[From Faith & Reason, Spring 1987.
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The Church Resplendent in Christ
EDWARD J. BERBUSSE, S.J.
[Fr. Edward Berbusse, SJ is no stranger to these pages. In
this beautiful essay on the mystery of the Church, he probes
the profound teaching of Lumen Gentium and shows how this
document is grounded in Catholic Tradition. In so doing, he
reveals the unique position of the See of Peter and its
essential role in the service of unitas as willed by
On the fifth anniversary of the closing of Vatican II, Pope
Paul VI directed an Apostolic Exhortation (1970) to the
bishops "in peace and communion with the Apostolic See,"
reminding them of the pastoral words of Gaudium et Spes
(sec. 54): "The Church of Christ takes her stand in the
midst of the anxieties of this age, and . . . intends to
propose to our age over and over again, in season and out of
season, the apostolic message." He was very aware that "the
faithful are troubled in their faith by the accumulation of
ambiguities, uncertainties and doubts about its essentials."
The Holy Father then spoke of specific problems: the
Trinitarian and Christological dogmas, the mystery of the
Eucharist and the Real Presence, the Church as the
institution of salvation, the priestly ministry, prayer and
the sacraments. His concern also extended to the moral
requirements in marriage and life, and to the radical
demythologizing of Holy Scripture. The modern tendency, he
said, is to "reconstruct from psychological and sociological
data a Christianity cut off from the unbroken Tradition
which links it to the faith of the apostles, and a tendency
to extol a Christian life deprived of religious elements. In
a whole series--either before or after this exhortation of
1970--the Pontiff gave guidance to the Church through either
encyclicals or declarations of the Congregation of the
Doctrine of the Faith. He stressed the right of the people
to receive the word of God, the whole word, "of which the
Church has not ceased to acquire deeper comprehension." Here
he touched upon a theme that was profoundly explained by
Cardinal Newman in his Essay on the Development of Christian
Doctrine. The Pope insisted that the unchangeable teaching
must command faithful respect; that "the deposit of faith
itself . . . is one thing; the way in which these truths are
presented is another, although they must keep the same sense
The Church, ever in union with Christ, has an intrinsic and
perduring structure that was given by Christ and entrusted
to the bishops who, in collegiality, and ever in union with
the successor of Peter, keep the Tradition. The faithful
consequently are bound to this teaching, discipline and
liturgy; they are to love their bishops. So the Council
taught: "Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman
Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to Divine
and Catholic truth." (Lumen Gentium, 22ff.) Paul VI warned
the bishops of prevailing relativism, "an arbitrary
selection . . . reducing God's design to the limits of our
human views," and "restricting the proclaiming of His word
to what our ears like to hear." They were reminded that
sociological surveys which discover thought-patterns of a
people of a particular place, "cannot of themselves
constitute a determining criterion of truth." They were to
be wary of theologians and exegetes who lapsed in their
fidelity to the Christian Tradition. While freedom of
conscience was valid for personal decisions in relation to
the faith, it was not to be determinative of the content and
scope of Divine Revelation. Scientific research in
hermeneutics is a way of "investigating the revealed data";
but the data transcends the exegesis in both its origin and
content. True theology, he said, "rests upon the written
word of God, together with sacred Tradition, as its
perpetual foundation." Here the Pope cited the Dogmatic
Constitution on Revelation (Dei Verbum, 24) of Vatican
Council II. Paul was most careful to remind the bishops that
"it is not to the learned that God has confided the duty of
authentically interpreting the faith of the Church; that
faith is borne by the life of the people whose bishops are
responsible for them before God." The bishops were advised
of St. Paul's Letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-5): "Refute
falsehood, correct error, call to obedience." How much the
bishops of today must be "brave under trials" and "preach
the Good News" as their life's work. This is the role of the
bishop in the perduring structure that Christ has given to
His Church. They will be severely tried to weaken before the
brilliance of theologians who distort the nature of Christ
and His Church; scholarly Scriptural exegetes will lure them
into a demythologizing of Christ; orthopractic liberation
theologians are today tempting the bishops to accept a form
of Christian renewal that wishes to draw upon Marxist
analysis to produce a deceptive form of justice. None of
these lures are of Divine origin. The bishops, who greatly
need the prayers of their flock, need discernment that is
primarily found in the Mystery of the Church.
