This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
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.
This sentence and the correct meaning of "subsists in" affects the definition of the Church with important implications for how the Catholic Church views itself, its relations with other Christian communities and other religions. Questions have been raised, if Lumen gentium reworded the longstanding phrase, which stated that the Church of Christ is (Latin est) the Catholic Church. Lumen gentium does recognize that other Christian ecclesial communities have elements of sanctification and of truth.
According to some, to say the Church of Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church introduces a distinction between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church. Catholic teaching had traditionally, until then, stated unequivocally that "the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing", as Pope Pius XII expressed it in his 1950 encyclical Humani generis, 27). The teaching of Pope Pius XII on the identity of the Mystical Body and the Catholic Church in Mystici corporis was solemn, theologically integrated, but not new.
A supposed reversal of Mystici corporis by the Ecumenical Council, which incorporated virtually all teachings of Pius XII in over 250 references without caveats, would have not only been a rejection of a major teaching of the late Pontiff. It would have raised serious questions regarding the reliability and nature of Papal teachings on such essential topics like the Church. It would have also constituted a major attack on the most recent encyclical teachings of the then reigning Pope Paul VI, who had just issued his inaugural encyclical Ecclesiam suam, on "The Church". Paul VI quoted Mystici corporis from Pius XII verbatim:
Pope Paul VI continues: We wish to take up this invitation and to repeat it in this encyclical, for We consider it timely and urgent and relevant to the needs of the Church in our day.
If such a reversal really occurred, of a highlighted teaching of a reigning Pope "revealed originally from the lips of the Redeemer Himself", it would have surely been noted inside and outside the Church at the time.
Therefore, the Church states that the phrase "subsists in" of Vatican II does not undermine the preceding manner of expressing the identity of the "Church of Christ" and the "Catholic Church", since, as John XXIII said when he opened Vatican II, "The Council... wishes to transmit Catholic doctrine, whole and entire, without alteration or deviation" (speech of 11 October 1962).
Pope Paul VI when promulgating the Constitution, said the same. The Council teaches that Christ "established… here on earth" a single Church "as an entity with visible delineation… constituted and organized in the world as a society", a Church that has "a social structure" that "serves the spirit of Christ" in a way somewhat similar to how "the assumed nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation". It is this concrete visible organized Church, endowed with a social structure, that the Council says "subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him."
In another document promulgated on the same day (21 November 1964) as Lumen gentium, the Council did in fact refer to "the Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ" (Decree Orientalium ecclesiarum, 2). Here the traditional conventional expression "is" is used, whose clarity can be used to interpret the potential ambiguity of the other phrase.
It is also to the Catholic Church, not to some supposed distinct "Church of Christ", that has been entrusted "the fullness of grace and of truth" that gives value to the other Churches and communities that the Holy Spirit uses as instruments of salvation, though the Church of Christ is not said to subsist in any of them.
In fact, the Council combined the two terms "Church of Christ" and "Catholic Church" into a single term, "Christ's Catholic Church" in its Decree on Ecumenism, promulgated at the same time as its Constitution on the Church.
Sebastian Tromp, a Dutch Jesuit, a Scholastic theologian and close to Pope Pius XII, is considered to have been the main though unacknowledged author of Mystici corporis. As advisor to Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani during Vatican II, Tromp was also, according to existing tape recordings and diaries, the father of "subsistit", which to his understanding of Latin did not mean anything new but indicated completeness.
The Council used the traditional term "Church" to refer to the Eastern Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church. "These Churches," it said, "although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy."
However, "the followers of Christ are not permitted to imagine that Christ's Church 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 nowhere really exists today and that it is to be considered only as an end which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach."
Traditional Catholic groups consider Lumen gentium one of several demarcations of when the post-conciliar Church fell into heresy, pointing to the use of "subsistit in" rather than "est" as an abdication of the Church's historic (and to them compulsory) identification of itself alone as God's church.
In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, then-Cardinal Ratzinger (later elected Pope Benedict XVI) responded to this criticism as follows:
It is also equally possible to read “subsists in” grammatically and semantically to mean that the Church continues to exist within the Catholic Church but that it is narrower than the Catholic Church, parts of which may no longer hold to its faith.
On June 29, 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the presidency of Cardinal William Levada, signed an official document called "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church". It was published July 10, 2007.
Benedict XVI, at an audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.
This document answers heterodoxical interpretations of subsistit in by interpreting the phrase. Five questions were posed and answered on the subject:
The full text of the section that contains this phrase is, in English translation, as follows:
8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, "though He was by nature God . . . emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave", and "being rich, became poor" for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart", "to seek and to save what was lost". Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes." By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.
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of the faithful