The Holy See
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Notification on the book
Pleidooi voor mensen in de kerk.
Christelijke identiteit en ambten in de kerk
(Nelissen, Baarn 1985)
by Professor Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P.


1. In 1979 and 1980, Professor Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., published two studies on ministry in the Church: a contribution to the collective volume Nasis en ambt (Nelissen, Bloemendal, 1979, pp. 43-90), and then a book titled Kerkelijk ambt (same publisher, 1980). In these two writings he judged that he had established the "dogmatic possibility" of an "extraordinary minister" of the Eucharist, in the sense that Christian communities without priests could choose one of their number as president who would be ipso facto fully qualified to preside over the life of these communities and hence to consecrate the Eucharist in them, without however having received priestly Ordination in the apostolic succession.

2. On June 13, 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to Professor Schillebeeckx, pointing out to him that the positions on ministry developed by him in the two studies in question were not reconcilable with the teaching of the Church, which had been recalled authoritatively by means of the letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale of Aug. 6, 1983 (cf. AAS 75, 2, 1983, 1003-1009). Consequently, the Congregation notified Professor Schillebeeckx that his position on the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist could not be considered as an "open question'' and asked him to accept publicly the doctrine of the Church on this point by manifesting his personal adherence to what is contained in this document.

3. In his reply of Oct. 5, 1984 Professor Schillebeeckx announced that a new book on the question would shortly appear; he assured that nothing in it contradicted the letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale. Nothing in it would deal with an "extraordinary minister'' of the Eucharist; and, finally, in order to avoid all misunderstanding, the theme of the apostolic succession would be more fully analyzed in it.

4. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its own letter and the essential paragraph of this reply (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, Jan. 11, 1985, p. 2), it indicated that it reserved the right to make known at a later date its judgment on the work which had been announced and which appeared soon afterward under the title Pleidooi voor mensen in de kerk (Nelissen, Baarn, 1985).

5. Apropos of this book the Congregation must now make the following observations regarding the question of ministry:

a) In effect, the question of the "extraordinary minister" of the Eucharist is no longer raised. But while there is no formal rejection of the letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale, there is likewise no declaration of adherence to it. Rather, it is made the object of a critical analysis.

b) Fundamentally it must be noted that the author continues to conceive and present the apostolicity of the Church in such a way that the apostolic succession through sacramental Ordination represents a non-essential element for the exercise of the ministry and thus for the bestowal of the power to consecrate the Eucharist – and this in opposition to the doctrine of the Church.

c) As for the method followed in the work, in particular the appeal to historical arguments drawn from Scripture, it suffices here to recall the teaching of the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum (No. 12), according to which, after employing carefully all the resources of exegesis and of history, "no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture, if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly brought to light. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God."

6. For these reasons, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to conclude that the conception of the ministry as put forward by Professor Schillebeeckx remains out of harmony with the teaching of the Church on several important points. The mission of the Congregation in regard to the faithful obliges it to publish this judgment.

In the course of an Audience granted to the undersigned Prefect, His Holiness Pope John Paul II approved this Notification, which was decided upon in an Ordinary Meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and ordered its publication.

At Rome, from the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Sept. 15, 1986.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Archbishop Alberto Bovone