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In this document the International Theological Commission will examine some of the great themes of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium.

On the twentieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the right approach seemed to be both by way of a direct study of the texts of the Constitution and via an analysis of the ecclesiological questions posed so sharply since its writing. First and foremost, it is Chapters I, II, III, and VII of Lumen gentium that form the object of the studies presented in our report. We felt it important to go back over some of the Constitution’s key positions. These have proved particularly fruitful in the life and theology of the Church, in the service of that aggiornamento desired by John XXIII and Paul VI. But they have also at times been so neglected and distorted as to have almost lost their original meaning. In addition, we found it necessary to examine certain other questions, whose presence in the Constitution is not so obvious. Examples would be the inculturation of Gospel and Church or the foundation of the Church by Christ. These themes have achieved considerable celebrity in later discussion.

Finally, without in any way regarding the Code of Canon Law of 1983 as a document of the same nature, and with the same bearing, as a conciliar Constitution, we have nevertheless made frequent appeal to it, in order to bring out more clearly the differences, convergence, and reciprocal illumination that relate these two great ecclesiological measures to each other. It has not escaped our attention that, writing some few months before the Extraordinary Synod of November 1985, our work may constitute a contribution to the task which that gathering will carry out.


I.1. The State of the Question

The Church has consistently held to the assertion not only that Jesus Christ is the Church’s foundation (DS 774) but also that he himself willed to found a Church and did effectively so found one. The Church is born from the free decision of Jesus (DS 3302ff.). The Church owes her existence to the gift Jesus made of his Hfe on the Cross (DS 539, 575). For all these reasons, the Second Vatican Council calls Jesus Christ the founder of the Church (e.g., LG 5).

On the other hand, certain representatives of modern historical criticism of the Gospels have sometimes sustained the thesis that Jesus did not in fact found a Church and that, moreover, in virtue of the priority he gave to the announcing of the Kingdom of God, he did not have in mind to found one. The effect of this way of seeing things was to disassociate the foundation of the Church from the historical Jesus. Scholars even renounced the terms “foundation” and “institution” in this connection and deny their application to the acts they referred to. The birth of the Church, as many prefer to call it, is henceforth to be considered as a postpaschal event. And that event itself was increasingly interpreted in purely historical and/or sociological terms.

The disaccord between the Faith of the Church, recalled above, and certain conceptions tendentiously attributed to modern historical criticism has given rise to a number of problems. To tackle these problems, and find a solution to them, it will be necessary to remain on the territory of historical criticism and use its methods, while at the same time seeking out a new way of justifying and confirming the Church’s Faith.

I.2. The Different Senses of the Word “Ekklesia”

“Church” (ekklesia) is a theological term carrying a rich charge of meaning, bestowed upon it from the very beginning of the history of revelation as the New Testament discloses that to us. Ekklesia (qahal) certainly derives from the Old Testament idea of the “gathering of the people of God”, both through the mediation of the Septuagint and via Jewish apocalyptic. Despite Israel’s rejection of him, Jesus did not found a distinct synagogue or create a separate community in the sense of a “holy remnant” or a secessionist sect. On the contrary, he wished that Israel might be converted, addressing to her a message of salvation ultimately to be transmitted in a universal way (cf. Mt 8:5-13; Mk 7:24-30). Yet the Church, in the full theological sense of the word, did not exist until after Easter, taking then the form of a community composed, in the Holy Spirit, of both Jews and Gentiles (Rom 9:24).

The term ekklesia, absent from the Gospels save for three appearances in Matthew (16:18; 18:17), carries in the New Testament as a whole three possible meanings, which are apt to overlap: (1) the gathering of the community, (2) each of the local communities, and (3) the universal Church.

I.3. The Notion, and Starting Point, of the Foundation of the Church

In the Gospels, two events in particular express the conviction that the Church was founded by Jesus of Nazareth. The first is the renaming of Peter (Mk 3:16) following his profession of messianic faith, a renaming that has reference to the founding of the Church (cf. Mt 16:16ff.). The second is the institution of the Eucharist (cf. Mk 14:22ff.; Mt 26:26ff.; Jn 22:14ff; 1 Cor 11:23ff.). Jesus’ logia about Peter and the entire narrative about the Last Supper play a role of paramount importance in the debate about the founding of the Church. And yet, in present circumstances it seems better not to tie the question of the founding of the Church by Jesus Christ simply and solely to a saying of Jesus or to a particular event of his life. In a certain sense, the whole of Jesus’ activity and destiny constitutes the root and foundation of the Church. The Church is, as it were, the fruit of the life of Jesus. The foundation of the Church presupposes the totality of the saving action of Jesus in his death and Resurrection as well as in the sending of the Spirit. This is why it is possible to identify, within the total activity of Jesus, certain elements that prepare the way for, take steps toward, or constitute the crucial stages of the founding of the Church.

This is already true of the prepaschal deportment of Jesus. Many of the fundamental aspects of the Church, which will only appear in a plenary fashion after Easter, can already be glimpsed in the earthly life of Jesus and find their grounding there.

I.4. Steps and Stages in the Process of Founding the Church

The steps and stages we have just mentioned possess, even when taken separately, some value as testimony to a dynamism in Jesus’ ministry leading to the foundation of the Church. This is more clearly so when they are seized in their cumulative orientation. In them the Christian recognizes the saving design of the Father and the redemptive action of the Son, both communicated to mankind by the Holy Spirit (cf. LG 2-5). The preparatory elements, steps, and stages may be identified and described in their detail as follows:

— the Old Testament promises about the people of God, promises presupposed by the preaching of Jesus and continuing to maintain their validity for human Salvation

— Jesus’ generous appeal to all his hearers, an appeal aimed at their conversion and carrying an invitation to believe in him

— the call and institution of the Twelve as a sign of the future reconstitution of all Israel

— the renaming of Simon Peter and his privileged place in the circle of the disciples and his mission

— the rejection of Jesus by Israel and the schism between the Jewish people and his disciples

— the fact that Jesus, in instituting the Supper, persists in preaching the universal Reign of God, which consists in the gift of his life for the benefit of all

— the rebuilding, thanks to the Lords Resurrection, of the ruptured communion between Jesus and his disciples, and the postpaschal initiation into ecclesial life, strictly so called

— the sending of the Holy Spirit, which makes the Church a divine creation (the “Pentecost” of the Lucan conception)

— the mission to the Gentiles and the Church of the Gentiles

— the definitive break between the “true Israel” and Judaism

No single step, taken in and by itself, could constitute the total reality, but the entire series, taken as a unity, shows clearly that the Church’s foundation must be understood as a historic process, that is, as the becoming of the Church within the history of revelation. The Father “determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ. Already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and in the old alliance. Established in this last age of the world, and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time” (LG 2).

At the same time, as this process unfolds, the permanent and definitive fundamental structure of the Church comes into being. The earthly Church is herself already the place of reunion for the eschatological people of God. This earthly Church continues the mission confided by Jesus to his disciples. In this perspective, one may call the Church “the seed and beginning on earth of the Kingdom of God and of his Christ” (cf. LG 5 and Section X below).

I.5. The Permanent Origin of the Church in Jesus Christ

Founded by Christ, the Church does not simply depend on him for her external—historical or social—provenance. She comes forth from her Lord in a much deeper sense, since he it is who constantly nourishes her and builds her up in the Spirit. According to Scripture, as understood in Tradition, the Church takes her birth from the riven side of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 19:34; LG 3). She is “obtained by the blood of” the Son (Acts 20:28; cf. Tit 2:14).

This fundamental structure is expressed in different ways through a variety of biblical images: Bride of Christ; flock of Christ; God’s building, temple, people, house, plantation, field (cf. LG 6); and above all, Body of Christ (LG 7), the image that Paul develops in the eleventh chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, alluding doubtless to the Eucharist, which furnished him with the profound basis of his interpretation (cf. 1 Cor 10:16ff.). This formulation is given even more generous expression in the Letter to the Colossians and the Letter to the Ephesians (cf. Col 1:18; Eph 1:22; 5:23): Christ is the Head of his Body, the Church. The Savior “fills the Church, who is his Body and his fullness, with his divine gifts (cf. Eph 1:22-23) so that she may increase and attain to all the fullness of God (cf. Eph 3:19)” (LG 7).


II.1. The Multiplicity of Designations of the Church

The Church, radiant with the glory of Christ (cf. LG 1), manifests to all men “the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of the wisdom and goodness” of the eternal Father, who elects to save all men by the Son and in the Spirit (cf LG 2). In order to underline at one and the same time the presence in the Church of this transcendent divine reality and the historically expressive character of its manifestation, the Council designated the Church by the word “mystery”.

