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A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


On the Second Vatican Council V (Lumen Gentium II)

Salvation is both individual and communal; on the one hand, the Holy Trinity dwells within me; the Holy Spirit dwells within me; Christ our God died for me; on the other hand, precisely as saved we are made into a new people, a unified people. As an image of this reality, the Holy Trinity chose the People of Israel; with them God made a Covenant, for them He gave the Law, all for the sake of preparing man for the Holy Incarnation of the Anointed One; in preparation for the New Covenant, the final covenant, which will last until the Lord returns in power. As the Old Covenant created a people, so the New Covenant creates a New People. 

The Head of this new people is Christ - He is its Founder, but unlike Lycourgos and Solon, He transcends mere political foundings - these are but images, albeit natural images, for our longing to be the People of God. Next to Him these founders are almost irrelevant. As our heritage He gives us the freedom and dignity of the Sons of God. Our commands, our Law, is the Gospel. Christ is the New Moses, the form of all political foundings.

Lumen Gentium calls this new people a 'messianic people' - the People of the Anointed One. It does not include all men (yet), and often looks like a small, insignificant, contemptible flock of filthy sheep, but it is truly the unity, hope, and salvation for the whole human race. It is His instrument for the salvation of all; it is the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. Like ancient Israel, it is called a Church or Assembly (cf II Esd. 13.1, Num. 20.4, Dt. 23.1), and as Israel wandered in exile, the Church has here on earth no lasting city, and longs for Her Promised Land, which will be revealed only after the Apocalypse.

This second chapter concerns the entire People of God, from the highest of the Patriarchs to the lowliest of the peasants. All the baptized (a precise, ritual definition, one which instantly and intimately recalls the Mysteries of Christ our God, and the Church as Mystery) are a spiritual temple and a holy priesthood, a priesthood in which all offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the redeeming power of our God. 

Such a definition introduces us to the distinction between the hierarchical and baptismal priesthood. Both are intimately interrelated and yet essentially different. Each is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ, Who is the Form of both, since both are ways of Caritas - self-giving, self-emptying love. For now, the Council will address what they have in common; it will examine both separately later.

The holy nature and living structure of the priestly people is awakened into growth through the Seven Holy Mysteries and exercise of the virtues, both human and divine. One becomes fully a priest in this way by means of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Penance, Matrimony, and Holy Orders are also mentioned (the last only just), emphasizing that all are called to perfect holiness, as God our Father is holy. 

The People of God participate not only in the Priestly Office of Christ, but in His Prophetic Office as well. We share in His prophetic mission very simply: by spreading a living witness of faith, hope, and love. Again, it is shown by our sensus fidelium, our instinct for the faith, an instinct common to both the hierarchy and the laity, an instinct nourished by the Spirit of Truth and the Word of God. The charismatic gifts, signs of the Spirit's presence, are also expressions of the prophetic office.

Finally, the People of God are related to Christ as King. All men are called to become a part of the New People of God. Man was created in unity; after the Fall, he scattered into families, tribes, and nations, devolving again and again into fratricidal war; but it was God's will that we be brought again to unity through Christ Jesus the Lord, Who is the Source of our coming-together and the Cause of our faith. 

Clearly then (cf. LG 8), there is only one People of God; and this People is of course the Catholic Church, the One People taken from every tribe and nation; from all of these we who were many are now made one, citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. Thus it is that the Church, as Kingdom of Christ, ennobles, purifies, and strengthens the good elements of each culture She encounters (though other foul customs She abolishes). Such a tradition contributes to Her unity, but Her unity is not a sterile, mechanical uniformity, but harmony; man complements woman; layman complements the priest; the priest complements the monk. What results is not discord, but (provided that each does his work according to and for the sake of love) a richer, fuller harmony: unity in faith, unity in hope, unity in love. For this reason we can all profess the same faith, be in communion with the same Church, and yet live in different local Churches and accomplish different task; serving the poor does not take away from defending the unborn; devotion to the Most Holy Liturgy does negate our zeal for the oppressed, for we are one.

