The branch of theology that studies the nature and mission of the Church. After considering the history of ecclesiology, this article will survey the major developments and issues that have attracted the attention of theologians since the Second Vatican Council.
History. Formal treatises on ecclesiology appeared somewhat late in the history of the Church (even though some writers did compose books on the Church; e.g., St. Cyprian wrote De catholicae ecclesiae unitate ). Even scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages, including St. Thomas Aquinas, did not include a special treatise on the Church in their Summae. However, the writers of the New Testament, the Fathers, and scholastics reflected deeply on the mystery of the Church and treated explicitly of its different aspects, especially in relation to Christological and soteriological themes. One can, therefore, speak of the ecclesiology of the New Testament, of St. Paul, St. Augustine, etc., meaning by this the point of view from which they contemplated the Church and the aspects of the mystery emphasized or clarified by their writings. Prescholastic ecclesiology has certain definite characteristics: it expresses itself in symbolic language rather than in abstract formulations; it emphasizes the interior mystical reality mediated and manifested in the visible sacramental life of the Church. The great scholastic theologians in their insistence on speculative theology at times tended to overlook the rich symbolism of the Scriptures and Fathers, yet they carried forward many of the same themes. St. Thomas, for example, following Augustine, developed the theme of the headship of Christ, considering the mystical body as the domain, or sphere of influence, of Christ's sanctifying and salvific action.
When formal consideration was given to the Church in the domain of dogmatic theology and the first treatises came to be written, this was done in response to definite historical challenges, which were to determine the aspects under which the Church would be considered. Thus John of Paris in De potestate regia et papali (1302–03) sought to delineate the relationship between the spiritual and temporal powers in the context of the conflict between Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair. In the Middle Ages various movements and writers, in reaction to the many abuses in the Church, began to call in question the authority and mediation of the visible Church (e.g., the Franciscan Spirituals, the Waldensians, John Wyclif and John Hus, the conciliar movement consequent upon the tragedy of the Western Schism). These movements found their fullest expression in the theology of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which ended in rejecting the visible mediation of the Church, especially its priesthood and the authority of the hierarchy. As a consequence, Catholic theologians began to treat explicitly of the exterior visible aspects of the Church [see Juan de Torquemada, OP, in his Summa de ecclesia (Cologne 1480)]; and when the formal treatises came to be written by the theologians of the Counter Reformation, they placed a strong focus on its visible hierarchical structure (see Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who set the pace for the others in his De controversiis ). In the ensuing centuries, during which the Church was faced with new threats from Jansenism, Gallicanism, the rationalism of the 18th century, etc., this ecclesiology, whose interest was primarily apologetical and which has been unflatteringly described as a "hierarchology," continued to hold sway and was the one incorporated in the theological manuals for use in seminaries. It reached its high-water mark at Vatican Council I with the solemn definition of the primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility of the pope.
During the 19th century, however, a new ecclesiology was slowly being formulated that sought to integrate the ecclesiology of the Church's visible structure into a more complete and vital understanding of the mystery as found in the Scriptures and Fathers. The first great center of this ecclesiological revival was the theological faculty of Tübingen in Germany, whose greatest light was Johann Adam Möhler (1796 to 1838). His ecclesiology was characterized by its insistence on the community and the interior reality of the life of grace (see Die Einheit in der Kirche, 1825, and Symbolik, 1832). This revival was furthered by the Jesuit theologians in Rome, especially Giovanni Perrone (1794 to 1876), Carlo Passaglia (1812 to 1887), Klemens Schrader (1820 to 1875), and Cardinal J. B. Franzelin (1816 to 1886); by Matthias Scheeben (1835 to 1888) in Germany; and Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801 to 1890) in England.