Because the proper name that would express the whole reality of the Church is known only to God, human language experiences its own radical insufficiency to express fully the “mystery” of the Church. It has to have recourse to a multiplicity of images, representations, and analogies, which, moreover, will never be able to designate more than partial aspects of the reality. The use of these formulations should suggest the transcendence of the “mystery” over against every reductionism, whether conceptual or symbolic. Furthermore, the use of a multiplicity of such formulations here will permit one to avoid these excesses that concentration on one single formula would inevitably cause. This is already suggested by Lumen gentium in its sixth paragraph: “In the Old Testament the revelation of the Kingdom is often made under the forms of symbols. In similar fashion the inner nature of the Church is now made known to us in various images.” Within the New Testament corpus, up to eighty comparisons for the Church have been counted. The plurality of images to which the Council draws our attention is intentional. It is meant to bring out the inexhaustible character of the “mystery” of the Church. For she shows herself to those who contemplate her as “a reality impregnated with Gods presence and, thus, so constituted that she admits of ever new and more profound explorations of herself” (Paul VI, speech opening the second session of the Council, 29 September 1963 [AAS 55 (1963): 848]). And so the New Testament presents us with images “taken either from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage. These images have their preparation in the books of the prophets” (LG 6).

It is true that these images do not all possess the same evocative power. Some, such as that of “the body”, have an importance of the first order. One will readily agree that without use of the “Body of Christ” comparison, applied to the community of Jesus’ disciples, the reality of the Church would scarcely be accessible to us at all. The Pauline Letters develop this comparison in various directions, as Lumen gentium mentions in its seventh paragraph. And yet, though the Council gives the image of the Church as Body of Christ its proper place, it gives pride of place to another image, that of the “people of God”—if only because this latter image gives the second chapter of the Constitution its very title. One can say, indeed, that the expression “people of God” has come to stand for the ecclesiology of the Council. It is not too much to say that this image was deliberately preferred by the Council to “Body of Christ” or “temple of the Holy Spirit”, even though these last are certainly not ignored by it. This choice was made for reasons at once theological and pastoral. In the minds of the Council fathers, these two types of consideration reinforced each other. The expression “people of God” had an advantage over other designations in that it could render better that sacramental reality that all the baptized share in common, both as a dignity in the Church and as a responsibility in the world. At the same time, it could undermine the communitarian nature and historical dimension of the Church—as many of the fathers wanted.

II.2. “People of God”

But in itself, the expression “people of God” has a significance that does not appear on a cursory examination. As with every theological expression, it requires reflection, deepening, and clarification if falsifying interpretations are to be avoided. Even on the linguistic level, the Latin term populus does not seem to provide a direct translation of the Greek laos of the Septuagint. Laos, as used in the Septuagint, is a term with a characteristic and quite specific meaning. It is not just religious but is quite definitely soteriological and, as such, destined to find its own fulfillment in the New Testament. Lumen gentium presupposes the biblical meaning of the term “people”. The Constitution takes up that term with all the connotations that Old and New Testaments have bestowed upon it. In the expression “people of God” it is, moreover, the genitive “of God” that provides the phrase with its own specific, determinate significance, by situating it in that biblical context where it appeared and developed. Consequently, any interpretation of the term “people” of an exclusively biological, racial, cultural, political, or ideological kind must be radically excluded. The “people of God” derives “from above”, from the divine plan, that is, from election, Covenant, and mission. This is supremely true if we turn our attention to the fact that Lumen gentium does not confine itself to the Old Testament concept of the “people of God” but goes beyond it by speaking of the “new people of God” (LG 9). This new people of God is made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ and are “reborn” through baptism in water and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:3-6). It is, then, the Holy Spirit who “by the power of the Gospel permits the Church to keep the freshness of her youth [and] constantly renews her” (LG 4). And so the expression “people of God” receives its proper meaning from a constitutive reference to the trinitarian mystery revealed by Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (LG 4; UR 2).

The new people of God presents herself as a “community of faith, hope, and charity” (LG 8), whose source is the Eucharist (LG 3, 7); the intimate union of each believer with his Savior, something inseparable from the unity of the faithful with each other, is the fruit of active belonging to the Church and transforms the total existence of Christians into a “spiritual worship”. The communitarian dimension is essential to the Church, if faith, hope, and charity are to be exercised and communicated within her. That dimension is also necessary insofar as such communion, once it takes root in the “heart” of every believer, must also be deployed and realized on a communal, objective, and institutional level. On this societal level too the Church is summoned to live in the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ and to announce his Good News to all men.


III.1. The Church as Simultaneously “Mystery” and “Historic Subject”

The deep intention of the conciliar Constitution Lumen gentium—an intention by no means contradicted in postconciliar reflection—was that the expression “people of God”, used conjointly with other ecclesiological terms, should underline the character of the Church as “mystery” and as “historic subject”, for at all levels of her action the Church effectively brings both of these characteristics into play, and that in such a way that one cannot separate the one from the other. “Mystery” here refers to the Church as deriving from the Trinity, while “historic subject” has to do with the Church as a historical agent, contributing to history’s overall direction.

Avoiding the dangers of seeing these aspects in a dualistic fashion or as opposed terms, we must reach a more profound view of that correlation in “the Church as people of God”, which gives the relationship between “mystery” and “historic subject” its basis. In fact, it is the Church’s mystery character that determines her nature as a historic subject. But also, and correlatively, the historic subject angle serves in turn to express the nature of this mystery. In other words, the people of God is simultaneously mystery and historic subject, in such a fashion that the mystery constitutes the historic subject and the historic subject discloses the mystery. It would be sheer nominalism to separate out, in “the Church as people of God”, these two aspects.

“Mystery” when applied to the Church refers to the free choice of the Father’s wisdom and goodness to communicate himself, something that he does in the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, “for us men and for our salvation”. Creation and human history take their rise from this divine act, whose “principle”, in the most pregnant sense of the word (Jn 1:1), lies in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Now exalted at the Father’s right hand, Christ pours out the Holy Spirit to become the “principle” of the Church, constituting her as Christ’s Body and Spouse. Thus the Church has a particular, unique, and exclusive reference to Christ, and so her meaning is not indefinitely open.

It follows, then, that the trinitarian mystery is made present and operative within the Church. From one point of view, the mystery of Christ as Head, the wholly universal, inclusive, and recapitulating principle of the Christus totus, encompasses and involves the mystery of the Church. Yet from another point of view, Christ’s mystery does not purely and simply subsume that of the Church within itself. Thus we must recognize that the Church possesses an eschatological character. The continuity between Jesus Christ and the Church is therefore not direct but “mediate”. It is assured by the Holy Spirit, who, being the Spirit of Jesus, acts in order to bring about in the Church the Lordship of Jesus Christ, itself realized through obedience to the will of the Father.

III.2. The Church as “Historic Subject”

The Church’s “mystery”, as her creation by the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment and fullness of the mystery of Jesus Christ her Head, and so the revelation of the Trinity, is truly a historic subject.

The Council’s desire to underline this aspect of the Church comes through clearly in its recourse to the category of “people of God”, on which we have already reported. In its Old Testament antecedents, that expression carries the exact connotation of a historic subject in relation to the Covenant with God. Furthermore, this characteristic is confirmed in the New Testament fullness of time. Taking her stand on Christ, by the Spirit, the “new” people of God broadens her horizons, giving them a universal bearing. It is precisely by reference to Jesus Christ and the Spirit that the new people of God is constituted in her identity as a historic subject.

The fundamental property of this people, a property that distinguishes her from all others, lies in a corporate life lived in remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ and so in commitment to mission. Certainly, this new people of God actualizes this fundamental property through the free and responsible choice of each of her members. Yet this is only possible because of the support provided by an institutional structure ordered to this end (the Word of God, the New Law, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments, charisms, and ministries). At every level, remembrance and expectation provide the people of God with her exact specificity, giving her a historic identity that of its nature preserves her in every situation from the perils of disintegration and loss of corporate selfhood. Remembrance and expectation cannot be severed from the mission for whose sake the people of God is permanently assembled. In fact, one can say that the mission derives essentially from the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ in the sense that the latter dispositions are the foundation of the former. For the people of God knows by faith, and from her remembrance and expectation of Jesus, what other peoples do not know and will never be able to know about the meaning of existence and human history. This knowledge, this Good News, the people of God must announce to all men by virtue of the mission laid upon her by Jesus himself (Mt 28:19). Should she fail, then despite human wisdom, that “wisdom of the Greeks” to which Paul refers, and notwithstanding scientific and technological progress, men will remain in slavery and darkness. Seen in this light, the mission that constitutes the historic goal of the people of God generates a kind of activity that no other human activity can replace. This special activity is at one and the same time negatively critical and positively stimulating. It realizes that human life way through which the salvation of each man can be worked out. To underestimate the proper function of mission and so to reduce it to something less than itself can only aggravate the sum total of the problems and evils that this world has to suffer.

