Lumen gentium

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Lumen gentium (LG) ("[Christ is] the light of the peoples") is called, according to its opening words , the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church , which was formulated by the Second Vatican Council and on November 21, 1964 by Pope Paul VI. was promulgated . For the first time in the nearly 2,000-year history of dogma development in it the highest church expresses Magisterium detail the doctrine of the Church as such.

The main concern of the Constitution is that Christ should appear more clearly as the center of the Church. In a clearly biblical language and with strong recourse to the theology of the church fathers , the Roman Catholic Church emphasizes its character as the mystical body of Christ and “ wandering people of God ” and in particular avoids narrowing the church's institutional character .


The total of 69 articles of the constitution are divided into eight chapters:

I. The mystery of the church

In Christ the church is the sacrament of union with God as well as human beings with one another (1). In order to elevate people to “share in the divine life”, the Creator grants them “aids to salvation”, forged in the people of Israel , destined for perfection in the church “from the righteous Abel to the last chosen one ” (2). In Christ the Son, his elect are also called to be sons of God. In the Church the kingdom of heaven on earth , which began with Christ, is mysteriously present (3). The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church and prays in the hearts of believers. He rejuvenates the church and leads her as a bride to Christ (4). The Church is based on the proclamation of Christ, who was risen as a priest and transferred his mission to the disciples (5). The essence of the church has been revealed since Old Testament times in various images from the world of shepherds (flock, sheepfold), farmers (fields, plantations, vineyards), living (tent, house, corner stone, temple, city), eroticism ( adorned bride) and in other pictures. On earth, however, the Church knows she is alien and on a pilgrimage (6). Believers become members of the body of Christ with various functions. They all grow towards Christ, who is the head of this body (7). In accordance with the divine and human nature of Christ, the church is a complex reality of hierarchical structure and mystical body, of visible assembly and spiritual community. In the Catholic Church it is visibly structured around the world, without excluding the possibility “that outside of its structure there are manifold elements of sanctification and truth to be found which, as gifts peculiar to the Church of Christ, urge Catholic unity”. The church is called to walk the path of Christ in poverty and persecution. However, it also includes "sinners in their own bosom", therefore it goes "at the same time holy and in need of purification" towards the full revelation of the divine mystery (8).

II. The people of God

God did not want to save people individually, but as a people. For this he first called the people of Israel before he concluded a new covenant in Christ with his people of Jews and Gentiles , in which all humanity is called to the dignity and freedom of the children of God (9). They are all consecrated to the priestly office of Christ by the Holy Spirit . The hierarchical priesthood makes the eucharistic offering in which the faithful participate “in receiving the sacraments, in prayer, in thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, through self-denial and active love” (10). The hierarchical priesthood is differentiated from the common priesthood of the faithful in nature and not merely in degree, although they are related to one another (10). The priestly community is shaped by the seven sacraments : Baptism , Confirmation , Eucharist , Penance , Anointing of the Sick , Consecration and Marriage (11). But believers also have a share in the prophetic office of Christ to bear witness. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, all of them cannot err in their faith. Their charismata , also given to individuals by the Holy Spirit, are examined by the hierarchy (12). In the Church all people are called to enter into global communion with one another. Even if the church is divided into different particular churches under its bishops and patriarchs , these are still closely connected and exchange spiritual and material goods with one another (13). The pilgrim church is necessary for salvation. Catholics, however, will not be saved if they apostate or only outwardly cling to the Church (14). On the other hand, the Catholic Church knows that all those baptized, even if they are not in communion with the Pope, are connected in many ways and pray for the unity of all Christians (15). But people who have not been reached by the Gospel are also ordered to the people of God, especially the Jews and Muslims . God is not far from even the heathen who seek him “in shadows and images”. Finally, he also saves those who do not recognize him without guilt, but who “try to lead a right life” (16). As the Son was sent by the Father, so Christ sent the Apostles . “It is the duty of every disciple of Christ to sow the faith in his part” until the whole world praises and glorifies God (17).

