By Fr. A.
OOKING back on the conciliar debates durihg the first month of the second session, it is clear that, through the reflections and utterances of her bishops, the Church has been seeking, as Pope Paul put it, to become more fully aware of her true nature, to attain to a deeper self-awareness.
The Spirit of Truth has been active in enlightening the bishops as to the true nature of the Church, so that "the Bride of Christ may look at herself in Her Lord as in a mirror, and discern in Him, with most lively love, her own true likeness and the beauty which He wishes her to have," In the Council the Church has been thinking out load about herself, so that she may renew and adapt herself, and show in herself the image of Christ to the world. She has been trying to answer the question put to her by the world: Church of Christ, what do you say of yourself?
'To gain this truer and deeper knowledge of herself, the Church turns back to her origins. to her first days under the rule of the Apostles, to the primitive communities, and to the Scriptures as interpreted and understood by the teaching authority which is the living tradition of divne truth, Her meditation on herself is centred on these sources, yet il is fully aware of all that she has learned in thee many centuries of her existence among men, and is open towards the future for which she must prepare herself.
In general, the movement of thought expressed in this thirty eCt.C1 FT has been from
days of recoil e a more exterior view of the Church towards a more intimate and interior one.
Since the Council of Trent, the Church, as a result of the Reformation, had sought to present herself above all as a gteat and permanent motive of credibility. This was the main theme of the apologetics of Cardinal Deechampe, and of his follower Fr. Franzelin. S.J., who prepared the tract on the Church for the first Vatican Council. as it had been of Cardinal Bellarmine.
Thc Church was seen as the community of those who professed the Catholic faith, who shared in the same sacraments, and were united in submission to the Pastors appointed by the Pope.
It followed that the laity were regarded mostly under a passive leaped, as those whose duty it was to believe and to obey; and that non-Catholics were seen as almost totally excluded from membership in the true Church of Christ.
In our century there has been a steadily growing movement among theologians aiming at complementing this rather static and juridical conception of the Church with a more vital and dynamic one that would better exprese its inner life arid its relation to Christ.
At first theologians brought back into prominence the biblical image of the Church as the Body of Christ; but it soon became dear that to concentrate too much on this aspect alone raised difficulties about the membership of the Church.
Those who were not visibly united with the hierarchically constituted Church under the primacy of the Pope could only be considered as members of the Church by saying that they belonged to the Soul of the Church; and this would seem to imply that the Church, in its spiritual reality, was not identical with the visible Church.
Pius XII, in itisstici Corporis Christi, does not make this distinction between the soul and body of the Church; and he points out that those who do not belong to the body of the Church may yet pertain to the Church by unconscious desire.
The tendency now in fact among theologians is to see the Church rather in terms of communion, both interior and exterior, in the one spiritual life of faith, hope and charity, as signified and engendered les the external profession of faith, lo reception of the sacraments and by coming under the one ruling authority.
Membership in this living community can he either full and perfect, in fact and reality. or imperfect, that is. by desire. as when one in good faith wishes to belong entirely to Christ and to live by Him, though prevented by no fault of his own from recognising the one true Church of Christ.
It is significant that in the C:cluncil debates there has been a special convergence towards a greater use of the scriptural image of the Spouse of Christ. as stressing the aspect of union with Christ, and hiving fidelity to Him, and of the image of the family of God, the Father who has given us His Son to he our Brother. so that Christians must regard themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ in an far as they are called to he children of God through Him
From the debates there also appears a tendency to sec the Church under tWo perspectives which have aptly been called the horizontal and the vertical, The horizontal one applies to all the members of the Church in the basic qualities common to all as Christians.
From this point of view, the Church is seen as the People of God, His chosen ones, united in the profession of the same faith and in the reception of the same sacraments, It is seen as the Mystery, a divine and invisible reality made visible in history, the Sign or Sacrament of the everactive presence of God through His Son whose redeeming work is continued in the Church and through His Spirit who guide% it, The Church then tinder this aspect shows itself to be essentially a priestly people brought into being
bseyeliCliiheasrmistthi.neismteersanisn bthu yis Chrch are
which Christ acts permanently to ensure that His life will be always shared to men who are called to live by faith, hope and charity in the actual world of their time.
Within this perspective of common Membership of the Chtirch, and of common rights and duties, it is natural and necessary that both the role of the laity and the vocation of all to holiness should be considered.
All who are joined to Christ as members to their Head share not only in Hie life by grace, hut also, to different degrees, in His character as Priest. King and Prophet; the Council has been devoting mtieh thought to the question of how these offices can best be exercised by the laity today and of how to make the layman aware of his rights and duties.
For the first time in the history of the Church. an lleurnenical Council has dealt exptessly with the specific contribution of the layman. either personally or in union with others, to the apostolic activity of the Church, indicating the Main forms of such activity.
This is not only In response to the needs of the time. but in answer to the desire of the laity to shoulder greater responsibilities and to co-operate more consciously in the life of the Church.
From the vertical perejagetiee the Church is seen in the light of the divinely ordained structure by which she is unified and governed, and through which the teaching and the life of Christ may be brought In every soul.
bthu yis Chrch are bthu
What is most striking in this phase of the Church's growing self-awareness is the re-appraisal at the relation of the universal episcopate to the Pope, and the strong development of a sense of collegiate unity among the bishops, such as has been preserved most fully in the Eastern Christian Churches. The bishop is to be seen not only in relation to his diocese. nor only in relation to the Pope, but in relation to all his fellow bitteeps, both in regional groupings and in the world-wide totality of the episcopate.
In union with the Pope, the episcopate is conscious of its reitponsibility for the salvation of the world. and for the government of the entire Church. and is seeking a practical way of effectively sharing in that government continually. and not only in rare Ecumenical Councils.
Here again the Church is thinking of her origins, of the apostolic forms of her early existence. of the "communion" of local Churches presided over by the bishop. where each particular Church realized locally the Mystery of salvation through Christ, and was a eaetament of the reality of salvation.
The union of the faithful with their bishop was a sign of their unity with Christ, just as the union of the bishop with the succestor of Peter was a sign 'and a guarantee of his unity with Christ.
If centuries of absolutist forms of civil government led to exceasive emphasis of the monarchial aspect of the divine constitution of the Church, a more democratic age requires the stressing of other aspects, equally divine, of the Church as founded upon the Apostles with Peter, and upon the bishops who are their successors.
And the pattern of the early Church has been evoked in favour of the restoratioe of the patinaheist and separate diaconate whose institution the Apostles had found necessary.
Future historians will perhaps recognise that Pope John marked a turning point in the development of the Church rip less by his decision to set up a commission to reform the code of Canon Law than betile eourageistes act of coto Yoking a Council.
By setting both these great undertakings in motion at the same time he could ensure that the Council would be mainly theolegical. that juridical questions could he left to another body, and that the Church amid be seen, could see herself, in her spiritual and inward reality, as the Bride of Christ living by love in unbreakable fidelity. and as the Mother chosen by Him for the whole human race.