From Desmond Fisher
THE biggest question-mark hanging over Vatican 11 is whether the c.:.onclusions reached here in Rome will be reflected throughout the Catholic Church.
Will the principle of collegiality, accepted by the vast
majority of the Bishops, be acted upon and in what way? Will the new attitude on ecumenism become a real force in the Catholic community? Will the declarations on the Jews and on religious liberty Mean any real change in Cathol ic a tl it tides?
Will the magnificent vision of the Church as the People of God, with the Bishops, priests and laymen sharing the exciting mission of saving the world, make the slightest difference to what goes on in the parish life of the people'?
These are important questions because the whole work of the Bishops in Rome will be of no use if nothing is to happen in the Church around the world as a result.
It is 110t eviggerating the issue I o point. 10 this danger, The fate of Papal encyclicals in the last 60 years shows why. Successive Popes have written great documents. They created a stir throughout the world. But did the world change as a result?
If P1We», in 'Terris, Mater Slavish(' and the earlier social encyclicals had had the effect they should, would Schema 13 have been necessary at all?
The problem is not merely one of finding practical methods of Rutting principles into effete. though this is an importent matter in itself. The real difficulty, it seems to me. is that Papal encyclieals were too often regarded as L igh-flown documents which made excellent suggestions for an ideal world bet which were not always practical politics in real life.
How can we he sure that the constitutions. decrees and declarations of Vatican I I will uol be treated in the same way?
There arc, I think. three reasons for hoping they will not. They coneern the very way in which the documents of the Council have been conceived: the yllegiai agreement behind them and the conviction with which they will be put into effect.
Conception The documents of Vatican II are the products of many minds. lit this they are unlike a Papal encyclical which comes from a Pope or from one or two close advisers. (Parem in 7'erris. for instance, is reputed to be largely the work of Mgr. Pavan, of the Holy Office.) The decisionteof Vatican II were conceived in a different way. The original working doetiments Were the vast books containing all the suggestions made in writing be Bishops after Pope John had an, nouaced the Council and asked them for their views.
From these suggestions. the preparatory commisstons drew up the original schemata, which were criticises] iu the Council debates and then rewritten in accordance with the Bishops' comments. Later again. they were brought hack for voting, when "modi" or amendments were put in and worked into the text.
The final document is, therefore, a synthesis of many views which often started off by being diametrically opposed.
Indeed, the great "miracle" of the Council, as Abbot Butler of Downside, has called h. is the fact that out of such diversity so great a measure of unity has beeo achieved.
The whole texture arid flavour of the Council's documents are. therefore. very different from a Papal encyclical. They are certainly more down to earth, Even when they ale purely theological -as in the great Constittition on the Church, the crowning glory of Vatican II -there is about them an air of belonging to the world or men and not to she world of angels.
Only Pope John achieved anything like this before in his two great encyclicals.
'the second reason for hoping the Council decisions will have more effective results is that they represent the fruit of collegial decisions.
The Bishops had to give their assent to everything in the Council's decrees and the size of the majorities in the voting indicates how large the agreemcht was.
A Papal encyclical had none of this collegial flavour about it. It came from on high. It treated of suhjects about which very few Bishops had ever thought deeply or in a theological way.
The Council's work was done on the floor of the aula and in the rooms of the offices where the commissions worked. At every stage, men with practical experience were eollSolled.
As the debates progressed. and the documents were amended to take the different viewpoints into account. the volume and degree of assent grew.
Bishops who had their suggestions incorporated into the text naturally looked at the document as, at least partly, their own work, They could never have done so with a Papal encyclical uhout which they had not even been consulled.
Even those whose ideas were rejected could see why. They could hear the case stated for the other side. And when the majorities built up for the opposite viewpoint, they could not but feel that the Holy Spirit was somewhere about, More than one unpredictable conversion of heart was achieved during Vatican IL
But the main cause of believing that Vatican, II decisions will be applied more widely and more fully than Papal encyclicals is that the Bishops themselves are convinced of their rightness and of their necessity.
They have gone through the process of debate, They have heard -argument and counter-argument. Their own views were taken into account. The final document is one which the vast majority or
Bishops will accept not only as fair but also as of great importance.
The way in which the Liturgy Constitution has been received is a proof of this. It has galvanised Bishops lino action. And those Bishops who might have preferred to do nothing about it, either front lack of conviction or from disinterest. are forced by the example of their colleagues to join in.
This is one reason why th move to strengthen the constitutional side or National Bishops' Conferences is so important. They will help to bring into line individual Bishops, who. for one reason or another, are not thinking with the rest of the Church. Of course, provision must he made to preserve the independence of Bishops who conscientiously object to some proposed legislation. But when it. conies to something like the Liturgy which affects the entire Church. it is well to have some way in which the force of his fellow-Bishops' example can influence the individual,
By and large, however, it is clear that it will not he a question of persuading the individual into line. The unanimity among the Bishops of the world is remarkable. It is something that no one could have foreseen. especially in the early days of the Council when the Church seemed divided down the middle.
The "miracle" of Vatican II has already taken place.