Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

Lumen Gentium

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Abstract

Rome’s self-understanding is a great obstacle to ecumenical progress. Firstly, it strikes others as semi-idolatrous in elevating the present Church to a near-divine perfection and makes, as essential tests of membership, claims others feel bound to reject. Secondly, it prevents Rome responding fully to the demands of inter-denominational discussion, since it can never admit to having erred, and must always preserve its status quo. Hence, it limits its own ability to converge with others in consensus, and has acquired a reputation amongst some for an inability to adapt to new understandings of Christian faith.

From the early 1960s, as evidenced by the 2nd Vatican Council, a new, more positive approach to other Christians has emerged, with a recognition of the need to try to incorporate us into its concept of the Body of Christ. The tensions this generates in Roman ecclesiology are highlighted in the critical commentary which follows, and also point to a solution which could free the Roman Church to become the motor rather than the brake of ecumenical progress.

Critical Commentary

1. This opening paragraph sets a tone which continues throughout the document. On one hand, it can be clearly seen to be taking its lead from Scripture, opening with an allusion, for some reason unreferenced, to Simeon’s declaration in Luke 2.32 of the coming of the light of salvation in Christ. On the other, it immediately narrows its focus to the Roman communion as “the Church” and assumes the Council’s authority to act as the Church.

This introduces a degree of claustrophobia for the non-Roman reader and would doubtlessly be seen as sinister by some of these, although that is not a necessary interpretation. It is natural for people to see things from their own point of view and we must remember that in 1964 the Roman Communion was beginning to emerge from an isolation which had marked it out for some centuries. In that context, and bearing in mind the writers’ intention to follow “faithfully the teaching of previous councils” and thus remain within their tradition, we must surely allow them a little self-indulgence here. It is unlikely to be intended as arrogant and whether it is to prove a problem we shall see as we work our way through the Constitution.

Putting this aside, there is nothing wrong in the intention being imputed to the Church; it must always be the Church’s desire “to unfold more fully to the faithful... and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission” since these are integral to the Gospel which is to be proclaimed to every creature, and that proclamation is the mission (or, at least, a component thereof) on which the Church has been sent. In a pluralist society, people may be more ready to hear about the undeniable reality of Christians and their beliefs than about Christ and his work. That is not to say we should abandon any attempt to communicate the latter, but the more relative approach of showing Christians as a phenomenon might provide, for some listeners, a way into the more important Truth.

It is heartening to see that the writers have as their intention that people should attain a superworldly unity in Christ, by which I understand an attempt to encode the meaning of salvation in terms which might appeal to a world struggling with ethnic, national and universal identities.

2. This overview of the Church’s place in God’s plan of salvation is basically well-argued, though the English is subject to ambiguities which may be the result of translation. It is particularly unclear whether God, in view of Christ, offered helps to salvation or whether the salvation is in view of Christ.

The eternal nature of God’s plan is acknowledged, and the Church as that in which God “planned to assemble... all those who would believe in Christ.” Once again, the phrasing is curious because the Church (ecclesia) is the assembly (ecclesia) of those who believe. It is thus concurrent with God’s plan to assemble his believers and created by his decision. Any suggestion that this plan has failed, in some sense, in its implementation would be a denial of God’s creative word and power. There is no room to separate the believers from the Church. All those who believe are in the Church and, collectively, are the Church.

The predestination of the believers implies the predestination of the Assembly, so it is not clear what is meant by the constitution of the Church in the present age, especially as it is distinguished from the Church’s manifestation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is to be hoped this will become clearer as we read on.

Finally, we are reminded of the Eschatological aspect of the Telos, when the Church will be completed at the end of time. The Church is not yet perfect, but it is on the way to perfection.

3. The predestined will of the Father is carried out by Christ inaugurating the Kingdom of Heaven. As a result, the Kingdom of Christ is now “present in mystery”. Are we therefore to understand that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Christ, which present in mystery is the Church, are the same? If so, is the inauguration what was meant by “constituted” above? If not, what is the relationship between the two kingdoms?

The eucharistic doctrine which follows is clear, though some Christians might dispute it. The Eucharist is so central to Christian experience that it is almost certain to have different meanings for those who partake and it is equally certain that perceptions of significance will be strongly held. To those who would argue that it is purely symbolic, however, I would point to I Corinthians 10.16 where St Paul expresses an ontology, though not necessarily the Vatican view.

Taking this statement in its own terms, nonetheless, raises an important question: if “the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ is both expressed and brought about” in the Eucharist, why are some believers to be excluded from it? Is not proclaiming unity while excluding some who ought to be included a denial of that unity? The relationship between what is and what might be desired must be examined carefully here.

4. The work of the Holy Spirit is well summarised here. The somewhat laboured translation of hodegesei (“guides in way of”) emphasises the revelatory process.

The only question I would ask is what precisely is meant by “Uninterruptedly”? More to the point, is this to be taken as a guarantee of steady, unerring progress by the Church towards her goal? Given human failings ranging from dullness of mind to wilful corruption, should we not expect something a little more complex and problematical? Similarly, some might wonder whether the “freshness of youth” is always apparent in the formal structures and dogmatic complexities with which Christians of all varieties have surrounded ourselves in the last 2000 years.

5. Well said.

6. The identification of “the Jerusalem above... which is our mother” (Gal 4.26) with the Church jars because the apostle’s intention in that passage is to raise his readers’ sights above earthly expressions of religion to the spiritual truth of freedom in Christ. The maternal imagery stems not from the concept of Church or land as mother, but from the contrast between Hagar and Sarah, the slave and the free, who are held to be types of those who follow the Law and those who are saved by grace.

7. Beginning from a masterful summary of Pauline sacramental theology (c.f. Rom 6.3-7, I Cor 10.16-17 & I Cor 12.12-13), the authors demonstrate the spiritual and organic nature of the Church and the unique place of Christ and the Holy Spirit in it. On the way they celebrate the unity in diversity of the charismata before claiming a special place among them for “the grace of the apostles”. If by this is meant the gift to the Church of apostolic leaders, it is certainly true that, in their lifetime, the apostles had authority to direct even those who were executing the gifts in the proper manner for their use. Indeed, they still enjoy that authority in the sense that their words, where recorded, remain over us today. However, I suspect the key question here will prove to be whether apostolic authority can be inherited, and by whom.

