The CATHOLIC HERALD'S theological correspondent in Rome sums up the first stage of the Second Vatican Council. Its theme he describes as "the collegiate authority of the Bishops and the supreme authority of the Pope". OOKING back on the I work of the Council, at e. end of its first session, one perhaps most struck by the :t that such a huge and un
eldy body did work.
It got off to a stow start, and pe John aptly called the first snth the Council's novitiate; r mechanically minded age ght call this first session its nning-in period. At the end it ss certainly working smoothly d in top gear, and showing elf to be extremely efficient. the beginnings were rather slow, C must remember that thc first tican Council took a month to ;anise its various working bodies, ereas at the end of the first week this Council the Fathers were eady debating the draft on the urgss
es was to be expected, experise called for revision of some of procedural rules. For the elec
n of members to the conciliar runissions the required absolute .jority of votes was abolished in rour of a relative majority: a w rule was brought in, allowing : Fathers to decide by standing te that a particular subject had en sufficiently discussed; and a nificant precedent was estabned when a draft submitted by a !paratory commission was sent ck for revision, although a twords majority in favour of such sision had not quite been iched.
rhe actual votings during the 36
'neral Congregations were 34, of ich one. was for the election of mbers to the commissions, four the general approval of schemas omitted, 28 on particular points the Preface and Chapter One of project on the Liturgy, and one that Preface and Chapter as a ole, This last vote is the only, one to C us a definite-or nearly sot to figure in the acts of the Juice. It was hoped that the Pope ght be present at this voting. but seems that he prefers to wait until complete project has been oroved before holding a Public ision.
le might seem that the Council .:aks up for nine months without fly concrete results to show for its work, but a little reflection tws how short-sighted and oneed this opinion is. In the first .ce, the decisions taken on the urgy are of the utmost portance, and lay down the ieral principles and directives for renewal and reform of the rgieal life of the Church. -hese decrees can well be called ich-making, for they allow for
• . development of new regional :s or variations in the Latin urch, and provide for a much re intimate and active sharing the faithful in the liturgical life the Church than has generally :n the case.
ihe Church emerges from the n arily defensive post-Tridentine iod. and shows herself now in her fullness. with the mobility I adaptability of the early cenles of her existence. when her rgical life was so full and free I varied; but she can now ternand direct the work of reform I adaptation in the light of the t experience gained throughout gen turies.
the amended text on the Liturgy ich has been approved by the uneil has won the warm 'royal of the liturgists; those who drew up the original schema admit that the present text is an improvement, and corresponds better to the needs and desires of the Church at large.
The bishops are equally satisfied, as the near unanimous voting proves, and they seem as surprised as they are delighted that such an admirable and widely approved result should emerge from the hotly argued discussions, where differences of opinion seemed almost irreconcilable.
This phenomenon points to what is perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the Council, the deep unity of faith and love which binds all together, in spite of inevitable divergences, and the growing conviction on the part of the bishops that the Holy Spirit is indeed present and active in this most catholic assembly in a semitangible manner.
The world episcopate has been steadily growing conscious of itself as indeed the Erclesiu ducerts, in intimate union with the Supreme Pastor, and as placed by the Holy Spirit to rule the Church of Goal. This invisible but deeply experienced presence of the Spirit shows itself in the guiding of the minds of the bishops as e body tnwards what is nicest fundamental and most apt; and in the recognition of what
expresses the mind of the Council
as a whole regarding the divine deposit of doctrine in relation to the needs and aspirations of men today. What has most impressed the world, and in particular the Observers representing non-Catholic bodies. has been the broadness, freedom and vigour of the conciliar discussions within the fundamental unity of faith and love that inspires all Wong part Those who came to the Council expecting to find themselves confronted with a rigid uniformity imposed from above and passively accepted have found themselves faced with strongly opposed or contrasted currents of opinion, and hot debates that moved, as the Osservatore Romano put it, "between the poles of the contingent and the immutable, of the actual and the traditional," in a remarkable union of freedom with responsible discipline.
From these debates there emerged a growing consciousness among the bishops of their fundamental unity on the basic issues, and of the active presence of the Spirit of God guiding and directing them.
Two themes have come to dominate the thoughts of the Fathers and will surely give to this Council its overall character: the Church and the Episcopate. The discussions on the project concerning the Church have in fact crystallised the work of the Council around its dominant theme, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and as the Sacrament by which Christ is actively everpresent to men.
All further discussions are to revolve round this central theme, and all further projects to be seen in its light. The minds of the bishops have been sufficiently clarified on this main issue to allow them now, in the nine months work that awaits them before the next session of the Council, to examine the other questions and problems set before them in the drastically reduced schemata, in their relation to the vivifying insight provided by recent theological developments regarding the nature of the Church. If the first Vatican Council was the Council of the Papacy, this one can be well described as the Council of the Episcopate, and it is the logical complement to the last Council, which was prevented by external events from reaching this subject on its agenda.
Stress is laid on the divine institution and the powers of the whole episcopal college in the Church as well as on the functions of the bishop in his own diocese, and on the sacramental character of the episcopal order, no longer to be seen Just as the fullness of the priesthood, but as the plenitude of the sacrament of Orders. of which the priesthood is a pariicipation. The recognition of the powers of the episcopate does not lessen its dependence on the Supreme Pontiff. but it enforces the authority of the bishops and leads to a decentralisation in the practical government of the Church, and to a greater power of adaptation to local conditions.
From the beginning of the Council it was evident that the
body of all the bishops could not
be identified, in its views and outlook, with the Roman Curia whose members are, very largely, Italian, and which has been the target of some outspoken criticism in the Council. The episcopate as a whole has on many points differences of opinion with the Roman prelates, and feels that some of their functions had been unduly restricted or reserved to the Roman congregations.
The Council has given a wonderful example of free and charitable discussion leading to the adoption of a common programme, and the working out of a solution by sharply contrasted parties, all animated by the one ideal of love and service of the one Mother Church in the unity of the one r r The Bishops have become more conscious of their close link with the Pope; and much of this is undoubtedly due to the tremendous influence of and wonderful respect of all for Pope John. 1 hough not physically present at the Congregations, his presence has been all the time in the background in a very active way, and his illness was perhaps providential in allowing the bishops to manifest their devotion and gratitude to him in so many ways. One bishop summed up his general impression of the Council in words which I cannot hope to better. so admirably do they express the character of this Council: the theme of the Council has been the collegiate authority of the bishops and the supreme authority of the Pope. It was eminently fitting that, with the presence of the Pope at the concluding session, the full and entire Ecclesia Docens was gathered round the tomb of Peter, the Rock of the Faith. For the bishops themselves, the Council has been in many ways a wonderful and most precious experience. From the human point of view, one could almost regard it as a kind of superior postgraduate course in bishopry; it was certainly for many an unrivalled opportunity to bring themselves, in a personal and dynamic way. up to date not only with recent doctrinal developments in biblical and theological studies, but with liturgical progress, and with new aspects of pastoral and missionary problems.
The daily contacts, inside and outside of the Council, of the bishops among themselves, the links welded between the various episcopal conferences, and the establishment of new conferences. with all the exchange of ideas and experiences that these contacts imply. must have had a profound influence on the pastors of the Church, one that wilt be operative now in their work of ruling their own clincesee.
The piesence of the non-Catholic Observers at the Council is a sign of a new Eirenic outlook. At the first Vatican Council, when a German bishop pleaded that many Protestants could be in good faith, an Italian bishop protested against such a preposterous statement; one bishop at this present Council humorously remarked that it must be on the road to success since he had actually seen one of the Spanish bishops talking to one of the non-Catholic representatives.
The effect of the Council on these Observers must have been striking; it will certainly result in a new attitude towards the Church. and contribute enormously to ereatinF the climate In which the re-union of all Christians, which is the remote objective, may become possible.