III.3. Fullness and Relativity of the Historic Subject

But approached from another angle, a stress on the people of God as historic subject and on that people’s constitutive reference to the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ enables one to take in the relative and incomplete quality of the Church’s life. “Remembrance” and “expectation” speak in the same breath of “identity” and “difference”.

“Remembrance” and “expectation” express “identity” in the sense that the reference of the new people of God to Christ through the Spirit renders this people not a “different”, independent, and diverse reality but a reality filled with that “remembrance” and “expectation” that attach her to Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the purely relative character of the new people of God stands out strikingly: that people cannot become an autonomous body since she is totally dependent on Jesus Christ. It follows that the new people of God is not concerned with the validation of her own genius or with proposing or imposing such a genius on the world at large. Rather, the Church can do nothing more than proclaim and communicate in the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ, her own life-giving source: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20a).

Correspondingly, if “remembrance” and “expectation” bestow the presence of an Other, and through that express a “relativity” in relation to that Other, then they also imply incompleteness. For this reason, the new people of God, whether in the case of her individual members or of the totality that those members compose, remains always “on the way” (in via), in a situation that here below will never be finished. The destination of God’s people is simply to make herself ever more faithful and obedient in her remembrance and expectation. Her true position is incompatible, therefore, with any kind of arrogance or feeling of superiority. Her situation vis-à-vis Christ must, on the contrary, arouse her to a humble effort of conversion. The new people of God does not ask of others more that she requires of herself. What she offers, indeed, is not what belongs to her in her own right but what she has received from God irrespective of previous merit.

III.4. The New People of God in Her Historical Existence

It is from the Holy Spirit that the new people of God receives her “consistency” as a people. If one may refer to the words of the apostle Peter, that which “was no people” can only become a “people” (cf. 1 Pet 2:10) through him who unites her from above and from within so as to realize her union in God. The Holy Spirit brings the new people of God to life in the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ and gives her the task of proclaiming the Good News of this remembrance and expectation to all mankind. It is not a question in this remembrance, expectation, and mission of a reality that is imposed on top of or laid side by side with a preexisting existence and activity. In this respect, the members of the people of God do not form a particular group differentiated from other human groups at the level of their daily activities and occupations. The activity of Christians is no different from that by which all men, whoever they may be, “humanize” the world. For the members of God’s people as for everyone else, there are only the ordinary, common conditions of human living, which all are called to share in solidarity, though also in the diversity of their various callings.

And yet being members of the people of God does give Christians a special responsibility in regard to this world. “What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world!” (LG 38, cf Letter to Diognetus 6). Since the Holy Spirit is himself termed the Soul of the Church (LG 7), Christians receive in this selfsame Spirit the mission to realize in the world something as vital as that which the Spirit realizes in the Church. This is not a matter of an additional action over and above the preexisting technological, artistic, and social action of mankind but rather the confronting of human activity in all its forms with the Christian hope, or, to keep the preferred vocabulary of this document, with the demands of the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ. It is from “within” human projects that Christians, and especially the laity, are so called that “being led by the spirit of the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope, and charity, they must manifest Christ to others” (LG 31).

And so the new people of God is not marked by a mode of existence or mission that can substitute for what is already given in human existence and its many projects. Rather, the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ should serve to convert or transform from within that human mode of existing and acting already lived out in a given group of men. One might say here that the remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ whence the new people of God draws her life constitutes the “formal” element (in the Scholastic sense of that term), giving structure to the concrete existence of human beings. That concrete existence may then be called the “matter” (once more, in the Scholastic sense): a material element that, while of course endowed with responsibility and freedom, can receive one of a variety of further determinations in order to fashion a way of life that is “according to the Holy Spirit”. Such ways of life enjoy no a priori existence. They cannot be determined in advance. They come in a rich diversity and cannot be foreseen even though they can all be referred to the constant action of a single Holy Spirit. But what these diverse ways of life have in common as a recurring constant in their makeup is that all express “in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, which, as it were, constitute their very existence” (cf. LG 31), the demands and the joy of the Gospel of Christ.


IV.1. The Necessity of Inculturation

Both as “mystery” and as “historic subject” the new people of God “is a community composed of men ... who, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onward toward the Kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men. That is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history” (GS 1).

Since the mission of the Church among men is to “lend embodiment to the Kingdom of God”, the new people of God “does not take away anything from the temporal welfare of any people. Rather, she fosters and takes to herself, insofar as they are good, the abilities, resources, and customs of peoples. In so taking them to herself she purifies, strengthens, and elevates them” (LG 13).

As Gaudium et spes suggests, the general term “culture” seems able to gather together the totality of personal and social traits that characterize man, allowing him to take up and become master of his condition and destiny (GS 53-62).

Thus the Church in its evangelizing mission must “bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart of culture—and cultures” (John Paul II, CT 53). For without this, the Church’s message of salvation would not truly reach those to whom she communicates it. Reflection on what is involved in the process of evangelization makes one aware of this in an ever more lively way to the degree that humanity grows in the knowledge that it has of itself. Evangelization only hits its mark when man, both as unique person and as member of a community (and one profoundly touched by that membership) receives the Word of God and makes it bear fruit in his life. So much is this so that Paul VI was able to write in Evangelii nuntiandi of “sectors of the human race that must be transformed, for the purpose of the Church is not confined to preaching the Gospel in ever-extending territories and proclaiming it to ever-increasing multitudes of men. She seeks by virtue of the Gospel to affect and, as it were, recast the criteria of judgment, the standard of values, the incentives and life standards of the human race that are inconsistent with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (EN 19). And indeed, as the Pope remarks in the same document: “The rift between the Gospel and culture is undoubtedly an unhappy circumstance of our times” (EN 20).

To designate this perspective and action whereby the Gospel can be inserted into the very heart of human culture, it has become usual nowadays to invoke the word “inculturation”. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The term ‘acculturation’ or ‘inculturation’ may be a neologism, but it expresses very well one factor of the great mystery of the Incarnation” (CT 53; cf. speech to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, 26 June 1979; speech to the bishops of Zaire, 3 June 1980; allocution to Korean intellectuals and artists, 3 May 1984). And while in Korea the Pope underlined the dynamic nature of this inculturation: “The Church must take to herself everything in the peoples. We have before us a long and important process of inculturation, ordered to the Gospels penetration to the very heart of living cultures. To encourage this process is to respond to the profound aspirations of the peoples and to help them enter the sphere of faith itself”.

While not at all claiming to offer here a complete theology of inculturation, we simply wish to recall its foundation in the mystery of God and Christ in order to seek out its significance for the present mission of the Church. No doubt the need for inculturation is felt by all Christian communities. Yet we today should be particularly attentive to the situations experienced by the churches of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and North and South America—whether these churches are young churches or, on the contrary, already long established.

IV.2. The Foundation of Inculturation

The doctrinal basis of inculturation is found firstly in the diversity and multiplicity of created beings, an expression of God the Creator’s own intention, desirous as he was that this diversified multitude should illustrate the more richly the innumerable aspects of his goodness (cf. St. Thomas, STh la, q. 47, a. 1). But that foundation is situated more deeply still in the mystery of Christ himself: in his Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection.

Just as God the Word assumed a concrete humanity in his own Person and lived out all the particularities of the human condition in a given place and time, and in the midst of a single people, so the Church, following Christ’s example and through the gift of his Spirit, has to become incarnate in every place, every time, and every people (cf. Acts 2:5-11).

In the same way that Christ proclaimed the Gospel making use of all those familiar realities that made up the culture of his people, so the Church cannot dispense herself from borrowing elements drawn from human cultures for the construction of the Kingdom.

Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). He confronted a sinful world right up until his death on the Cross, so as to make men capable of this conversion and this believing. It is the same with cultures as with persons: there is no achieved inculturation unless there is also denunciation of the limitations, errors, and sin that indwell them. Every culture must accept the judgment of the Cross upon its life and its language.

Christ has risen. He reveals man fully to himself, bestowing upon him the fruits of his perfect redemption. Just so a culture that turns to the Gospel finds there its own liberation and brings to light new riches that are at once the gifts of the Resurrection and its promises.

In the evangelization of cultures and the inculturation of the Gospel, a wondrous exchange is brought about: on the one hand, the Gospel reveals to each culture and sets free within it the final truth of the values which that culture carries. On the other hand, each and every culture expresses the Gospel in an original fashion and manifests new aspects of it. Thus inculturation is an aspect of the recapitulation of all things in Christ (Eph 1:10) and of the catholicity of the Church (LG 16, 17).

IV.3. Various Aspects of Inculturation

Inculturation has profound repercussions on all aspects of a church’s existence. And so here we can usefully remind ourselves of how this affects a given church’s life and language.

