Page 6, 27th September 1963

27th September 1963
Page 6
Page 6, 27th September 1963 — POPE JOHN'S `REVOLUTION'

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Pope John, on the very first day of the assembly "handed the Bishops a Magna Carta whose full revolutionary import is only gradually being realised by the Council and by the world at large'. These words conclude the final extract from the book "Letters from Vatican City", by Xavier 'twine (Faber and Faber, 30s.), which the Catholic Herald has been serialising in the last five weeks before the Council's second session. The first session, in Pope John's words, was "a good beginning". W hat will be the verdict on the second session

opening on Sunday ?


ANYTHING but a superficial evaluation of the first session of Vatican Council H at this time would be temerarious. The man in the best position to judge the Council's accomplishment was Pope John, and he expressed full satisfaction that the two months' work had been both constructive and epoch-making, despite the fact that no decrees could yet be published as an augury of the assembly's impact on the Church or the world.

For the vast majority of the Council's participants, a revolution had been accomplished; it needed but the interval before the second session to clarify the details whereby all the world could see how the fathers had restored "the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth." As Pope John had made it clear from the start that "a holy liberty" was the prerogative of all men, he did nothing to force his opponents to see things his way.

The pope frequently speaks of himself as an optimist. In the case of the Council he realized from the beginning that it would be no easy task to get some three thousand bishops to settle down at once, and discuss the fundamental problems of the Church's business without argument or even heated debate. Remarking on this phase of conciliar activity he is reported to have asked: "What would you expect them to do, behave like a group of monks reciting the divine office in choir?"

Some commentators have even wondered whether the original failure to supply a rule of cloture for cutting off debate on individual chapters of the schemata was not a deliberate calculation: if there were no way of getting off a particular topic, the conciliar fathers would be tempted to talk to each other about every subject under the sun.

In actual fact, as the debate on the liturgy and more particularly on the use of Latin in the Mass disclosed, something of this sort happened. In the first three weeks of discussion, they touched upon all the important questions of contemporary Catholic interest from the collegial character of the episcopate and the nature of divine revelation to the intransigenza of Curial procedure. Eventually the Holy Father did intervene, allowing the bishops by a standing vote to stop the debate on a particular issue.

But by that time those who took an active part in the Council's debate had made up their minds to push ahead effectively. Once or twice, particularly in the discussion on the sources of revelation and in that on Christian unity, successive speakers directly contradicted those who had spoken before them. But on the whole the Council proved to be a vast educative procedure rather than an outright debate, for a large proportion of its members had come to Rome knowing little of the theological and scripture problems bothering Roman churchmen. Those who took the care to inform themselves on thece grave matters left the Council with a thorough understanding of the Church's status in the modern world. Unfortunately a considerable number, particularly among the Englishspeaking bishops, seemed never' to have caught on to what all the talking at the Council wes about.


Despite the pope's optimism, there is still considerable concern behind the scenes. His health is a primary worry of course, for the work of the Council is only half done. and without his drive and paternal charity things could easily be brought to a standstill. While Pope John has accomplished something that will affect the course of the Ca tholic Church's history until the end of time, the spectrum of possibilities ranges from a miraculous renewal of its life and effectiveness in human affairs here and now. to a severe setback such as it received in the Protestant revolt and the age of the enlightenment.

Meanwhile the administration of important church offices still appears to be in the hands of the ultra-conservatives and the signs of their continued power and methods are very much in evidence.

L'Osservatore Romano in a special edition on December 9, on the second page immediately behind Pope John's quietly triumphal closing talk, ran an article on the "Work of the C'ouncil' by Fr. Ermenegildo Lio, 0.F.M.. a Defensor of the Bond in the Holy Office. In his article, omitting all reference to the sermon with which the Holy Father opened the Council and laid down directions for its pastoral orientation, the author stated that the Council must get round to condemnations— otherwise it would compromise the position taken by Pope John before the whole world (Fr. Lio said explicitly) in a radio message delivered last September.

This article was then repeated verbatim in a regular issue on December 13. The casual observer may well ask, who is really running the Catholic Church—the pope and the majority of the bishops in Council, or the advisors of the Holy Office?

Measured by the standards of modern "public relations", the Council was a huge success. It got more sustained publicity over a longer period of time than any other single religious event. Over a thousand journalists covered the opening session, and the effort they made to obtain authentic and live information was in the end a tremendous education for them, and through them, for the millions of people whom the Church would perhaps never have reached without their news stories.

