Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council (Part Four) – The Four Constitutions: Lumen Gentium on the Church

by Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P.

Dominican in Avrillé


From Le Sel de la terre 93, Summer 2015

(continued,number 4)


The Four Constitutions


Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church


What is the importance of this Constitution?

It comes first, because the new theology being subjective, as we have said, the conciliar Fathers first focus their attention on the subject (the Church) before focusing on the object (the doctrine to teach).  But in modifying the conception of the Church, in adopting a “new ecclesiology” 1, the Council overturns the entire Church and commences its self-destruction.

What are the principal errors contained in this Constitution?

This constitution Changes the notion of the Church, and presents the principles of collegiality and liturgical revolution.

Wherein does this constitution change the notion of the Church?

Until Vatican II, the Church was a society into which one entered by valid baptism, and from which one left by apostasy, heresy, schism, or a major excommunication2.

In LG (Lumen Gentium), the Church is not defined in a precise manner:

* LG says that it is “like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (§1), which allows for adding to its proper finality (the union with God through Our Lord Jesus Christ) a second finality (the unity of all of mankind).

* LG also says that the Church is the “people of God” (an expression used forty times in LG), which allows for including :

non-Catholics who wrongly claim to be “Christians”, through the idea of connection (coniunctio: this signifies that a certain imperfect communion exists in Christ, which accomplishes a “real union in the Holy Spirit“, §15),

— and those not even claiming to be Christians, through the idea of ordination (ordination: this signifies more or less that there exists a certain communion, yet imperfect, in the same God) 3 .

Finally, LG says that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church » (§8), instead of affirming that they are identical4.

All these affirmations dilute the boundaries of the Church, and also prepare the way for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue such as what was practiced after the Council.

Where does this constitution introduce bicephalism [= The condition of having two heads]  into the Church?5

LG, after having recalled that the pope “has full, supreme and universal power over the Church“, immediately adds that “The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church” (§22).  While the Church was until then a monarchy with the single supreme power, that of the pope, LG suddenly affirms a double supreme power, a two-headed Church.  Next to the pope, the college of bishops (including the pope) also has supreme power.

This change of doctrine was so significant that Pope Paul VI believed it necessary to intervene and draft a “nota explicativa prævia” (preliminary note of explanation) to join to the Constitution, where he mitigated this change: “so that the fullness of power belonging to the Roman Pontiff is not called into question […] the College, always and of necessity, includes its head, because in the college he preserves unhindered his function as Christ’s Vicar and as Pastor of the universal Church.”

This note thus prevents the college alone from exercising supreme power in the Church, which is a condemned heresy, but it does not suppress “bicephalism”.  The new Code of canon law of 1983 ratifies this doctrine of double supreme power in its canon 336: “The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members […] is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.”

Where does this Constitution present the principles of collegiality?

Other than the fact that LG attributes supreme power to the episcopal college, it also affirms that “consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and of governing” (§21) and that “one is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body“, “The order of bishops” being “also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church” (§22).

Thus, LG suggests that the bishops already have a certain jurisdiction, at least over the universal Church, before receiving it from the Pope.  And the nota explicativa prævia does not correct this point.

On the contrary, the traditional doctrine, repeated again in 1958 by Pius XII 6, teaches that the jurisdiction over his own proper diocese comes to the bishop through the Pope, who gives him the power of jurisdiction really distinct from orders.  Moreover, the Pope, if he wants, can make the body of bishops participate in the supreme power of teaching and governing over the universal Church by uniting them in an ecumenical council, but only during the council7.

Where does this constitution present the principle of democracy and liturgical revolution in the Church?

Until Vatican II, the Church was considered essentially hierarchical, with a distinction of divine right between clerics, who alone hold the triple power (of orders, jurisdiction, and teaching), and the laity: “By divine institution, clerics in the Church are distinct from the laity” (1917 Code of Canon Law, c. 107).

LG begins by treating the “People of God” in general (chapter 2) before speaking of the hierarchy (chapter 3), as if it issued from it; it treats of the “common priesthood of the faithful” before speaking of the “ministerial priesthood“, as if there were two different forms of the same priesthood.

