Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The Church of Christ and the Catholic Church

by James T. O'Connor


Since Vatican II there has been some confusion about whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is the true and only Church of Jesus Christ. The debate often centers on the expression subsists in which occurs in Lumen Gentium, no. 8. In this article Fr. James O'Connor analyzes the pertinent conciliar documents and demonstrates that the Council reaffirmed that the Roman Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review



Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, January 1984

With the support of numerous statements of the Magisterium, it was customary for Catholics prior to the Second Vatican Council to defend the thesis that they belonged to the "one, true Church" founded by Jesus Christ himself. For them, the Nicene confession of faith, "We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" referred unambiguously to that Christian community which was united in faith and obedience with the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter.

Since the celebration of the last Council, this sense of Catholic self-identity has been challenged and even denied. It is asserted that the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church are not the same reality. The Council, which used both expressions, namely, "Church of Christ" and "Catholic Church," is claimed to have drawn a distinction between the two, thereby indicating that they are not one and the same. In speaking of the society founded by Jesus himself, the Council referred to the "Church of Christ" and confessed that this "is the only Church of Christ which we profess in the Creed to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic."1 It is, however, nowhere stated that this unique Church of Christ is the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it affirmed that Jesus founded the historical reality which we know as the Catholic Church — at least so it is claimed. While teaching, indeed, that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, the Council explicitly recognized the right of other Christian bodies to be called "Churches," thus giving authoritative confirmation to a use of language which was long-standing and consistent, at least in respect to the separated Churches of the East, i.e., Eastern Orthodoxy.

The bishops at Vatican II, furthermore, formally admitted that the Christian Churches and Communities separated from the Catholic Church have been and are being used by the Holy Spirit as "means of salvation"2 for those who belong to them.

Now it must be admitted that we are faced with three facts concerning the teaching of Vatican II about the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church: first, the assertion that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church; second, the admission that at least some Communities not in union with the Catholic Church are truly Churches; third, the recognition that such Churches and even other ecclesial Communities serve as "means of salvation" in the effectuation of God's redemptive plan in Christ. Since Vatican II did not give us an elaborated ecclesiology, theological reflection is left to give an integrated picture of its teaching, keeping in mind the three facts just mentioned.

That theological picture has developed in some authors in the following way. The one Church of Christ, founded by him, now perdures or subsists in various forms or manifestations, each of which retain—to a greater or lesser degree—the essential ecclesial characteristics willed by the Lord. No one of the various forms can claim exclusive identity with the Church of Christ — which now exists like some kind of Platonic form, which variously informs different communities. De facto, the unique Church founded by Christ now exists in different and separated bodies, although not necessarily in equal degrees.

The consequences of such a view are manifold. Among the more important may be cited the diminishment in appreciation of the Church's unique role as means and sacrament of salvation, and the necessity of the Sacraments and of sacramental grace. Questions have been raised about the true ecumenicity of those Councils held since the division among Christians became a fact, particularly about the Councils of Trent and Vatican I. The missionary activity of the Church has likewise suffered, being reduced at times in theory and in practice to no more than efforts to better the temporal social, political and economic situation of peoples. Efforts for conversion among non-Christians and for the bringing of non-Catholic Christians as individuals into full communion with the Catholic Church have been adversely affected.

I Wish To Address This Claim

In response to such a state of affairs, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in 1973 the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, which said in part:

… Catholics are bound to profess that through the gift of God's mercy they belong to that Church which Christ founded and which is governed by the successors of Peter and the other Apostles, who are the depositories of the original apostolic tradition, living and intact, which is the permanent heritage of doctrine and holiness of that same Church.