Mystery of the Church
It is in the mystery of the Church that we look upon its
most profound origin, life and fulfillment in Christ. In
this mystery is found the splendor of the Church, the
transcendent font of life that, while nourishing the
faithful people of God, is ever hidden in Eternity. This is
the name given to the first chapter of the Dogmatic
Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium), the foundational
document of the 16 documents that constitute the teachings
of Vatican Council II. In 1972, in his Sources of Renewal,
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla spoke of it as "the key to the whole
of the Council's thought." It presents "the complex variety
of ways towards the enrichment of faith, leading from
Vatican II into the future." The Church is universal,
unrestricted; it must "correspond to the Divine Plan of
salvation and the work of redemption." As we read in the
Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World
(Gaudium et Spes, 76): "The Church, by reason of her role
and competence, is not identified with any political
community. . . . It is at once the sign and safeguard of the
transcendental dimension of the human person." It is with
this Good News of Christ that John Paul II visits the People
of God in every country of all continents that they may
return to the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ in His
Church, be enriched in their Faith and ever more fully
participate in Divine Truth.
The dogmatic Constitution on the Church begins with the
words, "Christ is the light of humanity." He, the Divine
Person, subsisting in two natures, establishes His Church,
as a means of salvation; deepens the Divine dialogue with
His creatures. And this reaching out to man is through His
Church from which visibly shines the light of Christ, and is
"in the nature of a sacrament," a sign and instrument for
communion with God and unity among men. This sacred synod of
Vatican II set out to explain the Church's nature and
mission, "in accord with the tradition laid down by earlier
councils." The Latin says it beautifully: "praecedentium
Conciliorum argumento instans" Then the Conciliar Fathers
explained the role of the Trinity in this work of Divine
Love. The Father "at all times held out to man the means of
salvation," to be accomplished in the Eternal Son, "image of
the invisible God, and firstborn of every creature." This
Church would call all in Christ and through Him draw all to
adoptive sonship; it would grow as He reached out to them
from His Cross, renewed in the Sacrifice of the altar. And,
lest some be fearful and without hope, the Fathers repeated:
"All men are called to this union with Christ." The Holy
Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, becomes the
"Spirit of life, the fountain of water springing up to
eternal life." He "guides the Church in the way of all truth
. . . bestowing upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic
gifts." Here, in this first chapter, we see the preparation
for the succeeding two: the People of God and the Church
Hierarchical. While the people of God will ever receive many
gifts, both ordinary and extraordinary, they will need and
essentially depend upon the established structure, the
teaching Church of bishops who are in union of collegiality
and dependent on the successor of Peter for completion of
unity. This Cardinal Newman called the sacramentum unitatis
and trenchantly argued:
"If the whole of Christendom is to form one Kingdom, one head
is essential; at least this is the experience of eighteen
hundred years. As the Church grew into form, so did the
power of the Pope develop; and wherever the Pope has been
renounced, decay and division have been the consequence. We
know of no other way of preserving the Sacrementum Unitatis
but a centre of unity."
And this Church has impressed upon it the marks of the
working of the Holy Trinity; it cannot defect from that
integrity. And so, said the Synodal Fathers, quoting from
St. Cyprian of the 3rd century: "The universal Church is
seen to be `a people brought into unity from the unity of
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.'"
This Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God which
has received the "seed," the word of the Lord sown in it. It
is a flock of which God is the shepherd. It is the building
whose cornerstone is Christ, and whose workers are the
apostles; and, as "living stones we here on earth are built
into it" (1 Pet. 2:5). Baptism brings us into likeness to
Christ; and "in the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread, we
are taken up into communion with Him and with one another."
We form one body, with only one Spirit whose gifts are for
the preservation of that oneness. The primacy of gifts is in
the grace of the apostles "to whose authority the Spirit
subjects even those who are endowed with charisms" (1 Cor.
14). This visible society, this spiritual community forms
one complex reality, bonded in elements both human and
Divine. And so the "social structure of the Church serves
the Spirit of Christ." Here the Council Fathers teach: "This
is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess
to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. . . . It subsists
in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of
Peter and by the bishops in communion with him." The Fathers
give place to true ecumenism by observing that "many
elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside
its visible confines"; such gifts, however, "belong to the
Church of Christ . . . forces impelling toward Catholic
unity." Certain dissident theologians attempt to change this
sole Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, into only one
model, while other ecclesial bodies are said to express
other models. Such fallacious reasoning overlooks the
obvious meaning of the Conciliar teaching, a reading that
takes words out of context, fails to see other sections of
Lumen Gentium (as chapters 3 & 4) which sustain Papal
teaching; and ignores the references that give
interpretation. One who reads carefully will see that
Vatican II reaches back to the Mystici Corporis (1943) of
Pius XII, to the dogmatic constitution of Vatican I (1870)
and to the Tridentine Profession of Faith (1564) in which
one confesses that the holy, catholic and apostolic Roman
Church is the mother and teacher of all. This integrity of
teaching has been described by Cardinal Wojtyla as
". . . an organic cohesion expressing itself simultaneously
in the thought and action of the Church as a community of
believers. It expresses itself, so that . . . we can
rediscover and, as it were, re-read the magisterium of the
last Council in the whole previous magisterium of the
Church, while on the other we can rediscover and re-read the
whole preceding magisterium in that of the last Council."
Here lives this one Church, "given strength . . . so that
she may reveal in the world, faithfully, however darkly, the
mystery of her Lord until, in the consummation, it shall be
manifested in full light."
The People of God
This mystical love of God for His children reaches out at
all times and in every race to "anyone who fears God and
does what is right." His desire is to make them into a
people, as He joined in covenant with the Israelite race. In
this He pre-figured the "new and perfect covenant which was
to be ratified in Christ." In His Blood, Christ instituted
the new covenant, as one and in the Spirit. Immediately the
Council Fathers etched the oneness of this people, with its
ecumenical apostolate of evangelization. The Messianic
people, "although it does not actually include all men, and
at times may appear as a small flock, is, however, a most
sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human
race." Since Christ is high priest to God the Father, so
His new people must be a "kingdom of priests." It is to be a
priesthood in and of sacrifice: the common priesthood of the
faithful who receive the sacraments, pray, give witness of a
holy life and engage in active charity, while the
ministerial/hierarchical priesthood "forms and rules the
priestly people by effecting the Eucharistic sacrifice."
Since Christ is also prophet, His holy People must share in
His prophetic office, by living a life of faith and love.
This is described by the Fathers as an "anointing that comes
from the holy one." When so united in ChriSt, this "whole
body of the faithful" cannot err in matters of Belief. It is
a gift, a sense of faith (sensus fidei) shared by the whole
people, "from the bishops to the last of the faithful."
This infallibility of the Church is not autonomous to each
member of the faithful, but depends upon the Spirit of truth
who holds them in covenant; they for their part must submit
to the Holy Spirit who gives them the magisterium (sacred
teaching authority) for their guidance. The whole creedal
teaching of the Church, the entire moral commandments, the
discipline of the sacraments in both conferral and ministry
is dependent on those who rule the Kingdom of Christ. These
are the bishops, each of which must be in collegial union
with the others and most especially with the Apostolic See,
the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ for the whole Church.