8. The “no weak analogy” comparing the complex reality of the Church with Chalcedonian Christology diverts attention from the problem rather than offering insight. The analogy is not without problems because the components of the two areas under consideration are not directly analogous, but the main difficulty is a failure to address the issue under consideration here. The relationship between the visible Church and the Holy Spirit is not the problem. Reconciling different views of the single complex entity of the Church is. In particular, we need to relate the Body of Christ which “the faithful in Christ” comprise to the visible society on earth which claims to be the same thing. This complexity is complicated because the earthly societies which make the claim are visibly delineated on grounds other than the ecclesiology derived above from organic, spiritual and sacramental principles, thus creating confusion about who is in and who is out, and what is and is not the Church.

There is also a misleading ambiguity concerning the authority with which Jesus commissioned the apostles to “extend and direct” the Church. A quick glance at Matthew 28.18 will show that Jesus, with his authority, commissioned his apostles and not, as appears on a first reading of the Constitution that he commissioned them to exercise his authority.

It is also at this point that the claim to Petrine succession is first made as the distinctive feature of the governor of the (Roman) Catholic Church, raising the question of how this succession is derived. In one sense it is quite reasonable, if we accept that Jesus appears to have singled out Peter on occasions and given him a leadership rôle, to describe anyone exercising such a rôle in the Church as following a Petrine ministry and succeeding to the function, or one analogous to the function, which St Peter carried out in the early Church, but that is not a definitive feature. It is derived from the rôle and could apply to any leader in an appropriate context. The question remains to be answered: how is the Bishop of Rome to be considered the successor to St Peter, apart from the fact that within the communion of bishops over which he presides he is recognised by them as their leader?

The final paragraph of this section (and chapter) is a rousing description of the Church's mission in a fallen world, notable for two slight curiosities. The first is a rather odd translation of a variant reading of Luke 4.18; odd because contrition would not normally be considered a condition in need of healing, and the basic meaning of the word is crushed. The second is the formula “at the same time holy and always in need of being purified,” reminiscent of Luther’s simul justus et peccator, though Luther applied it to the individual Christian and here it is applied to the body of the Church.

9. (Chapter II) This chapter begins well enough but begins to weaken in the third paragraph. It is not clear precisely what is meant by “those means which befit it (the Church) as a visible and social union.” but how visible is the union of “all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation...”? Here, the entire ecumenical problem becomes apparent, though the authors appear not to notice. For if “all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation...” are “established... as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity” how can it be that “This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure” (L.G. 8)? For if all Christians constitute the Church as a visible sign it is not possible that the Church can subsist only in a subset of Christians, with others beyond its visible union. Either the union is visible or it is not. Either the Church must be defined as one group or another. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to mount a consistent argument, and without a consistent argument it becomes impossible to reach a meaningful conclusion.

The authors claim that “the Church is strengthened by the power of God's grace, which was promised to her by the Lord” but no reference is given to justify that claim. Jesus did promise the Holy Spirit (Mk 13.11, Lk 11.13, 12.12, Jn 14.17, 14.26, 15.26, 16.13, 20.22, Acts 1.5,8) and power is sometimes associated with that promise (Lk 24.49, Acts 1.8) but there is no mention in this context of grace. Indeed, Jesus seems never to have used the word. Are we to assume, then, that God’s grace is a reference to the Holy Spirit, or is something else intended?

Whatever it means, the claim that this grace guarantees unwavering fidelity needs evidence, particularly when it is acknowledged that the Church is made up of fallible human beings who do not always behave well.

10. It is important to bear in mind the distinction between the Greek words hieros (a cultic practitioner responsible for receiving and presenting sacrifices) and presbyteros (elder, i.e. community leader). Sadly, English has only one word (a corruption of presbyteros) which is pressed into service for the hieratic function also. This confuses the issue and the authors, by failing to mention it, have missed a great opportunity to clarify the position. There should be no question of confusing the hieratic rank to which all the baptised have been raised with the leadership rôle discharged by the “ministerial or hierarchical priesthood”. The two functions are indeed different “in essence and not only in degree”, because they are derived from totally different concepts, but the authors, whilst stating the fact, nonetheless blur the distinction by using the same word, priest, for both and describing the ministerial priesthood as “hierarchical”. The leadership structure of the Christian Church is not a hierarchy in the strict sense of the word. It is a presbyterarchy or (better) an episcoparchy, for the title of a senior Christian leader is not “High Priest” (archieros) but Archbishop (archiepiscopos [chief overseer]).

One consequence of playing down this distinction is that language comparing the Eucharist to a sacrifice is taken beyond mystical analogy to an excessive literalism, with the result that the mystery is diminished in depth.

It is plain common sense that Christian worship should, wherever possible, be led by a recognised leader (i.e. a priest) and that the most central act of Christian devotion, in which we share in the body and blood of our Lord (I Cor 10.16) and therefore do, in some real way, enter anew into his passion which we call to mind both before ourselves and all witnesses (c.f. I Cor 11.26) both in Heaven and on Earth, should be presided over by a responsible elder. Otherwise the danger would be increased of an insensitive or casual approach, failing to appreciate the weight and nature of the event, and endangering both the witness of the community and the participants themselves (c.f. I Cor 11.27-29).

It must also be undeniable that the participation of the whole people, not least in saying amen is an essential element in confirming what is being done, and may possibly act in other ways we cannot know or fully understand. For instance, who could say whether the hieratic nature of the faithful entering into such a sharing of our Lord’s death might in some way cross the barriers of time and be present with our Lord as he offered the one and only sacrifice. Some might find such approaches helpful in appreciating the meaning of communion, providing they remain aware that it is unproven spiritual speculation and not doctrinal fact. For the Eucharist is a very deep mystery indeed, and should not be reduced to a simple identity of elements.

11. Christians differ on the number and nature of the sacraments. Rome enumerates seven, the functions of which in building up the corporate and spiritual life of the Church are here described. Protestants recognise only two of these (Baptism and Holy Communion) as sacraments, because only two are specifically commanded by Christ. This partly reflects a different understanding of what constitutes a sacrament, which is beyond the scope of the current discussion. However, the actions here described do have a symbolic and moral effect, and to that extent could be described as sacramental in the loosest sense of the word, i.e. as significant acts. It is less clear what, specifically, is intended by “the virtues”.

Once again the problem highlighted in 9 above appears in the discussion of Baptism for, if the faithful are thus incorporated into the Church, that Church must consist of all Christians, irrespective of the earthly manifestation of community to which they may be affiliated. Likewise, we are again confronted with the disunity which mars “that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by” the Eucharist when only some of those who are “Incorporated in the Church through baptism” are admitted to it.

