Churches in the New Testament

Churches in the New Testament

  Dr George Karakunnel

            One of the most notable features of the Hellenistic age was the establishment and growth of cities. These became the nerve centres of civilization. They fostered commerce and culture in addition to providing opportunities for the religious expression of their inhabitants. One could argue that the city is characteristically evil, — one is reminded of Babel — but that is not to say that the city is necessarily and inevitably stained with corruption. In fact, the final abode of the redeemed in glory is pictured as a city (Rev. 21:10). Cities can be positively viewed as resulting from the fulfilment of various human needs.

            It is not surprising, therefore, that the churches of which we read in the New Testament are without exception located in cities. The gospel was taken to where people were found in community rather than in isolation. This did not mean that the country areas were totally neglected, but the city was clearly given the priority and with it the obligation to carry the message to the surrounding territory (See 1 Thess. 1:8). No doubt the church kept in mind the fact that Jesus not only visited the population centres but also the hamlets and the countryside.

  1. JERUSALEM

             The descent of the Spirit of God and the inception of the Christian movement cannot be described without reference to Jerusalem. The church at       Jerusalem is the first in the Christian history. Here we try to take a close look at the believing community in terms of its life and activity.

Evangelism

            Evangelism is the lifeblood of the church at any place and in any period. Luke’s account gives it primary attention. In the background is the Lord’s choice and training of the Twelve as well as his commission (Acts 1:8) and the promise of the Spirit. The human agents are Peter and the rest of the apostles (2:4; 3:12; 4:33; 5:42), aided no doubt by the more than one hundred persons who spent ten days with the apostles in an upper room prior to Pentecost (1:15). Probably this company included some, it not all, of the seventy who were sent forth by Jesus to prepare the way for him in connection with his final visit to Jerusalem (Luke 10:1). In addition, the text notes the presence of his family and the faithful women who accompanied him from Galilee (1: 14).

            The impact of the spoken word was aided by the manifestations of divine power in miracles (3:1; 4:10; 5:12; 6:8). In at least one passage (5: 12-14) these beneficent ministries seem to have had an important influence in effecting or aiding conversions. The same could be said of the healing of the cripple (3: 1-4: 4).

            Jerusalem is the one place where the size of the church is indicated by figures. These figures are stated in round numbers and show increase as the narrative unfolds. This was a growing church. First we read three thousand who responded on the Day of Pentecost (2: 41). Next we read of five thousand men (4:4), although these are not all converts. The figure represents the sum of male converts at this point in the narrative: when the families of these men are included, can think of a group of at least 10,000 (cf. the situation described in John 6:10). Beyond this point Luke makes only general statements to the effect that converts were continuing to increase in number (5:14; 6:1, 7). At a much later time James could point to the fact that believing Jews (apparently those in Jerusalem and environs) could be reckoned in terms of myriads (21:20). This is general and doubtless hyperbolic statement, but it seems to signify a steady growth over the years, despite persecution. The growth of the church at Jerusalem was quick, as the Book of Acts reveals. The coming together of big number of converts must have created a strong sense of assurance among them that they had not been deluded in making their decision to trust in Jesus of Nazareth as Savior. There was also a  feeling of excitement at being privileged to be part of a mighty spiritual movement at its very beginning, one that was destined to be epochal for the nation Israel and the world.

            In making their decision they were reminded by Peter that there was a price to pay – namely, separation from the sinful and unbelieving community around them. They were no longer to share the views and attitudes of the nation’s leaders regarding Jesus of Nazareth (2:40). By their repentance and faith, expressed in submission to baptism, they were able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby they gained assurance of their salvation and the ability to understand and embrace the teaching of the apostles (2: 38,42).

            There seems to be no intimation of any attempt of screening applicants for church membership, or any indication of disdain for any stratum of society. The example of Jesus in his attitude toward tax gatherers and notorious sinners must have been a factor. At one point (6:7) we read of the acceptance of a large body of priests. They were not rejected on the ground that they belonged to an order whose leaders, the chief priests, had taken an active role in the arrest and execution Jesus. These were ordinary priests, who resented the worldliness of their superiors. The healing of the cripple in the temple probably had an effect on them. In addition, they must have observed the followers of the Lord Jesus, since these people frequented the temple courts, especially during the hours of prayer; they could hardly have failed to see the joy written on their faces, a token of their inner peace.

            We do not read of evangelistic teams moving out into Judea during these early days of the Church’s life; nevertheless, the new movement became known by word of mouth so that people came into city bringing their sick with them for healing (5:16). No doubt there were many conversions under these circumstances. As these folk returned to their homes, they became forerunners of those who fanned out into the countryside under the pressure of persecution after Stephen’s death (8:1,4). The most distinguished resident of Jerusalem to become a brother in Christ was Saul of Tarsus, but he was hand-picked by the risen Lord on Syrian soil (chap. 9) and was not destined to be a worker in the Jerusalem Church (22: 18-21), though he kept in touch with it during his ministry in other lands.

            So far as the record goes, no Sadducee became a convert, which is not surprising in view of this group’s rejection of the doctrine of resurrection (Matt. 22:23). The resurrection of Jesus was central to the apostolic proclamation. On the other hand, some Pharisees accepted the gospel, as we learn from Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council (15:5). Probably the church had many people who can be classified as belonging to the Am-ha-aretz (“people of the land”). They did not belong to any of the various Jewish parties of that period and tended to be despised because they were not students of Mosaic Law and did not conscientiously observe the customs. Thus from the very beginning Christianity was able to demonstrate both its leveling and its elevating power. It was able to unify in the bonds of Christ and the Gospel the most diverse elements in society, In addition, it was able to handle the linguistic harrier presented by the presence of both Aramaic and Greek–speaking people in the congregation (6:1).

Teaching

            In his Great Commission the risen Lord indicated that evangelism, sealed by baptism, was to be followed by the programme of teaching (Mt. 28: 19-20). This sequence was observed at Pentecost and in subsequent days. In baptizing converts the apostles may have had help from some of the 120, but the teaching ministry fell to them alone (2:42). So far as we know, these men were without teaching experience, although they had sat under the instruction of the master teacher, those work was now being continued through them (1:1) under the guidance of the spirit of truth (John 14: 25-26).

            Prophecy in the sense of revealed knowledge, as distinct from prediction, belongs roughly to the sphere of teaching and has as its goal the edification of those who receive it from the prophets. Peter’s quotation from Joel’s prophecy prepares the reader of Acts for the introduction of prophets in its membership, however, not only for purposes of prediction (11: 27-28; 21: 10-11), but also for exhortation (15:32), Barnabas seems to be called a prophet as well as a teacher (13:1), and he must have ministered in the Jerusalem church before being sent to Antioch to aid the Church there. So, despite Luke’s silence in the earlier chapters, it is reasonably certain that the Jerusalem church enjoyed a prophetic ministry capable of being classed as teaching.

            The apostles carried on their ministry of teaching both in the temple and from house to house (5:42), and did so on a daily basis. Remarkable indeed is the notice of this full-time nature of their work, the ample store of information possessed by the apostles. Important here is the promise of the Master that the Spirit would call to their remembrance all that he had taught them (John 14:26). Between preaching in the temple and teaching believers in homes the apostles must have had little time for anything else. Yet it seems virtually certain that in addition they had another instructional task, that of disciplining the men, or some of them, who were designated to take charge of the distribution of help to the widows (6:5). Since two of these seven men soon became active in public ministry, namely Stephen and Philip, and had not been under the Lord as far as one can tell, it is probable that these two at least and perhaps others were especially schooled by the apostles and groomed for leadership prior to their selection for service in the temporal affairs of the congregation. Stephen showed a comprehensive grasp of the Old Testament (Acts 4) and Philip was able to use the prophecy of Isaiah effectively in preaching Christ to an inquiring stranger (Acts 8).

Fellowship

            The term koinonia (“fellowship”) appears in Acts 2:42 along with teaching.  Fellowship in the biblical, apostolic sense implies being together frequently with other believers, and this is clearly stated (2:46). Faith in the living Lord drew people together, eager to learn and to grow. Homes were made available, including that of John Mark’s mother (12:12). The church in the house was a great boon. The people who gathered in this way had the promise of the Master that where two or three were gathered in his name, there he would be in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20). It is possible that in each such home group there were people who could pass on to the others many recollections of the Savior due to personal contact with him. These memories were still green and they meant such to those who had not been his followers. One can envision Mary visiting such gatherings and giving their recollections of the boy Jesus and then of the great change that came over them when the resurrection confirmed all his claims that had seemed to visionary at the time. Others who must have taken an active part in these gatherings were Lazarus and his sisters, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and the two Emmaus disciples. Nor should we forget also the owner of the house with the upper room. It must have been a thrill for those who came to his quarters to meet with others in the very place where the Lord had instituted his memorial feast with the disciples.

Sharing of Goods

            The fact that the believers held their property in common is mentioned after the allusion to the fellowship (2:44) so as to make it clear that the koinonia of verse 42 is not the same as the sharing in material things. (There is certainly some close link between the two. See a theological reflexion on this in “Sabha: Danavum Dautyavum; see also “Koinonia…” by Panikulam)It is tempting to try to find a precedent for this feature in the practice of the Qumran community, but the practices are not equivalent: in the Dead Sea community the sharing of possessions was obligatory, whereas in the Jerusalem Church it was voluntary.

            The explanation for the emergence of this practice seems to be motivation for it. Not only did he teach that one should not be anxious about material things (Math. 6:25, 28) but he also make it plain that one should be prepared to part with one’s possessions for the sake of the needy (Luke 12:33; 18:22). The one who had left the glory of heaven and then the security of the carpenter shop called on his followers to leave all and follow him (Luke 14:33). He was content to subsist on what was given to him and his followers for their daily sustenance (Luke 8: 1-3). The likelihood is that the women who shared with him were now residing in the Jerusalem area. If so, their presence must have been an inspiration to other believers, leading them to give generously to meet the needs of the poorer brethren. The other factor that helped to develop the practice of sharing was the familiarity these people had with almsgiving as a part of their experience in Judaism. Joachim Jeremias has noted that there was a weekly dole to the poor of Jerusalem consisting of good and clothing as well as daily distribution of food. However, even the double precedent furnished by Jesus and by Judaism might not have sufficed by way of example had it not been for the dynamism of the new life in Christ fostered by the indwelling spirit. The joy of salvation yoked to love for the brethren brought an outpouring of gifts sufficient to meet the need. Some, like Barnabas (4:37), sold their property and gave the proceeds to the common fund.

            As time passed, the resources of the local church were unable to cope with the situation. When a famine compounded the problem, the church at Antioch graciously sent relief (11: 28-30). Later, under the sponsorship and superintendence of Paul, the Gentile Churches that he and his companions had founded sent a substantial contribution to the Jerusalem Saints (Rom. 15: 25-27). James the brother of our Lord and head of the Jerusalem church had a great concern for the poor who were under his care (Gal. 2:10), and beyond this his church reached out to embrace Jewish Christians dispersed in other lands (James 2:5, 15-16). Possibly the trip of Paul to Jerusalem reported in Acts 18:22 was for the purpose of discussing with James and the elders the acceptability of his plan to raise among the Gentile churches the fund of which he writes in some of his letters (1 Cor. 16: 2-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15: 25-28). The acuteness of the need of the Jerusalem church is attested by the fact that even as early as the sending of famine relief by the Antioch there is no mention of the Seven as receiving and distributing the contribution. It was accepted by the elders (11:30). Apparently the regular distribution referred to in the early days of the church had to be discontinued.

            According to some scholars the generosity of the saints in the Jerusalem church toward their poor was heightened by their confidence that the Lord would soon return, in which, as they would have no use for their possessions anyway. This may have been a factor, but it was certainly not he principal motivation.

            The burden of distribution fell on the apostles at the beginning (4: 37; 5:2). This, in addition to their preaching and teaching, largely accounts for a certain amount of neglect of the poor, particularly of widows in the Greek-speaking portion of the church (6:1). Conscious that they were unequal to the total responsibility, the apostles called for the selection of qualified men who would assume the oversight of the distribution, thus freeing themselves for prayer and the ministry of the word. Some students are prepared to see here a definite cleavage between the Hebraists and the Hellenists, with a virtual separation of the two groups: This goes beyond the evidence. The apostles had been trying to provide for the whole church in the daily distribution. Now the Seven, mostly if not altogether Hellenists, took over the task of caring for the needy, nor simply for the Greek-speaking people but for all the needy in the church.

The Temple

            Several allusions to the temple are scattered over the first few chapters of Acts, indicating that this sacred place continued to be used by believers both for worship (2:46; 3:1) and for testimony in its spacious courts (3:11 ff; 5:21). No doubt the brethren were encouraged to use the temple because Jesus had taught there and had purged its outer court of commercialism despite his awareness that thereby he would bring upon himself the wrath of the Jewish leaders. Furthermore, the apostles had easier access to crowds of people at that spot then anywhere in the city.

            The apostles and their helpers probably pursued this course of action with mixed feelings. They knew that Jesus regarded it as his Father’s house but they know also that he had predicted its destruction (Mark 13:2). The latter consideration may have acted as a spur, causing them to conclude that they should make use of these precincts while they were available.

Before long the temple itself became an issue between the church and the Jewish authorities, coming to a head during the public ministry of Stephen. He was accustomed to debate with Greek-speaking Jews in the synagogue and it soon became evident that his views on the temple were a great affront not only to these opponents in debate but also to the Aramaic speaking Jews and their representatives in the Sanhedrin. It is probable that he understood more clearly than the other leaders in the church what the Lords attitude toward the temple involved.

Jesus and his mission represented something greater than the temple (Matt. 12:6). He was the divinely ordained focus of worship directed through him to the Father (John 4:23). His bodily resurrection signaled the fact that he was replacing the earthly sanctuary as the means of approach to God (John 2: 19-21). By virtue of being joined to Christ the church becomes a spiritual house and its members priests unto God (1 Pet. 2: 4-5). In clinging to its cherished temple as the way to God, Judaism was rejecting God’s provision in his Son. It would be going too far, however, to claim that in Acts 7: 47-50 Stephen was arguing that Solomon had erred in constructing the first temple; he was merely suggesting that when the Jews clung to one temple as the way to God in preference to the revelation in his Son their attachment became a sin.

            It is possible that the apostles were not prepared to go as far as Stephen regarding the temple question. The fact that they were able to be stay in the city even after persecution broke out following Stephen’s martyrdom (8:1) may suggest that they were not identified with Stephen’s position regarding the temple, at least in a public way, possibly their hesitation, if that is the proper term to use, was due to their fear that an open break with Jewry over the temple issue would virtually close the door to further opportunities to bear witness to their nation. They seem to have been willing to treasure their knowledge of the new temple in Christ as their spiritual heritage without flaunting it before their countrymen. As it turned out, their ministry was less acceptable to the Jewish people after the Stephen episode. Though they were able to remain in the city, they did not enjoy the same favour with the populace that was previously accorded them.

2. ANTIOCH

            Seleucus, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, founded Antioch in 300 B.C., naming it after his father Antiochus (or possibly his son of the same name). The site, strategic both militarily and commercially, provided access to Asia Minor on the north and west as well as to Palestine and Egypt on the south and southwest. In addition, it was on the most important trade route between the East and the West.  The famous grove known as Daphne, a few miles away, contained a temple of Apollo and was a magnet for pleasure seekers, rivaling Corinth in this respect. Like Corinth, Antioch failed to develop into an intellectual center. The temper of its citizens was a combination of lightheartedness and buffoonery.

            The size and importance Antioch during the first Christian century yielded the palm only to Rome and Alexandria. Its population during this period may gave reached the half million mark. Here Greeks and Orientals lived side by side, joined later by the Romans. Jews were well represented also.

The Founding of the Church

            As early in his account as Acts 6:7 Luke drops a hint regarding to things to come when he identifies Nicolas, one of the Seven in the Jerusalem church, as being from Antioch and a convert to Judaism. Originally a Gentile, he had apparently been won over to the Jewish faith in his native city and had subsequently moved to Jerusalem. At this point, it seems Luke is telling his readers that Antioch is going to play an important role in the progress of the gospel (see 6:58; 8:3). The outbreak of persecution at the time of Stephen’s death figured largely in the spread of the faith to areas outside Palestine. Persecution is often a blessing in disguise. Some Hellenists who made their way along the Phoenician coast, preaching to Jews as they went, came at length to Antioch. Whether Nicolas was a member of this company or not remains uncertain. At first the new arrivals witnessed to proclaim the word to Greeks also (11:20). These became the predominant element in the church.

            Since Luke does not trace any further travels on the part of these Hellenists, the presumption is that they remained in the city, at least for some time. In the plan of God others were to build up the congregation until it would in turn become a leading source of fresh missionary advance. Even so, the original witnesses continued to have a place in the leadership (See 11:20; 13:1).

            It is important to notice the point at which Luke introduces his account of the establishing of the Antioch congregation – namely, immediately after the experience of Peterat Caesarea and the report he gave of the matter to the Jerusalem church. There is no sure way to establish the chronological relationship between the events at Caesarea and Antioch, but the order of notation is suggestive. Gentiles are becoming more prominent, whereas the Caesarea incident was an innovation (See 11: 18)

            The Jerusalem Church was obliged to come to terms with the new Gentile surge. It showed its interest by sending Barnabas to investigate the situation at Antioch (11:22).. This was a good choice, for a native of Cyprus (4:36) would have been more familiar with Antioch than most of the brethren. That he was pleased with what he found there is apparent, for instead of returning to Jerusalem to report he continued in the northern city, identifying himself with the church and ministering to its people with notable success (11: 23-24). His only return trips to Jerusalem were as a representative of the Antioch congregation (11:30; 15:2).

            It is a virtual certainty that Peter’s experience at Caesarea, once it was approved by the leaders at Jerusalem (11:18), prepared the mother church to accept the developments at Antioch.  No criticism seems to have been voiced, although later on a faction within the church became unhappy because Gentiles were received without circumcision (15:1, 24). Peter himself visited the church at Antioch (Gal 2:11), apparently after the Jerusalem Council (reported in chapter 15). His visit may testify to his hunger to witness again the work of grace in a Gentile setting such as he had seen in Caesarea. Luke may have been a resident of Antioch and a member of the congregation.

The Growth of the Church

            This is attested by the fact that before long, apparently shortly Barnabas came to share in the work, “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (11:24). That this is no exaggeration is indicated by the fact that Barnabas had to seek out help, taking the time and trouble to go to Tarsus in search of Saul, Several years earlier he had shown conversion (9:27). Whether had had kept in touch with him since his departure from Jerusalem to Tarsus is not known, but Luke’s statement that Barnabas went to Tarsus “to look for soul” hints that he had not. Evidently Saul was impressed with the need and the opportunity at Antioch and was willing to change his sphere of Labor. The two men had a fruitful ministry for a year in teaching the converts, who by this time could be described as constituting “great numbers of people” (11:26).

Features of the Antioch Church

1.  It  was in Antioch that believers were first called “Christians.” There is no hint that the name was given by revelation from the Lord. The word Christ, from which Christian is derived, does not appear at all in his paragraph of the text (11: 19-26). Clearly this label could have originated with the Jews, for they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was their Messiah (the Hebrew equivalent of Christ). Furthermore, they had a different term than Christian for Jewish disciples of Jesus. They called them “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).

            It is widely held that the origin of the term Christian should be sought in the fun-loving, ridicule-prone Gentile population of the city. They needed a tag of identification for this group in their midst, and since they heard them speaking of the Christ they made this term the basis of the epithet they chose. The word called that appears here (11:26) is not the ordinary term for giving a name such as is used in Mathew 1:21 in connection with Jesus, but a term that designates a person with respect to business or special interest (see, for example Rom. 7:3). The other appearances of the term “Christian” in the New Testament (Acts.26:28)  tend to support the position that the name had a non-Christian origin and was intended to convey a measure of reproach.

2.  The title Lord is prominent in Luke’s account, appearing five times (11: 20-24) as a designation for Christ (13:2 may be reference to God). According to scholars the Jerusalem church did not think of Jesus in these terms, but rather as the Son of Man who was expected to return in glory.

3.  The church at Antioch was probably the first to realize and express the actual unity of Jew and Gentile in one group (see Eph. 2: 11-22, which may well reflect Paul’s experience in Antioch). Luke’s report is confirmed by the testimony of Paul, who indicates that at Antioch Jews and Gentile in one group (see Eph. 2: 11-22, which may well reflect Paul’s experience in Antioch). Luke’s report is confirmed by the testimony of Paul, who indicates that at Antioch Jews and Gentiles sat down together at their meals (Gal. 2: 11-14). This was an innovation (Acts 11: 2-3). This table fellowship at Antioch was disrupted only when people from the Jerusalem church arrived and let their disapproval be known. This unity between the two groups meant that when Paul and Barnabas were called on to fight the battle for Gentile freedom from the law, a freedom that gave the Gentile believer an equal place with the Jewish believer in the body of Christ, they could point to the workability of this principle. It had proved itself in the Antioch church under the blessing of God (Gal. 2:12).

4.  Luke’s account emphasizes the large place teaching assumed in the life of the church. It was for the purpose of having help in this area that Barnabas went to find Saul (11: 25-26). Gentiles needed more guidance than Jews because of their ignorance of the Old Testament and because their environment did not provide them with adequate ethical and moral standards. As one reads the so called practical portions of Paul’s letters to his young churches, it is possible to conclude fairly accurately that much of the teaching had already been forged in the Antioch setting.

5.  The church was blessed with a wealth of diversified ministry. Several prophets and teachers are noted by name (13:1). If we grant that the raising of these gifted individuals was for the purpose of stimulating the rank and file of the congregation to take up their own ministry (laid down in Eph. 4:12), we can conclude that a very large company of people received encouragement to witness and serve in accordance with the gifts for ministry they had received.

6.  Whereas this church had the same pattern as the church in Jerusalem in matters of preaching, teaching, and giving, the third element took a somewhat different turn here. In Jerusalem the beneficence of the congregation had its own poor in view, whereas there is no mention of the poor in the Antioch situation. It as a prosperous city, and its prosperity seems to have been reflected to some extent in the constituency of the church. Luke says that each gave according to his ability (11: 29). When prediction was made of an impending famine, there was a generous outpouring of assistance for the mother church in Jerusalem to alleviate additional problems in the already burdened congregation (11: 27-30). It would be a mistake to suppose that this gift involved no sacrifice, for shortage of crops was felt in Syria as well as Judea.

7.  The Antioch church was a missionary church par excellence. An overview of the apostolic age enables one to sense a divine providence in the creation of a strong Christian community at Antioch just at this time. As the Jerusalem church for various reasons became less and less significant for the evangelization of the Greco-Roman world (we have already noted its lack of zeal as a group for evangelizing Gentiles). Its sister church in this leading center of the Hellenistic world was ready to step forward and sponsor a great missionary outreach becoming thereby the catalyst for the tremendous growth of the Gentile congregations in Asia Minor and Greece (including Macedonia).

        Antioch was different from Jerusalem, which became missionary largely as a result of persecution. Antioch was a missionary church in the twofold sense that is was founded by missionaries and in turn became a missionary base for sending out the gospel to regions beyond. So far as is known, it was the first church to undertake the fulfilling of the last portion of Christ’s commission to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (1:8). The decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning the reception of Gentiles gave fresh impetus to this missionary outreach. It is to the credit of the believers at Antioch that when the Spirit called for its leading men to go forth as its representatives, there was no hesitation. The whole incident was marked by deep earnestness, attested by fasting and prayer (13: 2-3)

8.  The continuing relationship between Paul and Antioch church may have become somewhat clouded by the confrontation he had with Peter (Gal. 2:11ff), especially since Barnabas sided with peter and may therefore have been censured by Paul. It is ad to have a rupture of this sort that mars fellowship, but Paul was clear in his own mind that Peter’s actions endanger future relations between Jews and Gentiles in the church.

9.  It is probable that the pattern of self-help followed by Barnabas and Paul in later days (1 Cor. 9:6) was developed during the period when these men laboured together in the Antioch Church. If so, the example probably stimulated believers to do all they could for themselves and their dependents rather than look to the brethren for help. This would mean that more assistance would have been made available to answer the cry of need in other places. One would like to know just what was involved in the statement that the Church sent the two missionaries off on their journey (13:3). Was this sending a matter of prayer and good wishes or did it also involve the taking up of an offering for their travel needs? The latter is probable, but beyond such provision the two men could be trusted to support themselves (see 1 Cor. 4:12).

                                                         3. CORINTH

            Corinth grew as a flourishing port city in the first century B.C. People of all kinds found their way to this center, enticed by work opportunities and by the free and easy life-style of the city. In these respects the resemblance to Antioch is worth noting. Though Romans founded the city, it had a large Greek population and in addition opened its arms to people from many lands. It presented a striking contrast to Athens, a contrast exemplified by their patron deities. Athens had Athena, the goddess of the mind, representing the wisdom for which the Athenians were famous. Corinth had Aphrodite, the goddess of the body, the goddess of love. Athens was associated with culture, Corinth with commerce. Athens had its idolatry, Corinth its immorality; Paul knew that the former led to the latter (Rom. 1: 22-24).

             The economic opportunities at Corinth attracted Jews.  Luke makes reference to a synagogue (18:4), which could mean one among several or the only one in the community. It was, at any rate, the synagogue into which Paul made his way.

