Christus Dominus 1-3: Preface

The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, aka Christus Dominus, this 1965 document summarizes the Vatican II discussions on the episcopal office, including the interface between the bishop and Rome, his diocese, other bishops. CD has been criticized in some progressive quarters for not being forward thinking enough. As we trip through its 44 sections, you be the judge. The Preface includes the first three sections, outlining the apostolic heritage of the office of bishop. The primacy of Rome is supported in traditional language:

(T)he Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of His sheep and lambs, enjoys supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority over the care of souls by divine institution. Therefore, as pastor of all the faithful, he is sent to provide for the common good of the universal Church and for the good of the individual churches. Hence, he holds a primacy of ordinary power over all the churches.

Yet the bishops are appointed by the Holy Spirit,” and their role as “successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls” is verified. Teamwork is advanced as an ideal:

Together with the supreme pontiff and under his authority they are sent to continue throughout the ages the work of Christ, the eternal pastor.

Bishops serve under papal authority, but also in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

As far as their teaching authority and pastoral government are concerned, all are united in a college or body with respect to the universal Church of God.

So while bishops exercise their office for the diocese to which they are assigned, they also have an ordinary role in the universal Church.

This sacred synod, therefore, attentive to the conditions of human association which have brought about a new order of things in our time, intends to determine more exactly the pastoral office of bishops and, therefore, has decreed the things that follow.

A clear purpose is set: CD is about fine-tuning according to the needs of the present day. Rather than focus on any single set of expectations, I’ll use this lens for a critical examination of the document. First, that the Church acknowledges we live in a “new order.” Second, that greater clarity in the role of the bishop is a chief aim of the council: we can and should actually assess if things are clearer with bishops today or less so, levelling criticism and suggestion when we find clarity lacking.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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