The use of the term conversion in connection with Penance implies that sinners have ceased to be disciples of their Lord and need to be restored to a lost condition of salvation. The problem with that is that, if salvation depends on the absence of sin, human beings are required to achieve, if only momentarily, a state of perfection. However, such is our nature, that even as we are confessing one failing, we will be insufficiently aware of others. Sin is part of our human nature, fallen as we are, and although it might well be good to confess sins as we become aware of them, and to seek to avoid their repetition, the idea that we can have interludes of sinlessness between them, during which we can be regarded as saved, interrupted by periods of failure, from which we must be restored and reconverted, must reflect an inadequate understanding of the problem. I find the idea of a forgiveness in Christ which covers not only past failings, but present and even future ones, to be a significant milestone on our journey into all truth. (It should perhaps be noted at this point, lest the argument be misunderstood, that sin is still to be avoided where possible - c.f Rom 6.)

The reference to the anointing of the sick is Biblical enough, though the next sentence seems confused between martyrdom and misfortune. St Peter is aware of the difference (I Pet 4.14-19).

Marriage and family life exist outside the Church as well as within it, and it is hard to see what is specifically Christian about these concepts, particularly as the perpetuation of the people of God is by water and the Spirit, rather than natural birth (Jn 3.5f, c.f. 1.13).

12. It is tempting to claim that “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.” but how sustainable is such a view? In I John 2.20ff we are told we have the anointing and therefore know the truth, but we are also exhorted to remain in that truth, which seems to imply the possibility of departing from it. There is also the question of who constitutes “The entire body of the faithful”, for we have already seen that goes beyond the membership of any one group within those baptised into Christ and his Church. It is hard to see how this term could be limited in its scope to the Christians in communion with the see of Rome. Must it not necessarily include the rest, even those whose belief does not recognise this inerrancy? Therefore, the entire body of the faithful do not assent to this claim made on their behalf.

Yet there is a further dimension to the Church, the people of God in their entirety, and that is the teleological. We are on a journey, being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. We have not yet arrived; we have only reached the stage we are at so far. Looking at it from the viewpoint of the entire people of God, we are not yet assembled, for the Church is not a creature of earth or time, but embraces the faithful in earth and heaven and in time and eternity. Only at the telos will it be possible to hold a true ecumenical council, for until then some of the Church must be absent and their agreement unavailable. Until then we can only make provisional judgements which will always be open to the disagreement of those in other ages and may, as a result, fail to be adopted in the end. That is why St Paul, with apostolic authority and anointed by the same Spirit, could write “...of a part we know and of a part we prophesy but, when comes the complete, the of-a-part shall pass away.” (I Cor 13.9f)

The final paragraph refers to the Spiritual charismata and their proper use within the order of the Church. This makes a fair degree of sense, in that one would hope those in authority would be best able to assist in the identification of genuine gifts and oversight over their use, but it is perhaps a little optimistic in claiming leaders have a “special competence” unless competence is here taken to mean responsibility rather than ability. At the time of writing the reference makes no sense because the English text has references 115-118 misnumbered in the notes. (I have E-mailed the Vatican concerning this.) I Thessalonians 5.12,19-22 is the correct passage. However, this links two different concepts in an apparent attempt to justify a non-sequitur. Verse 12 refers to respect for workers who have authority, while 19-22 which concern the use and discernment of Spiritual gifts, appear to be addressed to the whole community. It is therefore too simplistic to credit the judgement of gifts to the leaders alone. Clearly, the Church should show respect to leaders when exercising such judgement, but that is not quite the same thing.

13. Why the people of God “must exist in all ages”, or which “decree of God’s will” is thus fulfilled is not clear, though the case for unity is well made; so well, in fact, that we are again left wondering how that unity can be reconciled with a Church which claims to be able to include the fullness of that unity whilst holding some of God’s people lack it. This view is further complicated by introducing the concept of “ranks” with the attendant connotations of stratified status within God’s holy nation. This is inconsistent with the character of God, who is no respecter of persons (Acts 10.34, Rom 2.11, Eph 6.9, Col 3.25, I Pet 1.17) and teaches through the Apostle James that we should be so neither (Jas 2.1,9). For in Christ human distinctions become irrelevant (Gal 3.28). There is diversity of function (I Cor 12.4-30) but not of quality.

Moreover, in celebrating diversity, there is a need to avoid creating artificial divisions. The authors divide humanity into three – the Catholic faithful, all (others) who believe in Christ, and (the rest of) humanity as a whole. These categories are further legitimised by sub-dividing them when they are considered separately in the sections which follow (and appear to become mutually exclusive in the process, hence my parenthetical interjections). However, it should be remembered that Scripture only divides humanity into two basic kinds – the sons of this age (Lk 16.8, 20.34), born of the flesh (Jn 3.6), slaves of sin (Rom 6.17,20) and the sons of light (Lk 16.8), the sons of the Resurrection (Lk 20.36), born of the Spirit (Jn 3.6), slaves of righteousness (Rom 6.18), slaves of God (Rom 6.22). It may be useful to analyse humanity differently from time to time, but any classification which ignores or obscures the Biblical dichotomy necessarily departs from Biblical anthropology, soteriology and ecclesiology. It is not therefore possible to escape from the scandal of an apparently divided Christianity by attempting to hide it behind a complex structure of human divisions.

14. Nor is it possible to confuse the Church we enter through baptism with the Catholic Church, even if the former does subsist in the latter. The sudden appearance of the word “Catholic” in the last sentence of the first paragraph is obvious and unconvincing. Even the Catholic faithful reading this are surely likely to conclude that they do not know the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, because the argument clearly applies to the universal Church into which they were baptised.

15. What is meant by professing “the faith in its entirety”? We have already seen that is impossible, because the entirety of the truth is yet to be revealed (12 above). If professing the faith in its entirety were a prerequisite for membership, the Church would have no members on earth at all. I can only presume what is meant here is professing the faith as currently formulated by Rome in its entirety, that is agreeing totally with the Roman view in all matters of faith. The question naturally arises as to whether those referred to have separated themselves by their actions or whether they are being excluded by Rome drawing too narrow a definition of what it is to agree, or what it is to be a member.