In preparation for Vatican I, a proposed schema on the Church, written largely by Schrader, began by defining the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. It met with opposition from many of the fathers, and a revised version relegated the image to a secondary consideration, preferring to define the Church as a visible society. The new trends, however, continued to exercise their influence, and between the two world wars there was a greatly renewed interest in the theology of the Mystical Body (of special importance were the works of Karl Adam, Émile Mersch, Romano Guardini, Charles Journet, and Sebastian Tromp). In 1943 Pius XII's great encyclical on the Mystical Body (mystici corporis), while warning against excesses that could lead to a sort of panchristism, incorporated the patristic and scholastic insistence on the interior reality of grace with the theology of the Church as a visible hierarchical society. During the next 20 years modern Catholic ecclesiology, strongly influenced by the ecumenical movement and the scriptural and liturgical revival, continued to make many advances. French Dominican Yves Congar, for example, contributed especially to an understanding of historical development and the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church, with implications for ecumenism, structural reform, the laity, and spirituality. Congar's compatriot, Jesuit Henri de Lubac, expressed a multidimensional vision of the Church as both a social body in the world and a mystery revealed by God. The fruit of this further study and research is expressed concretely in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, as well as in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes.
See Also: church, ii (theology of); church, articles on.
Bibliography: y. m. j. congar, h. fries, ed., Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, 2 v. (Munich 1962–63) 1:801–12. o. semmelroth, Lexikon für theologie und Kirche 3:781–87. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Tables générales 1951–) 1:1110–30. f. m. braun, Aspects nouveaux du problème de l'église (Fribourg 1942). c. arÉvalo, Some Aspects of the Theology of the Mystical Body of Christ in the Ecclesiology of Giovanni Perrone, Carlo Passaglia and Clemens Schrader (Rome 1959). s. jaki, Les Tendances nouvelles de l'ecclésiologie (Rome 1957). É. mersch, Le Corps mystique du Christ, 2 v. (2d ed. Paris 1936); Eng. The Whole Christ, tr. j. r. kelley (Milwaukee 1938; London 1949). m. nedoncelle et al., L'Ecclésiologie au XIX siècle (Paris 1960). g. thils, Les Notes de l'église dans l'apologétique catholique depuis la réforme (Gembloux 1937). y.m. j. congar, "Considération historique sur la rupture du XVI siècle dans ses rapports avec la réalisation catholique de l'unité" in Chrétiens en dialogue (Paris 1964) 409–36. g. weigel, "Catholic Ecclesiology in Our Time" in Christianity Divided, ed. d. j. callahan et al. (New York 1961) 177–94. a. dulles, "A Half Century of Ecclesiology," Theological Studies 50 (1989) 419–42. m. himes, Ongoing Incarnation: Johann Adam Möhler and the Beginnings of Modern Ecclesiology (New York 1997). r. krieg, Romano Guardini: A Precursor of Vatican II (Notre Dame 1997).
[j. r. lerch/
d. m. doyle]
The Nature of the Church. Vatican II did not legislate any one definition of the Church. Lumen gentium (LG) insisted that the Church is a mystery and proposed a variety of Biblical images, treating at length the Church as the People of God and as the Body of Christ. It also described the Church as a sacrament and as a communion. This last has come to new prominence while the image of the Church as the People of God seems to have been deemphasized. The 1985 Synod of Bishops, for example, made only one reference to the Church as the People of God. Two reasons may explain this deemphasis: a reaction to the misuse of the People of God by some to justify a "people's church" or "popular church" that is distinct from the hierarchical Church; and the fear that the People of God image might suggest a purely sociological view of the Church to the neglect of its deeper spiritual nature.
Theologians have followed the lead of the Council, avoiding the "perfect society ecclesiology" of the past and preferring an ecclesiology that blends the Biblical sources with historical tradition and contemporary needs. To achieve this end, they search for appropriate images, metaphors, types, and symbols to express the nature of the Church. Avery Dulles has argued persuasively for the use of models in ecclesiology: institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant, and community of disciples. Others have applied social theory to the study of the Church. Communio ecclesiology, with rich sacramental and pneumatic elements, has become a major theme. The 1985 Synod maintained that the ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the conciliar documents, and used it to explain distribution of power in the Church, the sacramental foundation for collegiality, and the coexistence of unity and pluraformity.
