The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the leadership of Cardinal William Levada, issued a document today that provides further explanation of the teachings of Vatican II on the nature of the Church.
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, some theologians have proposed interpretations of the Church’s teaching which have been in error and have “give[n] rise to confusion and doubt.” The purpose of this document is to dispel this confusion and bring greater clarity to the matter.
The issuance of these clarifications on the heels of Benedict's Motu Proprio, may signal an attempt by the Vatican to remove all possible barriers towards reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X. The society claims that the Church departed from the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council.
What follows is a summary form of the questions and answers. The full length document can be found in CNA’s documents section.
First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?
Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.
Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?
Response: Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community', that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. 'This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ... This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him'.
Third Question: Why was the expression 'subsists in' adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?
Response: …It comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity.'
In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.
Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term 'Church' in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?
Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. 'Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all - because of the apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds,' they merit the title of 'particular or local Churches,' and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.
Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of 'Church' with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?
Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church.