, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
, is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...
. This dogmatic constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI
Paul VI , born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 21 June 1963 until his death on 6 August 1978. Succeeding Pope John XXIII, who had convened the Second Vatican Council, he decided to continue it...
on November 21, 1964, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5. As is customary with significant Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...
documents, it is known by its first words
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...
, "Lumen Gentium", Latin for "Light of the Nations".
The numbers given correspond to section numbers within the text.
- The Mystery of the Church (1–8)
- The People of God (9–17)
- On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and In Particular on the Episcopate (18–29)
- The Laity (30–38)
- The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church (39–42)
- Religious (43–47)
- The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven (48–51)
- The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church (52–69)
- Introduction (52–54)
- The Role of the Blessed Mother in the Economy of Salvation (55–59)
- On the Blessed Virgin and the Church (60–65)
- The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church (66–67)
- Created Hope and Solace to the Wandering People of God (68–69)
Ecclesiology (chapter I)
In its first chapter, titled "The Mystery of the Church,"
is the famous statement that "the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as 'the pillar and mainstay of the truth.' This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Lumen gentium
, 8). The document immediately adds: "Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines." Paragraph 14 explains: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved."
People of God (chapter II)
One of the key portions of Lumen Gentium is its second chapter, with its declaration that the Church is "the People of God":
In the second chapter, the Council teaches that God wills to save people not just as individuals but as a people. For this reason God chose the Israelite people to be his own people and established a covenant with it, as a preparation and figure of the covenant ratified in Christ that constitutes the new People of God, which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit and which is called the Church of Christ (Lumen gentium
All human beings are called to belong to the Church. Not all are fully incorporated into the Church, but "the Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christ, but who do not however profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter" (Lumen gentium
, 15). In addition, the Church declares the possibility of Salvation for non-Christians and even non-theists:
Collegiality (chapter III)
The third chapter of the document, which spoke of the bishops as a "college" that, within the Church, succeeds to the place of the "college" or "stable group" of the apostles
The term apostle is derived from Classical Greek ἀπόστολος , meaning one who is sent away, from στέλλω + από . The literal meaning in English is therefore an "emissary", from the Latin mitto + ex...
and is "the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head, the Roman Pontiff".
Conservative bishops in the Council were fearful that the idea of the College of Bishops would be interpreted as a new conciliarism
Conciliarism, or the conciliar movement, was a reform movement in the 14th, 15th and 16th century Roman Catholic Church which held that final authority in spiritual matters resided with the Roman Church as a corporation of Christians, embodied by a general church council, not with the pope...
, a fifteenth-century idea that an ecumenical council was the supreme authority under Christ in the Catholic Church. Of the members of the Council, 322, a minority, but a substantial minority, voted against any mention whatever in the document of a "college" of bishops), and were now proposing 47 amendments to chapter III. Accordingly, a "Preliminary Note of Explanation" (in Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
, Nota explicativa praevia", often referred to as "the Nota praevia") intended to reconcile them with the text was added on 16 November 1964. The Note reaffirmed that the college of bishops exercises its authority only with the assent of the pope, thus safeguarding the primacy and pastoral independence of the pope.
The Note achieved its purpose: on the following day, 17 November, the No votes against chapter III dropped to 46, a number that may have included some who opposed it because they felt the Preliminary Note of Explanation had weakened the concept of collegiality. In the final vote on 18 November only 5 of the over 2200 participants voted against the dogmatic constitution as a whole.
The Note is introduced by the following words: "A preliminary note of explanation is being given to the Council Fathers from higher authority, regarding the Modi bearing on Chapter III of the Schema de Ecclesia; the doctrine set forth in Chapter III ought to be explained and understood in accordance with the meaning and intent of this explanatory note." "Higher authority" refers to the Pope, Paul VI, and "the Schema de Ecclesia" to the draft text for the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium
. By "the Modi" is meant the proposals for amendments of that draft text which some of the Council participants had presented.
The Note was thus added by papal authority, consistently with the idea that the consent of the Pope, as head of the College of Bishops was necessary, and that he had the "right to make his consent dependent on an interpretation determined in advance".
