Sunday, November 25, 2012

This Week at Vatican II  
          – Fifty Years Later

             December 1962



               In the 19th century, during the months leading up to the First Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Pius IX wrote to all the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church; they were informed that, if they “ended their separation” from the Roman Catholic Church, they would be welcomed at Vatican I – as full, validly ordained and consecrated Bishops.  During the same days in 1868, Pius IX issued a call to Protestant leaders and their people “to return to the Catholic Church,” ending their visible separation from Catholic unity.   Both the Orthodox and the Protestants were offended by the wording of the appeals. Neither group participated in the First Vatican Council.

               Nearly a century later, before Vatican II convened, Blessed Pope John XXIII –  with talents he had honed from years in diplomacy --- invited Orthodox and Protestant “observers” to the Council.  He joyfully welcomed them to the First Session -- the first time a Pope had ever met collectively with a group with non-Catholic representatives, including:

(Among the Orthodox:)

Patriarchate of Moscow

Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria 
Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch      

Ethiopian Church                             

Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia     

Russian Church in exile                   

(Among the Protestants:)

Anglican Union

Lutheran Federation

Presbyterian Alliance

German Evangelical Church

Disciples of Christ       

World Methodist Council

            Pope John had appointed the German Jesuit, Augustine Cardinal Bea, to be president of a new “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.”  Cardinal Bea, although seventy-nine years old, was a professor and Biblical scholar – and the “Biblical Movement” of the 20th century had often been a “meeting point” for Catholics and Protestants. Cardinal Bea welcomed the observers  with the words: “Instead of a long listing of your titles, which I certainly do respect, please allow me to address you with these simple but so profound words:

            ‘My Brothers in Christ.’”

            In a moving response, Dr. Edmund Schlink, a Lutheran professor from Heidelburg University, said that Pope John “by the initiative of his heart has created a new atmosphere of openness in regard to the non-Roman churches.”

            After six weeks, the distinguished professor Oscar Cullmann of the Universities of Basel and Paris explained to the press that the invited Observers had received all the Council texts, attended all General Congregations, could make their views known at weekly meetings of the Secretariat, and had personal contact with the Bishops and their periti --  “daily reveal(ing) to us how truly we are drawn closer together.”

            However, in “The Rhine flows into the Tiber”, historian R. M. Wiltgen recalls: “Professor Cullman also pointed out that mistaken conclusions were being drawn from the presence of the Observers … among both Catholics and Protestants who appeared to think that the purpose of the Council was to bring about union between the Catholic and other Christian churches.  That was not the immediate purpose of the Council, he said, and he feared that many such people would be disillusioned when, after the end of the Council, they found that the Churches remained distinct.”
Next Week: The End of the First Session
- Monsignor John T. Myler

              -- Fifty Years Later 

               November 1962

Prophetic About Social Communications

                 Inter mirificaAmong the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent, especially in the present era, have made with God's help, the Church welcomes and promotes with special interest those …which have uncovered new avenues of communicating most readily news, views and teachings of every sort.”

               During the first session of Vatican II – in late November, 1962 -- the Council Fathers began discussion of the schema on the modern means of social communications.  Over three days, more than 50 Council Fathers made interventions about the text prepared by the “Commission on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Press and Information Media.”  Additionally, proposals on the entertainment media had been drawn up by Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor, the rector of the North American College in Rome, who had served since the late 1940’s as president of the Pontifical Commission for Radio, Television and Motion Pictures.

               No previous Council had discussed such a topic.  Each Bishop received a copy of the proposed document, which consisted of four parts:
--- The Church’s doctrine on the subject
--- The media as a help to the apostolate

--- Disciplinary norms of the Church

--- Each of the major media: the press / cinema / radio and television

In their discussion, the Bishops spoke very favorably of the schema and the importance of the Church’s use, cooperation with – and, in some cases – regulation of the modern means of social communications.

               The Council Fathers agreed that these media could be of help in transmitting the Gospel message to all parts of the world;  ecumenical and inter-religious messages of peace, justice and human dignity could also be universally spread.  Nevertheless, the Church had a responsibility to see that “such a vast force will not be abandoned to evil.” 


               Among the suggestions was the institution of an office in the Vatican – or an expansion of Archbishop O’Connor’s  commission – which would “have the task of creating an official organization on an international, national, and diocesan basis for the communications media and for the purpose of forming and informing the public opinion.”


                Trained members of the Catholic laity had expertise in these fields.  Yet clergy and religious should also be given at least some training in the media, for as the Swiss Bishop Francois Charriere pointed out, Christianity is indeed a “revealed” religion.  By the time of the Council’s second session, the decree on social communications would be ready.                    

               In 1962, there was no Internet…no “emails” or “texting”…no “cable news”…no “blogs” or “instant messaging”… but the Council Fathers saw that new ways of communicating could be – for the Church and for the world -- a gift from God for the good of mankind. 


(Next Week: Observers)

-- Monsignor John T. Myler


Sunday, November 18, 2012

November, 1962 - 50 Years Later

           Eminent historians of the Second Vatican Council agree that “the week of November 14 – 21, 1962, which was devoted to discussion of the schema on the sources of Divine Revelation, represented a turning point that was decisive for the future of the Council and therefore for the future of the Church itself.”

          The discussion was about God’s revealing Himself to us:  Are Scripture and Tradition two separate, independent sources of Divine Revelation?  Or are these “two sources” an inseparable whole transmitted to God’s people generation after generation?

          The U.S. Bishops’ “Council Daybook” explained that four hundred years earlier, the Fathers at the Council of Trent had spoken of a “unique fount” of Revelation;  in the period after Trent, the term “two sources of Revelation” came into use among Catholic theologians during the time when they were defending tradition against the attacks of Protestants who put all their faith in “sola scriptura” – the Bible alone.

                Keeping in mind the ecumenical implications of the doctrine, some of the Bishops at Vatican II wanted an answer to the question: Are Scripture and Tradition to be considered two distinct sources – or a single source considered in two manifestations?

                At the same time, other Bishops (and some theologians) stated that the study and development of the doctrine on Revelation had not sufficiently matured and the time was not right for a doctrinal decision on the matter.

                Yet theologians and Council periti (experts) such as Frs. Yves Congar, Karl Raher and Edward Schillebeeckx  maintained it was clear that Scripture and Tradition cannot be separated from one another; rather – as God’s Revelation of Himself to the world -- they complement one another.  Congar emphatically stated:  There is not a single dogma which the Church holds by Scripture alone, not a single dogma which it holds by Tradition alone.”

                How could this Divine gift to the Church be stated clearly for the modern world?

                After a week of many interventions and inconclusive votes, the Council neared the point of a doctrinal “impasse”.  Would the document de fontibus revelationibus be discussed further? Or be amended considerably?  Or be rejected completely?

                On November 21, Pope John XXIII intervened.

                Archbishop Pericle Felici announced that the Pope had followed the debates closely – and recognized the truth in both propositions: that Scripture and Tradition appear as two sources of Faith, but that they stand side-by-side as the Church’s Tradition explains Sacred Scripture.  More prolonged discussions, tenacious and unproductive, would not clarify the matter. Therefore, according to Pope John’s wishes, a separate commission of eight Cardinals would be established to put the teaching in a clearer, more acceptable form.  In addition to the Cardinals, experts from the Theological Commission and the Secretariat for Christian Unity would assist.

                Their task was to explicitly restate the relationship of Scripture to Tradition – but to do so more concisely; to bring out the teachings of Trent and Vatican I; and not so much to “defend against error” as to speak positively and confidently.    

                From this “turning point”, it would take several more sessions and over two more years to produce the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, “Dei Verbum.”
(Next Week: Observers at the Council)
                                                                                             -- Monsignor John T. Myler

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 11, 1962 – Fifty Years Later

          The purpose of the Sacred Liturgy is to give glory to God (sometimes referred to as a vertical orientation).  The purpose of the Liturgical Renewal would be pastoral: so that people could better understand the Word of God and share more fully in His sacrificial banquet (a horizontal element).  This dynamic tension was present even prior to the Second Vatican Council.

          In February 1962 – just eight months before the Council’s opening – Pope John had issued an Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia maintaining that Latin should be used in the training of seminarians.  No professors or instructors, “moved by an inordinate desire for novelty, (should) write against the use of Latin either in the teaching of the sacred disciplines or in the sacred rites of the liturgy.”  Many thought this signaled the end of any discussion about the using the vernacular at Mass.

          Yet, a few months later in April 1962, the Vatican Congregation for Rites issued a decree that, all over the world, the prayers and blessings of the baptismal rite could be pronounced in the vernacular (except for the baptismal words themselves -- “Ego te baptizo…”). This more widespread use of the vernacular seemed particularly pastoral; parts of the rite could be used to instruct the people gathered for Baptism.


         During October and into November, the Council Fathers openly discussed the language of the Liturgy and the Sacraments.  Over eighty Bishops made “interventions” about the use of Latin and the vernacular languages.


         The Melchite Patriarch of Antioch – the venerable eighty-four year old Maximos IV Saigh – spoke in French (not the usual Latin) to the Council Fathers:  “Christ Himself had spoken the language of his contemporaries and He offered the first Eucharistic Sacrifice in a language which could be understood by all who heard Him, namely, Aramaic.”  He explained that, in the East, “every language is liturgical, since the Psalmist says, ‘Let all peoples praise the Lord.’ Therefore man must praise God, announce the Gospel, and offer sacrifice in every language.”


          The reaction of the gathered Bishops – from both East and West -- was very positive.


          Speaking in his own name and those of several other Council Fathers (including several Americans), Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani – the head of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office – appealed to the Latin language’s antiquity, universality, theological precision and sign of unity.  Latin – he said -- should continue to be the language of the Liturgy, and the vernacular should be used only for instructions and certain prayers.  Are we seeking to stir up wonder or perhaps scandal among the people by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved for so many centuries…? The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation.”


          Sadly, because of partial blindness, the elderly Cardinal Ottaviani did not see the signal to finish his talk after 10 minutes nor did he hear the instruction to stop. His microphone was turned off in mid-sentence.  Some of the Bishops applauded.


          Giovanni Cardinal Montini of Milan spoke as a mediator between opposing points of view.  He maintained that changes should not be introduced “on a whim” because the Liturgy is of both divine and human origin; yet the rites were not completely unalterable.  “Latin should be retained,” he proposed, “in those parts of the rite that are sacramental and, in the true sense of the word, priestly.”   Without discarding the beauty and the sense of the sacred and while retaining their symbolic power, “the rites should be reduced to a simpler, more easily understood form – eliminating what is repetitious and over-complicated”.


          The fervent discussion of the Sacred Liturgy – the “vertical” and “horizontal” dimensions truly forming a cross -- would continue into the Council’s Second Session, by which time Montini would be Pope Paul VI.           


(Next Week: The Sources of Revelation)                    Monsignor John T. Myler