Sunday, May 11, 2008

Subsists In, Imperfect Communion, and Loads of Crap

Below, I expressed the opinion that the background idea for many modern ecumenical efforts was actually a huge, steaming load of crap.

Naturally, some people have taken offense to this and emailed some objections to this idea. Most of these objections revolve around two linguistic vagaries of Vatican II.

The first is the famous bit from Lumen Gentium that "This Church (the one founded by Christ) 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."

What exactly does it mean for the Church of Christ to "subsist in" the Catholic Church? Doesn't this mean that it subsists elsewhere as well? This is the line that has been run for decades. It seems to completely contradict the comments I orginally posted from Pius XII and Leo XIII, as it does not identify the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. If "Church of Christ" does not equal "Catholic Church," then the "super-church" is the only other real option if we are not to descend into relativism or atheism (which are probably the same things, really).

First, let's look at some other items from Vatican II:

"The Catholic Church, since it was founded by Christ our Lord to bear salvation to all men and thus is obliged to preach the Gospel, considers it one of its duties to announce the Good News of salvation also with the help of the media of social communication and to instruct men in their proper use."

Inter Mirifica

"The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government and who, combining together into various groups which are held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites."

Orientalium Ecclesiarum

Oh. Well, I guess that maybe Vatican II does say that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently attempted to put a stake in the heart of contrary interpretations in this document. In a nutshell:

"Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church."

Second, I've gotten some comments on the fact that Protestants are regarded as being in "imperfect communion" with the Church due to our common baptism. See Unitatis Redintegratio. A few things here:

A. You don't know if a Protestant has a valid baptism as many groups are only baptizing in the name of Jesus rather than that of the entire Trinity. Such baptisms are invalid. We can't even be sure that some Catholics are getting validly baptized these days.

B. Nowhere in VII does it suggest that "imperfect communion" is somehow salvific.

C. There is nothing to suggest that "imperfect communion" is anything more than a nice way of saying "heretic" or "schismatic."

D. If B or C are somehow wrong, then the Church has taught error for the last 2000 years, as it would mean that heretical beliefs are inconsequential, which necessarily entails that God does not care about the Truth concerning Himself. We might as well all be heretics at this point.

Imperfect communion is sort of like being a little bit pregnant. Sound and fury but signifying nothing of substance.


eulogos said...

A little bit pregnant is pregnant. It results in a baby. Your simile tends to refute, not prove, what you are asserting.

Almost all Protestants until recently baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I think there is a group called "oneness Pentacostals" who baptize in the name of Jesus.
Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists etc, all used the proper Trinitarian formula.

This is until recently and the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier nonsense, of course.

The decree on Ecumenism is quite clear that Protestants can be in the way of salvation, that they have many means of grace, and that their ecclesial communities can be channels of grace for them.

My impression from this first visit to your blog, reading the one comment, is that while on the way into the Catholic Church you are already on your way out the other side. Are you sure it isn't the SSPX you want to join?

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

Just to show that I am not making reference to the "spirit" of VII, here is the letter of VII, from Unitatis Redintegration.

"Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts,(19) which the Apostle strongly condemned.(20) But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body,(21) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.(22

Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...


Leave the "n" off that Latin document title, please. The fingers are used to typing English in which io is usually followed by "n".

Susan Peterson

Throwback said...

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll make it a regular thing.

With regards to your first post, I am not affiliated with, nor do I have any desire to join, an SSPX parish. I attend a Pauline Mass every Sunday and have done so for my entire life (cradle Catholic).

On your specific points, Protestants have been doubting the Trinity and baptism in this form since the onset of the Reformation. I recommend Alistair McGrath's book Christianity's Dangerous Idea for a good account of this.

That an individual Protestant may be on the way of salvation says nothing about the ability of Protestantism to save someone. If a Protestant is saved, it is in spite of their Protestantism. The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X says the same thing.

Ecclesial communities may indeed assist in the operation of actual grace. Sanctifying grace, though? UR says no such thing. Consider, for example, that while there is some talk of "elements of sanctification," there is nothing that indicates that these "elements" actually operate that way when divorced from the Church.

Only those "justified in faith by baptism" can be regarded as part of Christ's body. This might be true in the case of someone who hasn't yet reached the age of reason or who is truly invincibly ignorant. However, that the latter person may not be held accountable for their sin of separation doesn't mean that they won't be held accountable for all their other sins. It's pretty clear from all the anathemas over the years that the only faith which justifies is the True Faith, which is the Catholic Faith. Baptisms of people who remain in heresy are valid but do not confer grace. I can get you some cites for that if you want.

Also, keep in mind that the idea of these other sects being a "means of salvation" is only to the extent that they have stuff that's Catholic in them (eg- valid baptisms). The things that make them Protestant are not means of salvation, but rather the opposite.

Anyways, I do thank you for your comments. Don't be too harsh on our SSPX brethren. Many of them were practically driven away from their regular parish in the conciliar aftermath. It is very sad.

As an aside, Cardinal de Hoyos has said several times that they are not in formal schism, so maybe we can hope for full reconciliation in the future. I'm not holding my breath, but hey, it could happen.

Please continue to stop by.