After examining the People of God qua priest, prophet, and King, the Council turns to the question of communion with the Church, and who has it. Similar questions are raised in Nostra Aetate and Unitatis Redintegratio. The Council answers this question in terms of descending order; those who experience the most or fullness of communion with those who experience it the least. Are there persons who experience absolutely no communion with Her? We shall see.

This examination begins with a traditional affirmation: the Church is necessary for salvation (extra Ecclesiam nullus salus est); outside the Church there is no salvation, or phrased positively, all salvation is inside/through the Church. In our egalitarian, equality-obsessed age, little arouses more wrath and accusations of intolerance - and perhaps rightly so, for does that not seem to imply that external membership in the Church suffices for salvation, and lacking this necessarily leads to damnation? It does not. Blessed Augustine, our father among the Saints, would lament concerning the Church, "How many sheep without! And how many wolves within!" This same Saint taught us both hope and the trembling of fear when he said, "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved; but do not presume, for one of the thieves was damned." In our ancient Tradition (of which holy Augustine is but one example), external membership does not suffice for salvation. The Council emphasizes the same, teaching that we must persevere and be alive in love; our heart and our work must be right; take hold of this, and not let go of the other. 

The Council turns to something very weird immediately after the repeated traditional teaching: "whoever then, knowing the Church was made necessary for salvation by Christ Jesus, would refuse to enter or remain in Her, could not be saved." What on earth can this mean? How could someone believe that the Church was necessary for salvation and not enter and or remain in Her? It seems as if the number of men to which this text is zero; it seems to describe a psychological impossibility, for it is hard to imagine anyone abandoning the Church for any other Christian denomination while believing they would be damned for doing so. All the more so for total apostasy (for in that case, one would a) cease to believe in damnation at all; or b) believe salvation could be found within another religion)! One would become Orthodox, for example, because one believed the Orthodox Church, not the Catholic Church, enfleshed the truth; in this case, one asserts that the Catholic Church's teachings are wrong. I have no answer to this objection, and I cannot say why Lumen Gentium includes such a phrase. 

Lumen Gentium continues with an answer to the question of who experiences full communion, and that is (unsurprisingly) exclusively Catholic Christians, believing and practicing all that She believes and teaches; who are moreover persevering in love. 

Next, the Council acknowledges the links between the Church and those Christians not preserving the entirety of the Faith and not in communion with the Successor of Peter. Protestants (at least those who acknowledge Baptism) seem to be alluded to first, then the Eastern Orthodox. To foster reunion, the Council urges the perpetual path of penance taught in §8, "that the signs of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church." 

Finally, the relation between non-Christians and the Church is discussed. First mentioned are the Jews, who because of Abraham their father, are treasured in the eyes of God; though what this means has since the Council been thought, "The Law of Moses suffices (at least for the Jews) unto salvation, which is blasphemy. It would also mean there is no mission to the Jews, which is plainly contrary to Scripture (Galatians, Roman, Ephesians, and Hebrews, which treat also of the insufficiency of the Old Law qua salvation) and the lived witness of Holy Tradition. This view is an abomination. 

Second are mentioned the Muslims, "Professing to hold the faith of Abraham" - which does not mean they actually do. Does it mean they worship the one true God? The text "along with us" certainly seems to imply that, but if God is beyond good and evil - i.e. His holy will determines good and evil - then Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, even though their understandings of natural theology would be very close, even identical in some ways. Both religions being monotheistic does not require both to revere the same Holy One. If the view is different enough, one is justified in saying this (cf. II Cor. 11.4). This probably requires its own space, so no more attention will be given here, save: the Church in this Council is concerned with reconciliation (rightly so) and peace between all (a laudable goal); thus in characterizing those outside Her bounds, She prefers to describe them in the most positive terms possible. But these pastoral statements must be read in light of and in continuity of what came before, so looking to what other statements on Islam have been in the past might be helpful.

Third, even polytheists/pagans/idolaters are called to faith, as are those who believe nothing divine revelation; the Council mentions the invincibly ignorant, which applies, in various degrees, to all non-Catholics. Their salvation is not intrinsically impossible, even if they die outside the visible boundaries of Holy Mother Church. All have some form of communion with the Church, then, if only being part of the call to love and know Her as Mother and Christ as Lord – She is cut off from absolutely none.

