16 July AD 2007
CDF—“Responses to some Questions
of the Doctrine on the Church”
More or less eclipsed in "conservative" and traditionalist circles, by Pope Benedict's motu proprio, Summorum pontificum, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under William Joseph Cardinal Levada, S.T.D. (of Portland and San Francisco fame) released quite a howler on the relationship of the Catholic Church to non-Catholic "Churches" and "Christian Communities."
Levada begins by telling us that "The Second Vatican Council ... has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology." In reality, what he calls "ecclesiology" is an utterly new branch of study, quite unrelated to that branch which the Church called "ecclesiology" before the Council. A search of the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia reveals only two instances where the word is used at all. As Webster's (1972) defines it, "ec·cle·si·ol·o·gy" is "the study of church architecture, art, etc." And that is the context in which the Catholic Encyclopedia uses the word, once in the article on "Rites" and once in the article "Canon of the Mass." Donald Attwater's (1958), A Catholic Dictionary has no entry at all.
It is only since Vatican II that Catholics have given any thought to the idea that the Church exists in some ill defined collection of "sister Churches" and "ecclesial Communities." Before the Council, one would have been hard pressed to find Catholic authors making "new contributions to the field," as Levada says, "not immune from erroneous interpretations, which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt." Prior to that Council, the Catholic understanding of the Church was rather simple. It was founded by Jesus Christ on the Rock of Peter, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (cf. Matthew 16). "Those who believe and are baptized shall be saved; those who do not believe shall be condemned" (cf. Mark 16). It consisted of those who believed, united through the successors of the Apostles, and particularly the successor of Peter. Of course, more could be written, but these were the pre-conciliar essentials—the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ, piloted by the Pope, was the Ark of Salvation, on board which had better be the people who hoped for eternal salvation! Yes, there were discussions about implicit Baptism of Desire, and what might become of the Hottentots and Aborigines, who know nothing of Christ—but Catholics did not dabble in false religions and false worship as do those of the Conciliar Church today.
In responding to the first question, the Prefect informs us that "the Second Vatican Council neither changed not intended to change" ... "the Catholic doctrine on the Church." His "proof" of this is that Pope John XXIII said so in his opening statement that nothing would change. Apparently the CDF maintains its offices on a distant planet, for very few on this planet are ignorant of the fact that almost everything has changed since, and in the name of, the Council
Questions two and three both relate to the bizarre statement in Vatican II's Lumen gentium (L.G.) #8 that the Church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, (13*)" (The "13*" is an erroneous citation of the Tridentine Profession of Faith as revised by the First Vatican Council in Denzinger 1782/3001.) Perhaps no other single phrase in the Vatican II documents created a greater stir among orthodox Catholics than this subsists in. Prefect Levada begins by telling us that in "Lumen gentium 'subsistence' means this perduring historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church." That is fine, but that is not subsistence! Subsistence can be a temporary existence or an intermittent existence, just as well as it can be continuous—it can be existence simultaneously or sequentially in a number of places, just as well as exclusively in one place. By way of example, termites can subsist in the soil, in the trees, or in the timbers of the house—they may subsist in one place at a time, in several places at a time, or in all places—they may do so some of the time, all of the time, or never. "Subsistence" is an ambiguous word for pointing out existence—particularly the existence of the unique institution that is the Catholic Church..
Cardinal Levada goes on to tell is that Lumen gentium did not use the unambiguous and simple word "is" (decades before Bill Clinton's "it depends on what 'is' is") instead of "subsists," because it "comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and truth' which are found outside [the Church's] structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Catholic Church, impel towards Christian unity' (L.G.#8.2)." But this isn't right either. It is true that the "gifts of sanctification and truth" belong properly to the Catholic Church alone, and some may have been borrowed here and there by non-Catholics. But that does not "impel towards Christian unity" at all. All believable lies contain a substantial amount of truth; if they did not they would be obviously false to every careful observer. By borrowing some of the "gifts of sanctification and truth" false religions have been able to attract the incautious away from the Catholic Church, and to keep them in error for many generations.
Lumen gentium and its "subsists in" were the product of the time when many of the Council Fathers were drinking far too deeply of the heady new wine of "ecumenism," thinking that it would make them and the Church "more socially relevant." If the memory of this one who lived through the V2 debacle still serves, the phrase "subsists in" was the contribution of one of the non-Catholic observers. Quite possibly his suggestion would have been rejected if he had been a Catholic. What Cardinal Levada should have said in answering questions two and three was: "It made a mistake; Vatican II was in error when it composed this formulation about the Church of Christ 'subsisting in' the Catholic Church; the reality is that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church"—the Council was wrong."
Questions four and five make the distinction between what the Conciliar Church refers to as "Sister Churches," and "Ecclesial Communions" or "Christian Communities." A valid Eucharist and Apostolic Succession appear to define the first against the latter. Given that (not completely unreasonable) distinction, one is prompted to inquire: "Does the Church of Christ 'subsist in' the Conciliar Church of William Cardinal Levada and Pope Benedict XVI?" If the Eucharist and the Apostolic Succession are the measure of things, does the communion that has Novus Ordo clown masses measure up to the same stature as the Orthodox Churches, or even up to the stature of the high church Anglicans? Since Vatican II, the Conciliar Church has outdone itself in changing everything associated with the Mass and the Sacraments. And, if each change has not been clearly invalidating, each made the New Order Sacraments progressively more dubious. Taken as a whole, the Conciliar understanding of the Mass, the priesthood, the episcopate, and the Apostolic Succession is simply not that of the Catholic Church—instead of a priest consecrating the body and blood of Christ and offering sacrifice, a narrator presides over a memorial meal in which the people are the body of Christ. Instead of a priest receiving the fullness of the priesthood that makes him a bishop, the presider receives the "Governing Spirit" that makes him Lord knows what. The Catholic concept of Apostolic Succession has been publicly repudiated by Cardinal Levada's fellow Cardinal of the Roman Curia, Walter Kasper.
Perhaps it is time to stop referring to the New Order as the "Conciliar Church" and start calling it the "Conciliar Ecclesial Community."
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