The Founding of the Church

            The apostle was fortunate in being able to find living quarters with a couple who had recently come from Italy (18:2). Since Luke says nothing about their conversion, it is likely they were already believers. They became Paul’s fellow-workers in the gospel.

            In attending the synagogue Paul gained recognition as a Jewish scholar and was given permission to speak, an opportunity for declaring the good news that he eagerly embraced. His audience was composed of Jews and God-fearing Greeks (18:4). This continued for some weeks. Though Luke says nothing about a ministry during the week, it is probable that inquires were encouraged to come to the quarters Paul shared with Aquila and Priscilla. Before long Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, bringing with them financial help, it seems, so that Paul was set free to devote himself to gospel witness (18:5; cf. 2 Cor. 11: 8-9; Phil. 4:15). At this point the new arrivals joined in the ministry, making five workers in all (2 Cor. 1:19).

            Before long the expected break with the synagogue took place, brought on by Paul’s insistence that the promised Messiah of Israel the minds of his Jewish auditors were for the most part closed to this line of proclamation, he left with this parting salvo, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” At this point it is important to return to Luke’s statement that in the synagogue he had been addressing Jews and Greeks (v. 4). Those Greeks became a bridge to the next phase of ministry. They no doubt left with him. A God-fearer whose house adjoined the synagogue one who must have been won to the fifth shortly before, Titius Justus by name, opened his quarters for the apostle’s use. So the testimony continued with God’s blessing, and many of the Corinthians responded (18:8).

            We can be sure that Jewish opposition continued, intensified by the proximity to the synagogue of Paul’s preaching post. He may have considered leaving, but was deterred by a night vision in which the Lord appeared and encouraged him by saying that many people in the city belonged to him. This is best taken as meaning future believers. Thus he continued for a year and a half (18:11), the amount of time he spent there was significant in contrast with the length of stay in other places. The extended stay also gave him the opportunity of teach the converts the implications of their new faith in terms of Christian life and service.

            Jewish opposition was held in check by the size of the city and its cosmopolitan character, but it finally flared into the open, only to be rebuffed by Gallio’s refusal to give consideration to charges brought against the apostle. He sized up the case as an internal squabble between those who professed the faith of Judaism (18:15). When Paul finally departed, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, the church may have been left with only local leadership, though it is possible that Silas and Timothy continued for a time. The latter joined Paul later on at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:10).

Paul’s Additional Contacts with the Corinthian Church

            Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1) was a member of the church who joined Paul at Ephesus. He may be the same individual who succeeded Crispus as ruler of the synagogue. If so, the example of Crispus (18:8) may have influenced him. His failure to prosecute successfully the case against Paul before Galioled to his being beaten by disgruntled Jews (18:17). This may have caused Sosthenes to rethink his position and to follow “the way” of the Nazarenes. His visit to Ephesus meant that Paul gained up-to-date information about the state of things at Corinth.

            Appollos, a Jew from Alexandria who was helped by Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus while Paul was on a trip to Jerusalem (18: 21-23), went on to minister at Corinth. By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, Appollos was back in Ephesus and was doubtless another source of information for the apostle concerning recent developments (1 Cor. 16:12). Members of Chloe’s household came also, conveying some rather unwelcome news (1 Cor. 1:11). Information about Chloe is lacking, but these people provided Paul with word about the Corinthian situation. Three other brethren are mentioned by name as having come to see him (1 Cor. 16:17), but nothing is said of their mission. It is possible that they brought with them a letter from the congregation (1 Cor. 7:1). Paul replied (1 Cor.) he was not writing in ignorance of conditions in the church. An even earlier letter of a rather limited character (1 Cor. 5:9) has not been preserved.

            The reception given 1 Corinthians was somewhat less than cordial. In fact it became necessary for Paul to interrupt his work in Ephesus and return to Corinth for what  he described as a “painful visit” (2 Cor 2:1). This was followed in turn by a severe letter to the congregation after his return to Ephesus (2 Cor. 2:4). Unable to bear the suspense of not knowing how the letter affected the church, he sent Titus to find out. Failing to hear from him after a reasonable time, he himself set out to meet Titus. Unable to find him at Troas, his agitation prevented him from accepting a preaching opportunity there (2 Cor. 2: 12-13). Pressing on to Macedonia, he located him and was relieved to find out that although there was some continuing opposition to him, the situation had cleared up considerably.

The Composition of the Church

            We have noted that Gentles predominated among the believers in Corinth. Judging from the apostle’s description, most of the converts were from the lower classes (1 Cor. 1: 26-28), but he did not hold this against them, Rather, divine sovereignty was evident in their calling. On the other hand, notice is taken of a few people of rank, including Tertius, Gaius, Erastus (Rom. 16: 22-23), and possibly Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1). More important than social status is the influence of the pagan environment, which continued to be a factor in their lives to a greater or less degree. The apostle recognized this influence and gave it due attention in his treatment of their problems.

            We tend to think of Paul  primarily as an apostle, an able preacher, and a missionary statesman. We do not usually think of him as a pastor. Yet he did have this task thrust upon him, especially in the Corinthian situation. When the troubles that erupted there came to his attention he was heavily involved in a demanding ministry at Ephesus. No wonder he had to confess that a climatic factor in his sufferings was his daily concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28).

The Problems in the Church

To a great extent the church’s problems emerged after Paul’s departure from Corinth; otherwise he would have dealt with them in person rather than handle them by correspondence. The pagan environment encouraged their development, as did the commercial life and wealth of the city. It was easy to be drawn into habits of “fast” living and to develop a false evaluation of material things. More innocuous, but still diversionary, was the fact that Corinth was a sports center. But the diversionary, was the fact that Corinth was a sports center. But the most devastating element was the immortality of the city that reached out a beckoning hand. Paul notes the following difficulties:

1.  Factions in the church. The very fact that Paul addresses himself to this first of all is indicative of the seriousness of this development from his standpoint (1:10-4:21). The most illuminating approach to the factions is to see them in the light of traditional Greek preoccupation with various schools of philosophy. In contrast to Athens, Corinth had no famous teacher of philosophy, but it was well acquainted with the tradition. There was a natural inclination to view Christianity as a system of thought that might be given varied interpretation and expression. The church split into various groups, each of which attributed its particular interpretation to an individual, some choosing Paul, some Apollos, some Cephas.

   Paul fought this factionalism by pointing out that he and the other leaders all belonged to Christ as well as to the whole church, and not to individual coteries (1 Cor. 3: 21-23). Furthermore, the apostle injects into his treatment of the problem a discussion of wisdom, contrasting the wisdom of the world with that of God (1:18 ff). He sets revealed truth, centering in Christ and him crucified, over against knowledge arrived at simply by human wisdom (2: 6-6). Moreover,  he denounces the factious spirit as a mark of carnality that was keeping the Corinthians in a state of spiritual babyhood (3: 1-3). They were acting like the unsaved around them – mere men. Paul makes it clear that the Christian leaders named at the beginning were only servants of Christ (4:1).  They make have been pillars in the church, but Christ was the foundation. (3:10).

2. Lawsuits. The Greek temperament was tremendously individualistic. This trait not only led to creation of factions but also led to the problem of lawsuits as individuals all insisted on having their own way refusing to look at things from the standpoint of those with whom they were contending. The apostle complains, “Brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers” (6:6). Again, they were acting like mere men – that is, unsaved men. They should at least have looked to one or more among the believers to adjudicate their differences. But the root of the trouble reached deeper. If they had in fact had the mind and the grace of Christ they would not have permitted these cases to arise in the first place much less been inclined to pursue them in pagan courts. It would have been better tto suffer injury than to have darkened the cause of the Lord Jesus.

3.  Immorality. We have already noted a flagrant case of immorality in our discussion of discipline, but Paul broadens his treatment to remind the church that sexual immorality has no place among sons of the kingdom: it belongs to the old life, not to the new (6:9ff.). Some in the congregation had adopted a haughty, independent attitude on this. Paul appears to be quoting them when he writes. “All things are lawful for me” (6:12). He reminds them of a few things they have overlooked: to be joined to a prostitute is to enter into union with her, to become one flesh with her (6:16_ – a clear contradiction of one’s union with Christ. Moreover, such a thing is a grievous affront to the Holy Spirit, who had made their bodies his temple (6:19). Finally, these believers are not their own, for they or were bought at the price of the body and blood of the Savior: They are no longer free to give themselves to sin.

4.  Marriage (1 Cor. 7). Paul relates his discussion of marriage to that of immorality by nothing that marriage can serve as a deterrent to keep one from immorality (7:2), but he also treats it as a charisma. One the other hand, he treats the ability to remain unmarried as a charisma, too, putting himself in this category. Each one has his gift, whichever it is, from God. Marriage is honorable and permissible, but it should be entered into only with another believer.

         It would seem that in writing this section, Paul is dealing with a point of view that questioned marriage, an ascetic attitude. When he says, “It is good for a man not to marry” (7:1), he may be reproducing a sentiment hat has been passed on to him by some in the church. The ascetic, attitude is clearly the opposite of an immoral attitude, but both approaches can derive from a common source – namely, a dualism that makes a sharp disjunction between the spirit and the body. The immoral individuals who had cast their lot with Christ might claim that by that act they had become so purified that in their inner life they were impervious to any merely physical contamination. On the other hand, the ascetics claimed that the spirit should be separated entirely from the flesh and ruled out marriage on that ground. Paul’s position is that living as a single person is feasible when that status is a gift from God, but otherwise it can be a tragic mistake. He was himself set free from family obligations by his single status and was thereby enabled to do more in the cause of Christ than he could otherwise have done. Each must get his guidance from God and act accordingly.

5. Eating meat offered to idols (Chapts 8-10). The matter of purchasing sacrificial meat was a practical matter for many in the Church, especially the poor, since they could likely serve money by doing so. Doubtless these were those to whom it seemed a mark of punctiliousness to differentiate between meat that had and had not been placed before an idol. On the other hand, people with a tender conscience found it hard to view the practice of eating meat of this sort as anything but complicity in idolatry. Paul took his stand with the former group, which argued that no change had taken place in the meat by reason of its exposure to an idol. The apostle points out, however, that while one should have liberty to partake, all should be governed by – love, and if one’s conduct would cause a “weak” brother to eat and by so doing violate his conscience, then “strength” would merely be a stumbling block (8:9). The argument is threefold: One should have liberty to partake, but if this example leads others to partake, but if this leads others to partake, and thus violate their conscience, love should bring willingness o forgo the exercise of liberty. The highest principle of all is to do everything to the glory of God (10:31).

         In dealing with this problem the apostle mentions freedom of action. He goes on to apply this principle in other areas. He himself is free to marry, for instance, as other Christian leaders have done (9:5), but he has chosen not to use this right. Again, he is free to claim financial support as a Christian worker (9: 6-7), but here also he has not used his right. He notes in reference to his former association with Barnabas that they have worked with their hands to provide their basic needs (cf. 1Thess. 2:9). So Christian liberty is a great truth that must be upheld, but we are not compelled to insist on our rights; we can forgo them for the sake of the gospel.

6.  The resurrection of the body. Paul devotes a whole chapter (15) to the subject of bodily resurrection. His readers had embraced the gospel as he presented it to them (15:1), a gospel that included the resurrection of Christ, but their Greek background had made it hard for them to accept this teaching. They had inherited the idea that the body is the prison house of the soul and that death brings welcome freedom from this confinement. Paul’s thrust is emphasize along with truth of Christ’s resurrection the accompanying truth that he shares our humanity. If one does not hold that the Christian dead are raised, he argues, then one cannot hold that Christ rose from the dead, and if that is so, then we are without hope, being still in our sins. Christ is in fact the last Adam, the head of a new humanity. The resurrection attests this; whereas the first Adam gave us sin and death, only the last Adam provides a life that is impervious to the ravages of these two enemies.

7.  The charismata (chapts. 12-14). There are many angles to this subject, but space does not permit our entering into them all. We will touch only on the main points. The Spirit is the source of the charismata, granting to each one a gift or gifts according to his good pleasure. These gifts are for the edification of the body as a whole; they are given for the benefit of all believers. The gifts are not to be exercised selfishly, as a matter of display. Recipients cannot pleased that they are carried away, for told that they are able to control the manifestation of the gift at least sufficiently to permit others to have their turn in the assembly (14:30, 32). This can be related to the teaching in chapter 13, where love is exalted not merely as the manner in which gifts are to be exercised, but also as greater than the gifts, for love partakes of the essential nature of God himself.

        The Corinthians were difficult people to work with. Though Paul had begotten them through the gospel and was therefore their spiritual father, they were problem children. Some of them were prone to question his apostleship (1 Cor. 9:1), probably as an excuse for ignoring his teaching when it pleased them to do so. He had to threaten to use his authority as a rod of punishment (4: 21). They could be petulant, accusing him of fickleness because he changed his visitation plans (2 Cor. 1:15ff.). He himself, on the other hand, was conscious of being led in triumph by virtue of his relationship to Christ (2:14).

      We find that his apostleship is also denied in 2 Corinthians, where it seems to be connected with the complaint that, unlike other Christian workers, he refuses to accept financial support (11: 7-15; 12: 11-18). This complaint was apparently planted in the minds of his converts by men who came to Corinth with letters of recommendation (3:1), perhaps from the mother church in Jerusalem but more probably from an element in that church (cf. Acts 15:24). They likely demanded financial support and cited Paul’s refusal to do the same as evidence of his awareness of inferiority to the Twelve and other Christian workers.

          This pressure from outsiders caste its shadow over much of largely with problems that had arisen within the local church. Paul is obliged to defend himself against these interlopers and in so doing to oblige to defend himself against these interlopers and in so doing servants of Satan (2 Cor. 11: 13-15). The Apostle admits that he is indulging in foolishness even to try to defend himself (11:21; 21:1), but he feels obliged to do so because the Corinthians have not themselves countered the charges made against him. He feels isolated. The best he can do is to turn the tables on his opponents by resorting to boasting (11: 21dd.). He notes that his Hebraic origin is as authentic as theirs. If they are servants of Christ, he is a better one. Can they match his record in the area of suffering (11: 23-28)? These experiences have taught him to be thankful for his weakness and the necessity of depending on Christ. They seem to get along without a thorn in the flesh such as he has, but he would not care to exchange places with them.

          It was a hard situation for Paul. The more his heart is enlarged toward his children in the faith and the more he yearns over them, the more they seem to close their hearts against him (2 Cor. 7:2). Before writing 2 Corinthians, while still in Ephesus, he had spoken of a plan to go to Rome and the West (Acts 18:21). But as long as the Corinthians situation remained troubled, he felt compelled to stay in the East. His pastoral concern would not permit him to leave (2 Cor. 15-16). By the time he reached Corinth, his letter (2 Cor.) had effected a real change in the attitude of the church. Even before he wrote, the congregation had moved to restore good relations with the apostle by dealing with one person who had wronged him (2 Cor. 2: 5-11). From Corinth he wrote to the Roman Church a letter that is free of any overtones of continuing turmoil in his environment. Evidently peace and good will had been restored.

   A Concluding Note

The three churches, seen above, represents three different characters in the making of the Christian communities. Jerusalem church shows real Jewish character. Antioch church had a combination of both Jewish and Hellenistic elements. Corinth church was dominantly Hellenistic. A study of the churches of the NT shows the influence of the religious, philosophical, social and cultural factors of the people in shaping churches. In the context of today’s talk about inculturation or contextualization, study of the formation of churches in the early Christian history can be helpful. An overview of churches, which is in the above pages, is adapted from E.F. Harrison’s The Apostolic Church  (Eerdmans 1985).

 

 

 

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

  Dr George Karakunnel

As a systematic reflection on the Church ecclesiology is comparatively a recent branch of theology. For the Fathers the Church was an experienced reality and it deeply entered into their Christian consciousness. Their works include many ecclesiological aspects. But if we look for a treatise on the Church, we do not find it even during the medieval period. The early works on the Church were the creation of canonists, rather than of theologians. The ecclesiological developments that shaped the present-day self-under­standing of the Catholic Church mostly were to come from 19th and 20th century with its crowning point in Vatican II.

 

  1. I.                     The Use of Models in Ecclesiology

The Second Vatican Council has remained as the spring­board for all theological reflections for the four decades. In a sense the council was the conclusion to many points of theological discussion and in another sense it was an introduction to many others. Many of the theolo­gical discussions that went in the preceding period found clarity and official approval in the council. The theme of Church, which has been the central theme of the council, did find clarity with regard to many aspects. But it still left many things open to further discussion and theological elaboration regarding the Church. The council’s way of looking at the Church using various metaphors or paradigms such as “Mystery”, “Sacrament”, “People of God“, “Body of Christ” set the stage for different ecclesiological elabora­tions. The post-conciliar ecclesiology is characterized by various points of emphasis. The different trends in .post-conciliar ecclesiology could be assessed by asking the question “What are the models used?”.1

 

Model here means an idea or a catch-word or phrase taken from tradition or present-day language to explain the reality of the Church. There is the possibility of various models and they need not be opposed to each other. In fact models are mutually complementary. All the models will not be of the same value and nature. Some are very abstract while others are very concrete. Among .the many models, there could be a basic model. In this essay the following models are considered in order to bring out various approaches to the Church: The Church as a Mystery, The Church as the People of God, the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as Communion, The Church as Servant, the Church as Herald.

 

  1. 2.        The Church as Mystery

For a long time in the past the Church was seen as an institution and as a society. It was clearly defined and mea­sured by standards derived from the social, political or cultural spheres.5 In the work of Robert Bellarmine the Church is a society “as visible and palpable as the community of the Roman People, or the Kingdom of France, or the Republic of Venice”.3 The institutional view of the Church which reached its climax in the 19th century was nicknamed as “hierarchology” by Yves Congar. The Church was here seen as a “machinary of hierarchical mediation, of the powers and primacy of the Roman See, in a word, hierarchology. On the other hand the two terms between which that mediation comes the Holy Spirit on the one side, the faithful people or the religious subject on the other, were as it were kept out of ecclesiological consideration.

 

Institution-centred approach to the Church does not present an ideal model. In fact it distorted the image of the Church. In a deliberate way Vatican II wanted to stress the understand­ing of the Church more according to the Bible and the Fathers using the term “Mystery”.5 Consideration of the Church as mystery in Lumen Gentium is fundamental to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The invisible, transcendent, super­natural character of the Church is shown by using the term “Mystery”. Because it is a divine reality, it cannot be ex­pressed in human language. The Fathers of the Church used symbols and metaphors to speak about the Church. We cannot objectify the Church and extract scientific knowledge out of it because the Church is a faith-reality. We can have only participative knowledge of the Church.

 

The term “mystery”,which is used to describe the Church, has the advantage of bringing out the divine dimension of the Church. Rather than indicating something hidden, it shows the salvific plan of God fully unveiled and concretized in history through Jesus Christ. The consideration of the Church as “Mystery” can be linked with “Church as Sacrament”. The term “Sacramentum” was originally used as translation of the Greek “Mysterion” which meant God’s plan of salvation and its visible expression in Christ and the Church. Following this very ancient understanding of the Church, Lumen Gentium calls the Church Sacrament. “By her relationship with Christ the Church is a kind of Sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of that union and unity” (LG 1).

 

Twentieth century theological reflections have brought out the idea of Christ as the Sacrament of God and Church as the Sacrament of Christ. Lubac, Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Chenu, Semmelroth and many others agree on this line of explanation of the Church. In fact they have especially followed the Fathers of the Church, especially, Cyprian and Augustine, in speaking about the Church as Sacrament. The theological meaning of mystery and sacrament, which are, used in modern ecclesiolo­gy points to the divine offer of salvation in and through Christ to human race. The Church in this way is spoken of as the “Sacrament”. It remains on earth as the visible sign and instrument of the reality of salvation offered by God to human beings.

 

The notion of the Church as mystery of salvation or as sacrament of salvation for humanity has the great advantage of pointing to the Trinitarian source of the Church. The Church thus viewed is an extension of God’s history into human history. It is the realization of God’s self-communi­cation to people and the world. This model of the Church has not been without criticisms one which is that, though expressed with the help of the rich theological terms, mystery and sacrament, the idea of the Church here seems to be rather abstract. Another criticism raised  is its lack of pastoral appeal. While it underlines the divine aspect of the Church, it does not give sufficient consideration to the human side of the Church.

 

In connection with the sacrament model we can also mention the Church seen in her relationship with the Holy Spirit. This presents Church as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The Church is seen in this way as the continuation of the mission of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that the Church is born and sustained all thro­ughout history. This view looks at the Church with a strong emphasis on Pneumatology. The approach is biblical and has found support in theological works of the present time. K. Rahner’s Dynamic Element in the Church, Moltmann’s Church in the Power of the Spirit, Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit (3 Vols) are works that consider pneumatology as the main constituent element of ecclesiology. Although giving a very important insight about the Church, some ex­pressions of this understanding of the Church, seen as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit have received criticisms for its excessive spiritualistic view of the Church and not sufficiently stressing the temporal and social aspects of the Church.

 

  1. 3.         The Church as the People of God

The Fathers of the Church in Vatican II created a Copernican revolution in the theological thinking about the Church. Instead of a hierarchy-centred perspective they gave a people-centered perspective. Although Vatican II contains other models its typical ecclesiological model is pointed out as the people of God model which forms the subject of the second chapter of LG. Coming from the Bible as found in both OT and NT, this is the oldest name for the Church. But since the people of God idea regarding the Church was forgotten for a long time and was revived only in the twentieth century this has the claim to be the newest name for the Church.

 

In the beginning of the fourth decade of the present century an understanding of the Church as the people of God was put forward by the German theologian, M. D. Koster in his work Ekklesiologie im Werden (1940). In the pre-conciliar era this approach was not officially acceptable to the Church. Even Vatican II accepted this model only with hesitation. In the first drafts of LG we do not find this model. When it was finally brought it revolutionized the whole ecclesiological approach of the Council. Put forward as a foundational theme in the Church’s self-understanding, the people of God idea determines the whole outlook of the Dogmatic Con­stitution. In presenting the people of God concept as an all-comprehensive one, so as to include all categories of members of the Church, before they are differentiated into hierarchy and laity, LGhas resorted to Old and New Test­aments. The most celebrated text of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 is quoted at the centre of the first article of the chapter dealing with people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…You who in times past were not a people but are now the people of God”.

 

The dignity and functions of all the members of the people of God quite in an unprecedented way are placed in clear light by the Council (LG 10-12). Through baptism all believers are called to a fellowship and are dedicated to the love and service of Christ. Vatican II wanted to correct a long-standing misconception that not all people are important in the Church. The vast majority of the people in contrast to members of the hierarchy were just peripheral members having no dignity and function of their own. There is a passage in Karl Rahner’s authobiographical interview published as I Remember. The interviewer Meinold Krauss asked Rahner, “Is the Pope the highest representative of Christi­anity?” With his characteristic depth and insight Rahner replied: I believe that you have to make a few distinctions. The Pope is the highest representative of the church, and if you like, with respect to certain juridical, ecclesial structures. But I maintain that the most humble, the most loving (to put in this old fashioned way), the most holy, the most ap­parently obscure person in the Church and not the Pope, is at the top of the hierarchy, the real hierarchy for which the Church is only a means”.11 The vision that lies behind the words of Rahner characterise the LG. In the context of the people of God frame, the Church is a community of brothers. Those in hierarchy are also brothers ordained to serve the community. Thus a new understanding of office is given by people of God ecclesiology.

 

The people of God concept has several strong points. It expresses the historical and dynamic character of the Church. It emphasizes growth and development of the Church in time and history. The people, as understood here, is a pilgrim people journeying to see the eschatological fulfilment. In fact, this people lives in the time that is between the incarnation and parousia. Through this people, the whole history is assumed to eschatology. The people of God is a messianic people which has received salvation. Being inserted into the large community of the human family, this people has a great task to fulfil. This means that the people of God is a community charged with a mission. The basis of reflection about the Church’s mission in the modern world, as GS has shown, lies in the understanding that the Church is the people of God living in the midst of human race united with it, and fulfilling a ministry of salvation in view of the whole humanity.

 

The model of ecclesiology based on the people of God expresses the participation and coresponsibility of all the believers. The Church is seen here “from below” rather than from “above”. LG says that the Church is a fellow­ship of life, charity and truth”. Perhaps this suggests too much people-centered ecclesiology for some. The post-conciliar reflection has shown that the reception of the people of God idea was complete neither in the leaders nor in the other members of the Church. It is also felt that much needs to be done in bringing the concept to practicality. The people-centred approach calls for a new form of Church ministry, government and leadership. It can be suggested that the synodal principle made operative in the Church would be quite in accordance with the people of God model.

 

Placed within the context of the people of God, the role of bishops and priests could be better understood. The essence of the hierarchical office, from the point of view of the people of God concept is ministry. The advantage of the people of God model is that, in a very positive way, it helps us not to forget the basic realty in the Church, namely, the people. It can also help us to under­stand a mode of functioning as far as leadership of the Church is concerned. Does the people of God idea suggest a democracy for the Church? Ratzinger points out that although Church may not be a democracy, it is also not a monarchy, or a modern centralized state.12 This suggests practically a people-centred pastoral leadership which does what is good for the people not only from the pastor’s point of view, but also from the community’s point of view. Having the people involved in making decisions and in executing those decisions, are important. This would imply a method of operation “from below”.

The BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) or BCC (Basic Christian Communities) model of the Church could be considered in this context. BEC are centred on the people. They attempt to form Christians into communities of faith, worship and love. Their appearance has been hailed as the resurgence of the ideal form of Christian living in the apostolic period. In the BEC the Gospel is accepted seriously. Listening to the Word and reflection on the Word with a view to living and acting feature the BEC. In these communities there is no sharp contrast between “ecclesia docens” and “ecclesia discens”. All are active members of the community. The Spirit of the BEC basically derives from an ecclesial vision which sees every person as important and essential to the formation of a dynamic Christian community.

 

  1. 4.        The Church as the Body of Christ

The typical theology of the Church in the pre-conciliar period was (Mystical) Body of Christ ecclesiology.   This concept of the Church is known from the time of St. Paul.13 Following St.  Paul   the Fathers spoke of the Church as the Body of Christ.    It was in the middle ages that the adjective “mystical” was added to the Pauline use of Body of Christ. There was clear relationship maintained by the Fathers bet­ween the Eucharist and the idea of the Church.    The Church was   nourished, sustained   and constituted by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the   body   of Christ. The ecclesiology of the Fathers was, in this way Eucharist-centred.    But this insight was lost sight of in the medieval period. The   Eucharist was called by medieval theologians “Corpus Christi Verum” and Church was named “Corpus Mysticum”.    Medieval theology later spoke about “Corpus ecclesiae mysticum” and the re­ference to Christ’s   Eucharistic   body   became   altogether absent.

 

The development of ecclesiology in the 19th century is connected with the revival of mystical body idea of the Church under the initiative of J. A. Moehler. The idea of the Church as mystical body was proposed by Moehler as a way out of the institutional view of the Church. For Moehler the term “mystical” pointed to a deep spiritual reality. Mystical body as applied to the Church indicated a super­natural organism vivified by the Holy Spirit. The under­standing of the Church as Mystical Body gained wide accept­ance in the Catholic Church with the publication of the encyclical “Mystici Corporis” by Pope Pius XII in 1943.

 

In the mystical body theology developed by Moehler and his followers there was no clarification for the visible aspects of the Church. The encyclical clarified these aspects. The mystical body concept was harmonized with the institutional reality of the Church. It was clearly stated that the Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ. The encyclical pointed to the Pope and bishops as “joints and ligaments of the body” and asserted, “those who exercise sacred power in the Body are its first and chief members”. The lay people were considered helpers to ecclesiastical hierarchy in spreading the Kingdom of the Redeemer.

 

Much of the theology of the Church found in Mystici Corporis has been changed by LG. First of all it does not say that Mystical Body of Christ is coterminus with the Catholic Church. Secondly, although LG shows the distinction between Church as the hierarchical society and as body of Christ, the two are very closely related to each other, in a way comparable to the divine and human natures of Christ. The structure of the Church is seen as serving the Spirit who through his active presence builds up the body of Christ.

 

The people of God theme and the body of Christ theme can be seen as complementary themes in ecclesiology. In fact most of the modern theologians ask for a combination of the two themes. Schmaus, Philips, Ratzinger, Congar and Kueng agree in this regard. The people of God theme very well expresses the human elements that go into the making of the Church. But under what form does the people of God exist? To answer this question the body of Christ will show the way.

 

The specific character of the Christian Church is brought out by the name “Body of Christ”. It establishes strong links between the Church and Christ. It is appreciated by Schnackenburg saying  that in the theology of the Body of Christ what is new, specific and unique in the Christian idea of the Church clearly emerges.14[ R.Schnackenburg, The Church in the New Testament p.176] The name “people of God is a common denominator to both OT and NT community of salvation. The NT community is the people of God that forms the body of Christ and exists as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some critics of the theme, body of Christ, see it as showing a static image of the Church. But it actually is used in Pauline epistles to point out the active role of every one in the Church. The criticism that it looks looks unreal and vague seems to be also unfounded. It is true that in history one finds sometimes overemphasis of differences in the body of Christ.

 

The body of Christ ecclesiology has many practical in­sights. It unequivocably asserts that the identity of the Church, of the Christian, is the identity of Christ. The idea of discipleship and ministry of each Christian comes in here. Realization of the fact that the members of the Church are organs of the body of Christ can inspire people to lend their service to the cause of Christ. The moving lines by Annie Johnson Flint tell us such an inspiration:

 

Christ has no hands but our hands

To do his work today;

He has no feet but our feet

To lead men his way;

He has no tongue but our tongues

To tell men how he died;

He has no help but our help

To lead men to his side.

We are the only Bible

The careless world will read;

We are the sinner’s gospel,

We are the scoffer’s creed;

We are the Lord’s last message

Given in deed and word—

What if the line is crooked?

What if the type is blurred?

What if our hands are busy

With other work than his?

What if our feet are walking

Where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongues are speaking

Of things his lips would spurn?

How can we hope to help him

Unless from him we learn?

 

  1. 5.         The Church as Communion

In the post-conci!iar era together with “the people of God” model, communion (koinonia) model stands as another imposing model for a theology of the Church. According to some theologians, if people of God is the basic ecclesiological idea of the Council, according to some others, “communion” forms the basic ecclesiological idea. Since Vatican II has juxtaposed many models, it is difficult to say which one is more important than the other.15 It is significant that the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, although not over­looking the idea of the people of God, showed its preference for the communion model. The reason was not because the idea of “people of God” was wrong but its reception was not in the way that was expected. It seemed to present a one-sided sociological description of the Church undermining the inner reality. The shift from “people of God” to “communio” was intended to effect a return to an integral understanding. For this purpose, “mystery” seemed to be too spiritualistic. Hence it was not used.

 

What is the meaning of communion as applied to the Church? The Church is basically a gathering of the people who participate in the life of God who is trinitarian. The participation effects a relationship between participants, and this is expressed as communion.16 All relationships and all activities among persons imply Communion. In the Trinity the missions of the Son and the Spirit are expressions of communion. LG, when speaking the Church points to “union with God and unity of the entire human family”. The idea here is communion. Communion ecclesiology is strongly rooted in the Bible and tradition of the Church. Keeping the limits of our enquiry, it is not possible to go into its Biblical sources. The idea of communion is closely related to the Eucharist where the salvific event is represented and re­membered in celebration. Ekklesia is most real in Eucharistic fellowship. It is from the Eucharistic fellowship that the Church began to draw the basic elements of its ecclesiology. Each Eucharistic community formed a full-fledged Church according to the NT. We read in Acts about Church in Jerusalem, Church in Antioch and later Churches in Judea, Samaria, spoken of in the plural. Patristic tradition clearly gave expression to this when he said: “The Church consists of communio of the whole world”.17 This would imply that communion includes diversity. But there are common ele­ments that bind together the different Churches. They are: 1. Confession of the same apostolic faith, 2, Participation in the same sacraments; 3. Common Christian life-style, life in the service of the kingdom of God; 4. Mutual recog­nition of pastoral leadership.

 

The Synod of Bishops, taking up a communion model ecclesiology showed that salvation begins from Trinitarian unity and it goes on to create the same unity in human sphere through Baptism and Eucharist. There is unity and pluriformity in the Church as in the Trinity. The monarchical and pyramidal structure of the Church is not acceptable because the source of the Church which is the Trinity is “communion” or “fellowship”. Only an unqualified monism or strict monotheism can lend support for a monarchical structure, which does not allow freedom for individual churches. The Synod of Bishops affirmed that the unique catholic Church exists in and through the particular Churches.”

 

The principle of communion has different levels of appli­cation: at the parish level, at the diocesan level, at the regional level and on a global level. It also finds expression in the collegiality of the bishops, body of presbyterate and in the people of God as a whole.

 

Communion reaches out to most real situations of life. It is no mere spiritualistic idea. The responsibility of order­ing the economic and cultural life of the society is part of constructing stronger communion. To be a credible sacrament and true expression of communion there should be concern even for all the material aspects of human life. Serving the brethren who suffer from poverty, hunger, sickness or other reasons form indispensable aspects of full communion. The source of all communion, it should be pointed out is the Eucharist, which should not be understood narrowing down the concept to a liturgy alone. Vatican II cautioned such a danger when it said in SC: “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”. The Church is Eucharistic communion not only because it stands around the altar for liturgical celebration but also because it loves and serves, once it is dispersed. Eucharist is a privileged moment of communion. But the Church requires a communion under a third species also—that is, not merely in the transformed body and blood of Jesus but also in the species of those things that satisfy the physical and material needs of man.

 

The Episcopal Council of Latin America in 1979 already long before the Synod of Bishops, took up “communion” as a basic ecclesiological category and from Trinitarian and Eucharistic communion, they came down to concrete, socio-economic programme. Authentic communion should include the personal, social and institutional levels of human living, When Eucharistic communion does not reach up to these levels it falls short of its true dignity and worth. It should be also pointed out that communion expressed merely as interpersonal relationship of human beings and help to satisfy physical and material needs does not make true ecclesial communion. What is needed is integral communion.

 

“Pluriformity” is a new word found in the final report of Synod of Bishops held in  1985. The word is intended to con­vey the idea of legitimate differences among Christian com­munities. This notion has significant bearing in the Indian context. India is a land of diversity. Today and tomorrow, the Christian presence in this country has to be pluriform in nature. There are differences in customs and traditions of our various groups of people, various regions of our country and that will enter into the ecclesial identity also. In this context the plea for communion should find strong expression. The communion understood in all its aspects– Trinitarian, Christological, Pneumatological, Eucharistic, socio-cuJtural aspects– form a right model for ecclesiology. It can serve to highlight both the divine and human aspects of the Church. It shows that the Church is both in the level of its vertical relationship and in the level of horizontal rela­tionship It can bring out the meaning of tradition and tradi­tions, Church and Churches. Communion idea of the Church also can remain open to the world with the characteristic spirit of Vatican II, expressed in Gaudium et Spes.

 

  1. 6.        The Church as the Servant

Concern for the world was one of the important features of Vat. II. The reflection on the Church was to take place, according to John XXIII on two levels: First, as a reflection on the ”Church ad intra”. Secondly, as a reflection on the “Church ad extra”. If LG was the realization of the first, GS was the realization of the second. The ad extra reflection takes its origin from the openness of the Church to the world. For a long time in the history of the Church official attitude to the world was negative. This is very well pointed out with the example of syllabus of errors” issued by Pope Pius IX in 1864.

 

“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” conceives the role of the Church as service to the world. Here is a positive approach, which is not found very much in the history of the Church. The Pastoral Constitution says: “The Christians cannot yearn for anything more ardently than to serve the men of the modern world even more gener­ously and effectively” (GS 93). Concluding the theological part of GS, Vatican II spoke about the ways the Church renders service to the world, to person, to community, and to human activity. As Christ was the man for others the Church should exist as community for others. This is the spirituality of the servant model Church assumes her humble position as “servant”. As a sign of that the word Church even becomes written with a small “c”.

 

The present model carries particular application in the context of a Church living in the midst of poverty, misery and injustice. The statement of Bonhoeffer is worth consider­ing in this context: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations or possibly engage in some secular calling. The Church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving”.19

 

The service   of the Church is fully conceived only if it takes into   consideration all the aspects of the Church’s mission which may be spelled out as: 1.    Ministry of the word, 2.    Ministry of worship, 3.    Ministry of leadership, 4.    Ministry of social apostolate, especially   to the  most   needy.    GS has pointed out assistance   to   people in their fundamental questions re­garding life, suffering, death, belief as pertaining to the role of the Church (GS 10).    Church is shown in GS: as related to   various    subjects   Church   and   Human   Rights, Church and Culture    Church and   Politics, Church and Liberation, Church and Socio-economic life.    In all these related areas, as   GS   has   pointed out, Church should render her service. Being in (a theology of the proposition “in”) the world me­ans   that   all   these   things   are   important   concerns of the Church.

 

The servant model   cannot   overlook   the   tension   that exists   between Church   and the world.    Therefore Congar would   say that the Church is in the world, but it is not of the world.    Involvement in the world does not take away the duty   of evangelization.    Church’s   service to the   world is ultimately a service to the Kingdom of God.   The Church is the   servant because it does not ecclesiastify the world, but rather lead the world to the Kingdom.    Being in the world the Church has to operate within the structures of the world. The Church in the world should not build up many parallel structures.    That   means   Church should not involve herself excessively in institution building. As Congar says   “Christo-finalizing” should happen the world through normal channels of life would be the ideal.20

 

The “Servant” idea is biblically based. The OT tradition sees Israel as servant of Yahweh. Jesus in the NT is one who serves. But servant idea is placed in the Bible both in the OT and NT in relation to God primarily. In the NT service to the brethren occupies an important place. But this has to be understood in the context of the kingdom of God, rather than taking it in its own category. The Kingdom idea has received strong emphasis in all modern ecclesiolo-gies.21 When the Church is understood as the servant of the Kingdom, the servant-model acquires fuller significance. The servant model of the Church carries with it a spirituality of involvement, which should be accompanied by Christian virtues of humility, simplicity and sacrifice. It would make radical demands on individual Christians as well as on the Church as a whole.

 

  1. 7.        The Church as the Herald

Earlier we considered the model of the Church as the sacrament. In the place of the “Sacrament” the “Word” occupies a central place of importance in the present-model. God’s Word gathers and forms Ekklesia. The Church is called to proclaim the Word which it has heard and lived. There­fore the herald model could be called the “Kerygmatic model” which arises from an evangelical perspective. McBrien has summarily featured this ecclesiology of proclamation: “This mission of the Church is one of proclamation of the word of God to the whole world. The Church cannot hold itself responsible for the failure of men to accept it as God’s word; it has only to proclaim it with integrity and persistence. All else is secondary. The Church is essentially a Kerygmatic community which holds aloft, through the preached Word, the wonderful deeds of God in past history, particularly his mighty acts in Jesus Christ. The community itself happens wherever the Spirit breathes, wherever the word is pro­claimed and accepted in faith. The Church is event, a point of encounter with God”.22

 

Historically, the herald model has come to be associated with Barth and Protestant tradition. Among all the modern theologians it is Barth who has given the greatest emphasis to the relation between Word and the Church. The Protestant Christianity has accused Catholic Christianity of giving undue insistence on the Church of glory. It makes a strong plea to see the Church under the sign of the cross in its present state, requiring, repentance and renewal. The Church cannot glory in herself because it still needs to listen to the word-The Church’s role is to proclaim as John the Baptist while acknowledging its own unworthiness.

 

The Church which is the “herald of the good news” is also understood here as one who is called by a herald. Therefore ekklesia here means both the process of congregating and the congregated community’ The herald model also places the Church on earth in clear distinction from the kingdom of God. Though nourished by the Word the Church is never a perfect Word-community. It is a community that is always in the process of becoming. It is faith, in response to the Word that makes this community. According to Barth the role of the Church is primarily religious He did not entertain an unqualified optimism regarding the world and man’s involvement in it. But Barth certainly moved to a positive and down-to-earth approach in his later years. He showed an evangelical spirit which made him say “No” to the “Nazis.2

 

The herald model of the Church carries a missionary thrust, which is to be appreciated. The model also fits into the prophetic tradition of OT and the missionary concern of the NT. This model can show very well the power of the Word as a corrective force to the Church. Not only that, if “Church as the herald” (of the good news) is understood in its broadest sense it can serve as a very practical concept. That means herald idea has to include in it not only announ­cing the good news, but also living the good news and fashioning a world of justice and peace in accordance with the demands of the Gospel. The social emphasis in the pro­clamation of the word is relatively new in the official teaching of the Church. Announcement of the Word of God is pointed out as the important duty in the documents of Vatican II. In fact the proclamation of the Word and listening to the Word certainly should become the most important aspect of ecclesial life. SC puts it very clearly: “Christ is present in His Word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (SC 7). DV speaks about “hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it confidently” (DV 1). This involves the fulfilment of a duty which will give birth to social order founded on truth built on Justice, and animated by love” (GS 26)

  1. 8.        Beyond Models

The models that we have brought above help us to explore the meaning of the Church. Certainly all models of the Church are not of equal value. Each of them enlightens us more on one or other aspect of the Church. The question that could be further asked is: “What is the basic model of the Church? Can there be basic model? In the post-conciliar theology two dominant models stand out: the people of God model and communion model. This is not to ignore the other models especially the Sacrament model or Body of Christ model, which are also of importance and are given in LG.

 

The people of God model has the power to inspire the Church to see its most important human constituents, namely, the people themselves. No one is insignificant in the light of this. Every one in the Church has his dignity and function in the Church. The role of the laity is easily brought to light in “the People of God”. Seen in the right perspective, the role of the hierarchy also is placed in clear understanding. Here hierarchy is seen as an organ of serving rather than domineering. “Hierarchy” exists for the people and not that “people exist for hierarchy”. It has been feared that “People of God” concept might cause the “Socialization” of the Church. If the second part of the appellation “People of God” is kept in sight, it can show that this people are a worshipping community, fundamentally related to God. Thus a proper understanding of people of God can forestall any “socialization” of the Church with the detriment to interiority.

 

The Church seen as “communion” also can serve to comprehend the values that are mentioned above in relation to the people of God.. Participation and fellowship of all the members form essential aspects of communion model. The communion model brings at once the “theological” and “anthroplogical” nature of the Ekklesia. Fellowship of human beings is rooted in the fellowship of the Trinity. The “communion model” has applicability to different levels of the Church. In that way it is also a very flexible and adaptable concept, which can bring diversity and pluriformity into one communion.

 

Models should come down to concrete pastoral situations. Otherwise they will be mere abstract models. Both the “People of God model” and ‘Communion” model call for changes and renewal in the organizational and structural aspects of the Church. The role of the parish yogam, parish councils, pastoral councils, etc. gains new meaning in the light of these models. Often pastors are not trained to work in the community, with the vision provided by the new models. Models once accepted should be made operative. Often on the ground that democracy is not the form of government in the Church, priests follow an authoritarian model which people know is not the right one, bypassing even the given structure which are there to guarantee an ecclesial style of life that gives participation to people. This way of acting alienates the members of the Church. Instead of playing their active in the Church people indifferent. Sometimes priests meet with violent reactions from parishio­ners because they have a very authoritarian behaviour or approach in their pastoral ministry. It is true that many conflicts today in parishes also arise from unecclesial values mainly coming from politics, The pastor has to guard the community from such dangerous influences which destroy communion and fellowship.

 

To conclude, models are important in ecclesiology. Once a basic model is chosen the contents and implications of other models should not be overlooked. A true pastoral approach should try to discover the insights and values given by each model, while at the same time holding on to a basic model which can serve as the guiding light to other models.

 

NOTES

1    See A. Dulles, Models of the Church (New York 1974); B. Mondin, Le Nuove ecclesiologie (Rome 1980); R. Kress, The Church: Communion Sacrament, Communication (New York 1985); Rikhof, The Concept of the Chwch; R. Michiels “The Self-Understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Louvain Studies 14 (1989), pp. 83-107.

2    K. McNamara, Vatican II: The Constitution on the Church, (London 1968), p. 76.

3    De Controversiis, 2, lib, 3. cap, 3, vol. 2, (Naples 1857), p. 75.

4    Y. Congar, Lay People in the Church (Westminster 1964), p. 45.

5    A. Grillmeier, “The Mystery of the Church Commentary on the Documents on Vatican II ed by H. Vorgrimler (London 1967), p. 138.

6   H. Rikhof considers it difficult to define the Church because of this particular nature of the Church. See H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church (London 1981), p. 206.

7. R. Michiels, “The Self-understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Lonvian Studies 14 (1989), p. 89.

8.Cf. Joel 2:28; Ezek 36:27; i Cor 3: 16-17; 1 Cor 12:2-4.

9    K.   E.   Untener,   The Church-World Relationship according to the Writings of Yves Congar  (Rome 1976), p 10.

10    A. Dulles, Models of the Church, p. 48.

11. K. Rahner S. J.,   / Remember.    An Autobiographical Inter­view with Meinold Kraus (New York 19S5), p. 96.

12.  J. Ratzinger Das Neues Volk Gottes (Diisseldorf 1970), p. 209.

13. Cf.  1Cor. 6:15-17; 10:17; 12:12-30, 31; Rom 12:4-8; Gal 3:26-28; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15; Eph 1:22,23; 2:16; 4:12,16; 5:23; 5:30.

14.    R. Kress,  The Church: Communion,.., p. *9

15.   H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church, see Chapt. 1.

16. K. Me Donnell, “Vatican II… Koinonia/ Communion as an Integral Ecclesiology” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 25:3 (1988) p. 401 ff. Cf. Ibid., p. 406. Cf. also for an evaluation of commu­nion ecclesiology of “Synod of Bishops 1985”, Concilium (Dec. 1986). Final Report of the Synod.

19    D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1967), pp. 203-204.

20   K.   E.   Untener, The Church-World Relationship, pp. 18ff.

21    Cf. H. Kueng, “The Coming Reign of God”, in Church (New York 1976) pp. 69ff; also J. Moltmann, “Church of the Kingdom of God” (Part 4 of Church in the Power of the Spirit. (London 1977). also L. Boff, Church, Charism and Power (London 1982); A. Dulles, A Church to Believe in (New York 1985), pp. 8-10.

22   R. P. McBrien, The Continuing Quest (New York 1970), p. 11.

23    H. Kueng, The Church  p. 114

24   Cf. Roger L. Shinn, Man: the New Humanism, (New Directions in Theology Series VI), (London 1968), pp. 36-37.

 

 

 

VATICAN II AND ECCLESIOLOGY

 VATICAN II AND ECCLESIOLOGY

 Dr George Karakunnel

             To understand the theology of the Church in Vatican II one needs to see both the background from which it has come and the various stages of its own development.

Historical Background

            In early centuries the Church was vividly experienced and believed in, but her nature was not analysed.  Even in the great age of scholasticism there was no treatise “De Ecclesia”: none will be found in St.Thomas’ “Summa Theologica”.  Such a treatise first appeared at the end of the Middle ages, but chiefly as a creation of Canon Law. Then came the reformation and the need to oppose the Protestant concept of the Invisible Church and to prove that the Roman Church was the only true one.  To do this the idea of the Church as a “perfect society” was much developed, and a fully visible society – “as visible as the Kingdom of France” said St.Robert Bellarmine, the leading counter-reformation controversialist.  Moreover, in discussing the nature of this society little was considered beyond its governmental aspect, and that was seen again in secular terms: those of monarchical government.  Thus a sort of typical ecclesiology for the period from the 16th to 19th century grew up.

            To sum it up:

–         It was apologetic in approach.

–         It defined the church as a “perfect society” understood in terms similar to those of a secular state.

–         It was mostly concerned with the visible aspect of the Church.

–         It spoke chiefly of the governmental side of the society.

–         It explained that government in terms of monarchy.

The best way to show this ecclesiology from which the Second Vatican Council has now finally delivered us is to give an example. So, here is a brief summary of the “De Ecclesia Christi” of Cardinal Billot, 4th edition, 1921. Billot was probably the most distinguished and influential Catholic theologian of the first quarter of this century. His treaties has 870 pages, divided into three parts. Namely;

–         The first part (267 pages) is straightforward apologetics. It proves that the Roman Catholic Church is true and all sects separated from her false.

–         The second part is the most important; its 450 pages are devoted to the Church’s internal constitution. The first chapter is on the members of the Church (all the baptized except those cut off by heresy or schism.)

All the other nine chapters are on ecclesiastical authority: first in general, then the powers of order, of teaching, of jurisdiction. There follow 200 pages on the monarchical character of the Church and on the Roman Pontiff. Finally there are 13 pages divided between bishops and councils.

The third part considers the relationship of the Church with civil society, the two ‘powers’. Its first chapter deals with the error of Liberalism, the second proves that the State is (indirectly) subordinate to the Church, the third and the last speaks of the Church’s immunity.

Why go into all this? Because it shows us so clearly what is new in the “New Ecclesiology”. The old ecclesiology – the teaching of most manuals up till a few years ago – had a terribly juridical and rather secular view of what the Church is.  One finds in Billot’s work no account of the people of God or even of the body of Christ; no reference to the sacraments other than the initiation of baptism; not concern with the laity or even with the priests except as ‘subjects’ for authority; no treatment of the Church’s mission, etc. The old ecclesiology appeared as principally concerned with power in the Church and then chiefly with that of the Pope. Bishops and councils between them got a bare 13 pages. The central thesis of the whole thing was undoubtedly ‘the Church’s monarchy as instituted in St. Peter’ even though Billot – unlike many theologians of his time did temper this by recognizing the existence of a true ‘college of bishops’. The old ecclesiology was not wrong in its chief affirmations;  we cannot reject the visible hierarchical and papal aspects of the Church – but it was very one-sided.

Twentieth Century Developments

            In the forty years following 1921 ecclesiology has been in a constant state of change as the influences of Scripture, the Fathers and Liturgy have been growing, in place of those of canon Law, apologetics and comparisons with civil government. In particular we may note the following developments:

–         The theology of the “Mystical Body” coming back especially in the years after 1925.

–         The Lay Apostolate Movement, greatly encouraged by Pope Pius XI and Pius XII

–         The theology of the People of God, coming in chiefly after 1940.

–         A closer linking up of the Church with sacramental theology.

–         The beginning of ecumenical contacts with non-Catholics.

The manuals of theology written or revised in those years often tried to bring in some of these new ideas (especially, of course, that of the mystical body after the encyclical of 1943), but on the whole they stuck to the old framework and you get some odd results as when the mystical body is mentioned indeed but in a ‘corollarium’!

