During its discussion of the proposal on the nature of the church, the ecumenical council may examine the Mystical Body of Christ as it relates to baptized Christians.
This was stated during a briefing session conducted by the U.S. bishops’ press panel of experts following the council’s 31st general meeting (Dec. 1).
Panel members noted that during the past century there has been a development of theological thought regarding the relation of baptized Christians who are not Catholics to the Mystical Body of the Church.
At the First Vatican Council, it was said, the doctrine of the Mystical Body was not discussed within the council although it was talked about outside of it. Many then thought that it was not sufficiently developed and was too vague for formal action by the council.
Since that time it has been studied and its consequences have been worked out by many theologians. These were crystalized in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corpus, it was stated at the panel briefing.
In recent years, it was said, Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the council’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, has stressed the teaching that all non-Catholic Christians who are validly baptized are in some way members of the Mystical Body, although they do not share in the full graces of God since they are not formally members of the Catholic Church.
A panel member pointed out that this membership of baptized non-Catholic Christians can only be understood in a broad sense. He cited Pius XII’s teaching that in the strict sense a person is a member of the Mystical Body only if he is baptized, practices the Faith and is in union with the Holy See.
Commenting on Cardinal Bea’s work, a panel member close to his unity secretariat said he believes the future work of the secretariat will be based in great part on the concept of sharing the common bond of Baptism. He noted that the stress will lie on what Catholics and Protestants share, and not on what divides them.
Panel experts said that the present proposal on the nature of the Church will be dogmatic in nature, setting forth the principles and the theological basis on which concrete action can be taken. The specific details and the disciplinary norms will be formulated in other proposals, such as those dealing with the lay apostolate and the government of dioceses.
For example, the proposal on the Church currently under discussion will deal with the nature of the authority of bishops in the theological aspects. But the legislative implementation of this discussion will be carried out in the proposal which will be submitted by the Council’s Commission for Bishops and the Government of Dioceses.
One panel member also pointed out that the present proposal will not only deal with the authority of single bishops but also with the “collectivity” of bishops, such as can be found in councils and national conferences.