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Frankenchurch Rises Again: Ratzinger on the Church

ON JUNE 29, 2007, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), with Benedict XVI’s approval, published “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”

Our local paper carried a short article on it entitled “Pope Says Others Are Not True Churches.” The writer portrayed the Vatican document as anti-ecumenical and as a return to the pre-Vatican II teaching that “Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.”

Similar accounts appeared elsewhere in the popular press. Many commentators linked the statement to Benedict XVI’s approval of the Motu Mass, and treated it as another sign that he was “turning the clock back” or restoring pre-Vatican II teachings.

Naturally I received a lot of questions about it from parishioners. One said, “No salvation outside the Church! Boy, the paper makes Ratzinger sound like Pius IX.” And indeed it did.

But by now traditional Catholics should be wary of how the popular press covers religious questions. It is simply not a reliable source for information, especially for anything touching upon doctrinal matters. The media applies to religion — especially Catholicism — the same false liberal/conservative, left/right polarities it applies to politics.

So it came as no surprise to discover that the Vatican statement was nothing more than a rehash of Vatican II heresies on the Church — heresies that Ratzinger himself had earlier refined and developed in two CDF documents published during the reign of John Paul II.

These heresies I refer to collectively as Frankenchurch. This system posits a “People of God” and a Church of Christ that is not identical with the Roman Catholic Church and somehow broader than it. It is an entity created from “elements” of the true Church that are possessed either “fully” (by Catholics) or “partially” (by heretics and schismatics).

The lightning strike that sent this monster lumbering off was Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), which stated the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church — rather than IS the Catholic Church.

When Lumen Gentium first appeared in 1965, many non-Catholic commentators viewed the “subsists in” as the Church’s retreat from her teaching that she is the one, true Church of Christ. It implies that this church can now “subsist” elsewhere as well. Post-Vatican II theologians developed a whole new ecclesiology (theology of the Church) based on this notion.

Ratzinger’s June 2007 declaration now attempts to reconcile Vatican II’s “subsists in” with the traditional doctrine on the Church — that the one, true Church of Jesus Christ is the Roman Catholic Church.

The document consists of five questions and responses. The following points should be noted:

I. A Change in Doctrine?
The first question that Ratzinger’s statement poses is whether Vatican II changed the Catholic doctrine on the Church.

Not surprisingly, the answer is no — Vatican II “developed” this doctrine, “deepened” it, and “more fully explained” it.

The CDF statement cites no pre-Vatican II pronouncements from the magisterium for us to compare with the new doctrine. Indeed, the footnotes for the document do not cite even one pre-Vatican II pronouncement or source. Everything is Vatican II and beyond — a sure sign that Vatican II did change Catholic doctrine on the Church.

To answer the question, the CDF merely trots out a 1965 statement from Paul VI that Lumen Gentium “really changes nothing,” that “that which was uncertain is now clarified,” and that everything “is now put together in one clear formulation.”

But apparently not clear enough, because after 47 years, Ratzinger must put out a document to answer the question…

II. What Does “Subsist In” Mean?
“What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?” the document asks.

It replies that “‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.”

Please note it well: subsistence does not mean identity (as in “is”) but possessing elements.

And with “elements” there appears, green-skinned and neck-bolted, the head of the Frankenchurch monster.

According to Vatican II, John Paul II’s Code of Canon Law and Ratzinger’s Catechism of the Catholic Church, all those who have been baptized — Catholics, heretics, schismatics — are incorporated into the “People of God.” This endows them with “degrees of incorporation” into, degrees of “communion” with, or “elements” of, the Church of Christ, which work out as follows:

(1) Catholics: Full incorporation or communion, or all elements of the Church of Christ.

(2) Schismatics and heretics: Partial incorporation or communion, or some elements of the Church of Christ.

Having all elements of the Church is best, but having just some of them is pretty good too.

If you are in the second category and “partially incorporated,” you have “invisible bonds of communion” that somehow attach you to the Church of Christ.

That is why I call it “Frankenchurch.” The Church is not an integral entity, but a monster stitched together with visible and invisible bonds, full and partial, from disparate parts — Catholics, heretics and schismatics.

Thus, according to Ratzinger: “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine” — no citations to Boniface VIII or Leo XIII are given, alas! — “to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.”

Christ’s Church “is present” and “operative” in heretical and schismatic bodies? Has Ratzinger here merely given us a “clarification” or a “clearer formulation” of the Catholic doctrine on the Church enunciated by Pope Leo XIII?

“The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.”

Or again, can we say that Ratzinger’s statement “really changes nothing” in Leo XIII’s teaching that he who separates from the Pope “has no further bond with Christ”?

III. Why Not Just Say “Is”?
Well, Frankenchurch, that’s why.

Ratzinger’s statement explains that Vatican II adopted “subsists in” rather than “is” because it “comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are ‘numerous elements of sanctification and of truth’ which are found outside [the Church’s] structure, but which ‘as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity’.”

The purpose, then, of adopting “subsists” was to float the partial communion or “elements” theory of the Church — and thus promote the cause of ecumenism.

This much is clear from Ratzinger’s next statement: “Separated churches and communities” — schismatics and heretics, in other words — possess both significance and importance in the mystery of salvation, and “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation.”

• • •

The remaining two questions in the CDF statement are devoted to demonstrating how the Frankenchurch ecclesiology — partial communion, elements, particular churches, etc. — applies first to schismatics and then to heretics. These need not detain us here.

What we have said should be sufficient to demonstrate that the popular perception of Ratzinger’s declaration (a return to pre-Vatican II doctrine) was the opposite of the reality of it (a rehash of the ecumenical Frankenchurch heresy).

Finally, Ratzinger and company surely knew that the popular press would give the declaration a “traditionalist” spin. Why issue it now?

Coupled with the Motu Mass, a document that will be perceived as pre-Vatican II in tone — “Pope Says Others Not True Churches!” — is precisely what Ratzinger needs to hoodwink gullible traditionalists.

Then they, too, can be “fully incorporated” into his Frankenchurch…

For more on Ratzinger’s errors on the Church, see:

The New Ecclesiology: An Overview
The New Ecclesiology: Documentation
Resisting the Pope, Sedevacantism and Frankenchurch
Ratzinger: 99% Protestant
Ratzinger’s Dominus Jesus: A Critical Analysis
Communion: Ratzinger’s Ecumenical One-World Church

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