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

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