Page 5, 8th June 2001

8th June 2001
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Page 5, 8th June 2001 — Which comes first ---the Universal or the local Church?
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Which comes first ---the Universal or the local Church?

Who is right Cardinal Ratzinger, who believes that the universal Church has priority, or Cardinal Kasper, who argues that

the bishops should be allowed to adapt general rules to local circumstances. Cardinal Avery Dulles explains why in an age of

globalization and multiple inculturation the primacy of the Chair of Peter is needed to protect the Church's unity

0 ver the past two years a very interesting theological exchange has been going on between Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine

of the Faith, and Walter Kasper, first writing as Bishop of RottenburgStuttgart and then continuing the discussion after taking over as secretary to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In its issue of April 23-30, 2001, the Jesuit weekly America published a translation of an article previously published in Stimmen der Zeit in December 2000, before Kasper became a cardinal and president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the office he now holds.

The billing on the cover, "On the Universal Church: Cardinal Walter Kasper's 'Friendly Reply' to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger," is somewhat misleading, since it gives the impression that Kasper was writing as cardinal. In this article Kasper defends the position he had taken in 1999 as Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and responds to the criticisms of Ratzinger made in February 2000.

He was therefore speaking not as a cardinal, nor as head of a Roman dicastery, but as leader of a particular church in Germany. If the article had been written by Kasper in his present office, it would suggest that the Church had not one but two Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and that the two were virtually at war. I do not know whether Kasper approved of the republication of his article in English at this time, or whether he personally reviewed the translation. The language of the English is much sharper than the original.

Some might think it inappropriate to prolong the debate, but Cardinal Kasper would not agree. In April 2001 he told Catholic News Service: "This is not a dangerous debate for the Church... So I think it would be a good thing if other bishops write about this problem." At the heart of the dispute is the relationship of the universal Church with the particular (or diocesan) churches.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in

its 1992 letter Communionis notio maintained that the universal Church "is not the result of a communion of the churches, but in its essential mystery it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular church". Expanding on this sentence, Ratzinger insists that the universal Church is not simply the result of the expansion of an initially local community. For him it is the "Jerusalem above," which Paul describes as "our mother" (Gal 4:26).

Just as many rabbis wrote of the Torah as having an eternal preexistence, so Church Fathers such as Clement of Rome and Hennas speak of a pre-existent Church, the mother of all the baptised. This theme reappears in the works of Origen and Augustine. Ratzinger acknowledges the difficulty of establishing the historical priority of the universal Church.

As evidence he cites the account of Pentecost in the first chapter of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit is said to have descended on the whole apostolic community, including the Twelve who were the representative heads of the New Israel. This community was not simply destined to become universal; it was universal from the start.

Kasper, for his pan, does not deny the pre-existence of the Church. He readily concedes that the Church is not the product of accidental historical circumstances but is grounded in the eternal saving will of God. But pre-existence, he holds, belongs not only to the universal Church but also to the concrete historical churches, which are likewise grounded in God's eternal mystery. He does not show that the new Jerusalem described in the New Testament and in the patristic sources consists of multiple churches.

Kasper is not convinced by the historical argument from Luke's account of Pentecost. The point of the story, he says, is that the Jewish tribes from the diaspora, who spoke different languages, are destined to become the Church of all nations. Thus the Church from the beginnings included diversity as well as unity.

Fll, id ven if we agree with Kasper that Luke's account of Pentecost is a liter

ary construction, I do not see that Ratzinger's argument necessarily suffers. The Gospel of John suggests that the Spirit was given to the Church by the risen Christ before the Ascension (Jn 20:22). However that may be, the New Testament authors agree that the Spirit was conferred upon the whole apostolic body and thus upon the Church universal before particular churches came into being.

Without denying the validity of Ratzinger's arguments, I would defend the position of Cortununionis natio by less sophisticated arguments. The ontological priority of the Church universal appears to me to be almost self-evident, since the very concept of a particular church presupposes a universal Church to which it belongs, whereas the concept of the universal Church does not imply that it is made up of distinct particular churches.

Historically, too, the priority of the universal Church is evident because Christ unquestionably formed the community of the disciples and prepared the apostles for their mission while they were still gathered together. Particular churches emerged only after the Church became dispersed, so that it became necessary to establish local congregations with their own hierarchical leaders.

Both Ratzinger and Kasper take cognisance of the statement of Vatican 11 that the one Church of Christ comes into being both in and from the particular churches (Lumen gerttium 23). Ratzinger maintains that this formula is reversible: the local churches exist in and out of the universal Church. In either case, there is some kind of mutual precedence. Kasper takes the simultaneous mutual priority of the universal and the particular churches as demonstrating the falsity of Ratzinger's position on the priority of the universal Church. But I would take this assertion of Lumen gentium 23 as referring to the present situation, in which particular churches already exist. The Church as we find it today is made of up many particular churches and does not exist without them any more than they exist without it. It is impossible to belong to either the universal or the particular church without belonging to both.