While the sacraments are the ordinary and greatest gifts in
the Church, the Holy Spirit also distributes "special
graces" (called "charisms") to be used for "the renewal and
building up of the Church." They are "fitting and useful for
the needs of the Church"; but such "extraordinary gifts are
not to be rashly desired nor is it from them that the fruits
of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected." One
is here aware of the Council's cautioning of those who would
expect, as a necessity, the gift of tongues, their
interpretation or other extraordinary experiences. Instead,
they should submit to the judgment of those in charge of the
Church as to the "genuineness and proper use of these
Since there is one People of God and since "all men are
called to belong to the new People of God," how can men
relate to this unique oneness? They do relate. The Council
teaches that all belong (pertinent) or are related
(ordinantur): "the Catholic faithful, others who believe in
Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God's grace to
salvation." In a series of seven categories, the Fathers
of the Council delineate the degree of incorporation or
relation of peoples to the one Church of Christ which is the
Catholic Church. First, there are the Catholic faithful who
are fully incorporated and "accept all the means of
salvation given to the Church" and her entire organization:
Faith, sacraments and ecclesiastical government. They are
joined in the physical structure that is ruled by the
Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Secondly, catechumens who
desire in the Holy Spirit to be incorporated, and so are
joined with her. Third, the baptized who have not
preserved unity/communion under Peter's successor, but who
love Holy Scripture, have zeal and Baptism "which unites
them to Christ." Many possess the episcopate and so
celebrate the Eucharist; they are indeed "in some real way
joined to us in the Holy Spirit." Fourth, the Jews of the
promises and covenants who have not yet received the Gospel
are "related to the People of God in various ways." Moslems
who "profess the faith of Abraham" and adore the one,
merciful God are related. A sixth category consists of those
who "in shadows and images seek the unknown God"; God is not
remote from them. And those who through no fault of their
own do not know the Gospel or the Church, yet "seek God with
a sincere heart" and try to do His will (operibus adimplere
. . . conantur), "those too may achieve eternal salvation."
Lastly, Divine Providence does not deny the assistance
necessary for salvation to those "who, without any fault of
theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of
God." They are recipients of grace, but must strive to lead
a good life. They too are enlightened that they may come to
This extraordinary teaching of the Church reveals its
universal love for all men; it commits itself to reaching
out to all men with ecumenical zeal. The universal salvific
will, as it was Christ's, is the Church's as she sends
heralds of the Gospel to all men. This is the urging of the
Holy Spirit within her: the desire to incorporate all men
into Christ, "so that in love for Him they may grow to full
maturity" (usque ad plenitudinem crescant). And so, though
all come to God by His grace and with the labor of an honest
conscience, in ways unknown to us, "each disciple of Christ
has the obligation of spreading the faith to the best of his
The Church Hierarchical
In its role of apostolical zeal that reaches out to all men,
the Church has a visible structure of bishops who, in
succession to the apostles, shepherd the People of God ever
increasing the sheepfold. A variety of offices are
constituted and their holders invested with a sacred power.
These are the bishops who have Peter's successor as their
head; in his sacred primacy and infallible teaching office
unity is assured. And so "bishops, successors of the
apostles . . . together with Peter's successor, the Vicar of
Christ and visible head of the whole Church, direct the
house of the living God." In the writing of Cardinal
Journet, we read:
"The Father, Christ, the apostolic body composed of Peter and
the other apostles, the people--these are the links of a
chain proclaimed by the whole Gospel. And impulse of
extraordinary power began . . . passing first into Christ .
. . from Christ into the apostolic body. . . . It subsists
like a unique living thing from generation to generation. .
. . The religion of the Gospel is not egalitarian, but
apostolic; it is not a religion without intermediaries, but
In correction of the errors of the Reformers of the 16th
century, who were teaching that there is no special
priesthood and with it a hierarchy--recognizing only a
"general priesthood" of all the faithful--the Church in the
Council of Trent declared: "There exists in the Catholic
Church a hierarchy instituted by Divine ordinance." (Denz.
