nations has restored order in a particular country, what we are talking about is not the United Nations, nor even a part of it, but rather a group of soldiers with "blue helmets" acting on behalf of the United Nations.

In a similar though not identical way, one could say that the Church of Christ is operative in the Christian communities because of Christ, in so far as he is the Head (not the body) of the Church, through his Spirit, its soul (and not its body), is operative in these communities. Christ and the Spirit work in them, reinforcing the elements that impel towards the unity of Christians in the one Church.

Anyone who wants to defend, along with the Second Vatican Council, the perpetual presence of all the means of salvation instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church must also be prepared to look carefully at the problems which the Council left open. And anyone who does this will find in its teaching clear indications about how to confront and how to resolve these problems.


1Schema Constitutionis dogmaticae de Ecclesia Christi Patrum examini propositum: Mansi 51, 539-553; Schema Constitutionis dogmaticae secundae de Ecclesia Christi secundum reverendissimorum patrum animadversiones reformatum: Mansi 53, 308-317. This last schema was edited by Joseph Kleutgen who sent it to the Deputatio de fide, which took it no further.

2AAS 28 (1895-96) 708-739.

3AAS 35 (1943) 193-248.

4 "Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt" (LG, n. 8).

5 I refer here to an article by U. Betti (Chiesa di Cristo e Chiesa Cattolica, in: "Antonianum" 61 [1986] 726-745), which has even today an enduring importance.

6 Cf. a more detailed description and analysis in G. Philips, La Chiesa e il suo Mistero, Milan, 1986 (3 ed.) 107-111.

7 One could compare, for example, the following conceptual parallels:

Fidei, spei et caritatis communitas — compago visibilis; mysticum Christi Corpus — societas organis hierarchicis instructa; communitas spiritualis — coetus aspectabilis; Ecclesia terrestris — Ecclesia coelestibus donis ditata.

8 As was already indicated in the first part of LG, n. 8: " in perpetuum ut columnam et firmamentum veritatis erexit".

9 The third paragraph of LG, n. 8, indicates that poverty and persecution in the life and work of Christ will also characterize the way of the Church. This theme, however, is beyond the scope of this article.

10 Schema Const. Decr., series secunda, pp. 12, 17-19, 23-24; cf. n. 9, p. 15, 29.

11Ibid., n. 51.1, p. 81, 27 ff.; cf. n. 51.2 and 3, p. 81, 32.35.36.

12 Francisco Gil Hellin, Constitutio Dogmatica De Ecclesia, Città del Vaticano 1995, 694 Note with *.

13 In Enchiridion Symbolorum (Denzinger — Hünermann, Ger, ed.) 1172 it states: "Following on the previous development of ecclesiology... at the end of the first session a schema which had been prepared under the direction of Cardinal A. Ottaviani and S. Tromp, S.J., was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Council Fathers". If this statement is to be kept in its proper perspective, however, we need to balance it with the facts. As Tromp records: "Ex istis qui in Concilio sive ore sive solo calamo suam manifestaverunt sententiam, circa 55 probaverunt schema, circa 40 postulaverunt ut funditus reformaretur, circa 20 non protulerunt iudicium et 15 egerunt de rebus particularibus vel non spectantibus".

14 Schema Philips Lumen Gentium, chap. 1, n. 7: Gil Hellin, I.c. 697.

15Ibid., n. 9; ibid., 698.

16 ASCOV II/I 215-281 (Lumen Gentium, Part I, chaps. 1-4).

17 Ibid., 220 in nn. 7, 21-23.

18 Cf. above, note 12.

19 ASCOV II/I 230.

20 ASCOV III/I 167 ff.

21Ibid., 180.1.

22 "Quidam proponunt ut titulum generalem 'De Ecclesia Christi', qui a Vaticano I adhibetur. Sufficit tamen titulus 'De Ecclesia' qui in Vaticano II iam receptus est; alia ceterum Ecclesia praeter Ecclesiam Christi non exsistit. Unde brevior expressio videtur satis clara" (ASCOV III/I 170).

23 ASCOV III/I 176; n. 8, line 2.

24 ASCOV III/I 176 b).

25Ibid., 177, line 2.

26Ibid., 179.3.

27 Fr. U. Betti, a member of the subcommission, made no record in his diary for the days 25-26 November 1963: U. Betti, Pagine di Diario. 11 Ottobre 1962 — 20 Dicembre 1965, in: "Lateranum" 61 (1995) [565]299-[639]373.

28 This text came from the papers of the members of this Commission.

29 Transcription of the tape recording of the session.

30 Cf. the texts in ASCOV III 1343-801.

31 The only intervention worthy of mention was from Bishop Van Dodeward of Harlem who proposed: "Hoc medium universale salutis invenitur in Ecclesia catholica, a Romano Pontifice et episcopis in eius communione directa, licet extra totalem compaginem elementa plura veritatis et sanctificationis inveniri possint..." (ACSOV II I 433 ff.).

32 The punctuation and the words in parentheses are mine.

33 "Sub n. 8, p. 15, lin 19-21 proponunt 19 Patres ut scribatur: '...subsistit integro modo in Ecclesia Catholica'. Alii 25 Patres volunt addere: 'ure divino subsistit'. Rursus alii 13 Patres, loco 'subsistit in' proponunt ut scribatur 'est'. Unus vero proponit, ut loco subsistit, dicatur consistit.