III. The hierarchical constitution of the church, especially the episcopate

In order to pasture the people of God, certain offices in the service of their brethren are endowed with holy authority. Shepherds are to be the bishops. The council reaffirms the primacy of the Roman bishop and his infallible magisterium (18). Even the apostles were instituted by Jesus like a college and founded on Peter (19). This mission lasts forever. Therefore the apostles appointed successors. In the course of time, the office of bishops has come to prominence before presbyters and deacons (20). The bishops direct the pilgrims. In them Christ is present. They have been given the fullness of the sacrament of consecration to pass on (21). They exercise their steering office in unity with the Pope and in collegial communion with the other bishops. Together with the Pope, the Council of Bishops has the highest doctrinal power in the Church (22). The bishops work together across the boundaries of their particular churches , for example within the time-honored patriarchates or the younger bishops' conferences (23). The canonical sending of the bishops happens in different ways, depending on the right of reservation of the Pope. The latter can also deny the bishops apostolic fellowship; they are then not allowed to exercise their office (24). The bishops are authentic teachers of the faith, in unity with the Pope they are infallible , the latter also alone. To do this, however, it is necessary that he expresses this claim specifically in the linguistic formulation. Episcopal definitions are binding interpretations of the goods of the faith , but not a new revelation (25). The main task of the bishop is the celebration of the Eucharist ; there is no Eucharist without him (26). Legally, the bishops are given "their own, ordinary and direct" power over their particular church, so they are not representatives of the Pope, even if the exercise of their authority is dependent on him (27). The ministry in the church is three-fold. Depending on the bishops, the priests (presbyters) are co-workers of the bishops who they embody in their parishes (28). The deacons, who receive the laying on of hands “not for the priesthood but for service”, stand still one step lower. The council restores the diaconate as an independent ordo and opens it to married men. Unmarried deacons, however, must remain celibate (29).

IV. The lay people

The laity are part of God's people. Their particularities should be dealt with in outline (30).

All believers in Christ are understood here as laypeople, with the exception of the members of the ordination and religious orders. Lay people are incorporated into Christ through baptism and take part in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ . The laity live "in the world" with their "earthly tasks" ("world character"). They seek to “illuminate and order” the “temporal things” towards Christ and thus realize the “kingdom of God” by contributing “from within” to the “sanctification of the world” (31). Lay and ordained ministers share the same Lord, Baptism, Spirit, faith, dignity, and call to holiness. This is not contradicted by the difference in the tasks of lay people and shepherds: lay people and shepherds are closely connected, shepherds should serve the lay people and the lay people should work with the shepherds as their brothers (32).

Every lay person is called to the apostolate in the world by virtue of baptism and confirmation , strengthened by the Eucharist . Individual laypeople can directly collaborate in the apostolate of the hierarchy or “be called in to certain ecclesiastical offices” (33).

The laity have a “share” in the “priesthood for the exercise of a spiritual cult for the glorification of God and for the salvation of men”. They are "consecrated and anointed with the Holy Spirit " and "called to", "all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their marital and family life, daily work, spiritual and physical recreation" as "spiritual sacrifices " ( 1 Pet 2, 5) to offer God in the Eucharist through Christ and thus “consecrate the world itself to God” (34).

Christ also fulfills his prophetic office through the laity. This is particularly true in marriage and in the family. "There the married couple have their own calling to witness to one another and to the children of the faith and love of Christ." When there is a shortage of ordained ministers, laypeople can "fulfill certain sacred tasks on their behalf". Every lay person must seek “a deeper knowledge of the revealed truth” (35).

The laity must "acknowledge the innermost nature of all creation, its worth and its disposition to the praise of God" and "help one another to live a more sacred life". Due to their “responsibility in the profane areas”, they should contribute through their work to the fact that the created goods serve all people “according to the order of the Creator” and that just social conditions arise that serve the “exercise of the virtues”. Their dual affiliation to the church on the one hand and to human society on the other requires precise distinction and seeks harmonious connection. The “own principles” of the “worldly endeavors” are to be respected, whereby the laity, however, “must allow themselves to be guided by the Christian conscience in every temporal matter”. A laicism and a company without religion is discarded (36).

All believers in Christ have “the right to receive abundantly from the consecrated Shepherds of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the help of the Word of God and the sacraments ”. You can and should articulate your needs and wishes openly and confidently. Officials must respect them and also recognize their civil liberties (37).

Every layperson must “be a witness to the resurrection and life of Jesus [...] and a sign of the living God” so that Christians in the world are what the soul is in the body (38).

V. The universal vocation to holiness in the Church

Since Christ loved the church and gave himself to be sanctified , the church is "indestructibly holy ". That is why everyone in the Church is called to a holiness, the fruits of which are revealed in the way we live (39). However, Christ's followers are not justified on the basis of their works, but in Jesus the Lord , even if they are repeatedly in need of forgiveness . Like Christ and so many saints before them, they should obey the will of the Father in everything (40). To this end, everyone is called according to their own gifts and graces: as bishops, priests, deacons, lay people, as married couples and parents, widows, unmarried people and workers, as poor, weak and persecuted. They are all "sanctified more day by day when they receive everything from Heavenly Father by faith" (41). A true Christian can be recognized by love for God and for one's neighbor. Now nobody has more love than someone who gives his life for Jesus and the brothers. This martyrdom is given to a few, but everyone should be ready for it. Furthermore, holiness is especially promoted through observance of the “ evangelical counsels ”, through “ abstinence for heaven's sake” as a source of spiritual fertility, and through humility as equation with the obedient Christ (42).