We ought not to imagine that the faithful initially enter the particular church and only subsequently join the universal Church. As Ratzinger lucidly explains, baptism and the other sacraments of initiation incorporate believers inunediately into the universal Church.

Kasper maintains that Ratzinger proceeds by Plato's method, starting from universal concepts rather than, as Kasper prefers, taking the universal concept as a mere abstraction from concrete reality, which is particular.

I suspect that Ratzinger has a certain affinity for Christian Platonism, but in the present debate he takes his arguments from Scripture and tradition rather than from Platonic philosophy. He makes it clear that the universal Church animated by the Holy Spirit exists here on earth, within history. In an unsigned article published a year after Commnionis natio, commonly attributed to Ratzinger, the author insists that there can be nothing more concrete than the gathering of the 120 at Jerusalem. Yet this gathering is already universal because it has the structure of the universal Church, with the Twelve as its leaders and with Peter as head of the apostolic college.

Kasper goes on to say that the difference between him and Ratzinger replicates the debate among Platonists and Aristotelians in the Middle Ages. Platonists such as Bonaventure celebrate the priority of the universal Church. But Thomas Aquinas, according to Kasper, proceeds as an Aristotelian, regarding the particular as prior to the universal.

0 nthis point Kasper's argument seems U nsuccessful. Thomas was in some respects an Aristotelian, but he does not argue for the priority of the particular Church. He regularly begins with the una sancta of the creed and sees all power in the Church as descending from Peter to the apostles and from the Pope to the bishops. The Pope as successor of Peter, he contends, has the fullness of power over the universal Church. Kasper is concerned not only with the theoretical questions just treated but also, and especially, with the role of the bishop as pastor of a particular Church. How is the diocesan bishop related to the Pope, who has jurisdiction over all particular persons and groups in the Church?

Kasper states correctly that according to Vatican II the bishop receives his office of government (munus regendi) directly from Christ through the sacrament of ordination (Lumen gentium 21), but he fails to note that the bishop cannot govern a particular diocese unless he is duly appointed by canonical mission and remains in hierarchical communion with the college of bishops and its head, the bishop of Rome (Lumen gentium 24). The bishop's powers of teaching and government "can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman pontiff" (Lumen gentium 22).

Kasper's grievance against the papacy and the Roman curia comes from his practical experience as a pastor. As bishop he found that many of the directives coming from Rome were resented and ignored by the priests and people of his diocese. If the priority of the particular church were respected, he believes, the diocesan bishop could adapt general regulations to the situation of his own flock. As examples of unworkable regulations he mentions the admission to the Eucharist of non-Catholic Christians and of divorced and remarried Catholics.

These questions are admittedly difficult. Good arguments can be made both for and against allowing Holy Communion to be given in certain problematic cases. But in the context of Kasper's article the essential question is whether the solutions should be worked out by particular churches on their own authority. Is the situation in the Diocese of RottenburgStuttgart so peculiar that it should be allowed to go its own way on these two questions?

From reading Kasper's text I do not see why the problems in Rottenburg or Stuttgart differ significantly from those in Munich, Johannesburg, or New York. Whatever policy is permitted in RottenburgStuttgart does not concern that diocese alone; it will inevitably have repercussions all over the world.

At one point in his article Kasper acknowledges that in the present era of globalisation, when the world is becoming one village, "singular solutions in particular churches are not always desirable."

I would think that the policy regarding admission to the Eucharist of persons not holdMg the Catholic faith or living in marriages that the Church regards as invalid are good examples of pastoral matters that probably ought to be settled by the authority of the universal Church. The very nature of the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity and of communion is at stake. The papacy, with its mandate to lead the whole flock of Christ in unity, cannot properly renounce the responsibility laid upon it by the Lord.

At the end of his article Kasper raises a further ecumenical question. "A onesided emphasis on universality," he writes, "is bound to awake painful memories and provoke mistrust ... In our dialogues with the Orthodox and Protestant churches (ecclesial communities), it is important to make clear that... 'unity in communion' does not oppress the legitimate traditions of the particular churches."

The Roman primacy is indeed a point of contention between the Catholic Church and all others. John Paul 11 has proposed that the mode of exercise of the papal office should be a topic for ecumenical dialogue. The mere fact that it is placed on the ecumenical agenda should not be seen as implying that the primacy should be diminished to allow greater local autonomy.

The Petrine office may properly be seen as a gift that the Catholic Church holds in trust for the whole of Christendom. The primacy of the Chair of Peter protects legitimate differences and sees that they do not hinder unity (Lumen gentium 13). Kasper, who is by no means an extremist, would certainly twee that the Catholic Church must be on guard against degenerating into a loose federation of local or national churches. She has learned much from the experience of Gallicanism and analogous movements in past centuries.

In this age of globalization and multiple inculturation, it is more imperative than ever to have a vigorous office that safeguards the unity of all the particular churches in the essentials of faith, morality, and worship.

This article first appeared in the monthly magazine Inside the Vatican




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