Skip to comments.The universal church and the local churches
Posted on 12/14/2005 8:57:33 AM PST by Petrosius
I have started this new thread as a place to respond to an article by Cardinal Kasper in the tread A Note for Evangelicals Considering Rome (post #129). I have reposted the original article by Cardinal Kasper and a reply by the Cardinal Ratzinger. I have also posted and earlier article from Cardinal Dulles. All three articles are from America magazine. My apologies for what will be a long post.
From America (April 23, 2001):
Among Catholic theologians ?the relationship between the universal church and the particular [local] churches? is a burning question today; they continue to debate it intensely. In 1999 I published my opinion in an essay ?On the Office of the Bishop.? In 2000 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger responded in a lecture ?On the Ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council? and took a highly critical stance against my position. Since the resolution of the issue has far-reaching consequences, the debate should continue.
A Pressing Pastoral Problem
I reached my position not from abstract reasoning but from pastoral experience. As the bishop of a large diocese, I had observed how a gap was emerging and steadily increasing between norms promulgated in Rome for the universal church and the needs and practices of our local church. A large portion of our people, including priests, could not understand the reason behind the regulations coming from the center; they tended, therefore, to ignore them. This happened concerning ethical issues, sacramental discipline and ecumenical practices. The adamant refusal of Communion to all divorced and remarried persons and the highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality are good examples.
No bishop should be silent or stand idly by when he finds himself in such a situation. He faces, however, an awkward dilemma. While his task is to be a bond of unity between the See of Rome and his people, he is pulled in two directions. On the one hand, he is a member of the universal episcopal college in solidarity with the pope and his brother bishops; he must therefore protect the unity of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, he is the shepherd of a local church; he must, therefore, take care of his own people, respond to their expectations and answer their questions. Has not the Second Vatican Council enjoined every bishop to listen to the faithful, especially to the clergy?
But how can any bishop bring the two parties together and help them to understand each other when their minds are far apart, even to the point of holding mutually exclusive positions, as happens often in our days? If the bishop attempts to enforce the general norms ruthlessly?as his Roman superiors sometimes expect?his effort is likely to be useless, even counterproductive. If he remains passive, he is quickly judged disobedient. He seems to be caught in an impasse. Yet there is a solution: the bishop must be granted enough vital space to make responsible decisions in the matter of implementing universal laws.
To grant such responsible freedom does not mean opening the door to cheap compromises. It does not permit a local bishop to make concessions in matters of faith. His duty is to bear witness to the truth, whether it is opportune or not; he must always respect the integrity of our tradition. Beyond the immutable articles of faith and morals, however, there is the broad field of ecclesiastical discipline, which is essentially changeable, even when the norms were created to support, closely or loosely, some doctrinal position. Our people are well aware of the flexibility of laws and regulations; they have experienced a great deal of it over the past decades. They lived through changes that no one anticipated or even thought possible.
To grant freedom to local bishops to implement universal laws responsibly is within our tradition, not contrary to it. From its beginnings, the church has developed a broad range of principles and rules for the responsible and flexible adaptation of universal regulations to particular and concrete situations. The Western church always held the cardinal virtue of prudence in high regard. When it was warranted by special circumstances, it permitted exceptions to general norms, imposed justice tempered by mercy, gave scope to equity and created an extensive system of dispensations. Moreover, the church recognized the right of the local bishop to ?remonstrate?; that is, to suspend a new law temporarily if he judged it harmful in his territory. The Eastern church developed the doctrine and practice of oikonomia, ?economy?: a superior wisdom that guides bishops and allows them to resolve problems that the laws cannot handle.
Such principles are well grounded in sound theology, in particular in the theology of the local church and the office of the bishop. The local church is neither a province nor a department of the universal church; it is the church at a given place. The local bishop is not the delegate of the pope but is one sent by Jesus Christ. He is given personal responsibility by Christ. He receives the fullness of power through his sacramental consecration?the power that he needs to govern his diocese. This is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
This understanding of the bishop’s office should have led to decentralization in the church’s government. The opposite happened: the trend toward centralization returned after the council.
Not all the blame, however, for this reactionary development should be put on the Roman Curia. We must recognize that at times the Curia had to intervene, not because it was craving for power, but because some local churches seemed to have forgotten the need for unity?so strongly emphasized in the New Testament. They let false movements develop toward excessive pluralism, local particularism and religious nationalism. More, the worldwide movement of ?globalization? placed its own demands on the church: we live in ?one village,? and singular solutions in particular churches are not always desirable. In addition, the ease of communication between the center and the provinces is a powerful force for ?unification.? Less desirably, the local churches themselves can promote centralization whenever they abdicate their responsibility and turn to Rome for a decision?a ruse to evade their duty and find cover behind a superior order.
Whatever happened, by now such ?unifying? activities and processes have gone too far. The right balance between the universal church and the particular churches has been destroyed. This is not only my own perception; it is the experience and complaint of many bishops from all over the world. [In a note Cardinal Kasper refers to a talk given at Oxford by Archishop John Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, and to reported statements by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Franz Koenig, archbishop emeritus of Vienna.]
Regrettably, Cardinal Ratzinger has approached the problem of the relationship between the universal church and local churches from a purely abstract and theoretical point of view, without taking into account concrete pastoral situations and experiences. When I objected to an assertion found in the ?Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion,? issued in 1992 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he defended it. The assertion, criticized by many, claims that ?in its essential mystery, the universal church is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual church.? I took exception to this theory.
In his response, Cardinal Ratzinger accused me of proposing an understanding of the church that has no theological depth and reduces its essence to empirically developed separate communities. This badly misrepresents and caricatures my position. I affirmed the opposite in the article to which he objects and in many other publications. Throughout my ministry as a bishop, I consistently fought against sociological tendencies that wanted to reduce the church to disconnected assemblies. Precisely because I have defended the unity of the church, I have taken many a beating.
Now, wishing to avoid further misunderstandings, I offer a thorough explanation of my position. This is all the more important in that, as I see it, the resolution of the problem of the relationship between the universal church and the local churches has far-reaching pastoral and ecumenical consequences.
The relationship between the universal church and the local churches cannot be explained in the abstract by way of theoretical deductions, because the church is a concrete historical reality. Under the guidance of God’s Spirit, it unfolds in history; to history, therefore, we must turn for sound theology.
Among the complex historical data, the main trends of development can be discerned.
The starting point must be the Scriptures. In the letters of Paul, the local church is clearly and firmly at the center. When in his principal letters Paul uses the word ?church? (ecclesia) in the singular, he refers to a particular church or to a given community. When he speaks of ?churches? in the plural, he refers to several local assemblies. For Paul, the one church of God comes to life in each local church. Thus there is the church of God in Corinth and so forth. The church of God is present in each of them. In the captivity letters (which in the opinion of many scholars are not by Paul), this meaning of ecclesia recedes into the background and the universal church as a whole comes into focus.
In the Gospel of Luke, the word ecclesia can signify a domestic community as well as a local community; further, Luke already has a theological conception of the universal church.
The early church developed from local communities. Each was presided over by a bishop; the one church of God was present in each. Because the one church was present in each and all, they were in communion. From this communion flowed appropriate practices: at least three bishops were needed to ordain a local bishop; also, from the third century on, neighboring bishops met and deliberated in synods. In A.D. 325 the Council of Nicaea gave the many churches a unifying structure: it gathered the local churches into provinces and the provinces into larger units, later called patriarchates. In 343 the Council of Sardica continued this organizational work; it even created an administrative system on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, as we would call it today. Each particular church remained significant, but none of them had autonomy. They existed within the network of a communion of metropolitan and patriarchal churches, all of them bonded together as the universal church.
From early times and within the network of communion, the See of Rome assumed a certain responsibility and authority. In the beginning of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch addressed the Roman church as ?presiding in charity.? This address was not a statement about universal jurisdiction in doctrine and discipline; it meant that the Roman church was the leading and guiding authority in determining what the essence of Christianity was. Although Rome was the first among episcopal sees, its power was circumscribed. The decrees of the Council of Constantinople in 381 (Canon 3) and of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (Canon 28) clearly show that the bishop of Rome possessed a leading moral authority. For the Eastern church this authority did not encompass jurisdictional power, but it was more than mere primacy of honor. In sum, the ecclesiology of the first millennium excluded a one-sided emphasis on the local churches as well as a one-sided emphasis on the universal church.
Although this historical summary is brief, it contains data of fundamental importance for any further theological reflection precisely because it provides information about convictions and practices that in the first millennium were common to the churches of the East and the West. What has been our common possession in the past can be our common guide in the present.
In 1976, in a lecture in Graz, Austria, Cardinal Ratzinger stated: ?What was possible in the church for a thousand years cannot be impossible today. In other words, Rome must not demand from the East more recognition of the doctrine of primacy than was known and practiced in the first millennium.? This so-called ?Ratzinger proposition? was well received; it had a wide echo and has become the major theme of several ecumenical dialogues.