966) These hierarchical magisterial powers of the Church
embrace a teaching, pastoral and sacerdotal power. Again, in
1794, Pius VI rejected as heretical the Gallican teaching of
the pseudo-synod of Pistoia that the power of the Church was
transferred immediately to the totality of the faithful, and
from the Church to their pastors. (Denz. 1502) In 1907, in
the Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pius X condemned the Modernist
proposition that the Catholic hierarchy is a result of a
general historical development, (Denz. 2091) and in 1943
Pius XII rejected the separation of the Church of charity
from the juridical Church, saying: "There can be no real
opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the
Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and
Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement
and perfect each other." (Mystici Corporis, sec. 66).
Lastly, in Ecclesiam Suam, (1964) Paul VI taught:
The community of the faithful can be profoundly certain of
its participation in the Mystical Body of Christ when it
realizes that by Divine institution, the ministry of the
Hierarchy of the Church is there to give it a beginning, to
give it birth, to teach and sanctify and direct it. It is by
means of this Divine instrumentality that Christ
communicates to His mystical members the marvels of His
truth, and of His grace. (sec. 37)
In conformity with this constant teaching, Vatican II
repeated the tradition, saying: "Following in the steps of
the First Vatican Council" this Synod teaches that Jesus
Christ set up the Church by entrusting the apostles with
their mission, as shepherds in His Church, and with the
power to pass on this authority. These shepherds He
constituted in the "form of a college or permanent assembly,
at the head of which He placed Peter."
Certain Scripture scholars take exception to this clear
traditional teaching of the Church by suggesting that "the
sacramental `powers' were given to the Christian community
in the persons of the Twelve; and the Church may also
recognize the sacramental authority of others who were not
ordained by the Twelve." The reason given for such deviant
teaching is: "If the sacramental power resides in the
Church, it can be given to those whom the Church designates
or acknowledges, without a lineal connection to the Twelve";
and, finally, "the affirmation that all the bishops of the
early Christian Church could trace their appointments or
ordination to the Apostles is simply without proof." The
rashness of such statements indicates that, despite the
learned use by exegetes of their scientific tools, they
labor under a proclivity to fallibility; and so--need the
guidance of the Magisterium which was established to
interpret the harmony between Scripture and Tradition. It is
necessary to recall Vatican II's teaching in Dei Verbum:
"It is clear that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God,
sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of
the Church are so connected and associated that one of them
cannot stand without the others."
It was the Apostles who were commanded to preach the Gospel,
to communicate the gifts of God to all men; they handed on
by the spoken word, by the institutions they established,
both from the lips of Christ and from the prompting of the
Holy Spirit. Others "associated with the apostles . . .
(and) under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit,
committed the message of salvation to writing." It is
apostolic teaching that is to be preserved and handed on; it
is the apostles who warn the faithful to keep the Tradition
that comes from them.
It is strengthening to see that other Scriptural scholars
are not so temerarious in their studies, and are clear in
seeing that the New Testament, "unlike the Qumran
literature, is not a document separate from the
community...the living Tradition." In one of these we are
reminded of Pope St. Clement I of Rome (92-101) who said
Christ was sent by God and the Apostles by Christ. Both
things then came in proper order.... Our Apostles knew that
there would be contention over the bishops' office...so
...they instituted the above-mentioned (officers) and
afterwards gave them a permanent character so that when they
died, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.
Here is a case of Apostolic succession, from the unique See
of Peter which intervenes in the Church established by Paul
thirty years before in Corinth. It is not only apostolic
succession, but unity of that succession's teaching--assured
by Peter's See--which is necessary. Today we are witnessing
a whole cloud of apocalyptic scholars and non-scholars who
would raise up, within the one Church, a variety of models
of the church and a plurality of teachings. The confusion
would be insurmountable if it were not for the apostolic
succession in the bishops who hold union with Rome. The
Lumen Gentium of Vatican II states this unequivocally: "That
Divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the
Apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world. .