VATICAN II

The first text of the “De Ecclesia” to appear at the Council, that produced after much discussion by the Preparatory Commission and debated during the last week of the first session, did much of this.

Many new ideas appeared here and there but the general impression was still strongly of the old point of view in its order, its stresses and its terminology. The bishops strongly criticized it as too heavily institutional and juridical. Although not specifically rejected by the Fathers it was clear that this draft was not acceptable, and it was almost entirely rewritten by the Doctrinal Commission between the first and second sessions.

This new draft  (B) was an enormous improvement. It was very carefully discussed in the second session and a great many further amendments and additions many of them of the first importance, were proposed. It was also decided to add two further chapters, one eschatological, the other Marian. This resulted in a further extremely careful writing or rewriting of the various parts; these were prepared in a number of sub-commissions which included many of the most distinguished international theologians. The new draft (now eight chapters) was sent out to the Fathers in July, 1964. Further small but significant amendments had still to be made to it during the third session and in that form it was finally voted on and approved.

Let us compare the order of the three chief drafts by chapter divisions.

PRINCIPAL DRAFTS OF DE ECCLESIA

          A                                                  B                                                      C

Presented in Session I                Presented in Session II               Presented in Session III

  1. Nature of the militant Church
  2. Members of the militant Church
  3. Episcopate and Priesthood
  4. Residential Bishops
  5. The states of perfection
  6. Lay people
  7. Teaching authority
  8. Authority and obedience in the Church
  9. Relations of Church and State
  10. Necessity of Universal Evangelization
  11. Ecumenism
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The hierarchy
  3. The people of God and the laity
  4. The vocation of all to holiness; religious
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The People of God
  3. The hierarchy
  4. The Laity
  5. Call of the whole Church to holiness
  6. Religious
  7. Eschatological nature of the pilgrim Church and her union with the heavenly Church

8.  The role of Mary in the  mystery of Christ and the Church

IT MAY BE NOTED THAT:

–         The original text clearly what we may call ‘Billot’s general order and approach’ while inserting some new sections in what seems a rather arbitrary way.

–         However, text A did already include many ideas of the ‘New Ecclesiology’, e.g. the terms ‘people of God’ and ‘body of Christ’ appear at once in c. l. ; lay people were given a separate chapter which speaks of the universal priesthood.

–         Yet the ‘old approach’ was still too clear: four different chapters were devoted to the organs of clerical authority, while the tone of the actual text was in many places very juridical.

–         The later texts have put everything that was to be said about the ‘hierarchical ministry’ into a single chapter (a long one).

–         The final text develops the idea of ‘God’s people’ before speaking of the hierarchy.

–         The Church’s spiritual and invisible purpose, ‘holiness’, appears clearly in the later texts.

–         ‘The Laity’ were treated after religious in the first text before them in the second and third.

–         The traditional chapter on the two ‘potestates’ (powers) ‘Church and State’- is simply left out in the later texts; other matters such as the Church’s missionary character, which appears in the first text as a sort of ‘corollarium’ are integrated into the general treatment; on the other hand quite new themes (especially concerning invisible aspects of the Church) make their appearance.

–         The term ‘militant’ falls out; the term ‘pilgrim’ comes in.

–         Already this brief analysis of Chapter headings shows us quite a lot about the way thinking on the Church developed during the Council. But to understand that development properly what we must examine is the text itself of the final constitution, for, the whole ‘new theology’ of Christian life in the church is really to be found within its chapters.

*****


DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH

A Brief  Commentary

Chapters 1 and 2

                       I.     Ecclesia                        a.1.      Introduction: the Council intends to set

                  de Trinitate                               forth the nature of the Church

                  a. 1-4.                          a.2.      the Father’s work.

                                                      a.3.      the Son’s.

                                                      a.4.      the Holy Spirit’s.

1.The mystery

   of God’s gift

                                                                        a.5.      Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom.

                                                      a.6.      Images of the Church:

                                                                  sheepfold, flock, olive tree, vineyard;

                                                                  building, temple of God, holy city;

                                                                  bride of Christ.

      II.         Aspects of the mystery

                  a.5-8                            a.7.      the body of Christ.

                                                      a.8.      a visible, hierarchial society; but one of

                                                                  service not of power.

III.       Nature of the people

                  a. 9-12                         a.9.      constituted by the new covenant with

Christ as head.

                                                      a.10-11.priestly character.

                                                                        a.12.    prophetic character, including charisms.

2.The People

   of God.

                        IV.       Relationship                  a.13.    universality of the people.

                                    with the human race.     a.14.    fullness of incorporation.

                                    a.13-17.                       a.15.    separated Christians.

                                                                        a.16.    non-Christians.

                                                                        a.17.    the mission of universal

                                                                                    evangelization.

The Title:

The conciliar documents, like papal encyclicals, are to be known by the first words of their latin text, and so special care was presumably taken to make these significant.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM which open the constitution on the Church appeared with the 1963 text.  That of 1962 began AETERNUS UNIGENITI PATER, rather reminiscent of Vatican I’s PASTOR AETERNUS.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM look outwards and stress the universal mission of both Christ and the Church.  They are an implicit quotation from Isa. 42:6, but ‘gentes’ here of course no longer means the gentiles in opposition to Israel but simply all the peoples of the world.  We may be especially glad that this phrase entitles the Council’s greatest document not only because of its missionary significance but also because it was a phrase very dear to Pope John, and was used as the key words of his radio message to the world on 11 September, 1962, just before the Council opened.  It is Christ who is the light of the nations, but his light shines through the Church.

Common theme of these two chapters:

 

The first two chapters of the constitution stand together, providing a rich basic  theology of the Church.  In draft B of the document the order followed was: c.1, Mystery of the Church; c.2, the Hierarchy; c.3, the People of God and the Laity.  But it was pointed out in the second session that the term ‘People of God’ includes the whole Church, the hierarchy as well.  Laity and hierarchy are divisions within God’s people, and therefore a study of the People of God must come before one of the hierarchy.  PEOPLE OF GOD, in fact, is an important name for the Church, while the hierarchy is a ministry within the Church (or rather, those performing that ministry).  We have to see the Church as a whole before we speak of a ministry within her.  Hence a chapter on the People of God was placed before that on the hierarchy.

The matter of c.2 might in fact have been merged into c.1.  It was kept apart both to stop c.1 from becoming too long and then because of a certain difference of approach: c.1 deals more with the divine, c.2 with the human side of the Church’s nature.  The Church on earth is a gathering of men by God: he forms and gives this gathering its special characteristics.  So, in studying the Church’s nature, there are two aspects to be considered – that of the gift, and that of those who receive it.  Roughly speaking, c.1 deals with the first aspect: the Church’s mystery as a gift of God; c.2 deals with the second aspect: the human community, the people of God.  But the two sides are so completely inter-involved that not only is there of course no division between them, but even a distinction should not be pressed.

The very existence of these two well-developed chapters on the Church’s general nature, placed before any treatment of the hierarchy, is the first and possibly even the most important contribution of the constitution to our understanding of the Church.  Never again will others be able to say that we seem only to speak about the governmental side of the Church; in the past that was often almost true.  From now on it cannot be.  In these two chapters on the nature of the Church there is no detailed mention of the hierarchy at all.  The body of the Church is described, and only when that has been done does the constitution go on to speak in detail of the ministry within the Church.

Note that each of these two chapters is fairly clearly divided into half, as in the summary above; if the four units are seen as such a study of the main lines of thought will be greatly assisted.

Chapter – 1:

 

The essence of the Church is very finely expressed in a.1.  The Church is the sacrament of  UNION WITH GOD and of unity among men.  That is where we start from – not a juridically conceived ‘perfect society’ but ‘union with God’, of which the Church as we know her is the sacrament, that is to say the visible sign and embodiment.

Union with God means union with the three persons of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  The Church is indeed DE TRINITATE.  In order to gather men into this unity of God, the Father sent the Son in whose life and especially in whose death and paschal sacrifice the Church is inaugurated.  It is in the eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament that what Christ did then is continually expressed and made effective for us: in this way the unity of men, the body of Christ, is brought about.  But it is the Holy Spirit who continually vivifies, sanctifies, and rejuvenates the Church of God: Christ provides the ‘shape’ of the Church, the Spirit the breath of life.

This opening section is concluded with the fine sentence: ‘Thus the universal Church is revealed as “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (a.4).  These four opening articles really provide an exquisite summa of essential ecclesiology and deserve deep meditation.

a.5 provides an extension of a.3: the historical work of Christ especially in terms of the kingdom.  The meaning of the kingdom is not easy to express precisely.  The kingdom of God is the fullness of humanity’s service of God.    Preaching the kingdom, Jesus inaugurates the Church, and the Church is continually bringing the kingdom nearer to realization, but the two cannot simply be identified – at least until the end of time.

 In a.6 we find the presentation of a wide variety of scriptural images for the Church.  Drawn from the life of the countryside and the common trades they can be specially valuable for catechetical work in non-industrialized societies.  The images given in a.6 could very well form the basis for a course of sermons.  Note that the ‘body of Christ’ in a.7 is not given simply as another image.  This title cannot be put on the same level as the images previously referred to, as it has a deeper and more precise theological meaning.

In a.8 for the first time we meet the word ‘society’.  The Church is indeed a visible society.  We live in a visible world.  Christ was a visible man and the divine communion he came to bring, which has been described up till now, must take a visible and social form.  It involves the gathering of men in a human society  which requires leadership, etc. like other human societies.  Therefore the divine fellowship, the body of Christ existing in the visible world, must take the form of a visible society, the earthly (hierarchical) Church.  The identity of the two was stressed in Pius XII’s encyclicals MYSTICI CORPORIS and HUMANI GENERIS; it is repeated here, but in a modified form.  The single Church of Christ cannot be simply and absolutely identified with the one visible Roman communion, for the Council recognizes important ‘ecclesial elements’ separated from the latter.  The visible Church as sacrament (manifest and effective sign) of union with God is one and exclusive, but what it signifies extends beyond its visible frontiers.  Hence, whereas draft B stated unequivocally ‘This Church is the Roman Catholic Church’, the final text declares ‘This Church SUBSISTS in the R.C. Church’.  The implications of this tiny verbal modification may be very great.

Chapter – 2:

 

a.9 is a fundamental one.  The PEOPLE OF GOD is the Councils characteristic name for the Church.  Note that the description of the people starts with the fact of the covenant.  The Church is God’s new people.  Why? Because Christ instituted a new eternal covenant in his blood of cross and Eucharist.  We cannot understand this term ‘people of God’ without the covenant idea: the historical agreement whereby a group of men are made into God’s chosen people.

God’s people is ‘a kingdom of priests’.  Until recently we have greatly neglected the truth of the priesthood of all the faithful, so stressed by Lutherans.  Here it is called the ‘common priesthood’ as distinguished from the ‘ministerial priesthood’ of holy orders.  Note that both are sacramental in origin and expression and, of course, that all ministers share in the common or universal priesthood.  This is a real participation in Christ’s Priesthood, and it is actuated in the whole of the Church’s worship centred upon offering the Eucharist, to which every Christian is called.

The final paragraph of a.11 speaks of the universal vocation of Christians to perfect sanctity; it anticipates the theme of c.5.

Besides the priestly and prophetic gifts which are common to all the christian people, there are many other special one to this person or that which are given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church.  These are called ‘charisms’’; some may be remarkable others very simple.  They are to be welcomed by the hierarchical ministry, but their genuineness and proper use may require testing.

Articles 13-17 must again be seen as a unit.  The key to all five is the initial sentence: ‘All men are called to belong to the new People of God’.  The whole section works out the implications of this statement.  The picture of God’s people is one of an ever richer diversity in unity as the universality of its vocation is little by little realized through historical growth.  Catholics in a state of grace and the communion of Rome are fully incorporated into the unity of the one people, but non-Catholic Christians too are joined to it in many ways – by baptism and the Scriptures and faith and the Holy Spirit: a.15 must, of course, be studied with the Decree on Ecumensim.  Non-Christians as well (Jews, Muslims, everyone) are positively related to the one people in one way or another, for all God’s sons have been called to membership of the new people.  Nevertheless here and now they still lack much; to give it to them and so achieve the desired fullness missionary work is absolutely necessary.  This is not a valuable extra in Church life.  On the contrary: “Proclaiming saving truth to the ends of the earth’ expresses the very purpose and being of the Church and without it the Church would not indeed be here self.  Only thus can we bring to achievement the Catholicity and unity of God’s people: all humanity fully within the one Church, and the one Church fully diversified with the variety of mankind.

Notice that we have said ‘Roman Catholics in a state of grace are FULLY incorporated into the one people’.  Draft B of a.14 had declared that ONLY Catholics are REALLY incorporated into the Church (‘Reapse et simpliciter…illi tantum’); this was a repetition of the words of the encyclical MYSTICI CORPORIS (‘Reapse illi soli’).  But the Fathers preferred to replace the above words with ILLI PLENE.  Full membership, to the mind of the Council, furthermore implies not only fulfilling the external conditions of belonging to the Roman communion, but also includes possession of the Spirit of Christ: ‘Dead” members cannot be ‘full’ members.  If Catholics are incorporated into the ‘full communion’ of the visible Church, non-Catholic Christians are truly but not fully members of the visible communion.  This does not PER SE limit their sharing in the fellowship of faith and love which is signified, but at the sign level at least their communion with the great Church is not complete.  This is an important advance on earlier official teaching.

This beautiful treatise on the Church ends as it began, with the three persons of God, from whom (in a.1) our eucharistic communion and mission comes and to whom (a.17) it returns.  The universal mission must bring about a universal Eucharist-in the prophetic words of Malachi, ‘In every place there is a sacrifice’-that in this way ‘the fullness of the whole world may pass into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that in Christ, the head of all things, all honour and glory may be rendered to the creator, the Father of the universe’.

Chapter  3 HIRARCHICAL MINISTRY:

 

1. Introduction.                                                             a.18.    purpose of the chapter

                                   I. Its origin                                a.19.    the apostolic college.

                                                                                    a.20.    bishops are the apostles’

                                                                                                successors by divine institution.

                                                                                    a.21.    entry through consecration-the

                                                                                                fullness of Holy orders.

2. The Episcopate         II. Its nature                              a.22.    the Episcopal college and the

                                                                                                Position of its head.

                                                                                    a.23.    mutual relations of bishops;

                                                                                                world missionary responsibilities

                                    III. Its work                              a.24.    the ministry in general.

                                                                                    a.25.    teaching, and ecclesial infallibility

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            a.26.    sanctifying.

                                                                                    a.27.    pastoral rule.

                                                                                    a.28.    the priesthood.

3. Lesser Orders                                                          a.29.    the diaconate.

Chapter 3 is the longest in the constitution.  Certain points in it were discussed very extensively and finally formulated with great precision, but it would be a mistake to limit the significance of this chapter to those points.  The chapter as a whole is very rich in its teaching.  Its general characteristics are as follows: It is clear in the New Testament that Christ entrusted the direction of His Church to the twelve as a body, a collective unit, and they acted as such in the early days described in the Acts. To them was given full authority: Peter was one of the twelve , their leader. He could not act except as an apostle because that is what he was; but he was not merely their president.  What was given to the Twelve collectively, was explicitly given to him individually.  The one fullness of authority bestowed by Christ was given both to the college and to its head – they not being their collective whole without him, while he in principle acted always as leader of the Twelve.

Peter’s primacy was passed to the popes; the apostles’ ministry to the bishops.  Catholics have never doubted that.  What has not been so clear is that bishops have not merely succeeded individually to a limited charge, but also collectively to the universal one-to a real shared responsibility for the whole Church. It should have been clear, of course, because it was implied by the whole long history of ecumenical councils.  What this chapter now teaches us is just how the character of the Church’s ministry has remained, as it was in apostolic times, collective-cum-individual.  Papal authority is no less than Vatican  I defined it, but it looks rather different when seen as the divinely planned headship of a continuing college.

It will take time to shape the Church’s concrete institutions effectively according to this new vision of collegiality.  We can say in fact that the administration of the Church in the last two or three centuries has been rather un-collegial: instead it has been over-centralized and curial.  Pope Paul’s establishment of the Synod of Bishops in 1965 and its first meeting in October, 1967, is a step in the direction of a regular, practiced collegiality, though of course Pope John’s calling of the Council itself was the first great modern recognition that the Church really needs collegial leadership.

The old ecclesiology frequently described the Church as MONARCHICAL.  Neither the word ‘monarchy’ nor its adjective appear anywhere in the constitution.  We may judge that they are not really very suitable words for our subject, for two reasons: firstly, the concept of a monarchy is too different from that of a college, whose head has indeed a quite unique authority, but of which he is still a member.  Secondly, ‘Monarchy’ is a too secular term, brought in from comparison with civil government; its use was rather characteristic of the general secularization of ecclesiology after the fourteenth century.  Some people today are saying ‘Monarchy is out; democracy is in’.  That is not the sense of the constitution.  These terms fit the government of civil states, but neither really suits the Church, though doubtless they can both in some way be used of her.  “Hierarchical’ is a more helpful word, just because it is not used so characteristically of civil society, and because its general sense is not in itself precise.  To describe what sort of pattern the Church’s hierarchical ministry takes, we may now use the word ‘collegial’.  But its precise meaning is to be ascertained from revelation, not from secular parallels: it signifies that unique balance, first existing between the twelve apostles and their leader, now perpetuated in the permanent pattern of the Church’s ministry.

a.18. Note again the immediate stress on pastoral ministry and service in the opening paragraph.  The job of the hierarchy is ‘to serve its brothers’.  This theme is taken up again later, especially in the last para of a.20, in a.24, and in a.27 where its repetition balances and softens the juridical statement that bishops have proper, ordinary and immediate ecclesiastical authority.

The purpose of the Council here is to follow up Vatican I, proclaimed the ministry of the pope, Peter’s successor and the visible principle of unity in the Church, by speaking of that of the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  Most of a.18 (except the first paragraph) is in fact taken word for word from Vatican I.

At the end of a.20 comes the first of the particular truths which the Fathers wished to state definitely in this chapter and around which their earlier discussions had centred: ‘Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church’.

In a.21 comes the second precise point of teaching: ‘The fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred by Episcopal consecration’.  This fullness includes not only the ministry of sanctifying (i.e. the power to administer certain sacraments) but also that of teaching and ruling.  The ‘high priesthood’ of bishops, as received in their consecration, implies this whole circle of work, being a true presentation amid the faithful of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ himself.  It cannot be seen, then, as simply a gift of ‘orders’ to which jurisdiction may be added, even though its actual exercise does require subsequent (normally territorial) delimitation to be settled by the Episcopal college or (as generally at present) its head.

Note that almost nothing is said about whether bishops have specifically sacramental functions (e.g. ordination) absolutely proper to them, that is to say which other priests cannot perform: only episcopal consecration itself is mentioned: it is for bishops to consecrate other bishops.  Even here, however, an earlier text which read that ‘only bishops can admit…. was modified to say simply ‘it is for bishops to admit’.  The sacramental fullness of the episcopate is not to be seen, then, in terms of some isolated sacramental powers but as the sacramental imparting of a total office and function in the Church.

a.22  gives us the heart of the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality and merits especially careful reading.  (The authoritative comment entitled the NOTA PRAEVIA and attached to the constitution at its end bears especially upon the interpretation of this article).  As Peter and the apostles formed one apostolic college, in a similar way the pope and the bishops form one Episcopal college.  Membership of this college depends on consecration AND hierarchical communion with its head and members (a consecrated bishop could exclude himself or be excluded from the college on account of failure to co-operate in the work of the hierarchical ministry).  Both the college and its head permanently possess the fullness of Church authority, but the college is not meaningful without its head and cannot act without at least his approval or concurrence.

a.23 deals with the continuous ‘collegial’ aspect of a bishop’s work-his extra-diocesan responsibilities of one kind and another, including that of helping missionary work; a bishop is by his nature not only a minister for the communion, he is also a minister for the mission.

a.25 is another long and important one.  It presents a summary of doctrine on the Church’s magisterium.  The first section deals with the ordinary non-infallible teaching authority of bishops and pope; the second part with infallible authority seen both in the universal episcopate and in the pope.

What should be particularly noted are the following two points:

The stress is on ECCLESIAL infallibility, on what the Council calls’ the Church’s charism of infallibility’ present both in the pope and in general council.  Whereas draft A, having spoken of papal infallibility, went on to say that the definitions of a general council enjoyed the same infallibility as those of the pope, the final text stresses that ‘the infallibility promised to the Church’ is present in the body of bishops as in the pope.  This is in fact in strict line with the way of speaking of Vatican I.

The text twice stresses the relationship between the infallible teaching authority of the Church and the deposit of revelation.  The former extends as far as the latter and is ruled by it.  It is very important to be clear about this because there have been tendencies to interpret the Church’s infallible authority as extending far beyond revelation, and this was indeed proposed also in draft A.

a.26-27 speak of other sides of the bishop’s work.  Note that every bishop is called a ‘vicar of Christ’; also that the meaning of a bishop’s office is expressed in terms of a local church centred upon the Eucharist.

The last two articles (28 and 29) speak of the ministry of priests and deacons, who also form part of the Church’s divinely instituted hierarchy and share in almost every side of the bishops’ ministry.  Let us note that the general pattern of collegiality is seen as applying to the particular church (the diocese) as well as to the universal Church.  The priests of the diocese form, with their bishop, a sort of sacerdotal college, a single PRESBYTERIUM, which does not limit the bishop’s authority but indicates the way his ministry should be mediated to his whole flock across the co-operation of his co-workers.  The old idea of a ‘monarchical episcopate’ is as misleading as that of the monarchical papacy.

Article 29 quietly indicates what brings about a further revolution in the ministry in coming years.  For long the DIACONATE has been no more than a stage in seminary life.  This article points out its real purpose in the service of the people of God, and of how many functions – at present in practice reserved to priests – deacons can carry out.  With the present growing shortage of priests, it would be most valuable in many countries to have a permanent diaconate restored, but as it would surely be difficult to find many unmarried men for this work the Council envisages the ordination of married men as deacons in the future.

As with priests, bishops, the pope himself, their ordination and status will be for the service of God’s people, the building up of the body of Christ.  (For further treatment of collegiality see the decree on Bishops).

 

Chapter 4 THE LAITY:

 

a.30. Introduction.

a.31. What we mean by laity.

a.32. Their ecclesial character in general.

a.33. Their apostolate in general.

a.34. The laity share in the priesthood of Christ.

a.35. They share in his prophetic office.

a.36. They share in his kingly power.

a.37. Co-operation with the clergy.

a.38. Conclusion.

Note that this chapter on the laity is linked very closely both with c.2 (they were originally joined together) and with the decree on the lay apostolate where, of course, its practical implications are developed.

In a.31 the meaning of the word ‘laity’ is considered under two aspects:

NEGATIVELY – all the faithful who are not in the hierarchy or religious orders.

POSITIVELY – the laity are those of the people of God who have a properly secular character, their normal activities being the activities of the world.  Whereas the characteristic activity of the clergy derives materially from the nature of the Church, the characteristic activity of the laity derives materially from the nature of the world, of ordinary human society .  Both must equally seek the kingdom of God.

a.32. The laity are full members of the body of Christ, of the people of God.  Variety of functions in the body causes no inequality in essentials; what unites clergy and laity is of far greater importance than what distinguished them.  What unites them is Christian brotherhood in grace and a common call to perfection; what distinguishes them is diversity in service and function.  Note how here as in a.30, the theology of the laity grows naturally out of the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ: the unity of many diverse members.

The basic sense of the lay apostolate is established in a.33.  The laity have an apostolate because they are laity.  They share in the mission of the Church just because they are living members of the people of God; appointed to this mission by the very fact of their consecration in baptism and confirmation.  In the past the lay apostolate was sometimes defined as ‘the co-operation of the laity in apostolate of the hierarchy’.  This was not a good definition.  The hierarchy have an apostolate proper to them and so have the laity.  The lay apostolate comes primarily, not from a special offer to do part of the hierarchy’s job for it, but from the obligation of every baptized Christian to share actively in the mission of Christ.  Evidently many laymen are called over and above this to join in the apostolate of the hierarchy, and this work may be very important.  But basically the lay apostolate is precisely that apostolate which is proper to laity as laity, i.e. as Christians not sharing in the hierarchical ministry.

a.34 is really a repeat of a.10 – 11, and a.35 in part of a.12.  They were inserted when the old chapter on ‘the People of God and the laity’ was split into two and the former sections dealing with the priestly and prophetical aspects of Christian living were carried to c.2.

However a.35 adds some special stresses on the most characteristic lay aspects of implementing Christ’s prophetic role.  In many circumstances evangelization, witnessing to Christ, can be done only by them; moreover, at the very heart of human life-the family – it is for married people to be witnesses of  Christian faith and give love to one another and to their children.

Laymen have a special function in the carrying through of the royal work of Christ (a.36).  This work entails the re-ordering of the earth and of human society so that across the attainment by the terrestrial city of human culture, distributive justice, personal freedom, the light of Christ will be manifested and creation enabled to give greater glory to God.  But all this work belongs principally to the laity – the ensuring that the kingdom of Christ is advanced not only by the progress of the Church but also by the progress of the world.

a.37 earnestly advocates a truly active co-operation between clergy and laity, even though its style remains rather clericalist.  While all Christians have a duty of respect and obedience in Church matters towards their pastors, they have also a duty of free action and personal responsibility.  What is required is a two–way traffic.  Suggestions, initiatives, criticisms, if given in the right way, are needed from the laity who, when competent, must be ready to speak out and act with confidence and courage.  The health of the Church depends upon mutual trust and sharing of responsibilities between hierarchy and laity.