Lest this result in the apathy of the missionary spirit (which it seems to have done since the '60s), the Church gives us a reality check: Even though salvation is possible by ways outside the visible Church, ways known to God alone, "Very often," men are deceived by the Liar, persuaded to worship a creature rather than the Creator; or being overwhelmed by the misery in the world and dying in despair. Presuming on the first half of §16 is a colossal error, the Council seems to be saying. It is possible for a man to cross a desert lacking food and water, but presuming on that possibility is stupid when planning a journey. 

Contra that foolish view, Christ is the sure Source of salvation, Who rescues us from our "slavery to error" (cf. those mentioned in the first half of §16). Hence the Church is the herald of the Good News, and She purifies the good encountered in the various peoples She meets when She proclaims the Risen Christ to them - to the bewildered confusion of the Foul Serpent and the glory of the Holy One. Therefore, the Church both prays and labors that the whole world become joined to the One People of God (cf. §§8, 13), our Holy Mother the Catholic Church.


On the Second Vatican Council IV (Lumen Gentium I)

Lumen Gentium has eight chapters (these titles are my own, because Vaticanspeak is sometimes less than clear, but they are all at least derived from the official chapter headings):

  • Introduction to the Church (sections 1-8)
  • The People of God, considering all the faithful in common (ss. 9-17)
  • The Hierarchy, with an emphasis on the Episcopate (ss. 18-29)
  • The Laity (ss. 30-38)
  • The Call to Holiness (ss. 39-42)
  • The Religious (ss. 43-47)
  • The Church and the Apocalypse (ss. 48-52)
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Glorious, the All-Holy One (ss. 53-69)
Chapter I begins by naming the Church a Mystery, deliberately choosing language evoking the Divine Mysteries, of which there are seven (in Latin, sacramentum); intended also is the analogous understanding of the Church as sacrament - if only qua being sign and instrument - as stated later on. 

The motive behind Lumen Gentium is totally missionary: to draw all men (no qualification is given here) to full union in Christ, a task the Council calls "urgent," possibly because, as hinted further on, a false unity might be sought within technological and cultural bonds alone. In 1964, Christianity was already collapsing in Western Europe, a collapse almost total today; for modern man, God is indeed dead. The technological and cultural bonds, then, would seem to be post-Christian bonds: "Act with consent" and "Live as you please", titillated and distracted by a pervasive technological progress, which itself fosters the growth of this soft nihilism in a way unimaginable to the Council Fathers - just think of the Internet, and how it has altered the nature and force of public opinion. There is a certain unity to be found here, it is true, but it is the unity of Babel, founded on the universal language of mathematical physics, our new common tongue. And as Genesis intimates, Babel is destructive of humanity, and thus much more so of revelation. It might not be an overly dramatic exaggeration to say that this new Babel is the competition of the Antichrist, that the Council was convened to show us the way out. 

That solution is startlingly simple: Draw men into the mystery of the Church; mystagogical initiation, mystical catechesis. The solution to the Antichrist's Babel is a retrieval of the Holy. We do not present a better version of the secular unity, we show men the Sacred, the mysterium tremendum, in thought, word, and deed. That is why we emphasize today, following the Council, the Church as Mystery (mysterium) over the earlier formulation of Perfect Society (societatem perfectum), even though the latter is true, necessary, and perfectly clear; mysterium cuts right across the worldliness' withered heath and undercuts it, indicating that the solution the Church gives to the problem of human division and/or conflict is radically different from any secular project, any secular endeavor. Her unity stems from Her mysterium, not technological progress.

She is a mystery of intimate union with God; She is the sign and the instrument of this union; She is an image of it and through Her it is accomplished. Her origin is the ad extra work of the Holy Trinity, and Her mystery is ordered and orders toward that ineffable, inexhaustible wonder of intimate communion. Through Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, we return to communion with the Blessed Trinity. It is through the Church, then, that we have the means to share in the life of the Trinity, and become partakers in the Divine Nature Itself.