The followers of Christ are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection--divided, but still possessing a certain unity — of Churches and ecclesial Communities. Nor are they free to hold that Christ's Church does not really exist anywhere today and that it is to be considered only as an end which all Churches and ecclesial Communities must strive to reach.3

These conclusions of Mysterium Ecclesiae were not new. In an article published after the Council and before the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Karl Rahner had anticipated much of the thought and even the verbal expression of the Congregation's statement. He wrote:

The Catholic Church cannot think of herself as one among many historical manifestations in which the same God-man Jesus Christ is made present, which are offered by God to man for him to choose whichever he likes. On the contrary she must necessarily think of herself as the one and total presence in history of the one God-man in his truth and grace, and as such as having a fundamental relationship to all men… For this reason the Catholic Church cannot simply think of herself as one among many Christian Churches and communities on an equal footing with her…And the Church cannot accept that this unity is something which must be achieved only in the future and through a process of unification between Christian Churches, so that until this point is reached it simply would not exist.4

Unfortunately, Mysterium Ecclesiae did not have the desired effect. Appeal was made from it to the teaching of the Council itself, with the claim that Mysterium Ecclesiae was a restrictive reading of the conciliar texts, which, supposedly, differentiated between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church.

It is this claimed lack of harmony between the Conciliar documents and the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, which I wish to address directly in this paper. With the publication of the final volumes, including the Index, of the Acta Synodalia of Vatican II, the tools for such a study are now at hand. My purpose, therefore, is not to give an overall ecclesiology, nor to show the coherence between the doctrine of the last Council with previous teaching. Nor is my purpose to engage in theological polemic. (For that reason, I have not attributed the "alternate" ecclesiology sketched above to any individual theologian or theologians, although such could readily be done). Rather, I should hope to determine the clear meaning of the sections of Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio pertinent to the question at hand, using the Acta to establish, when possible, the precise intention of the wording found in the final conciliar Constitution and Decree.

The Relationes Contain The Key

Perhaps a preliminary word on the Acta Synodalia is pertinent. They comprise twenty-five volumes, containing all the Council's documents in their various stages of development, as well as the written and oral expressions of all the participants of the Council in respect to all of the Council's work. Each of the final documents of the Council went through various drafts. These drafts or schemata were written by special commissions appointed for the purpose. When a commission had completed its work, the draft or schema was then presented to the Council fathers by one of the bishops responsible for its preparation. This presentation is technically called the Relatio and its purpose was to introduce the document, and to explain to the bishops its purpose and meaning as a whole, as well as the purpose and meaning of its parts. Therefore, the various presentations or relationes are the key to the correct interpretation of a given document. Without the relatio one could be "left-in-the-dark" as to the precise intention of some of the Council's statements.

Nevertheless, the relatio alone is not sufficient. The document, once presented, had to be accepted by the bishops as the working document for discussion. This done, each section of the document in question was then discussed by the bishops with a view to final approval. Frequently, suggestions would be made to emend wording or even various parts of the working document. These suggestions, called modi, were then taken by the commission responsible for drafting the document, and either incorporated or rejected. The document was then resubmitted to the bishops as a whole, together with an official explanation concerning the incorporation or rejection of the various modi. It is these explanations, together with the original or subsequent relationes, which must be used in determining the final intention of the text. Fortunately, the final documents are normally clear enough as to their meaning and intent. Recourse to the various relationes, and responses to the modi or suggested emendations is not necessary for an adequate understanding of the text. In our case, however, since the wording of the final documents is subject to various interpretations, one must recur to the relationes and the official explanations concerning the emendations or corrections.

Disputed Phrase Is "Subsists In"

We may now look first at the Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, Lumen Gentium, and particularly at no. 8 (Chapter One) of that document, in which the disputed phrase "subsists in" is found.

The original draft or schema for the Constitution On The Church was submitted to the Council in 1962. This draft stated that the Roman Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ were identical and that only the Roman Catholic Church could be called, sola iure, Church.5 As to who belonged to this Church, the Relator Cardinal Franic admitted that membership in an improper or analogous sense was a freely disputed question.6

This draft was not acceptable to the bishops as a working document. It was considered too restrictive, too scholastic and lacking an ecumenical spirit. Nevertheless, even Bishop Christopher Butler, who spoke against the draft, could ask rhetorically: "Who of those (who wish this draft rejected) would deny that the Church in communion with the vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter, is that Church which Christ founded?"7

