DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     August 24, 1998     vol. 9, no. 165


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
          The Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio below Apostolos Suos was released on the Solemnity of Ascension Thursday, May 21, 1998 by the Holy Father and deals with reigning in the bishops from launching their own initiatives without full support from Rome or their colleagues. Many believe the Bishops' Letter "Always Our Children" by a group of liberal American bishops on homosexuality may have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back and prompted the Holy See to issue this Letter. Below is part one.



    I. INTRODUCTION 1. The Lord Jesus constituted the Apostles "in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from amongst them".(2) The Apostles were not chosen and sent by Jesus independently of one another, but rather as part of the group of the Twelve, as the Gospels make clear by the repeatedly used expression, “one of the Twelve”.(3) To all of them together the Lord entrusted the mission of preaching the Kingdom of God,(4) and they were sent by him, not individually, but two by two.(5) At the Last Supper Jesus prayed to the Father for the unity of the Apostles and of those who through their word would believe in him.(6) After his Resurrection and before the Ascension, the Lord reconfirmed Peter in the supreme pastoral office (7) and entrusted to the Apostles the same mission which he had himself received from the Father.(8)

          With the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostolic College showed itself filled with the new vitality which comes from the Paraclete. Peter, "standing with the Eleven",(9) speaks to the crowd and baptizes a large number of believers; the first community appears united in listening to the teaching of the Apostles (10) and accepts their decision in relation to pastoral problems.(11) It was to the Apostles who had remained in Jerusalem that Paul turned in order to ensure his communion with them and not risk having run in vain.(12) The Apostles' awareness that they constituted an undivided body was also demonstrated when the question arose whether or not Christians converted from paganism were obliged to observe certain precepts of the Old Law. At that time, in the community of Antioch, "Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and the elders about this question".(13) In order to examine the problem the Apostles and the elders meet, consult one another and deliberate, guided by the authority of Peter, and finally issue their decision: "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things...".(14)

    2. The saving mission which the Lord entrusted to the Apostles will last until the end of the world.(15) For this mission to be carried out, in accordance with Christ's will, the Apostles themselves “were careful to appoint successors... Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the Apostles as pastors of the Church".(16) Indeed, in order to carry out the pastoral ministry, "the Apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them",(17) and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their assistants the gift of the Holy Spirit,(18) "a gift which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration".(19)

          "Just as, in accordance with the Lord's decree, Saint Peter and the rest of the Apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's Successor, and the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, are joined to one another".(20) Thus, all the Bishops in common have received from Christ the mandate to proclaim the Gospel in every part of the world and are consequently bound to have concern for the whole Church. So too, for the fulfilment of the mission entrusted to them by the Lord, they are held to cooperate with one another and with the Successor of Peter,(21) in whom the Lord established "the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion".(22) The individual Bishops are in turn the source and foundation of unity in their particular Churches.(23)

    3. Without prejudice to the power which each Bishop enjoys by divine institution in his own particular Church, the consciousness of being part of an undivided body has caused Bishops throughout the Church's history to employ, in the fulfilment of their mission, means, structures and ways of communicating which express their communion and solicitude for all the Churches, and prolong the very life of the College of the Apostles: pastoral cooperation, consultation, mutual assistance, etc.

          From the first centuries on, the reality of this communion has found an outstanding and typical expression in the holding of Councils. Worthy of mention among these are, together with the Ecumenical Councils which began with the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Particular Councils, both plenary and provincial, which were frequently held throughout the Church from the second century on.(24)

          The practice of holding Particular Councils continued throughout the Middle Ages. Following the Council of Trent (1545-1563), however, they became less frequent. Nevertheless, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, seeking to revitalize so venerable an institution, included provisions for the celebration of Particular Councils. Canon 281 of that Code spoke of the plenary Council and laid down that it could be held with the authorization of the Supreme Pontiff, who would designate a delegate to convene the Council and preside over it. The same Code called for provincial Councils to be held at least every twenty years (25) and conferences or assemblies of the Bishops in each province to be held at least every five years, in order to deal with the problems of the Dioceses and prepare for the provincial Council.(26) The new Code of Canon Law of 1983 retains a considerable body of laws governing Particular Councils, both plenary and provincial.(27)

NEXT WEEK: Part Two of INTRODUCTION to Apostolos Suos

  • (1) The Oriental Churches headed by Patriarchs and Major Archbishops are governed by their respective Synods of Bishops, endowed with legislative, judicial and, in certain cases, administrative power (cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canons 110 and 152): the present document does not deal with these. Hence no analogy may be drawn between such Synods and Episcopal Conferences. This document does concern Assemblies established in areas where there exist several Churches sui iuris regulated by Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 322, and by their relative Statutes approved by the Apostolic See (cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 322, 4; Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, Art. 58), to the extent that these Assemblies are comparable to Episcopal Conferences (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 38).

  • (2) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 19; cf. Mt 10:1-4; 16:18; Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:13; Jn 21:15-17.

  • (3) Cf. Mt 26:14; Mk 14:10,20,43; Lk 22:3,47; Jn 6:72; 20:24.

  • (4) Cf. Mt 10:5-7; Lk 9:1-2.

  • (5) Cf. Mk 6:7.

  • (6) Cf. Jn 17:11,18,20-21.

  • (7) Cf. Jn 21:15-17.

  • (8) Cf. Jn 20:21; Mt 28:18-20.

  • (9) Acts 2:14.

  • (10) Cf. Acts 2:42.

  • (11) Cf. Acts 6:1-6.

  • (12) Cf. Gal 2:1-2,7-9.

  • (13) Acts 15:2.

  • (14) Acts 15:28.

  • (15) Cf. Mt 28:18-20.

  • (16) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 20.

  • (17) Cf. Acts 1:8; 2:4; Jn 20:22-23.

  • (18) Cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-7.

  • (19) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 21.

  • (20) Ibid., 22.

  • (21) Cf. ibid., 23.

  • (22) Ibid., 18. Cf. ibid., 22-23; Nota explicativa praevia, 2; First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Prologus: DS 3051.

  • (23) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.

  • (24) For some second-century Councils, cf. Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiastica, V, 16, 10; 23, 2-4; 24, 8: SC 41, pp. 49, 66-67, 69. Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century, praises the Greek usage of celebrating Councils (cf. De Ieiunio, 13, 6: CCL 2,1272). From the letters of Saint Cyprian of Carthage we learn of different African and Roman Councils beginning with the second or third decade of the third century (cf. Epist. 55, 6; 57; 59, 13, 1; 61; 64; 67; 68, 2, 1; 70; 71, 4, 1; 72; 73, 1-3: Bayard (ed.), Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1961, II, pp. 134-135; 154-159; 180; 194-196; 213-216; 227-234; 235; 252-256; 259; 259-262; 262-264). For Councils of Bishops in the second and third centuries, cf. K. J. Hefele, Histoire des Conciles, I, Adrien le Clere, Paris 1869, pp. 77-125.

  • (25) Cf. Code of Canon Law (1917), Canon 283.

  • (26) Cf. Code of Canon Law (1917), Canon 292.

  • (27) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canons 439-446.

August 24, 1998       volume 9, no. 165


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