Page 4, 17th March 1967

17th March 1967
Page 4
Page 4, 17th March 1967 — The Story of Pope Paul: A Moving Picture of Gentleness and Warmth

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Locations: Milan, Rome, Venice


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The Story of Pope Paul: A Moving Picture of Gentleness and Warmth


Pope Paul VI, Apostle on the Move. By Alden Hatch. (W. H. Allen, 30s.) THE TEACHING of the second Vatican Council concerning the "college" of bishops, in which the college of the apostles lives on uninterruptedly", was not accepted by the Council Fathers without vigorous and anxious discussion. A minority of them feared that their opponents wished to win agreement for a doctrinal synthesis which would diminish the authority of the Pope and of the first Vatican Council's decisions on that subject.

As a matter of fact, there is no conflict between the teaching of the two Councils, any more than there is conflict between the teachings of the Council of Ephesus on the divine motherhood of Mary and those of the Council of Chalcedon, 30 years later, on the full and true humanity of her Son.

In the sphere of practical realisations, however, there is no doubt that Vatican II has opened the way for a far more widely diffused system of government for the universal Church. There is today a good doctrinal basis for a large measure of pluralism within

the Church herself and for the exploitation of a distinction, dear to the Council, between unity and uniformity.

Papal intervention might become a comparatively rare thing, and the See of Rome might function more restrictedly than in recent centuries as an ultimate centre of unity and court of appeal. In such case, the personal qualities of the successor of St. Peter would be of marginal significance.

But the immediate effect of the Council could be des.ribed

as almost the opposite of this. Vatican II has presented to the Church an immense programme of renovation and adaptation which calls for urgent action. And the bishops, whether seen as a universal college or as national or regional hierarchies or as individual rulers of their dioceses, lack—for the moment—the administrative set-up, the practical expertise, even in many instances the effective will, to put this programme into rapid and effective execution.

In these circumstances, the responsibility of Rome remains very great and the person of the Pope, unlike n..: person of the British monarch, is as important as the person of the American President.

For these reasons — and there are others—Mr. Hatch's biography and appraisal of Paul VI is to be warmly welcomed; though the reader will bear in mind the inevitable limitations of any contemporary study of a living ruler.

The story takes us from the delicate childhood of the son of a well-to-do journalist and champion of social justice, to the birth of a priestly vocation in 1916, the young Montini's further education in Rome, and his selection for a junior post in the Curia. From then on, the life of the future Pope was centred almost exclusively in Rome, where he worked in his spare time as assistant to Mgr. Cicognani, the chaplain to the Roman lay university students, and soon succeeded him in that post; his former superior is now his Secretary of State.

The somewhat autocratic government of Pius XII was exercised largely through the instrumentality of Montini and Tardini as co-substitutes for a non-existent Secretary of State, and Montini became a devoted friend and admirer of his great master. His appointment as Archbishop of Milan — but not as cardinal, a dignity which normally went with the archbishopric — was a severe blow precisely because it separated him from the now ailing Pope.

Montini was still not a cardinal when Pius X11 died, and it is an astonishing tribute to his personal qualities that he was none the less regarded as a strong candidate for the succession. The Conclave may have thought that it was playing safe when it preferred to follow recent precedent and gave its votes to the aged Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Joseph Roncalli, for his part, amply recognised the qualities of the man he had ousted. One of his first acts was to bestow the over-due Red Hat, and in the first session of the Council Montini was the only Council Father given guest-accommodation in the Vatican Palace. There seems no reason to doubt that, as his death drew near, John XXIII looked upon Cardinal Montini as the best man to succeed him. The Conclave of 1963 decided likewise.

From that moment, the naturally shy and retiring man has lived in the pitiless glare of world-wide publicity. Called to succeed a universal idol, but widely different from him in breeding, temperament and training, he had to live, for the first two and a half years of his pontificate, with an ecumenical council not of his devising, and one that had taken shape in a way which was probably unanticipated by John XXIII him elf.

Meanwhile, world affairs were moving with terrifying speed. The eyes not only of Western Europe but of North America, Russia and the developing countries were all turned towards the Holy See.

Besides the Immediate threats to peace there were— and are—the menaces of a world population explosion; and against this background the Church's attitude towards birth-prevention has ceased to be only an agonising problem for many Catholic families and is now seen as an issue involving the future of both the Church and the world.

The reader of this book, while he may regret the lack of references and may sometimes ask how the author could have known some of the more intimate alleged incidents, will receive a very fair, and often most moving, picture of the way in which the Pope has met his almost overwhelming responsibilities. It is, to me, particularly interesting to observe how, unlike John XXIII whose greatest public successes seemed to be the happy outcome of unpremeditated intuition, Paul VI frequently discloses himself through an apparatus of careful contrivance that one might have supposed would be fatal .to any spontaneity.

He has been helped by the mass media of communication. As Mr. Hatch says, with • reference to the Pope's epochmaking visit to the U.S. for his speech to the United Nations, "the intimacy of the TV camera, which strips a person bare of pretence and shows his inner self, has revealed the gentleness and warmth behind his sombre image." Of that gentleness and warmth, ternpered in suffering, all who know the Pope personally could testify.

History moves inexorably forward. What, then, can we expect of Paul VI's leadership in the years that are coming? We should do well to bear in mind a few simple facts, most of them duly noted by Mr. Hatch, The present Pope is, in his opinion, more conservative than John XXIII. Already at the time of his consecration as Archbishop of Milan he had received from Pius XII the watchword : "Preserve the deposit." This duty must weigh on him with overwhelming force in his office of successor of Peter.

Secondly, he aims at progress through "consensus" rather than through the victory of one wing of opinion over another. Thirdly, his mind has been largely formed by Jacques Maritain and Cardinal Journet, and is probably not easily attuned to the very different thinking of a younger generation. And it must be steadily borne in mind that many of the leaders of the conservative wing in the Council were leading curial figures who remain, almost without exception, in their former seats of power.

It has yet to be seen whether the Synod of Bishops, due to meet this year, can serve as an effective counterpoise to these constant Roman influences. Thus there is little need to fear that the Pope will embark on courses of dangerous radicalism. And there are grounds for hope that his powerful compassion and willingness to listen will save us from reaction,

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