A second schema or draft was submitted to the bishops in 1963. This draft was accepted for discussion as the working document, and, after emendations, became the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium. Number seven (Chapter One) of this working document read:

This Holy Synod teaches and solemnly professes that there is only one Church of Jesus Christ … which the Savior after His Resurrection handed over to Peter and the Apostles and to their successors… Therefore this Church … is the Catholic Church, governed by the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him.8

Notice that the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church are identified: "Therefore this Church … is the Catholic Church." Along with much else in the working draft, this sentence was to be changed in the emended draft. That draft was presented to the bishops at the 80th General Assembly of the Council on September 15, 1964. This emended draft was accompanied by a written relatio for each section or number of the document. What had been section or number seven in the working document had here become section or number eight, where it still remains in the final Constitution Lumen Gentium. It read (and reads, since it was not further emended):

This is the only (unica) Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and which Our Savior after His Resurrection handed over to Peter to be shepherded… This Church, established and ordained as a society in this world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, although outside her bodily structure there are found many elements of sanctification and truth which, as gifts proper to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.9

Notice that, along with minor changes not pertinent to our theme, the "subsists in" has been substituted for "is." What, then, is the significance of this substitution and how is one to understand the entire number or section eight? The written relatio or explanation on the section reads as follows as found in the Acta.

From the great number of observations and objections, which were brought forth by the bishops in respect to this paragraph (as it appeared in the working draft), it is evident that the intention and context of this section were not clear to all.

Now, the intention is to show that the Church, whose deep and hidden nature is described and which is perpetually united with Christ and His work, is concretely found here on earth in the Catholic Church. This visible Church reveals a mystery—not without shadows until it is brought to full light, just as the Lord Himself through His "emptying out" came to glory. Thus there is to be avoided the impression that the description which the Council sets forth of the Church is merely idealistic and unreal.

Therefore, a clearer subdivision is set forth, in which the following points are successively treated:

a) The mystery of the Church is present in and manifested in a concrete society. The visible assembly and the spiritual element are not two realities, but one complex reality, embracing the divine and human, the means of salvation and the fruit of salvation. This is illustrated by an analogy with the Word Incarnate.

b) The Church is one only (unica), and here on earth is present in the Catholic Church, although outside of her there are found ecclesial elements.10

I do not think the statement could be clearer. Number eight of Lumen Gentium, according to the official explanation, intends to teach that there is only one Church of Christ and that this Church is found concretely in the Catholic Church. Every Platonic-type of thinking is excluded. The concrete society and its spiritual element are not two realities, but rather one complex reality, the spiritual reality being both revealed and hidden by the concrete society, just as the humanity of Christ both revealed and hid the divinity of the Word.

The oral Relatio on the whole of chapter one of Lumen Gentium makes the same points succinctly:

The mystery of the Church is not an idealistic or unreal creation, but rather exists in the concrete Catholic society itself, under the leadership of the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. There are not two churches, but only one. ...11

In the face of such unequivocal declarations concerning the Church of Christ-Catholic Church, what is to be said of the substitution of "subsists in" for "is"? The written relatio gives the official explanation.

Certain words have been changed: in place of "is", "subsists in" is used so that the expression may be in better harmony with the affirmation about ecclesial elements which are present elsewhere.12

The reason for the change from "is" to "subsists in" is, therefore, technical precision. The Council did not wish to appear to deny in one sentence what it would affirm in the next, namely, that ecclesial elements of sanctification and truth are present outside the visible society of the Catholic Church. We must now examine the nature of this technical precision more closely. The phrase "subsists in" or "subsisting" is not peculiar to our text in Lumen Gentium, no. 8. It occurs five other times in the final documents of Vatican II, and it is informative to see how the popular Abbott translation of the Conciliar texts translates these other appearances of the term or its variants.13

1. In the Decree on Ecumenism, no. 4, we find the sentence:

This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose. . . . 14 (The Latin reads: "in Ecclesia catholica subsistere credimus.")

2. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, no. 1, reads:

First, this sacred Synod professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ… We believe that this one true religion subsists in the catholic and apostolic Church.15

3. The Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, no. 13, reads:

Upon the Moslems, too, the Church looks with esteem. They adore one God, living and enduring (Lat. "viventem et subsistentem").16

4. Gaudium et Spes, no. 10, reads:

What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress?" (Lat. "Quinam est sensus doloris, mali, mortis quae … subsistere pergunt?")17

The fifth instance I shall leave for consideration below. Looking at the above usages, it can be seen that the word "subsistere" is variously translated as "to dwell in," "to exist," "to endure," as well as the literal "to subsist in." Depending on which translation one chooses, one gets a slightly different understanding of Lumen Gentium, no. 8. It would read:

This Church (of Christ) … dwells in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter.

This Church (of Christ) … exists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter.

This Church (of Christ) … endures in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter.

This Church (of Christ) … subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter.

The Rejections Are Significant

The question is: which of the translations best preserves the stated intention of L.G., no. 8 which is to assert that the Church of Christ is "concretely found here on earth in the Catholic Church"? The importance of the question is highlighted when one realizes that the Council, in its Decree on the Catholic Oriental Churches (promulgated on the same day as Lumen Gentium), did not say that the Mystical Body of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, but rather that the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. We read in Orientalium Ecclesiarum, no. 2: "The holy and Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ…"18

An accurate answer to the question about the meaning and translation of "subsists in" can only be given if one examines the Council's teaching concerning the relationship between the Catholic Church and the "ecclesial elements" present outside her visible boundaries, for, by official explanation, it is because of these ecclesial elements that the "subsists in" was introduced into the text. We must, therefore, look briefly at the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, and particularly at number 3 of that document. That number reads in part:

In this one and only Church of God certain schisms arose even from the very beginning-…; in later ages wider dissentions were born, and large Communities were separated from full communion with the Catholic Church, and sometimes not without the fault of men on both sides. Those who are now born into these Communities and are imbued with the faith of Christ are not to be convicted of the sin of separation, and the Catholic Church embraces them with fraternal reverence and love. For those who believe in Christ and are properly baptized are established in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church…

Furthermore, of the elements or goods, which taken together build up and vivify the Church herself, certain and even many outstanding ones are able to exist (the Latin is exstare possunt, not existere possunt) outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church; …; all these, which come from Christ and lead to Him, belong by right to the only Church of Christ (Lat. "haec omnia, quae a Christo proveniunt et ad Ipsum conducant, ad unicam Christi Ecclesiam iure pertinent.)

It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, although we believe they suffer from the cited defects, have not at all been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. The Spirit of Christ has not refused to use them as means of salvation, the efficacy of which is derived from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church (Lat. "quorum virtus derivatur ab ipsa plenitudine gratiae et veritatis quae Ecclesiae catholicae concredita est").19

Before the final votes, this entire section had been the subject of much discussion, and many suggested changes. Most of the suggestions were rejected by the commission responsible for drafting the document, but the reasons given for the rejections are significant for understanding the text itself.

It was suggested, for example, that to the sentence "all these (elements and gifts) … belong by right to the only Church of Christ" there be added the phrase "and through her are derived to all those who err in good faith." This was rejected on the grounds that these gifts are derived from Christ himself and that "the validity and efficacy of the many sacraments and other means of salvation are not able to be impeded by the Church since they depend not on the will and jurisdiction of the Church but on the salvific will of Christ."20

The Understanding Is Confirmed

Such a response would seem to indicate that the separated Churches and Communities function as means of salvation by or of themselves, directly dependent on Christ. That such is not the meaning, however, is immediately clarified by two subsequent responses. It is said that

Without doubt God uses the separated Communities, not indeed as separated, but as informed by the aforesaid ecclesial elements…21

and that

The necessity of communion with the Catholic Church to obtain the grace of Christ and salvation is sufficiently indicated in the whole context (of the document).22