16. This is a difficult paragraph, more an exercise in diplomacy than information. It seems to be an attempt to tone down the exclusive claims of Christ without giving them up. Hence we are told the Jews remain “most dear to God” while the question of their salvation is left unanswered. The plan of salvation includes others who “acknowledge the Creator”. Of course; as a plan it includes the whole world, so it must include any subgroup. The possibility of those who have never heard being saved is recognised, though the unfortunate phrase “attain to salvation” suggests they can do it themselves. However, the balancing caution of Romans 10.13-15 needs stronger emphasis than is given by the final sentences. What is possible is not necessarily likely.

17. This is well said, though some might question whether it has always been implemented successfully. However, as a statement of missiological intent it is clear and controversial only to those who have lost faith in the evangelistic mission of the Church. We would all do well to take it to heart and be a little less ashamed of the task our Lord has given us.

18. (Chapter III) It is unclear whether the authors claim the “variety of ministries” was instituted by the historical Christ or by the Spirit of Christ operating through his Church. The words diaconos (deacon or minister), presbyteros (priest or elder), and episcopos (bishop or overseer) all occur in the New Testament, but the extent to which they had acquired their modern meaning is a matter for conjecture. It is reasonable to suggest the threefold ministry was in an embryonic form, but harder to justify a claim of mature structure. That these three orders have developed is not in doubt although some Christians would wish to question the legitimacy of that development. Is it helpful to imply Christ instituted these ministries directly when it is apparent they developed and it would be more fruitful to suggest that development was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Likewise, although it is clear Christ sent the apostles, it is less clear that he intended them to have successors, and even less that those successors were to be called bishops. In fact, after the death of the apostles the bishops were the remaining leaders, so it was natural that they should carry on, particularly as they were apostolically appointed. This was a natural development, and it would be sensible to argue whether it was intended by the Holy Spirit and, in that sense, willed by Christ. This apostolic heritage of the bishops proved very useful to the Church against gnostic subversion and we now owe it a great debt in the preservation of the apostolic and Biblical faith. However, that is not quite the same as saying Christ willed it from the beginning to endure until the end.

As for St Peter, it is evident he was early to acknowledge Christ (Mt 16.16) (although, according to John 1.41, the idea was initially suggested to him by his brother St Andrew), had, or was demonstrating, the quality which would be foundational to the Church (Mt 16.18), was the first to be promised the keys (v 19), and received a general pastoral ministry in response to confirming his love for the Saviour (Jn 21.15-19). He appears subsequently to have exercised a leading ministry in the early Church (Acts 1.15ff, 2.14, 5.3,15,29, c.f. I Cor 9.5), although it is possibly notable that, whilst present, he did not preside at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). However, the claims made at the first Vatican Council, which are here repeated, of the Pope’s succession to the Petrine ministry are based not on Scriptural evidence, which the authors have shown themselves to handle well, but on the assertions of three mediaeval councils (Constantinople IV, Lyons II, and Florence) marred by Papal vacillation, controversy, infighting and political interference. Far from providing evidence of infallibility, these councils and their circumstances strongly suggest the opposite (see e.g. Mgr. Philip Hughes - The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325 - 1870, readable on the (unofficial) Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle website). Sadly, repetition, however frequent, cannot render logic out of self-contradiction, even though Christ has promised his Church guidance into all truth and victory over hell. The Church in time is bound to show the marks of the time in which she finds herself. This should not surprise us, for the Church in time is never complete, but awaits the completion which comes with eternity.

19. The question could be asked here whether the Gospel exists to create the Church or the Church to proclaim the Gospel. The answer is not obvious, but the question challenges us not to think in categories which are too narrow.

That Jesus sent the apostles by his power to make disciples is clear (Mt 28.18ff), but none of the passages cited makes mention of sanctifying or ruling.

The foundation of the Church, according to Ephesians 2.20 is “the apostles and prophets, the chief cornerstone thereof being Christ Jesus”.

20. Whether Clement of Rome was correct in his view that the apostles had specifically thought of their deaths (and of their successors’) when appointing leaders, or simply in more general terms of their absence, is less important than the authors seem anxious to stress. For death being a form of absence, it is obvious that those appointed as next in line should naturally continue to function as the duly appointed leaders and should in turn appoint others as the need arises in an orderly succession. Indeed, this is so obvious that, even in those communities which have lost or abandoned the formal name and office of bishop, it is usual, if not universal, that those who are to be recognised as leaders must undergo some formal appointment by the existing leadership, whatever that leadership is called. Thus the concept of order is preserved even where the particularity of orders is lost, since the alternative would be self-appointment of leaders with no recognition by the community and therefore no guarantee they would be followed. The result would be a chaos in which the community would rapidly lose its direction and identity as it distintegrated into as many factions as it had members.

This is common sense, although the Fathers needed to emphasise the principle in the face of those who sought to subvert the Church by subverting the natural order of its leaders. An undesirable consequence of this emphasis coupled with human pride has been loss of the humility Christ commanded for our chiefs (Mt 20.25-28, Mk 10.42-45, Lk 22.25-27). For what can it be but “lording” when men, however well-meaning, claim they are “presiding in place of God over the flock”?

St Iranaeus’ “own time” was far closer to the beginning than it is to ours, and we need to address the question of precisely what has been handed down through so many generations. Certainly, the principle of order, because the succession is still intact, at least in those Christian communities which have preserved it, and what has been written down and kept by the succession has also reached us, though it is sometimes necessary to compare large numbers of manuscripts to reach anything resembling confidence on the original wording, because copyists’ mistakes are much in evidence. In the case of oral or practical tradition, however, knowing that tradition must respond to the needs of its time and place, it is harder to know how closely what has been received in the present corresponds to what was sent in the past. Fortunately, this may be a theoretical concern only, for what is passed down orally and practically is very little without historical documentation of some form or other. However, it does worry some, particularly if the interpretation of Scripture within their tradition seems to clash with practice in another.

If the ministry of the apostles is permanent, it seems unfortunate the Church only realised that in 1896. For the vast bulk of its history, without that knowledge, how could it recognise the authority of its ministers? We have already seen that bishops have taken over the function of overseeing the Church in a natural and orderly progression, but it is hard to see what is gained, other than a sense of status, by insisting that they have not only taken over from the apostles but also taken over as apostles. Are not all Christians sent into the world by Christ as he was sent into the world by the Father? Is not that how all Christians are priests in the world? Can Luke 10.6 really be applied to the bishops in the Church rather than to the Church in the world? It seems unlikely without some evidence to back it up. It certainly should not be claimed as official doctrine without proof.