The whole chapter stresses the outward-looking side of the Church.  In Pope Paul’s words ‘the Church is for the world’.  Now this world-serving character of the Church is born especially by the laity.  It is in a way for the clergy to serve the laity, the laity to serve the whole human society.  This theme of course is developed in the constitution on the Modern World and in the decree on the Lay Apostolate.  The present chapter is the link between the constitution on the Church and those other more obviously ‘outward-looking’ documents.  The layman, it concludes, must be the sacrament of the living God before the world.  What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.

‘The apostolate which deals with the temporal order itself and seeks to imbue it with a Christian spirit is normally the special responsibility of the layman, so that in this task he has a larger role than the cleric, whose first responsibility is that of preaching the word of God and dispensing the divine mysteries.  In the relation of the faithful to the Church hierarchy the principle of subsidiarity should be followed…..This means that those things which parish priests can do by themselves should not be taken over by the bishop’s curia, and just as those things which – leaving the hierarchical structure of the Church intact-can be done by bishops or bishops’ conferences should be left to them, so also those things which the layman can accomplish on his own initiative and responsibility should not be taken over by the clergy, always with the proviso that the hierarchical structure of the Church is preserved’. (From a council speech of Bishop Hoffner of Munster).

Chapters 5 and 6 HOLINESS:

5. The universal call to holiness              a.39.    the Church is holy with the holiness of

                                                                        Christ, her spouse and head.

a.40.    all her members are called to share in this

                                                           a.41.    every condition of life has its own way to

                                                                        sanctity.

                                                           a.42.    but the heart of holiness for everyone is love.

6. The particular call through the

religious life                                           a.43.    definition of the religious state: a stable way of

                                                                        life embodying the evangelical counsels.

                                                            a.44.    personal and ecclesial reasons for its existence

                                                           a.45.    relation to ecclesiastical authority.

                                                           a.46.    relation to human society.

                                                           a.47.    conclusion.

 

History of the text:

The 1962 text of the constitution followed the order: bishops, priests, religious, laity; and the chapter on religious was entitled ‘the states of perfection’.  As we saw, in the course of the council this order was changed.  The hierarchy – laity division is basically part of the essential structure of the Church, and should therefore be treated first.  Religious, on the other hand, as the constitution states, are really divided between hierarchy and laity: some belong to one group, some to the other.  Their special state can be better understood when the positive characteristics of both hierarchy and laity have been explained.  Hence the 1963 text adopted the order: hierarchy, laity, religious.  However, the last chapter was given a quite new title, “The Vocation to Holiness in the Church’, and its first section spoke briefly of that vocation as universal’.  The passage ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ was quoted, and as referring to all men.  Its second section then spoke of the particular vocation to religious life, still described as the ‘state of perfection’.

This was not the end of the story.  As a result of the discussions of the second session, further drastic alterations were undertaken.  Among them we may note: (a) The section on the universal vocation to holiness was greatly enlarged, ceasing to be little more than an  ‘opener’ to a treatment of religious.  It had become the most striking part of the chapter.  (b) All reference to the ‘state of perfection’ (or ‘state of acquiring perfection’) was dropped from the text of the section on religious, as (previously) it had been dropped from the title – though traditional, it is a misleading term, for all men are called to perfection, not just religious; equally in this life no one attains it.  The term had a juridical rather than a theological meaning.  (c) This second section now stresses the ecclesial and eschatological significance of the religious life.

Questions still remained, however, on the dividing and placing of this matter.  Should it continue to form a single chapter, or be divided clearly into two? Again, many urged that now a fine section on the universal vocation to sanctity had been written, it was in fact in the wrong place.  It should not follow the chapters on the hierarchy and the laity and precede that on religious; it should precede all these chapters and be linked with that on the people of God.  The order would then have been:

The People of God.

Its vocation to sanctity.

The hierarchy.

The laity.

Religious.

In principle this might well have been the best and most logical plan.  However, it would have involved a very big rewriting of many sections of the constitution at a late date, and would also have cut in half the treatment of matters which were really linked together in the two sections of this chapter.  It was agreed therefore to retain the existing order, while inserting in c.2, a.11 a brief paragraph pointing forward to c.5 Secondly, it was decided (by a general vote of the fathers in the third session, 30 September, 1964) to constitute these two sections as two separate chapters.  This division shows the importance of the religious life for the Church as a whole, and that surely corresponds to the facts of the case.  Many fathers had feared that, with the new stress on the universal vocation to holiness, there was a danger of minimizing the significance of the religious vocation.  They felt that a separate chapter would counteract this danger.  The chapter as finally written shows this significance as a truly theological ore; the religious state, as canonically established in the church, constitutes a sign-a visible human embodiment-of the deep things of spiritual life and of the other-worldliness of the Church of God.

Chapter 5:

The Church is essentially holy, as we affirm in the Creed.  This holiness is of God, not of men.  She is holy because Christ, her lord and her head, has made her holy.  Being a member of her necessarily means being called to share in this holiness; one cannot be a Church member and not be so called.  Though given by God, the holiness of the Church will then be manifested in the lives of her members.  Called to grace in baptism and faith, all Christians must develop in their lives the holiness they have received from God.  This chapter really offers a very fine SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN MORAL THEOLOGY-of a morality wholly informed by love.  God is love; being given his life means being invited to love and to grow up into a fullness of charity-love of God, love of one’s fellow men.  For bishops and priests this takes a predominantly pastoral form; for married people a faithful commitment to the family, for workers, for the disabled, for every group and every individual person the holiness of love takes on its special form.  It is a pity that the sentence in a.41 referring to the widowed and the unmarried from this point of view is so very weak.  In fact the treatment of the variety of people described in a.41 on `the forms and tasks of life` is very over-weighted on the clerical side. This is a point where the Council`s intended width of view did not quite come across in the form of words used.  But anyway the whole of the preceding chapter was really concerned with the holiness of the laity and the principle is here: diversity of human life and character combined with unity in the transforming love that comes from God to be the very life and purpose of the Church. One and all we are called to `the pursuit of perfect love`.

Christ gave his disciples  both counsels and commands.  There is no clear distinction between them, but Christian writers and ecclesiastical tradition concentrated on three of the former as the foundation  for a special life of detachment from the world and christened them `the evangelical counsels`-virginity, poverty, obedience.  In fact there are many counsels in the New Testament, though obedience is not clearly among them.  The vows are means approved by the Church as of special value upon the road to holiness; but the counsels are elements in Christ`s teaching which concern the whole Christian community, and are therefore spoken of in c.5 and not only in c.6

 

 

 

Chapter 6:

 

Nevertheless the exteriorization of the counsels in a clearly visible form has an importance of its own for the Church.  And that is what has happened.  Historically they have been embodied in various `stable ways of life`, proper to different religious orders and societies, whose membership can be most helpful for attaining the full supernatural end of man; sound teaching, a fraternal communion, the continual harmonizing of freedom with obedience, fidelity to vowed resolutions-all these things can help man greatly on `the road of love`.

A chapter on the religious life in a constitution DE ECCLESIA must, however, necessarily consider it not so much from the personal viewpoint as from that of the strict ecclesial significance of this particular form of living.  The immediate purpose of the profession of the evangelical counsels is two-fold: to cut away hindrances to the service of God  and to be consecrated positively and wholly to that service.  Now, for the baptized, the service of God has always to be given in and across the life of the Church.  Christian spirituality is personal, but personal IN THE CHURCH.  The ecclesial sense of religious profession can be summed up in three points:  Firstly, it is an explicitation and affirmation, by a most deliberate human action, of the baptismal consecration of this Christian and of every Christian; by it the fruit of the original consecration can become more abundant.  Secondly, it is a visible sign of the Church`s nature-both of her bridal union with Christ and of her `other-worldliness`.  The Church transcends the needs and aspirations of the earthly city.  True religious manifest this transcendance in their lives.  Thirdly, it is made effectively fruitful for the whole Church by the kind of life and work proper to each institute: prayer, teaching, nursing……No religious society may be `useless` as regards the life of the whole body, but this does not mean that each  society must undertake external apostolic activities.  Contemplatives are at least as ecclesially fruitful as active orders.

In the past there has been an age-old rivalry between `seculars` and `regulars` between the local diocese and its authority and the `exempt` international religious society. Councils have traditionally been an occasion for bishops to try and bring EXEMPTION to an end, by imposing Episcopal authority upon the local members of a religious order.  This Council witnessed something of the kind but like previous attempts it was largely rejected.  The need for exemption is restated in a.45.  As a matter of fact, if members of religious orders have often seemed uninterested in the pastoral needs  of the local church, members of the secular clergy have often seemed uninterested in the wider missionary and intellectual needs of the universal Church. The solution of such rivalries and misunderstandings is not to be found in a chance of legislation, but rather in a greater awareness upon both sides of the fullness of the body of Christ and the variety of its needs.   Religious societies must indeed be willing to share in the life and work of the local church under the authority of its bishop, but the general good of the whole Church requires too wider organizations which could not function without some measure of canonical exemption of congregations from local authorities.

There is a paradox in religious life which parallels and indeed reflects a paradox in the Church`s own nature-the linking of retreat from the world and from some ordinary human patterns of living with the SERVICE OF THE WORLD and of human society.  In the nature of the Church one may say that laity and religious manifest opposite aspects: the function of the lay state is the service of God within the pattern of the most normal human life and the consecration thereby of the human city to God; the function of the religious state is the renunciation of much normal human life and the erection of a sign that the Church believes in another world and that `the people of God has here no lasting city` (compare a.44 with a.36).  Nevertheless any individual Christian, in either state, has to live the fullness of the Christian vocation, not just that side of it which is symbolized by his state: thus the layman needs to practise supernatural hope, the religious must reach spiritual maturity across a truly human development.  Each state has its own temptations to be avoided, related to an unbalanced grasping of its own particular ideal.  Hence (in a.46) the Council stresses that the religious life, when accepted and lived in the right way, is opposed neither to human maturity, nor to spiritual freedom, nor to the service of human society.  On the contrary.  It is because the Church is essentially other-worldly that she can so disinterestedly and fruitfully serve this one.  The religious life must be the visible sign of both these things.  The more fully religious live the meaning of their vows, the more effective will be their ministry among their fellow men.  In it the Church wishes to portray, in a specially manifest way, Christ and his ministry.

Chapter  7 LOOKING TOWARDS HEAVEN:

 

A chapter on this theme was explicitly asked for by Pope John, but it only materialized late in the council’s deliberation.  In fact there was no discussion on c.7 in general congregation until the third session.  The text had only been prepared in theological commissions in the course of that year, 1964, and it was little changed in the third session, except for some substantial additions in a.48.  The fact that it did not elicit much controversy does not lessen its importance in helping to provide a really full picture of what the Church is.

Its aim is not to describe the Church in heaven or in purgatory, so much as to show how the pilgrim Church on earth is journeying towards heaven and remains united with those who have gone before us to pass from earth to purgatory or the contemplation of God.  We are ‘seeking the city which is to come’, the condition of the Church as we know it is essentially temporary; we are on our way to something perfect and eternal.  This chapter is concerned with the whole vista of the ‘beyond’ and our relationship to it – a beyond whose fall pattern is future and collective: a ‘renewal of all things’ with the manifest perfecting of the universe and the whole human race under the kingship of Christ.

Concern with all this is what we mean by ESCHATOLOGY-a key word in modern theology and scripture interpretations: the doctrine of the last things.

Eschatology deals then with the ‘last things’: death, judgement, hell and heaven.  However, if we compare the eschatology which we find in the scriptures (located chiefly in Matt. 24 and 25, 1 and 2 Thess., and Rev.) with the usual treatises of theological manuals on this subject we cannot help noticing that the former is much more collective in its concern, the latter individualist.  The manuals lay more stress upon the individual’s judgement and eternal reward in heaven or punishment in hell; the scriptures the ‘last times’ of the world, the collective judgement, the full establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth.  In fact the initial draft constitutions, sent to the bishops, before the Council began, included one on the deposit of faith which had a chapter devoted to the ‘last things’.  This was very much akin to the approach of the manuals, an individualistic approach; it included a lengthy section on the punishments of hell.  This draft constitution never, in fact, got discussed at all, but the last things reappeared two years later in our c.7, but now with an altered approach.

It is vitally important in eschatology to balance the collective with the individual, and the future with the present.  It is this that c.7 tries hard to do.  A teaching on the ‘last things’ cannot be silent upon the fate of the individual: the judgement that follows death, the states that can follow judgement-and a.48 speaks explicitly of all this.  Nevertheless the fate of the individual, to be understood aright, must be seen within the context of the fate of the body to which he belongs.  What this chapter shows so finely is that a treatise ‘on the last things’ must be an ecclesial treatise, that the body of Christ itself has a future and a final condition.  The beatitude of the individual only makes full sense within the context of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the new Jerusalem.  Moreover, the new Jerusalem is not only the Church perfected, but also the world.  Eschatology is a doctrine about the cosmos: all things must be renewed.

Every aspect of the pilgrim Church must be seen in the light of the heavenly Church, not as two parallel organizations, but as sign and reality, or as that which is in process of becoming and that which it will finally be.  However, if this is a relationship between present and future, it is also true that it involves a relationship within the present, because the heavenly Church does already exist.  Many missions of members of the body of Christ have passed out of the state of wayfaring into that of glory and the Church on earth shares their active communion.  This is the difficulty in eschatology: it is dealing both with the final state of completeness when the pilgrim Church will no longer exist and the whole of creation is reformed in Christ, and with the already arrived heavenly state of the holy dead and of their relations with the still existing pilgrim Church.  Hence eschatology refers both to the future and to something already realized in the present, and concerns both the collective fate of Church and world at the end of time and the individual fate of the human person whose span of earthly pilgrimage is short and quickly over.

All this is difficult, but eschatology is notoriously difficult.  Nevertheless the Council refused to leave it aside, and we cannot either.  The above considerations should help in understanding the themes which have been brought together in this brief but beautiful chapter so full of scriptural passages and liturgical references.  Let us note too that the eschatological aspect of the Church is not confined to this chapter;  it is woven into the whole constitution- for example, in the last sentences of a.2, 8 and 42 (see also L.a.8, MW. A.39, etc.).  Furthermore a.44 suggests the eschatological significance of the consecrated religious life and a.68 that of the Virgin Mary:  she is the sign offered in hope to the pilgrim Church of how the final perfection will be.

While a.48 is more concerned with the future, a.49 and 50 treat chiefly of the earthly Church’s present communion with the Church beyond the grave.  If the visible Church is a human society with ministry and sacraments, all this is a sign of the wider communion of all who are of Christ and share his Spirit.  This ultimate communion is one of charity and worship:  we love and we glorify God.

The union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the Church in heaven has then the following characteristics.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL LOVE.  The saints are our friends and co-heirs in Jesus Christ, and their example shows us the way to grow in perfect union with Christ.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL PRAYER.  We on earth pray for and to the dead.  We pray to the saints that they may pray for us; we know very well that they have no power outside Christ to hear or help us, but we know too that we and they form one body in Christ, that it is a body of mutual concern, and that this is what our head desires.

It is a UNION IN LITURGY.  Just as the whole constitution teaches that the life of the pilgrim Church is centred upon the Eucharist, so this chapter emphasizes that the union of the earthly and heavenly Churches is above all a liturgical one, and that it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we are most united with the saints when we are most fully offering worship to God (cf.L.a.8).  For this reason the treatment of the subject is closed in a.50 with the words of the Roman canon.

The point of a.51 is pastoral.  Having stated the doctrine of the communion of saints (for which see also L.a.104), the Council recognizes that in fact there have been abuses whereby the cult of the saints has become almost disengaged from its essential Christological and ecclesiological context.  In reaction some have tended to deny all point to prayer and communion with them.  The Council wishes such wrong attitudes to be corrected:  a truly Catholic sense of union with all the blessed should rather excite in us a still greater determination to praise and glorify God both now and for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Chapter 8 VIRGIN AND MOTHER:

History of the Text:

Chapter eight is entitled ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church’.  As other parts of the constitution this text stands at the end of a lengthy evolution, but one of its own.  In 1962 the Fathers were given a draft text for a dogmatic constitution on ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men’.  This text (A) was never debated but was reissued in April, 1963, with a new title-‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church’.  In the second session, when the second text of DE ECCLESIA was being extensively discussed, it was proposed that no separate document should be produced on Mary, but instead that a chapter devoted to her should be included in that constitution.  It was argued that this would better show Mary’s organic place within the pattern of redemption.  Others argued strongly to retain a separate Marian constitution as more in line with the various Marian developments of the last century.  The bishops voted on the question on 29 October, 1963.  By 1,114 votes to 1,074 it was decided to speak of her within the DE ECCLESIA.

A new text was therefore needed, which would fit in with the rest of the constitution.  A theological sub-commission, representing both tendencies, set to work and in March, 1964, after four previous versions, brought forth a fifth (B) which they judged satisfactory.  Very little of A remained in it.  B was then considerably revised in June by the Doctrinal Commission to produce C.  Then B and C were together dispatched to the bishops and C was discussed at the beginning of the third session.  Some further changes were made, to give us D, the final text, which was approved almost unanimously.

Differing Tendencies:

Clearly, the very considerable difficulties encountered in producing this text arose from the existence of two contrasting attitudes in the Church with regard to Mariology.  One point of view is more plainly Mariological, in an evident way.  It has rejoiced in the increasing number of Marian definitions, declarations, feasts and congresses of the last hundred years, and it hoped for a further notable ‘advance’ in Marian teaching from the Council.. For years this body of opinion has been concentrating on the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ and it expected the Council to produce a constitution firmly enshrining this idea.

The other point of view is more closely linked with the biblical, liturgical and ecumenical movements.  It has urged the return on all sides of the Church’s life to a more scriptural and liturgical way of viewing things, and it has wanted to apply this also to Marian teaching and devotion.  It has argued that while everything in Modern Marian developments and expression may be capable of theological justification, yet the impression given is still very different from that of scripture and the liturgy, and that a good deal of popular Marian devotion has been clearly unbalanced.  The need today is not so much to advance as to deepen and purify Marian devotion.  Moreover this point of view has stressed ecumenical considerations.  Protestants are very suspicious of Mariology.  Every Marian ‘advance’ seems to them to dig a new ditch between us and them.  The opportune thing for the life of the Church today is not then to press Marian doctrine to all its logical conclusions, but so to express it in such a scriptural and traditional way as to commend it to all non-Catholic Christians.

Both these points of view have full right to exist when the Church, and of course many people would hold a bit to both.  Nevertheless clearly two opposing tendencies have been present and it was the Council’s duty to produce a statement which, so far as possible, would prove satisfactory to all important bodies of opinion.  That it managed to obtain an almost unanimous final vote, after a practically fifty-fifty division one year before, is a measure of the balance of  this chapter and also, surely, of docility to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Clearly the basic decision to include a Marian text within the Church constitution had to be adhered to and this naturally determined the general treatment to some extent.  It was decided to make of it the final chapter.  This seemed the natural place.  The other chapters have a certain internal cohesion, leading up, in c.7, to the vision of the heavenly Church.  c.8 relates to this in two ways.  Firstly, it is clearly related to c.7.  Much of what is said there about the saints in general applies in a special way to Mary.  Paragraphs in c.7 on their position in the Church, intercession and cult prepare the way for comparable ones in c.8.  Secondly, this last chapter somehow sums up the whole constitution.  May as the type of the Church bears within her all its varied characteristics.  Having treated of them in the life of all Christians in the preceding chapters, the constitution concludes by showing them in her who most perfectly fulfilled the Church’s whole vocation in faith, charity and obedience.

It is explicitly stated in a.54 that the Church did not intend to say EVERYTHING about Mary or to rule out all approaches or ideas not appearing in the constitution.  It does appeal for balance and the awareness of ecumenical needs, but its aim is not to condemn those who would like to express their love for the Virgin Mary in rather different terms.  The freedom  which the Council has called for in so many other fields surely applies here too.

Chief characteristics:

This chapter offers a broad, rounded teaching about OUR LADY.  There is certainly no minimizing tendency.  It speaks of all the chief aspects of Marian doctrine and draws them together in a simple but beautiful synthesis.  Never before has a council of the Church offered such an extensive or profound statement upon the position of Mary in the plans of God.

The tone is nevertheless very MODERATE  and restrained, though no less devoted for that.  There is nothing here to jar on the ears of non-Catholics unless, of course, they are rather uncritically anti-Marian.  It is interesting to see that there is no single reference in text or notes to St Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Alphonsus Liguori or St. Louis-Marie De Montfort, the three great Marian writers of the post-patristic period, some of whose expressions nevertheless seem to some a bit extreme or overemotional.

Instead the text is extremely SCRIPTURAL and PATRISTIC.  References to the early Fathers, both Greek and Latin, abound and so do quotations from the New Testament, beginning with a brief but basic Pauline text.  Every effort has been made to show that Marian devotion is not-as critics have maintained-ainti-scriptural.

It is clearly shown how Marian doctrine and devotion fit into a completely CHRISTO-CENTRIC scheme of things.  In no way can Mary detract from Christ`s work or from the closeness of the union of Christians with him.  On the contrary she manifests just how perfectly a simple human being can be united with her saviour.

It is ECCLESIAL.  This indeed is its most striking positive characteristic as of course befits a chapter within DE ECCLESIA.  A rediscovery of patristic doctrine on the deep relationship of Mary and the Church has been a key aspect of modern scientific Mariology.  In the fullest way we here see Mary standing in all her glorious humility both in and for the Church.

Finally, as has been indicated, there is a deep ECUMENICAL PREOCCUPATION  running through the text and stressed explicitly in a.67.  Everything is to be done to help other Christians see the truth about Mary. That should be the great Marian `advance` of our time: not a new doctrine but the rediscovery by all believers of her place in the redemption.  Eastern Christians already venerate her most devoutly (a.69), as do very many Anglicans` and growing number of other Protestants.  We should pray that the teaching of this chapter  will help to increase their number still more in years  to come .  In the past,  as a matter of fact, Marian devotion has been a cause of division.  Instead we must make it today a cause of unity.

POINT OF DOCTRINE:

Motherhood:

The central doctrine concerning Our Lady is shown to be the divine maternity.  All else follows from this that she was `the Mother of God` (a.53) and that she freely accepted to be so: she gave her assent to the World of God, committing herself whole-heartedly to his will in faith obedience (a.56).  The constitution stresses her faith: she did not understand everything but unhesitatingly she `advanced in her pilgrimage of faith` (a.58).  Just as in philosophy we find that AGERE SEQUITUR ESSE, so in theology it is universally true that the more we receive God’s grace, the more we share in the giving of it.  Mary` s singular adherence to God` s will made of her a singular sharer in her Son` s work of giving divine life to all men.  The fullness of her personal acceptance permitted a fullness of active co-operation and made of her truly the mother of men, especially the faithful (a.54, 60-62)

A word here must be said about the title `MOTHER OF THE CHURCH`.  It does not appear in the constitution.  It was part of draft A, especially with its revised title, but had no place in B or C. However, in one of the final changes of the third session an addition was made to the end of a.53  which in some way hints at this title without quite using it.  At the clost of the third session, 21 November, 1964, Pope Paul proclaimed the Virgin Mary ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors’.  It is clear that a majority of the fathers preferred not to use this title in the constitution, doubtless because in itself it is rather untraditional.  On the other hand the pope was perfectly free to make use of it himself if he saw fit; it is clearly only the phrase, not the idea, which is untraditional.  That Mary is the MATER FIDELIUM  is most traditional, and ‘the faithful’ is only another way of saying ‘ the People of God’.  Now that we are stressing the human side of the Church and that ‘the People of God’ is a highly fitting name for the Church, it is clearly the same thing to say ‘Mother of the faithful’ and ‘Mother of the Church’.  Pope Paul stressed this way of looking at it by repeating twice ‘the Church, that is to say the people of God’.  Mary remains a member of the Church, just as  the mother of a family remains a member of the family.  That the mother of Jesus is the mother of all his brethren is simply the full meaning of John 19: 26-7.

Type of the Church:

Mary is the type of the Church.  For many Catholics this may well be the most striking affirmation of this chapter.  It is stated explicitly in three separate articles (a.53, 63, 65).  It must be understood within a whole developing context.  First of all, in her full acceptance of the word of God, Mary represents humanity itself.  She is ‘the daughter of Adam’, the new Eve, as many of the earliest Fathers of the Church asserted (a.56). Representing all humanity in its passive need for God and potential active acceptance of his gift, she specially represented the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who had been prepared for the coming of the saviour.  She is not only ‘daughter of Adam’ but ‘daughter of Sion’ (a..55), faithfully accepting the promise made to her fathers.

The Church is the new Sion the new Israel.   Mary is a member of both the old people and the new, and she represents both.  Her undeviating faith and charity, her virginal surrender to God of her whole self, her fruitful motherhood, her presence at the foot of the cross: all this typifies the Church, virgin and mother.  Mary’s life on earth perfectly represents the life of the pilgrim Church, and her life in heaven perfectly represents the final fullness of the celestial Church after the resurrection of the dead.  God chose to manifest the character of humanity’s acceptance of his Son not only through the multiple community of the redeemed but also through the example of  a single historical personality, who typifies the perfection of the whole in the more easily understood career of one individual.  And for this he chose his mother.