The proposition is all the more significant in that after the separation of the East from the West, that is, from the beginning of the second millennium, the West alone developed a new conception of the church that put the emphasis on universality. This trend culminated in attributing all authority to the pope. Yet Thomas of Aquinas remained cool toward such doctrine; he opposed Bonaventure, who favored it.
The doctrine of absolute and exclusive papal authority played a strong role in the fight against conciliarism, the Protestant Reformation, state absolutism, Gallicanism and Josephinism. The First Vatican Council, with its teaching on the primacy of jurisdiction of the pope, reinforced it. Finally, the Code of Canon Law of 1917 put the seal on this development.
The Second Vatican Council sought to revive the beliefs and attitudes of the early church and to bring them into harmony with the teachings of the First Vatican Council. It did so successfully through its enactments regarding the local church, the sacramental character of episcopal ordination and episcopal collegiality. After the council there was an effort to bring the full meaning of the council’s teaching to light through an ?ecclesiology of communion.? In 1985 the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops stated that ?communion? was the central and foundational idea of the Second Vatican Council. This approach has become increasingly rewarding: the idea of ?communio? has taken the central place as the common goal of the ecumenical movement.
In 1992 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, in its letter to the bishops ?On Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion,? approached the issue in a fundamentally positive way. It objected correctly to a one-sided ecclesiology that gave excessive weight to the local churches and saw the universal church as the end result of the coming together of local churches. Indeed, according to the teaching of Vatican II, the local churches and the universal church exist in each other. The congregation, however, went beyond the limits of the council’s doctrine, which is that the universal church exists ?in and from? the local churches. The congregation asserted that the local churches exist ?in and from? the universal church. Then, intending to oppose the thesis of the primacy of the local church as proposed by some theologians, it put forward the thesis of ?the ontological and historical priority of the universal church.?
Many questions can be raised concerning the position of the congregation on the basis of the historical data that we have surveyed. Indeed, it provoked a great deal of criticism, which led to a quasi-official clarification one year after the publication of the document.
Common Foundations in Ecclesiology
Before explaining my own position, I wish to state the doctrinal points in which Cardinal Ratzinger and I agree. So far as possible, I wish to exclude any misunderstanding. The common doctrine that Catholic theologians must accept can be summed up in three points:
1. Jesus Christ wanted only one single church. For this reason we profess in the Creed that ?we believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.? As we believe in one God, one redeemer Jesus Christ, one Spirit, one baptism, so we believe in one church. This ?one-ness? is not in a future ideal that we strive to reach through the ecumenical movement: the one church exists in the present. It is not, however, a sum of the ?fragments of the one church??as if at present each church were a mere fragment of the one church. The one church of Christ ?subsists? in the Roman Catholic Church; it is concretely present in the same, in spite of all its weaknesses, by God’s fidelity throughout history.
2. The one church of Jesus Christ exists ?in and from? the local churches. It exists, therefore, in each local church; it is present there especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. It follows that there can be no local church in isolation, for its own sake, but only in communion with all other local churches. As the universal church consists ?in and from? local churches, so each local church exists ?in and from? the one church of Jesus Christ. The unity of the universal church is a unity in communion. It excludes all egocentrism and national independence in the local churches. The local churches and the universal church mutually include each other.
3. Just as the local churches are not mere extensions or provinces of the universal church, so the universal church is not the mere sum of the local churches. The local churches and the universal church are intimately united. They share the same existence; they live within each other. The church is not like the federation of several states, nor is it like one centrally governed state. Its constitutional structure is unique; no social science can account for it. Its unity is ultimately a mystery. It is constituted after the image of the Trinity, one God in three persons. The unity of the church is not uniformity; it includes diversity.
In affirming these three points, I think I am in substantial agreement with Henri de Lubac, who expressed such essentials in a concise formula: ?Whenever there is mutual presence and inclusion, there is a perfect relationship.? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its documents exceeded these essentials when it used this ?doctrine of mutual inclusion? to assert the primacy of the universal church. To validate such an assertion, valid proofs would be necessary.
Controversy: Points of Disagreement
Cardinal Ratzinger defends the thesis of the historical and ontological primacy of the universal church over the local churches with arguments from historical sources and systematic reflections.
He claims that the doctrine of the primacy of the universal church follows from the history of the Pentecostal event reported by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. ?In time, the church comes into existence on the day of Pentecost. It is the community of the 120, with Mary and the Twelve Apostles. There the Apostles represent the one church; later they will be the founders of the local churches. They are the carriers of a message sent to the whole world. The church already speaks all the languages.?
This argumentation is highly questionable. Many exegetes are convinced that the ?Pentecostal event? in the Acts of the Apostles is a construction by Luke. Similar ?Pentecostal events? also occurred, probably from the beginning, in the communities of Galilee. Further, Michael Theobald [a professor of theology at the Centre Sèvres in Paris] correctly noted that the narration of the ?Pentecostal event? does not refer to the universal church as such but to the gathering of the Jewish ?diaspora,? which in the course of time, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will expand into a church of all nations. This is what Luke intended to show. The correct history of the beginnings of the church is found comprehensively in the narrations of its initial expansion and not in Luke’s isolated passage about Pentecost.
Clearly, Cardinal Ratzinger must be aware of the weakness of his historical argument, because he admits that a historical proof is difficult; hence the issue must be decided, ultimately, on the basis of the intrinsic connection between the universal church and the local churches. The strength of the proof of the ontological primacy [as distinct from the historical one] is therefore the more important issue.
But in what does this ?proof? consist? Surprisingly, Cardinal Ratzinger grounds his theory of the ontological primacy in a thesis about the pre-existence of the church. He finds the justification for this thesis in the words of Paul the Apostle, who speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem from above as our mother, as the city of the living God, the community, ecclesia, of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven (see Heb. 12:22 ff.). The Fathers of the Church Clement, Origen and Augustine commented amply on this text. Also, the idea of ?pre-existence? had its parallel in early Judaism: it was a widespread opinion that the Torah was a heavenly reality before the creation of the world. Similar conceptions were current in other religions and in the schools of Platonic philosophy.
By this doctrine of the pre-existence of the church, St. Paul means that the church is not the product of accidental historical circumstances, developments and decisions but is grounded in the eternal saving will of God. Its origins lie in the eternal mystery of God who saves. This is precisely what Paul is stressing when in his letters he speaks of the eternal saving mystery of God that was hidden in earlier times but is manifest now in the church and through the church (Eph. 1:3-14; 3:3-12; Col. 1-26 ff.).
Such a pre-existence of the church cannot be contested; it is indispensable for the correct theological understanding of the church. But it is not an argument in favor of the ontological primacy of the universal church. Who would assert that when Paul speaks of the pre-existence of the church in God’s saving will, he refers only to the universal church and not to the concrete historical church that exists ?in and from? the local churches? Who would say that the one historical church, existing ?in and from? the local churches, does not pre-exist in its entirety in God’s mystery?
The Pauline texts about the pre-existence of the church do not at all support the thesis about the pre-existence of the universal church. They do support, however, the doctrine defended by me and many others of the simultaneous pre-existence of the universal church and the particular churches.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s doctrinal reflections fail to prove the primacy of the universal church, just as the historical arguments failed. The pre-existence of the church must be understood as the concrete church that consists ?in and from? particular churches. No less a scholar than Henri de Lubac stated, ?A universal church which would have a separate existence, or which someone imagined as existing outside the particular churches, is a mere abstraction.? He explained further: ?God does not love empty abstractions. He loves concrete human beings of flesh and blood. God’s eternal saving will intended the incarnation of the Logos in view of the concrete church composed of people of flesh and blood.?
A Freely Disputed Issue
When the question of the ?primacy of the churches? is critically examined, it becomes clear that the debate is not about any point of ?Catholic doctrine.? The conflict is between theological opinions and underlying philosophical assumptions. One side [Ratzinger] proceeds by Plato’s method; its starting point is the primacy of an idea that is a universal concept. The other side [Kasper] follows Aristotle’s approach and sees the universal as existing in a concrete reality. Aristotle’s approach, of course, should not be misconstrued as if it were reducing all knowledge to mere empirical data.
The medieval controversy between the Platonic and the Aristotelian schools was a debate within the parameters of the common Catholic faith. Thus Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas chose different paths in their approach to theological issues, including the matter of the universal authority of the pope. Yet both are revered as doctors of the church; both are honored as saints. If such a diversity was admitted in the Middle Ages, why should it not be recognized as possible today?
Consequences for the Ecumenical Movement
The resolution of the relationship between the universal church and the local churches is highly relevant for the pastoral situations that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Originally, I myself regarded the issue as a pastoral one within the church. Now I see it as a major problem affecting our relations with other Christian churches. The goal of the ecumenical movement is not unity in uniformity but the existence of one church embracing peacefully a great diversity. The particular churches must remain churches, and yet more and more they must become one church. The goal of the ecumenical movement is therefore ?unity through the communion of the churches,? oneness in communion.