VI. The religious

In following the evangelical counsels of consecrated chastity , voluntary poverty, and obedience , various hierarchical communities offer aids to progress. The religious order is not an intermediate position between clergy and lay people , but grows out of both groups (43). Through their vows, the faithful commit themselves more intimately to divine service, especially for the good of the Church. Their way of life expresses the sublimity of the kingdom of God above all earthly things and is therefore an unshakable part of the church, yet their status does not belong to the hierarchy (44). Rather, the hierarchy directs and protects the various institutes of perfect life . The Pope can remove them from the jurisdiction of the local bishops, but they still owe them respect. The Church also elevates the religious profession to the dignity of its own canonical status (45). In the religious, Christ should become more and more visible by proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick, converting sinners, blessing children and obeying the Father in everything. When taken freely, the renunciation of valued values ​​even means a special development of the human person . They are also not alien and useless to society, but lay their foundation in God in a spiritual way. Therefore the council praises religious and encourages them in their generous service to all people (46) and calls them to fidelity and perfection (47).

VII. The eschatological character of the pilgrim church and its unity with the heavenly church

In the heavenly glory all of humanity and the world that is most intimately connected with it, “now still groaning and in labor”, will be completely renewed. This restoration has already started in Christ and continues through the Holy Spirit in the Church (48). In anticipation of the return of the judging Lord, the pilgrims on earth are united with their fallen brothers. The blessed intercede with the Father in fraternal care for the living (49). Conversely, the pilgrim church offers intercessions for the deceased and honors in a special way the memory of the apostles and martyrs , the Virgin Mary and the holy angels and finally all the saints who are an incentive and example for the pilgrim church on its way. All veneration of the saints is ultimately aimed at Christ who is glorified in them. In the liturgy in particular , the Church is already attuning to the cult of the heavenly Church (50). The fathers adopted this belief from previous councils , but warned to put an end to abuses and exaggerations. Genuine veneration of saints seeks “an example in change, participation in community, help in intercession”. At the end of time , the whole Church of Saints will worship God in supreme bliss (51).

VIII. The Blessed Virgin Mother of God, Mary, in the mystery of Christ and the Church

I. In Mary the Word entered time. The Church continues this mystery (52). With regard to the merits of her Son, with whom Mary is indissolubly connected, she enjoys priority over all heavenly and earthly creatures . Mary is mother of the members of Christ, is mother of the Church (53). The council wants to shed light on the role of Mary here “with caution” only within the framework of the doctrine of the Church , without anticipating a complete theological doctrine about Mary . All Catholic doctrines therefore retain their right (54).

II. In Mary the promise of the victory of the woman over the serpent is fulfilled . Mary "stands out among the humble and poor of the Lord who trust and hope for salvation " (55). Because of her free and not merely passive affirmation of God's incarnation , she has been gifted according to her task . Hence it is traditionally described as holy and free from all blemishes of sin (56). Her close connection with the Son can be traced in Jesus' life , in Jesus' birth and presentation in the temple (57), from the beginning of Jesus' public ministry at the wedding in Cana to the cross , where Jesus entrusted his mother to the disciple (58) . She was also with the apostles on the day of Pentecost and was finally absorbed into heavenly glory (59).

III. Mary's concern for people in no way obscures or diminishes Christ's sole mediation. Its wholesome influence does not arise from necessity but from the pleasure of God and depends entirely on Christ's mediation (60). By divine decree Maria has worked through Jesus' conception, birth and upbringing in the work of the Redeemer in a unique way, by giving people the grace bore (61). This motherhood goes on forever. Having been taken into heaven herself, she obtained the gifts of eternal salvation for people through her intercession . The Church confesses, experiences and recommends this subordinate task of Mary to the faithful (62). Mary is the type of the Church in terms of her faith, love and union with Christ (63). The Church itself is also called mother and virgin: mother, giving birth to children of God through baptism and preaching , virgin in unbroken fidelity to her bridegroom (64). But Mary is the archetype of the already completed Church, while the believers still struggle with sin and have to grow in holiness . But by immersing themselves in Mary they become more and more like her (65).

IV. Mary is rightly venerated as the Theotokos of God , because “all generations will call me blessed, because he who is mighty has done me great things” . This cult is, however, essentially different from the worship that is offered only to the divine Trinity (66). Thus the council calls for the promotion of Marian piety, but at the same time exhorts the theologians and preachers to refrain from false exaggerations and never lose sight of Mary's relationship to Christ, so that the “separated brothers” do not create a false image of the teaching of the Church (67).

V. As Mary, already glorified in heaven, is the image and beginning of the future church to be completed, so she already shines ahead of the wandering people of God (68). The council expresses its joy that Mary is venerated by many of the separated brothers and calls on all Christians to implore Mary's intercession “until all families of nations, whether they bear the Christian name of honor or do not yet know their Savior, in peace and quiet To be gathered together blissfully in unity to one people of God, to the glory of the most holy and undivided Trinity ”(69).


Two shorter notices are attached to the Constitution:

Declaration on the degree of binding nature of the dogmatic constitution

The council defines “only that as a doctrine of faith and morals binding for the church, which it itself clearly declares as such.” Everything else is to be accepted and recorded as the teaching of the highest church teaching office and interpreted as it is according to the “general, well-known "Principles of theological interpretation " results from the treated subject or from the way of the statement. "

Explanatory note on the third chapter of the constitution

“College” of bishops does not mean a group of equals who, for example, transfer their power to their chairman, but a fixed group whose structure and authority can be found in Revelation . One becomes a member of the college by virtue of episcopal ordination and through hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college. In order to release the powers of attorney, however, the canonical determination by the hierarchical authorities must be added to the ordination .

The college as “bearer of the highest and full authority over the whole church” is always understood together with its head. A distinction is therefore not made between the Pope on the one hand and the bishops as a whole on the other, but between the Pope for himself and the Pope united with the bishops.

As head of the college, the Pope alone can perform certain acts that the bishops are not entitled to in any way, such as convening and presiding over the college, approving the guidelines for the procedure, etc. He can exercise this authority at any time as he sees fit, but the college only acts occasionally in a (in the strict sense) collegial act and not without the consent of the head.

History of origin

The first draft of the constitution was drawn up by the preparatory commission De doctrina fidei et morum ("For questions of doctrine and morals"), which was assigned to the Holy Office and was headed by its prefect , Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani . This design was less a systematic presentation of the Roman Catholic understanding of the church , but rather a loose series of individual problems, many of which have been outsourced in the course of further work in individual decrees, such as in the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops , on the religious life , the Lay apostolate , missionary activity and ecumenism .

On the basis of this draft of the Theological Preparatory Commission, the church scheme was discussed and intensively revised in the first three session periods (1962–1964). On November 21, 1964, the final vote resulted in 2,151 votes in favor of 5 against and the constitution was officially promulgated.

In the second session at the end of 1963, the council decided “with caution” (Art. 54) to honor the Blessed Mother Mary in the context of this church constitution (and not, as originally intended, in a separate council document). This decision, however, was very controversial and, with 1114 against 1074 votes, was extremely tight, as the minority feared that the significance of Mary would be marginalized. Paul VI but underlined its importance by declaring Mary to be Mater Ecclesiae , mother of the Church, on the day of the final vote .

To accommodate a minority group of Council Fathers who saw the papal authority endangered, two appendices were also published.

Individual problems


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last affirmed on June 29, 2007 in a series of Responsa ad quaestiones that the Council had not changed the teaching of the Church but developed it. When it says in Article 8 that the Church of the Creed “subsistit in” the Catholic Church under the leadership of the successor of Peter - instead of “est” in the previous draft version - this does not mean a softening, but an expansion of the principle that the Catholic Church is fully identical with the foundation of Christ, albeit with defects in universality. The churches of the Reformation would therefore be called “ ecclesiastical communities ”, not churches in the full sense. However, this view of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also controversial among Roman Catholic council experts.


Between the upgrading and definition of the bishops, on the one hand, and the upgrading of the laity in the general priesthood, on the other hand, the role and identity of the priests remains little defined. The “post-conciliar crisis” developed particularly as a crisis over the life and ministry of the priests.


The church constitution has reached less public awareness than the liturgy constitution . Nevertheless, it is very important for the self-image of the Catholic Church and especially for the ecumenical dialogue .


  • G. Baraúna (ed.): De Ecclesia. Contributions to the Constitution “On the Church” of the Second Vatican Council , 2nd volumes. Herder, Knecht, Freiburg a. a., 1966.
  • Gérard Philips , Aloys Grillmeier, Karl Rahner , Herbert Vorgrimler, Ferdinand Klostermann, Friedrich Wulf, Otto Semmelroth: Constitutio Dogmatica de Ecclesia / Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). In: LThK ² 12, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1966, pp. 137–347 (= 1986, ISBN 3-451-20756-7 ).
  • Peter Hünermann, Bernd Jochen Hilberath (Ed.): Herder's Theological Commentary on the Second Vatican Council , Vol. 2. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. 2004, ISBN 3-451-28531-2 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Pesch 2001, pp. 138-140.
  2. Karl Rahner, Herbert Vorgrimler: Small Council Compendium. 22nd edition. Herder, Freiburg 1990, pp. 105ff.
  3. Alexandra von Teuffenbach: The meaning of the "subsistit in" (LG 8). The self-image of the Catholic Church . Utz, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-8316-0187-9 .
  4. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Declaration Dominus Jesus on the uniqueness and the universal salvation of Jesus Christ and the Church . No. 17 , August 6, 2000.