Correspondence with the Vatican

11th October 2001

Text of an E-mail sent by the editor to the Vatican Information Service:

From: K.J. Petrie - (Instabook)

To: Vatican Information Service

Subject: Questions Arising from Certain Documents on the Vatican Website


I wonder whether anyone can help me with questions which have arisen from reading the following documents:

2nd Vatican Council:
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH - LUMEN GENTIUM, November 1964 (LG)
DECREE ON ECUMENISM - UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO, November 1964 (UR)

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II:
ENCYCLICAL LETTER - UT UNUM SINT, May 1995 (US)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF THE CHURCH UNDERSTOOD AS COMMUNION - COMMUNIONIS NOTIO, May 1992 (CN)
DECLARATION - DOMINUS IESUS, August 2000 (DI)

International Theological Commission:
MEMORY AND RECONCILIATION: THE CHURCH AND THE FAULTS OF THE PAST, December 1999 (MR)

Questions:
1. Is the statement "Unfortunately, it has not happened this way..." (MR 5.2) to be understood as indicating non-fulfillment of a prayer made by our Lord Jesus Christ himself? Did not the same Lord Jesus promise that "if you ask me anything in my name I will do it" (Jn 14.14) and "whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you" (Jn 15.16 c.f. 16.23)? How then could it be that a prayer made personally by himself could be unanswered? It is good to say "Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature." (UR 1) However, is it not better to say such a division would openly contradict the fact of unity prayed for by Christ and guaranteed by his promises regarding prayer? To allege such division is to deny the truth of Christ's promise, to call him a liar, and to claim that the reconcilliation (c.f. 2 Cor 5.18) achieved in his death and resurrection has either not occurred or has ceased to be effective. As St Paul argued there could be no gospel if Christ were not raised (1 Cor 15.14ff) so I would argue there could be no gospel if Christians be not one.
Does it not follow that an ecclesiology which fails to recognise the full unity of all who are in Christ and see the interdependence of their unity with that of the Church to which they belong and in which their unity is expressed, (US 11, CN 17, DI 17, UR III) denies the Gospel and is incompatible with a Christian christology? This is not just a problem for Catholic ecclesiology. In that most Christians recognise divisions, most share in the same denial. Nor should the problem surprise us; if Jesus viewed our unity as the proof of his authenticity, we should not be surprised that denying the unity denies also his mission.
If Christians are thus forced to choose between our cherished ecclesiologies and our christology, what are we to do?
[Previous generations spared themselves this challenge by claiming that their form of Christianity was the only true form, not just in the sense of completeness, but absolutely. Thus, they could claim no divisions existed because those from whom they appeared divided were no believers at all. However, while this worked for the believers, the world was not fooled and, after around 150 years of strife, the various claims to exclusivity became relativised in the public mind. "The result was a transition from a sacral society to a pluralist society, or, as occurred in a few cases, to a secular society." (MR 5.1) However, "In recent times more than ever before..." (UR 1) Christians have been stirred by the Holy Spirit into our own "paradigm change" (c.f. MR 5.1, also 4.2) which has brought the problem into sharper focus. (see LG 15, UR, US, MR 5.2, CN 18)
Indeed the effect of this change can be seen in the structure of Lumen Gentium itself, particularly the references. The early chapters build a foundation within the new paradigm, starting from first principles (mainly the Scriptures) and arguing soundly from them. However, the chapters concerning what had already been defined relatively recently, albeit under the old paradigm, rely heavily on those definitions and largely restate them. The result is a hybrid ecclesiology in which statements developed under different paradigms are related to each other without the necessary reformulation, hence the incompatibility noted above.
To reconcile the differences, a more radical approach is needed than to substitute "subsists" for "consists" (LG 8). A paradigm shift requires revision of the arguments underlying conclusions, and sometimes of the conclusions themselves, if the source material is to be effectively expressed. Had the 2nd Vatican Council occurred two or more decades later, I am sure this would have been done. However, paradigm shifts are not usually visible until afterwards, and the early sixties were simply too early to absorb all the implications. It is to the credit of the Catholic Church that the change was detected sufficiently at the time to warrant the convening of a council. We cannot blame the assembled divines for failing to anticipate every implication of what was still happening. They did very well in the circumstances.
However, given the seriousness of the inconsistency which has now arisen in ecclesiology, and its implications for the truth of the Gospel, no one should underestimate the urgency of the ecumenical imperative to which the Spirit now calls us.]
Do you think it is possible to re-examine Catholic ecclesiology, for instance, to identify the problems and see whether a more complete model which is in harmony with the rest of Christian truth can be developed?

