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The MOST Theological Collection: The Holy Spirit and the Church

"Chapter 3: The Hierarchical Church"


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§18. To shepherd the Church, Christ set up various ministries, for the good of the whole body. These ministers with sacred power help the all the members of the people of God to their goal. [The ministers are described as having sacred power - therefore ushers, etc. are not ministers in the proper sense of the word]. Following in the footsteps of Vatican I, this council teaches that Jesus sent apostles just as He himself was sent by the Father, and that the Bishops are their successors to the end of the world. So that the Episcopate might have unity He put Blessed Peter over the other Apostles. This Council repeats this teaching of Vatican I about the perpetuity, the primacy of the Pope and his infallible magisterium. Continuing in the same work it has decided to profess the doctrine about the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles. Vatican I had not completed this work.

§19. Jesus set up a permanent (stabilis) college, consisting of Peter and the Apostles, with Peter as the head of the college, to sanctify and rule the Church and propagate it. They were confirmed in their mission on Pentecost.

§20. Since the mission of the Church is to last to the end of time, the Apostles appointed successors, and provided that when these died, others should be properly chosen to take their places, in an unbroken succession. Among these ministries that of the Bishops holds the chief place, by succession from the beginning. So the Bishops took on the ministry of the community with the priests and deacons as helpers. They, the Bishops are the pastors, as teachers of doctrine, the priests of the sacred worship, the ministers of governing. So this council teaches that the bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the Apostles as shepherds of the Church, in such a way that he who hears them, hears Christ, he who spurns them spurns Christ and Him who sent Christ. Tertullian therefore taught (De Praescriptione haereticorum 21) that to prove a doctrine is true, one must show that the church from which he received it goes back in unbroken succession to the Apostles, and thus to Christ.

§21. It is in the person of the Bishops, assisted by priests, that Christ is present to His Church. Through their service, He preaches to all nations, and administers the sacraments of faith to all who believe, and by their paternal function He generates new members of His Body, which is the Church, and, finally, by their wisdom and prudence He directs the people of the new testament to eternal happiness.

To carry out so great a function, the Apostles received a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They passed on the gift of the Spirit by the imposition of hands. Episcopal consecration gives the fullness of orders and the function [cf. Preliminary note below - the word is munus, not potestas] of teaching, sanctifying and ruling. The Bishops in a visible way take the role of Christ the Teacher, Pastor and Priest, and act in His person. It is for Bishops to take new chosen men into the college of Bishops by the Sacrament of Orders.

§22. Just as Peter and the Apostles constituted a college, so in a similar, not an identical way there is a relation of Pope and the Bishops, with the Pope as the head. (Qualification taken from the preliminary explanatory note-- see below for it). Councils and also in a way the use of several Bishops to consecrate a Bishop show collegial practice.

One is admitted to this college by episcopal consecration and hierarchical communion with the head (which is not just some vague attitude, but a juridical communion - as the preliminary note explains - see below).

The college has no authority apart from the Pope. He is the supreme Pastor, and has direct authority over all in the

Church, faithful and Bishops. The Lord made Simon the rock and key-bearer of the Church, and set him up as the Pastor of His whole flock." [This is important in view of the fact that LG 24 also teaches each Bishop has power from Christ over His own diocese, not from the Pope, except that a Bishop cannot have a diocese unless it is assigned to him by the Pope. ] When and whether an action is to be taken in collegial form is for the Pope to determine (cf. Preliminary note again) The Pope having full supreme power can, whenever he so chooses, act alone, without the college.

The college of Bishops can exercise supreme authority in a general council, but to be such it must be confirmed or at least recognized by the Pope, whose place it is to call councils and preside over them.

§23. The Pope is the source of unity for the whole Church, the Bishops for their own dioceses. Even though they lack jurisdiction over other dioceses, yet each Bishop should have a concern for the whole Church. As far as duty permits, they should collaborate in the work of the missions by every means in their power, by supplying workers and by spiritual and material aid.

