The One Church of Christ: Understanding Vatican II

By Stephen A. Hipp



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Vatican II represents a watershed in the history of Catholic ecclesiology. Although it stands in organic continuity with previous magisterial teaching, distortions of its teaching have proliferated since the time of the Council, leading many to conclude that the Catholic Church changed her position regarding the identity that exists between the One Church of Christ and the Catholic Church.

Stephen A. Hipp’s The One Church of Christ: Understanding Vatican II refutes that conclusion and explains the Catholic understanding of how Christ’s indivisible Church relates to the Catholic Church, to non-Catholic Christian communities, and to other religious societies. Hipp thoroughly examines the controversial statement that “the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church” from terminological, historical, and theological perspectives, showing that Vatican II introduces nothing doctrinally new to the Church’s self-understanding, but provides a more nuanced way of speaking about the unicity and universality that define Christ’s Church.  He reveals that Vatican II thereby establishes ecumenism and interreligious dialogue on fruitful ground, while calling Catholics to a greater appreciation of the extraordinary gift of the Church’s subsistence.

 

About the author:

Stephen A. Hipp is Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary and University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His areas of specialization include Trinitarian theology, Christology, ecclesiology, Thomistic studies, and metaphysics. Author of numerous books and articles, he is internationally recognized for his contributions to the philosophy and theology of personhood and subsistence. He holds a Doctorate of Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

 

Endorsements:

“Hipp brings together cool logic, sharp metaphysics, historical light, and linguistic subtlety to understand what it means to say the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. Oh, yes—and an ardent theology moved by love of the Church! It is just this subsistence of the Church, just this perfect way of existing as a concrete agent, that lets the Church be present and active in non-Catholic Christian communities and makes them real, if imperfect, ways of Christian salvation. Just because the elements of Christian sanctification and truth outside her visible bounds belong rightly to her, a more than manmade or sociological ecumenism is possible for non-Catholic Christians, and for the same reason, a properly theological ecumenism is necessary for the custodians of Catholic truth. As Hipp makes his way from chapter to chapter, the majesty of the Church as the sacrament of salvation shines out more and more as the key to the universal saving providence of God in Christ, and every reader will learn humility. There is no text as good as this on the unity of the one Church of Christ and her role in the economy of salvation.”

Guy Mansini, OSB
St. Meinrad School of Theology

 

Stephen Hipp’s The One Church of Christ is without a doubt the most thorough and nuanced treatment of the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesiology I have encountered. With meticulous precision reminiscent of the Angelic Doctor, upon whose work he draws extensively, Hipp makes a compelling case that the council’s oft-misunderstood phrase subsistit in (the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church) represents an authentic development of pre-conciliar doctrine.”

Matthew Ramage
Benedictine College

 

“In this precise and penetrating book, Hipp uses philosophical analysis (a significant trend in conciliar scholarship) in order to elucidate the most disputed term to emerge from Vatican II, ‘subsistit in,’ and the ecclesiology that it represents. He offers readers a forceful and carefully argued study which now stands as constitutive reading for research into Vatican II’s teaching on the Catholic Church and its relationship with other Christian communities.”

Thomas G. Guarino
Seton Hall University

 

“In this dogmatic and ecumenical study on the fundamental ecclesiological question regarding unity and diversity in the one Church, the Catholic Church, and the corresponding meaning of the term ‘subsistit in,’ Stephen Hipp demonstrates that he is a master interpreter not only of Catholic theology but also of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. Hipp’s study is probably the definitive work showing that Vatican II’s ecclesiology introduces no doctrinal change to the Church’s traditional self-understanding, although it does represent a significant doctrinal development. This study embodies an exercise in the hermeneutics of Vatican II, what Benedict XVI called ‘the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given us.’ May Hipp’s marvelous work bear fruit in our understanding of Catholic ecclesiology and the ongoing reception of Vatican II.”

Eduardo J. Echeverria, Ph.D., S.T.L.
Sacred Heart Major Seminary

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