21- Vatican II on the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity

The Catholic Church’s Official Understanding of the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, in the Words of Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council)

On The Nature of the Church as Mystery

Chapter I: The Mystery of the Church Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men — she here proposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission. The condition of the modern world lends greater urgency to this duty of the Church; for, while men of the present day are drawn ever more closely together by social, technical and cultural bonds, it still remains for them to achieve full unity in Christ. (Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium (LG) 1, emphases added)

Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the breaking of the eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another. “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). In this way all of us are made members of his body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27), “but severally members one of another” (Rom. 12:4).

As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). Also, in the building up of Christ’s body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1–11). Among these gifts the primacy belongs to the grace of the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms (cf. 1 Cor. 14)1. Giving the body unity through himself, both by his own power and by the interior union of the members, this same Spirit produces and stimulates love among the faithful. From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26).

The head of this body is Christ. He is the image of the invisible God and in him all things came into being. He is before all creatures and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body which is the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might hold the primacy (cf. Col. 1:15–18). By the greatness of his power he rules heaven and earth, and with his all-surpassing perfection and activity he fills the whole body with the riches of his glory (cf. Eph. 1:18–23). …On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, following in trial and in oppression the paths he trod, we are associated with his sufferings as the body with its head, suffering with him, that with him we may be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:17).

From him “the whole body, supplied and built up by joints and ligaments, attains a growth that is of God” (Col. 2:19). He continually provides in his body, that is, in the Church, for gifts of ministries through which, by his power, we serve each other unto salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we may through all things grow unto him who is our head (cf. Eph. 4:11–16, Gk.).

In order that we might be unceasingly renewed in him (cf. Eph. 4:23), he has shared with us his Spirit who, being one and the same in head and members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. Consequently, his work could be compared by the Fathers to the function that the principle of life, the soul, fulfils in the human body.

Christ loves the Church as his bride, having been established as the model of a man loving his wife as his own body (cf. Eph. 5:25–28); the Church, in her turn, is subject to her head (Eph. 5:23–24). “Because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), he fills the Church, which is his body and his fullness, with his divine gifts (cf. Eph. 1:22–23) so that it may increase and attain to all the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:19).

(LG 7, emphases added)

The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element. For this reason the Church is compared, in a powerful analogy, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed [human] nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body (cf. Eph. 4:15).

This is the sole Church of Christ which in the [ancient Nicene] Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (Jn. 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it (cf. Mt. 28:18, etc.), and which he raised up for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines [particularly in the non-Catholic churches which left the Catholic Communion in history but remain “Catholic at heart,” wholly committed to the essentials of traditional (Catholic) Christian faith]. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity [the orthodox, traditional Christian faith “belongs” to the one Church of Christ which subsists in the Catholic Church, so the non-Catholic but orthodox or “Catholic at heart” churches rejoining the Catholic Communion is the best guarantee of their long-term Christian orthodoxy, as mature Protestantism (which is “ doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox) demonstrates].

(LG 8, emphases added, with gloss in parentheses)

On The Structure of the Church

The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites. Between those churches there is such a wonderful communion that this variety, so far from diminishing the Church’s unity, rather serves to emphasize it … These individual churches both Eastern and Western, while they differ somewhat among themselves in what is called “rite,” namely in liturgy, in ecclesiastical discipline and in spiritual tradition, are none the less all equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff [the pope], who by God’s appointment is successor to Blessed Peter in primacy over the Universal Church. Therefore these churches are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite. They have the same rights and obligations, even with regard to the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world (cf. Mk. 16:15), under the direction of the Roman Pontiff [the pope]. (Vatican Council II, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, (OE) 2,3, emphases added)

The one People of God is accordingly present in all the nations of the earth, since its citizens, who are taken from all nations, are of a kingdom whose nature is not earthly but heavenly. All the faithful scattered throughout the world are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit so that ‘he who dwells in Rome knows those in most distant parts to be his members’[Chrysostom].2 (Vatican Council II, LG 13)

Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions, without prejudice to the Chair of Peter which presides over the whole assembly of charity, and protects their legitimate variety while at the same time taking care that these differences do not hinder unity, but rather contribute to it. (LG 13)

It has come about through divine providence that, in the course of time, different Churches set up in various places by the apostles and their successors joined together in a multiplicity of organically united groups which, whilst safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the universal Church, have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage and inherit a theological and spiritual patrimony. Some of these, notably the ancient patriarchal Churches, as mothers in the faith, gave birth to other daughter-Churches (LG 23)

The patriarchate as an institution has existed in the Church from the earliest times, and was already recognized by the first ecumenical councils … By the term … “patriarch” is meant the bishop who has jurisdiction over all the bishops, metropolitans [called archbishops in the West] not excepted, clergy and people of his own territory or rite (OE 7) … The patriarchs … are all equal in patriarchal rank, without prejudice to their legitimately established precedence of honor (OE 8) … and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. (OE 7)

… This multiplicity of local Churches, unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church. (LG 23)

I would like to note that all of the suggestions in my books towards Christian reunification are intended to help Christians come to think about unity like the Undivided Early Church lived it, in order to prepare us for our future reunification in the Holy Spirit’s love and timing. For right now, Roman Catholic Christians, the current great majority of Catholic Christians (and by far the largest group of all Christians), will have to get used to these ideas as much as Protestant Christians will before reunification can happen, since the Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council, which laid the groundwork for real Christian reunification as in the Undivided Early Catholic Christian Church, is so recent, and its teaching has not yet filtered down thoroughly into the minds and hearts of the “average Roman Catholic.”

© 2008 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO

Go To Next Section The Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Which Recently and for the First Time in an Ecumenical Council of the Church Clearly Defined the Nature and Structure of the Ancient Undivided Early Church (Which Has Tremendous Implications for the Eventual Re-establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity), Officially Recognizes the Holy Spirit as the Source of the Church’s Unity and “Places its Hope [For Reunification] Entirely in the Prayer of Christ for the Church, in the Love of the Father for Us, and in the Power of the Holy Spirit

Go To the Beginning of this Booklet The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity


1The Catholic Church since Vatican II re-studied the history of charisms or supernatural gifts in the Church and re-emphasized these Charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement began shortly after the Council. But that history of charisms in the Church shows the danger of those with charismatic gifts (which can be counterfeited by the supernatural power of God’s Enemy) not being subject to the Apostolic authority passed down in the ordained leaders of the Christian Church who are entrusted with guarding the Apostolic Deposit of Orthodox Christian Faith. The Montanist heretics of the 2nd Century began as “charismatic” Christians but, following their apparent “gifts” and not the ordained Church leaders in line of succession from Christ’s ordained Apostles (to whom Christ promised He would give a special “charism of truth” – John 16:13), they eventually became heretics, losing orthodoxy, as have some groups on the fringes of the 20th Century Protestant Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.

2Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote this, was the Eastern Archbishop of Constantinople (before it was made a Patriarchate). He is the most prolific of the Early Eastern Saints and Doctors of the Church, and most Eastern Orthodox as well as most Eastern Catholic Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy he wrote at their Sunday Christian worship services. While the main point of this quote is that a Catholic (Universal) Christian from anywhere knows Christians far away are members of the same Body of Christ he belongs to, he likely also has the pope in Rome in mind when he says “he who dwells in Rome [specifically] knows those in most distant parts to be his members.” Chrysostom, the greatest doctor of Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized the pope as Peter’s Successor and referred to the pope in Rome in terms such as “fisherman of the universe” and “pillar of the Church.”