July 10, 2007


The Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has now made it abundantly clear that the Church means what it says when it says the Holy Catholic Church of Rome is the place in which the Church on earth "subsists."

The document includes a delicate nuance on what is is, and more importantly, is not, at least in distinction from "subsists."

Third Question: Why was the expression 'subsists in' adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?

Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity.'

Protestant bodies (including Anglicans and all "Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century") are not proper "Churches," and aren't to be called such under this understanding. There is One Church, and it subsists in the entity with the successor of Peter at its head, and the Bishops in union with him. The rest of us must be content with the scattered "elements of sanctification and truth" we might have stowed in our baggage before we ran away from home. Whatever of value we have is derivative, and we bring nothing to the table that we didn't take from it. And of course, according to the Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the things we left behind was the Apostolic Succession. Lacking the valid priesthood, there is really very little we could bring to the eucharistic table.

This document makes it abundantly clear that the old model of ecumenism is still dominant: come home, prodigal children; Mother will forgive you. It is the same model of sedentary unity (unity around the Chair of Peter) that I contrasted with the more collegial model favored by William Reed Huntington some years ago. Anyone interested in the comparison can read the paper here. I submit it still holds. This document will be a blow to ecumenism, but it really is nothing new -- just a reminder of the costs and expectations in the wounded body of Christ.

Tobias Haller BSG


Scott said...

I'd like our Anglican leaders to issue a just-as-clear statement of our position on this issue and our orders. On this Eve of St Benedict, I'm sorry to be having thoughts of "transferring my stability" as a Benedictine oblate from a Roman Catholic community to an Anglican one based on this papal restatement. I won't do anything rash, and it isn't my RC monastery's fault, but it doesn't warm the heart to hear these things proclaimed anew.

PseudoPiskie said...

"Old models" seem to be popular these days. Could it be that there are two worries at work? In the case of church hierarchies, is it a loss of power and control that a return to old ways should restore? In the case of the laity is it the hope that returning to prior, more peaceful church rules will bring salvation, whatever that is?

Growing is hard. It requires facing reality and other people head on. Having to let go of prejudices is embarrassing. Letting go of childish superstitions can be terrifying.

It is easier to fall back on "old models" even when the old ways are totally irrelevant to the current situation.

Sad. Scary

Anonymous said...

i am quite surprised that anyone thought there was anything new here. it is a straightforward repetition of exactly what the second vatican council itself said, detracting not at all.

importantly, and missed by protestants (of course!) is that the term "church" is applied to the Orthodox; the issue is exactly as the document states it: about the Eucharist; and not about union with Rome. The Orthodox, possessing valid Eucharist, are Church; the Reformed, not possessing such, are not.

moreover, and what is also striking, is that the document is written as much against retrenchment in the RC Church, and this is also missed by protestants, focused always on their own selves. the vatican has been plagued with reactionary catholics, desperate to get back to Unam Sanctam, and this document is a firm and pronounced "no, we are not going back to Unam Sanctam".

it does not move forward, but it does not move backward. it is a fair statement of exactly where we have been.

what i find in this statement is also a straightforward honesty which Anglican documents often lack. we are so desperate that our statements never cause offense that we fail to articulate our own ecclesiology. one consequence of this is the current Anglican international troubles!

the older anglo-catholics had a robust willingness to say, "we have the following understanding of sacramental validity." the RC are willing to also. broad church Anglicans are steadfastly allergic to such things. whether rightly or wrongly, let's not pretend that the allergy is good. we should always be willing to speak the truth as we understand it.

the Reformed are not shy about saying that episcopal ordination is of absolutely no importance. are we willing to say that, in our opinion, they are incorrect?

rapproachment based upon everyone agreeing is no rapprochement. i will say my own opinion: there is something defective in the sacramental system of the Reformed, and this is connected to broader differences between them and me about sacraments, and (yes), ecclesiology, and (yes, as a result) our understandings of what "church" means.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, I really appreciate the fact that, rare among bloggers, you've noted that this is indeed "nothing new." Amid all the groans about "turning back Vatican II," the simple fact is that this latest from Dottrina Fidei is nothing more than a reiteration of the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium.

The development of the Petrine Office as a center of unity is of course one of the most contested controversies in Christianity. Those of us who find it supported by scripture, tradition, reason and experience can usually understand why others don't.

I find the current pope's writing insightful, but I recognize that not one Catholic in a thousand reads it--or has probably read Lumen Gentium. And the rest of Christendom mostly depends on the secular press's assurances that the pope doesn't consider them Christian. Something that ought to bourne patiently, I suppose.

Mark Harris said...

Tobias...excellent! Had I read this first I would have dropped the effort and simply referred folk directly to your blog (as I sometimes do.) I will put reference later today. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well, thanks for confirming the way I read it elsewhere last night.

Being patronized this way is annoying; while there's a little comfort in your words that it's nothing new, to say it's also annoying to see we have such out-of-touch thinkers in the Church would itself exude the grace they lack.

Anonymous said...

As a psychologist and priest with 35 years of experience with divorce, I now see why Rome hates the notion of shared-fault. They want one party to be the wounded or innocent party (Rome) aggrieved and hurt by the abandonment of the other party of guilty infidels(Anglicans). Further they prefer an adversarial approach to reconciliation in divorce and in ecumenism. I recommend the book on borderline thinking: 'I Hate You, Don't Leave Me' for their consideration.

Anonymous said...

Scott / others: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=1724&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=10007&cHash=7ed8ef9db2 is an interesting update from the WCC.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Tobias. Like Rick, I was really frustrated with commentary I saw elsewhere.

I'm just hoping this clarification finally puts to rest one of my least favorite Independent Catholic fads — the misguided notion that Dominus Iesus gave official recognition of Independent Catholics. Many Indie parishes have a little section on their websites called "Recognition" or something similar that cites §17 of DI as "proof" that our orders are considered valid by Rome. If the "Dutch touch" isn't good enough for them to recognize Anglican orders, I doubt it's good enough for Independents — and the "Brazilian touch?" (Duarte-Costa) probably isn't either.

In any case, they're clear about where they stand, which is useful for ecumenical efforts, even if it doesn't move things forward from their current stance. (I like the "sedentary ecumenism" label.)

June Butler said...

I agree that there's nothing new in this latest statement by the pope. I'm sure that it is the truth as he sees it, but it's the same judgmental and arrogant sort of statement that embarrassed me back when I was a member of the RCC.

This is the fourth or fifth Episcopal blog where I've read about the Pope's statement. Speaking for myself only, I don't really care what he thinks about my church. Why should it matter to me whether he believes my church is a church or not? I left off believing in the pope's infallibility long ago.