From these responses, found in the Acta, it can be deduced that the ecclesial elements and the means of sanctification, which are present in the separated Churches and Communities are present there to the extent of their union with the Catholic Church. This truth is, in fact, affirmed by both Lumen Gentium and by Unitatis Redintegratio. Lumen Gentium, no. 8 says that these elements are "gifts proper to the Church of Christ and impel toward Catholic unity." Even more clearly, the Decree on Ecumenism, no 3. states that the efficacy of these elements and means of sanctification "is derived from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church." The insertion of "Catholic" is the clarifying point, avoiding efforts to invent the false distinction between "Church of Christ" and "Catholic Church." The present tense of the verbs in both sentences is also important. The Council is not speaking about "vestigia Ecclesiae," "traces of the Church" which the separated Churches and Communities retain and now hold as their own because they once were in full communion with the Catholic Church. Rather, the elements are operative here and now because they belong by right to the Church and presently derive their efficacy from the plenitude of grace entrusted to the Catholic Church. In other words, the ecclesial elements are elements of the Catholic Church presently operative in the separated Churches and Communities because of their real, although imperfect, unity with the Catholic Church.

This understanding of the nature of the ecclesial elements and their relation to the Catholic Church is confirmed in the Decree on Ecumenism in that fifth use of the word "subsists in" which we postponed mentioning above. In no. 13 of the Decree, we read:

(At the time of the Reformation), many national or confessional Communions were separated from the Roman See. Among these, in which Catholic traditions and structures continue to subsist in part (Lat. "in quibus traditiones et structurae catholicae ex parte subsistere pergunt") is the Anglican Communion.

Thus, not only does the Church of Christ subsist in the Catholic Church, but elements of the Catholic Church subsist in the separated Churches and Communities. To that extent, and for that very reason, they function as means of salvation, drawing their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth in the Catholic Church. For this reason it would seem to be true to say that, if it were possible that the Catholic Church disappear, the Catholic elements in the separated Churches and Communities would be deprived of their efficacy, having lost the source from which they draw here and now. It is also for that reason, I think, that Bishop Charue, giving the relatio for no. 14 of Lumen Gentium, could say that the Roman Catholic Church is necessary for salvation. 23

These Conclusions Follow

It is true, indeed, that the ecclesial elements in the separated Churches and Communities do not function because of a permissive act of jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. But this, as a general rule, is true within the visible bounds of the Church herself. Even a suspended archbishop can serve as an efficacious instrument of the Lord, but does so--like the separated Churches and Communities—not inasmuch as separation exists, but only because of the incomplete communion preserved with the Catholic Church.

Any student of St. Augustine's works will recognize that the teaching of Vatican Council II on the ecclesial elements present outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church, as I have just attempted to outline it, is similar to Augustine's position on the matter taken during his controversy with the Donatists. He wrote in his tract On Baptism:

… there is one church which alone is called Catholic; and whenever it has anything of its own in these communions of different bodies which are separate from itself, it is most certainly in virtue of this which is its own in each of them that she, not they, has the power of generation.24

If I may now summarize the conclusions of this study and draw it to a close:

1. The official relatio on no. 8 of Lumen Gentium states that the intention of the paragraph was to show that the Church of Christ is concretely found here on earth in the Catholic Church.

A response of the Commission to a suggested change in no. 3 of the Decree On Ecumenism states that the Decree "clearly affirms that only the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ."25

The bishops voted on the final drafts of Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio in the context of these and many other like explanations. And the final documents, apart from an arbitrary reading or one done out of context, testify to a clear affirmation that the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church are not two realities, but one only.

2. It is affirmed that the Lord himself is the founder of this one Church.

3. The statement of Mysterium Ecclesiae that "Catholics are bound to profess that by the gift of God's mercy they belong to that Church which Christ founded …" is a fully accurate and concise restatement of the intention and teaching of the Church in Council at Vatican II.

4. Elements of this one Church are present outside her visible boundaries and are operative as means of salvation within the separated Churches and Communities. These elements belong to the Church by right, draw their efficacy from the Catholic Church, and are forces, which impel to full communion with the Church.

