The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) recently issued a statement which affirms that the Second Vatican Council teaches that Christ established one Church and that Church is the Catholic Church.
From this it follows that non- Catholic groups of Christians do not constitute or form parts of the Church established and authorised by Christ.
The CDF has the authorisation of the Pope to guard Catholic doctrine, so one of its tasks is warn Catholics and others of teachings which contradict the teachings of the Church. The Congregation's declarations are not those of the Pope, though he authorises their publication. They are authoritative but not infallible teachings.
The statement begins by saying that the CDF has received a number of questions about the teaching of Vatican II. Those teachings, then, are the subject of the CDF's investigations and its reply.
Apparently bishops and others have asked the CDF whether the Council changed the traditional teaching that the Catholic Church is the one and only Church founded by Christ which is authorised to teach and govern with his authority and, instead, teaches that all Christian churches or groups are parts of that 'one true Church'.
The belief that the Council teaches that all Christians constitute the Church has become widespread since Vatican II. Again and again I have heard speakers assert it. Preachers and conductors of seminars wax eloquent on the way Vatican II saw the light and abandoned the narrow and intolerant view of Christ's Church that one finds in catechisms and in official documents such as Pius XII's encyclical Mystici Corporis (1950).
Publications galore assert it. Here are some samples.
Well-known theologian, Fr (Professor) Hans KŸng, referring to the Decree on Ecumenism, writes: 'The Catholic Church does not identify itself exclusively (in spite of some formulas which seem to suggest otherwise) with the Church of Christ.' In a lecture given in the USA he said: 'At least since Vatican II it is no longer admissible for a single confession [Church] to pose as the one and only saving and true church of Jesus Christ'.
In his Catholicism, Fr (Professor) Richard McBrien writes: 'The Church includes Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants, as well as Catholics.' Note that these authors attribute to Vatican II the doctrine that all groups of Christians combined make up the Church of Christ.
The only way to know what the Council teaches is to consult the documents it promulgated. To them let us go.
The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops begins: '1. Christ the Lord ... sent his apostles ... so that they might glorify the Father on earth and procure the salvation of men 'for the building up of the body of Christ' (Eph. 4:12) which is the Church.
'2. In this Church of Christ the Roman Pontiff ... has been granted by God supreme, full, and immediate and universal power over the care of souls.' Note that Body of Christ = Church of Christ = ruled by the Pope (Roman Pontiff).
The various dioceses form part of the one Church of Christ (unius Ecclesiae Christi). The persons who are members of the diocese are called 'the faithful' (fideles). In distinction, other Christians are called 'separated brethren'.
On 21 November 1964, the Council promulgated the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches which speaks of '[t]he holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ' and proceeds to identify that Church as the collection of Churches (Latin, Maronite, etc) entrusted to 'the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff'. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ and is governed by the Pope.
Above I mentioned a date because on the same day were also promulgated the Decree on Ecumenism and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Unless the Fathers of the Council were insanely contradictory, all three documents will agree on the identification of Christ's Church with the Catholic Church.
There is no surprise in discovering that they do agree. The Decree on Ecumenism reads: 'Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.' Which one? Article 2 gives defining marks of this Church, including: it is the one which possesses the Eucharist and Christ's commandment to love one another, and was taught, ruled, and sanctified by Peter and the Twelve, is taught and given the sacraments, and is governed by the Pope and the bishops - successors of Peter and the Twelve.
Christ founded one Church and it is that one which is governed by the Pope and other bishops. That is what the Council clearly says in the document aimed at promoting the unity of Christians. The Council ardently longs for the reunion of all who believe in Christ and acknowledges that there are other Christians who are in 'some, though imperfect communion with the Catholic Church' (Art. 3).
Lumen Gentium contains the most extended exposition of the nature of the Church. On it is based the decrees to which I have been referring.
The Church was founded by Jesus (Art. 5). It is described as his mystical Body and the People of God, is endowed with seven sacraments, possesses a visible hierarchical structure, and is governed by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him (Arts. 8 and 14).
It follows that communities of Christians who do not have seven sacraments and those who reject the authority of the Pope and bishops form no part of the People of God, the Catholic Church. The recent CDF document, then, confirms the teaching of Vatican II.
Dr Frank Mobbs is a writer, lecturer and author of several books, including 'The Incredible Da Vinci Code'. He has been a regular contributor to 'AD2000'.