So far as ecclesial life is concerned, inculturation consists of a better correspondence between the church institution s concrete forms of expression and organization and those positive values that make up a culture’s own identity. Inculturation also involves the positive presence and active commitment of a church in those areas of a culture where its deepest human problems dwell. It is not simply the appropriation of cultural traditions. It is also a service of man, of all men. It penetrates every relationship in a transforming way. Attentive to the values of the past, it looks toward the future as well.

In the domain of language, here taken in its cultural-anthropological sense, inculturation is primarily an act of appropriation of the content of faith in the words, concepts, symbols, and ritual behavior of a given culture. Accordingly, it requires the elaboration of a doctrinal response, simultaneously fresh yet faithful, open yet critical in its approach to new problems, both intellectual and ethical, attached to the aspirations and refusals, the values and the deficiencies of that culture.

But if cultures are various, the human condition is one and the same. This explains why intercultural communication is not only possible but actually necessary. Thus the Gospel, addressing itself as it does to what is deepest in man, has a transcultural value. Its specificity must, therefore, be recognizable from one culture to another. And this means the openness of each culture to the rest. We can recall here that the Gospel “has always been transmitted by means of an apostolic dialogue that is itself inevitably part of a certain dialogue of cultures” (CT 53).

By presence and coresponsibility in human history, the new people of God is always encountering new situations. She must constantly recommence her task of bringing the power of the Gospel to bear on the heart of human culture and of individual cultures. Yet some situations and periods demand a special effort in this regard. This is particularly true today of the evangelization of the peoples of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and North and South America. Whether these churches are newly founded or already have a certain antiquity, they find themselves in a special situation where inculturation is concerned. The missionaries who brought the Gospel to these “non-European” churches could not avoid bringing with that Gospel elements of their own culture. By definition they could not do what could only be achieved by Christians belonging to those newly evangelized cultures. As Pope John Paul II remarked to the bishops of Zaire: “Evangelization has its own stages, and moments of deepening.” When such non-European churches became aware for the first time of their own originality and the tasks which that involves, they naturally seek to create new forms of expression for the single Gospel in ecclesial life and language. Their efforts in this direction, carried out in communion with the Holy See and with the aid of the rest of the Church, will surely be decisive for the future of evangelization, despite the difficulties that these communities are encountering and the delays that are part and parcel of such an enterprise.

In this total task, the promotion of justice is not just one element among many, but a most important and urgent one. The proclamation of the Gospel must take up the gauntlet of local and worldwide injustice. It is true that in this area certain deviations of a combined political and religious nature have appeared. But such deviations should not lead one to neglect or suppress the necessary task of promoting justice. On the contrary, they point up the urgency of theological discernment, founded on as scientific an analysis as is possible and ever subject to the light of faith (cf. Jesus Christus, vis liberationism Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1984). Nor should it be forgotten that local injustice is often enough part of that worldwide nexus of injustice of which Pope Paul VI spoke so strikingly in Populorum progressio. The promotion of justice concerns the Catholic Church spread throughout the world: it needs the mutual assistance of all particular churches and the strong backing of the apostolic Roman See.


V.1. Some Necessary Distinctions

Following the dominant use at the Second Vatican Council, a use reflected in the new Code of Canon Law, in what follows we propose to distinguish between “particular church” and “local church”. The “peculiar” or “particular church” is in the first place the diocese (cf. canon 368), “loyal to its pastor and formed by him ... in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist” (CD 11). Here the criterion invoked is essentially theological. The expression “local church” (ecclesia localis), on the other hand, represents a usage dropped by the Code. The “local church” can refer to a more-or-less homogeneous grouping of particular churches, whose formation results in most cases from the givens of geography, history, language, or culture. Under the guidance of Providence, these churches have developed (in the past, as, for example, with the “ancient patriarchal churches”) or are developing (in our own day) a patrimony of their own at once theological, juridical, liturgical, and spiritual. Here the criterion invoked is principally of a sociocultural kind.

We also wish to distinguish between the essential structure of the Church and its concrete, changing form (or organization). The “essential structure” comprises everything in the Church that derives from divine institution (jure divino), by means of its foundation through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This structure can only be a single structure, and it is destined to endure throughout time. However, this essential, permanent structure is always clothed in a concrete expression and organization (jure ecclesiastico), the result of contingent and changing factors, historical, cultural, geographic, and political. Indeed, the Church’s concrete form is normally subject to evolution. It is the locus where legitimate and even necessary differences are manifest. The diversity of organization does not contradict, however, the unity of structure.

This distinction between essential structure and concrete form or organization should not be taken to imply a separation. The essential structure is always implicated in a concrete form, and without this form it cannot truly exist. This is why the concrete form is not just neutral in terms of the essential structure: it has the power to express that structure faithfully and efficaciously in a given situation. In certain respects to identify what is proper to the structure and what to the form or organization may require a delicate act of discernment.

The particular church, bound as it is to its bishop and shepherd, belongs by its very nature to the Church’s essential structure. And yet in the course of the centuries, this same structure has been figured forth in various ways. The mode of functioning embraced by a particular church as well as different kinds of grouping of a number of particular churches together belong to the side of concrete form and organization. And this is of course the case with “local churches”, localized as they are by their origins and traditions.

V.2. Unity and Diversity

These distinctions being clear, we must nevertheless underline the fact that for Catholic theology the unity and diversity of the Church share a common originating reference: both refer to the Triune God where the differentiated Triad of Persons exists in the unity of a single Godhead. The real distinction of Persons in no way divides the single nature. Trinitarian theology shows us that true differences can only exist in unity. What has no unity cannot support difference, as J. A. Moehler pointed out. We can apply these reflections analogically to the theology of the Church.

The Church of the Trinity (cf. LG 4), whose diversity is manifold, receives her unity from the gift of the Holy Spirit who is himself the unity of the Father and the Son.

Catholic universalism must therefore be distinguished from those falsifying accounts of universality that one finds in totalitarian doctrines, in materialistic systems, in the false ideologies of scientism and the cult of technology, and indeed in imperialistic strategies of every kind. No more should Catholic universalism be confused with a uniformity that would destroy legitimate particularities. Again, one ought not try to assimilate that universalism to a systematic postulation of the uniquely singular, subversive as that would be of essential unity.

The Code of Canon Law (canon 368) has adopted a formula of Lumen gentium (23), which states that “it is in these (particular churches) and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists”. Between the particular churches and the universal Church there exists a mutual inferiority, a kind of osmosis. The universal Church finds its concrete existence in each church where it is present. Reciprocally, each particular church is “formed after the model of the universal Church” (LG 23) and lives in intense communion with that Church.

V.3. The Service of Unity

At the heart of the universal network of particular churches of which the single Church of God is made up, there is a unique center and reference point: the particular Church of Rome. That Church, with which, as Saint Irenaeus wrote, “every other church must be in accord”, presides in charity over the universal communion (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom., Proem.). Indeed, Christ Jesus, the eternal Shepherd, “in order that the episcopate itself ... might be one and undivided ... put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion” (LG 18). Successor of the apostle Peter, the Roman Pontiff is Christ’s Vicar and the visible head of the whole Church over which he exercises “full, supreme, and universal power” (LG 22).

Lumen gentium wished to associate its reiteration of the doctrines of the primacy and teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff with its “doctrine concerning bishops, successors of the apostles” (LG 18). The college of bishops, which stands in succession to the college of the apostles, shows forth at one and the same time the diversity, universality, and unity of the people of God. For the “bishops, successors of the apostles ... together with Peters successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God” (LG 18). And that house is the Church. It follows that the episcopal college, “together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him ... have supreme and full authority over the universal Church” (LG 22). Each bishop, in his particular church, “enjoys a solidarity with the entire episcopal body to whom has been entrusted, in succession to the apostolic college, the task of watching over the Church’s credal purity and unity” (Paul VI, apostolic letter Quinque jam anni, 8 December 1970). Thus he is “bound to have such care and solicitude for the whole Church, which, though it be not exercised by any act of jurisdiction, does for all that redound in an eminent degree to the advantage of the universal Church” (LG 23). In the same way, the bishop will govern his diocese bearing in mind that it is “constituted after the model of the universal Church” (LG 23; cf. CD 11).

The “collegial feeling” (qffectus collegialis) that the Council has aroused among the bishops has, since its meeting, found concrete expression in the important role played by episcopal conferences (cf. LG 23). Through this means, the bishops of a given nation or territory exercise “together” or “jointly” certain of their apostolic and pastoral responsibilities (cf. CD 38; Codex Iuris Canonici, 447).

It may also be noted here that these episcopal conferences not infrequently develop mutual relations of good neighborliness, collaboration, and solidarity, especially on a continental level. Continental episcopal assemblies gather together delegates of various conferences on the basis of earths great geographic units. Thus one finds, for instance, the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), and the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). To our age of massive geopolitical unification and organization, such assemblies offer a concrete expression of the Church’s unity in the diversity of human cultures and situations.

