Blog Template Theology of the Body: Considering Radner III: Is the Catholic Church Wounded?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Considering Radner III: Is the Catholic Church Wounded?

One of the most significant rejoinders given to Catholics who object to Radner's wounded ecclesiology is the reminder that the Catholic magisterium has itself described the Church as "wounded" by the sins of her members; and in fact, although the Catholic Church does not refer to woundedness in any of her documents on ecumenism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does explain as follows:

"In fact, in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers."

The correct interpretation of this passage requires the reader to keep in mind several principles of Catholic theology. First, while the Catholic Church firmly holds that the fullness of the visible Body of Christ subsists within her own household, she also joyfully recognizes a certain sharing in Christ which belongs to every baptized believer. And it is with respect to these separated brothers and sisters that the Catholic Church is most aware of a real woundedness that harms those who remain separated from the fullness of grace available in the one Church. This principle was explained most recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007:
"Despite this unequivocal recognition of the (Orthodox churches) 'being particular Churches' and of their salvific value, the document could not ignore the wound (defectus) which they suffer specifically in their being particular Churches...that wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist."

It is in this way that the Catholic Church recognizes woundedness in the Body of Christ, with respect to Christ's members who are separated from the fullness of the Catholic faith.

In the same way, the dogmatic constitution on the Church of 1967 (Lumen Gentium) laments a certain woundedness in every member of the Church who falls into sin; and these wounds are healed by the Sacrament of Penance, which can be received by those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Probably the most helpful interpretive passage for the idea of the woundedness in the Body of Christ is to be found in the declaration Dominus Iesus, which was authored in 2000 by Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger:

"The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history” by the persistence of schism.

In other words, true to her conviction that the authentic experience of being part of Christ's Body is possible only in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church does not speak of herself as disfigured, wounded, or divided by the decision of numerous bodies to separate from her throughout history; this is because she believes that her purity and integrity come only from Christ, and are preserved by Him for Himself, regardless of what human communities may choose to do. Thus, any references to the woundedness of Christian communities- especially with regard to ecumenical conversation and Catholic self-identity- should keep these qualifications carefully in mind. It is with respect to such qualifications that the Catholic CDF described the following norm with regard to ecumenical dialogue just over a year ago:

"If (ecumenical) dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith. Only in this way will it be able to lead towards the unity of all Christians in "one flock with one shepherd" and thus heal that wound which prevents the Catholic Church from fully realising her universality within history."

...Enough for woundedness. With regard to the Catholic Church's proper universality, I personally would echo a line from my favorite Catholic ecumenist, addressed to all non Catholic friends and readers: we have great need of you.