In this way the constitution treats of Mary’s position less in terms of static privileges than as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation.

Mediatrix:

 

a.62 touching on Mary as mediatrix ( or mediator) was undoubtedly a focal point of argument.  Some fathers were much in favour of proclaiming Mary mediatrix of graces, others were equally opposed to it.  The history of the texts is significant.  A included a strong section on the subject including the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’.  Text  B omitted the word entirely.  C put it in a very restrained sentence.  Finally, in the third session, it was retained but joined with the title of ‘advocate, helper, benefactress’ which takes away from a technical sense.  Furthermore, a new paragraph (‘No creature could ever….’) was added at this last stage to prevent any possible misunderstanding in the use of the title.

This extra paragraph is in fact an important one for it expresses very clearly the principle of the active co-operation of the redeemed in every aspect of the redeemer’s work. We all share in his priesthood (mediation and priesthood are, moreover, very closely connected concepts), we share in his kingship, we share in his redemption – not only in receiving, but in giving. Mary is not unique in this role. It is part of the Christian vocation, But she is unique in the fullness of her response to it.

Conclusion:

The concluding section of the chapter refers first to the liturgy and pastoral requirements of Marian devotion. a.66 and 67 can be compared with a.51, the point being the same: not emotion or vain credulity but solid faith and a special care to avoid scandalizing separated  Christians. Finally the Council proclaims Mary as a sign of hope and comfort for the pilgrim Church. As the Church is the sign of salvation lifted up among the nations, so is she a sign within the Church: a sure sign of how faith is fulfilled in beatitude, of the perfection to come, of the final transformation of humanity in the light of Christ to the glory of  God.

‘In the Blessed Virgin the Church learns to love the concrete and the limited: a basic antidote to pride’ (Cardinal Silva papal legate to the 1965 Mariological Congress).

‘You should concentrate on a deeper understanding and love of the mysteries of Mary rather than on theological extensions which are questionable and lead to division rather than union     ……You must restrain unbalanced and not very enlightened sentimentalities….You should encourage a serious and living devotion which moves within the great coherent framework of the liturgy’ (Pope Paul to the Mariological Congress of San Domingo, 1965).

VATICAN II AND ECCLESIOLOGY

 VATICAN II AND ECCLESIOLOGY

 Dr George Karakunnel

             To understand the theology of the Church in Vatican II one needs to see both the background from which it has come and the various stages of its own development.

Historical Background

            In early centuries the Church was vividly experienced and believed in, but her nature was not analysed.  Even in the great age of scholasticism there was no treatise “De Ecclesia”: none will be found in St.Thomas’ “Summa Theologica”.  Such a treatise first appeared at the end of the Middle ages, but chiefly as a creation of Canon Law. Then came the reformation and the need to oppose the Protestant concept of the Invisible Church and to prove that the Roman Church was the only true one.  To do this the idea of the Church as a “perfect society” was much developed, and a fully visible society – “as visible as the Kingdom of France” said St.Robert Bellarmine, the leading counter-reformation controversialist.  Moreover, in discussing the nature of this society little was considered beyond its governmental aspect, and that was seen again in secular terms: those of monarchical government.  Thus a sort of typical ecclesiology for the period from the 16th to 19th century grew up.

            To sum it up:

–         It was apologetic in approach.

–         It defined the church as a “perfect society” understood in terms similar to those of a secular state.

–         It was mostly concerned with the visible aspect of the Church.

–         It spoke chiefly of the governmental side of the society.

–         It explained that government in terms of monarchy.

The best way to show this ecclesiology from which the Second Vatican Council has now finally delivered us is to give an example. So, here is a brief summary of the “De Ecclesia Christi” of Cardinal Billot, 4th edition, 1921. Billot was probably the most distinguished and influential Catholic theologian of the first quarter of this century. His treaties has 870 pages, divided into three parts. Namely;

–         The first part (267 pages) is straightforward apologetics. It proves that the Roman Catholic Church is true and all sects separated from her false.

–         The second part is the most important; its 450 pages are devoted to the Church’s internal constitution. The first chapter is on the members of the Church (all the baptized except those cut off by heresy or schism.)

All the other nine chapters are on ecclesiastical authority: first in general, then the powers of order, of teaching, of jurisdiction. There follow 200 pages on the monarchical character of the Church and on the Roman Pontiff. Finally there are 13 pages divided between bishops and councils.

The third part considers the relationship of the Church with civil society, the two ‘powers’. Its first chapter deals with the error of Liberalism, the second proves that the State is (indirectly) subordinate to the Church, the third and the last speaks of the Church’s immunity.

Why go into all this? Because it shows us so clearly what is new in the “New Ecclesiology”. The old ecclesiology – the teaching of most manuals up till a few years ago – had a terribly juridical and rather secular view of what the Church is.  One finds in Billot’s work no account of the people of God or even of the body of Christ; no reference to the sacraments other than the initiation of baptism; not concern with the laity or even with the priests except as ‘subjects’ for authority; no treatment of the Church’s mission, etc. The old ecclesiology appeared as principally concerned with power in the Church and then chiefly with that of the Pope. Bishops and councils between them got a bare 13 pages. The central thesis of the whole thing was undoubtedly ‘the Church’s monarchy as instituted in St. Peter’ even though Billot – unlike many theologians of his time did temper this by recognizing the existence of a true ‘college of bishops’. The old ecclesiology was not wrong in its chief affirmations;  we cannot reject the visible hierarchical and papal aspects of the Church – but it was very one-sided.

Twentieth Century Developments

            In the forty years following 1921 ecclesiology has been in a constant state of change as the influences of Scripture, the Fathers and Liturgy have been growing, in place of those of canon Law, apologetics and comparisons with civil government. In particular we may note the following developments:

–         The theology of the “Mystical Body” coming back especially in the years after 1925.

–         The Lay Apostolate Movement, greatly encouraged by Pope Pius XI and Pius XII

–         The theology of the People of God, coming in chiefly after 1940.

–         A closer linking up of the Church with sacramental theology.

–         The beginning of ecumenical contacts with non-Catholics.

The manuals of theology written or revised in those years often tried to bring in some of these new ideas (especially, of course, that of the mystical body after the encyclical of 1943), but on the whole they stuck to the old framework and you get some odd results as when the mystical body is mentioned indeed but in a ‘corollarium’!

VATICAN II

The first text of the “De Ecclesia” to appear at the Council, that produced after much discussion by the Preparatory Commission and debated during the last week of the first session, did much of this.

Many new ideas appeared here and there but the general impression was still strongly of the old point of view in its order, its stresses and its terminology. The bishops strongly criticized it as too heavily institutional and juridical. Although not specifically rejected by the Fathers it was clear that this draft was not acceptable, and it was almost entirely rewritten by the Doctrinal Commission between the first and second sessions.

This new draft  (B) was an enormous improvement. It was very carefully discussed in the second session and a great many further amendments and additions many of them of the first importance, were proposed. It was also decided to add two further chapters, one eschatological, the other Marian. This resulted in a further extremely careful writing or rewriting of the various parts; these were prepared in a number of sub-commissions which included many of the most distinguished international theologians. The new draft (now eight chapters) was sent out to the Fathers in July, 1964. Further small but significant amendments had still to be made to it during the third session and in that form it was finally voted on and approved.

Let us compare the order of the three chief drafts by chapter divisions.

PRINCIPAL DRAFTS OF DE ECCLESIA

          A                                                  B                                                      C

Presented in Session I                Presented in Session II               Presented in Session III

  1. Nature of the militant Church
  2. Members of the militant Church
  3. Episcopate and Priesthood
  4. Residential Bishops
  5. The states of perfection
  6. Lay people
  7. Teaching authority
  8. Authority and obedience in the Church
  9. Relations of Church and State
  10. Necessity of Universal Evangelization
  11. Ecumenism
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The hierarchy
  3. The people of God and the laity
  4. The vocation of all to holiness; religious
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The People of God
  3. The hierarchy
  4. The Laity
  5. Call of the whole Church to holiness
  6. Religious
  7. Eschatological nature of the pilgrim Church and her union with the heavenly Church

8.  The role of Mary in the  mystery of Christ and the Church

IT MAY BE NOTED THAT:

–         The original text clearly what we may call ‘Billot’s general order and approach’ while inserting some new sections in what seems a rather arbitrary way.

–         However, text A did already include many ideas of the ‘New Ecclesiology’, e.g. the terms ‘people of God’ and ‘body of Christ’ appear at once in c. l. ; lay people were given a separate chapter which speaks of the universal priesthood.

–         Yet the ‘old approach’ was still too clear: four different chapters were devoted to the organs of clerical authority, while the tone of the actual text was in many places very juridical.

–         The later texts have put everything that was to be said about the ‘hierarchical ministry’ into a single chapter (a long one).

–         The final text develops the idea of ‘God’s people’ before speaking of the hierarchy.

–         The Church’s spiritual and invisible purpose, ‘holiness’, appears clearly in the later texts.

–         ‘The Laity’ were treated after religious in the first text before them in the second and third.

–         The traditional chapter on the two ‘potestates’ (powers) ‘Church and State’- is simply left out in the later texts; other matters such as the Church’s missionary character, which appears in the first text as a sort of ‘corollarium’ are integrated into the general treatment; on the other hand quite new themes (especially concerning invisible aspects of the Church) make their appearance.

–         The term ‘militant’ falls out; the term ‘pilgrim’ comes in.

–         Already this brief analysis of Chapter headings shows us quite a lot about the way thinking on the Church developed during the Council. But to understand that development properly what we must examine is the text itself of the final constitution, for, the whole ‘new theology’ of Christian life in the church is really to be found within its chapters.

*****


DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH

A Brief  Commentary

Chapters 1 and 2

                       I.     Ecclesia                        a.1.      Introduction: the Council intends to set

                  de Trinitate                               forth the nature of the Church

                  a. 1-4.                          a.2.      the Father’s work.

                                                      a.3.      the Son’s.

                                                      a.4.      the Holy Spirit’s.

1.The mystery

   of God’s gift

                                                                        a.5.      Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom.

                                                      a.6.      Images of the Church:

                                                                  sheepfold, flock, olive tree, vineyard;

                                                                  building, temple of God, holy city;

                                                                  bride of Christ.

      II.         Aspects of the mystery

                  a.5-8                            a.7.      the body of Christ.

                                                      a.8.      a visible, hierarchial society; but one of

                                                                  service not of power.

III.       Nature of the people

                  a. 9-12                         a.9.      constituted by the new covenant with

Christ as head.

                                                      a.10-11.priestly character.

                                                                        a.12.    prophetic character, including charisms.

2.The People

   of God.

                        IV.       Relationship                  a.13.    universality of the people.

                                    with the human race.     a.14.    fullness of incorporation.

                                    a.13-17.                       a.15.    separated Christians.

                                                                        a.16.    non-Christians.

                                                                        a.17.    the mission of universal

                                                                                    evangelization.

The Title:

The conciliar documents, like papal encyclicals, are to be known by the first words of their latin text, and so special care was presumably taken to make these significant.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM which open the constitution on the Church appeared with the 1963 text.  That of 1962 began AETERNUS UNIGENITI PATER, rather reminiscent of Vatican I’s PASTOR AETERNUS.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM look outwards and stress the universal mission of both Christ and the Church.  They are an implicit quotation from Isa. 42:6, but ‘gentes’ here of course no longer means the gentiles in opposition to Israel but simply all the peoples of the world.  We may be especially glad that this phrase entitles the Council’s greatest document not only because of its missionary significance but also because it was a phrase very dear to Pope John, and was used as the key words of his radio message to the world on 11 September, 1962, just before the Council opened.  It is Christ who is the light of the nations, but his light shines through the Church.

Common theme of these two chapters:

 

The first two chapters of the constitution stand together, providing a rich basic  theology of the Church.  In draft B of the document the order followed was: c.1, Mystery of the Church; c.2, the Hierarchy; c.3, the People of God and the Laity.  But it was pointed out in the second session that the term ‘People of God’ includes the whole Church, the hierarchy as well.  Laity and hierarchy are divisions within God’s people, and therefore a study of the People of God must come before one of the hierarchy.  PEOPLE OF GOD, in fact, is an important name for the Church, while the hierarchy is a ministry within the Church (or rather, those performing that ministry).  We have to see the Church as a whole before we speak of a ministry within her.  Hence a chapter on the People of God was placed before that on the hierarchy.

The matter of c.2 might in fact have been merged into c.1.  It was kept apart both to stop c.1 from becoming too long and then because of a certain difference of approach: c.1 deals more with the divine, c.2 with the human side of the Church’s nature.  The Church on earth is a gathering of men by God: he forms and gives this gathering its special characteristics.  So, in studying the Church’s nature, there are two aspects to be considered – that of the gift, and that of those who receive it.  Roughly speaking, c.1 deals with the first aspect: the Church’s mystery as a gift of God; c.2 deals with the second aspect: the human community, the people of God.  But the two sides are so completely inter-involved that not only is there of course no division between them, but even a distinction should not be pressed.

The very existence of these two well-developed chapters on the Church’s general nature, placed before any treatment of the hierarchy, is the first and possibly even the most important contribution of the constitution to our understanding of the Church.  Never again will others be able to say that we seem only to speak about the governmental side of the Church; in the past that was often almost true.  From now on it cannot be.  In these two chapters on the nature of the Church there is no detailed mention of the hierarchy at all.  The body of the Church is described, and only when that has been done does the constitution go on to speak in detail of the ministry within the Church.

Note that each of these two chapters is fairly clearly divided into half, as in the summary above; if the four units are seen as such a study of the main lines of thought will be greatly assisted.

Chapter – 1:

 

The essence of the Church is very finely expressed in a.1.  The Church is the sacrament of  UNION WITH GOD and of unity among men.  That is where we start from – not a juridically conceived ‘perfect society’ but ‘union with God’, of which the Church as we know her is the sacrament, that is to say the visible sign and embodiment.

Union with God means union with the three persons of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  The Church is indeed DE TRINITATE.  In order to gather men into this unity of God, the Father sent the Son in whose life and especially in whose death and paschal sacrifice the Church is inaugurated.  It is in the eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament that what Christ did then is continually expressed and made effective for us: in this way the unity of men, the body of Christ, is brought about.  But it is the Holy Spirit who continually vivifies, sanctifies, and rejuvenates the Church of God: Christ provides the ‘shape’ of the Church, the Spirit the breath of life.

This opening section is concluded with the fine sentence: ‘Thus the universal Church is revealed as “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (a.4).  These four opening articles really provide an exquisite summa of essential ecclesiology and deserve deep meditation.

a.5 provides an extension of a.3: the historical work of Christ especially in terms of the kingdom.  The meaning of the kingdom is not easy to express precisely.  The kingdom of God is the fullness of humanity’s service of God.    Preaching the kingdom, Jesus inaugurates the Church, and the Church is continually bringing the kingdom nearer to realization, but the two cannot simply be identified – at least until the end of time.

 In a.6 we find the presentation of a wide variety of scriptural images for the Church.  Drawn from the life of the countryside and the common trades they can be specially valuable for catechetical work in non-industrialized societies.  The images given in a.6 could very well form the basis for a course of sermons.  Note that the ‘body of Christ’ in a.7 is not given simply as another image.  This title cannot be put on the same level as the images previously referred to, as it has a deeper and more precise theological meaning.

In a.8 for the first time we meet the word ‘society’.  The Church is indeed a visible society.  We live in a visible world.  Christ was a visible man and the divine communion he came to bring, which has been described up till now, must take a visible and social form.  It involves the gathering of men in a human society  which requires leadership, etc. like other human societies.  Therefore the divine fellowship, the body of Christ existing in the visible world, must take the form of a visible society, the earthly (hierarchical) Church.  The identity of the two was stressed in Pius XII’s encyclicals MYSTICI CORPORIS and HUMANI GENERIS; it is repeated here, but in a modified form.  The single Church of Christ cannot be simply and absolutely identified with the one visible Roman communion, for the Council recognizes important ‘ecclesial elements’ separated from the latter.  The visible Church as sacrament (manifest and effective sign) of union with God is one and exclusive, but what it signifies extends beyond its visible frontiers.  Hence, whereas draft B stated unequivocally ‘This Church is the Roman Catholic Church’, the final text declares ‘This Church SUBSISTS in the R.C. Church’.  The implications of this tiny verbal modification may be very great.

Chapter – 2:

 

a.9 is a fundamental one.  The PEOPLE OF GOD is the Councils characteristic name for the Church.  Note that the description of the people starts with the fact of the covenant.  The Church is God’s new people.  Why? Because Christ instituted a new eternal covenant in his blood of cross and Eucharist.  We cannot understand this term ‘people of God’ without the covenant idea: the historical agreement whereby a group of men are made into God’s chosen people.

God’s people is ‘a kingdom of priests’.  Until recently we have greatly neglected the truth of the priesthood of all the faithful, so stressed by Lutherans.  Here it is called the ‘common priesthood’ as distinguished from the ‘ministerial priesthood’ of holy orders.  Note that both are sacramental in origin and expression and, of course, that all ministers share in the common or universal priesthood.  This is a real participation in Christ’s Priesthood, and it is actuated in the whole of the Church’s worship centred upon offering the Eucharist, to which every Christian is called.

The final paragraph of a.11 speaks of the universal vocation of Christians to perfect sanctity; it anticipates the theme of c.5.

Besides the priestly and prophetic gifts which are common to all the christian people, there are many other special one to this person or that which are given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church.  These are called ‘charisms’’; some may be remarkable others very simple.  They are to be welcomed by the hierarchical ministry, but their genuineness and proper use may require testing.

Articles 13-17 must again be seen as a unit.  The key to all five is the initial sentence: ‘All men are called to belong to the new People of God’.  The whole section works out the implications of this statement.  The picture of God’s people is one of an ever richer diversity in unity as the universality of its vocation is little by little realized through historical growth.  Catholics in a state of grace and the communion of Rome are fully incorporated into the unity of the one people, but non-Catholic Christians too are joined to it in many ways – by baptism and the Scriptures and faith and the Holy Spirit: a.15 must, of course, be studied with the Decree on Ecumensim.  Non-Christians as well (Jews, Muslims, everyone) are positively related to the one people in one way or another, for all God’s sons have been called to membership of the new people.  Nevertheless here and now they still lack much; to give it to them and so achieve the desired fullness missionary work is absolutely necessary.  This is not a valuable extra in Church life.  On the contrary: “Proclaiming saving truth to the ends of the earth’ expresses the very purpose and being of the Church and without it the Church would not indeed be here self.  Only thus can we bring to achievement the Catholicity and unity of God’s people: all humanity fully within the one Church, and the one Church fully diversified with the variety of mankind.

Notice that we have said ‘Roman Catholics in a state of grace are FULLY incorporated into the one people’.  Draft B of a.14 had declared that ONLY Catholics are REALLY incorporated into the Church (‘Reapse et simpliciter…illi tantum’); this was a repetition of the words of the encyclical MYSTICI CORPORIS (‘Reapse illi soli’).  But the Fathers preferred to replace the above words with ILLI PLENE.  Full membership, to the mind of the Council, furthermore implies not only fulfilling the external conditions of belonging to the Roman communion, but also includes possession of the Spirit of Christ: ‘Dead” members cannot be ‘full’ members.  If Catholics are incorporated into the ‘full communion’ of the visible Church, non-Catholic Christians are truly but not fully members of the visible communion.  This does not PER SE limit their sharing in the fellowship of faith and love which is signified, but at the sign level at least their communion with the great Church is not complete.  This is an important advance on earlier official teaching.

This beautiful treatise on the Church ends as it began, with the three persons of God, from whom (in a.1) our eucharistic communion and mission comes and to whom (a.17) it returns.  The universal mission must bring about a universal Eucharist-in the prophetic words of Malachi, ‘In every place there is a sacrifice’-that in this way ‘the fullness of the whole world may pass into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that in Christ, the head of all things, all honour and glory may be rendered to the creator, the Father of the universe’.

Chapter  3 HIRARCHICAL MINISTRY:

 

1. Introduction.                                                             a.18.    purpose of the chapter

                                   I. Its origin                                a.19.    the apostolic college.

                                                                                    a.20.    bishops are the apostles’

                                                                                                successors by divine institution.

                                                                                    a.21.    entry through consecration-the

                                                                                                fullness of Holy orders.

2. The Episcopate         II. Its nature                              a.22.    the Episcopal college and the

                                                                                                Position of its head.

                                                                                    a.23.    mutual relations of bishops;

                                                                                                world missionary responsibilities

                                    III. Its work                              a.24.    the ministry in general.

                                                                                    a.25.    teaching, and ecclesial infallibility

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            a.26.    sanctifying.

                                                                                    a.27.    pastoral rule.

                                                                                    a.28.    the priesthood.

3. Lesser Orders                                                          a.29.    the diaconate.

Chapter 3 is the longest in the constitution.  Certain points in it were discussed very extensively and finally formulated with great precision, but it would be a mistake to limit the significance of this chapter to those points.  The chapter as a whole is very rich in its teaching.  Its general characteristics are as follows: It is clear in the New Testament that Christ entrusted the direction of His Church to the twelve as a body, a collective unit, and they acted as such in the early days described in the Acts. To them was given full authority: Peter was one of the twelve , their leader. He could not act except as an apostle because that is what he was; but he was not merely their president.  What was given to the Twelve collectively, was explicitly given to him individually.  The one fullness of authority bestowed by Christ was given both to the college and to its head – they not being their collective whole without him, while he in principle acted always as leader of the Twelve.

Peter’s primacy was passed to the popes; the apostles’ ministry to the bishops.  Catholics have never doubted that.  What has not been so clear is that bishops have not merely succeeded individually to a limited charge, but also collectively to the universal one-to a real shared responsibility for the whole Church. It should have been clear, of course, because it was implied by the whole long history of ecumenical councils.  What this chapter now teaches us is just how the character of the Church’s ministry has remained, as it was in apostolic times, collective-cum-individual.  Papal authority is no less than Vatican  I defined it, but it looks rather different when seen as the divinely planned headship of a continuing college.

It will take time to shape the Church’s concrete institutions effectively according to this new vision of collegiality.  We can say in fact that the administration of the Church in the last two or three centuries has been rather un-collegial: instead it has been over-centralized and curial.  Pope Paul’s establishment of the Synod of Bishops in 1965 and its first meeting in October, 1967, is a step in the direction of a regular, practiced collegiality, though of course Pope John’s calling of the Council itself was the first great modern recognition that the Church really needs collegial leadership.

The old ecclesiology frequently described the Church as MONARCHICAL.  Neither the word ‘monarchy’ nor its adjective appear anywhere in the constitution.  We may judge that they are not really very suitable words for our subject, for two reasons: firstly, the concept of a monarchy is too different from that of a college, whose head has indeed a quite unique authority, but of which he is still a member.  Secondly, ‘Monarchy’ is a too secular term, brought in from comparison with civil government; its use was rather characteristic of the general secularization of ecclesiology after the fourteenth century.  Some people today are saying ‘Monarchy is out; democracy is in’.  That is not the sense of the constitution.  These terms fit the government of civil states, but neither really suits the Church, though doubtless they can both in some way be used of her.  “Hierarchical’ is a more helpful word, just because it is not used so characteristically of civil society, and because its general sense is not in itself precise.  To describe what sort of pattern the Church’s hierarchical ministry takes, we may now use the word ‘collegial’.  But its precise meaning is to be ascertained from revelation, not from secular parallels: it signifies that unique balance, first existing between the twelve apostles and their leader, now perpetuated in the permanent pattern of the Church’s ministry.

a.18. Note again the immediate stress on pastoral ministry and service in the opening paragraph.  The job of the hierarchy is ‘to serve its brothers’.  This theme is taken up again later, especially in the last para of a.20, in a.24, and in a.27 where its repetition balances and softens the juridical statement that bishops have proper, ordinary and immediate ecclesiastical authority.

The purpose of the Council here is to follow up Vatican I, proclaimed the ministry of the pope, Peter’s successor and the visible principle of unity in the Church, by speaking of that of the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  Most of a.18 (except the first paragraph) is in fact taken word for word from Vatican I.

At the end of a.20 comes the first of the particular truths which the Fathers wished to state definitely in this chapter and around which their earlier discussions had centred: ‘Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church’.

In a.21 comes the second precise point of teaching: ‘The fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred by Episcopal consecration’.  This fullness includes not only the ministry of sanctifying (i.e. the power to administer certain sacraments) but also that of teaching and ruling.  The ‘high priesthood’ of bishops, as received in their consecration, implies this whole circle of work, being a true presentation amid the faithful of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ himself.  It cannot be seen, then, as simply a gift of ‘orders’ to which jurisdiction may be added, even though its actual exercise does require subsequent (normally territorial) delimitation to be settled by the Episcopal college or (as generally at present) its head.