Ingenuity, a prime factor in the competence of any journalist, was put to a severe test at Vatican Council II. But day by day. in the more enterprising journals at least, the news becenie more vivid and more accurate. The problems presented by the secrecy imposed on the conciliar fathers and accepted most scrupulously by the observer delegates proved a great hurdle. But each nation or language group, after sufficient clamouring on the part of its reporters. finally found a way to solve the difficulty.

In the wake of each conciliar session, for example, groups of bishops and experts were made available for questioning by the English, German and Spanish speaking journalists, and these experts gave a sufficiently expanded account of the day's doings to satisfy most newsgatherers.

In the past, particularly in Italy, the Church has generally had a bad press. This has prejudiced responsible Italian ecclesiastics against journalists generally. In other parts of the world, complaints have been registered against religious reportage, indicating that Church news is not infrequently distorted or biased. On the whole this could not be said of the reporting of the Council.

Some conservative minded Catholics were disturbed by the airing of differences of opinion between certain prelates and the majority of cardinals and bishops who took the pope's opening address to heart. It is impossible, however. to have the advantage of great publicity without paying the price of honest reportage. As Pope John himself said : "We have nothing to hide."

In passing it might be noted that, at least for the Englishspeaking prelates, the first article in The New Yorker seemed in a literal sense to be "news" when it arrived in Rome. Before reading this article, which was mimeographed by some bishops and passed around quickly among American. English, Irish and Australian prelates, many of them had known nothing of the disputes going on in Rome between some Curial officials and the Biblical Institute, for example; nor had they any

true notion of the reason for the pope's insistence on an aggiornamento.


In his summation of the first session, Pope John alluded to the remarkably good reception given to the conciliar father's activities by men of good will in many parts of the world. This is a fact whose appositeness can be appreciated only by comparison with the belligerently antiCatholic atmosphere that surrounded Vatican Council I less than a hundred years ago.

The Holy Father and the Church have good reason for continued optimism in this regard. In the secular press of the United States, Germany and Great Britain numerous attempts have been made to summarize the accomplishments of the Council; and while great attention has been focused on the differences and disputes, even they have been interpreted for the most part in a favourable light.

There was universal acknowledgment of the fact that this was definitely Pope John's Council. The revolution in Catholic activity and thinking associated with the first session is recognized as being due almost single-handedly to the pope's decision and his way of doing things.

As far as the end results of the first session were concerned, it can be said without hesitation that Pope John turned the old guard's way of doing things upside down. In this he has proved himself a supreme master. If thus far no one has really been hurt, it is owing to his reat tact and kindness. Certainly under no other modern pontiff would such latitude have been allowed to men in high places whose minds were so obviously set against the Holy Father's wishes.

The extremists are neither vinri nor convinti. As a matter of fact, after the first shock they have adopted two distinct lines of defence. The first maintains that the ultra-conservatives have actually been justified by the Council's course, the fact that no decrees were promulgated being proof that the Holy Father has been merely tolerating the show of independence and near rebellion on the part of radicallyminded prelates from the north and east. These latter, they complain, received all the good publicity. But the tried and true doctrine was protected by the Holy Spirit, whose influence will certainly be much more manifest on the right side at the next session.

Following another line, the less balanced group among them are somewhat bitter and unsubtle in their reactions. They refer to themselves as the "remnant of Israel", who have alone remained faithful to the traditional teaching of Holy Mother the Church. They compare themselves to the Macchabees being persecuted for the truth.

What they can neither comprehend nor explain, however, is the position of Pope John. The more fanatic occasionally refer to him as a simpleton who has been hoodwinked by the schem i ng notherners. Meanwhile, they believe he is being used by Almighty God as a kind of scourge, requiring them to practice herioe forebearance, which they do for the good of the Church.

One prominent U.S. mon

Signor goes about the campus of a Catholic University mumbling: "The damned Co4ncill" His Italian counterparts have a phrase of similar significance though further removed from the blasphemous.

What gives these men hope is the fact that in the meetings of the several sectors of the combined commission — Cardinal Ottaviani's Theological Commission and Cardinal Bea's Secretariat for Unity— which is currently dealing with the schema on revelation, the members of the Theological Commission have been able thus far to fight tooth and nail for the Ottaviani position.

It is known, for example, that the first two or three sessions proved most difficult. Cardinal Bea was practically forced to agree to a vote on a statement of doctrine concerning the sources of revelation that was ambiguous. to say the least. The result of this vote was in the neighbourhood of 19 in favour, as against 16 for rejecting the statement.

