Wednesday, July 11, 2007


As I prepare to write an op-ed commentary on the CDF's recent document, I was reading through my analysis of the "subsistit" problem, which I wrote a few years ago for an ecclesiology class:

Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Mystici corporis, did more than equate the mystical Body of Christ with the Catholic Church; even more, he wrote, “in Ecclesiam autem membris reapse ii soli annumerandi sunt, qui regenerationis lavacrum receperunt veramque fidem profitentur…” (22), and also “funestum etiam errorem dolemus… qui commenticiam Ecclesiam sibi somniant, utpote societatem quandam caritate alitam ac formatam…” (65).

It is most difficult to see how this second sentence fits together with these words of the Dogmatic Consitution Lumen gentium: “Haec Ecclesia…subsistit in Ecclesia catholica” (8).

To escape the conundrum, it could be valuable to examine the verb subsistere here. Sistere on its own means “to stand”, and with the prefix sub we arrive at “to stand under”. If this unica Christi ecclesia, that is, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, pastured by Peter and his successers and constituted and organized as a society (cf LG 8) “stands under” the Catholic Church, then the object of subsistere (the Catholic Church) would collapse (for lack of a better word) if it were to lack any of the adjectives pertaining to her foundational subject (Christi Ecclesia).

So we must begin by noting that everying contained in the subject is contained in the object (they aren’t even to be considered apart according to LG 8). But we must note also that while this is true for either verb, the use of subsistere instead of esse allows in addition for the subject and object to remain grammatically distinct. This grammatical distinction becomes incarnate in the coetus adspectabilis and the communitas spiritualis (cf LG 8). Since - as I have already noted - the coetus contains the fulness of Christi Ecclesia and the coetus and communitas spiritualis are not to be considered apart from each other, it follows that, though the effects of the communitas spiritualis might extend beyond the bounds of the coetus adspectabilis, they cannot exist apart from – in fact, must derive their very efficacy from – that same coetus adspectabilis. The members of the communitas spiritualis who are not in the coetus escape the dilema of Mystici corporis’ requirements for being members of the Church by being described in Lumen gentium as “ordered towards” (cf 16) the coetus by the different ways in which they utilize greater or lesser spiritual goods, which derive from and are themselves ordered towards the building up of the coetus.

The communitas spiritualis of Lumen gentium, therefore, in no way ought to
resemble the condemned societas caritate alita ac formata of Mystici corporis (65), since this accusation would assume an inversion of the spiritual efficacy of the coetus, according to which the spiritual goods would support the coetus instead of the coetus supporting the communitas spiritualis. This inversion would be a grammatical confusion of the subject and object of subsistere, and it certainly would be ecclesiologically confusing as well.


Anonymous said...

Well, Franz, I agree that your analysis is "ecclesiologically confusing". Firstly it is not logically consistent to say that a lesser object would collapse "if it were to lack any of the adjectives pertaining to her foundational subject." Quite the contrary--what is greater can support what is lesser. So I do not think your line of argumentation in that regard has much value in clarifying the problem of subsistit.

In fact, you have even greater problems than what you presented. The conclusion to Mystici corporis 22 that you quoted is "It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit." This does not leave any room to suggest that the Church, the Body of Christ, can be present in communities that are divided in faith or government from the Catholic Church. You run into even greater trouble in #23 when Pius XII explains that sin alone does not separate one from the Church: "For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy." He states that schism, heresy, and apostasy do. Difficult to understand how a community adhering to heresy can both be severed from the Body and also have the Church present in the community. Rather, it is easier to understand how individuals outside the Catholic Church who are not impeded by explicit rejection of the Church might have some share in grace rather than those communities per se who profess creeds contrary to the Church. Unfortunately, this is not what the Responses are saying.

In following the footnotes even more closely than my last post, I noticed that these Responses don't just try to "clarify" they go much farther than either Lumen Gentium or Ut Unum Sint.
The Responses say "It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them." This is much farther than Lumen Gentium 8 which only states "many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure." It does not say the Church herself is present outside the Catholic Church. The Responses reference Ut Unum Sint 11.3 : "To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them." Even JPII inserts limiting clauses—"to the extent" and "is effectively present" rather than really present. Through the faith and actions of individuals grace can work effects. The following passages of Ut Unum Sint continue to prance around the question without actually saying that the Church is present in other communities, but rather that grace is present. Nay, the Responses have attempted to expand Catholic doctrine.