Note that almost nothing is said about whether bishops have specifically sacramental functions (e.g. ordination) absolutely proper to them, that is to say which other priests cannot perform: only episcopal consecration itself is mentioned: it is for bishops to consecrate other bishops.  Even here, however, an earlier text which read that ‘only bishops can admit…. was modified to say simply ‘it is for bishops to admit’.  The sacramental fullness of the episcopate is not to be seen, then, in terms of some isolated sacramental powers but as the sacramental imparting of a total office and function in the Church.

a.22  gives us the heart of the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality and merits especially careful reading.  (The authoritative comment entitled the NOTA PRAEVIA and attached to the constitution at its end bears especially upon the interpretation of this article).  As Peter and the apostles formed one apostolic college, in a similar way the pope and the bishops form one Episcopal college.  Membership of this college depends on consecration AND hierarchical communion with its head and members (a consecrated bishop could exclude himself or be excluded from the college on account of failure to co-operate in the work of the hierarchical ministry).  Both the college and its head permanently possess the fullness of Church authority, but the college is not meaningful without its head and cannot act without at least his approval or concurrence.

a.23 deals with the continuous ‘collegial’ aspect of a bishop’s work-his extra-diocesan responsibilities of one kind and another, including that of helping missionary work; a bishop is by his nature not only a minister for the communion, he is also a minister for the mission.

a.25 is another long and important one.  It presents a summary of doctrine on the Church’s magisterium.  The first section deals with the ordinary non-infallible teaching authority of bishops and pope; the second part with infallible authority seen both in the universal episcopate and in the pope.

What should be particularly noted are the following two points:

The stress is on ECCLESIAL infallibility, on what the Council calls’ the Church’s charism of infallibility’ present both in the pope and in general council.  Whereas draft A, having spoken of papal infallibility, went on to say that the definitions of a general council enjoyed the same infallibility as those of the pope, the final text stresses that ‘the infallibility promised to the Church’ is present in the body of bishops as in the pope.  This is in fact in strict line with the way of speaking of Vatican I.

The text twice stresses the relationship between the infallible teaching authority of the Church and the deposit of revelation.  The former extends as far as the latter and is ruled by it.  It is very important to be clear about this because there have been tendencies to interpret the Church’s infallible authority as extending far beyond revelation, and this was indeed proposed also in draft A.

a.26-27 speak of other sides of the bishop’s work.  Note that every bishop is called a ‘vicar of Christ’; also that the meaning of a bishop’s office is expressed in terms of a local church centred upon the Eucharist.

The last two articles (28 and 29) speak of the ministry of priests and deacons, who also form part of the Church’s divinely instituted hierarchy and share in almost every side of the bishops’ ministry.  Let us note that the general pattern of collegiality is seen as applying to the particular church (the diocese) as well as to the universal Church.  The priests of the diocese form, with their bishop, a sort of sacerdotal college, a single PRESBYTERIUM, which does not limit the bishop’s authority but indicates the way his ministry should be mediated to his whole flock across the co-operation of his co-workers.  The old idea of a ‘monarchical episcopate’ is as misleading as that of the monarchical papacy.

Article 29 quietly indicates what brings about a further revolution in the ministry in coming years.  For long the DIACONATE has been no more than a stage in seminary life.  This article points out its real purpose in the service of the people of God, and of how many functions – at present in practice reserved to priests – deacons can carry out.  With the present growing shortage of priests, it would be most valuable in many countries to have a permanent diaconate restored, but as it would surely be difficult to find many unmarried men for this work the Council envisages the ordination of married men as deacons in the future.

As with priests, bishops, the pope himself, their ordination and status will be for the service of God’s people, the building up of the body of Christ.  (For further treatment of collegiality see the decree on Bishops).

 

Chapter 4 THE LAITY:

 

a.30. Introduction.

a.31. What we mean by laity.

a.32. Their ecclesial character in general.

a.33. Their apostolate in general.

a.34. The laity share in the priesthood of Christ.

a.35. They share in his prophetic office.

a.36. They share in his kingly power.

a.37. Co-operation with the clergy.

a.38. Conclusion.

Note that this chapter on the laity is linked very closely both with c.2 (they were originally joined together) and with the decree on the lay apostolate where, of course, its practical implications are developed.

In a.31 the meaning of the word ‘laity’ is considered under two aspects:

NEGATIVELY – all the faithful who are not in the hierarchy or religious orders.

POSITIVELY – the laity are those of the people of God who have a properly secular character, their normal activities being the activities of the world.  Whereas the characteristic activity of the clergy derives materially from the nature of the Church, the characteristic activity of the laity derives materially from the nature of the world, of ordinary human society .  Both must equally seek the kingdom of God.

a.32. The laity are full members of the body of Christ, of the people of God.  Variety of functions in the body causes no inequality in essentials; what unites clergy and laity is of far greater importance than what distinguished them.  What unites them is Christian brotherhood in grace and a common call to perfection; what distinguishes them is diversity in service and function.  Note how here as in a.30, the theology of the laity grows naturally out of the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ: the unity of many diverse members.

The basic sense of the lay apostolate is established in a.33.  The laity have an apostolate because they are laity.  They share in the mission of the Church just because they are living members of the people of God; appointed to this mission by the very fact of their consecration in baptism and confirmation.  In the past the lay apostolate was sometimes defined as ‘the co-operation of the laity in apostolate of the hierarchy’.  This was not a good definition.  The hierarchy have an apostolate proper to them and so have the laity.  The lay apostolate comes primarily, not from a special offer to do part of the hierarchy’s job for it, but from the obligation of every baptized Christian to share actively in the mission of Christ.  Evidently many laymen are called over and above this to join in the apostolate of the hierarchy, and this work may be very important.  But basically the lay apostolate is precisely that apostolate which is proper to laity as laity, i.e. as Christians not sharing in the hierarchical ministry.

a.34 is really a repeat of a.10 – 11, and a.35 in part of a.12.  They were inserted when the old chapter on ‘the People of God and the laity’ was split into two and the former sections dealing with the priestly and prophetical aspects of Christian living were carried to c.2.

However a.35 adds some special stresses on the most characteristic lay aspects of implementing Christ’s prophetic role.  In many circumstances evangelization, witnessing to Christ, can be done only by them; moreover, at the very heart of human life-the family – it is for married people to be witnesses of  Christian faith and give love to one another and to their children.

Laymen have a special function in the carrying through of the royal work of Christ (a.36).  This work entails the re-ordering of the earth and of human society so that across the attainment by the terrestrial city of human culture, distributive justice, personal freedom, the light of Christ will be manifested and creation enabled to give greater glory to God.  But all this work belongs principally to the laity – the ensuring that the kingdom of Christ is advanced not only by the progress of the Church but also by the progress of the world.

a.37 earnestly advocates a truly active co-operation between clergy and laity, even though its style remains rather clericalist.  While all Christians have a duty of respect and obedience in Church matters towards their pastors, they have also a duty of free action and personal responsibility.  What is required is a two–way traffic.  Suggestions, initiatives, criticisms, if given in the right way, are needed from the laity who, when competent, must be ready to speak out and act with confidence and courage.  The health of the Church depends upon mutual trust and sharing of responsibilities between hierarchy and laity.

The whole chapter stresses the outward-looking side of the Church.  In Pope Paul’s words ‘the Church is for the world’.  Now this world-serving character of the Church is born especially by the laity.  It is in a way for the clergy to serve the laity, the laity to serve the whole human society.  This theme of course is developed in the constitution on the Modern World and in the decree on the Lay Apostolate.  The present chapter is the link between the constitution on the Church and those other more obviously ‘outward-looking’ documents.  The layman, it concludes, must be the sacrament of the living God before the world.  What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.

‘The apostolate which deals with the temporal order itself and seeks to imbue it with a Christian spirit is normally the special responsibility of the layman, so that in this task he has a larger role than the cleric, whose first responsibility is that of preaching the word of God and dispensing the divine mysteries.  In the relation of the faithful to the Church hierarchy the principle of subsidiarity should be followed…..This means that those things which parish priests can do by themselves should not be taken over by the bishop’s curia, and just as those things which – leaving the hierarchical structure of the Church intact-can be done by bishops or bishops’ conferences should be left to them, so also those things which the layman can accomplish on his own initiative and responsibility should not be taken over by the clergy, always with the proviso that the hierarchical structure of the Church is preserved’. (From a council speech of Bishop Hoffner of Munster).

Chapters 5 and 6 HOLINESS:

5. The universal call to holiness              a.39.    the Church is holy with the holiness of

                                                                        Christ, her spouse and head.

a.40.    all her members are called to share in this

                                                           a.41.    every condition of life has its own way to

                                                                        sanctity.

                                                           a.42.    but the heart of holiness for everyone is love.

6. The particular call through the

religious life                                           a.43.    definition of the religious state: a stable way of

                                                                        life embodying the evangelical counsels.

                                                            a.44.    personal and ecclesial reasons for its existence

                                                           a.45.    relation to ecclesiastical authority.

                                                           a.46.    relation to human society.

                                                           a.47.    conclusion.

 

History of the text:

The 1962 text of the constitution followed the order: bishops, priests, religious, laity; and the chapter on religious was entitled ‘the states of perfection’.  As we saw, in the course of the council this order was changed.  The hierarchy – laity division is basically part of the essential structure of the Church, and should therefore be treated first.  Religious, on the other hand, as the constitution states, are really divided between hierarchy and laity: some belong to one group, some to the other.  Their special state can be better understood when the positive characteristics of both hierarchy and laity have been explained.  Hence the 1963 text adopted the order: hierarchy, laity, religious.  However, the last chapter was given a quite new title, “The Vocation to Holiness in the Church’, and its first section spoke briefly of that vocation as universal’.  The passage ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ was quoted, and as referring to all men.  Its second section then spoke of the particular vocation to religious life, still described as the ‘state of perfection’.

This was not the end of the story.  As a result of the discussions of the second session, further drastic alterations were undertaken.  Among them we may note: (a) The section on the universal vocation to holiness was greatly enlarged, ceasing to be little more than an  ‘opener’ to a treatment of religious.  It had become the most striking part of the chapter.  (b) All reference to the ‘state of perfection’ (or ‘state of acquiring perfection’) was dropped from the text of the section on religious, as (previously) it had been dropped from the title – though traditional, it is a misleading term, for all men are called to perfection, not just religious; equally in this life no one attains it.  The term had a juridical rather than a theological meaning.  (c) This second section now stresses the ecclesial and eschatological significance of the religious life.

Questions still remained, however, on the dividing and placing of this matter.  Should it continue to form a single chapter, or be divided clearly into two? Again, many urged that now a fine section on the universal vocation to sanctity had been written, it was in fact in the wrong place.  It should not follow the chapters on the hierarchy and the laity and precede that on religious; it should precede all these chapters and be linked with that on the people of God.  The order would then have been:

The People of God.

Its vocation to sanctity.

The hierarchy.

The laity.

Religious.

In principle this might well have been the best and most logical plan.  However, it would have involved a very big rewriting of many sections of the constitution at a late date, and would also have cut in half the treatment of matters which were really linked together in the two sections of this chapter.  It was agreed therefore to retain the existing order, while inserting in c.2, a.11 a brief paragraph pointing forward to c.5 Secondly, it was decided (by a general vote of the fathers in the third session, 30 September, 1964) to constitute these two sections as two separate chapters.  This division shows the importance of the religious life for the Church as a whole, and that surely corresponds to the facts of the case.  Many fathers had feared that, with the new stress on the universal vocation to holiness, there was a danger of minimizing the significance of the religious vocation.  They felt that a separate chapter would counteract this danger.  The chapter as finally written shows this significance as a truly theological ore; the religious state, as canonically established in the church, constitutes a sign-a visible human embodiment-of the deep things of spiritual life and of the other-worldliness of the Church of God.

Chapter 5:

The Church is essentially holy, as we affirm in the Creed.  This holiness is of God, not of men.  She is holy because Christ, her lord and her head, has made her holy.  Being a member of her necessarily means being called to share in this holiness; one cannot be a Church member and not be so called.  Though given by God, the holiness of the Church will then be manifested in the lives of her members.  Called to grace in baptism and faith, all Christians must develop in their lives the holiness they have received from God.  This chapter really offers a very fine SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN MORAL THEOLOGY-of a morality wholly informed by love.  God is love; being given his life means being invited to love and to grow up into a fullness of charity-love of God, love of one’s fellow men.  For bishops and priests this takes a predominantly pastoral form; for married people a faithful commitment to the family, for workers, for the disabled, for every group and every individual person the holiness of love takes on its special form.  It is a pity that the sentence in a.41 referring to the widowed and the unmarried from this point of view is so very weak.  In fact the treatment of the variety of people described in a.41 on `the forms and tasks of life` is very over-weighted on the clerical side. This is a point where the Council`s intended width of view did not quite come across in the form of words used.  But anyway the whole of the preceding chapter was really concerned with the holiness of the laity and the principle is here: diversity of human life and character combined with unity in the transforming love that comes from God to be the very life and purpose of the Church. One and all we are called to `the pursuit of perfect love`.

Christ gave his disciples  both counsels and commands.  There is no clear distinction between them, but Christian writers and ecclesiastical tradition concentrated on three of the former as the foundation  for a special life of detachment from the world and christened them `the evangelical counsels`-virginity, poverty, obedience.  In fact there are many counsels in the New Testament, though obedience is not clearly among them.  The vows are means approved by the Church as of special value upon the road to holiness; but the counsels are elements in Christ`s teaching which concern the whole Christian community, and are therefore spoken of in c.5 and not only in c.6

 

 

 

Chapter 6:

 

Nevertheless the exteriorization of the counsels in a clearly visible form has an importance of its own for the Church.  And that is what has happened.  Historically they have been embodied in various `stable ways of life`, proper to different religious orders and societies, whose membership can be most helpful for attaining the full supernatural end of man; sound teaching, a fraternal communion, the continual harmonizing of freedom with obedience, fidelity to vowed resolutions-all these things can help man greatly on `the road of love`.

A chapter on the religious life in a constitution DE ECCLESIA must, however, necessarily consider it not so much from the personal viewpoint as from that of the strict ecclesial significance of this particular form of living.  The immediate purpose of the profession of the evangelical counsels is two-fold: to cut away hindrances to the service of God  and to be consecrated positively and wholly to that service.  Now, for the baptized, the service of God has always to be given in and across the life of the Church.  Christian spirituality is personal, but personal IN THE CHURCH.  The ecclesial sense of religious profession can be summed up in three points:  Firstly, it is an explicitation and affirmation, by a most deliberate human action, of the baptismal consecration of this Christian and of every Christian; by it the fruit of the original consecration can become more abundant.  Secondly, it is a visible sign of the Church`s nature-both of her bridal union with Christ and of her `other-worldliness`.  The Church transcends the needs and aspirations of the earthly city.  True religious manifest this transcendance in their lives.  Thirdly, it is made effectively fruitful for the whole Church by the kind of life and work proper to each institute: prayer, teaching, nursing……No religious society may be `useless` as regards the life of the whole body, but this does not mean that each  society must undertake external apostolic activities.  Contemplatives are at least as ecclesially fruitful as active orders.

In the past there has been an age-old rivalry between `seculars` and `regulars` between the local diocese and its authority and the `exempt` international religious society. Councils have traditionally been an occasion for bishops to try and bring EXEMPTION to an end, by imposing Episcopal authority upon the local members of a religious order.  This Council witnessed something of the kind but like previous attempts it was largely rejected.  The need for exemption is restated in a.45.  As a matter of fact, if members of religious orders have often seemed uninterested in the pastoral needs  of the local church, members of the secular clergy have often seemed uninterested in the wider missionary and intellectual needs of the universal Church. The solution of such rivalries and misunderstandings is not to be found in a chance of legislation, but rather in a greater awareness upon both sides of the fullness of the body of Christ and the variety of its needs.   Religious societies must indeed be willing to share in the life and work of the local church under the authority of its bishop, but the general good of the whole Church requires too wider organizations which could not function without some measure of canonical exemption of congregations from local authorities.

There is a paradox in religious life which parallels and indeed reflects a paradox in the Church`s own nature-the linking of retreat from the world and from some ordinary human patterns of living with the SERVICE OF THE WORLD and of human society.  In the nature of the Church one may say that laity and religious manifest opposite aspects: the function of the lay state is the service of God within the pattern of the most normal human life and the consecration thereby of the human city to God; the function of the religious state is the renunciation of much normal human life and the erection of a sign that the Church believes in another world and that `the people of God has here no lasting city` (compare a.44 with a.36).  Nevertheless any individual Christian, in either state, has to live the fullness of the Christian vocation, not just that side of it which is symbolized by his state: thus the layman needs to practise supernatural hope, the religious must reach spiritual maturity across a truly human development.  Each state has its own temptations to be avoided, related to an unbalanced grasping of its own particular ideal.  Hence (in a.46) the Council stresses that the religious life, when accepted and lived in the right way, is opposed neither to human maturity, nor to spiritual freedom, nor to the service of human society.  On the contrary.  It is because the Church is essentially other-worldly that she can so disinterestedly and fruitfully serve this one.  The religious life must be the visible sign of both these things.  The more fully religious live the meaning of their vows, the more effective will be their ministry among their fellow men.  In it the Church wishes to portray, in a specially manifest way, Christ and his ministry.

Chapter  7 LOOKING TOWARDS HEAVEN:

 

A chapter on this theme was explicitly asked for by Pope John, but it only materialized late in the council’s deliberation.  In fact there was no discussion on c.7 in general congregation until the third session.  The text had only been prepared in theological commissions in the course of that year, 1964, and it was little changed in the third session, except for some substantial additions in a.48.  The fact that it did not elicit much controversy does not lessen its importance in helping to provide a really full picture of what the Church is.

Its aim is not to describe the Church in heaven or in purgatory, so much as to show how the pilgrim Church on earth is journeying towards heaven and remains united with those who have gone before us to pass from earth to purgatory or the contemplation of God.  We are ‘seeking the city which is to come’, the condition of the Church as we know it is essentially temporary; we are on our way to something perfect and eternal.  This chapter is concerned with the whole vista of the ‘beyond’ and our relationship to it – a beyond whose fall pattern is future and collective: a ‘renewal of all things’ with the manifest perfecting of the universe and the whole human race under the kingship of Christ.

Concern with all this is what we mean by ESCHATOLOGY-a key word in modern theology and scripture interpretations: the doctrine of the last things.

Eschatology deals then with the ‘last things’: death, judgement, hell and heaven.  However, if we compare the eschatology which we find in the scriptures (located chiefly in Matt. 24 and 25, 1 and 2 Thess., and Rev.) with the usual treatises of theological manuals on this subject we cannot help noticing that the former is much more collective in its concern, the latter individualist.  The manuals lay more stress upon the individual’s judgement and eternal reward in heaven or punishment in hell; the scriptures the ‘last times’ of the world, the collective judgement, the full establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth.  In fact the initial draft constitutions, sent to the bishops, before the Council began, included one on the deposit of faith which had a chapter devoted to the ‘last things’.  This was very much akin to the approach of the manuals, an individualistic approach; it included a lengthy section on the punishments of hell.  This draft constitution never, in fact, got discussed at all, but the last things reappeared two years later in our c.7, but now with an altered approach.

It is vitally important in eschatology to balance the collective with the individual, and the future with the present.  It is this that c.7 tries hard to do.  A teaching on the ‘last things’ cannot be silent upon the fate of the individual: the judgement that follows death, the states that can follow judgement-and a.48 speaks explicitly of all this.  Nevertheless the fate of the individual, to be understood aright, must be seen within the context of the fate of the body to which he belongs.  What this chapter shows so finely is that a treatise ‘on the last things’ must be an ecclesial treatise, that the body of Christ itself has a future and a final condition.  The beatitude of the individual only makes full sense within the context of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the new Jerusalem.  Moreover, the new Jerusalem is not only the Church perfected, but also the world.  Eschatology is a doctrine about the cosmos: all things must be renewed.

Every aspect of the pilgrim Church must be seen in the light of the heavenly Church, not as two parallel organizations, but as sign and reality, or as that which is in process of becoming and that which it will finally be.  However, if this is a relationship between present and future, it is also true that it involves a relationship within the present, because the heavenly Church does already exist.  Many missions of members of the body of Christ have passed out of the state of wayfaring into that of glory and the Church on earth shares their active communion.  This is the difficulty in eschatology: it is dealing both with the final state of completeness when the pilgrim Church will no longer exist and the whole of creation is reformed in Christ, and with the already arrived heavenly state of the holy dead and of their relations with the still existing pilgrim Church.  Hence eschatology refers both to the future and to something already realized in the present, and concerns both the collective fate of Church and world at the end of time and the individual fate of the human person whose span of earthly pilgrimage is short and quickly over.

All this is difficult, but eschatology is notoriously difficult.  Nevertheless the Council refused to leave it aside, and we cannot either.  The above considerations should help in understanding the themes which have been brought together in this brief but beautiful chapter so full of scriptural passages and liturgical references.  Let us note too that the eschatological aspect of the Church is not confined to this chapter;  it is woven into the whole constitution- for example, in the last sentences of a.2, 8 and 42 (see also L.a.8, MW. A.39, etc.).  Furthermore a.44 suggests the eschatological significance of the consecrated religious life and a.68 that of the Virgin Mary:  she is the sign offered in hope to the pilgrim Church of how the final perfection will be.

While a.48 is more concerned with the future, a.49 and 50 treat chiefly of the earthly Church’s present communion with the Church beyond the grave.  If the visible Church is a human society with ministry and sacraments, all this is a sign of the wider communion of all who are of Christ and share his Spirit.  This ultimate communion is one of charity and worship:  we love and we glorify God.

The union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the Church in heaven has then the following characteristics.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL LOVE.  The saints are our friends and co-heirs in Jesus Christ, and their example shows us the way to grow in perfect union with Christ.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL PRAYER.  We on earth pray for and to the dead.  We pray to the saints that they may pray for us; we know very well that they have no power outside Christ to hear or help us, but we know too that we and they form one body in Christ, that it is a body of mutual concern, and that this is what our head desires.

It is a UNION IN LITURGY.  Just as the whole constitution teaches that the life of the pilgrim Church is centred upon the Eucharist, so this chapter emphasizes that the union of the earthly and heavenly Churches is above all a liturgical one, and that it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we are most united with the saints when we are most fully offering worship to God (cf.L.a.8).  For this reason the treatment of the subject is closed in a.50 with the words of the Roman canon.

The point of a.51 is pastoral.  Having stated the doctrine of the communion of saints (for which see also L.a.104), the Council recognizes that in fact there have been abuses whereby the cult of the saints has become almost disengaged from its essential Christological and ecclesiological context.  In reaction some have tended to deny all point to prayer and communion with them.  The Council wishes such wrong attitudes to be corrected:  a truly Catholic sense of union with all the blessed should rather excite in us a still greater determination to praise and glorify God both now and for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Chapter 8 VIRGIN AND MOTHER:

History of the Text:

Chapter eight is entitled ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church’.  As other parts of the constitution this text stands at the end of a lengthy evolution, but one of its own.  In 1962 the Fathers were given a draft text for a dogmatic constitution on ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men’.  This text (A) was never debated but was reissued in April, 1963, with a new title-‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church’.  In the second session, when the second text of DE ECCLESIA was being extensively discussed, it was proposed that no separate document should be produced on Mary, but instead that a chapter devoted to her should be included in that constitution.  It was argued that this would better show Mary’s organic place within the pattern of redemption.  Others argued strongly to retain a separate Marian constitution as more in line with the various Marian developments of the last century.  The bishops voted on the question on 29 October, 1963.  By 1,114 votes to 1,074 it was decided to speak of her within the DE ECCLESIA.

A new text was therefore needed, which would fit in with the rest of the constitution.  A theological sub-commission, representing both tendencies, set to work and in March, 1964, after four previous versions, brought forth a fifth (B) which they judged satisfactory.  Very little of A remained in it.  B was then considerably revised in June by the Doctrinal Commission to produce C.  Then B and C were together dispatched to the bishops and C was discussed at the beginning of the third session.  Some further changes were made, to give us D, the final text, which was approved almost unanimously.

Differing Tendencies:

Clearly, the very considerable difficulties encountered in producing this text arose from the existence of two contrasting attitudes in the Church with regard to Mariology.  One point of view is more plainly Mariological, in an evident way.  It has rejoiced in the increasing number of Marian definitions, declarations, feasts and congresses of the last hundred years, and it hoped for a further notable ‘advance’ in Marian teaching from the Council.. For years this body of opinion has been concentrating on the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ and it expected the Council to produce a constitution firmly enshrining this idea.

The other point of view is more closely linked with the biblical, liturgical and ecumenical movements.  It has urged the return on all sides of the Church’s life to a more scriptural and liturgical way of viewing things, and it has wanted to apply this also to Marian teaching and devotion.  It has argued that while everything in Modern Marian developments and expression may be capable of theological justification, yet the impression given is still very different from that of scripture and the liturgy, and that a good deal of popular Marian devotion has been clearly unbalanced.  The need today is not so much to advance as to deepen and purify Marian devotion.  Moreover this point of view has stressed ecumenical considerations.  Protestants are very suspicious of Mariology.  Every Marian ‘advance’ seems to them to dig a new ditch between us and them.  The opportune thing for the life of the Church today is not then to press Marian doctrine to all its logical conclusions, but so to express it in such a scriptural and traditional way as to commend it to all non-Catholic Christians.