The Preliminary Note of Explanation did not in fact alter the value of the statement on collegiality in the text of Lumen Gentium
: it "strengthened the adherence to the doctrine of the First Vatican Council on the primacy, but it did not subsequently strike out anything from the direct divine origin of the episcopal office and its function, and the responsibility of the College of Bishops for the Universal Church."
Part 4 of the Note reads:
Priesthood of the faithful (chapter IV)
Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity. (Lumen gentium 10)
Universal call to holiness (chapter V)
This theme was built on in the fifth chapter, "The Universal Call to Holiness":
Mariology (chapter VIII)
The chapter on Mary
Mary , commonly referred to as "Saint Mary", "Mother Mary", the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", or "Mary, Mother of God", was a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee...
was the subject of debate. Original plans had called for a separate document about the role of Mary, keeping the document on the Church "ecumenical," in the sense of "non-offensive" to Protestant Christians, who viewed special veneration of Mary with suspicion. However, the Council Fathers insisted, with the support of the Pope, that, as Mary's place is within the Church, treatment of her should appear within the Constitution on the Church.
Vatican Council II was sensitive to the views of other Christians, as the council, at the request of Pope John XXIII, hoped to promote Christian unity, but knew there are different concepts about Mary among other Christians, especially Protestants. The council spoke of Mary as "Mediatrix," as strengthening — not lessening — confidence in Christ as the one essential Mediator. The council, in speaking of Mary, used a biblical approach, with strong emphasis on her pilgrimage of faith. They also drew heavily from the Fathers of the Church, which Christians of all denominations respect.
Pope Paul VI, in a speech to the council fathers, spoke as follows: "This year, the homage of our Council appears much more precious and significant. By the promulgation of today's constitution, which has as its crown and summit a whole chapter dedicated to our Lady, we can rightly affirm that the present session ends as an incomparable hymn of praise in honor of Mary." "It is the first time, in fact, and saying it fills our souls with profound emotion, that an Ecumenical Council has presented such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church."
Some bishops had advocated a dogma of Mary Mediatrix
Mediatrix in Roman Catholic Mariology refers to the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a mediator in the salvation process. It is a separate concept from Co-Redemptrix....
, Advocate and Co-Redemptrix
Co-Redemptrix, a title of Mary, mother of Jesus, refers to her role in the Redemption process.The concept of Co-redemptrix refers to an indirect or unequal but important participation by the Blessed Virgin Mary in redemption, notably: that she gave free consent to give life to the Redeemer, to...
. However, the Constitution did not mention the controversial notion of Marian co-redemption and instead only included a specific section on the Blessed Virgin Mary. In part, this was due to the rise of Ecumenism
Ecumenism or oecumenism mainly refers to initiatives aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation. It is used predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice...
and the need to maintain positive relations with Protestants.
The council did not consider Mary as separate from its treatment of the Church, but discussed the mystery of Mary in the larger mystery of Christ and his Church.
Certain Traditionalist Catholic
Traditionalist Catholics are Roman Catholics who believe that there should be a restoration of many or all of the liturgical forms, public and private devotions and presentations of Catholic teachings which prevailed in the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council...
groups, particularly Sedevacantists
Sedevacantism is the position held by a minority of Traditionalist Catholics who hold that the present occupant of the papal see is not truly Pope and that, for lack of a valid Pope, the see has been vacant since the death of either Pope Pius XII in 1958 or Pope John XXIII in 1963.Sedevacantists...
, consider Lumen Gentium
to be the demarcation of when the Roman Church fell into heresy, pointing to the use of "subsistit in" rather than "est" as an abdication of the Church's historic (and to them compulsory) identification of itself alone
as God's church.
In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...
) responded to this criticism as follows:
The concept expressed by 'is' (to be) is far broader than that expressed by 'to subsist'. 'To subsist' is a very precise way of being, that is, to be as a subject, which exists in itself. Thus the Council Fathers meant to say that the being of the Church as such is a broader entity than the Roman Catholic Church, but within the latter it acquires, in an incomparable way, the character of a true and proper subject.