In the large ecumenical world, we cannot credibly advocate such a goal unless in our own Catholic Church we promote a healthy relationship between the universal church and the particular churches?unless, that is, we promote both unity and diversity. A one-sided emphasis on universality is bound to awake painful memories and provoke mistrust; it frightens away other Christians. In our dialogues with the Orthodox and the Protestant churches (ecclesial communities), it is important to make clear that a particular church cannot be fully a church of Jesus Christ outside the community that is universal. Such ?unity in communion? does not oppress the legitimate traditions of the particular churches; it brings them space for freedom. No Christian community will ever find another way toward the fullness of the church of Christ.
Such a balance between the universal church and the local churches does not oppose the ministry of the papacy; quite the contrary, the papacy has as its principal task to create such a balance. The pope’s mission is ?to strengthen his brethren.? He must therefore strengthen and hold them together in the unity of the episcopate and the local churches. Pope John Paul II invited the churches to an ecumenical dialogue to see how all this can be accomplished in the concrete order.
When the pope issues an invitation to such a friendly dialogue, then surely it cannot be improper to express one’s opinion concerning the relationship between the universal church and the local churches.
Walter Kasper, the bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Germany, from 1989 to 1999, was formerly a professor of theology at the University of Tübingen. He was made a cardinal in February of this year and soon after was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The German text of the present article was originally published in the journal Stimmen der Zeit (December 2000). The translation was prepared by Ladislas Orsy, S.J., a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.
From America (November 19, 2001):
By Joseph Ratzinger
The editors of America have kindly invited me to respond to an article by Cardinal Walter Kasper (4/23), in which he, the president of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reacted to remarks of mine that, in turn, were a reply to an earlier text by Kasper in which he sharply criticized a crucial statement from a document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For a long while I hesitated to accept this invitation because I do not want to foster the impression that there is a longstanding theological dispute between Cardinal Kasper and myself, when in fact none exists.
After much reflection, however, I was finally moved to take up America’s offer after all. My first reason is that the article by Cardinal Kasper is a response to texts that are largely unknown to both German and American readers. The article by Walter Kasper that set off the dispute is tucked away in a festschrift read only by specialists. My own piece, which covers a much broader thematic gamut and in which only two of its 23 pages deal with Kasper, has been published in German only in excerpts, and thus far in English (to my knowledge) not at all. Even though Cardinal Kasper sincerely strove in his ?friendly exchange? to inform readers about what he was responding to, his necessarily sketchy allusions can hardly provide a clear picture of those previous texts, although they are the focus of his article.
Of course, I cannot give the reader a really satisfactory notion of them either; but it may nonetheless be useful to shed some light on the prehistory of this disagreement from a different perspective, to get a better understanding of the general shape and significance of the discussion. Above all, however, I would like to invite people to read the original texts.
The second reason why I finally decided to write is a pleasant one: Kasper’s response to my statements has led to clarifications whose scope readers will hardly be able to appreciate clearly unless they are familiar with what went before. Pointing up the progress made in this debate strikes me as significant.
It all began, as mentioned, not with anything I wrote, but with a ?Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church as Communio,? which was published, with the pope’s approval, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 28, 1992. The term communio, which played a rather marginal role in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, was moved to the center of the question of the church by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985?and in so doing the synod was surely following the council’s intentions. Since this word had been used, and misused, in many different ways, an explanation by the magisterium of the essential elements of communio-ecclesiology seemed appropriate; and such was the purpose of the letter from the congregation.
In that letter, then, we also find the principle that the universal church (ecclesia universalis) is in its essential mystery a reality that takes precedence, ontologically and temporally, over the individual local churches. This principle was given a sharp critique by Walter Kasper, who at the time was bishop of Rottenburg, Germany, that culminated in the statement: ?The formula becomes thoroughly problematic if the universal church is being covertly identified with the church of Rome, and de facto with the pope and the Curia. If that happens, the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot be read as an aid in clarifying communio-ecclesiology, but as a dismissal of it and as an attempt to restore Roman centralism.?
The attack on the doctrinal letter from the congregation sounds at first, from a linguistic point of view, hypothetical: were one to identify the universal church with the pope and the Curia, then the restoration of Roman centralism would be at hand. But in the second half of the statement, the attack clearly takes on the tone of an affirmation, because the claim that there is a will to bring on a Roman ?restoration? makes sense only if Rome itself is thinking and acting that way, not if such interpretations are merely proposed, so to speak, by a third party.
As a matter of fact, in the same article Kasper writes as follows, non-hypothetically: ?This determination by the council has undergone, after the council...a further development by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that practically amounts, more or less, to a reversal of it.? Thus Kasper’s text was quite rightly understood everywhere as a warning cry against a new, theologically veiled form of Roman centralism and as an emphatic criticism of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A warning like this from the mouth of a bishop with solid theological credentials carries weight. If theology or any interpretation of the faith by the magisterium is misused to introduce a strategy for gaining power or to reverse the council, that is a serious matter. Kasper’s critique, as has no doubt become obvious, was not directed against me personally, but against a text from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the office of the Holy See in charge of doctrine. Some sort of clarification was therefore unavoidable.
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I tried to find the least polemical way to clear up the problem. An opportunity to do so arose when I was invited in the spring of 2000 to speak at a symposium, on the 35th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, about the ecclesiological vision of its ?Dogmatic Consitution on the Church? (Lumen Gentium). In so doing I tried above all to spotlight the link between the church and the question of God: the church is not there for itself, but to serve God’s presence in the world.
In this broad context I addressed the relationship between the universal church and the local churches and, in the process, briefly explained that the letter from the congregation never dreamt of identifying the reality of the universal church with the pope and Curia, and hence that the fears voiced by Kasper were groundless. In order to do this, I mainly tried to shed light on the rich implications of the term ?universal church,? which may at first sound abstract.
The most positive feature of Cardinal Kasper’s response to my talk is that he tacitly dropped the reproach from his first article and now assigned to our argument the rank of a ?controversy over a scholastic dispute.? The thesis of the ontological and temporal priority of the universal church to individual churches was now treated as a question, ?not of church doctrine, but of theological opinions and of the various related philosophies.? The statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was categorized as my personal theology and tied in with my ?Platonism,? while Kasper traced his own view back to his more Aristotelian (Thomistic) approach. By reframing the dispute in this way, the question was basically blunted and shifted to another level. The charge was no longer that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was intent on centralism, restoration and turning the church around. Instead, Cardinal Kasper now noted two different theological points of view separating his theology and mine, which can and perhaps should coexist peacefully.
Above and beyond that, Kasper’s ?friendly exchange? had two further positive results. He unambiguously emphasized?and I am very grateful to him for this?our common ecclesiological foundations, and he modified his own rejection of the ontological and temporal precedence of the universal church over the individual churches, when he characterized the ?pre-existence? (properly understood) of the church as indispensable for understanding it.
To be sure, he claims that this pre-existence applies not only to the universal church, but also to the concrete church, which is composed ?in and of ? local churches. As opposed to the notion of the ?primacy? of the universal church he defends the ?thesis of the simultaneity of the universal church and the particular churches.? What he means by this becomes clearer when he writes: ?The local church and the universal church are internal to one another; they penetrate each other and are perichoretic.?
I can certainly accept this formula; it is valid for the church as it lives in history. But it misses the actual point at issue as seen in the reference to the ?pre-existence? of the church. In order to clarify what is at stake here, let me quote a few sentences from my talk on this topic. In it I argued that the fathers of the church saw the church as a greater Israel, now become universal; and from that standpoint they also adopted the rabbinical view of the meaning of creation, which is based on the Bible itself:
Thus creation is conceived in such a way that there is a place in it for God’s will. But this will needs a people that lives for God’s will and makes it the light of the world.
From the standpoint of Christology, the picture is expanded and deepened. History is, once again in connection with the Old Testament, interpreted as a love story between God and humanity. God finds and prepares for himself the bride of the Son, the one bride, which is the one church. On the strength of the saying in Genesis that a man and his wife become ?two in one flesh? (Gen. 2:24), the image of bride fused with the idea of the church as the body of Christ, which for its part is based on eucharistic piety. The one body of Christ is made ready; Christ and the church will be ?two in one flesh,? one body; and thus God will be all in all.
The basic idea of sacred history is that of gathering together, of uniting?uniting human beings in the one body of Christ, the union of human beings and through human beings of all creation with God. There is only one bride, only one body of Christ, not many brides, not many bodies. The bride is, of course, as the fathers of the church said, drawing on Psalm 44, dressed ?in many-colored robes?; the body has many organs. But the superordinate principle is ultimately unity. That is the point here. Variety becomes richness only through the process of unification.
I can only repeat what I said in that talk. I cannot understand how my position can be refuted by means of biblical theology. The inner priority of unity, of the one bride to her essential variety, seems to be plainly evident.
At the same time, in my talk I tried to understand where the resistance to this self-evident biblical view of history comes from; and I came up with two closely interrelated motives. The first is that mentioning the universal church and its ontological (or should we say teleological?) precedence over the individual churches leads people to think immediately about the pope and the Curia, and the need to avert centralism. Hence, the problem of centralism and of the role of the local bishops also lies at the root of Cardinal Kasper’s reaction to my thoughts.
Forgive me if I say quite candidly that this linkage, objectively speaking, makes no sense. The church of Rome is a local church and not the universal church?a local church with a peculiar, universal responsibility, but still a local church. And the assertion of the inner precedence of God’s idea of the one church, the one bride, over all its empirical realizations in particular churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the problem of centralism.
Once this has been made clear, another question arises: why does this same association keep coming up everywhere, even with so great a theologian as Walter Kasper? What makes people suspect that the thesis of the internal priority of the one divine idea of the church over the individual churches might be a ploy of Roman centralism?
This brings us to the second reason why the plain biblical evidence is not, in fact, functional today. The term ?universal church? is understood to refer only to the pope and the Curia. It seems, as Kasper says in his response, echoing Henri de Lubac, to be a pure abstraction. That is why in my talk I made a deliberate effort to present the practical reality of the Catholic Church and how it actually works, in close conjunction with the ?Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.?
To my astonishment, Cardinal Kasper said not a word about this extensive and central passage of my text. Here I can only make the briefest of allusions to my remarks. I showed that the council answers the question, where one can see the universal church as such, by speaking of the sacraments:
There is, first of all, baptism. It is a Trinitarian, that is, a thoroughly theological event, and means far more than being socialized into the local church.... Baptism does not arise from the individual community; rather, in baptism the door to the one church is opened to us; it is the presence of the one church, and it can come only from her?from the Jerusalem that is above, our new mother. In baptism the universal church continually precedes and creates the local church.
On this basis the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can say that there are no strangers in the church. Everyone in it is at home everywhere.... Anyone baptized in the church in Berlin is always at home in the church in Rome or in New York or in Kinshasa or in Bangalore or wherever, as if he or she had been baptized there. He or she does not need to file a change-of-address form; it is one and the same church. Baptism comes out of it and delivers (gives birth to) us into it.To my pleasure, I was recently on hand when Cardinal Kasper made this very argument in a discussion about the church and cited an example from his own life. Early on, he and his parents had left the parish where he was baptized?yet in baptism he had not been socialized into this particular community, but born into the one church. As far as I am concerned, this statement clears up the controversy?for that is the issue here. I would like to make just one more point, taken from the longer discussion in my talk, about the concrete content of the phrase ?universal church,? specifically, about the word of God. I said:Anyone who speaks of baptism is automatically dealing with the word of God, which for the entire church is only one, and which always precedes the church in all places, calls it together, and builds it up. This one word is above the church and yet in it, entrusted to it as to a living subject. In order to be really present in history, the word of God needs this subject; but this subject cannot subsist without the vivifying power of the word, which makes it a subject to begin with. When we speak of the word of God we also mean the Creed, which stands at the center of the baptismal event. It is a way the church receives and appropriates the word, which is in a sense both word and response. Here too the universal church, the one church, is quite concretely and palpably present.If one strips away all the false associations with church politics from the concept of the universal church and grasps it in its true theological (and hence quite concrete) content, then it becomes clear that the argument about church politics misses the heart of the matter. It becomes clear that the problem is not Platonism or Aristotelianism, but the key notion of salvation history in the Bible. And then one can no longer also say that the ?universalistic view? of the church is ?ecumenically off-putting.?
I would really like to go on and address many other points that Kasper makes?for example, his objections to my analysis of the account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. But perhaps I had better leave that to a future personal conversation.
Let me, if I may, add only one rather humorous little note. In the section ?Historical Perspectives,? which supplies in a few sentences some very good information about the essential issues, Cardinal Kasper, invoking J. Gnilka, observes that ?in Paul the local community is the focus.? But in Rudolf Bultmann we can read the exact opposite. According to Bultmann:
...the church’s organization grew primarily out of the awareness that the community as a whole takes precedence over the individual communities. A symptom of this is that the word ekklesia [church] is used to refer, in the first instance, by no means to the individual community but to the ?people of God?.... The notion of the priority of the church as a whole over the individual community is further seen in the equation of the ekklesia with the soma Christou [body of Christ], which embraces all believers. (Theology of the New Testament, 3d ed., Tübingen 1958, p. 96)This conflict between Gnilka and Bultmann shows, first of all, the relativity of exegetical judgments. But for that very reason it is especially instructive in our case, because Bultmann, who vigorously defended the thesis of the precedence of the universal church over the local church, could certainly never be accused of Platonism or of a bias in favor of bringing back Roman centralism. Perhaps it was simply because he stood outside these controversies that he was able to read and expound the texts with a more open mind.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The translator is Peter Heinegg, professor in the department of the humanities at Union College, Schenectady, N.Y.
From America (July 15, 2000):
By Avery Dulles
Conscious of his pastoral responsibility for the whole flock of Christ, Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (No. 96) invited leaders and theologians of other churches to suggest ways in which the papal office, without prejudice to its essential features, could be exercised in ways more conducive to Christian unity. Some of the early responses seemed to say that the very existence of the primacy as it had been defined at Vatican I and Vatican II was ecumenically unacceptable. But more recently the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission indicated a remarkable openness on the part of Anglicans to the idea of a universal papal primacy (see Origins, 5/27/99).
Individual Protestant theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg have seen the desirability of having a pope for all Christians. The views of others can be found in the interesting volume of essays, A Pope for All Christians? An Inquiry Into the Role of Peter in the Modern Church, ed. Peter J. McCord (New York: Paulist, 1976), with contributions by distinguished theologians representing the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Orthodox, Methodist and Anglican perspectives.
A number of Catholic theologians have taken the pope’s invitation as an occasion for expressing their own views on how the papal office might advantageously be restructured. Not surprisingly, the proposals have come principally from authors who are dissatisfied with current procedures. Essentially, their complaint is that the papacy has become too active and powerful. Before assessing the proposals, it will be helpful to reflect on recent trends.
Globalization of the Papacy
During the past two centuries the popes have become increasingly aware of their planetary responsibilities and have transformed the papacy into a more potent symbol of Catholic unity. The First Vatican Council (1869-70), followed by the Code of Canon Law of 1917, attributed new powers to the pope as vicar of Christ for the universal church. He received practically unlimited authority over the development of doctrine and ecclesiastical legislation. Through its expanding diplomatic corps, the Holy See came to be morally present in many nations, overseeing the affairs of the church and interacting with secular governments. With the help of nuncios and apostolic delegates, Rome controlled the appointment of bishops everywhere.
At the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) bishops from Western Europe (France, Belgium, Holland and Germany), together with their theological advisers, spearheaded a program of reform that sought to restore the dignity and rights of individual bishops and give real though limited autonomy to regional churches. Missionary bishops of Asia and Africa, anxious to insert the Catholic faith more deeply into the lives of their people, welcomed the program. Without reversing the teaching of Vatican I on papal primacy, Vatican II promoted inculturation; it rehabilitated local and regional churches; it upgraded the episcopate by redefining the bishop as a priest who enjoys the fullness of the sacrament of order. It formulated the doctrine of collegiality, teaching that all bishops in communion with Rome are fellow members of the supreme directorate of the universal church.
To implement these principles Vatican II initiated several structural changes. It called for the internationalization of the Roman Curia, which up to then had been almost exclusively Italian. It erected a system of episcopal conferences, one for each major nation or territory in the world. In concert with Paul VI, the council also set up a totally new institution: the Synod of Bishops, which meets periodically in Rome to deal with matters of concern to the universal church.
Pope Paul VI, faithfully implementing the council’s program, made the papacy a truly global institution. He internationalized the Roman Curia and supervised the establishment of the episcopal conferences and the Synod of Bishops. Following a suggestion of this synod, he established the International Theological Commission to advise the Holy See. Setting a completely new precedent, he made pastoral journeys to the Holy Land, India, New York, Portugal, Turkey, Colombia, Geneva, Uganda and the Far East. In the course of these travels he visited the World Council of Churches in Geneva, the headquarters of the United Nations in New York and the Conference of Latin American Episcopates at Medellín, Colombia. He had meetings of great symbolic importance with leaders of other churches, including Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1964 and 1967 and Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey of Canterbury in 1966. While calling for missionary evangelization, he also promoted cordial dialogues with the great religions.
John Paul II is, like Paul VI, preeminently a pope of Vatican II. As a young bishop he participated in all four sessions of the council. Enthusiastically supporting its teaching, he assiduously applied it to his archdiocese of Kraków in Poland. Throughout the decade from 1967 to 1977 he was a leading figure in the Synod of Bishops. His election as the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century dramatically underlined the international character of the contemporary papacy.
Like Paul VI, John Paul II sees himself as a ?pilgrim pope.? He has made more than 100 trips outside of Italy in the 22 years of his pontificate thus far. He has spoken at UNESCO in Paris and has twice addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. He has frequently met with leaders of other Christian churches and has engaged in interreligious events at Assisi and elsewhere. In the name of social justice he has denounced oppressive regimes and supported participatory forms of government as more consonant with the dignity and freedom of the human person. The success of the bloodless revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 has been attributed in great part to his moral influence. Although he abstains from partisan politics, no pope since the Middle Ages?or perhaps in all history?has been such a major actor on the world stage.
As did Paul VI, John Paul II works collegially with the bishops of the world. He has held regular sessions of the Synod of Bishops approximately every three years. In 1985 he called an extraordinary meeting of the synod to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II. He has convoked special sessions of the synod for national and regional groups of bishops, including the four great assemblies for Africa, America, Asia and Europe, leading up to the Great Jubilee of 2000.
John Paul II keeps in constant communication with his fellow bishops. The national and regional conferences elect representatives to the Synod of Bishops and respond to drafts of important Roman documents. When the pope travels abroad, he regularly makes a speech to the conference of bishops and sometimes enters into dialogue with its members, as he did in Los Angeles in 1987. Like earlier popes, he meets in Rome with individual bishops and groups of bishops, who come every five years to discuss with him the developments, opportunities and problems in their part of the world.
In furtherance of his collegial mode of governance, John Paul II has found new uses for the college of cardinals. On five occasions between 1979 and 1994, he convoked special consistories to seek out the cardinals’ ideas and obtain their cooperation in important matters, ranging from church finances to the preparations for the present jubilee year. Far from being in competition with the college of bishops, the college of cardinals serves as a component of that college that can be summoned more expeditiously, more conveniently and more economically. For similar reasons, the pope occasionally holds meetings of archbishops or presidents of episcopal conferences. All of these mechanisms help the pope to govern the church in a collegial way, taking account of the wisdom and sensitivities of bishops throughout the world.
John Paul II also believes strongly in inculturation. The faith, he believes, must be successfully incarnated in the many cultures of the world. This task, however, is a delicate one. Cultures are not morally and religiously neutral. They need to be evangelized so as to be hospitable to, and supportive of, authentic Christianity. Lest cultures become self-enclosed and divisive, John Paul II insists that they must respect universal human values. In the church, believers of different cultural regions must be able to recognize one another as fellow members of the same body, sharing the same apostolic heritage. If these conditions are met, the plurality of cultures in the church can be a positive asset. It can bring the riches of the nations to Christ the Lord, to whom they were given as an inheritance (Ps 2:8; see also Vatican II’s ?Dogmatic Constitution on the Church? , No. 13).
Proposed Principles of Reform
Many of the recent reform proposals may be seen as reactions against the global papacy of the post-Vatican II era. Seeking greater autonomy for individual bishops and local churches, Catholic reformers frequently invoke the principle of subsidiarity. John Paul II has concisely explained the meaning of this principle in his encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991): ?A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good? (No. 48).
The subsidiarity principle was first articulated in relation to secular governments, which are established from below. Beginning with the family, people find it necessary to form successively larger communities in order to obtain benefits that cannot be assured by the smaller or lower units. But higher authorities, such as the sovereign state, should not do what the family or smaller voluntary societies can do. The state is thus an auxiliary, a subsidium, which supplements public and private agencies such as municipalities, schools, businesses, churches and clubs.
It is debated to what extent, or exactly how, subsidiarity applies to the church. Unlike the state, the church was established from above, so to speak, by God’s action in Christ, who gave special powers to Peter and the Twelve. The church began to pulse with life when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church as a whole at Pentecost. Only subsequently, as the faith spread to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and other cities, was it necessary to set up local authorities in charge of particular churches. The particular churches were, as Vatican II puts it, ?fashioned after the model of the universal church,? which is therefore antecedent to them, even though it in certain respects depends on them (?Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,? No. 23). They can be called churches inasmuch as ?the Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local congregations? (?Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,? No. 26).
Because the principle of subsidiarity has been formulated with reference to secular societies, its applicability to the church is debatable. Whatever the outcome of that debate, common sense requires that merely local problems should, if possible, be handled locally. In today’s world, however, local questions often have ramifications for the universal church, and therefore require the involvement of higher authority. Besides invoking subsidiarity, the present-day reformers often argue from tradition. In the ancient church, they point out, the bishops of the apostolic sees of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria were considered to have special authority in the Eastern portion of the church, as Rome did in the West. But before resurrecting the patriarchal model, one should recall the difficulties to which it led. The patriarchates quarreled among themselves, with Antioch and Alexandria seeking to eject each other from the Catholic communion. Later Constantinople, and still later Moscow, claimed patriarchal status but were hostile to each other. The Orthodox Church today is plagued by rivalries among the autocephalous national churches of Eastern Europe.
Even in the West, which was blessed by having only one apostolic patriarchate, national churches posed major obstacles to unity. Nationalism contributed to the loss of Germany, Scandinavia, England and Scotland to the Catholic Church, while France, Austria, Spain and Portugal sometimes teetered on the brink of schism. The resurgence of Roman authority in the 19th century was a signal benefit. It enabled Catholics of different nations to maintain a lively sense of solidarity even through the two world wars of the 20th century.
In our electronic age, when information travels with the speed of light, global authority is more important than ever. What happens today in Peoria can raise questions in New Delhi and Warsaw tomorrow. Rome cannot wait silently while doctrinal issues are debated on the local level, as it might have done when communications were slow and transportation was difficult. Today Rome is drawn in as soon as a controversy arises. The Holy See is asked to pronounce on one side or the other of the dispute.
I am not suggesting that the church should go back to the pre-Vatican II situation. The conciliar reforms have enabled the church to enter into the globalized universe of our day. The council quite properly called for inculturation, collegiality and a renewed emphasis on the local church as a center of pastoral life and worship. The structures erected since the council have served well, though further experience and adjustments will be needed for them to function as smoothly as might be desired.
There should be no question of choosing between centralization and decentralization. Decentralization could be disruptive and centralization oppressive unless the centrifugal and centripetal tendencies were held in balance. The process of growth at the extremities places more burdens than ever on the Roman center. In the words of Vatican II, the chair of Peter ?presides over the whole assembly of charity and protects legitimate differences, while at the same time it sees that such differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute to it? (?Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,? No. 13).
Specific Proposals for Structural Reform
In the light of the principles already stated, we may turn our attention to some specific proposals for reform frequently found in recent theological literature. Five recurrent suggestions seem to merit special mention.
First of all, there is the issue of the nomination of bishops. Since the mid-19th century, the selection of bishops by secular princes and by cathedral chapters has all but vanished. No Catholic wants to go back to the old system in which civil governments practically chose most of the bishops. Under the present system, the papal nuncio or delegate has major responsibility for gathering names from his personal knowledge and from consultation with appropriate persons. The appointments are then discussed in the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops, which includes bishops from different regions, who make their own suggestions. The pope receives all the recommendations and makes the final choice.
Many reform-minded theologians would like a more open and ?democratic? process in which names are submitted by the local church, filtered through the national or regional conference of bishops, and eventually proposed to Rome for approval or disapproval. Since the process of appointment is always subject to improvement, suggestions of this kind should not be rejected out of hand. But the proposals I have seen are not free from weaknesses. By erecting representative committees they would unleash factionalism and political power struggles within local churches. By considering only names surfaced within the diocese, they would also create a risk of excessive inbreeding. A church with an eccentric tradition would perpetuate its own eccentricity rather than correct it.
Confidentiality, moreover, could hardly be maintained if names had to be filtered through a succession of committees. In the end, Rome would be under pressure to choose the names proposed or to explain why it was not doing so. But to divulge the reasons against an appointment might be injurious to the candidate’s reputation. And finally, it may be said, the current process allows consideration of a larger pool of possibilities than would be familiar to any diocesan committee. Although mistakes are occasionally made, the existing procedure, in my opinion, has given us a generally excellent body of bishops who can be trusted to serve as faithful pastors of their flocks. They compare favorably with the elected bishops of other churches.
Power of the Synod of Bishops
A second issue has to do with the powers of the Synod of Bishops. As presently constituted, it consists primarily of bishops elected by their respective episcopal conferences, which are represented according to their relative size. Plenary sessions are held about once every three years and are relatively brief?not more than a month in length. The bishops could hardly afford to be absent from their sees for longer or more frequent periods. The synod is not a legislative body but a forum for the bishops to express their views on the theme of the meeting and ascertain the degree of consensus among them. The synod assemblies often make useful suggestions to the pope and the Curia. The apostolic exhortations that issue from these assemblies have demonstrated the value of the synodal process.
There are voices in the church that would like to see the synod transformed into a body that could enact laws and issue binding doctrinal pronouncements. Given the ad hoc make-up of the assemblies and the relatively brief time of the meetings, I am inclined to disagree. I doubt that the Catholic faithful would wish to be bound by the decrees of such an assembly. The pope can, of course, give the synod power to decide some issue by majority vote, but he has thus far preferred to seek recommendations from the synod and let the Roman congregations follow up with the necessary action.
The assembly of 1985, for example, made four major recommendations: the early completion of the Code of Canon Law for Eastern Catholic churches, the preparation of a universal catechism or compendium of Catholic doctrine, a study of the nature and authority of episcopal conferences and a study of the applicability of the principle of subsidiarity to the internal life of the church. In his closing speech the pope accepted the first three suggestions, all of which have been carried out in subsequent years. As for the principle of subsidiarity, it seems well to allow the question to mature in theological literature before the magisterium makes a formal pronouncement.
A third issue under discussion is the role of the episcopal conferences, such as, in the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. As constituted by Vatican II, they are primarily consultative in nature. They permit the bishops of a nation or region to benefit from one another’s wisdom and coordinate their policies as they govern their own dioceses. The conferences do not normally make binding legislation, but they can do so on occasion either by unanimous vote or by a two-thirds majority together with a formal approval (recognitio) from Rome.
In the summer of 1998, the pope published a letter in which he clarified the nature and doctrinal authority of episcopal conferences, as the Synod of Bishops of 1985 had requested. He ruled that the conferences could not teach obligatory doctrine without a two-thirds majority followed by Roman recognition. Some critics contend that this ruling showed excessive distrust of the conferences. But Vatican II did not establish the conferences as doctrinal organs. How could the Catholic people in the United States be bound by a vote of their bishops to profess some belief that was not taught throughout the church? Do the diocesan bishops and the Catholic people really want to be bound in matters of doctrine by the majority vote of their bishops’ conference?especially if it be a small conference that might have less than a dozen members?
A fourth point under discussion is the power of the Roman Curia. The pope cannot effectively govern the universal church without a kind of cabinet consisting of the Roman congregations, tribunals and councils. The heads of these organs are normally bishops and, in the case of congregations, cardinals. Diocesan bishops often complain that Rome is interfering too much in the affairs of the local churches. But Rome rarely intervenes on its own initiative. It is usually responding to complaints from the local church against some questionable proceeding. A couple of examples may be helpful. In 1993 Rome intervened to quash a rather free and inaccurate translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that was about to be published over the protests of the authors of the catechism and other experts. An international consultation was held in Rome, as a result of which the translation was held up and revised.
A recent issue that has attracted some attention is the decision of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments on Oct. 26, 1999, to review English translations of the liturgy composed by the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), a rather cumbersome joint commission with members appointed by 11 conferences of bishops. For some years now, the texts produced by this body according to its own philosophy of translation have met with mounting criticism from bishops and groups of the faithful; but the commission, being international, is not under the authority of any bishops’ conference. The United States bishops found themselves in the anomalous position of not being able to control the texts of their own liturgical books. The new regulations have the advantage of giving the bishops’ conferences an agency to which they can appeal for correcting what they perceive as deficiencies in the ICEL texts. In this case, as in many others, the authority of Rome functions to protect local churches from questionable exercises of power by national or international agencies.
In doctrinal matters, Rome’s policy has generally been to encourage the diocesan bishops and the bishops’ conferences to take greater responsibility for overseeing the orthodoxy of what is preached and taught in their respective areas. But the bishops usually rely upon Rome to assure them that they are teaching in communion with the universal church, since doctrines are by their very nature universal. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot avoid being drawn into discussions where questions of orthodoxy are raised.
A fifth and final question has to do with papal teaching authority. The present pope, like Paul VI, has thus far refrained from issuing ex cathedra dogmatic definitions, but he has several times made conclusive doctrinal determinations without any formal vote by the college of bishops. In these cases he has used his own authority as universal primate to ?confirm the brethren? (Lk. 22:32), authoritatively gathering up the general consensus of bishops, past and present. Some theologians apparently hold that the pope ought to conduct a poll or call for a vote before issuing such pronouncements. But it may be answered that even if a few bishops disagree, the voice of the pope together with a solid majority of bishops over a long period of time obviates the need for a head count. Such cumbersome processes could easily prevent a timely and effective response to critical situations.
A Papacy in Dialogue
Since Vatican II the principal drama within the Catholic Church has been the dialectical tension between centralizing and decentralizing tendencies. The decentralizers tend to see themselves as progressives and to depict their adversaries as restorationists, but the opposite case can equally well be made. Those who want to reinstate the conditions of patristic Christianity tend to be nostalgic and anachronistic.
In the end, the question should not be posed as an either/or. Precisely because of the increased activity of particular churches and conferences, Rome is required to exercise greater vigilance than ever, lest the unity of the church be jeopardized. The global character of the Catholic Church today, together with the rapidity of modern communications, makes ineluctable new demands on the papal office. It will be for members of other churches to judge whether a strong and energetic papacy is ecumenically acceptable. More than a few, I suspect, are looking toward Rome to provide effective leadership for the entire oikoumene (the whole inhabited world). The contemporary world situation, as I understand it, demands a successor of Peter who, with the divine assistance, can teach and direct the entire people of God. The Petrine office, as it has developed since Vatican II, has a unique capacity to hold all local and regional churches in dialogue while reaching out in loving service to all. Paul VI and John Paul II are to be praised for having discharged this mission with loyalty, strength and openness to the Spirit of God.
Avery Dulles, S.J., is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York City. This article is based on the McGinley Lecture given on March 22, 2000.
I find this to be a profound statement on (then) Ratzinger's part: the Church of Rome is a local Church with a universal responsibility.
That ecclesiology seems, in my limited knowledge, to be very much consonant with the first millenium (particularly the first half of same).
"A large portion of our people, including priests, could not understand the reason behind the regulations coming from the center; they tended, therefore, to ignore them. This happened concerning ethical issues, sacramental discipline and ecumenical practices. The adamant refusal of Communion to all divorced and remarried persons and the highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality are good examples."
Kasper is quite open about the background to this spurious autonomy he seeks. It is not autonomy from Rome so much as autonomy from God's Law. If his priests are giving Holy Communion to adulterers living in sinful relationships, and all kinds of common or garden heretics, then he as their bishop has the responsibility to teach the truth of the Faith and uphold the law of the Church. He should have disciplined his priests rather than whining about changing the Law to accomodate their sin and the sin of those desiring to make sacreligious communions.
His main problem is that he has lost the Catholic Faith himself so he is quite incapable of teaching or shepherding anyone else. You can't give what you haven't got.
His whole argument has nothing really to do with the issue of ecclesiology - it all boils down to how to accomodate infidelity.
"Has not the Second Vatican Council enjoined every bishop to listen to the faithful, especially to the clergy?"
No, you plonker! It enjoined you to teach the Catholic Faith!
"If the bishop attempts to enforce the general norms ruthlessly?as his Roman superiors sometimes expect?his effort is likely to be useless, even counterproductive."
What has Rome got to do with it? You're not an altar boy, you're supposed to be a Catholic bishop. Christ appointed YOU to teach and uphold the truth, you don't need to hide behind Rome's skirts all the time.
"Yet there is a solution: the bishop must be granted enough vital space to make responsible decisions in the matter of implementing universal laws."
You already have it - you just don't have any right whatsoever to disregard morality, faith and the law in the name of an infidel pastoral infantilism.
"Beyond the immutable articles of faith and morals, however, there is the broad field of ecclesiastical discipline, which is essentially changeable, even when the norms were created to support, closely or loosely, some doctrinal position."
Bollocks, you sauerkraut nutmunch! You can't change the 10 commandments. All you need to remember in this case is :
Thou shalt not commit adultery
If anyone brings you a different gospel from the one you have received, let him be anathema.
If you can't handle these basic articles of the faith - resign now!
"Our people are well aware of the flexibility of laws and regulations; they have experienced a great deal of it over the past decades. They lived through changes that no one anticipated or even thought possible."
Nutz! They know you are a compromiser, Jesus never said anything about "Blessed are the compromisers."
"The Eastern church developed the doctrine and practice of oikonomia, ?economy?: a superior wisdom that guides bishops and allows them to resolve problems that the laws cannot handle."
Read Meyendorff on the subject - not all the Easterners believe it was a good idea.
"The local church is neither a province nor a department of the universal church; it is the church at a given place."
That's why it has the same laws and doctrines as the rest of the local churches. What you want is a schismatic church with its own doctrines, its own laws, and the ability to enshrine sin and call it good.
"The local bishop is not the delegate of the pope but is one sent by Jesus Christ. He is given personal responsibility by Christ. He receives the fullness of power through his sacramental consecration?the power that he needs to govern his diocese. This is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
This understanding of the bishops office should have led to decentralization in the churchs government. The opposite happened: the trend toward centralization returned after the council."
That's because so many local churches were put into the apostate hands of modernists like you. Once we get Catholic bishops again, there won't be any need for centralization.
"Less desirably, the local churches themselves can promote centralization whenever they abdicate their responsibility and turn to Rome for a decision?a ruse to evade their duty and find cover behind a superior order."
Its a symptom of non-Catholics needing to find a Catholic to take the blame for the Catholic Faith.
"The right balance between the universal church and the particular churches has been destroyed. This is not only my own perception; it is the experience and complaint of many bishops from all over the world. [In a note Cardinal Kasper refers to a talk given at Oxford by Archishop John Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, and to reported statements by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Franz Koenig, archbishop emeritus of Vienna.]"
And there you have it - Quinn, Martini, Koenig and Kasper - not a Catholic bone in their bodies. Of course they have/had problems with Rome - Rome still thinks its Catholic.
""The Eastern church developed the doctrine and practice of oikonomia, ?economy?: a superior wisdom that guides bishops and allows them to resolve problems that the laws cannot handle."
Read Meyendorff on the subject - not all the Easterners believe it was a good idea."
Not all Easterners believe reading Meyendorff is a good idea! :)
I'll grant you this, however, +Kasper's idea of how oeconomia works is not at all Orthodox. It is not a carte blanche to bishops to ignore the canons, it is always to be applied on an individual, case by case basis and if there is no consensus among the bishops that a certain type of situation is appropriate for the application of oeconomia, it cannot be applied.
It is interesting that +Kasper's examples of where oeconomia should be applied in light of, "The adamant refusal of Communion to all divorced and remarried persons and the highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality...." are among those areas where oeconomia is not applied (you should note that the Orthodox rules on how to deal with divorce are different from those of Rome, but one cannot simply get divorced, get remarried and show up for communion; similarly, if one is married outside the Church and doesn't get the marriage blessed by the Church, no communion, in fact, no sacraments at all.). The issue of "highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality" was actually taken up by representatives of the Orthodox Churches in the early 1990s. They decided that as there was no consensus on inter communion with Rome (the question of Protestants never came up) by oeconomia, the exercise of oeconomia in that area would be forbidden.
It appears to me that +Kasper is trying to use an Orthodox theological and ecclesiological concept and practice for purposes other than what it was designed for.
"The church of Rome is a local church and not the universal church?a local church with a peculiar, universal responsibility, but still a local church."
"That ecclesiology seems, in my limited knowledge, to be very much consonant with the first millenium (particularly the first half of same)."
Particularly the "first half of same"!
What the pope says is consistent with Orthodox ecclesiology. The "catholic" Church in its fullness exists within the local diocese under its bishop. But the "catholic" Church as the universal Church is more than the sum of its dioceses. I am a bit surprised that none of these men refer to +Ignatius of Antioch's definition of The Church in his Letter to the Smyrneans or otherwise to his theology of the Eucharist as definitional of the "catholic" Church.
"Not all Easterners believe reading Meyendorff is a good idea! :)"
You can say that again! :-)
Seriously, I'd be interested in seeing what is being referred to here from Meyendorff about economia. The Paris school, from which M. came, is very big on economia and on cutting theological corners (by Orthodox standards.)
K's description of what economia does and doesn't mean is right on target. Economia always has to be considered in light of akrevia. This is to say, that when a bishop exercises economia for the sake of an individual soul, he is specifically acknowleging that this is not the way that things are supposed to be done. The bishop is making allowances for human weakness, within bounds considered acceptable by Orthodoxy as a whole.
When Kaspar writes that economia is "a superior wisdom that guides bishops and allows them to resolve problems that the laws cannot handle", this is simply not an accurate description at all. The application of akrevia is always preferable, and akrevia can handle anything. The question is rather whether *we* can handle the demands of akrevia. Economia is an acknowledgement of human weakness, not a "superior wisdom."
As a final note on this, it has been said that even akrevia is an exercise of economia, in the sense that the entire work of salvation by God is an act of great condescension to man. It is only in this sense that economia can be thought of as a "superior wisdom" -- i.e. having the wisdom to see the inner and deep meanings of the practices of akrevia, while keeping the strict practices of akrevia. All of us as Orthodox Christians have encountered someone in our lives who live out a very strict praxis, yet do so in a way that is organic and not at all legalistic. This is true economia in action, by these lights.
What Kaspar seems to be suggesting is that economia means that the rules can be rewritten. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the Orthodox understanding. One stuggles to imagine Kaspar saying to a divorced and remarried Catholic, "it is wrong for you to be divorced and remarried, and wrong for you to commune, but I'm going to allow it in this particular situation because I think it is in the best interest of saving your soul." I would imagine that he would want rather simply to say "it's OK for Catholics to divorce and remarry."
"It appears to me that +Kasper is trying to use an Orthodox theological and ecclesiological concept and practice for purposes other than what it was designed for."
Exactly. He views it precisely as some kind of carte blanche to ride roughshod over the canons, divine revelation, and the natural law. The modernists in our church use the term "being pastoral", but we all know what they mean!!!
"Seriously, I'd be interested in seeing what is being referred to here from Meyendorff about economia. The Paris school, from which M. came, is very big on economia and on cutting theological corners (by Orthodox standards.)"
My bad!!! A misquote! It wasn't Meyendorff I was thinking of, it was an essay written by John H Erickson in St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 29 (1985). It was entitled "The Problem of Sacramental "Economy""
I'm surprised you would say Kasper is so bad, he's well respected by the pope and the head of the eccumenical relations between the Russian Orthodox Church (MP) and Rome.
As the bishop of a large diocese, I had observed how a gap was emerging and steadily increasing between norms promulgated in Rome for the universal church and the needs and practices of our local church.
The gap, I would submit, is not between the Roman norms and the "needs and practices" of the local church but between the universal norms and the "desires" of his local church. Cardinal Kasper first errs in seeing these norms as something purely Roman in origin, foreign to his local church. If, as he writes latter, the local church "is the church at a given place," then the norms of the universal church are also the norms of the local church. His second error is failing to discern the the wants of some of his people from real needs. There are those in the Church today who want one without any discipline. Cardinal Kasper apparently views this as a legitimate need and not as it truly is, a revolt against any restrictions on the human person. This is not a need but an error that needs to be corrected by the bishop.
On the other hand, he is the shepherd of a local church; he must, therefore, take care of his own people, respond to their expectations and answer their questions.
The bishop is called to be a shepherd to his people, not their representative. While he must always respond to their expectations and answer their questions, sometimes the answer must be "no". Their greatest need is the salvation of their souls, not affirming their self-esteem. If some are living in a manner that is contrary to the faith then charity and concern for their salvation demand that they be told.
If the bishop attempts to enforce the general norms ruthlessly?as his Roman superiors sometimes expect?his effort is likely to be useless, even counterproductive.
"Enforce the general norms ruthlessly"; here the cardinal betrays either his own rejection of the universal norms or his lack of courage. As for his efforts being useless or counterproductive, experience shows just the opposite. When the leaders of the Church are clear and consistent with the demands of the gospel then the people rally behind them; it is when the Church leaders equivocate and fail to give leadership that people will begin to stray.
Beyond the immutable articles of faith and morals, however, there is the broad field of ecclesiastical discipline, which is essentially changeable, even when the norms were created to support, closely or loosely, some doctrinal position.
While there are some disciplinary regulations, such as fasting, that are changeable this does not imply that all such are "essentially changeable". This is especially true regarding those that are related to faith and morals rather than to ascetical practices or governance. Nor should they be characterized as merely supporting "some doctrinal position", as if this were a minor concern. These regulations of the universal church are to support the truth of the faith and are intended to protect the salvation of souls. Such are the "pastoral" concerns with which he opens the article.
I would now like to turn my attention from the cardinal's pastoral concerns to his theological discussion of the relationship between the universal church and the local church. I do this with some hesitation, knowing that the then Cardinal Ratzinger and the present Cardinal Dulles have addressed this subject better than I could. My comments are only an addendum to what they have written.
The early church developed from local communities. Each was presided over by a bishop; the one church of God was present in each. Because the one church was present in each and all, they were in communion.
I do not think that Cardinal Kasper's assertion is sustainable. While the early church developed in local communities they were not developments of the local communities. The church, arising first in Jerusalem, was not the church of Jerusalem but the church in Jerusalem. The establishment, though early, of individual communities headed by its own bishop was a way for the universal church to address the question of governance and the need of a personal leadership.
From early times and within the network of communion, the See of Rome assumed a certain responsibility and authority.
Without renewing the debate over the Petrine office, Cardinal Kasper is confusing this with the question of the relationship between the universal church and the local churches. Even without acknowledging Papal supremacy the Orthodox profess an authority of the universal church to which the local churches are subject. Given the list of complaints that Cardinal Kasper gives, his dispute is not with the renewed centralization of the Roman Church but with the continuing norms of the universal church. Even without a pope and a central curia the Orthodox would object to a local church introducing a novelty contrary to the teaching and practice of the universal church that would take them out of the communion of faith.
The experience of interventions by the Roman Curia shows that it is actually reluctant to get involved in local disputes. It is only when these disputes are brought to its attention by other members of a local church, and only when the matter concerns the unity of the faith or the preservation of justice, does Rome get involved. Contrary to how it is presented, Rome is not centralizing the governance of the Church by making decisions that should be left to the local churches but guarding the deposit of the faith by insisting that the local churches be subject to the continuing norms of the universal church of which they are to be the local presence.