Both these points of view have full right to exist when the Church, and of course many people would hold a bit to both.  Nevertheless clearly two opposing tendencies have been present and it was the Council’s duty to produce a statement which, so far as possible, would prove satisfactory to all important bodies of opinion.  That it managed to obtain an almost unanimous final vote, after a practically fifty-fifty division one year before, is a measure of the balance of  this chapter and also, surely, of docility to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Clearly the basic decision to include a Marian text within the Church constitution had to be adhered to and this naturally determined the general treatment to some extent.  It was decided to make of it the final chapter.  This seemed the natural place.  The other chapters have a certain internal cohesion, leading up, in c.7, to the vision of the heavenly Church.  c.8 relates to this in two ways.  Firstly, it is clearly related to c.7.  Much of what is said there about the saints in general applies in a special way to Mary.  Paragraphs in c.7 on their position in the Church, intercession and cult prepare the way for comparable ones in c.8.  Secondly, this last chapter somehow sums up the whole constitution.  May as the type of the Church bears within her all its varied characteristics.  Having treated of them in the life of all Christians in the preceding chapters, the constitution concludes by showing them in her who most perfectly fulfilled the Church’s whole vocation in faith, charity and obedience.

It is explicitly stated in a.54 that the Church did not intend to say EVERYTHING about Mary or to rule out all approaches or ideas not appearing in the constitution.  It does appeal for balance and the awareness of ecumenical needs, but its aim is not to condemn those who would like to express their love for the Virgin Mary in rather different terms.  The freedom  which the Council has called for in so many other fields surely applies here too.

Chief characteristics:

This chapter offers a broad, rounded teaching about OUR LADY.  There is certainly no minimizing tendency.  It speaks of all the chief aspects of Marian doctrine and draws them together in a simple but beautiful synthesis.  Never before has a council of the Church offered such an extensive or profound statement upon the position of Mary in the plans of God.

The tone is nevertheless very MODERATE  and restrained, though no less devoted for that.  There is nothing here to jar on the ears of non-Catholics unless, of course, they are rather uncritically anti-Marian.  It is interesting to see that there is no single reference in text or notes to St Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Alphonsus Liguori or St. Louis-Marie De Montfort, the three great Marian writers of the post-patristic period, some of whose expressions nevertheless seem to some a bit extreme or overemotional.

Instead the text is extremely SCRIPTURAL and PATRISTIC.  References to the early Fathers, both Greek and Latin, abound and so do quotations from the New Testament, beginning with a brief but basic Pauline text.  Every effort has been made to show that Marian devotion is not-as critics have maintained-ainti-scriptural.

It is clearly shown how Marian doctrine and devotion fit into a completely CHRISTO-CENTRIC scheme of things.  In no way can Mary detract from Christ`s work or from the closeness of the union of Christians with him.  On the contrary she manifests just how perfectly a simple human being can be united with her saviour.

It is ECCLESIAL.  This indeed is its most striking positive characteristic as of course befits a chapter within DE ECCLESIA.  A rediscovery of patristic doctrine on the deep relationship of Mary and the Church has been a key aspect of modern scientific Mariology.  In the fullest way we here see Mary standing in all her glorious humility both in and for the Church.

Finally, as has been indicated, there is a deep ECUMENICAL PREOCCUPATION  running through the text and stressed explicitly in a.67.  Everything is to be done to help other Christians see the truth about Mary. That should be the great Marian `advance` of our time: not a new doctrine but the rediscovery by all believers of her place in the redemption.  Eastern Christians already venerate her most devoutly (a.69), as do very many Anglicans` and growing number of other Protestants.  We should pray that the teaching of this chapter  will help to increase their number still more in years  to come .  In the past,  as a matter of fact, Marian devotion has been a cause of division.  Instead we must make it today a cause of unity.

POINT OF DOCTRINE:

Motherhood:

The central doctrine concerning Our Lady is shown to be the divine maternity.  All else follows from this that she was `the Mother of God` (a.53) and that she freely accepted to be so: she gave her assent to the World of God, committing herself whole-heartedly to his will in faith obedience (a.56).  The constitution stresses her faith: she did not understand everything but unhesitatingly she `advanced in her pilgrimage of faith` (a.58).  Just as in philosophy we find that AGERE SEQUITUR ESSE, so in theology it is universally true that the more we receive God’s grace, the more we share in the giving of it.  Mary` s singular adherence to God` s will made of her a singular sharer in her Son` s work of giving divine life to all men.  The fullness of her personal acceptance permitted a fullness of active co-operation and made of her truly the mother of men, especially the faithful (a.54, 60-62)

A word here must be said about the title `MOTHER OF THE CHURCH`.  It does not appear in the constitution.  It was part of draft A, especially with its revised title, but had no place in B or C. However, in one of the final changes of the third session an addition was made to the end of a.53  which in some way hints at this title without quite using it.  At the clost of the third session, 21 November, 1964, Pope Paul proclaimed the Virgin Mary ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors’.  It is clear that a majority of the fathers preferred not to use this title in the constitution, doubtless because in itself it is rather untraditional.  On the other hand the pope was perfectly free to make use of it himself if he saw fit; it is clearly only the phrase, not the idea, which is untraditional.  That Mary is the MATER FIDELIUM  is most traditional, and ‘the faithful’ is only another way of saying ‘ the People of God’.  Now that we are stressing the human side of the Church and that ‘the People of God’ is a highly fitting name for the Church, it is clearly the same thing to say ‘Mother of the faithful’ and ‘Mother of the Church’.  Pope Paul stressed this way of looking at it by repeating twice ‘the Church, that is to say the people of God’.  Mary remains a member of the Church, just as  the mother of a family remains a member of the family.  That the mother of Jesus is the mother of all his brethren is simply the full meaning of John 19: 26-7.

Type of the Church:

Mary is the type of the Church.  For many Catholics this may well be the most striking affirmation of this chapter.  It is stated explicitly in three separate articles (a.53, 63, 65).  It must be understood within a whole developing context.  First of all, in her full acceptance of the word of God, Mary represents humanity itself.  She is ‘the daughter of Adam’, the new Eve, as many of the earliest Fathers of the Church asserted (a.56). Representing all humanity in its passive need for God and potential active acceptance of his gift, she specially represented the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who had been prepared for the coming of the saviour.  She is not only ‘daughter of Adam’ but ‘daughter of Sion’ (a..55), faithfully accepting the promise made to her fathers.

The Church is the new Sion the new Israel.   Mary is a member of both the old people and the new, and she represents both.  Her undeviating faith and charity, her virginal surrender to God of her whole self, her fruitful motherhood, her presence at the foot of the cross: all this typifies the Church, virgin and mother.  Mary’s life on earth perfectly represents the life of the pilgrim Church, and her life in heaven perfectly represents the final fullness of the celestial Church after the resurrection of the dead.  God chose to manifest the character of humanity’s acceptance of his Son not only through the multiple community of the redeemed but also through the example of  a single historical personality, who typifies the perfection of the whole in the more easily understood career of one individual.  And for this he chose his mother.

In this way the constitution treats of Mary’s position less in terms of static privileges than as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation.

Mediatrix:

 

a.62 touching on Mary as mediatrix ( or mediator) was undoubtedly a focal point of argument.  Some fathers were much in favour of proclaiming Mary mediatrix of graces, others were equally opposed to it.  The history of the texts is significant.  A included a strong section on the subject including the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’.  Text  B omitted the word entirely.  C put it in a very restrained sentence.  Finally, in the third session, it was retained but joined with the title of ‘advocate, helper, benefactress’ which takes away from a technical sense.  Furthermore, a new paragraph (‘No creature could ever….’) was added at this last stage to prevent any possible misunderstanding in the use of the title.

This extra paragraph is in fact an important one for it expresses very clearly the principle of the active co-operation of the redeemed in every aspect of the redeemer’s work. We all share in his priesthood (mediation and priesthood are, moreover, very closely connected concepts), we share in his kingship, we share in his redemption – not only in receiving, but in giving. Mary is not unique in this role. It is part of the Christian vocation, But she is unique in the fullness of her response to it.

Conclusion:

The concluding section of the chapter refers first to the liturgy and pastoral requirements of Marian devotion. a.66 and 67 can be compared with a.51, the point being the same: not emotion or vain credulity but solid faith and a special care to avoid scandalizing separated  Christians. Finally the Council proclaims Mary as a sign of hope and comfort for the pilgrim Church. As the Church is the sign of salvation lifted up among the nations, so is she a sign within the Church: a sure sign of how faith is fulfilled in beatitude, of the perfection to come, of the final transformation of humanity in the light of Christ to the glory of  God.

‘In the Blessed Virgin the Church learns to love the concrete and the limited: a basic antidote to pride’ (Cardinal Silva papal legate to the 1965 Mariological Congress).

‘You should concentrate on a deeper understanding and love of the mysteries of Mary rather than on theological extensions which are questionable and lead to division rather than union     ……You must restrain unbalanced and not very enlightened sentimentalities….You should encourage a serious and living devotion which moves within the great coherent framework of the liturgy’ (Pope Paul to the Mariological Congress of San Domingo, 1965).

Is the Church necessary for salvation?

Is the Church necessary for salvation?

Dr George Karakunnel

                “This holy Council first of all turns its attention to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself on scripture and tradition, it teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk. 16:16; Jn.3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door.  Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”  (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.14)

                “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with as sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.15)

The answer is “Yes” but that’s the easy part. Explaining why it’s “Yes” is more difficult. Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it embodies the presence of Christ and carries on his redemptive work for all of humanity. In that sense, the Church is indeed necessary for salvation, that is, in the same way that Jesus Christ himself is necessary for salvation. But does that mean that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can be saved?

            Jesus himself gave us the beginning of an answer to both questions when he said. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven. But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Confessing the Lordship of Jesus, therefore, isn’t in itself sufficient for salvation. But even if it’s not sufficient, is it absolutely necessary? Later in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus narrates the parable of the sheep and the goats in which he implies that many who enter the kingdom of heaven will not even have been aware of the Lord. Rather, they will only encounter the Lord anonymously, as it were, in the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and all others in need.

            Catholic belief and teaching about salvation, therefore, is that no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all humanity, but that it is possible to be the beneficiary of that redemptive work even if one does not confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, which means even if one is not a member of the Church, Catholic or non-Catholic.

            That wasn’t always the understanding of the Church’s role in salvation, however. In the first three centuries the saying. “No salvation outside the Church”, was used exclusively as a warning against Christians who had separated themselves from the Church by heresy or schism. Historians have found no instance where that same warning was issued against the pagan majority in the Roman Empire. It was only after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire in the fourth century that the saying began to be applied to Jews and pagans as well. The naive assumption was that, by this time, the Gospel had been preached to the whole world. Those who still had not accepted it were culpable and, therefore, heading for damnation. This was the view associated especially with Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe, in the sixth century, and it remained standard Catholic teaching for almost a thousand years. The Council of Florence in 1442 used Fulgentius’ formula in its own teaching. With the discovery of America, however, only fifty years after Florence, it became clear that the world was much larger than had been thought. There were still many thousands – perhaps millions – of people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Only gradually thereafter did the hard-line teaching of Fulgentius and others yield to a broader, more ecumenical view of salvation outside the Church.

 

            At first, a distinction was made between members of the Church in re (that is, actual, baptized members) and members of the Church in voto (that is, people of good will who remain outside the Church through no fault of their own). All those who are saved because of some relationship with the Church, whether in re or in voto. The Second Vatican Council went a step beyond that position. It recognized in its Decree on Ecumenism that non-Catholic churches are a “means of salvation’, although “they derive their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church “ (n.3). The council also recognized in its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions that the “Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions” (n.2). Salvation, brought by the different religions as the Church understands, is related to the one economy of salvation under Jesus Christ.  This is the present day inclusivist approach which replaced a rather exclusivist approach of the past.

            Does the Church, then, play any necessary role at all in the salvation of the world? Yes, says the Council, it is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n.48; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).  Not only are all people related to the Church by the grace which the Holy Spirit offers them, but the Church itself is a sign and instrument of their salvation. And that is the newer, more ecumenical, more universal meaning of the traditional saying, “No salvation outside the Church”.

Ecclesia in Asia: An Evaluation

Ecclesia in Asia

 Introduction

Ecclesia in Asia is a document issued by Pope to serve as a blueprint for the expansion of the Roman Catholic faith in Asia. It summarizes ideas and conclusions of the Special Asian Synod held in Rome from April 18 to May 14, 1998. It was officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II in New Delhi, India on November 6, 1999.

The document stated that “just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent of Asia.”

We Asian peoples like to think in symbols and images, and do not indulge so much on analytic reasoning or speculations; we prefer evocation to demonstration, intuition to argumentation, wisdom to science. There several cultures here, different kind and coloured people here, numerous languages exist here and the philosophy and theology and the very mind set of the people are different from that of the west. Having in mind all these context of cultural and linguistic veracity of the people of Asia Pope John Paul II inspired by the Holy spirit write this document as it was clear from the very title itself Post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia of the Holy Father John Paul II to the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women in the consecrated life and all the lay faithful on Jesus Christ the saviour and his mission of love and service in Asia: “…that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10)

1.  The Structure of the Document

The Exhortation is composed of seven parts dealing with the following themes: the Asian context, Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of life, proclamation of Jesus in Asia (with a focus on inculturation), communion and dialogue for mission (with a focus on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue), the service of human promotion, and Christians as witnesses to the Gospel.

The long document concludes as “The peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Asia is thirsting for the Living water that Jesus alone can give (Jn 4:10-15). The disciples of Christ in Asia must therefore be unstinting in their efforts to fulfill the mission they have received from the Lord, who has promised to be with them to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). Trusting in the Lord who will not fail those whom he has called, the Church in Asia joyfully makes her pilgrim way into the Third Millennium.”

The content of the document is the following:

Introduction

The Marvel of God’s Plan in Asia (1)

Background to the Special Assembly (2)

The Celebration of the Special Assembly (3)

Sharing the Fruits of the Special Assembly (4)

 Chapter I – The Asian Context

Asia, the Birthplace of Jesus and of the Church (5)

Religious and Cultural Realities (6)

Economic and Social Realities (7)

Political Realities (8)

The Church in Asia: Past and Present (9)

 Chapter II – Jesus the Saviour: A Gift to Asia

The Gift of Faith (10)

Jesus Christ, the God-Man Who Saves (11)

The Person and Mission of the Son of God (12)

Jesus Christ: the Truth of Humanity (13)

The Uniqueness and Universality of Salvation in Jesus (14)

 Chapter III – The Holy Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life

The Spirit of God in Creation and History (15)

The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation of the Word (16)

The Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ (17)

The Holy Spirit and the Church’s Mission in Asia (18)

 Chapter IV – Jesus the Saviour: Proclaiming the Gift

The Primacy of Proclamation (19)

Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia (20)

The Challenge of Inculturation (21)

Key Areas of Inculturation (22)

Christian Life as Proclamation (23)

 Chapter V – Communion and Dialogue for Mission

Communion and Mission Go Hand in and (24)

Communion within the Church (25)

Solidarity among the Churches (26)

The Catholic Eastern Churches (27)

Sharing Hopes and Sufferings (28)

A Mission of Dialogue (29)

Ecumenical Dialogue (30)

Inter-religious Dialogue (31)

 Chapter VI – The Service of Human Promotion

The Social Doctrine of the Church (32)

The Dignity of the Human Person (33)

Preferential Love of the Poor (34)

The Gospel of Life (35)

Health Care (36)

Education (37)

Peacemaking (38)

Globalization (39)

Foreign Debt (40)

The Environment (41)

 Chapter VII – Witnesses To the Gospel

A Witnessing Church (42)

Pastors (43)

The Consecrated Life and Missionary Societies (44)

The Laity (45)

The Family (46)

Young People (47)

Social Communications (48)

The Martyrs (49)

 Conclusion

Gratitude and Encouragement (50)

Prayer to the Mother of Christ (51)

2. An Evaluation of the Document

2.1 Truly Asian, Authentically Christian

While the Pope sees the crux of the matter as doctrinal (Christo-centrism), the bishops’ interventions saw their problem as not with Jesus the Christ – who is widely accepted and loved by Asians – but the presence of a foreign Church burdened by a colonial past. Ecclesia in Asia finds it strange that Jesus the Asian, has become a foreigner in Asia (EA 20). Apart from the indigenous Churches in the Near East and Kerala, most remaining Churches are the result of colonial expansion and missionary outreach working hand-in-hand. Whatever the nuances, however great the social contribution of the mission Churches in the past, however heroic the sacrifices of cross-cultural missioners over the centuries, the fact remains in stark clarity: the Latin Churches of Asia are a foreign presence. They are alien in the official dress of its leaders; alien in its rituals; alien in its formation of cultic and community leaders in foreign thought patterns in seminaries whose professors are foreign-educated; alien in its large, often rich, institutions among people who are generally poor; above all alien in that Christians have had to uproot themselves from their own cultural identity in order to claim a “hybrid” Christian one. This is a major issue for most Asian bishops. However, Ecclesia in Asia mentions it in passing in a single sentence as though the problem was over:”… the Church in many places was still considered as foreign to Asia, and indeed was often associated in people’s minds with the colonial powers” (EA, 9).

Ecclesia in Asia is surely right in placing Christ at the center rather than the Church, whether Latin or Oriental. This is not to separate Christ from his body, the Church, but rather to accept the Church as sign, sacrament and instrument of Christ’s saving presence. The eternal, incarnate, redemptive, cosmic presence of Christ can neither be confined to, nor controlled by the Church. The central problem is neither Christ nor his acceptance/rejection by his fellow Asians. The key missiological problem is rather the Western Church’s alien tone and idiom inherited from colonial times. As for the how of mission we need time, patience and perseverance in order to move away from insulated, devotional practices and re-invent ourselves as dynamic diaspora living out a dialogue of life and action.

2.2 A New Way of Being Church

Another way of making the point for the Asian Synod to have a lasting impact, the Asian Churches must, with courage and creativity, find new ways of being Church, and hence construct an alternative ecclesiology. This ecclesiology, in a sort of Copernican revolution, de-centers the Church in the sense that it makes the center of the Christian life not the Church but the reign of God. Their mission is not to expand the Church and its structures in order to enlarge the sphere of influence for the Church but to be a transparent sign and effective instrument of the saving presence of the reign of God, the reign of justice, peace, and love, of which the Church is a seed. As the Exhortation puts it well: “Empowered by the Spirit to accomplish Christ‘s salvation on earth, the Church is the seed of the kingdom of God, and she looks eagerly for its final coming. Her identity and mission are inseparable from the kingdom of God he Spirit reminds the Church that she is not an end unto herself: In all that she is and all that she does, she exists to serve Christ and the salvation of the world” (EA, 17).

2.2.1 Church as a Communion

The Church, both at the local and universal levels, is seen primarily as “a communion of communities, where laity, religious and clergy recognize and accept each other as sisters and brothers.” At the heart of the mystery of the Church is the bond of communion uniting God with humanity and humans with one another, of which the Eucharist is the sign and instrument par excellence. In this ecclesiology there is an explicit and effective recognition of the fundamental equality among all the members of the local Church as disciples of Jesus and among all the local Churches in so far as they are communities of Jesus’ disciples and whose communion constitutes the universal Church. The communion (koinonia) which constitutes the Church, both at the local and universal levels, and from which flows the fundamental equality of all Christians, is rooted at its deepest level in the life of the Trinity in whom there is a perfect communion of equals.18 Unless this fundamental equality of all Christians is acknowledged and lived through concrete policies and actions, the Church will not become a communion of communities in Asia. Living out this fundamental equality is particularly difficult in Asia, not only because the insistence on the hierarchical structure of the Church tends to obscure and minimize it but also because it goes against the class consciousness of many Asian societies.

2.2.2 Discipleship of Equals

 The understanding of pastoral “discipleship of equals” leads to the second characteristic of the new way of being Church in Asia, that is, the participatory and collaborative nature of all the ministries in the Church: “It is a participatory Church where the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all the faithful – lay, religious, and cleric alike -are recognized and activated, so that the Church may be built up and its mission realized. This participatory nature of the Church must be lived out not only in the local Church but also among all the local Churches, including the Church of Rome, of course, with due recognition of the papal primacy. In this context it is encouraging to read in the Exhortation the following affirmation: It is in fact within the perspective of ecclesial communion that the universal authority of the successor of Peter shines forth more clearly, not primarily as juridical power over the local churches, but above all as a pastoral primacy at the service of the unity of faith and life of the whole people of God” (EA, 25). A “pastoral primacy” must do everything possible to foster co-responsibility and participation of all the local Churches in the triple ministry of teaching, sanctification, and service in the Church and must be held accountable to this task so that these words do not remain at the level of pious rhetoric but are productive of concrete structures and actions. Only in this way can the Church’s teaching office and the pope’s ministry of promoting unity be effectively exercised, learning from the varied and rich experiences of being Church from all corners of the globe and welcoming respectful but frank warning and correction when errors of intellectual narrowness, moral arrogance, and  spiritual blindness have been committed.

2.2.3 A Dialogical Spirit

The third characteristic of a new way of being Church in Asia is the dialogical spirit: Built in the hearts of people, it is a Church that faithfully and lovingly witnesses to the Risen Lord and reaches out to people of other faiths and persuasions in a dialogue of life towards the integral liberation of all. The universal church must have in mind the necessity of this triple dialogue. In the dialogue with the Asian cultures (inculturation), the Exhortation highlights the areas of theology, liturgy, and the Bible (EA, 22). In the dialogue with other religious traditions, the document emphasizes ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. It quotes approvingly proposition 41 of the Synod: “Interreligious relations are best developed in a context of openness to other believers, a willingness to listen and the desire to respect and understand others in their differences. For all this, love of others is indispensable. This should result in collaboration, harmony and mutual enrichment” (EA, 31). In the dialogue with the poor, the Exhortation affirms the necessity of the preferential love of the poor (in particular, the migrants, indigenous and tribal people, women and children), defense of human life, health care, education, peacemaking, cancellation of foreign debts, and protection of the environment (EA, 32-41). There is no doubt that if the Christian Church is to become truly of Asia, Asian Christians must be engaged, relentlessly and wholeheartedly, in this triple “dialogue of life and heart” and in this way fulfill their inalienable right and duty of proclaiming Jesus to their fellow Asians.

2.2.4 Being a Prophetic Sign

The fourth and last feature of the new way of being Church in Asia is prophecy: The Church is “a leaven of transformation in this world and serves as a prophetic sign daring to point beyond this world to the ineffable Kingdom that is yet fully to come” As far as Asia is concerned, in being “a leaven of transformation in this world,“ Christianity must give up its ambition, so enthusiastically endorsed in many missionary quarters at the beginning of the twentieth century, to convert the majority of Asians to Christ. The report of the demise of Asian religions was premature and vastly exaggerated. In Asia, where Christians still form but a minuscule part of the population after four hundred years of mission, and where non-Christian religions have recently staged a vigorous revival, the prospect of a massive conversion of Asians to the Christian faith is utterly unlikely. Christians in Asia must come to terms with the fact that they are destined to remain for the foreseeable future a “small remnant” who must journey with adherents of other religions toward the eschatological kingdom of God.

The objective of the Church‘s mission of “making disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Asia cannot therefore be adding as many members to the Church as possible, even though baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) remains the desirable outcome of the Church‘s mission. Rather, the primary task of the Church is to become a credible prophetic sign” of the coming reign of God. This new focus of the Church‘s mission must be the light guiding the ordering of its priorities and the choice of its policies which must not aim at serving the internal interests of the Church but the proclamation of the Gospel through the triple dialogue.

The significance of the Asian Synod and Ecclesia in Asia lies,  not so much in what they say as in the recognition that the Churches of Asia have come of age and must continue to pursue the task of becoming Asian, relentlessly, courageously, creatively. Only in this way can the Christian Church fulfill its missionary vocation which is the task of the entire Church.33 It is only by living out a new way of being Church that Asian Christians will make true what the Exhortation states as a fact: “Contemplating Jesus in his human nature, the peoples of Asia find their deepest questions answered, their hopes fulfilled, their dignity uplifted and their despair conquered” (EA, 14).

2.3 Ecclesia in Asia and the Biblical Pastoral Ministry

In EA, the explicit reflection on our ministry comes in chapter IV “Jesus the Saviour: Proclaiming the Gift”, in the section, “The Challenge of Inculturation” (nos. 21-22). Among the key areas of inculturation, priority is given to theological inculturation: “The Synod expressed encouragement to theologians in their delicate work of developing an inculturated theology, especially in the area of Christology.” (EA 22) This is to be undertaken “with courage and faithfulness“. The thrust of the document in this section is on the inculturation of the Good News. The word inculturation, culture and related words appear one hundred and one times in the document.

3.0 Conclusion

The significance of the Asian Synod and Ecclesia in Asia lies not so much in what they say as in the recognition that the Churches of Asia have come of age and must continue to pursue the task of becoming Asian, courageously and creatively. Only in this way can the Christian Church fulfill its missionary vocation which is the task of the entire Church. It is only by living out a new way of being Church that Asian Christians will make true what the Exhortation states as a fact: “Contemplating Jesus in his human nature, the peoples of Asia find their deepest questions answered, their hopes fulfilled, their dignity uplifted and their despair conquered” (EA, 14). What the Pontifical Biblical Commission says about the actualization of the Bible is valid for a dialogic approach to biblical pastoral ministry. “In any case, the risk of error does not constitute a valid objection against performing what is a necessary task that of bringing the message of the Bible to the ears and hearts of the people of our time” (Interpretation of the Bible in Church, p.117). A dialogic proclamation of the word is not a clearly defined task. It is a venture of hope. It will become an adventure of the Church in Asia. Today we are here to plant the seeds of a future visioning. Our task is to greet from distance that future and to keep sowing the seeds and nurture their growth. May this Apostolic Document strengthen us for such a mission.

Bibliography

  1. Pope john Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 1999.
  2. Losservatore Romano, november, 1999.