Cardinal Ottaviani immediately claimed victory. But just as quickly it was pointed out that according to the rules of procedure under which the Council was operating, a majority of two-thirds was required. The matter finally had to be referred to the pope, who settled it summarily. The verdict was, stick to the agreed two-thirds rule.


They know likewise that L'Osservatore Romano is still under their control. If news is not to their liking, it is not news. On January 13, 1963, for example, Cardinal Bea gave a revolutionary talk at Pro Deo University m Rome on the occasion of an annual agap? or fraternal celebration to which the represenatives of various religious denominations in the Eternal City were invited.

The cardinal spoke of liberty of conscience, stating that it was his intention to prepare a constitution on human freedom for presentation at the next session of the Council, in which the fathers would be asked to come out flatly with a public recognition of the inviolability of the human conscience as the final right of every man no matter what his religious beliefs or ideological allegiance.

He stated further that the axiom "Error has no rights to exist", which is used so glibly by certain Catholic apologists. is sheer nonsense, for error is an abstract concept incapable of either rights or obligations. It is persons who have rights, and even when they are in error their right to freedom of conscience is absolute.

Cardinal Bea further condemned the religious wars of the Middle Ages as an obvious evil, despite the fact that many of them were waged by Catholic prelates and even by a few popes.

In the mind of the Holy Office, these last two statements are so close to heresy that to this day no mention of this talk has been made in L'Osservatore Romano, even though it was the discourse of a cardinal closest to the Holy Father, and despite the fact that the Rome daily Ii Tempo vigorously attacked Cardinal Bea's talk on the following Tuesday.

Ordinarily, controversy concerning a cardinal that breaks out in the secular press is immediately smothered by indignant reaction in the collimns of L'Osservatore Romano under the rubric "Ribalta dei fatti" or "In margine", in which every possible attempt is

made to interpret the prince of the church's words or actions in a light most favourable to conservative Roman teaching. A cardinal's position in L'Osservatore Romano is to be defended at all costs. That this semi-official organ of the Vatican can have actually ignored the discourse of a cardinal of the Curia is simply incredible.

The Council has achieved thus far a major turn-over in Catholic thinking. Beginning with the discussion on the liturgy, slowly but with deliberate intent, a majority of the bishops, by a process resembling that of parliamentary debate, have begun gradually to strip the Roman Church of the juridical accumulations of centuries. In so doing, they have demonstrated that the essential fact about the Catholic faith was not a series of set formulas nor the bond of juridical unity; but its dynamic participation in and witness to the living, redeeming and sanctifying presence of Christ in the world.

They talked at first about the language and method of celebrating Mass and dispensing the sacraments. But what they proved was that each age and clime has a right to clothe these rites, essential to the wellbeing of the Christian, in a dress that fits the culture and intellectual pattern of the times. This was accomplished in a climate of free exchange, with an entrenched minority opposing every step of the way.

When a rule of cloture was finally admitted, it was immediately employed by Cardinal Tisserant, with the rousing approval of the fathers who had been arguing liturgical reform for over three weeks. The final vote on acceptance of the liturgy schema as a whole is known to have heartened the Holy Father, who had become somewhat apprehensive over the apparent tenacity of the opposition.

It shocked the ultra-conservatives, however, for they immediately reacted by a feverish attempt to dominate the discussion of the next, and for them, crucial schema. Its title, "On the sources of revelation", at once betrayed its tendentious character.

The Theological Commission that prepared the schema was controlled by the thinking of a small handful of theologians, all connected with the Roman universities, who had in common the belief that there was no other way of presenting the truths of the Catholic faith than by repeating the old and tried formulas and condemning all innovation.

Hence their work on the draft decree was quickly labelled by various conciliar fathers as "excessively professorial and scholastic, not pastoral, incontinently rigid. theologically immature, incomprehensible, offensive to nonCatholics, unsympathetic to scientific research in theology and exegesis, and too evidently reflecting certain schools of thought." The resulting draft was far from what the pope had in mind as stated in his opening talk: nor was it in accordance with what the majority of the bishops felt was now necessary.


Evidently the ecclesiastical old guard had neither been heeding the signs of the times nor reading the theological output of their students, who had grown up and become leaders in the Church at large. A good instance of this was the pitiful appeal made by Archbishop Parente to the native African bishops during the third week of the Council. Most of these Negro bishops had been trained at the Propaganda University in Rome.

