Holy See Clarifies Meaning of "Subsist"
Debate Stems From Vatican II Document
VATICAN CITY, JULY 10, 2007 ( Zenit.org ).- The Second Vatican Council didn't change Catholic doctrine on the Church, but rather deepened and developed it, says the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In a document released today the congregation clarifies, in the form of five questions and answers, the understanding of what Vatican II meant by the term "subsists in" with regard to the nature of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal William Joseph Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato, prefect and secretary of the congregation, respectively, signed the brief text June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
It is titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," and was approved by Benedict XVI.
The responses affirm that the "Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change" Catholic doctrine on the Church, but rather "it developed, deepened and more fully explained it."
Quoting Pope Paul VI, the document explains that "what Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach."
It continues: "'In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.'"
The text explains the meaning of the term "subsists in," which is used to describe the nature of the Catholic Church in "Lumen Gentium," a document of Vatican II. The document states: "The Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church."
The doctrinal congregation explains in the clarification: "Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community,' that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.
"This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him."
The responses say that "it is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them."
The document further explains why the expression "subsists in" was adopted, instead of simply the word "is."
"The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church," the document affirmed.
It continues: "Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.'"
Not in communion
Turning to the issue of Eastern Churches not in full communion with Rome, the congregation explains that "the council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term Church.
"'Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all -- because of the apostolic succession -- the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds,' they merit the title of 'particular or local Churches,' and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches," it says.
Christian communities born out of the 16th-century Reformation are not given the title Church, the document explains.
It states: "According to Catholic doctrine, these communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church.
"These ecclesial communities, which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense."