ON THE UNICITY AND SALVIFIC UNIVERSALITY OF JESUS CHRIST AND THE CHURCH
DECLARATION OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Rome, August 6, 2000
IV. UNICITY AND UNITY OF THE CHURCH
16. The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ's salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf.Col 1:24-27),47 which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18).48 And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”.49 This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as theBride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9).50
The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession53 — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ... which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth' (1 Tim3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”.54 With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”,55 that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.56 But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.57
17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.58 The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.59 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.60
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,61 are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.62 Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.63
“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”.64 In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.65 “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.66
The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history”.67
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience of June 16, 2000, granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority, ratified and confirmed this Declaration, adopted in Plenary Session and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect
NOTES RELATING TO IV: 16, 17
(47) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 14.
(48) Cf. ibid., 7.
(49) Cf. St. Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmos, Ps. 90, Sermo 2,1: CCSL 39, 1266; St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob, Praefatio, 6, 14: PL 75, 525; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 48, a. 2 ad 1.
(50) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 6.
(51) Symbolum maius Ecclesiae Armeniacae: DS 48. Cf. Boniface VIII, Unam sanctam: DS870-872; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.
(52) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 4; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 11: AAS 87 (1995), 927.
(53) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 20; cf. also St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III, 3, 1-3: SC 211, 20-44; St. Cyprian, Epist. 33, 1: CCSL 3B, 164-165; St. Augustine, Contra adver. legis et prophet., 1, 20, 39: CCSL 49, 70.
(54) Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.
(55) Ibid.; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 13. Cf. also Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 15 and the Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
(56) The interpretation of those who would derive from the formula subsistit in the thesis that the one Church of Christ could subsist also in non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities is therefore contrary to the authentic meaning of Lumen gentium. “The Council instead chose the word subsistit precisely to clarify that there exists only one ‘subsistence' of the true Church, while outside her visible structure there only exist elementa Ecclesiae, which — being elements of that same Church — tend and lead toward the Catholic Church” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the Book “Church: Charism and Power” by Father Leonardo Boff: AAS 77 , 756-762).
(57) Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
(58) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1: AAS65 (1973), 396-398.
(59) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14 and 15; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis notio, 17: AAS 85 (1993), 848.
(60) Cf. First Vatican Council, Constitution Pastor aeternus: DS 3053-3064; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 22.
(61) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22.
(62) Cf. ibid., 3.
(63) Cf. ibid., 22.
(64) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1.
(65) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 14.
(66) Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
(67) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis notio, 17; cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 4.