It is to forget that the hierarchy of the Church forms the faithful: Our Lord Jesus Christ formed a dozen Apostles who themselves founded the Church: “That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt. 16:18).

It is also to forget that only the ministerial priest is a priest in the proper sense of the word.  Sacerdos (priest) comes from “sacra dans“: he who gives sacred things, and only those who have received the power of orders can do this; the baptized laity only have a power to receive these sacred things.

Without saying it openly, the door was opened for the invasion of the laity, men and women, into the governing posts of the Church (from parish liturgical committees to Roman dicasteries) and the liturgical revolution was given a doctrinal basis, in relegating the priest to the simple role of presider over the assembly.  And thus Paul VI signed this heretical definition of the new mass:  “The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred meeting or congregation of the people of God assembled, the priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord.  For this reason, Christ’s promise applies eminently to such a local gathering of holy Church: ‘Where two or three come together in my name, there am I in their midst’.8

Are there other errors in LG?

At paragraph no. 29, this document opens the possibility of ordaining married deacons without requiring them to practice perfect continence, contrary to the use of the Church preserved in the West since the Apostles.  Paul VI will accomplish this in the motu proprio of 18 June 1967, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, which expressly refers to this passage of LG.

To be continued (next time : Constitution Dei Verbum, on the sources of Revelation)

  1. See for example: frère Pierre-Marie, « Ecclésiologie comparée », Le Sel de la terre 1, summer 1992, p. 25.
  2. See Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 29 June 1943.
  3. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, & Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology, Ignatius Press, 2008, p. 24: “Some (German theologians) wondered (in the 1930s) whether the image of the Mystical Body was not too narrow as a point of departure to define the manifold forms of affiliation with the Church that have actually existed in the confusion of human history. The image of the Body provides only one notion of affiliation, that of the ‘member’; someone is a member or else he is not, and there are no intermediate degrees. Yet—people asked—is this image not too restrictive precisely in its point of departure, since there are quite obviously intermediate degrees?  So they hit on the expression ‘People of God’, which in this respect is roomier and more flexible.  The Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium  adopted it for this very purpose when it described the situation of non-Catholics who wrongly claim to be “Christians”, by saying that they are somehow ‘joined’ (coniunctio) to the Catholic Church and and those not even claiming to be Christians by saying that they are ‘related’ (ordinatio) to the Church; in both instances, the document relies on the idea of the People of God (nos. 15 and 16).”
  4. See Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 29 June 1943: “…this true Church of Jesus Christ—which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church” (Humani generis repeats this affirmation and makes it obligatory: Dz 2319, absent from DS).
  5. On this and the following question, see the note by Cardinal Larraona published in Msgr. Lefebvre, I Accuse the Council!, Kansas City, Angelus Press, 1998, p. 51, 55: “From being monarchical, the Church becomes episcopalian and collegiate, and this by divine right and by virtue of the episcopal consecration. […] if the doctrine proposed in the schema were true, the Church would have been living in direct opposition to divine law for centuries!”
  6. See Pius XII, encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis of 29 June 1958, which refers to the encyclicals Mystici Corporis (1943) and Ad Sinarum Gentem (1954).
  7. See Sì Sì No No, 31 January 2013, which adds: “The body of bishops is thus not a stable and permanent group who with Peter and under him has the supreme power of teaching and governing the whole Church.  As one can see, collegiality is closely related, even if it is more attenuated or mitigated, to conciliarism and theological Gallicanism.”
  8. Article 7 of the Institutio Generalis of the new mass according to the typical edition of 1969 [English translation]. See also Daniel Raffard de Brienne, Lex Orandi, lex credendi – La Nouvelle Messe et la Foi, 1983 (available on the site of the Latin portal, or in number 107, May-June 1984, of Lecture et Tradition): “The supper (a protestant word) or mass is thus uniquely the assembly of the people of God; the priest is only a presider; a work of the community, the Supper is only the celebration of the memorial of the Lord; according to the second phrase, the presence of Christ, purely spiritual, is accomplished by the assembly.  Luther spoke no differently.”