21. Of course our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the bishops. He is present in all who believe by the power of the Holy Spirit. What is the need to claim a special charism for the episcopate? Likewise, he is never absent when his people meet (Mt 18.20), whether they are leaders or not. Again, it is evident from Scripture (Acts 8.18) that the Holy Spirit was passed on by the laying on of hands. However, it is foolish to think this an automatic process unrelated to the will of the same Spirit and the attitude of the person receiving the gift. The mechanistic view of sacraments which insists they confer grace rather than signify what should, by grace, be conferred, fails to recognise the underlying reality and inevitably leads to a spiritual complacency and a lack of self-examination (c.f. I Cor 11.28).

22. Where in any of the gospels are the apostles described as a college? We see them acting together in Acts 1.20-26 when they elect a replacement for Judas who is never mentioned again, and also in the Council of Jerusalem, but there is little to suggest collegiality in the gospels, where our Lord himself is the focus. It is also hard to see how the co-operation of bishops in councils amounts to “manifest proof”. It can be cited as evidence, but evidence is not proof unless it provides an irrefutable conclusion. The term seems to have caused some controversy at the time, for there is an appendix explaining exactly what is meant by the word and how this chapter is to be interpreted from a technical point of view.

It is also interesting to note the presence of the word other relating St Peter to the apostles in general, which is missing from the “similar” relationship between the Roman Pontiff and his fellow bishops. This separation of Rome from the other sees is emphasised by the tautology in the next sentence where the apparently superfluous “and the Bishop of Rome” is added after a category which already includes him.

It seems to be assumed that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of St Peter. His primacy seems to have evolved over centuries, and once he is primate we can see an analogy between his rôle and that of St Peter, in the sense that the latter often exercised leadership, but it is difficult to see how the Roman primacy can be derived from Peter’s rôle. Without such a derivation how does the Roman see inherit all that pertains to St Peter? Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Peter took on the function of bishop during his time at Rome, that would not, of itself, transfer his apostleship to whoever subsequently became Bishop, since the holding of two offices does not unite them. It is quite possible to act in more than one capacity without permanently fusing them together. Hence, if we are to accept that Rome is always to preside over the rest of Christianity, we need an explanation of how this came about. It is also pertinent to ask, if the Roman see succeeds to the Petrine apostleship, which eleven other bishops succeed in a similar way to the other apostles? For, if the apostleship of Peter continues to be directly identified with a particular see, why not the others?

If, on the other hand, Rome’s pre-eminence is derived not from St Peter directly, but rather is the source, by analogy, of its Petrine ministry, then we have to accept that its character is analogous rather than inherited, useful rather than absolute, derived rather than definitive, dependent on the consent of the Christian community. Either way, it is difficult to justify the claim to Petrine succession of the Roman see, and even more to prove the totality of power supposedly conveyed, especially as “transmission of the Apostles’ extraordinary power to their successors” is specifically excluded by the appendix. Where are the arguments to support these claims?

The keys are not “of the Church” but “of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16.19). The relationship between the Church and the Kingdom would be a good topic for study, but this claim depends on the two being identical. Similarly, Matthew 18.18 is being read here as applying to the apostles as apostles alone, rather than to Christians in general or the apostles as Christians, but is that correct?

23. It is difficult to reconcile the derivation of the “one and only Catholic Church” from the particular churches with the degree of Papal supremacy for which the authors have just argued. For the bishops of the particular churches, and in them the churches, depend on the recognition of the Bishop of Rome. Further, he is accorded “full, supreme and universal power over the Church”, “is always free to exercise this power” and the other bishops can act only with their “head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head”. This implies that the Catholic Church is derived from the authority of the Pope alone, not mediated through the particular churches. Yet now we learn that the Catholic Church comes into being from the particular churches which are themselves “fashioned after the model of the universal Church”. This Platonic idea has an elegant mystical symmetry about it, but seems incompatible with the foundational nature of Roman authority previously described.

The second paragraph is well-argued.

Was the Great Commission given to the apostles as leaders or as Christians? Whichever, one might expect bishops to take a lead in the work, but does this mean the work is theirs in particular, or only as leaders in the community charged with the task?

24. The final sentence, pushed to its logical absurdity, could reduce the “Church” to a single person if the Bishop of Rome parted company with everyone else. Such a claim would need very sound evidence indeed.

25. There are several problems with this.

Firstly, infallibility is a characteristic of perfection, and perfection is not yet come (I Cor 13.9f). It is illogical to claim infallibility for part of the Church when the whole is yet to be revealed. There is little doubt that the Church in its fullness, being the fullness which will be revealed (v10, I Jn 3.2) at the eschaton, will be infallible, for what else can the Church be when it enjoys face-to-face communion with its Lord, through whom all was created (Jn 1.3)? Until the fullness of our perfection is revealed, we remain “of a part” and a partial Church cannot be perfect and cannot be infallible. A claim to infallibility which fails to recognise the fullness which is to come is itself a product of that partial knowledge, which has yet to understand how partial it is. As the Church journeys towards “all truth” (Jn 16.13) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I am confident it will come to understand the true teleological nature of its infallibility, as the true nature of its developing self-understanding becomes obvious. Many parts of the Christian community have already reached this humble interpretation and it cannot be long before Rome arrives at it also.

Secondly, are we to understand the concept of authenticity as indicating that bishops always teach with the authority of Christ? If so, why do they not enjoy the infallibility Christ enjoys? Alternatively, if bishops only sometimes teach authentically, the logic becomes circular. For it is obvious that when anyone teaches in accord with Christ’s teaching they must be teaching the truth, and that truth must be incontrovertible. In that case, this whole section would have little meaning, since it would only be stating the obvious and proving nothing.

Thirdly, how far does “the deposit of Revelation” extend? If this is a defined concept, then the extent of infallibility can be defined, but if not, then it will be difficult to identify which pronouncements are affected. The concept is open to the charge of circularity, since what is revealed can be stated infallibly, and what is infallibly defined must be revealed. If nothing can be expounded infallibly which has not already been revealed, what use is infallibility in practice, since any infallible pronouncement could be challenged on the basis that it misrepresented the revelation and therefore exceeded the remit of infallibility.