The Trinity created the Church, but various aspects are ascribed to the Three Persons, probably because of fittingness and tradition. Naturally we begin with the Father, Who, when He created the heavens and the earth, forming man in the Divine Image, He beheld the incipient Church. One might say the whole heaven, all the earth, was created for the sake of the Church. Further, Christ our God inaugurates the Kingdom of God - the Church - when He walked amongst us. He is Her Origin, Her Head, Her Guide, and Her End. Finally, the Holy Ghost dwells within the Church (and within the souls of each individual member of the Church) as in a temple; He is the witness that we are adopted sons; as adopted sons, we are granted an adoptive yet transformative share in divinity - yet another image of our participation in the Divine Nature. Thus the Holy Ghost is the soul of the Church. 

Thus by naming the Church Mysterium, the Council intends us to understand that She is the fruit of the Blessed Trinity, a shadowy image of Its union, and the means by which we participate in Divinity Itself.

Since the Church is a mystery, She cannot be exhaustively, precisely defined. Though Her nature can be hinted at, indicated, intuited, and illustrated by analogy, it can never be perfectly grasped - much like how Otto explains the idea of the Holy. So we might say, "She is like this x and not like this y. Can you not see for yourself now what She is?" Nevertheless, Her aspects can still be articulated, at least so far as our intent is to deepen our love of the mystery, not replace it with a sterile formula. The Council names three ways Her mystery is shown: the fulfillment of the divine oracles, the preaching of Christ our God, and in the Divine Person of Christ Himself. The last way seems most of all to warrant further explanation. How does the Person of Jesus manifest the mystery of the Church?

Perhaps because as God-Man, His Nature is the form, the look of the Church; one Person, two natures. If that be the case, the mystery of the Church would at least be analogous to the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the mystery of the Incarnation. Or perhaps because the Person of Christ, especially in the Holy Triduum, is perpetuated down through the centuries by the suffering Church Militant; the Passion of Christ continues in Her suffering children. Again, perhaps it is because the power "to draw all men to Myself when I am lifted up" has been granted by God Himself to the Church. There would seem to be, then, the closest connection between "crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus" and "resurrexit tertia die;" and likewise between these things and Holy Mother Church. The hidden power of the Incarnation, the strength in apparent weakness; caritas, humility, and self-sacrifice; slow, hidden growth - such are absolutely Hers. 

Similarly, other titles describe, but do not totally comprise or define, various aspects of Holy Mother Church: Sheepfold, Flock, Field of God, Choice Vineyard, Temple of God, House of God, Dwelling-Place of the Most High, Mother. All of these are drawn from Sacred Scripture, and the Council does little more than list them. One of these, Mystical Body of Christ, it develops at length - again, primarily using the images given in Sacred Scripture. 

The Word used humanity as the instrument to accomplish salvation; His humanity was the means through which Divinity acted to redeem fallen man. Redemption involves reception of the Holy Spirit, Who unites us into one Body. The Sacred Mysteries are particularly important here, since they are powerful, efficacious images of the Triduum - the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ our God. He is our Model, meaning that especially through our trials and tribulations, we travel the path of His Passion; we perpetuate it ("fill up what is lacking") through history. We suffer with Him, and if we persevere we shall like Him be glorified.

In order to safeguard us on this Way of the Cross, the Holy Spirit, Who purifies the Church, is given to Her, and He grants Her the great charisms which declare the glory of God; not, however, as autonomous tools of the given, but as under the authority of the Apostles and their successors, that harmony be preserved and discord avoided. Again, the Holy Spirit is given that the Church may always be renewed, and always be a dynamic, powerful force, not a stagnant, ossified structure. Thus again (and yet again!) the Holy Spirit is the soul of Holy Mother Church, the source of our spiritual life, and how we participate in Divinity Itself.

The end of the chapter explains the relationship between the Mystical Body of Christ and the visible Church on earth. It is through the Church that Christ our God communicates His grace and love. This topic is explosive - in speaking of this, one is necessarily walking in a minefield. The Council thus takes care to avoid several errors - the "hierarchical society" (note the precise, unmysterious language here!) and the Mystical Body (a Mystery of the first order) are not two separate realities; rather, the apparently banal is united to the invisible, intelligible Mystery; similarly, the Church Militant is not separated from the Church Triumphant; no, there is only one Church, and She contains a divine and a human element, analogous (as Leo XIII teaches in Satis Cognitum) to the Mystery of the Incarnation. Christ our God's assumed humanity is an instrument similar to how the communal structure of the Church serves the lifegiving, salvific Spirit. Divinity saves - the Church, by the ineffable will of the Holy One, is but the means. 