Special associations of churches have come about in the course of time, guided by Divine Providence. Some of these groups have their own rites, discipline, and theological patrimony. Especially important examples are the Patriarchal churches. Episcopal conferences, similarly, can give manifold and fertile work so that the collegial spirit may be brought into concrete application.

§24. Bishops receive directly from Christ the mission of teaching and preaching. This office is a service. But the canonical mission of a particular Bishop to a particular diocese is a different thing. That can be made by (1) legitimate customs not yet revoked by the Pope, (2) by laws made or acknowledged by the Pope, (3) directly by the Pope himself. If the Pope objects or refuses, Bishops cannot be admitted to office.

§25. This section was covered in detail in the introduction to this text, in dealing with the four levels of teaching.

§26. The bishop, marked with the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders, is the dispenser of grace and the supreme priesthood, especially in the eucharist, which he offers or has offered. This Church of Christ is present in all lawful groups of faithful united with their shepherds, and so these can be called churches. They are, in their own place, the new People called by God in the Holy Spirit. In every communion of the altar, under the sacred ministry of the Bishop, there is a symbol of that charity and unity of the Mystical Body. Christ is present in these communities. Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the Bishop.

§27. The power of a Bishop is solely for spiritual good. It is ordinary and comes immediately from Christ, it is ordinary and immediate, so that Bishops are not just vicars of the Pope, they are vicars and legates of Christ, though they are regulated by the Pope, since he has immediate power over each Bishop and each one of the faithful. (And without canonical mission they may not take over a diocese).

Bishops have the power to legislate, to pass judgment, and to regulate everything pertaining to divine worship.

The Bishop should not refuse to listen to his subjects. He must give an account for their souls to God. He should consider those outside too as entrusted to him in the Lord.

§28. The divinely instituted ministry is in three degrees: bishop, priest, deacon. Priests depend on the bishop but are associated with him in the honor of the priestly ministry. They make present again, by acting in the person of Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice. [It is once for all in that it created an infinite title to grace and forgiveness, even for each individual person(Gal. 2. 20). Yet for the giving out of that treasury, t he Mass makes the sacrifice present again. In a sacrifice there are two parts, exterior and interior. The exterior sign is there to express and promote the interior dispositions, basically, obedience to the Father. In the Cenacle the exterior sign was the seeming separation of body and blood - on the cross, it was physical separation. But in the Mass the exterior sign is still the same as in the Cenacle - and the interior dispositions of Christ on the altar are the same, really, not a repeat, but a continuation of those with which He died for death makes permanent the disposition of heart with which one leaves this world. So the Mass does make Calvary present again in this way, for the interior dispositions of Christ, from which the value comes, are present again, not repeated, but continue from Calvary, so that the people may join their interior dispositions of obedience to the Father with those of Christ: this is their greatest participation the Mass. This pertains to the "spiritual oblation spoken of in LG §§ 10 & 34].

Priests along with the Bishop constitute a sacred priestly college, the presbyterium. In each assembly of the faithful they as it were make the Bishop present.

Priests should be concerned not only with their own parish, but with the whole diocese, even the whole Church. They should look on the Bishop as Father, whom they obey, and he should look on them as sons, not servants.

Priests should be models of their flock, and serve it.

§29. Deacons are at the lower part of the hierarchy, but are a part of the hierarchy. They can baptize solemnly, administer the Eucharist, bless marriages, bring Viaticum, read Scripture to the people, preside at worship and at funerals, and administer sacramentals.

It may be possible to have a permanent diaconate, even including married men.


This note was sent "by higher authority" - clearly, the Pope. It contained some precisions on Pope and Bishops:

1. The college of Pope and Bishops is not to be understood in a strictly juridical sense, i.e., as an assembly of equals who would entrust power to a president. Rather it is a permanent or stable body whose authority is to be deduced from revelation.