Finally, whatever St Peter might have been promised by our Lord, it was not infallible judgement, even in matters of faith and morals, and of this the Holy Spirit is witness. For, writing by that same Spirit to the Galatians St Paul recorded how St Peter had not only fallen into error in his private practice, but had led other Jewish Christians astray and attempted to compel gentile Christians to abandon their faith in the Gospel and be judaised (Gal 2.11-21). Furthermore, St Paul regarded this as such a threat to the Gospel that he proclaimed anathema against those who imposed it (1.8f). So we have irrefutable Scriptural evidence that St Peter fell into error in a matter of faith and tried to impose it as a discipline. What we do not know is the precise form in which this imposition took place, but the word “compel” (anankazo) implies this was no optional matter. St Peter was using whatever authority he had in whatever form had evolved at the time. It seems foolish to suggest he was infallible or that Christ had promised he would be. We know he was not. If that is the infallibility his successors, if such they be, have inherited, what is it worth? Certainly it is not possible to maintain a doctrine of Papal Infallibility which is uninformed by this passage.

The last paragraph of this section is difficult to interpret. On one hand it boosts the authority of bishops by suggesting their succession passes on revelation, even written revelation. On the other, the obligation to abide by that revelation and the use of expressions such as “strive to inquire properly” and “give apt expression” suggest limitations, possibly even an escape in the event a judgement could be shown not to have drawn the correct conclusion from such enquiries. If written revelation is taken to include the Scriptures, surely this now exists and is transmitted freely without the involvement of the bishops, even if they claim the prerogative of interpretation.

26. What is meant by “much fullness”? Either there is fullness or there is not. This relativising of absolute terms is not conducive to logical reasoning, even if it is based on a curious translation of St Paul. To be fair to the original, this appears to be an eccentricity of the English translator, for the French text has “a full assurance” (une pleine assurance), which makes more sense of I Thessalonians 1.5.

There is mystery in the presence of the Church in local congregations, for whilst the Church is fully present in the local church, and the local is an expression of the Church locally, it is equally obvious that a local church is not the whole Church, though one might not want to say it is lacking in anything. Indeed, wherever Christians gather, Christ is present (Mt 18.20), and therefore it is reasonable to assume the Church is present, but two Christians meeting do not constitute a church.

27. This is largely descriptive of the office of a bishop within the Roman Communion and is fairly uncontrovesial in the current ecumenical context.

28. The language here is sacerdotal rather than elderly, which is a pity given the derivation of the word priest. Even accepting Rome’s sacerdotal view of the Eucharist, it is disappointing to see no mention of eldership at all.

29. This is largely a description of the diaconal function and is again uncontroversial, although it is strange to see a matter of variable and temporal discipline such as celibacy laid down in a dogmatic document.

30. (Chapter IV) Moving away from the claims made for the hierarchy we immediately see a return to sound reasoning with the acknowledgement of the “ministries and charisms” of the laity, and their rôle in the “salvific mission of the Church toward the world”. Though the term ‘priesthood of all believers’ is not used, we sense it is not far away. It is also interesting to note a return to a preponderance of Scriptural rather than traditional references after the reverse trend in the previous chapter.

31. The working definition of laity for the purpose of the current discussion is useful, and shows up the usefulness of defining concepts for present purposes. It might have been useful if other concepts had been defined in earlier chapters, giving greater precision in argument and avoiding misunderstandings relating to different definitions of terms. This is a way forward, especially in ecumenical discussions where different definitions can sometimes obscure both disagreement and essential agreement.

32-38. On the whole, this is a well-argued, enthusiastic affirmation of the rôle of the laity in the life of the Church. There are occasional queries, such as the reference to the “New Law” (L.G. 35), or the suggestion that Romans 6.12 means “that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves”, but these are relatively few.

39. (Chapter V) Whilst the eschatological nature of the Church’s holiness is not the subject here, it is clearly evident in the arguments used, for they point to the eschaton. Sanctification is a process, and is ongoing, as evidenced in the next section by the admission that “truly we all offend in many things” (L.G. 40).

40-42. The call to holiness is applied to Christians in different callings within the Church. This is all good, worthy stuff, reminding us that faith is not just about belief, but about living accordingly.

43-47. (Chapter VI) This is an examination of the contribution to the Church of those living in religious orders.

48. (Chapter VII) On the whole this is excellent. My only question is the implication that finding the Church is a necessary precursor to being joined to Christ, as expressed in the second paragraph. These two are inextricably linked, but are they sequential or simultaneous?

However, that is a very minor aside to the object of this section, which is to emphasise the eschatological dimension of our Lord’s work and the Church’s place within it. That is soundly argued from a scriptural basis and provides a powerful vision of the Church’s destiny.

49. The syntax of the opening sentence is ambiguous, owing to the use of an indicative are where, strictly, the subjunctive be would be more correct, and misleading use of commas. The correct sense, as found in the scriptural context (267 — I Cor 15.26f), is that until death is destroyed and all things are subject to Christ the disciples are divided into the three categories mentioned. I presume the second of these categories is intended to read ‘some having died are being purified’ (a reference to the Roman doctrine of purgatory, which other Christians reject), since it is otherwise hard to distinguish them from those who follow.

There is more detail in this section than can really be justified by what we can know from Biblical sources, and since none since have been able to return to enlighten us it is hard to see from what sound sources some of these traditions might originate. Whilst not wishing to deny the essential communion between the Church militant and triumphant, Protestants are wary of claims of communication between the two, for fear of countenancing the sort of necromancy forbidden by Deuteronomy 18.10f. Whilst it is possible to argue the Deuteronomic Law no longer applies to us because we now live under grace rather than Law (Rom 6.14) and in Christ the relationship between the Christian and death has been forever altered, there is no example in the New Testament of any such communication and it is usually assumed that what was forbidden in the Old Testament was forbidden for good reason. In the course of the Radical Reformation and since, groups have emerged which engage in spiritualist practices, and it may be partly in reaction to these, as well as to some of the more extreme Catholic expressions of miraculous contacts that Protestants are reluctant to accept any concept of contact at all. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is often cited in support, though to do so requires transferring a story told within a midrashic jewish paradigm (sheol being a vague afterlife where all shall gather and where, for the purposes of the parable, wrongs are righted) into a traditional Christian cosmology (heaven, hell and earth as separate places), and without regard for the symbolic nature of parables. The Protestant view may possibly be an over-reaction, but the difficulty of defining limits makes it an attractive position to adopt, at least unless and until such limits can be found.

