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Commentary on the Doctrinal Congregation Document

"Dialogue Remains One of the Priorities of the Church"

VATICAN CITY, JULY 13, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the text of a commentary on the June 29 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The commentary, by the same dicastery, explains the intention of the document that clarifies the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the Church founded by Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church."

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In this document the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responding to a number of questions concerning the overall vision of the Church which emerged from the dogmatic and ecumenical teachings of the Second Vatican Council. This Council 'of the Church on the Church' signalled, according to Paul VI, "a new era for the Church" in which "the true face of the Bride of Christ has been more fully examined and unveiled."[1] Frequent reference is made to the principle documents of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and to the interventions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all of which were inspired by an ever deepening understanding of the Church herself, and many of which were aimed at clarifying the notable outpouring of post-conciliar theology -- not all of which was immune from imprecision and error.

This present document is similarly inspired. Precisely because some contemporary theological research has been erroneous, or ambiguous, the Congregation's intention is to clarify the authentic meaning of certain ecclesiological statements of the Magisterium. For this reason the Congregation has chosen to use the literary genre of Responsa ad quaestiones, which of its nature does not attempt to advance arguments to prove a particular doctrine but rather, by limiting itself to the previous teachings of the Magisterium, sets out only to give a sure and certain response to specific questions.

The first question asks if the Second Vatican Council changed the previously held doctrine on the Church.

The question concerns the significance of what Paul VI described in the above mentioned quotation as 'the new face' of the Church offered by Vatican II.

The response, based on the teaching of John XXIII and Paul VI, is very clear: the Second Vatican Council did not intend to change -- and therefore has not changed -- the previously held doctrine on the Church. It merely deepened this doctrine and articulated it in a more organic way. This is, in fact, what Paul VI said in his discourse promulgating the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium" when he affirmed that the document had not changed traditional doctrine on the Church, but rather "that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation."[2]

There is also a continuity between the doctrine taught by the Council and that of subsequent interventions of the Magisterium which have taken up and deepened this same doctrine, which itself constitutes a development. In this sense, for instance, the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "Dominus Iesus" merely reaffirmed the conciliar and post-conciliar teachings without adding or taking away anything.

In the post-conciliar period, however, and notwithstanding these clear affirmations, the doctrine of Vatican II has been, and continues to be, the object of erroneous interpretations at variance with traditional Catholic doctrine on the nature of the Church: either seeing in it a 'Copernican revolution' or else emphasising some aspects almost to the exclusion of others. In reality the profound intention of the Second Vatican Council was clearly to insert the discourse on the Church within and subordinate to the discourse on God, therefore proposing an ecclesiology which is truly theological. The reception of the teaching of the Council has, however, often obscured this point, relativising it in favour of individual ecclesiological affirmations, and often emphasising specific words or phrases which encourage a partial and unbalanced understanding of this same conciliar doctrine.

Regarding the ecclesiology of "Lumen gentium," certain key ideas do seem to have entered into ecclesial consciousness: the idea of the People of God, the collegiality of the bishops as a re-evaluation of the ministry of bishops together with the primacy of the Pope, a renewed understanding of the individual Churches within the universal Church, the ecumenical application of the concept of the Church and its openness to other religions; and finally the question of the specific nature of the Catholic Church which is expressed in the formula according to which the One, Holy, Catholic ...

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