Thursday, October 02, 2008

Light of Nations (Part Three)

III. Lumen Gentium: The Magna Carta of the Second Vatican Council

Lumen Gentium is not and does not purport to be a definitive document.” ~Avery Cardinal Dulles

On November 21, 1964, by a vote of 2151 to 5, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church or Lumen Gentium as the document is more commonly known, was approved by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council and immediately thereafter was likewise promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Although Lumen Gentium carries the designation of a “dogmatic constitution,” it does not purport to define any new dogmas. Rather it seeks to explain defined doctrines of the Church in pastoral terms without anathemas or condemnation of heresy. The Council fathers intentionally gave the document a strong ecumenical flavor. As Avery Dulles wrote in the preface in Walter Abbot’s The Documents of Vatican II to the chapter labeled, The Church:

“Every effort is made to speak in language which will be understood by other Christians and by all men of good will, and to explain Catholic teaching in a way that AVOIDS GIVING UNNECESSARY OFFENSE to persons accustomed to other modes of though and speech.” (EMPHASIS MINE). Ibid. at pg. 12.

Now that we have fixed the manner in which one should read Lumen Gentium, it is time to look at the document with an eye to the matter at hand~How does the document treat Muslims? Preliminarily, it should be noted that there is a paucity of discussion concerning Islam in the document. If one takes the time to read it from cover to cover, one would find that the word "Islam" appears nowhere in it. Likewise, there is no discussion of Mohammed, the Shahada, any of the other four pillars of faith, or the Koran. In fact, Lumen Gentium devotes merely one sentence out of the hundreds that appear its sixty-nine articles to Muslims at all. Here it is:
“In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” Lumen Gentium 16.

Reviewing the language of this sentence in and of itself, one could hardly discern anything that remotely could be called a glowing endorsement of Islam as a salvific religion. Aside from an acknowledgment that Muslims or Mohamedans profess or claim to share three truths also found in Christianity, there is no indication in this sentence that the Catholic Church claims that Islam is salvific or that Muslims can be saved through zealous adherence to their religion. Certainly, there is no indication that the Catholic Church approves of the practices of mutilating one's children or engaging in parricide in furtherance of one Islamic beliefs nor does it teach that Islamists who commit parricide receive actual grace from the Holy Spirit as is implied by Turretinfan's comments on his blog. See, prior posts for links. [Endnote 1]

Thus, we must widen our focus and see if we can find Turretinfan’s understanding of the text supported by the language of the rest of the document. To do so, we will follow John Henry Cardinal Newman’s advice, and examine this sentence in the context of the whole document. Let’s begin at the beginning.


1. Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature,(cf. Mk. 16:15) to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. This it intends to do following faithfully the teaching of previous councils. The present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical and cultural ties, might also attain fuller unity in Christ.


3. The Son, therefore, came, sent by the Father. It was in Him, before the foundation of the world, that the Father chose us and predestined us to become adopted sons, for in Him it pleased the Father to re-establish all things.(cf. Eph. 1:4-5 and 10) To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By His obedience He brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world. This inauguration and this growth are both symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of a crucified Jesus,(cf. Jn. 19:34) and are foretold in the words of the Lord referring to His death on the Cross: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself".(Jn. 12:32) As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7), is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17) is both expressed and brought about. All men are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains.

4. When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth (cf. Jn. 17:4) was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church, and thus, all those who believe would have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. (Cf Eph. 2:18) He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.(Cf. Jn. 4:14; 7: 38-39) To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies.(Cf. Rom. 8:10-11) The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. (Cf. Cor. 3:16; 6:19) In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. (Cf. Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15-16 and 26) The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. (Cf. Eph. 1:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:4; Gal. 5: 22) By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth. Uninterruptedly He renews it and leads it to perfect union with its Spouse. (3*)[Endnote Two] The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, "Come!" (Apoc. 22:17)

Thus, the Church has been seen as "a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."(4*) [Endnote Three]


8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation (9*) (Endnote Four] through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.(10*) (Endnote Five] For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.(Cf. Eph. 4:15-16) (11*) (Endnote Six]

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) [Endnote Seven] which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, (Jn. 21:17) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, (cf. Mt. 28, 18, etc.) which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". (1 Tim 3:15) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) [Endnote Eight] although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. [Endnote Nine] [Emphasis Mine]

The above passages define the Church and its role in the world and make it clear that the Catholic Church is the one Church of Christ. From the above passages, one can readily discern that God’s plan of salvation is to bring all men to unity to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. Since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, God’s plan of salvation necessarily means that all men are called by God through grace come to unite with Him through the Church in which Christ resides. To the extent that grace, or as the text states, “many elements of sanctification and of truth,” may found outside of the Church, these elements were placed there by God to impel men toward joining the Catholic Church to effect their salvation. In other words, the Holy Spirit prompts or spurs non-Catholics to find their salvation by entering into unity with the Catholic Church by actual grace and the truths that other religions may share with Catholicism. Thus, contrary to Turretinfan’s erroneous conclusions he has drawn from Lumen Gentium, a document he claims to have read and to have an intimate knowledge of, the Second Vatican Council does indeed teach as dogma that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation or to use his word, “salvific.” In other words, the “best and plainest sense” of these words is the sense the Catholic Church gives them as She was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write them.

In the next post, we will get to the meat and potatoes of the matter and discuss the balance of Lumen Gentium relevant to the issue we are considering: who belongs to the Church.


Endnote One: To be sure, aside from referring to his own ipse dixit magisterium of one, Turretinfan makes no attempt to demonstrate that parricide is taught as a normative practice in Islam. Perhaps he will someday enlighten us and show his proofs that such is a normative practice. Until then, I am not willing to accept his premise and will assume instead that parricide is an extremist interpretation as opposed to an orthodox Islamic belief.

Endnote Two: In the original text, Footnote #3 states: Cfr. Pius XI, Litt. Encycl. Miserentissimus Redemptor, 8 maii 1928: AAS 20 (1928) p. 171 s.; Pius XII Alloc. Vous nous avez, 22 sept. 1956: AAS 48 (1956) p. 714.

Endnote Three: In the original text, Footnote #4 states: Cfr. St. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 63, a. 2.

Endnote Four: In the original text, Footnote #9 states: Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. Sapientiae christianae, 10 ian. 1890 AAS 22 (1889-90) p. 392. Id., Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitium, 29 iun. 1896; AAS 28 (1895-96) pp. 710 ct 724 ss; Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., pp. 199-200.

Endnote Five: In the original text, Footnote #10 states: Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., p. 221 ss. Id., Lin. Encycl. Humani genesis, 12 Aug. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) p. 571.

Endnote Six: Some translations reference Eph. 4:15, others Eph. 4:16. In the original text, Footnote #11 states: Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitum, 1. c., p. 713.

Endnote Seven: In the original text, Footnote #12 states: Cfr. Symbolum Apostolicum: Denz. 6-9 (10-13); Symb. Nic.-Const.: Denz. 86 (150), coll. Prof. fidei Trid.: Denz. 994 et 999 (1862 et 1868)

Endnote Eight: In the original text, Footnote #13 states: St. Augustine, Civ. Dei, XVIII, 51, 2: PL 41, 614.

Endnote Nine: There are a number of English translations of Lumen Gentium which may be found in most libraries. I own two myself. However, for ease of access to the reader, the English translation of Lumen Gentium I am using may be found here. (Last Accessed September 27, 2008).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Paul. Great stuff!

I'm already excitedly looking forward to the promised Part IV!

-- Jamie Donald