Similarly, whilst it may well be true, and the Communion of the Saints suggests it is likely, that those in heaven (however that is understood) make intercessory prayers for the whole Church, including the Church on earth, there is no evidence, and it is necessary to safeguard our Lord’s rôle as the one mediator between God and mankind (I Tim 2.5). The authors are conscious of this need and attempt to show how it can be fulfilled, but without proof it remains, to some extent, speculation.

The description of the dead in Christ “filling up in their flesh those things which are lacking...” is puzzling, unless the authors are arguing that our spiritual bodies (see I Cor 15.35-49) will have flesh, as Christ’s resurrected body had (Lk 24.39).

50. The quotation from II Maccabees must be interpreted with care. Firstly there is the question of authority in Deutero-canonical works, and secondly the consideration that it belongs to the pre-Christian era. It was reasonable for the Maccabean survivors to make sin offerings for their dead. They did not know whether it would help (or even whether there was a resurrection at all, a doubt which had not been resolved at the time of St Paul’s arrest [see Acts 23.6-8]), but it was worth doing on the basis that it might, and the writer commended the thought. The understanding at the time was that sacrifices were the way of dealing with sin and so sacrifices were offered in hope. Now, we know our sins are forgiven in Christ. Moreover, we know he is interceding for us at the Father’s right hand (Rom 8.24) so we can be sure our sins are forgiven. It follows that those who have died in the faith of Christ are forgiven, and since they will not sin again in their newly-perfected state, need no further forgiveness. Is it not offensive to suggest they are still in need of forgiveness, thus implying that they continue to sin?

That said, there is probably some benefit in the thought that, since all are united in Christ's Church, those whom we no longer see should be properly remembered and, in praying for the coming of God’s kingdom we should not neglect that part of the work, unknown to us, which is in the care of the Church above. However, in praying for the Church triumphant, we must bear in mind that unlike us, they will always succeed in their efforts because they are perfect and cannot do otherwise, so our prayers are an expression of our love for God’s work and our fellowship in Christ, rather than an attempt to change what is already determined and guaranteed.

Is it better to say our Christian communion with the saints (whether “wayfarers” or victors) “brings us closer to Christ” or that our union with Christ brings us closer to our fellow Christians?

51. There seems to be a welcome desire in this last section to limit the damage which can be done to faith by “abuses, excesses or defects” in the veneration of saints “and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God”. It is encouraging to see an awareness that excessive zeal can detract from, rather than enhance the worship of God, and the pastoral desire to correct that.

52. (Chapter VIII) The qualification “in the first place” seems a little excessive. Surely, in the first place the faithful should revere God and serve him. Anything else must necessarily be secondary. It is also harsh to enforce belief in the Blessed Virgin’s “ever Virgin” status in the absence of conclusive proof. This is an area about which Christians continue to disagree. It seems perverse that such insistence seems to be most strongly expressed when the logic is least strong and I am reminded of the preacher’s note: ‘Argument weak – shout louder!’

53. It is unclear in what sense the Blessed Virgin surpasses all creatures, for although by God’s grace she is honoured with the position of theotokos (bearer of God) she remains in every sense human, and therefore lower than angels (Ps 8.5). In choosing her and no other to be the mother of the Son, God has honoured her with a unique privilege, greater than any other creature has received, but it is not the Virgin herself, but the gift she has received, which “far surpasses all creatures”. Confusing the gift with the nature leads to excesses which rob other Christians of their proper respect for the Virgin Mother of God, for fear it might be improperly understood.

54. The “place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us” seems a fair enough status for the Virgin. However, is this what was implied by the claim of first place in 52 above?

55. This is fine.

56. This also starts well, but gives a hint of what might be wrong at the end of the second sentence. This is followed by a claim of Patristic authority for her freedom “from all stain of sin”, but referring to evidence dating, in the first instance, from 1943. And now we reach a very significant point, for all hinges on the interpretation of a single word, kecharitomene, graced (one). When the angel described Mary as “graced” (Lk 1.28) what did he mean and, even more importantly, what was he implying? If graced means honoured or blessed, that is, Grace is God’s generosity, his kindness toward us, which motivates him, if graced means that, the angel’s greeting points Mary forward to the wonderful gift she is to bring into the world and the tremendous honour of being the instrument of such a momentous occasion. If that is the meaning of Grace it says nothing of the Virgin’s nature or past. All is concentrated on the Incarnation. This is how Protestants understand Grace, and therefore the angel’s greeting, which they traditionally translate as ‘Hail, you who are highly favoured’.

On the other hand, if Grace is not (or not just) God’s generosity which motivates him, but rather a good will he imparts to us through the Holy Spirit, and if that is what the angel meant in describing Mary as graced, then he is not so much pointing her forward as back. He is greeting her as the one who has been prepared and is now ready. All now points to the nature of Mary and how she came to acquire it. This is how the greeting is understood by Rome, and it provides the Scriptural basis for their belief in the Immaculate Conception, which is being hinted at in this section. (The two interpretations of Grace also underlie differences in the doctrines of justification.) Notwithstanding all this, it is perhaps good to be reminded of the significance of that moment when St Mary accepted her task, for it is the beginning of the turning point which would reach its full force when Christ accepted the Cross as his Father’s will (Mt 26.39, Mk 14.36, Lk 22.42, c.f. Jn 5.30). It is the moment which enabled the work of Redemption to begin.

57. Apart from the brief oblique reference to Christ having a supernatural birth, this is all straightforward.

58. Whilst St John records the women at the foot of the cross (Jn 19.25), he makes no comment concerning any divine plan.

Similarly, we have no evidence of Mary’s consent to the crucifixion. Like everyone else, she was powerless in the face of such a divinely-consented act, and could only stand and watch in shock and grief.

59. This is largely speculation, citing evidence from the 19th and 20th centuries, though doubtlessly based on older ideas.

60. There is obviously some concern to avoid the impression that Mary provides an alternative or parallel mediation between humanity and God. However, that does presume she has any such rôle at all, which is not yet proven.

61. It is not obvious how the Virgin’s co-operation with God’s plan of salvation makes her “our mother in the order of grace”. No mechanism or process is proposed, and the evidence presented only suggests her as an example, without the authority and originative force suggested by the term mother. (It could be argued that, as adopted sons of God (Eph 1.5) we are adoptive brothers of the begotten Son (Jn 3.16), but it seems to be stretching the point to suggest that we therefore share the same mother on that basis. Our adoptive relationship is with the Father, and by extension with the Son, but it seems to be forcing the matter to claim anything beyond that.)