. . Apostles were careful to appoint successors in this
hierarchically constituted society." Though they had
"various helpers in their ministry," they provided that on
their death "other proven men should take over their
ministry." These men are the bishops; and, "in virtue of the
unbroken succession . . . are regarded as transmitters of
the apostolic line." The Fathers of the Council call upon
the witness of St. Irenaeus (2nd century) to the fact that
"the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved in the
whole world by those who were made bishops by the apostles
and by their successors down to our own time." It was the
Apostles, not the Church in some democratic proceeding, that
passed on, by imposition of hands, episcopal consecration.
And this conferral is the office of sanctifying, teaching,
ruling which can be exercised "only in hierarchical
communion with the head and members of the college." As was
clearly taught in the Council of Trent (Denz. 960), "The
powers bestowed on the Apostles have descended to the
Bond of Union in Peter's See
As we have already said, collegiality of bishops is
impossible without the sacramentum unitatis. This was given
by Christ to Peter; and in like manner is held by the Roman
Pontiff. Consequently, no bishop nor the college of bishops
has authority, "unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's
successor," because he, "by his office as Vicar of Christ and
as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme and universal
power over the whole Church." So insistent is the Council on the
fullness of Papal powers that it continues to repeat the
formula, most especially in sections 22 through 25 of the
Lumen Gentium, with such expression as:
"Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never
apart from him, they (the bishops) have supreme and full
authority over the universAl Church; but this power cannot
be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."
By definition in Vatican I, the Church as ever holds that
Christ appointed Peter to be the first of all the Apostles .
. . to the primacy of jurisdiction. (Denz. 1823) Those today
who reject this teaching align themselves with a host of
historical adversaries: Marsiglio of Padua and John of
Jandun, Wycliffe and Hus, the protesting Reformers,
Gallicans, Old Catholics and late 19th century Modernists.
While bishops, in their own churches, are the visible source
and foundation of unity and constituted as models of the
universal church, they are obliged to enter into
collaboration with one another and with Peter's successor.
In their ministry they are to fulfill a canonical mission
according to legitimate customs acknowledged by Peter's
successor; and to object or refuse such Apostolic communion
disenfranchises the bishop's use of his office.
In section 25 of the Lumen Gentium, we find the strongest
expression of the bishops as shepherds who are "to be
revered by all as witnesses of Divine and Catholic truth."
The faithful have an obligation to "submit to their bishops'
decision, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to
it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind." Even
here the Council Fathers qualify the obedience to the bishop
with the phrase, "who teach in communion with the Roman
Pontiff." Immediately thereafter they teach that
"This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be
given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority
of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex
cathedra; in such wise that his supreme teaching authority
be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to
decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind,
which is made known principally either by the character of
the documents in question or by the frequency with which a
certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the
doctrine is formulated."
When, in July 25, 1968, Paul VI promulgated the Church's
teaching on contraceptive birth control, there was a
vociferous reply from dissident elements in the Church, even
though the Holy Father made clear that this was the constant
teaching of the Church, on a most serious moral matter; that
the teaching authority of the Church is "competent to
interpret the natural moral law"; that there was never any
doubt about this teaching; and that he taught "By virtue of
the mandate entrusted to us by Christ." To this protest
against Papal teaching, a large group of Jesuit professors
at Fordham University responded in loyal support of the Holy
Father, citing as their source this section 25 of the Lumen
Gentium. One of the professors, in an extended treatment of
the "character" of the encyclical, pointed out that the
language was absolute and exclusionary; that contraception
was labelled "intrinsically evil" and "always illicit"; that
the individual conscience must be formed by Church teaching,
since to give it an absolute finality would be to deny evil
where the Church has authority to teach. He further remarked
that infallibility is not only from a solemn ex cathedra
definition; but also from the ordinary teaching of the
Church; and in the case of moral matters it is most usual to
look to the constancy, longevity and serious witness of the
indefectible Church. Finally, consensus of theologians is
the lowest of theological notes; and the greatest of
theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "We must abide by the
Pope's judgment rather than by the opinion of any of the
theologians, however well-versed he may be in Divine
scriptures." (Quodl. IX, A. a. 6) It was with singular
oversight or intent of purpose that theologians then and
today deny this irreformable Papal teaching.