Church and the World. Gaudium et spes (GS) focused on the Church in its relationship to the world, calling for a discernment of the "signs of the times" (GS 4). The Council distinguished earthly progress from the increase of the Kingdom (GS 39) but did not precisely define the nature of their interrelationship. It also affirmed the solidarity of the human family, the collaboration with all people of good will, and the inculturation of the Church in different areas. Theologians have reflected on the role of the Church in the development of social justice and world peace. Political and liberation theologies concentrate on the duty of the Church to defend human life and promote human rights.
Liberation theology, with its stress on orthopraxis, conscientization, and the preferential option for the poor, sees the Church as an agent of social transformation. The Church has a fourfold mission: to announce the gospel of liberation, to denounce all actions that impede human rights, to initiate actions for justice, and to support these initiatives. Rome has criticized some elements in liberation theology: ecclesiological relativism; politicization of the gospel; confusion over human liberation and final redemption; and the use of Marxism, class struggle, and violence.
Although the Church may have no direct political or economic mission with respect to temporal matters, its moral and religious service extends to the entire world. The Church must defend human rights whenever they are violated. John Paul II and the Code of Canon Law, however, prohibit clerics and religious from engaging in partisan politics. A thin line often exists between political activity and partisan politics. The Church cannot retreat from pressing social concerns, but is should avoid excessive involvement in practical politics.
Several theologians have developed Karl Rahner's assertion that Vatican II began the era of the world Church—the movement from a Western or European center to an actual world religion. Such a global and multicultural Catholicism encourages the autonomy of regional churches, the adoption of new symbols, languages, and behavioral patterns, and the greater appreciation of non-Christian religions. The challenge of forming new structures and methodologies has deep pastoral implications for the Church.
Local and Universal Church. Vatican II did not fully explain the relationship between the local and the universal Church. Is the local church simply a part of the universal Church or does the universal Church come to be from the communion of local churches? The latter explanation is favored by many ecclesiologists who point to Lumen gentium 26, Sacrosanctum concilium (SC) 41, and Christus Dominus (CD) 11. The local church may refer to the regional church, the ritual or patriarchal church, the diocese, the parish, the family, and the smaller eucharistic communities. Some argue that the term local church also applies to non-eucharistic groupings, such as religious communities and basic ecclesial communities so prevalent in Latin America.
The local church is Church because in it Christ is wholly present. The Church of Christ is incarnate in the local church and has no existence apart from it. The universal Church is not a juridical union of local churches but the communion of local churches united in faith and the Holy Spirit. "In and from such particular churches there comes into being the one and only Catholic Church" (LG 23).
The theology of the local church raises the issue of unity and diversity. Local churches are mutually interdependent; they are always related to other local churches and especially to the Church of Rome. Local churches throughout the world recognize one another and foster the wider mission of the universal Church. Each local church is deeply imbedded in the life of its own people, but it must also be accountable to its sister churches.
If the local church is truly Church, then it would seem that the principle of subsidiarity is applicable. This principle affirms that smaller groups should not be absorbed by larger social bodies. It implies a division of competencies and cooperation and seeks to prevent excessive domination and to encourage local churches to act freely and responsibly. The practical implementation of the principle of subsidiarity inevitably brings up the problem of the tension between authority and freedom: the balance between the rights of the local church and the rights of the Church of Rome.
Ministries and Mission. The postconciliar period has seen an explosion in the number and diversity of ecclesial ministries. The Council taught that the ordained priesthood differs in essence and not only in degree from the priesthood of the faithful (LG 10). It described the priesthood largely in pastoral and functional terms rather than in the highly sacral language of the post-Tridentine period. An extensive literature exists on the nature of priestly identity, the programs of priestly formation, and the pastoral strategies needed in view of the critical shortage of priests and the increase in priestless parishes. Many of the theologies of the priesthood focus on charism, service, and community rather than on the power of the office and its ontological grounding.