It is impossible to deny the usefulness, and even the pastoral necessity, of both episcopal conferences and their continental federations. But does this mean that one should see in them, as is sometimes done on account of the cooperative character of their work, specifically “collegial” institutions, understood in the strict sense of Lumen gentium (22, 23) and Christus Dominus (4, 5, 6)? These texts do not allow of any rigorous ascription to episcopal conferences or their continental federations of the adjective “collegial”. (We refer here to the adjective “collegial” since the noun “collegiality” nowhere exists in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.) That episcopal collegiality that stands in succession to apostolic collegiality is universal and can only be understood, by reference to the whole Church, in terms of the totality of the episcopal body in union with the Pope. These conditions are realized in the case of the ecumenical Council, and may be realized in the united action of the bishops dispersed around the world, for the reasons set forth in Christus Dominus 4. In a certain sense, they may also be realized in the Synod of Bishops, which may give a true, if partial, expression to universal collegiality, because, “as it will be representative of the whole Catholic episcopate”, it will “be as testimony to the participation of all the bishops in hierarchical communion in the care of the universal Church” (CD 5; cf. LG 23). By contrast, institutions like episcopal conferences (and their continental federations) have to do with the concrete organization or form of the Church (jure ecclesiastico). To describe them by such terms as “college”, “collegiality”, and “collegial” is to use language in an analogical and theologically “improper” way.

But to say this in no way lessens the importance of the practical role that episcopal conferences and their continental federations must play in the future, notably in what concerns the relations between particular churches, “local” churches, and the universal Church. The results already attained allow one to feel in this regard a well-founded confidence.

It is nonetheless true that in that condition of wayfarers that is ours difficulties may well emerge in the relations between particular churches as well as in their own relationship with the See of Rome, charged as that is with the ministry of universal unity and communion. The sinful tendency of man makes him turn differences into oppositions. This is why we must never abandon the search for the best means of expressing Catholic universality, which will also be the best means of enabling the most diverse human elements to compenetrate one another in the unity of the Faith. All this must be done in communion with the See of Rome and under her authority.


VI.1. Communion, Structure, and Organization

From the moment of her emergence in history, the new people of God is structured around the pastors chosen by Jesus Christ himself in his appointment of the apostles (Mt 10:1-42) with Peter at their head (Jn 21:15-17). “That divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20), since the Gospel, which they were charged to hand on, is, for the Church, the principle of all its life for all time. For that very reason the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society” (LG 20).

Thus the people of God, the Church, cannot be disassociated from the ministries that give her structure, and especially the episcopate. For with the death of the apostles, the episcopate became that veritable “ministry of the community” that bishops carry out with the help of presbyters and deacons (ibid.). Henceforth, if the Church presents herself as a single people and communion of faith, hope, and charity, within which Christ’s faithful “are ... endowed with true Christian dignity” (LG 18), this people and communion are provided with ministries and means of growth that will assure the common good of the whole body One cannot then separate out structural from vital aspects in the Church, since these aspects are coinvolved at the deepest level. “The one Mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all-men. But the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical Body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality that comes together from a human and a divine element” (LG 8).

The communion that gives definition to the new people of God is therefore a social communion of a hierachically ordered sort. As the nota praevia explicativa of 16 November 1964 makes clear: “Communion is a concept held in high honor in the ancient Church (as also today, notably in the East). By it is meant not some vague sentiment but an organic reality that calls for juridical expression and yet at the same time is ensouled by love”.

It is here that one may reasonably raise the question of the presence and significance of juridical organization in the Church. While the ontological, sacramental function of the Church may be distinguished from its canonical-juridical aspect (cf. the nota praevia explicativa of 16 November 1964), it is nonetheless true that in differing degrees both aspects are absolutely necessary for the Church’s life. Bearing in mind the partial or relative analogy (non mediocrem analogiam) (LG 8) of the Church with the Word incarnate as the text of Lumen gentium (8) portrays it, we will not forget that “as the assumed nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it in the building up of the Body”. The analogy drawn here with the Word incarnate enables us to affirm that the Church as “organ of salvation” must be understood in such a way as not to fall foul of either of those two heretical excesses in Christology known to antiquity. Thus we shall avoid, on the one hand, an ecclesial “Nestorianism” that would recognize no subsistent relationship between the divine and the human elements in the Church’s life. On the other hand, we must be equally vigilant against an ecclesial “Monophysitism”, for which everything in the Church is “divinized”, leaving no space for the defects and faults of the Church’s organization, the sad harvest of the sins and ignorance of men. The Church is, of course, a sacrament, but she is not sacramental to the same intensity or with parity of perfection in everything she undertakes. Since we shall be returning to the theme of the Church as sacrament, it will suffice to note here that the domain where the Church’s sacramentality takes on its most potent form is that of the Liturgy (cf. SC 7, 10). Next comes the ministry of the Word in its highest expressions (cf. LG 21, 25). Then lastly we have the functioning of the pastoral office with its canonical authority or power of government (LG 23). It follows that ecclesiastical legislation, even if it takes its rise from an authority whose origin is divine, cannot avoid being influenced in some measure by ignorance and sin. In other words, ecclesiastical legislation is not and cannot be infallible. But this by no means signifies that it is without importance in the mystery of salvation. To deny the Church’s law all positive, salvific value would be, in the last analysis, to restrict the Church’s sacramentality to the sacraments alone and so to enfeeble the Church’s visibility in everyday life.

VI.2. The Action of the Hierarchically Ordered Society

In the fundamental structure of the Church one can identify principles that throw light on her organization and canonical-juridical practice:

1. As a visible community and social organism, the Church needs norms that express her fundamental structure and give greater definition to certain conditions of communal life in virtue of judgments of a prudential kind. These conditions may change, and indeed faithfulness to the Holy Spirit may require that they change.

2. The goal of ecclesiastical legislation can be nothing other than the common good of the Church. This common good includes in an unbreakable union both the safeguarding of the deposit of faith received from Christ and the spiritual progress of the sons of God, the members of Christ’s Body

3. If the Church has need of norms and law, then we must recognize that she enjoys legislative authority (LG 27; cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, 135, 333, 336, 391, 392, 445, 455, etc.). Such a legislative authority will scrupulously respect the general rule recalled by the conciliar Declaration on Religious Liberty. According to this principle, “man’s freedom should be given the fullest possible recognition and should not be curtailed except when and insofar as is necessary” (DH 7). Such a power also implies that legitimate legal measures must be accepted and executed by the faithful with a religious obedience. However, the exercise of this authority demands from pastors a special attention to the formidable responsibility that legislative power carries with it. Connected with this is the grave moral duty to make appropriate prior consultation, and also the obligation to proceed when necessary to subsequent rectification.

The presence of juridical elements in the Church’s dispositions for the ordering of her own life suggests some further considerations. Christian liberty is one of the features characteristic of the New Covenant or the “new people of God” and constitutes an innovation when compared with the Old Law. And yet the advent of this freedom, already connected as it was in the witness of Israel’s prophets with the internalization of the Law (cf. Jer 31:31), does not involve the total disappearance of external law from the Church’s life, at least so long as she is still “on pilgrimage” in this world. The New Testament itself presents us with fragments of ecclesial law (Mt 18:15-18; Acts 15:28ff.; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 4:17-22; Tit 1:5-9; etc.). The earliest of the Church Fathers concerned themselves with developing rules for the establishment and maintenance of good order in the community. We see this happening in Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others. Councils, both ecumenical and regional, made disciplinary decisions, which they promulgated alongside their doctrinal definitions properly so called. Law was thus already important in the ancient Church. But it did not always take written form. There was also a customary law, which was no less mandatory and often constituted the source of the “holy canons” that were later set down in writing.


VII.1. Two Forms of Participation in the Priesthood of Christ

The Second Vatican Council gave renewed attention to the common priesthood of the faithful. The expression “common priesthood” and the reality that it covers have deep biblical roots (cf., for instance, Ex 19:6; Is 61:6; 1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rom 12:1; Rev 1:6; 5:9-10) and received abundant commentary from such Church Fathers as Origen, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Augustine. And yet this phrase had very nearly vanished from the vocabulary of Catholic theology because of the antihierarchical use made of it by the Reformers. Still, it is appropriate to remember here that the Roman Catechism mentioned it quite explicitly. Lumen gentium gives a remarkable role to the theme of the “common priesthood of the faithful”. It affects both the individual persons of the baptized and the Church community, which is called “priestly” in its ensemble (LG 11).

Elsewhere the Council has recourse to the expression “the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood” (LG 10) to designate “the sacred ministry ... exercised (in the Church by bishops and priests) for the good of their brethren” (LG 13). Although this phrase does not appear directly or explicitly in the New Testament, it has been used constantly in Tradition since the third century The Second Vatican Council went back to it regularly, while the Synod of Bishops of 1971 devoted to it a document all its own.