The Council, especially in section 25 of the Lumen Gentium,
reiterates this basic teaching of Papal infallibility:
"When the Roman Pontiff, or the body of bishops together
with him, define a doctrine, they make the definition in
conformity with revelation itself, to which all are bound to
adhere . . . and this revelation is transmitted integrally
either in written form or in oral tradition through the
legitimate succession of bishops and above all through the
watchful concern of the Roman Pontiff."
Again the Fathers teach that "the Roman Pontiff, head of the
college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of
his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the
faithful . . . he proclaims in an absolute decision a
doctrine pertaining to faith or morals." And so his
definitions are "irreformable by their very nature and not
by reason of the assent of the Church, in as much as they
were made with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to
him in the person of blessed Peter himself; and so are in no
way in need of the approval of others; and do not admit of
appeal to any other tribunal." How resplendent in the Holy
Spirit is the Church which speaks the Word that is Christ,
always guided by the Spirit of God, and ever constituting
its One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic nature. We, as members
who share in the Word and in the Body and Blood of Christ
are transformed into that which we receive. The Church must,
by such constitution, be one, not pluralistic, in doctrine,
one in the sacramental means of sanctification, and one in
the rule that shepherds the sheepfold. God is One; His
created bride must be one in Him. This conservation of
oneness is the bishop's task, primarily for the whole Church
and then for the particular Church assigned to him. The
bishop has this power properly, ordinarily and immediately
from his consecration in Orders; but his exercise is
"ultimately controlled by the supreme authority of the
Church." The Holy Spirit preserves their prerogative, while
protecting it from deviation by Christ's Vicar of the whole
Church. The faithful should cling (adhaerere) to the bishop,
as the Church to Christ, and Christ to the Father, so that
"all things may agree in unity (per unitatem consentiant)
and bring forth abundant fruit to the glory of God."
Priests must "constitute, together with their bishop, a
unique sacerdotal college (presbyterium) . . . (and so)
render the universal Church visible."
If the Church is to be a witness to Christ, to be visible
and resplendent, then priests and bishops must live in
charity and union with Christ's Vicar. It is saddening for
fellow priests and serious scandal to the laity when the
clergy break ranks, and teach false doctrine by word and
example. When St. Paul summoned the priests of Ephesus to
Miletus (about 30 miles away), he was moved by the Spirit to
urge them to protect their communities against the teachings
of false prophets. With prophetic foresight he said: "From
your own number, men will present themselves distorting the
truth and leading astray any who follow them." (Acts 20:30)
It is under the guidance of the Spirit that John Paul II
tirelessly visits the People of God; and can truly say, as
Paul did, "I have never shrunk from announcing to you God's
design in its entirety." (Acts 20:27)
1. Apostolic Exhortation, on Fifth Anniversary of close of Vatican II,
2. John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
(New York: Image, 1960).
3. Karol Wojtyla, Sources of Renewal (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), 35,
4. Constitutiones, Decreta, Declarationes (Rome: Vaticanus II, 1966),
Typis Polygottis Vaticanis, "Constitutio Dogmatica de Ecclesia," sec. 1.
"Instans argumento"_standing on the argument (teaching); from the "Lumen
gentium" (hereafter, L.G.).
5. Vatican Council II, Austin Flannery, O.P., ed. (New York: Costello,
1975). L.G., sec. 3.
