DAILY CATHOLIC MONDAY September 7, 1998 vol. 9, no. 175
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS
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HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO ON THE THEOLOGICAL AND JURIDICAL NATURE OF EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES (1)
Part One of COLLEGIAL UNION AMONG BISHOPS in APOSTOLOS SUOS
II. COLLEGIAL UNION AMONG BISHOPS
8. In the universal communion of the People of God, for the service of which the Lord instituted the apostolic ministry, the collegial union of Bishops shows forth the nature of the Church. Being on earth the source and the beginning of the Kingdom of God, the Church is “a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race”.(37) Just as the Church is one and universal, so also is the Episcopacy one and indivisible,(38) extending as far as the visible structure of the Church and expressing her rich variety. The visible source and foundation of this unity is the Roman Pontiff, the head of the episcopal body.
The unity of the Episcopacy is one of the constitutive elements of the unity of the Church.(39) In fact, through the body of Bishops “the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved throughout the world”; (40) and the essential components of ecclesial communion are the sharing of the same faith, the deposit of which is entrusted to their care, the taking part in the same Sacraments, “the regular and fruitful distribution of which they direct by their authority”,(41) and the loyalty and obedience shown to them as Pastors of the Church. This communion, precisely because it extends throughout the whole Church, forms the structure also of the College of Bishops, and is “an organic reality which demands a juridical form, and is at the same time animated by charity”.(42)
9. Collegially, the order of Bishops is, “together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church”.(43) As it is well known, in teaching this doctrine, the Second Vatican Council likewise noted that the Successor of Peter fully retains “his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely”.(44)
The supreme power which the body of Bishops possesses over the whole Church cannot be exercised by them except collegially, either in a solemn way when they gather together in ecumenical Council, or spread throughout the world, provided that the Roman Pontiff calls them to act collegially or at least freely accepts their joint action. In such collegial acts, the Bishops exercise a power which is proper to them for the good of their faithful and of the whole Church, and, although conscientiously respecting the primacy and pre-eminence of the Roman Pontiff, head of the College of Bishops, they are not acting as his vicars or delegates.(45) There, it is clear that they are acting as Bishops of the Catholic Church, for the benefit of the whole Church, and as such they are recognized and respected by the faithful.
10. Equivalent collegial actions cannot be carried out at the level of individual particular Churches or of gatherings of such Churches called together by their respective Bishops. At the level of an individual Church, it is in the name of the Lord that the diocesan Bishop leads the flock entrusted to him, and he does so as the proper, ordinary and immediate Pastor. His actions are strictly personal, not collegial, even when he has a sense of being in communion. Moreover, although he has the fullness of the power of the Sacrament of Orders, he does not exercise the supreme power which belongs to the Roman Pontiff and to the College of Bishops as elements proper to the universal Church, elements present within each particular Church in order that it may fully be Church, that is, a particular presence of the universal Church with all the essential elements pertaining thereto.(46)
At the level of particular Churches grouped together by geographic areas (by countries, regions, etc.), the Bishops in charge do not exercise pastoral care jointly with collegial acts equal to those of the College of Bishops.
11. To provide a correct framework for better understanding how collegial union is manifested in the joint pastoral action of the Bishops of a geographic area, it is useful to recall—even briefly—how individual Bishops, in their ordinary pastoral ministry, are related to the universal Church. It is necessary, in fact, to remember that the membership of individual Bishops in the College of Bishops is expressed, relative to the entire Church, not only in so-called collegial acts, but also in the care for the whole Church which, although not exercised by acts of jurisdiction, nonetheless contributes greatly to the good of the universal Church. All Bishops, in fact, must promote and defend the unity of faith and the discipline which is common to the whole Church, and foster every activity which is common to the whole Church, especially in efforts to increase faith and to make the light of truth shine on all people.(47) “For the rest, it is true that by governing well their own Church as a portion of the universal Church, they themselves are effectively contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which is also the body of the Churches”.(48)
Bishops contribute to the good of the universal Church not only by the proper exercise of the munus regendi in their particular Churches, but also by the exercise of the offices of teaching and sanctifying.
Certainly the individual Bishops, as teachers of the faith, do not address the universal community of the faithful except through the action of the entire College of Bishops. In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular Bishop are required to accept his judgement given in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. In effect, “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth”; (49) and their teaching, inasmuch as it transmits faithfully and illustrates the faith to be believed and applied in living, is of great benefit to the whole Church.
The individual Bishop too, as “steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood”,(50) in the exercise of his office of sanctifying contributes greatly to the Church's work of glorifying God and making men holy. This is a work of the whole Church of Christ, acting in every legitimate liturgical celebration carried out in communion with the Bishop and under his direction.
12. When the Bishops of a territory jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the good of their faithful, such joint exercise of the episcopal ministry is a concrete application of collegial spirit (affectus collegialis),(51) which “is the soul of the collaboration between the Bishops at the regional, national and international levels”.(52) Nonetheless, this territorially based exercise of the episcopal ministry never takes on the collegial nature proper to the actions of the order of Bishops as such, which alone holds the supreme power over the whole Church. In fact, the relationship between individual Bishops and the College of Bishops is quite different from their relationship to the bodies set up for the above-mentioned joint exercise of certain pastoral tasks.
The collegiality of the actions of the body of Bishops is linked to the fact that “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”.(53) “It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church”.(54) Likewise the College of Bishops is not to be understood as the aggregate of the Bishops who govern the particular Churches, nor as the result of their communion; rather, as an essential element of the universal Church, it is a reality which precedes the office of being the head of a particular Church.(55) In fact, the power of the College of Bishops over the whole Church is not the result of the sum of the powers of the individual Bishops over their particular Churches; it is a pre-existing reality in which individual Bishops participate. They have no competence to act over the whole Church except collegially. Only the Roman Pontiff, head of the College, can individually exercise supreme power over the Church. In other words, “episcopal collegiality in the strict and proper sense belongs only to the entire College of Bishops, which as a theological subject is indivisible”.(56) And this is the express will of the Lord.(57) This power, however, should not be understood as dominion; rather, essential to it is the notion of service, because it is derived from Christ, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.(58)
13. Groupings of particular Churches are related to the Churches of which they are composed, because of the fact that those groupings are based on ties of common traditions of Christian life and because the Church is rooted in human communities united by language, culture and history. These relationships are very different from the relationship of mutual interiority of the universal Church with respect to the particular Churches.
Likewise, the organizations formed by the Bishops of a certain territory (country, region, etc.) and the Bishops who are members of them share a relationship which, although presenting a certain similarity, is really quite different from that which exists between the College of Bishops and the individual Bishops. The binding effect of the acts of the episcopal ministry jointly exercised within Conferences of Bishops and in communion with the Apostolic See derives from the fact that the latter has constituted the former and has entrusted to them, on the basis of the sacred power of the individual Bishops, specific areas of competence.
The joint exercise of certain acts of the episcopal ministry serves to make effective the solicitude of each Bishop for the whole Church, notably expressed in fraternal assistance to other local Churches, especially those which are closer and more needy,(59) and which likewise is conveyed in the union of efforts and aims with the other Bishops of the same geographic area, in order to promote both the common good and the good of the individual Churches.(60)
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS