Saturday, February 4, 2012

On the "object" of Vatican II

According to Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaite in their book Pope John XXIII: Pope of the Century, one of the ways Bl. Pope John solicited input for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he announced it was when he came across a pastoral letter by a diocesan bishop that impressed him he wrote to that bishop right away seeking his advice about the Council. Of all the pastoral letters written by bishops prior to the Council two seem to have particularly struck him. The very first one that grabbed the pope's attention was by Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens of Belgium, who would go on to become something of star at the Council, and the other, promulgated for Lent 1962, by then-Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan, who would succeed him as Pope Paul VI, bring Vatican II to its conclusion, and begin to implement the Council.

Suenens was concerned that the Council not deal exclusively with ad intra issues, but would take up questions that concern everyone, issues such as war and peace, nuclear weapons, birth control (a question that in 1963, with the Council underway, Pope John reserved to himself and appointed a Papal Commission to study, the culmination of this process, of course, was Paul VI's last ever encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae), et al.

Montini's Pensiamo al Concilio (i.e., Let's Think About the Council) was a lengthy treatment of the upcoming Council. He believed "the central theme of the Council would be the mystery of the Church." He stated that he did not think the Council would declare any new dogmas. He clearly came down on the side of those who believed that the Church needed to cease being a kind of medieval fortress in the midst of the world and to better engage the world: "The Church will divest itself, if need be, of whatever royal cloak still remains upon its sovereign shoulders, so that it may put on the simpler forms modern taste demands." He went on to opine that "We shall have a Council of positive rather than punitive reforms, and of exhortation rather than anathemas."

Affirming Montini's impressions, Pope John, with his motu proprio establishing the commissions for the upcoming Council, set forth on 5 June 1960, wrote, "On the occasion of our first encyclical letter [Ad Petri Cathedram], we made it clear that the ecumenical council was being held with this primary object: 'The growth of the Catholic Faith and the renewal along right lines of the habits of Christian people, and the adapting of ecclesiastical discipline [the promulgation of an updated code of canon law and a unified code for the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome] to the needs and conditions of the present time.'"

The touchstone speech of his pontificate, at least to date, on the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council remains Pope Benedict's 2005 pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, in which he said, "there is an interpretation that I would call 'a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture'; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the 'hermeneutic of reform,' of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God." While I have quoted this passage numerous times, I found a corollary to it last night when I read the following passage from Pope John XXIII's Apostolic Letter, promulgated in August 1962, Appropinquante Concilio: the Council, according to Good Pope John, "will be a demonstration of the Church, always living and always young, which feels the rhythm of the times and which in every century beautifies itself with new splendor, radiates new light, achieves new conquests, while remaining identical in itself, faithful to the divine image impressed on its countenance by its Spouse, who loves and protects her, Christ Jesus."

1 comment:

  1. That is a stunning quote of Bl. John you have included, thanks for that.


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