6. Newman, Essay, p. 163.
7. L.G., sec. 7.
8. L.G., sec. 8.
9. Erroneous interpretations are found in Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of the
Church (New York: Doubleday, 1974). Also, in Leonardo Boff, OFM, Church,
Charism and Power. Also, in Richard McBrien's "Toning Down Vatican II," in
Northwest Catholic Progress, July 16, 1987, where he repeats Dulles' error
of distinguishing "is" and "subsists." Both are of the belief that the one
Church of Christ "goes beyond the visible limits" of the Catholic Church.
10. Wojtyla, Sources, 40.
11. L.G., sec. 8.
12. L.G., sec. 9.
13. L.G., sec. 10.
14. L.G., sec. 12.
16. L.G., sec. 13.
17. L.G., sec. 14.
18. L.G., sec. 15, 16.
19. L.G., sec. 17.
20. L.G., sec. 18, 19.
21. Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (New York: Sheed &
Ward, 1955), I, p. 16.
22. L.G., sec. 19.
23. Raymond Brown, Priest and Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1970). In
a quite forthright article, "Difficulties in Using the New Testament in
American Catholic Discussions," Louvain Studies, Fall, 1976, Fr. Brown has
large assertions to make: e.g., "Mt. 16:18 was originally a post-
resurrectional saying and . . . it cannot be used to determine the
intentions of Jesus during His ministry in regard to the Church." In the
Gospels, he says, "there is a much more noticeable difference among the
sayings of the risen Jesus than among the sayings of the earthly Jesus."
And it is "apparent that we are dealing with the phraseology of the late
first-century Church" (p. 151).
24. Dei Verbum, sec. 10. Fr. Brown finds in this document an acceptance of
the idea that "the final Gospels go considerably beyond the ministry of
Jesus and that later Christology had been retrojected into the accounts of
the ministry" (p. 147).
25. Dei Verbum, sec. 7. Here one must reflect on whether it is a
probability that the fallible proneness of modern Scripture exegetes can
displace the infallible teaching of Tradition in its formulation by the
Magisterium. Anglican Bishop Stephen Neill's The Interpretation of the New
Testament, 1861-1961 (London: Oxford University Press, 1964) gives us a
masterly survey of New Testament "criticism," of the great variety of
schools of thought, influenced by a variety of philosophies. When one has
threaded through this, it is safe to conclude that a possibility of
certitude is unlikely for those who prescind from Tradition and
26. Dei Verbum, sec. 7-8.
27. Manuel Miguens, "Apostolic Succession?", in Triumph, April 1972. Other
writings: Cardinal Lawrence Sheehan's article in the Homiletic & Pastoral
Review, Nov. 1975. Edith Black, "Historicity of the Bible: Pt. I," in
Homiletic, Dec. 1980. Of great import on methodology and on the relation
between scriptural studies and Tradition, in respect to the Gospel account
of the Nativity of Christ, is Rene Laurentin's The Truth of Christmas:
Beyond the Myths (Petersham, MA: St. Bede's, 1986).
28. L.G., sec. 20.
29. L.G., sec. 21.
30. L.G., sec. 22. Emphasis added.
31. L.G., sec. 23.
32. L.G., sec. 24.
33. L.G., sec. 25.
34. Joseph F. Costanzo, S.J., "Papal Magisterium and Humanae Vitae," in
Thought (Fordham University), Autumn 1969. Other articles by Father
Costanzo are: "Academic Dissent: An Original Ecclesiology," in The
Thomist, Oct. 4, 1970, in which he unveils the deviant ecclesiology of
Charles Curran and his associates who rejected Humanae Vitae's teaching.
Also, "Papal Magisterium, Natural Law and Humanae Vitae," in The American
Journal of Jurisprudence, vol. 16 (Notre Dame Law School, 1971).
35. L.G., sec. 25.
36. L.G., sec. 26.
37. L.G., sec. 28.