The Council links the common priesthood of the faithful to the sacrament of baptism. It also says that for Christians this priesthood has as its goal and content the offering of “spiritual sacrifices ... through all [their] ... works”, or again, in Saint Paul’s exact phrase, Christians are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). The Christian life is seen, therefore, as a praise offering to God, the worship of God carried out by each person and by the whole Church. This priesthood finds its expression in the holy Liturgy (SC 7), and in witnessing to faith and proclaiming the Gospel (LG 10) on the basis of that supernatural sense of faith that all the faithful share (cf. LG 12). It is actualized concretely in the daily life of the baptized, in which the very stuff of existence becomes a self-offering incorporated into Christ’s paschal mystery. The common priesthood of the faithful (or of the baptized) brings into sharp focus the profound unity that links liturgical worship to the spiritual yet down-to-earth worship of everyday life. We should stress here that such a priesthood can only be understood as sharing in the priesthood of Christ. No praise arises from earth to the Father except through Christ’s agency as the only Mediator. This implies that Christ is sacramentally active here. And this is so. In the Christian economy, the offering of one’s life is only fully realized thanks to the sacraments and most especially thanks to the Eucharist. For are not sacraments at once sources of grace and the cultic expression of self-offering?

VII.2. Relation between the Two Priesthoods

The Second Vatican Council restored its plenary meaning to the expression “the common priesthood of the faithful”. But it then had to put the question of how this common priesthood was related to the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood. Clearly, both have their basis and source in the unique priesthood of Christ: “The priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways, by both his ministers and the faithful” (LG 62; cf. 10). In the Church both carry a sacramental reference to the sanctifying Person, life, and activity of Christ. For the full blossoming of life in the Church, which is Christ’s Body, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood can only be complementary or “ordered to each other”. There is, however, this nuance, that from the viewpoint of the finality and full maturation of the Christian life the common priesthood must be primary, even if from the viewpoint of the visible, organic pattern of the Church and its sacramental functioning priority lies with the ministerial priesthood. Lumen gentium is clear and definite about these relationships in its tenth paragraph: “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless ordered one to another; each in its proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he has, forms and rules the priestly people; in the person of Christ he effects the eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people. The faithful, indeed, by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist. They exercise that priesthood, too, by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, abnegation, and active charity”.

VII.3. Sacramental Foundation of the Two Priesthoods

As these words demonstrate, a theological account of the interrelation of these two priesthoods and their articulation must be in terms of the sacramental, and above all eucharistic, reality present in the Church’s life. We have already underlined the fact that the sacraments are at once sources of grace and expressions of the spiritual offering of all one’s life. Now the liturgical worship of the Church in which such self-offering reaches its fullness can only be realized when the community is presided over by someone who can act in persona Christi. This is the absolutely necessary condition if the “spiritual worship” is to receive its plenitude by being included in the sacrificial self-offering of the Son himself.

“Through the ministry of priests the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands in the name of the whole Church in an unbloody and sacramental manner until the Lord himself comes. The ministry of priests is directed to this and finds its consummation in it. For their ministration, which begins with the announcement of the Gospel, draws its force and power from the sacrifice of Christ and tends to this, that ‘the whole redeemed city, that is, the whole assembly and community of the saints should be offered as a universal sacrifice to God through the High Priest who offered himself in his Passion for us that we might be the Body of so great a Head’ (St. Augustine)”. (PO 2)

The common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of bishops and priests are strictly correlative because they derive from a single source, Christ’s priesthood, and aim at a single, definitive end: the offering of the whole of Christ’s Body This is so true that Saint Ignatius of Antioch was able to affirm that without bishops, presbyters, and deacons one cannot speak of the Church at all (cf. Ad Trail. 3, 1). The Church only exists as the structured Church, and this is equally true if one uses the “people of God” idea, an idea that it would be quite wrong to identify with the laity alone, with bishops and priests left to one side.

Similarly, the “supernatural appreciation of the Faith” concerns “the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” (LG 2). It is utterly implausible to set over against each other the sense of faith of the people of God and the hierarchical Magisterium of the Church. The appreciation of faith to which the Council testifies is one that, “aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth”, only truly receives the Word of God when guided by the sacred teaching authority (cf. LG 12).

Within the single new people of God, common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood of bishops and priests are inseparable. The common priesthood embraces the fullness of its own ecclesial possibilities, thanks to the ministerial priesthood, while the ministerial priesthood itself only exists for the sake of the exercise of the common priesthood. Bishops and priests are indispensable for the life of the Church and the life of the baptized. Yet bishops and priests are also called to live out fully this same common priesthood, and, in this sense, they too need the ministerial priesthood. “I am a bishop for you; I am a Christian with you”, remarked Saint Augustine (Sermo 340, 1).

Because of their different orientations, the common priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood of priests and bishops are distinguished by one essential difference (which is not simply a difference of degree). Acting in the “role” of Christ, bishop and priest make him present vis-à-vis the people. At the same time, they also represent the whole people before the Father.

Of course, there are some sacramental acts whose validity depends on the fact that their celebrant has, in virtue of ordination, the power to act in persona Christi, “in the role of Christ”, or in munere Christi, “in Christ’s office”. However, one should not rest content with this statement in arguing for the legitimacy of the place of the ordained ministry in the Church. That ministry belongs to the essential structure of the Church and thus to her “face”, her visibility. The essential structure of the Church and her self-presentation include a “vertical” dimension, the sign and instrument of the initiative and priority of the divine action in the Christian economy.

VII.4. The Vocation of the Laity

The above reflection is helpful in explaining certain statements of the new Code of Canon Law about the common priesthood of the faithful. Following the thirty-first paragraph of Lumen gentium, canon 204, 1, links baptism to the way Christians share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal functions of Christ.

“Christ’s faithful are those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ. They are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission that God entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world”.

In the spirit of that mission of the whole of God’s people, which laymen exercise in both Church and world, canons 228, 1, and 230, 1 and 3, envisage the admission of laymen to ecclesiastical office and charge: for example, to the ministries of lector, acolyte, and others (cf. CIC 861, 2; 910, 2; 1112). But it would be a woeful misreading of these authorizations to see them as licensing a suppression of the difference between the respective roles of bishops, priests, and deacons and those of laymen. The role of the layman in ecclesiastical office and charge, as seen in the canons cited above, is certainly fully legitimate. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary in certain situations. But it cannot possess the fullness of that ecclesial sign quality that belongs to the ordained minister in his proper capacity as the sacramental representative of Christ. The extension of ecclesiastical office and charge to the laity should not lead to any obscuring of the visible sign of the Church, the people of God as hierarchically ordered, and that by Christ its Head.

Nor should the eligibility of laymen for these offices betray one into forgetting that, just as bishops, priests, and deacons or—at a different level—religious men and women have their own proper vocation within the totality of the Church’s common mission, so do the laity As the thirty-first paragraph of Lumen gentium puts it: “By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life, which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the Spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope, and charity, they must manifest Christ to others”.


VIII.1. Sacrament and Mystery

The Church of Christ, “God’s new people”, presents herself as inseparably mystery and historic subject. To express the simultaneous divine and human reality of the Church, Lumen gentium has recourse, as we have seen, to the term “sacrament”. The importance of this word is seen from the crucial place it occupies in the opening paragraph of that text: “Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of a sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men”. As Lumen gentium unfolds, we find two more applications of “sacrament” to the Church (9, 48), neither further explained. Apparently the principle laid down in the first paragraph is meant to suffice. As applied to the Church, “sacrament” has become a somewhat popular term, though not as much so as “people of God”. In any case, some clarifications of its bearing will not be amiss.

The application of the word “sacrament” to the Church allows one to underline the Church’s origination in and absolute dependence on God and Christ (cf. SC 5). It also makes clear the Church’s orientation toward the manifestation to men, and presence among them, of God’s universal love—something that comes about through the intimate union or communion of all men with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as by the communion of men with each other. “Sacrament” brings into sharp relief the deep structure of Christ’s “mystery” and, in relation to that, the authentic nature of the true Church. “The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to the city yet to come, the object of her quest” (SC 2; cf. LG 8). It is worth remembering that when, half a century ago, Catholic theologians restored to a honored place the Church’s title as sacrament, they wanted to give back to Christianity its ample communitarian and social, rather than individualistic or even institutional, character. Christianity is in its very essence a mystery of union and unity: intimate union with God, unity of men among themselves.

The ecclesiological use of the term “sacrament”, translating as that does the sacramentum of Latin, sends us back to the Greek mysterion, whose meaning it fundamentally shares. As we have already stressed, the “mystery” is the divine decree whereby the Father effects his saving will in Christ, while revealing that will through the created consistency of temporal reality.