Msgr. Parente, therefore, accused them of showing gross ingratitude toward their former teachers by siding with the northern European bishops. But the Africans were actually giving a magnificent lesson to the Council and to the Church as a whole. They had come back to Rome to learn what the Holy Father had in mind with respect to progress for their countries. They took their cue from some forty-two episcopal conferences or organized groups of bishops in different countries or regions, who met regularly, with executive committees for ad hoc activities, and attempted to attain local uniformity of ecclesiastical policy and action.

These groupings achieved a special consciousness of themselves at the Council, and may prove part of the answer to the widespread call for a decentralization of the Roman Curia. It was truly amazing to witness all through the Council the cohesion demonstrated by the 292 African bishops, who organized a secretariat to represent their nine regional groups in Rome on a permanent basis.

Of equal significance is the slowly emerging unity of the South American bishops (some 600 all told) who, thanks in particular to the concern of Rome for the fate of Catholicism in that area, the generous assistance of North American bishops, and their own theological centres, particularly in Chile and Buenos Aires, are gradually witnessing a renewal of Catholic thought along social, economic, spiritual and religious lines, which can alone save the continent from the grasp of Communism.

From the theological point of view, this episcopal collaboration according to natural human groupings, may prove to be one of the most important accomplishments of the Council, for it marks a return to recognition of the collegial pattern of government and the practice of the early Church as reflected in the letters of the second-century bishop and martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch and the third-century bishop of Carthage, St. Cyprian.

In defining the relations between the bishops and The pope. as the Council must do when it deals with the structure of the Church, most informed observers in Rome believe that this truly hierarchial development will receive canonical sanction. It will likewise automatically settle the disputed question of the power and position of apostolic delegates and nuncios.

The Council's overwhelming acceptance of the first chapter of the schema on liturgy was a truly revolutionary step, though the fact is only slowly beginning to dawn on observers here. An article by the noted Benedictine professor of Liturgy, Father Cipriano Vagaggini, published in L'Osservatore Romano for December 8, spells out the significance of the principles established in this conciliar document.

The Church's sacramental and prayer life is now acknowledged to be at the very heart of all its activities. It is the substance of the Catholic faith in action. Hence there can be no question of depriving the people of their proper part in the Mass and sacraments—and that participation means an intimate sharing of these ceremonies and sacred actions.

In seminaries and schools

there must be a new reorientation designed to make the students at once both liturgicaland pastoral-minded. In each country, or cultural area, the local episcopate is to determine how much national custom or native tradition can be legitimately utilized in the Church's ceremonies, while preserving of course the .basic meaning and structure of the Mass and sacraments, and referring to the Holy See for final directions.

This implicitly establishes the principle of the collegiality of the episcopate as a complement to the pope's position as primate, and recognizes the responsibility of episcopal conferences or groupings as units in dealing with the Holy rather and the Church. The question of the use of Latin in the Western Church is thereby reduced to a matter of minor importance; although it was on this point that the fathersin-opposition, at the beginning, chose to make their stand.

It is known here that when the Secretary General of the Council saw Fr. Vagaggini's article, he was outraged. For use had been made of material covered by the secrecy of the Council, and it had not been cleared through him. He was informed however that clearance had been obtained through the Cardinal Secretary of State, the article having been "inspired" by an editor of L'Os.servatore Romano on word from above.


The Council has had a decided effect on the collective consciousness of the bishops themselves. The entire episcopate has begun to realize what is implied by its collegial character. It has begun to see itself in the mirror of its true catholicity or universality. As Pope John said on December 8. "Each man must feel in his heart the beat of his brother's heart. [In the Council] there was thus need for a realization of diverse experiences. for an exchange of reflections, and a mutual encouragement in our pa st or a 1 apostolate."

The bishops have begun to understand that it is not sufficient to await passively for a charismatic inspiration, or to repeat the formulas of the scholastic manuals. They must take cognizance of the fact that they arc the free instruments used by the Holy Spirit as the proponents of the faith in their divine mission. and that they are given an immense task which they must accept with humility and courage. They had no right to think, in coming to the Council. as Bishop Sheen observed in a sermon to the journalists, that a Council made up of 3,000 fallible bishops would become infallible without excruciating effort.

On thing is certain. The Bishops quickly realized the full significance of their responsibility and of their liberty. On December 8 Pope John told them: "These providential debates have brought out the truth and have let the whole world see the holy liberty of the children of God such as it is embodied in the Church."

