Letzte Aktualisierung: 04. Oktober  2007, PK

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Peter Knauer SJ


Published in:
Communitas. Périodique bimestriel: Foyer Catholique Européen,
n° 334, Juillet, Août, Septembre 2007, 9

The expression "subsistit in" (LG 8,2) has the same meaning as "vere adest in"
and has no exclusive meaning.

It is with much joy that I read in the recent document (29th of june 2007) of the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH the following wording:
“It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.”
This seems to indicate the presence of the Church herself in these Churches and ecclesial Communities and not only of some elements of the Church.
It is given as an explanation of Lumen gentium 8,2 which is cited:
“This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”.

One might observe that in this latter text of Vatican II, the first mention of the “catholic Church” means obviously the Church of the Creed, the universal Church or the Church as such which is already constituted and organized in this world as a society, simply because of being the continuous event of transmitting the word of the auto-communication of God.

It is rightly said of this Church alone, that it subsists in the “Catholic Church” governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him. But this second mention of the “Catholic Church” obviously means our particular Roman Catholic Church and the churches in fully recognized communion with her. Thus the substitution of a former “est” by “subsistit in” in the final redaction of the text logically includes a certain differentiation between the first mention of the “catholic Church” (the Church which subsists) and the second mention of the “Catholic Church” (the Church in which the former subsists). They can no more be simply identified. And one can precisely no longer say that the one “catholic Church” of the Creed subsists in the “Catholic Church” alone.

In fact, to the participants of the Council the meaning of “subsistit in” had been officially explained just in this way:
“The church is one, and here on earth it is present in [adest in] the Catholic Church, even if one find elements of church outside of it.” (ASSCOV 3,1; 176)

It is obvious that these elements of Church may be found “outside” the particular Roman Catholic Church, but certainly not outside the universal Church of which the Creed speaks. To say the latter would mean to deny that this Church is only one, and this would really be a very worrying change of our ecclesiological doctrine which neither the Council nor the Congregation can have meant. May I underline that “subsistit in” is here explained exactly by “adest in”.

We meet the expression “subsistere in” in the texts of Vatican II two more times:
In Unitatis redintegratio 4,3 it is said:
“... when the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose [quamque inamissibilem in Ecclesia Catholica subsistere credimus], and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.”
In Unitatis redintegratio 13,2 we read:
“Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist [in quibus traditiones et structurae Catholicae ex parte subsistere pergunt], Anglican Communion occupies a special place.”

It is again obvious that “subsistere in” in all these texts means nothing else than the “vere adest” in Lumen gentium 26,1, with which it can be interchanged:
“This Church of Christ is truly present in [vere adest in] all legitimate local congregations of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament.”
There is only one Church which subsists, but there may be many Churches and local congregations in which this same Church subsists. This same Church “exists in them and consists of them” (Lumen gentium 23,1).

It would probably be a quite defective interpretation to say that the Church of the Creed is in the beginning only an idea and becomes a concrete subject only by subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church. According to the text of Lumen gentium 8,2 it is concretely and really existing, “constituted and organised in this world as a society”, already before we look at its subsistence in the Roman Catholic Church. But nowhere in the text of Vatican II this subsistence or essential presence is restricted to the Roman Catholic Church. It is only positively affirmed to be there.

In the RESPONSES it is further said:
“Nevertheless, the word ‘subsists’ can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the Symbols of the faith (I believe … in the ‘one’ Church); and this ‘one’ Church subsists in the Catholic Church.”
Certainly, the Church of Christ is fully identical with the one “catholic Church” of the Creed, but the latter cannot be “fully identical with”, although it “subsists and thus is fully present in” the particular Roman Catholic Church as something the latter can never lose.

In the RESPONSES Unitatis redintegratio 22,3 is cited:
“It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
It might be useful to remark that in this text of Vatican II the expression “though we believe [credimus]” is used in a very unspecific way: only in the sense of an opinion (which might even come from an insufficient analysis and be false). The meaning cannot be that the defects of other Churches are an “object of faith” (otherwise we could not wish that they be overcome).

The catholic faith is one, in reality not additively composed of different elements. All “elements” of faith and of the universal Church include each other. Therefore the Council could say even about protestants that they are “incorporated” (Unitatis redintegratio 3,1) in Christ which means just that body of Christ which is identical with the universal Church of the Creed. As believers in Christ (ibid.) they belong to the “universitas fidelium” which cannot err in faith (Lumen gentium 12,1). As they legitimately call themselves Christians (Unitatis integratio 3,1), one may also say that they are legitimately congregated (cf. Lumen gentium 26,1) and that the one Church of Christ is really present in their congregations, as the RESPONSES themselves state it.

And according to Lumen gentium 27,1 the structure of government of the Church of the Creed cannot be lost wherever this Church is really present. Why then continue to deny that all of them too really are particular Churches? The divisions between Churches derive from mutual misunderstandings which will only be overcome by following Mt 7,3–5 (splinter and log).

On this ground there is much ecumenical hope. In different languages there is the same truth: To believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God means to trust in our being taken up into the eternal love between the Father and the Son; this love being the Holy Spirit. No Christian can believe something greater than that or something less than that.

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