VIII.2. Christ and the Church

Certainly we must not lose sight of the fact that the expression “sacrament” can no more serve as a rigorous definition or exhaustive description of the Church than can any other word, metaphor, image, analogy, or comparison. Still, calling the Church “sacrament” strikingly highlights the Church’s link with Christ. And so the biblical images of the Church as Christ’s Body and Bride can be brought into connection with the Church as sacrament. The same is true of the “new people of God” formula, in the two distinct yet inseparable refractions to which that formula leads: mystery and historic subject. In fact, the term “sacrament” can serve as a formal transcript on all of the biblical images of the Church listed in the first chapter of Lumen gentium, bringing home to us as these do the complementary notes of identity and difference by which Christ and the Church are related. The Church is truly indwelt by the presence of Christ in such a way that who finds her, finds him. Thus Christ is present in baptism and Eucharist, in the Word of God, in the Christian assembly (Mt 18:20), in the witness of the apostolic ministry (Lk 10:16; Jn 13:20), in the service of the poor (Mt 25:40), in the apostolate... Yet at the same time, the Church, as made up of men, and sinful men at that, needs conversion and purification. She must ask from her Lord the spiritual gifts that are needful for her mission in the world. It is true that the Church is the efficacious sacrament of union with God and of unity for the human race. But at the same time, she must ceaselessly implore God’s mercy, praying first of all for her own members, that they may not lose the unity of God’s sons and daughters. In other words, the Lord is present in the Church (Rev 21:3, 22), but he never ceases to stand before her, drawing her on in the Holy Spirit to greater things still (cf. Jn 5:20), toward the definitive presence of God as “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28; Col 3:11).

In expectation of Christ’s Coming at the end of time, the Church experiences the ravages of sin in her members and undergoes the trial of their divisions. The men and women who compose the Church can sometimes present obstacles to the action of the Holy Spirit. Just because pastors enjoy legitimate authority does not mean that they will automatically be safeguarded from malpractice and error. More structurally, because the sacrament is “sign and instrument”, the symbolic and social reality that constitutes it at one level (res et sacramentum) initiates us into a greater and more fundamental reality, a reality that is divine (res tantum). And this is true in the case of the Church. She depends wholly on Christ her goal, without ever becoming confused with the One who is her Lord.

VIII.3. The Church, Sacrament of Christ

It should be clear by now that when “sacrament” is applied ecclesiologically, some further explanation is required. Manifestly, the Church cannot be an eighth sacrament, if only because when we use that word for the Church we use it analogically. In fact, the meaning at stake here is more basic than with the seven sacraments, yet also more diffuse. As already pointed out, not everything in the Church has the same efficaciously saving quality as in the seven sacraments. Let us note too that if the Church is a sacrament, Christ himself is the “primordial” sacrament on which the Church depends: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the Body, the Church” (Col 1:18). Through the category of sacrament, something quite essential about the Church’s reality finds expression. The meaning of this term as applied to the Church is not a fiction. The reason why, long before the Council, Catholic theologians were turning again to this word bequeathed them by the Church Fathers was precisely so that they could help the Church come to a better grasp of herself. So the sense here is that of “the Church, sacrament of God”, or “sacrament of Christ”. More precisely, since Christ himself may be called “the sacrament of God”, the Church, in an analogous way, may be called “the sacrament of Christ”. It is because she is his Bride and Body that the Church has bestowed upon her this name, “sacrament”. And yet it is self-evident that the Church can only be a sacrament by way of total dependence on Christ, who is intrinsically the “primordial sacrament”. And as for the seven sacraments, they have neither reality nor meaning except in the total context of the Church.

Finally, let us note that, as applied to the Church, “sacrament” connotes the salvation that, realized through union with God in Christ, leads men to common unity. One might indeed link “sacrament” and “world”, stressing that the Church is the sacrament of the world’s salvation, inasmuch as the world needs salvation, and the Church has received a mission to offer that salvation to those who need it. In this perspective we can say that the Church is the sacrament of Christ for the salvation of the world.

A theology of the Church as sacraments allows us to be more attentive to the concrete responsibilities of the Christian community. It is through the life, witness, and daily action of Christ’s disciples that men will be led toward their Savior. Certain men, through a knowledge of the “sign” that the Church is and through the grace of conversion, will discover for themselves the greatness of God’s love and the truth of the Gospel, so that for them the Church will be quite explicitly the “sign and instrument” of salvation. Others, more mysteriously and in a fashion known only to God, will be associated by the Holy Spirit with Christ’s paschal mystery and so with the Church (LG 14, 16; AG 7; GS 22, 5).


IX.1. Unity of the Church and Diversity of Christian Elements

“[There is one] sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it (c£ Mt 28:18ff.), and which he raised up for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successors of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling toward Catholic unity” (LG 8).

In point of fact, one can hardly overlook either the Church’s theological unity or the de facto pluralism of history: “Many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord, but they differ in mind and go their different ways as if Christ himself were divided” (UR 1). Such divisions are a cause of scandal and a hindrance to the evangelization of the world. And so the Council proposed to establish at one and the same time the presence of the Church of Christ in the Catholic Church and the existence, outside the visible limits of that Church, of spiritual elements or blessings by which Christ’s Church is built up and lives (cf. UR 3).

IX.2. The Unicity of the Catholic Church

First of all we should call to mind the “fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (UR 3). In this the Church is a beneficiary of the fact that “it was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God” (UR 3).

The spiritual dimension of the Church cannot be sundered from the visible. The one Church, unique and universal, Jesus Christ’s Church can be recognized historically in the visible Church constituted around the college of bishops and its head, the Pope (cf. LG 8). The Church is found wherever the successors of the apostle Peter, and of the other apostles, realize in a visible way continuity with the source. And such apostolic continuity comes accompanied by other essential elements: Holy Scripture, doctrinal faith and Magisterium, sacraments, and ministries. Such elements assist the rise and development of existence in Christ. Like the orthodox Faith itself, they are the essential instrument and the specific means by which the growth of the divine life among men is nurtured. In fact, it is out of these elements that the true Church is constructed. We can quite legitimately see the entire saving work of God in the world in reference to the Church, since it is in her that the means of increase in the Christ life have reached their summit and perfection.

The Decree on Ecumenism speaks rightly of the “sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” and lists its essential components: “It is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel by the apostles and their successors—the bishops with Peter’s successor at their head— through their administering the sacraments, and through their governing in love, that Jesus Christ wishes his people to increase, under the action of the Holy Spirit, and he perfects its fellowship in unity: in the confession of one Faith, in the common celebration of divine worship, and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God” (UR 2).

If the Church is the setting forth of the total life of the risen Lord, then the name “Church” may be applied in its fullness wherever this sacramental life and apostolic faith exist in their integrity and continuity Such elements we believe to exist in fullness and par excellence in the Catholic Church. This is what Lumen gentium (8) wishes to underline when it says: “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.” The Church is found wherever the successors of the apostle Peter and of the other apostles realize in a visible way continuity with the source. To this Church there has been made the gift of unity, and we believe that this unity “subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose” (UR 4). The Church is realized in fullness, then, in the society directed by Peters successor and the bishops in communion with him.

IX.3. Elements of Sanctification

However, the full and perfect presence of the Church of Christ in the Catholic Church does not rule out the presence of Christ’s Church in “many elements of sanctification and of truth ... found outside [the] visible confines [of the Catholic Church]. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling toward Catholic unity” (LG 8). Numerous elements of sanctification and truth, therefore, exist by God’s own gift for the Church, outside the visible organism of the Catholic Church yet truly belonging to the order of salvation. The Council affirms two characteristics of these “many elements”, one factual and the other theological. As a matter of fact, one can observe elements of sanctification and truth in development outside the visible, social organism of the Catholic Church. Theologically speaking, such elements “are forces impelling toward Catholic unity”.

Thus there are outside the Catholic Church not only numerous real Christians but also numerous truly Christian principles of life and faith. And so the Catholic Church can speak in Unitatis redintegratio of the “Eastern churches”, and in relation to the West of “separated churches and ecclesial communities” (14, 19). Authentic ecclesial values are present in the other Christian churches and communities. This presence summons everyone, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, to “examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church and, wherever necessary, undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform” (UR 4; cf. 6, 7). The conciliar decree on ecumenism has given a precise description of Catholic ecumenical principles and Catholic ecumenism in action in relation to both the Eastern churches and the separated Western churches and ecclesial communities. These statements taken in their entirety constitute a development of the doctrine found in Lumen gentium, and notably in its eighth paragraph: “It is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. … [Yet] the separated churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from ... defects ... have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation”. Our examination leads to the conclusion that the “true Church” cannot be understood as some utopia that all the divided, fragmented Christian communities of today are seeking to attain. The “true Church” and its unity are not to be sought exclusively “ahead”. They are already given to us in the Catholic Church, in which Christ’s Church is really present. “The followers of Christ are therefore 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 that all churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach” (Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 24 June 1973). But this only adds greater urgency to Jesus’ prayer: “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17:21). Correlatively, there is an all the greater obligation on Christians and on all Christian communities to tend henceforth and with all their strength toward this unity that is the object of our hope.