The Mystical Body of Christ - also called by the general term 'Church of Christ' - is said to "subsist in" the Catholic Church. This is the link between the Church as Mystery and the Church as historical reality. But why the word 'subsistit' instead of 'est'? What does 'subsist' mean?

'Subsist' seems to be a term used in philosophy. Aquinas uses it to refer to the existence of substances; it is predicated of substances, independent things, οὐσίαι. Only substances subsist, whereas an attribute 'is'. 'Actuality' might be a decent synonym - in Greek, ἐντελέχεια. 'The Church has actuality in the Catholic Church', perhaps. Thus 'subsist' is more precise than 'est,' and moreover, as clarified by the CDF, can be predicated of the Catholic Church alone. 

On the other hand, it seems (as far as I can tell from the secondary reading I've done) as if this word was chosen to indicate that there are elements of the Church in separated Churches and churchlike communities. But if so, this is an unnecessary reason, since that very thing is explicitly stated in the next sentence. It would seem better, qua clarity at least, to use a different structure in s.8: a) this Church of Christ is the Catholic Church; b) moreover, this identification is that between a substance and its existence; it exists in Her in the way of substances, not in the way of attributes or accidentals - hence the word 'subsist'. c) This being so, it is still the case that elements of salvation and sanctification may be found outside Her visible structure. 

It is not as if the identification of the Mystical Body of Christ and the Catholic Church is lacking in Lumen Gentium, but one needs to read all the sections (1-8) in light of each other - when read closely, the beginning as illuminated by the end, the proper interpretation is not difficult. But it presupposes proper instruction in the earlier pronouncements, which tended more towards the dogmatic than to the pastoral. One must already be steeped in Tradition to profit from Lumen Gentium (and I shall guess that this will be evident in the other documents as well); lacking this, one is apt to err, the more so as one is influenced by the spirit of the world instead of Holy Tradition. Therefore the Council documents of themselves might not be sufficient for instruction - they require supplement from the definitions provided by Tradition.

It should be remembered, though, that this is probably true of most pastoral writing, not merely the Council documents. In defining dogma and writing theological instruction, the hierarchy of truths is seen as a whole, a pulsating harmony; in pastoral writing, however, one or another aspect is emphasized as the situation dictates. A one way street emerges - only from precisely defined dogma can one embark on the pastoral task; not the other way around. Saying that pastoral writings are inherently misleading is quite wide of the mark, but if read as if they were dogma, instead of correcting some deficiency or other, they will inevitably be misinterpreted.

The identification of the Catholic Church with the Mystical Body of Christ also links Her to Christ; He is Her Model and Master; therefore She imitates Him by definitively renouncing temporal glory. Instead, She must communicate the Truth Himself amidst trial, suffering, and persecution; humility and self-sacrifice must be Her identity, for these things were His identity. Only this way of life enables Her to see Christ in the poor and the oppressed, and only this will remind Her that to serve them is to serve Her Lord.

The introduction closes with the need for purification looking forward to the end of the world. While Christ knew no sin, the Church, though holy and purifying sinners through Him, stands in need of being ever renewed. Thus She must pursue a path of perpetual penance and purification, returning again and again to the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers, and the witness of the Saints. Only this way will give Her members the divine wisdom to respond to the pastoral problems, dilemmas, and questions which arise in Her particular time and place, for She will be able to answer from the perspective of divine revelation, not influenced by public opinion. This definitively establishes Her as a stranger in a strange land, an exiled vagrant, having here on earth no lasting city. She is an image of the Suffering Christ: amidst the oppression of Evil, She proclaims only one message - the Triumph of the Cross. Like Him, Holy Mother Church suffers from within and without, and often (even necessarily, perhaps?) Her most grievous wounds are inflicted by Her own children. Even then, She reveals the Mystery of the Lord faithfully; but in a shadowed, hidden way, until the Apocalypse.