The Council authorized the restoration of the permanent diaconate in Latin rite churches (LG 29). The deacon is a minister of word and sacrament and ordained to serve the community in charity and justice. The debate continues over these roles: is the primary task of the deacon to assist the priest in liturgical celebrations or to perform works of charity and justice as Acts of the Apostles 6 seems to indicate?
The theology of the laity has remained a controversial topic. According to Vatican II, "the lay apostolate is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself" (LG 33). The Council taught that the Christian faithful, by their Baptism and Confirmation, share a "common dignity" and possess a "true equality" in regards to the building up of the Body of Christ. They share in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly mission of Christ. The Code of Canon Law enumerates the rights and duties of the laity, but it does not give them any effective power. The increase in lay ministries, the shortage of priests, and the involvement of the laity in ecclesial decision-making at all levels may help shape a more balanced theology of the laity in the future. The role of women, especially in regard to the greater utilization of their special contributions to the Church, is a significant aspect of this question.
Evangelization is an essential function of the Church and a duty of all its members, as Paul VI emphasized in Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) and as John Paul II proclaimed in Redemptoris Missio (1990). But Vatican II further affirmed the positive elements in non-Christian religions and the possibility of salvation for the unevangelized. This new point of view has seriously called into question the traditional understanding of mission work. The number of missionaries declined dramatically since the Council. A debate, unresolved by Vatican II, continues over the primary purpose of missionary activity. Is it the planting of the Church as a sign among the unevangelized or the broader pastoral activity among both the unevangelized and the de-Christianized? Missiology is in a transitional stage as it attempts to answer this question.
Primacy and Collegiality. Church authority, always an intriguing question for theologians, has attracted much attention in the last ten years. Vatican II substantially repeated the doctrine of primacy defined at Vatican I, but contemporary studies examine anew the Biblical, historical, and theological evidence. Particular attention has been paid to the possible limits of the pope's power in the light of revelation, natural and divine law, dogma, and ecclesiastical law—all these look to the very mandate of his office. The voluntary limitation of papal authority is also widely discussed in ecumenical circles.
Primacy cannot be properly understood apart from collegiality, one of the major contributions of Vatican II. The Council stressed that unity and collaboration that should exist between the papal and episcopal offices and described the corporate responsibility which the College of Bishops under papal leadership has for the entire Church. Collegiality rests on the ancient idea of the Church as communio. The Council, however, was vague about the consequences of collegiality and how it affects the future of the papacy. The debate centers on LG 22, which stated that the College of Bishops with its head, the pope, is the subject of supreme power in the Church. Some theologians argue that there are two inadequately distinct subjects of authority in the Church: the pope and the College of Bishops, and the pope can decide to act personally or collegially. They point to the Nota praevia to support their view. This view seems to break the essential unity of Church authority and to separate the papacy from the episcopacy. Others, also arguing from Vatican II, hold that there is only one subject of supreme power-the College of Bishops. Thus every primatial action is also collegial, since the pope is a member and head of the college. This theory, which has much to recommend it, stresses the unity of power in the Church and the collaboration of the pope and the bishops.
The Synod of Bishops, established by Paul VI in 1965, is a major organ of collegiality. Through 2000, ten general assemblies and eight regional assemblies have been held. The current debate concerns the theological character of the synod: is it a truly collegial act, or is it simply a service to the Pope in his capacity as universal primate? The Code of Canon Law and the history of the synods suggest the latter. The synod is an expression of the collegial spirit (LG 23), but it is merely a consultative body. The pope may grant a deliberative vote to its members, but he has not yet done so.
