By FR. GREGORY BAUM, O.S.A.
ACERTAIN tension seems to have gone out of the Vatican Council following the vote on religious liberty three weeks ago. There is a general feeling that the important decisions of the Council have been made.
Throughout the last two weeks the discussion on the schema on
the Church in the Modern World continued, and was concluded
last Friday. These debates were carried out with great serenity.
It is difficult in a single article to cover the many subjects contained in the present schema or to mention the many important issues raised by the bishops in their speeches.
Part I is of great theological importance. Its style is most unusual for a conciliar document; it almost reads like an essay.
In simple and often moving sentences, rush is described in terms of his freedom and responsibility. He is a creature of earth called to a spiritual adventure. At the core of his existence is conscience, his conscience. where God awaits him.
At the same time man is in cornmunity. He belongs with others. Fle cannot grow alone. From this
follow beautiful paragraphs on ihe basic equality of men, on social charity and the love of enemies, on the insufficiency of an individualistic moral code, on responsibility and participation.
Man is described as a worker. lie transforms and humanises his surroundings. Work, culture, earthly realities have therefore a spiritual dimension. 'They are values in themselves.
Through a growing inter-connectedness and co-ordination, the human community is able to transform the earthly surroundings more effectively and advance the material and spiritual culture in which men become more able to realise their dignity as persons. Following the writings of Pope John, this process is called socialisation.
This description of man and the human community is presented against the background of the extraordinary evolution which characterises the modern world. The social, psychological, moral, and religious changes proper to the present age are dramatically set forth. elocfs world is in a state of evolution. and man's part in it is defined by his capacity to love and his power to transform nature. What is the relation of the kingdom of God to this earthly community in slate of evolution? This crucial question was discussed at length by the bishops.
The schema presents the world as a place where sin and destruction are constantly threatening the integrity of man and the growth of human community, but it also sees the plan of God as revealed in the Old Testament and in the Incarnation of God's Son, as the gratuitous and merciful guarantee that the forces or redemption are everywhere at work.
God is at work in the world overcoming evil, leading the human family into communion with Himself. In this design the Church is His primary instrument.
Many bishops felt that this vision was rather tote optimistic. The reality of sin taints every human activity so that the world, even when perfected by the corporate endeavour of marl, remains profoundly ambiguous.
The world of men remains under the judgment of God. The greatest effort of the Christian is, therefore,
not to transform the present world, but to prepare and initiate the age to come.
This is a deep theological problem. Since the convictions of Christians diverge rather widely on th is central issue, the schemer will not he able to solve it. There is, however, a broad area of agreement.
All Christians agree that it is man's vocation to love, to serve, and to build comnumity, and all Christians agree that judged by the total victory of Christ on the Last Day, life on this earth, even when lived in communion with others, is a pilgrimage through desert land.
Christian spirituality can become this-worldly and Christian holiness communion-centred ee ithout solving the difficult problem of biblical eschatology.
What is the Church's mission in this universe? A short chapter deals with this. It tries to recuncite the Church's mission to save men for communion with Christ and the glory of the age to come with her mission to serve the human community in this age so that the will of God be done on earth and men become a single family of brothers.
The order of redemption includes the order of creation. The life of faith includes responsibility for the brethren on earth. Today more than ever before has the Church entered into solidarity with all of humanity. The Church realises that she is not alone: she is in fact helped by the humanity surrounding her and the advance of secular society. The present historical situation justifies the shift of emphasis in the Church's self-understanding and in the evaluation of her own mission in the world.
"The explosion of the social conscience--a phrase used by a bishop in his speech—also marks the treatment of the special topics taken up in Part 11. We do not have the space to present these issues in this article.
Part It was written rather rapidly by various sub-commissions. It did hot qu ite follow the dynamic understanding of the human reality proper to Part I.
There was a great deal of discussion on the Council floor. As usual, the bishops expressed many divergent tendencies. It will be difficult for the drafting commission to find a way that will satisfy the entire episcopate. It is quite likely therefore that the schema will eventually be published not as a conciliar constitution, but simply as a letter or a message addressed to the human community.
Dealing with concrete probleme such as the family, the advancement of culture, the economic life, and the establishment of peace, the Christian wisdom the Council is able to proclaim, will remain tentative and conditioned by the present situation of human society. The Church does not directly affect the life of society simply by publishing a marvellous document. What really counts is that the documents promulgated by the Commit w ill deeply influence Christian teaching and change the conscience of the Christian community. The document on the Church in the World must make the Christian people enter into solidarity vs ith their fellow men and shoulder to shoulder with them join in the social evolution taking place in our day.
This article is also appearing in "C'ommonwear.