"Ut patet, duae manifestantur tendentiae, una quae sententiam aliquatenus extenderet, altera quae vellet eam restringere.

"De qua re Commissio iam antea post largam disceptationem, elegit vocem 'subsistit in'; cui solutioni omnes praesentes adhaeserunt.

"Quod attinet ad additionem integro modo, respiciatur sub n. 14, p. 36, lin 4 ss. Quod spectat ad additionem iure divino, ex contextu paragraphi patet sermonem esse de institutione Christi.

"Resp.: Standum est textui admisso..." (ASCOV III/VI 81).

34 G. Philips, La Chiesa, 111.

35 In order to avoid false conclusions it is only necessary to note the subject: "...traditiones et structurae catholicae ex parte subsistere pergunt".

36 Ad nr. 1 (Prooemium), Schema Decreti (ASCOV, III/II 296, 3-6): "Pag. 5, lin. 3-6: Videtur etiam Ecclesiam Catholicam inter illas Communiones comprehendi, quod falsum esset.

"R(espondetur): Hic tantum factum, prout ab omnibus conspicitur, describendum est. Postea clare affirmatur solam Ecclesiam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi" (ASCOV III/VII 12).

37In Caput I in Genere (ASCOV III/II 297-301): "4 — Expressius dicatur unam solam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi; hanc esse Catholicam Apostolicam Romanam; omnes debere inquirere, ut eam cognoscant et ingrediantur ad salutem obtinendam....

"R(espondetur): In toto textu sufficienter effertur, quod postulatur. Ex altera parte non est tacendum etiam in aliis communitatibus christianis inveniri veritates revelatas et elementa ecclesialia" (ASCOV III/VII 15). Cf. also ibid., point 5.

38 In n. 2, Caput I Schema Decreti (ASCOV III/II 297 ff.): Pag. 6, lin. 1-24: "Clarius exprimatur unicitas Ecclesiae. Non sufficit inculcare, ut in textu fit, unitatem Ecclesiae.

"R(espondetur): "a) Ex toto textu clare apparet identificatio Ecclesiae Christi cum Ecclesia catholica, quamvis, ut oportet, efferantur elementa ecclesialia aliarum communitatum.

"b) Pag. 7, lin. 5, Ecclesia a successoribus Apostolorum cum Petri successore capite gubernata (cf. novum textum ad pag. 6. lin. 33-34) explicite dicitur 'unicus Dei grex' et lin. 13 'una et unica Dei Ecclesia '" (ASCOV III/VII 17).

These two expressions are found today in UR, nn. 2.5 and 3.1.

39 One proposal (63) wanted to make "Ecclesiae concredita est" more precise by saying "uni Ecclesiae Christi concredita est". The secretary responded:

"Ex contextu nequit esse dubium quin intelligenda sit una Christi Ecclesia" (ASCOV III/VII 36).

40In Caput I in Genere (ASCOV III/II 298,5.8 et 299,10.12): "11 — Unicitas verae Ecclesiae explicitius et in recto exhibenda esset....

"R(espondetur): Ex toto textu et ex singulis quoque affirmationibus... unicitas Ecclesiae satis apparet; refertur etiam ad constitutionem 'De Ecclesia '" (ASCOV III/VII 16). Cf. also "17 — ...where the Unity and Unicity of the Church is explicitly mentioned", page 7, line 13 (ASCOV III/VII 19). Cf. also ASCOV III/VII 24 Response to Proposal 47.

41In Caput I in Genere (ASCOV III/II 296s.). "5 — Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam....

"R(espondetur): Textus supponit doctrinam in constitutione 'De Ecclesia' expositam, ut pag. 5, fin. 24-25 affirmatur" (ASCOV III/VII 15).

42 This complete identification is often called into question these days with a citation from UR, n. 15.1, which is speaking of the separated Oriental Churches:

"Proinde per celebrationem Eucharistiae Domini in his singulis Ecclesiis, Ecclesia Dei aedificatur et crescit, et per concelebrationem communio earum manifestatur".

This text has been used to prove that Vatican II, by using the term "Church of God", was admitting the existence of a Church larger than the Church of Christ or the Catholic Church. Now, it is not easy to interpret this phrase. There was significant resistance to it on the floor of the Council and the responses of the Secretariat are not clear, referring to Lumen Gentium and its understanding of the Church (ASCOV III/VIII 679-680; the responses to Proposals 4-7).

The great difficulty in the text is the fact that St John Chrysostom, who is being quoted here, was talking about the Eastern Churches within the Catholic Church before the separation of Eastern Christians, and the quote therefore proves nothing about the issue that it is cited in connection with.

Finally, the phrase "Ecclesia Dei" occurs again in UR, n. 3 (see above The Text of Chapter One of Unitatis Redintegratio), and here definitely signifies the Catholic Church. So, if the norm is observed according to which obscura per clara interpretanda sunt, then the position of the Secretariat in this discussion is clear, beyond any doubt.

43 Thomas Aquinas, STh, I q 29 a 2c:

"Illa enim subsistere dicimus, quae non in alio, sed in se existunt".


45 See CCC, nn. 813-816.

46 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae 1: AAS 65 (1973) 396/397.

47 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notificatio de Scripto P. Leonardi Boff, O.F.M., "Church: Chasrism and Power", AAS 77 (1985) 756-762.

48 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus, AAS 92 (2000) 742-765.

49 ASCOV III/II 335 Ad b).

50Ibid., 335, at the end of Ad a).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
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14 December 2005, page 11

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