X.l. The Church as Simultaneously Earthly and Heavenly

Chapter VII of Lumen gentium, entitled “The Eschatological Character of the Church in via and Its Union with the Church in Heaven”,1 has not proved of much interest to those commenting on the Second Vatican Council. Yet it is in a certain sense the key to a reading of Chapter II, since it defines the goal toward which the people of God is moving. That goal is already outlined in Lumen gentium 9. The messianic people has for her destiny “the Kingdom of God, which has been begun by God himself on earth and which must be further extended until it is brought to perfection by him at the end of time”. This goal is reaffirmed at the start of paragraph 48 of the same conciliar Constitution: “The Church, to whom we are all called in Christ Jesus and in whom by the grace of God we acquire holiness, will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things”.

Moreover, the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes offers the same teaching: “Proceeding from the love of the eternal Father, the Church was founded by Christ in time and gathered into one by the Holy Spirit. She has a saving and eschatological purpose that can only be fully attained in the next life” (GS 40). In addition, Chapter VII of Lumen gentium broadens the perspective on the Church by reminding us that the people of God, in her present condition as a historic subject, is already eschatological and that the pilgrim Church is one with the Church of heaven.

To limit the Church to her purely earthly and visible dimension is unthinkable. While she journeys on this earth, the invisible founts from which she lives and by which she is ceaselessly refreshed are located “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until she appears in glory with her Spouse (cf. Col 3:1-4)” (LG 6). Such is the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes “by the power of the Gospel [permitting] the Church to keep the freshness of youth. Constantly he renews her and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse” (LG 4). This goal toward which the Holy Spirit impels the Church is what determines at the deepest level the life of the pilgrim Church. It is for this reason that believers from now on have their citizenship (politeuma) “in heaven” (Phil 3:20; LG 13, 48). Even now, “the Jerusalem above ... is our mother” (Gal 4:26; cf. LG 6). It is part of the Church’s mystery that this goal is already secretly present in the pilgrim Church. This eschatological character of the Church does not lead to any downplaying of temporal responsibility. On the contrary, it guides the Church into the way of imitating Christ, the Poor Man and Servant. It is from her intimate union with Christ and from the gifts of his Spirit that the Church receives the strength to offer herself up in the service of all men and of the whole man. As she “presses onward toward the Kingdom of the Father” (cf. GS 1), the Church weighs, nevertheless, the distance still to be traversed before her final fulfillment. She recognizes, therefore, that she counts sinners among her children and that she stands in continuous need of repentance (cf. LG 8). Yet this distance, often painful to experience as it is, cannot suppress the fact that in all her different stages of life the Church is essentially one: this is true whether we think of the Church’s prefiguration in creation, her preparation in the Old Testament, her constitution in “these, the last, times”, her manifestation by the Holy Spirit, or, lastly, her fulfillment in glory at the end of the ages (cf. LG 2). Moreover, if the Church is one at different stages of the divine economy, she is also one in her three dimensions: wayfaring, undergoing purgation, and glorification: “All ... who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together (cf. Eph 4:16)” (LG 49).

X.2. Church and Kingdom

It is this perspective of unity that we must bear in mind as we tackle the difficult question of the relation between the Church and the Kingdom. Although many Church Fathers, medieval theologians, and sixteenth-century Reformers were generally happy to identify Church and Kingdom, we have come since then, and especially in the last two hundred years, to put a greater or lesser distance between them^ accentuating somewhat unilaterally the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom and the historical aspect of the Church. The Council did not treat this question explicitly, but the interrelation of its various texts enables us to discern the effective teaching of Lumen gentium in this matter.

Examining the texts that deal with the final consummation, one finds no difference between Church and Kingdom. On the one hand, we read that “while she slowly grows to maturity, the Church longs for the completed Kingdom” (LG 5). On the other, the final fulfillment will be realized “when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal Kingdom” (GS 39; cf. 1 Cor 15:24; PO 2). Yet again, the Council affirms that the Church “will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time”: “At that moment, as the Fathers put it, all the just from the time of Adam, ‘from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect’, will be gathered together with the Father in the universal Church” (LG 2). It is the Holy Spirit who leads the Church to “perfect union with her Spouse” (LG 4). The same Church “with all her strength hopes and desires to be united in glory with her King” (LG 5). Moreover, the Council can say of the people of God that “her destiny is the Kingdom of God”, adding that she will be “brought to perfection by him at the end of time” (LG 9). It is clear that in the Council’s teaching there is no difference so far as eschatological reality is concerned between the final realization of the Church (as consummata) and of the Kingdom (as consummatum).

What, then, is their relation at the present time? The most explicit text on this subject (LG 5) offers a glimpse of how subtle the relation between the ideas of Kingdom and Church really is. In their beginnings, the destinies of the Church and the Kingdom seem inseparable: “For the Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God” (LG 5). The origins of the Church and the advent of the Kingdom of God are presented here in perfect synchronicity The same is true of the growth of each. Those who receive the word of Christ in faith and “are numbered among the little flock of Christ (cf. Lk 12:32) have truly received the Kingdom” (LG 5). We find the same thing, once again, where belonging to the Church is concerned: “He determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ” (LG 2). And so one can use the same terms for describing the growth both of Kingdom and of Church. It is, in fact, in the growth of the Church that the Council discerns the growth of the Kingdom: “To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth.... The Church—that is, the Kingdom of Christ already present in mystery—grows visibly through the power of God in the world” (LG 3; cf. DV 17; LG 13). The pilgrim Church is therefore “the Kingdom of God already mysteriously present”, and in growing she moves toward the final Kingdom. Yet her growth is nothing other than the accomplishing of her mission: “The Church ... receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that Kingdom” (LG 5, 9). This evocation of the Church as “seed” and “beginning” of the Kingdom expresses their simultaneous unity and difference.

So Church and Kingdom converge in their own mode of growth, a growth only realized in and through conformation to the Christ who gave his life for the life of the world. The Kingdom suffers violence (cf. Mt 11:12), and in this, the Church has no different destiny. She “presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God” (St. Augustine, cited in LG 8). The Church is the holy Church, though including sinners among her own (LG 8). The Kingdom itself, “mysteriously present” (in mysterio), is hidden in the world and history, and so not yet purified of elements that are a stranger to it (cf. Mt 13:24-30, 47-49). As a divine-human mystery, the Church transcends the socialis compago or sociological configuration of the Catholic Church (LG 8, 13-17). Belonging to the Kingdom cannot not be belonging—at least implicitly—to the Church.

X.3. Is the Church the Sacrament of the Kingdom?

To complete the previous chapter devoted to the Church as sacrament, it may be of use to ask here whether one can call the Church the sacrament of the Kingdom. This is not just a question of terminology. It is a truly theological question to which our work in its entirety enables us to offer a circumstantial answer.

We note first of all that the Council has nowhere used this expression, even if the word “sacrament” is, as we have seen, utilized in a variety of contexts. However, the expression “the Church, sacrament of the Kingdom”, appears to be valid when understood in the following perspective:

1. In its ecclesiological application, the term “sacrament” is used analogically, as the first paragraph of Lumen gentium stresses: “Veluti sacramentum ...”

2. The expressions aim is to relate, on the one hand, the Kingdom, understood in the plenary sense of its final realization, with, on the other hand, the Church in its “wayfaring” aspect.

3. The term “sacrament” here is understood in its full sense of jam praesens in mysterio (cf. LG 3), where the reality present in the sacrament (the pilgrim Church) is the Kingdom itself.

4. The Church is not a mere sign (sacramentum tantum) but a sign in which the reality signified is present (res et sacramentum) as the reality of the Kingdom.

5. The notion of the Church cannot be limited to its temporal and earthly aspect alone. Conversely, the notion of the Kingdom includes a presence “already” in mysterio.

X.4. Mary: The Realized Church

One could not offer a true reading of the Constitution Lumen gentium without integrating somehow the bearing of its eighth chapter into our understanding of the mystery of the Church. Church and Kingdom find their highest realization in Mary The Church’s identity as the presence in mysterio of the Kingdom is illuminated in an unsurpassable way when we look at Mary, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, model of faith, the Realsymbol of the Church. This is why the Council affirms of her that “in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph 5:27)” (LG 65). The often painful distance between the pilgrim Church and the final Kingdom is already transcended in Mary As the assumpta, she “became like her Son who himself rose from the dead, anticipating thereby the destiny of the just” (Paul VI, Profession of Faith, 15). Because of this, the Mother of Jesus “is the image and beginning of the Church as she is to be perfected in the world to come” (LG 68; cf. SC 103).

* This document was approved by the Commission “in forma specifica”.