Archive | 2:15 am

Living Vicariously

17 Jan

ServantsoftheGospelThe next document in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council is the 1965 Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus).

I really appreciate Vatican II’s specifically on the individual bishop. Some Catholics rightly put great emphasis on the Pope’s authority, but then downplay the role of the local bishop. Others affirm the authority of the bishop, but only inasmuch as he is part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In the first view, the bishop is merely the minion of the Pope. In the second view, the bishop is most essentially our representative with the national body. Neither view gives sufficient respect to the authority of the bishop himself.

Against both of these caricatures, Vatican II stresses the role of the individual bishop. While affirming the specific role of the Pope as pastor of the universal Church, Christus Dominus provides that bishops “having been appointed by the Holy Spirit, are successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls. Together with the supreme pontiff and under his authority they are sent to continue throughout the ages the work of Christ, the eternal pastor. Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the command and the power to teach all nations, to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them. Bishops, therefore, have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith, pontiffs, and pastors through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to them” (no. 2, footnotes omitted).

We’re all accustomed to referring to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. After all, it was Peter who received the keys (cf. Mt. 16:18-19), and as Catholics we recognize the Pope’s role as Christ’s chosen representative to rule and guide the universal Church until the end of time.

But one teaching that sometimes gets overlooked is that the bishops are not simply vicars of the Pope, but vicars of Christ Himself in the particular Church (i.e., diocese) assigned to them. They legitimately exercise their role only in communion with the Pope, but nonetheless they personally exercise their office in the name of Christ as a successor of the apostles. The bishop is neither a mere representative of the Pope nor does he legitimately exercise authority apart from the Pope (see Catechism, nos. 880-96, especially 894-95).

Some may be surprised to know that a number of Popes have even referred to Christian parents as vicars of Christ in the home. For example, Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encylical Divini Illius Magistri, wrote: “Parents . . . should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are.” Of course this truth connects well with Vatican II’s emphasis on the family as the “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature.” Continue reading