From Cardinal Bea to Synodality: Obscuring the Mystical Body of Christ to Prepare the Mystical Body of the Antichrist

In his biography of Cardinal Augustin Bea — “Because he was a German!”: Cardinal Bea and the Origins of Roman Catholic Engagement in the Ecumenical Movement — Fr. Jerome-Michael Vereb wrote about the way in which Bea became interested in the question of membership in the Mystical Body of Christ. According to Fr. Vereb, it began with Josef Hofer’s interpretation of Pius XII’s words:

“Hofer felt that this statement, while soundly based in the principles of Christology, does not take into consideration the new dispensation of the glorified Risen Christ, in which the Holy Spirit is active to assemble the body of the Church. He sought an inclusivity which had not yet been addressed by magisterial authority.” (p. 139)

Of course the Church’s magisterial authority had addressed the question of inclusivity. What Hofer wanted was a reconsideration of the principles set forth in paragraph 22 Mystici Corporis. By Fr. Vereb’s account, Hofer convinced Father Augustin Bea to take up the task of trying to have the Church reconsider what seemed so certain with Pius XII:

“Hofer deepened his insight while serving the Fulda Bishops Conference as a member of the Mixed Commission on Una Sancta affairs. Here he first addressed his reservation regarding paragraph 22. He carried the quest to find an answer for this lacuna with him to Rome, where he presented it to Father Bea at the Biblicum. He declared later in life that it was he who made Cardinal Bea an ecumenist. Continued discussion of this topic with Bea is how he did it. Bea, the scholar, never forgot the question nor its import.” (p. 139)

As the entry from the Council Daybook above makes clear, Bea believed that the key to solving the “ecumenical problem” of Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis was to argue that all baptized Christians were members of the Mystical Body of Christ, even though Pius XII had made it abundantly clear that baptism was only one of the criteria for membership, along with profession of the true faith and unity with the Catholic Church.

The Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris includes 66 mentions of “People of God” in its 60 pages (and, of course, does not mention of the “Mystical Body of Christ”).

In one of his speeches at the Council, Cardinal Bea elaborated upon his belief that the “common bond” of baptism that Catholics share with heretics is far more important than what separates them:

“The primary requirement of all ecumenical activity is that we have an accurate knowledge of [non-Catholics], sincere admiration, and genuine Christian love. For this reason the Sovereign Pontiffs, beginning with Leo XIII, have repeatedly shown what ‘traces of Christ and gifts of the Holy Spirit’ are found among our non-Catholic brothers, and this because of their baptism itself and the graces which flow from baptism. Now anyone who assails this way of acting automatically attacks the Sovereign Pontiffs from Leo XIII to Paul VI.”

Although Bea was able to achieve many ecumenical victories in the documents of Vatican II, he was not able to have the Council accept the notion that the Mystical Body of Christ included all baptized Christians. On this point, he had to settle for refining the concept of “People of God,” as Fr. Vereb described:

“Hofer had warned Bea in the 1950s about the ambiguity of paragraph 22 in Mystici Corporis. Bea did not tear down the image of Mystici Corporis but built upon it by reference to the Pauline biblical texts. . . . By his efforts he helped pave the way for a new and inclusive reference to the Church as the ‘People of God.’”

Chapter II of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, deals with the concept of the “People of God”:

“All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation.”

Here it bears emphasizing that the entire point of Cardinal Bea’s exercise to broaden the definition of the Mystical Body of Christ to include non-Catholics was ecumenical — he wanted to achieve the unity of all Christians. With that in mind, we can look briefly at a few of his other ecumenical initiatives and their relation to the Synod on Synodality, beginning with this concept of the People of God.

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