[Cardinal Ratzinger] claims that the doctrine of the primacy of the universal church follows from the history of the Pentecostal event reported by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. ... This argumentation is highly questionable. Many exegetes are convinced that the "Pentecostal event" in the Acts of the Apostles is a construction by Luke. Similar "Pentecostal events" also occurred, probably from the beginning, in the communities of Galilee.
I must admit my unease with Cardinal Kasper's approach to Scripture. Once we start characerizing such events as Pentecost as "constructions" then the reliability of the Scriptures is lost; any event can be reduced from the historical to a mere theological construct, even the Resurrection. As for the "many exergetes are convinced...", this is not the mind of the Church. Again, I could start the denial of any Biblical truth the the statement "Many exergetes are convinced...".
No less a scholar than Henri de Lubac stated, "A universal church which would have a separate existence, or which someone imagined as existing outside the particular churches, is a mere abstraction."
Cardinal Kasper is misusing this quote from de Lubac. He is not stating that the universal church is an abstraction, only that one that is separate or "existing outside the particular churches." The universal church does indeed exist in and from the local churches but this describes its mode of existence, not its origin.
One side [Ratzinger] proceeds by Platos method; its starting point is the primacy of an idea that is a universal concept. The other side [Kasper] follows Aristotles approach and sees the universal as existing in a concrete reality.
This is a false dichotomy. Both the universal church and the local churches have a real existence; the universal church is not a notional universal in the Platonic sense. They are both the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ who is present in both through their individual members.
While Cardinal Kasper makes his arguments under the guise of defending the reality of the local churches, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he is doing this as a way to fight against the universal norms of the faith. If given the opportunity, is there any doubt that he would make his judgments concerning questions of Communion to divorced and remarried, etc. the new norms to be applicable to the entire church?
Right. I don't see how you can understand the flowering of the early church save by radiations of the Apostolic College.
It was not up to laity, even Our Lady, to establish the ecclesia in the various cities. It had to be Apostles or disciples sent by them, and then from there the bishop.
Some would say be very careful of anything that comes out of St. Vlads, especially from that era. But, truth be told, the same can be said for much of what came out of the GOA seminary in those days and even into the mid 1990s. This is one of the reasons Orthodox like Kosta, Agrarian and I are against an autocepahllous American Church.
It seems to me that it is crystal clear that the fullness of The Church abides in the local diocese. It is equally clear, by the use of the Greek words for "catholic church", that The Church is indeed "universal" and more than simply the sum of the local dioceses.
I am not sure that I understand your point. Could you please elaborate?
" I am not sure that I understand your point. Could you please elaborate?"
I got the impression you were subscribing to +Dulles' theory. Am I wrong?
Many exegetes are convinced that the "Pentecostal event" in the Acts of the Apostles is a construction by Luke. Similar "Pentecostal events" also occurred, probably from the beginning, in the communities of Galilee.This he contrasts to the traditional understanding of a single "Pentecostal event" in which the universal church was established and from which the local churches flowed. Thus Cardinal Dulles writes:
Unlike the state, the church was established from above, so to speak, by Gods action in Christ, who gave special powers to Peter and the Twelve. The church began to pulse with life when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church as a whole at Pentecost. Only subsequently, as the faith spread to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and other cities, was it necessary to set up local authorities in charge of particular churches. The particular churches were, as Vatican II puts it, "fashioned after the model of the universal church," which is therefore antecedent to them, even though it in certain respects depends on them ("Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," No. 23).But as I have stated, this does not address directly the relationship between the universal church and the local church one the latter is established. Is this the statement of Cardinal Dulles to which you are objecting?
"Unlike the state, the church was established from above, so to speak, by Gods action in Christ, who gave special powers to Peter and the Twelve. The church began to pulse with life when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church as a whole at Pentecost"
I agree 100% with this.
"Only subsequently, as the faith spread to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and other cities, was it necessary to set up local authorities in charge of particular churches. The particular churches were, as Vatican II puts it, "fashioned after the model of the universal church," which is therefore antecedent to them, even though it in certain respects depends on them ("Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," No. 23)."
I disagree with this. The history of the early church does not show this. The universal church existed from Pentecost, but the particular churches, say of Smyrna or Corinth or Magnesia were in absolute fact THE universal church in each of these areas, not "ecclesias" "fashioned after the model of the universal church". I think it is completely wrong and distorted ecclesiology to think that the structures of these particular churches was some sort of administrative necessity.
Perhaps, but would you argue with the premise that the historical development of the Church was:
universal church => local churches => grouping of local churches into regional patriarchates
This is not to question the importance or place of the local churches in relation to the universal church, just the historical order of their formation.
In addition to the question of historical formation, would you object to the statement that the local churches flow ontologically from the universal church?
Besides which it begs for focus on institutionalizing of the church. And that, imho, leads further and logically to clericalism and perhaps even legalism.
" Perhaps, but would you argue with the premise that the historical development of the Church was: universal church => local churches => grouping of local churches into regional patriarchates"
From a purely historical perspective, no, I would not disagree, but then again, I don't think that Pentecost was some "construction" of +Luke as +Kasper apparently does.
"In addition to the question of historical formation, would you object to the statement that the local churches flow ontologically from the universal church?"
Not at all. But as I have said before, the fullness of The Church is found in an individual diocese.
K: "I think it is completely wrong and distorted ecclesiology to think that the structures of these particular churches was some sort of administrative necessity."
M: "Besides which it begs for focus on institutionalizing of the church. And that, imho, leads further and logically to clericalism and perhaps even legalism."
That's the danger I see in the comments of +Avery Dulles.
Ultimately these things, if there is a union, must take on a physical reality.
We cannot have a primacy of jurisdiction because it would lead to a massive 'land grab'. Rome cannot own the orthodox churches down the street. Separate but equal and in communion must prevail.
Similarly if in communion (and seriously even now, when most agree that the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine are sufficiently similar in terms of salvation), the Catholic church cannot be trying to covert the converted in the Orthodox church (And vice versa). In America we don't see this really. In fact I was originally encouraged to investiage the Orthodox Church in my 7th grade religion class. But there are places where this is definitly occuring.
We can't have and understanding of primacy that leads individual parishes preaching to convert Greeks to the Roman church on the basis Rome is first amoung equals.
The problem of the local groupings under patriarchs is that with schisms it has gcome to be that numerous patriarchs and parishes in the same area under different patriarchs are the norm. In the event of communion between Rome and any of the Orthodox I cannot see uniting the Orthodox parishes under the existing Catholic Bishop nor vice versa. Even the Orthodox struggle with this in East Europe, and in America. There's AT LEAST 3 patriarchs for New York (OCA, ROCOR, and MP), and especially a few decades ago churches were actively going back and forth between them, and properties were being disputed. I don't see geography as being much of a way going forward to group churches, and that's a problem seeing as the only way it was ever canonicaly done was geographically.
This should not be a problem. Rome does not even own my church. The property is owned by legal corporation whose board of trustees is composed of the bishop, the pastor (both ex officio), and two appointed lay trustees. I imagine that the arrangement differs from state to state but I would guess that they all recognized the bishop as the head of the corporation.
Similarly if in communion (and seriously even now, when most agree that the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine are sufficiently similar in terms of salvation), the Catholic church cannot be trying to covert the converted in the Orthodox church (And vice versa).
With union this would be a moot question; there would be one church. What would someone say: "Hey, buddy, you should convert from Catholic/Orthodox to Catholic/Orthodox. We Catholic/Orthodox know that we are the one true church and that you Catholic/Orthodox are heretics" ?
"I believe the whole question of the need for permission to change rites was actually instituted in order to protect the smaller Eastern rites from their rapacious Latin brothers. In other words, it was instituted to prevent exactly the activity that x5452 was worrying about."
Huh! Never thought of that! I first heard of this from a Latin Rite Catholic who wanted to change rites and was denied, at least for the time being. But I see your point, which makes good sense, given the history of the Latins with the Eastern Rite types in this country.
I've actually seen something like this with some Roumanians. They are or were "Orthodox" but when their kids got to be school age and they wanted Catholic School for them, they quite suddenly moved over to the Latins...and got the tuition discount! Truth be told, under the circumstances I'd say we suffered no great loss nor the Latin parish any great gain! :)
So what's it boil down to. Would you say the filoque and acknowledge papal supremacy for 3 grand a year? (its potentially at least that for multiple children).
"So what's it boil down to. Would you say the filoque and acknowledge papal supremacy for 3 grand a year? (its potentially at least that for multiple children)."
So it would appear...by the way, it hasn't been three grand a year for a long time around here!
What's it run actually? I'm quite interested. Our children are not yet of school age and I'm quite concerned. There's no nearby Orthodox private schools so we plan to send them to a Catholic school.