The parallelism with the Apostles and Peter does not imply transmission of the extraordinary powers the Apostles had, such as working miracles. It merely means there is a proportionality between Peter-Apostles and Pope-Bishops. Hence, speaking of this parallel, §22 does not say the relation of the Pope and Bishops is precisely the same, but it is similar (non eadem sed pari ratione)

2. A man becomes a member of the college by episcopal consecration and by hierarchical communion with the Head, the Pope. Consecration gives an ontological sharing of the sacred functions. [The word is munera, not potestates for powers would mean an ability needing nothing more in order to be ready to be used. This refers to words in §21]. For that there is still necessary a canonical or juridical determination by the Pope, which can consist in the grant of a particular office or in assigning subjects. This is given according to the norms approved by the supreme authority. It is clear that in early times this was provided by communion in the life of the Church, and later was codified in law.

It was said above that besides episcopal consecration, there is required also hierarchical communion. This communion does not mean some vague attitude, but an organic reality which calls for juridical form and is animated by love.

3. It is said in §22 that the college is the "subject of supreme and full power". There is no college without the head, the Pope. This is to be said to avoid challenge to the supreme power of the Pope. [Cf. the Council of Constance, 1414, and Basle, 1439, which claimed authority over the Pope].

So we do not speak of the Pope or the Bishops taken collectively, but of the Pope alone, or the Pope along with the Bishops. Since the Pope is the head, he by himself can do certain things that in no way belong to the Bishops, e.g., He can convoke the college and direct it, approve norms of action etc. It is for the judgment of the Pope according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner in which things are to be done - by him personally, or in a collegial manner. The Pope can whenever he so wills, act without the college. The college always exists, but does not always act. There can be no action of the Bishops as a college without the Pope.

N. B. The sacramental ontological function cannot be exercised without the hierarchical communion. The Commission however did not wish to discuss questions of liceity and validity in case this communion is lacking, as actually happens in the Eastern schismatic churches. There are various opinions on this.

History of the Note

There was literally a plot in the theological commission in regard to collegiality.

There were on hand three views of collegiality:

1. Extreme conservative: The college of bishops does not have supreme power until, and unless the Pope calls a council. The Pope alone has supreme power by divine right.

2. Extreme liberal: The college, with the Pope has head, has supreme power. The Pope can exercise supreme power but only by acting as head of the college. He must in conscience ask the opinion of the college before making a pronouncement, because he is obliged to express the thinking of the college.

3) Moderate view: The Pope himself has Supreme power all by himself, and the college has it in union with him, but needs his consent to exercise it.

Collegiality was discussed at length during the second session, 1963. The Theological Commission had a revised text ready by March 6, 1964. Pope Paul VI was not satisfied, and on May 19, 1964 sent suggestions. By early June a text was ready, incorporating most of the Pope's suggestions. He approved it on July 3.

But the International Group of Council Fathers, led by Archbishop Staffa, claimed that the text was no different from a view repeatedly deplored during the 19th century as erroneous. The day after the opening of the third session, Archbishop Staffa had a list of over 70 names which he gave to the Cardinal Moderators, asking to address the general assembly before the voting began on the chapter on collegiality. He appealed to the rules of procedure which said even after the end of discussion, a minority could designate three speakers, who could go more than ten minutes, if the request was made in the name of at least 70 other Council Fathers. His petition was refused. Archbishop Staffa and the leaders of the International Group wrote a long letter to the Pope on Nov. 7, 1964. The Pope ordered an official investigation. Meanwhile 35 other Cardinals and superiors general of large religious orders had written to the Pope saying that the text was ambiguous. The Pope found this hard to believe, and wrote to the chief Cardinal on the list, attacking his arguments. The Cardinal went to see the Pope. He asked that theologians of his group be allowed to debate the matter before the Pope with his theologians. The Pope refused. Then one of the plotters wrote out some of the ambiguous passages and said how they would be interpreted after the Council. By Divine Providence he lost the paper, and it fell into the hands of the sounder members, who took it to the Pope. Paul VI finally, seeing he had been deceived, broke down and wept. Hence he ordered the Preliminary Explanatory note. Cf. Ralph. M. Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber. The Unknown Council, Hawthorne Books, N. Y. 1967.