5. The presence of these Catholic elements outside the visible bounds has occasioned a new terminology—not a new fact since the fact was seen already by Augustine. This terminology speaks of the Church of Christ as subsisting in the Catholic Church and of elements of this Catholic Church subsisting in the separated Christian Churches and Communities.

6. The separated Churches and Communities, despite the presence of Catholic elements, are structurally deficient. This structural deficiency admits of greater and lesser degrees, depending on the nature and extent of their imperfect communion with the Catholic Church. The extent of that imperfect communion also determines their ability to be greater or lesser partial realizations of the one Catholic Church.26

7. The presence of Catholic elements outside the visible boundaries of the Church cannot be understood in such a way as to imply a diminishment of these elements within the Church herself.

When a man is ordained a bishop, the element of apostolicity is not increased in the Church. Rather, there is extended to him a participation in what the Church herself fully possesses. Likewise, when he dies, the Church on earth is not diminished in respect to apostolicity.

So with the Catholic elements in the separated Churches and Communities. These elements are not like pieces of pie, which have been carried away to exist elsewhere. The Catholic Church of Christ remains fully one even when the separated Churches share imperfectly in that unity. The diminishment occurs in what has been separated — and to the extent to which it is separated. To imagine otherwise would be to understand the ecclesial elements as material not spiritual realities. The number of those united to the Church may increase or decrease; the unity of the Church herself does not increase or decrease. And so with the other ecclesial elements.

Much More Could Be Said

An analogy with the mystery of the Eucharist is appropriate. The number of consecrated Hosts in a ciborium has nothing to do with the fullness of the Lord's Presence. He is as fully present in one as he is in a hundred. So with the Church. Her unity does not grow; it is extended for others to share in.

There is much more that could and should be said. I am aware that there are many "loose ends." Something should be said about what makes some of the separated Communities Churches and others not. Something should be said about how the ecclesial elements present in the separated Churches and Communities manifest themselves in a richness of form and spirituality, which would serve to enrich the Catholic Church herself. Much should be said on the whole notion of the Church as communion. Much more should be said about Our Lady as Mother of Unity. Enough could never be said on the role of the Eucharist. But, for now, the purpose of this article has, I hope, been achieved. According to the teachings of Vatican Council II, the Church of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same complex reality.


1 Lumen Gentium, #8.

2 Unitatis Redintegratio, #3.

3 Mysterium Ecclesiae, #l. Trans., The Pope Speaks, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 146-147.

4 K. Rahner, "Church, Churches and Religions," Theological Investigations X, Herder and Herder, New York, 1973, pp. 40-41.

5 Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, Typis Polyglotis Vaticanis, Rome, vol. I, pt. 4, p. 15.

6 Idem., p. 122.

7 Idem., p. 389.

8 Idem., vol. 2, pt.1, pp. 219-220. "Docet autem Sacra Synodus et sollemniter profitetur non esse nisi unicam Jesu Christi Ecclesiam … Salvator post resurrectionem suam Petro et Apostolis eorumque successoribus tradiit… Haec igitur Ecclesia …est Ecclesia Catholica, a Romano Pontifice et Episcopis in eius communione directa…

9 Idem., vol. 3, pt. 1, pp. 167-168. "Haec est unica Christi Ecclesia, quam in Symbolo unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam profitemur, quam Salvator noster, post resurrectionem suam Petro pascendam tradidit, eique ac ceteris Apostolis diffundendam et regendam commisit, .... Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt."

10 Idem., p. 176. "Ex magno numero observationum et obiectionum, quae de hac paragrapho a Patribus prolatae sunt, patet intentionem et contextum huius articuli non omnibus fuisse perspicua.

Intentio autem est ostendere, Ecclesiam, cuius descripta est intima et arcana natura, qua cum Christo Eiusque opere in perpetuum unitur, his in terris concrete inveniri in Ecclesia catholica. Haec autem Ecclesia empirica mysterium revelat, sed non sine umbris, donec ad plenum lumen adducatur, sicut etiam Christus Dominus per exinanitionem ad gloriam pervenit. Ita praecavetur impressio ac si descriptio, quam Concilium de Ecclesia proponit, esset mere idealistica et irrealis.