62. The first paragraph depends on the previous section, which is unproven. Once again the authors are keen to emphasise the subordinate rôle of the Virgin.

63. This seems rather fanciful.

64. Is this literal or figurative? In what sense is the Church a virgin? How would a church which were not a virgin differ? This is a fanciful analogy, but seems to make little concrete contribution to our understanding, either of the Church or the Blessed Virgin Mary.

65. The Church’s work is clear without reference to the example of the Virgin. It is unclear what she can add, as it is unclear what is added by this paragraph. It is self-evident that in serving Christ the Church will progress in faith, hope and charity. Inasmuch as Mary’s example resembles that of her son, of course, in seeking conformity to him we will conform to her also, but this is no great mystery. What is the purpose of involving her? It seems to be giving her a place for the sake of giving her a place. Why? What is wrong with the place she already has as the historical Mother of our saviour?

66. How do we know the Blessed Virgin Mary is exalted above angels? That is a very bold statement and needs a very clear justification. I hope the authors have one.

Our Lord, quoting Holy Scripture, said “The Lord your God you shall worship and him only you shall serve!” (Mt 4.10, quoting Deut 6.13) How, then, can any creature, whatever they have contributed, be “justly honoured by a special cult in the Church”:? That is not to say it is inappropriate to remember their work, but it is inappropriate to introduce cultic service. The use of the term cult shows that the memory has become exaggerated beyond the extent that would be compatible with the (cultic) service of God alone. It is not necessary to serve the Blessed Virgin cultically in order to fulfill her prophecy, as I have already demonstrated by my own terminology. Nor can it be sufficient to differentiate a cult of Mary from the cult of the Incarnate Word or to claim that one submits to the other. Christ clearly forbids us to serve any creature cultically, and we cannot serve him (observe “all His commands”) and disobey his instruction at the same time.

67. It is regrettably, I fear, inevitable that “separated brethren“ and others will remain in “error regarding the true doctrine of the Church” as taught by Rome until this inconsistency in its devotion is removed. For there is no sense in exhorting the faithful to serve Christ and obey his commands by disobeying a Scriptural command he endorsed. How can anyone understand the true doctrine when it is self-contradictory? For the trumpet gives an indistinct sound, and who can get prepared for battle (c.f. I Cor 14.8)?

68. How does the mother of Jesus “shine forth on earth”? In the life of the Church, of which she is claimed to be the image? Maybe, but surely what the Church more importantly must show the world, eclipsing his mother, is the love and work of Christ, whose body we are, and in finding whom people will find salvation.

69. This is rousing stuff, but because it is based on such unsound foundations not convincing enough to provide the desired climax. The document ends with an unsatisfactory emphasis, not on God, nor his temple being built of living stones (c.f. I Pet 2.5), but on a dubious Mariology which undermines the Christology and Gospel from which the Church must derive its standing.

Conclusion

This is something of a patchwork of a document, as might be expected from the deliberations of a council with hundreds of delegates. There are marked differences of approach which lead to inconsistencies in method and, more seriously, conclusions.

In particular, Chapter III is incompatible with Chapter VII, and Chapter VIII really does not belong at all, being Mariology rather than ecclesiology.

This cannot simply be the result of incompetence, for in Chapters I, II and VII the authors demonstrate their impressive ability and insight. Rather, it seems they are reluctant to acknowledge the full implications of Chapter VII:

“The Church... will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven”
and
“Already the final age of the world has come upon us (Cf 1 Cor. 10. 11) and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells,(Cf. 2. Pet. 3, 13) the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.(Cf. Rom. 8, 19-22)”
Although we can conclude from the presence of Chapter III this was not intended to apply to the Church’s claimed infallibility on matters of faith and morals, the implications are inescapable. A church which is on the way, which “has the appearance of this world which is passing”, which awaits its perfection at the eschaton cannot sensibly claim to be infallible now, even in a limited sphere. Such claims made in the past have the distinct appearance of an age which has already passed, an age when the Church had yet to grasp the fullness of its pilgrim nature.

Similarly, claims of Papal supremacy based on Petrine privileges look weak in the context of Biblical evidence, firstly because it is unclear how the see of Rome inherits St Peter’s position, and secondly because St Peter is no rôle model for the kind of authority claimed. His great confession of faith (Mt 16.16, Mk 8.19, Lk 9.20), as a result of which he received our Lord’s prophecy of the foundation of the Church and promise of the Keys (Mt 16.18f), was soon followed by a stern rebuke for seeking human rather than divine ends(Mt 16.23, Mk 8.33). His tasking to feed Christ’s sheep (Jn 21.15-17) was similarly followed by a rebuke for interfering with another disciple’s affairs (v 22). After Pentecost, he was the only apostle known to have fallen into heresy and used his position to promote it, until corrected by St Paul (Gal 2.11ff). St Peter’s authority was not an unmixed blessing, and certainly provides no model of infallibility, but then Christ never promised it would, only that the Church would be led into all truth, which it will be by the end.

The clear logic of this position is such that I have no doubt the Roman Curia will come to recognise the excessive claims of the past for what they were. It is only a matter of time, for the logic is obvious not only to the theologian, but to anyone who cares to read about it and consider the case. Once that happens, an ecumenical log-jam will be broken, and Rome will be free to discuss with other churches the issues which separate them with an open mind, while the other churches will be free to enter the discussions without implying legitimacy for an ecclesiological system they regard as both misguided and dangerous. Thus, a key will have been found to unlock the door to real progress and restore the foundation of shared faith on which the unity of the Church can once more stand visible, that the world may believe. The sooner Rome recognises the desirable inevitability of this development, the better for the standing of the Gospel.

There is much in Lumen Gentium to commend. It is both a clever document and a foolish one. It is clever because, whilst re-iterating past positions, it contains the seeds of arguments which must undermine them. It is foolish because it repeats what is no longer logical. However, in doing so, it allows itself to withstand the censorship of a system which otherwise could have prevented its publication. It advances, rather than opposes, the arguments to a point where they collapse under their own force. What is most clever of all: it is not clear whether the divines who compiled it had any idea that was what they were doing. The credit, then, must go to God.

Ken Petrie

1st Draft
19th September 2002
2nd Draft with Abstract
25th June 2003
corrected (present inserted in 2nd sentence)
31st October 2003
and (2nd sentence clauses re-ordered for clarity)
15th June 2005
Your Comments welcome.


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