Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XXIII

See the source image
Abp St. Oscar Romero

23. This collegial union is apparent also in the mutual relations of the individual bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.(30*) The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, (31*) fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church.(32*) For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity.

The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church. But each of them, as a member of the episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles, is obliged by Christ’s institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church,(33*) and this solicitude, though it is not exercised by an act of jurisdiction, contributes greatly to the advantage of the universal Church. For it is the duty of all bishops to promote and to safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church, to instruct the faithful to love for the whole mystical body of Christ, especially for its poor and sorrowing members and for those who are suffering persecution for justice’s sake,(160) and finally to promote every activity that is of interest to the whole Church, especially that the faith may take increase and the light of full truth appear to all men. And this also is important, 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.(34*)

The task of proclaiming the Gospel everywhere on earth pertains to the body of pastors, to all of whom in common Christ gave His command, thereby imposing upon them a common duty, as Pope Celestine in his time recommended to the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus.(35*) From this it follows that the individual bishops, insofar as their own discharge of their duty permits, are obliged to enter into a community of work among themselves and with the successor of Peter, upon whom was imposed in a special way the great duty of spreading the Christian name.(36*) With all their energy, therefore, they must supply to the missions both workers for the harvest and also spiritual and material aid, both directly and on their own account. as well as by arousing the ardent cooperation of the faithful. And finally, the bishops, in a universal fellowship of charity, should gladly extend their fraternal aid to other churches, especially to neighboring and more needy dioceses in accordance with the venerable example of antiquity.

By divine Providence it has come about that various churches, established in various places by the apostles and their successors, have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage. Some of these churches, notably the ancient patriarchal churches, as parent-stocks of the Faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter churches, with which they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for their rights and duties.(37*) This variety of local churches with one common aspiration is splendid evidence of the catholicity of the undivided Church. In like manner the Episcopal bodies of today are in a position to render a manifold and fruitful assistance, so that this collegiate feeling may be put into practical application.

160 Cf . Mt. 5:10.

(30) Cfr. Conc. Vat. I, Const.Dogm. Pastor aeternis: Denz. 1821 (3050 s.).

(31) Cfr. S. Cyprianus, Epist. 66, 8: Hartel 111, 2, p. 733: .. Episcopus in Ecclesia et Ecclesia in Episcopo ..

(32) Cfr. S. Cyprianus, Epist. SS, 24: Hartel, p. 642, line. 13: . Una Ecclesia per totum mundum in multa membra divisa .. Epist. 36, 4: Hartel, p. 575, lin. 20-21.

(33) Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Fidci Donum, 21 apr. 1957: AAS 49 (1957) p. 237.

(34) Cfr. S. Hilarius Pict., In Ps. 14, 3: PL 9, 206; CSEL 22, p. 86. S. Gregorius M., Moral, IV, 7, 12: PL 75, 643 C. Ps.Basilius, In Is. 15, 296: PG 30, 637 C.

(35) S. Coelestinus, Epist. 18, 1-2, ad Conc. Eph.: PL 50, 505 AB- Schwartz, Acta Conc. Oec. 1, I, i, p. 22. Cfr. Benedictus XV, Epist. Apost. Maximum illud: AAS 11 (1919) p. 440, Pius XI. Litt. Encycl. Rerum Ecclesiae, 28 febr. 1926: AAS 18 (1926) p. 69. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Fidei Donum, 1. c.

(36) Leo XIII, Litt. Encycl. I Grande munus, 30 sept. 1880: ASS 13 (1880) p. 14S. Cfr. Cod. Iur. | Can., c. 1327; c. 13S0 2.

(37) De iuribus Sedium patriarchalium, cfr. Conc. Nicaenum, I can. 6 de Alexandria et Antiochia, et can. 7 de Hierosolymis: Conc. I Oec. Decr., p. 8. Conc. Later. IV, anno 1215, Constit. V: De dignigate Patriarcharum: ibid. p. 212.-| Conc. Ferr.-Flor.: ibid. p. 504.

This paragraph speaks to the pastoral care bishops owe to the diocesan Church, over which they preside, as a genuine successor to the apostles. Each bishop governs his particular diocese, and is responsible for the transmission of the faith and the pastoral care of the people who reside in his diocese. He is the true vicar of Christ in his diocese, in his “particular church.”

It’s a common misconception among non-Catholics, and even some ill-informed Catholics, that the pope has ultimate control over everything that happens in any diocese, or even in any parish, as if he is consulted on each and every decision that’s made. While it is true that priests who serve in any particular diocese do so as an extension of the ministry of the bishop of that diocese, it is not true that a bishop’s ministry is an extension of the pope’s. In truth, each bishop has authority over his diocese. The buck stops with the bishop.

All of this is why it is so important that bishops be faithful, themselves, to the teachings of the Church and to the proper pastoral care of the people of their particular church. A great deal of confusion and even scandal can arise when a bishop takes a tact so far from the teaching of the Church that the faithful of his diocese are left wondering what’s going on. Certainly, there is room for varying ways of doing things from diocese to diocese on smaller matters of pastoral practice, practical application, and freedom on non-essentials. But, when it comes to the doctrine of the Church, of the defined faith and morals of the Church, the faithful of any particular diocese have a right to know that their bishop stands with the Church, and does so without wavering. There have been too many examples over the centuries, including in modern times, of bishops who have failed to lead the faithful of their particular church on the path of orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxis (right practice).

On the other hand, there have been innumerable examples of bishops who have heroically stood their ground, defending the faith and morals of the Church in the face of attacks from her enemies. One thinks immediately of Archbishop St. Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who proclaimed the gospel and the preferential option for the poor in the face of a hostile government that was murdering his priests and oppressing the people of El Salvador. Finally, on March 24, 1980, after a day of recollection with other adherents of Opus Dei, St. Oscar Romero was celebrating Mass at the chapel on the campus of Hospital de la Divina Providencia when he was assassinated. No one was ever arrested, tried, or convicted of his assassination, but investigations concluded that the murder was organized by the government. Archbishop Romero was beatified on May 23, 2015 by Pope Francis, the first pope from the New World. The Congregation for Saints’ Causes, in recommending his beatification, said of Romero, “He was killed at the altar. Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council. … [His assassination] was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of injustices that relentlessly and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders.

Oscar Romero was canonized on October 14, 2018 by Pope Francis.


Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s