2. What is the distinction between "the way in which doctrine is expressed" (UR 6, quoted in MR 6.1 and cited in US 18 & 81) and "the deposit of faith itself"? UR 6 is concerned with deficiencies, whereas the issue at US 18 seems to be the avoidance of compromise, as if correcting a deficiency would be a compromise. How is the deposit of faith related to "the deposit of Revelation"? (LG 25) What is "a new public revelation" which does not pertain "to the divine deposit of faith"?
Behind these questions is the extent to which something taught by the Church may be re-examined and reformulated. If too much is held to be part of "the deposit of faith" it leaves less room for coping with paradigm shifts, or simply reassessing what was meant, or even setting right deficiencies. Does the formulation of doctrine include the way the deposit of faith is worded, or only further teaching derived from it? On the other hand, if the deposit were what is to be believed, pointed to by the words in which it is expressed, that would leave room for continual reformation and refining of the words, with a view to expressing, and therefore discovering, the truth of what is believed more perfectly.
We need to take care here, for what is clearly identifiable as a doctrinal formulation under one paradigm might easily look like the deposit of faith itself under another. A good example would be the translation of the Creed. (c.f. US 18) Any attempt at changing the wording of the original would almost certainly result in charges of heresy, and indeed did at the time of the 1054 schism, yet modern translators do not use the same words in the vernacular versions which were used by their forebears only a few centuries ago. For example, the English Reformer Thomas Cranmer rendered ousios as "substance", as would have been customary at the time, when the pre-Renaissance language remained familiar, whether or not it was properly understood at that time. However, modern translators into English have used "being" as a better rendering of the meaning, the concept of substance having undergone a change from metaphysical to physical sense as chemistry replaced alchemy. Hence, it is the 'original' Creed with the interpretation intended by the First Council of Constantinople, which pertains to the deposit of faith, not the wording of a translation, which is part of the process of formulation. Would that be a correct understanding?

3. Given that many who are "honoured with the name of Christian" (LG 15) reject the interpretation of Scripture as promising that "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, (1 Jn 2.20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief." (LG 12), does not its inclusion in a core ecclesiology reduce the "prophetic office" of "The holy people of God" to a self-fulfilling one?
Similarly, is it any surprise if the "Catholic Church" is defined as the one "which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him" (LG 8) and "the successor of Peter" "refuses or denies apostolic communion" (LG24) that "many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure"? (LG 8) Moreover, the ability of the Bishop of Rome to veto his brother bishops (LG 22) or even to act without them (LG 25) raises the theoretical possibility (admittedly extremely unlikely) of reducing "The entire body of the faithful" to one man. It is therefore no surprise, if the Church is so defined, that "To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting" but how does this require "the activity of that same Holy Spirit" or accord with the preservation and progress of "the whole flock of Christ" in "unity of faith", when it would seem to result more from the circularity of definitions which deny participation to Christians who dissent?
Since failure to recognise the fullness of communion which exists in Christ amounts to a denial of the Gospel, as noted in 1 above, are we not in danger of creating an ecclesiological/Christological/soteriological tangle which simply undermines the work of the Church in proclaiming the truth to every creature?

4. However, I should like to suggest an answer to the foregoing problems and seek your opinion on it.
In arguing for the inerrancy of the whole Church, is it not necessary to keep in sight the teliological dimension of that wholeness? Is the whole Church to be found in the current age, in this and all previous ages, or in the totality of its history from beginning to end? If it is at the end that the Church is to be perfected (c.f. LG 48), and perfect knowledge is to come only then (c.f. 1 Cor 13. 9-12), it follows that our current understanding can only be partial. For the Apostle Paul witnesses that the process by which the Holy Spirit would lead into all truth (c.f. Jn 14. 26, 16. 13) was not yet complete, though the Spirit had already come and St Paul made this remark in the course of a discussion on the Spirit's gifts. Likewise, St John agrees, following his exhortation to remain in the truth revealed by the anointing Spirit (1 Jn 2. 20-28, c.f. LG 12) with the recognition of our partial view; "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet clear what we shall be. We know whenever he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him just as he is." (Jn 3.2) Both apostles agree in contrasting the little we can know now by the Holy Spirit with the perfection we will know at the end. Similarly, when considering the power to bind and loose (Matt 16. 19, 18. 18, c.f. Jn 20. 23), need we not also consider our Lord's words in another context; "What God has joined, man not separate"? (Matt 19. 6, Mk 10. 9) Are we to believe the power extends to binding and loosing what is already determined by God and is established in heaven as a fact, whether known to us or not. Surely not. It makes much more sense to see this as applying not to deciding what is true but to the power to effect actions in heaven which affect those on earth. Further support for this view might be suggested by the Matthean extension of the power to the apostles in general(18. 18) where the following verse appears to link it with that of ordinary Christians to pray in the authority of our Lord himself. Is this an elucidation or merely a parallel? So how extensive is this power?
I conclude, and dare to submit for your consideration that the knowledge, even of the whole Church (whether the Catholic Church or the whole body of Christ), is not complete on earth, though it will be at the end. In the meantime, although we must trust that the Holy Spirit is leading us and teaching us, since the process is incomplete, we cannot avoid the consequences of our limitations, that where our knowledge is incomplete we remain prone to error. The judgements of the Church must always then be interim, since our limited knowledge prevents us from pre-empting truths that might become apparent in the future and will be known at the telios. The power to bind and loose is a limited power. It is not the power to change what is established in heaven already, or to prevent theological research. Is it time to examine these particular aspects in the light of the new paradigm of ecumenism? Can there be any true ecumenical progress when one party to the various discussions is tied to the position that its current view is irreformable, it is the supreme authority, its authority is an essential component of the Faith, and that recognition not only of that authority but of the essential ecclesiological role of that authority is the supreme test of orthodoxy and validity?
I believe a reappraisal of this area of teaching must be the key to unlock the door to proper ecumenical dialogue. Without it, the way to a true and self-consistent Gospel will remain inaccessible, and without that, "We are of all most pitiable." (1 Cor 15. 19)

I realise that the complex nature of these questions does not lend itself to a quick answer. There will be need for a degree of careful thought, possibly by more than one person, and possibly in more than one stage. However, I do hope it will be possible to reply in due course. I should, naturally, be glad to answer any queries you might wish to raise with me.

I note that ecumenical progress over the last forty years has been very slow. Much exploration has occurred and some people have been deeply moved, but most discussions I have seen appear to seek common ground rather than addressing the actual disagreements. This has been of value, perhaps, in building a measure of trust, but it has not provided any opportunity for breakthoughs. The urgency of the task seems not to have been realised. Perhaps the depth at which the status quo undermines the Gospel is not widely recognised.

Because I believe the task is urgent, I propose to create a website where the issues can be more widely discussed, in the hope that the emerging ideas might prove useful to those in authority in the various Christian communities, and perhaps also create a little pressure for change amongst the complacent. I would hope to include the text of this E-mail on that site together, if you are in agreement, with your response. I hope you would have no objection to such publication.

Yours in Christ,

Ken Petrie.

Reply awaited.

11th April 2002

Text of an E-mail sent by the editor to the Vatican Information Service:

From: K.J. Petrie - (Instabook)

To: Vatican Information Service

Subject: My Previous Message


On 11th October I wrote to you asking questions with which I hoped somebody would be able to assist me. I have not yet received a reply.

I appreciate some of the matters raised are complex and have important ecclesiological consequences, and would not therefore expect a quick answer, nor would I want one. It is clearly important to take time and consider your response. However, it would be useful to have some indication of the progress of my enquiries, together with any preliminary pointers which might be available.

I hope you will be able to help in the near future.

Yours in Christ,

Ken Petrie.

-----Original Message-----...

(Message of 11th October 2001 Followed.)

Reply awaited.

20th June 2002

Text of an E-mail sent by the editor to the Vatican Information Service:

From: K.J. Petrie - (Instabook)

To: Vatican Information Service

Subject: FAO webmaster - Errors in Lumen Gentium English text references - corrected file attached


Greetings in the name of the Lord,

Working through the English text of Lumen Gentium I found references 115-118 (paragraphs 12 and 13) were misnumbered in the notes. 115 is missing and the note listed as 115 is actually 116. 117 is numbered 116 and 118 is numbered 117.

I have attached a corrected file for your convenience. Apart from a comment in the source code identifying the correction, and the correction itself, I have, of course, made no other alteration to the contents of this file.

I look forward to the document being corrected on your website as soon as possible.

Yours in Christ,

Ken Petrie.

Reply awaited.

19th December 2002

Text of an E-mail sent by the editor to the Vatican Information Service:

From: K.J. Petrie - (Instabook)

To: Vatican Information Service

Subject: Progress on Enquiries of 11/10/01 and 11/4/02


Further to my E-mails of 11th April and 11th October 2001, I note I have not received any kind of reply.

It would be useful to have a reply suitable for publication, even if only to indicate that the matter is receiving your attention or to give instructions for continuing the correspondence with a more appropriate person. Without either of these the exchange looks rather one-sided and, I suggest, detracts from your standing as an "Information Service".

I hope to hear from you very soon.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas,

Yours in Christ,

Ken Petrie.

Editor
EvenAs.org

-----Original Message-----...

(Message of 11th April 2002 Followed.)

Reply awaited.


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