What was also evident is that there are no true heresies menacing the Church today other than fear of speaking the plain truth.

As R. gouquette points out in Etudes (Jan., 1963, p. 110) the serious theological opposition to the Council's accomplishments thus far came mainly from men who are devoted to the Church and its traditions, but who have unfortunately come to identify the present Roman Curial systern with the divine right of the papacy. They believed themselves in some way of sharing in papal infallibility. It is said of one noted Jesuit theologian that he had his first doubt about infallibility the day he discovered that the reigning pontiff disagreed with one of his opinions.

As regards the Council, these men seem to forget that the episcopate in session in a Council is an instrument of the Holy Spirit. It is thus that an American ecclesiologist, in a ponderous attempt to defend his good friend Cardinal Ottaviani from the "drum-fire of journalistic attacks against the cardinal" . . . in articles "remarkably alike for inaccuracy of observation and for pure malevolence" that arc to be found in "the Italian communist press, Time ...Newsweek." etc., fails himself to distinguish between the Cardinal's function as Secretary of the Holy Office and his position in the Council as a bishop and as chairman of the Theological Commission.

In the latter two capacities, the Cardinal needs no defence. He is entitled to his opinions

and has a right to express them as he pleases in Council or outside it. In actual fact as chairman of the Theological Cornmission he even had an obligation to fight for the retention of the schemata prepared by the committees under his control. But what Time and Newsweek in particular objected to were the methods the Cardinal used both before and after the Council to intimidate and even silence sincere and orthodox men who did not hold his opinions, His American defender says nothing of this accusation.

Since at this junction a theologian considered it necessary to defend the Cardinal's right to his opinion, by the same token, he might have thought it necessary to point out that journalists were free to make informed judgments about the figure made by the Cardinal as a leader of what quickly came to be the opposition at the Council; and that theologians are likewise free to

criticize his opinions and preferences.

That the Cardinal gave the impression that be was functioning at the Council as head of the Holy Office was unfortunate. For Pope John had made it absolutely clear — as does canon law (canon 222)— that the Roman Curia has nothing to do with a Council. That he likewise appeared to be using that same office to intimidate theologians brought to Rome by the bishops to assist them in understanding the work of the Council made it appear that he was hardly playing the game squarely.

It is on this score that the main bulk of criticism was levelled against Cardinal Ottaviani in the reports on the Council. On this plane he had to run the risk that every prominent man is exposed to in a .free society. He was expressing a viewpoint and attempting to act upon it. He could hardly expect those who disagreed with the propriety of his words and actions not to say so. It is certain that the Cardinal is used to this kind of give and take. It is his overzealous supporters who have actually given rise to most of the exaggeration in the estimates of his actions, and who have thus cast a shadow on his intentions.

'Act of Faith'

Pope John said, "The Council is an act of faith in God, of obedience to His laws, of sincere effort to correspond with the plan of redemption according to which the Word has become flesh." That these men should be upset by an expression of this truth, which is not what they had expected, should be comprehended with patience and sympathy: But it is also highly desirable that they use other means of expressing their Opposition.

The oblique, hidden manceuvres which they often employ have profoundly astonished and indisposed a great part of the bishops on the "periphery", and in particular the North American bishops, who have been badly impressed by a certain lack of fair play. Americans who have conic to the Council as neutrals, have departed transformed in good part because of these marKeto vres. It would hardly he beside the point had the commentator remarked that thus God would seem "to have brought great good out of evil".

The character of John • XXIII is so genuinely unpretentious that one hesitates to call him the hero of the Council to date, yet the ovations that greeted him on every occasion left no doubt that the majority of the conciliar fathers consider him so.

It is no small achievement to have launched the Catholic Church into a new era. The reform and renewal of the most ancient continuous institution of Western civilization were not simple matters to initiate. No one believed that the aggiornatnento, or modernization, that Pope John worked for so strenuously from the first months of his pontificate had been accomplished in this first session—a mere eight weeks could hardly do that — and the repercussions of much that has happened will not be felt for some time. But the process had been started. In the pope's words. this first session was "a good beginning".

An American bishop has predicted that when the sessions are resumed the Council will have shifted "from low gear into high". While this remains to be seen. one thing is certain: the pope. on the very first day of the assembly, handed the bishops a Magna Carta whose full revolutionary import is only gradually being realized by the Council and by the world at large.

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