Episcopal conferences were given formal status at Vatican II (CD 36–38) and made mandatory by Paul VI in 1966. Current discussion focuses on the theological basis of the conferences and their teaching authority. There is no unanimity among theologians on these points. Yet many theologians argue that the conferences have a genuine theological basis as limited expression of the collegial spirit and that they have legitimate authority to teach. In juridical terms the synods and episcopal conferences may not be examples of collegiality in the strict sense. But the life of the Church overflows juridical categories and these collegial expression have greatly benefited the Church.
Magisterium and Disagreement. Another problem in postconciliar ecclesiology is the relationship between the ecclesiastical magisterium and theologians. The Council said little about the authority of theologians. It did teach that the faithful are to accept with "a religious submission of will and of mind" (religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium ) the teachings of the Pope and the bishops, even when these teachings are not infallible (LG 25). It presumed assent to Church teaching and did not discuss the possibility or conditions of disagreement. The issue became more than academic in light of the negative reaction to Humanae vitae (1968), the encyclical of Paul VI on birth control. Tensions further increased when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with papal approval censured such theologians as J. Pohier. H. Küng, E. Schillebeeckx, C. Curran, L. Boff, and T. Balasuriya.
The present debate concerns largely the extent to which public dissent to some authentic but non-infallible teachings of the magisterium is permissible. How are the rights of theologians to explore the faith compatible with the rights of the Church to teach authoritatively? The Church cannot accept a "free market of ideas" without limit, nor should it unreasonably suppress theological creativity. Public dissent by theologians, however, should not weaken the effectiveness of the magisterium to be a credible witness to the Gospel. Disputes between the magisterium and theologians may be better resolved by beginning the process at the local level and only, when unsuccessful, by appealing to Rome. There is also need for clearer and more equitable procedures for resolving doctrinal conflicts.
A related question is the meaning of the sensus fidelium —the objective sense or mind of the Church. The sensus fidelium, what the faithful believe, is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It is not constitutive of revelation nor is it self-justifying, but it does play an important role in the development and preservation of doctrine. Current discussions focus on the sensus fidelium as one among several theological sources, its relationship to the magisterium, and the need for greater consultation of the faithful as part of the process by which the Church teaches.
Ecumenism. The Catholic Church is committed to working for the reunion of all Christians, but the exuberant spirit following Vatican II has been tempered. Sober minds realize that the road to full unity will be long and arduous. One of the principal ecclesiological tasks is to discern the relationship between the Churches, and even non-Christian religious groups such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Council stated that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church (LG 8). This passage was not precisely explained at the Council and diverse interpretations continue to appear. A moderate view suggests that the term "subsists" (which replaced "is" in an earlier text) means that the Catholic Church, because of its institutional fullness, has all the essential properties of churchliness. The Church of Christ is present in a special manner in the Catholic Church, but it extends beyond any one denomination. Communities separate from Catholicism also possess such ecclesial elements as Scripture, sacraments, prayer, worship, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As a result, these communities manifest the Church of Christ in various degrees but not in the subsistent way present in the Catholic Church. The Church of Christ, therefore, includes other Christian churches in the East and the West, although they are not in full communion with the Church of Rome.
Many of the bilateral consultations, such as the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), have addressed critical ecclesiological issues. They have discussed in detail ecclesial authority, papal primacy, infallibility, sacraments, and ministries. The World Conference of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches held in Santiago de Compostela in August 1993 was devoted to the topic of ecclesiology. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint, which has been hailed as an ecumenical breakthrough, asks Catholics and other Christians to consider together the forms that the Petrine ministry might take (96). In 1999, Roman Catholics and Lutherans worldwide celebrated a landmark document, "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification."
Although significant progress has been made, much work remains to be done. Christian union remains a gift and a task. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart" (Unitatis redintegratio 7).
The decades following Vatican II have witnessed intense and even acrimonious ecclesiological debate. But in the process some fundamental issues have been clarified and developed. The ferment of ideas, the polarization within the Church, and major cultural shifts will continue to shape the way we understand and live the Christian life.