And yet, the Responses affirm that the Bishops intended at the Council "wished to express the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church." (footnote 4). Unfortunately, ambiguities crept into VII which yet today have not been clarified. The periti continued to tell the Bishops that the intent was identity even as the language allowed ambiguity. We now are farther from clarity than we were last week.

Franz Klein said...

Okay, we've got two things at work here. First there's the "unica Christi ecclesia"; and secondly there's the "ecclesia catholica". The "unica Christi ecclesia" subsists in the "ecclesia Catholica". Think of a table. Visible and on top but dependent on the ground underneath is the "ecclesia Catholica". Invisible, underneath and supporting it is the "unica Christi ecclesia". The means of support, that by which the "ecclesia Catholica" is supported are its legs: unam, sanctam, catholicam, apostolicam. The object of the verb "subsistit", or the tabletop if you will (or as you put it, "what is lesser"), would collapse without its means of support. That's what has happened for the Protestant churches, which lack one leg or more. That's what has not happened to the Catholic Church, which remains fully supported by all four legs.

I like better your distinction regarding communities clinging to heresy, and individuals who have not explicitly committed heresy. It seems that, historically, we've ceased talking about "churches" when they cease to have valid orders -- likely because they no longer have a structure and become merely aggregates of lay faithful who are able to administer valid baptism. I acknowledge your point about the document seeming to go further than Lumen Gentium. I'm still thinking about that one.

Anonymous said...


I understand (and understood) what you're trying to do with your analogy. It just isn't working. First and most importantly, you are trying to separate the Catholic Church from the Church of Christ. This is not in accord with Catholic Tradition which identifies the Catholic Church with the Church of Christ. The Catholic Church IS the Church of Christ. Subsistit must continue to be interpreted in continuity with that Tradition. The CDF Responses, as I showed, clearly state that it was the intention of the Bishops to express this. It is precisely because of attempts like yours to separate the identity that has led to the need for clarification. Unfortunately the clarification didn't really clarify.

Secondly, and I don't want to dwell on a limping analogy, is that a religion which is lesser does not require all the pillars of support. Buddhism does not require unam, sanctam, catholicam, and apostolicam for its belief structure. Granted that Buddhism is not salvific, but then there is no salvation outside the Church---and we're back to identifying the Catholic Church with the Church of Christ, the Body of Christ.

The basic problem is one of scandal. The "Church without Borders" ecumenists, like yourself apparently, do not want to acknowledge or do not accept that people outside the Catholic Church are in grave danger of damnation because they lack the ordinary means to salvation. Yes, it's possible for individuals outside the Catholic Church to be saved if they cooperate with the grace from God, but this grace if fully cooperated with should impel them towards the Catholic Church (LG 8). Both LG and UR (and Mystici corporis) declare that those outside the Catholic Church lack the unity marking both the Church and the Body. If the unity of the Body is lacking, it is mighty difficult to say that it is present in other communities. Will you say that you have a second Body or a severed limb?

Rather, let us say that grace ("elements of sanctification and of truth" LG 8) is present outside the Church. In Divinum Illud Munus #7, Leo XIII talks about the relationship of the Holy Spirit and the Church. "It is indeed true that in those of the just who lived before Christ, the Holy Ghost resided by grace, as we read in the Scriptures concerning the prophets, Zachary, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna; so that on Pentecost the Holy Ghost did not communicate Himself in such a way "as then for the first time to begin to dwell in the saints, but by pouring Himself forth more abundantly; crowning, not beginning His gifts; not commencing a new work, but giving more abundantly"(St. Leo the Great, Hom. iii., de Pentec.). But if they also were numbered among the children of God, they were in a state like that of servants, for "as long as the heir is a child he differeth nothing from a servant, but is under tutors and governors" (Gal. iv., I, 2). Moreover, not only was their justice derived from the merits of Christ who was to come, but the communication of the Holy Ghost after Christ was much more abundant, just as the price surpasses in value the earnest and the reality excels the image."

And so I think (but cannot yet fully demonstrate) that likewise the Holy Spirit can work in those separated from the Catholic Church without those individuals necessarily enjoying membership in the Church, the Body of Christ. They can be in a "state like that of servants" without being sons. Lumen Gentium stepped backwards in its adoption of the term "People of God." Leo XIII clearly states that even among the Just, there are not equal shares in the Holy Spirit. While one might be tempted to say this changed after the glorification of the Son, I would simply point out that likewise, since Pentecost, the Church has also repeatedly taught clearly and forcefully that separation from the Catholic Church is separation from the Body (cf. Mystici corporis 23 as one example among many).