Vatican II or Pius XII - Which One Is It? the Council Took a Major Step beyond the Teaching of Pope Pius XII That the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ Are 'One and the Same.' (Second Vatican Council)

By McBrien, Richard P. | National Catholic Reporter, April 24, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Vatican II or Pius XII - Which One Is It? the Council Took a Major Step beyond the Teaching of Pope Pius XII That the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ Are 'One and the Same.' (Second Vatican Council)


McBrien, Richard P., National Catholic Reporter


The bishops of the Church of England have given the only major response thus far to Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint ("That They [All] May Be One"). In that encyclical the pope issued a remarkable, indeed unprecedented, invitation to the pastoral leaders and theologians of the various separated churches to suggest ways to improve the manner in which the papal office is exercised.

The bishops concluded their response with a reference to one of the most important teachings of the Second Vatican Council, namely, that the Body of Christ is larger than the Roman Catholic church and the churches that are in communion with Rome.

In this teaching, the council took a major step beyond the teaching of Pope Pius XII that the Catholic church and the Body of Christ are "one and the same." The clear implication of that teaching was that non-Catholic Christian churches are not in the Body of Christ.

Actually the teaching of Pius XII was even more restrictive than that. In his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, he unwittingly limited the Body of Christ to Latin-rite, or Roman, Catholics: "the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic church are one and the same" (n. 44).

Roman Catholics are inclined to forget that there are more than 20 million other Catholics who are not Roman Catholic. They belong to one or another non-Roman, non-Latin church (for example, the Maronite church or the Greek Catholic church), each of which is in communion with the bishop of Rome and is therefore, part of the Catholic communion of churches.

On the other hand, even that language ("Catholic communion of churches") is alienating for Anglicans. They, too, embrace the name Catholic, just as Roman and Eastern-rite Catholics do and, therefore, are unwilling to concede the name Catholic exclusively to the Roman Catholic church and the non-Latin churches that are in communion with Rome.

The bishops of the Church of England insist in their formal response to Ut Unum Sint that they "gladly accept that there is already a `real Jut imperfect' communion between Christians and between ecclesial communities given in our common baptism." This is consistent with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that there are "varying degrees" of incorporation into the Body of Christ (Decree on Ecumenism, n. 3).

In other words, it is not a matter of all or nothing, as the pre-Vatican II theology and papal encyclicals portrayed it.

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Vatican II or Pius XII - Which One Is It? the Council Took a Major Step beyond the Teaching of Pope Pius XII That the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ Are 'One and the Same.' (Second Vatican Council)
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