See Also: infallibility.
Bibliography: c. e. curran, Faithful Dissent (Kansas City, Missouri 1986). p. c. empie, et al., eds., Teaching Authority and Infallibility in the Church. Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VI (Minneapolis 1978). l. j. o'donovan, ed., Cooperation between Theologians and the Ecclesiastical Magisterium. A Report of a Joint Committee of CLSA and CTSA (Washington 1982). f. a. sullivan, Magisterium. Teaching Office in the Catholic Church (New York 1983). j. m. r. tillard, "Sensus Fidelium," One in Christ 11 (1975) 2–29. r. gaillardetz, Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (Collegeville, Minnesota 1997). Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," Origins 20 (July 5, 1990) 117–26. r. e. brown, et al., eds., Peter in the New Testament (Minneapolis and New York 1973). a. dulles, "Bishops' Conference Documents: What Doctrinal Authority?," Origins, v. 14 (Jan. 24, 1985) 528–34. p. granfield, The Papacy in Transition (New York 1980); The Limits of the Papacy: Authority and Autonomy in the Church (New York 1987). j. m. r. tillard, The Bishop of Rome, tr. j. de satgÉ (Wilmington, Delaware 1983). j. ratzinger with v. messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, trs. s. attanasio and g. harrison (San Francisco 1985). g. caprile, I Sinodi dei vescovi, 6 v. (Rome 1969–). r. gaillardetz, Witnesses to the Faith: Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops (New York 1992). "Reflections on the Position of African Women," Pro Mundi Vita: African Dossier 33 (1985). v. donovan, Christianity Rediscovered (Maryknoll, New York 1982). l. doohan, The Laity: A Bibliography (Wilmington, Delaware 1987). n. mitchell, Mission and Ministry: History and Theology in the Sacrament of Order (Wilmington, Delaware 1982). d. power, Gifts That Differ: Lay Ministries Established and Unestablished (New York 1980). r. l. rashke, The Deacon in Search of Identity (New York 1975). d. senior and c. stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission (Maryknoll, New York 1983). d. bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, New York 1991). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lay Ecclesial Ministry: The State of the Question (Washington 1999). l. boff, Ecclesiogenesis. The Base Communities Reinvent the Church, tr. r.r. barr (Maryknoll, New York 1986). m. azevedo, Basic Ecclesial Communities in Brazil: The Challenge of a New Way of Being Church (Washington 1987). r. schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, New York 1985). h.-m. legrand, "La réalisation de l'Eglise en un lieu," Initiation à la pratique de la théologie, v. 3, b. lauret and f. refoule, eds. (Paris 1983) 143–345. Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America 35 (1980) and 36 (1981), articles on the local church. j. komonchak, "The Church Universal as the Communion of Local Churches," Concilium 146 (1981) 30–35. r. schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and the Local (Maryknoll, New York 1997). m. azevedo, Inculturation and the Challenges of Modernity (Rome 1982). l. boff, Church: Charism and Power. Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church, tr. j. w. diercksmeier (New York 1985). w. bÜhlmann, Weltkirche, Neue Dimensionen. 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Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V (Minneapolis 1974). h. fries and k. rahner, Unity of the Churches: An Actual Possibility, tr. r. c. l. gritsch and e. w. gritsch (Philadelphia and New York 1985). f. a. sullivan, "'Subsist in': The Significance of Vatican II's Decision to Say of the Church of Christ Not That It 'Is' but That It 'Subsists In' the Roman Catholic Church," One in Christ 22 (1986) 115–23. t. best, g. gassmann, eds., On the Way to Fuller Koinonia: Official Report of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order (Geneva 1993). john paul ii, Ut unum sint, Origins 25 (June 8, 1995) 49–72. j. puglisi, ed., Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church (Collegeville 1999). Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, Origins 30 (Sept. 14, 2000) 209–24.
d. m. doyle]
CCS (1842–68, 1847);
J. Curl (2002b);