Ideo magis dilucida subdivisio proponitur, in qua successive agitur de sequentibus:

a) Mysterium Ecclesiae adest et manifestatur in concreta societate. Coetus autem visibilis et elementum spirituale non sunt duae res, sed una realitas complexa, complectens divina et humana, media salutis et fructus salutis. Quod per analogiam cum Verbo incarnato illustratur.

b) Ecclesia est unica, et his in terris adest in Ecclesia catholica, licet extra eam inveniantur elementa ecclesialia."

11 Idem., p. 180. "Mysterium Ecclesiae tamen non est figmentum idealisticum aut irreale, sed existit in ipsa societate concreta catholica, sub ductu successoris Petri et Episcoporum in eius communione. Non duae sunt ecclesiae, sed una tantum...."

12 Idem., p. 177. "Quaedam verba mutantur: loco 'est' dicitur 'subsistit in' ut expressio melius concordet cum affirmatione de elementis ecclesialibus quae alibi adsunt."

13 Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., America Press, New York.

14 Idem., p. 348.

15 Idem., p. 676-677.

16 Idem., p. 663.

17 Idem., p. 208.

18 "Sancta et catholica Ecclesia, quae est Corpus Christi Mysticum…"

19 The underlined words in the text have a history of their own. They were neither present in the penultimate draft of the text, nor in the accepted emendations, which the bishops voted upon chapter by chapter. On the 19th of November 1964, the Secretary Genera] of the Council, Pericles Felici, announced that, on the following day, the vote on the final text as a whole would take place. In preparation for that vote, a printed version of the final text was circulated. It included 19 emendations "inserted by the Secretariat for Christian Unity, which in this way accepted suggestions of good-will which had been authoritatively expressed" (Ada, vol. 3, pt. 8, p. 422). Felici then listed the emendations. These corrections, in fact, had been proposed by Pope Paul VI and accepted by the Secretariat for Christian Unity, which was responsible for drafting the Decree on Ecumenism. They were approved by the bishops in the final vote, held on Nov. 20 (cf. Idem., p. 553 and 636-637.)

Felici referred to these last minute additions as "clarifications" and such in fact they were. They clarify in the final text itself what might not otherwise have been clear, apart from a close reading of the Acta.

20 Ada, vol. 3, pt, 7, p. 33. "…bona enumerata ab ipso Christo in fratres separatos derivantur; … validitas et efficacia plurium sacramentorum et aliorum mediorum salutis ab Ecclesia impediri nequeunt, cum non a voluntate et iurisdictione Ecclesiae, sed a voluntate salvifica Christi pendeant."

21 Idem., p. 35. "Deus procul dubio utitur ipsis Communitatibus seiunctis, non quidem qua seiunctis, sed qua informatis praedictis elementis ecclesialibus, ad conferendam credentibus gratiam salutarem."

22 Idem., p. 35. "Necessitas communionis cum Ecclesia catholica ad gratiam Christi et salutem obtinendam sufficienter indicatur in toto contextu."

23 Acta, vol. 3, pt. I, p. 202. He later stated that the relatio retained its value and repeated the cited remark (Idem, p. 467).

24 St. Augustine, "On Baptism," An Augustine Reader, ed. by John J. O'Meara, Doubleday, Image, Garden City, N.Y., 1973, p. 220. The theme is frequent in Augustine. On the fact that the "ecclesial elements" belong by right to the Catholic Church, cf. In Johannem, VI, 15-16.

25 Acta, vol. 3, pt. 7, p. 12. "Postea clare affirmatur solam Ecclesiam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi."

26 It is in this sense that the following statement must be understood. "In his coetibus unica Christi Ecclesia, quasi tamquam in Ecclesiis particularibus, quamvis imperfecte, praesens et mediantibus elementis ecclesiasticis aliquo modo actuosa est" (Acta, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 335).

Reverend James T. O'Connor is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A member of the faculty of St. Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers, New York since 1972, he is currently chairman of the dogma department. This is his first article in HPR.

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