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Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5.[1] As is customary with significant Roman Catholic Church documents, it is known by its first words, "Lumen Gentium", Latin for "Light of the Nations".

ContentsEdit

The numbers given correspond to section numbers within the text.

  1. The Mystery of the Church (1-8)
  2. The People of God (9-17)
  3. On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and In Particular on the Episcopate (18-29)
  4. The Laity (30-38)
  5. The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church (39-42)
  6. Religious (43-47)
  7. The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven (48-51)
  8. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church (52-69)
    1. Introduction (52-54)
    2. The Role of the Blessed Mother in the Economy of Salvation (55-59)
    3. On the Blessed Virgin and the Church (60-65)
    4. The Cult of the Blessed Virgin in the Church (66-67)
    5. Created Hope and Solace to the Wandering People of God (68-69)

History and highlightsEdit

EcclesiologyEdit

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."

CollegialityEdit

This text was considered by the conservative Bishops in the councils to promote what they termed "collegiality" - which they felt was an ambiguous mixture of ideas such as that bishops' conferences or synods can have in fact authority over their members by a majority vote, or that a council can have some authority over the pope, or that the Pope can not or should not act without consulting other Bishops. During the council, a liberal theologian wrote a letter explaining how he would interpret the text as it stood to firmly support collegiality. This letter was shown to Pope Paul VI who ordered an appendix added to interpret the text of Lumen Gentium in a more conservative way.

People of GodEdit

One of the key portions of Lumen Gentium is its second chapter, with its declaration that the Church is "the People of God":

At all times and in every race God has given welcome to who so ever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness…

Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God". (LG 9)

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, 9).

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-deists:

"Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. 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. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life." (LG 16)

Priesthood of the faithfulEdit

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. (LG 10)

Universal call to holinessEdit

This theme was built on in the fifth chapter, "The Universal Call to Holiness":

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one-that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity. (LG 40,41)

Apostolic ministryEdit

The council fathers did not ignore the hierarchical structure of the Church, but related it to its origins in the teaching ministry of the original apostles and their helpers:

That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world, since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors…

Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing. And just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles' office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ. (LG 20)

There follow chapters on the laity, the call to holiness, religious, the pilgrim Church, and Our Lady. The chapter on the call to holiness is significant because it indicates that sanctity should not be the exclusive province of priests and religious, but rather that all Christians are called to holiness.

MariologyEdit

The chapter on Mary 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, Advocate and Co-Redemptrix. 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 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.[2]

Issues surrounding the documentEdit

Conservative reactionEdit

Certain Traditionalist Catholic groups, particularly 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) 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.[3]

Doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelizationEdit

In 2007, the Holy See reaffirmed the duty of Catholics to evangelize members of other religions, and this was largely interpreted as a clarification of Lumen Gentium, against the statements of liberals and others claiming that Christian proselytism had become historically and politically outmoded.[4]

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Linden, Ian (2009). Global Catholicism: diversity and change since Vatican II. 41 Great Russell St, London: Hurst and Co. p. 337. ISBN 9781850659570. 
  • Sinke Guimarães, Atila (1997) (in English). In the Murky Waters of Vatican II. Metairie: MAETA. ISBN 1889168068. 
  • Amerio, Romano (1996) (in English). Iota Unum. Kansas City: Sarto House. ISBN 0963903217. 
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