From our Council Correspondent THOUGH the Vatican Council Fathers will break off their debate on the project De Ecclesia tonight (Friday), they will have made enough proposals to ensure that an amended draft can be ready for their consideration when they come together again next September.
The main subject of dis
cussion so far has been the
sections dealing with the nature of the Church.
After the Reformation, the defensive spirit of controversy made theologians emphasise the visible and organised character of the Church, its monarchic structure and its juridical constitution, aspeels which were
bound to be prominent while the Pope was temporal ruler of Central Italy.
In recent times, the Church has been considered more from a theo logical point of view, and not so much from an apologetical or institutional one. Its nature as the mystical body of Christ has been
the subject of incessant study.
The visible and juridical aspects of the Church are by no means forgotten, let alone denied, but theo logians have preferred to throw light on the inner depths of the Church, on its actual and living relationship with Christ, its head, and its mystical identity with Him, so that it is seen as a Mystery, the efficacious sign of His continual presence among men.
Since this inner and divine aspect of the Church is stressed in scripture, it is more acceptable to our separated brothers, and it helps us to see the function and the relation of the various members of the Church in a new light.
Several Fathers have declared that this subject of the Church is the most important which the Council will he asked to consider, and that it is the very centre of all Conciliar discussions.
Theyhave asked that the draft be revised by a select Commission, since the various chapters are the work of various bodies of experts. It could thus be given greater unity, and so composed as to provide directives for all future discussions in the Council. There could also he more emphasis on the theological than on the juridical considera tions.
This would be achieved if the Church were first considered in itself, in its nature, in its relationship to Christ and to the faithful, and then in its relationship to the world, to those outside the Church, and to civil governments.
The draft has been praised espe cially for taking into account recent developments in the field of theology, and especially for stressing the nature of the Church as the mystical body, the nature and function of the episcopal college, and the sacramental character of the episcopate.
When the Church is seen as the mystical body of Christ, there is less emphasis on the primacy of the Pope, and more on the link of love and life which unites the rest of the Church to him in the solidarity of all in Christ.
The functions of the episcopate, priests, religious and laity, are seen in the light of the common membership of all in the one body of Christ. Their activities and duties are stressed in the context that all contribute to the gradual building up and growth of that body.
Their immediate relationship with Christ as redeemer, their intimate sharing in His redemptive suffering on the cross, are made clear. The dignity of their calling, as well as the value of their activity, are more explicitly recognised.
This theological development provides an admirable basis for the renewal of Christian life and the intensifying of pastoral action that has been set as an aim for the Council.
Given this context, it is natural that the role of the Bishops of the Church should he considered, not
only in their relationship to the
Pope, hum in the relationship of the Episcopal College to the Cob lege of the Apostles, of which it is the successor. Many Council Fathers find that this is not sufficiently expressed by the present draft.
The question of the infallibility of the Episcopal College may be proposed for discussion, and a
clearer definition of the rights and duties of Bishops, of episcopal conferences, and of Patriarchs.
There is a demand for a fuller and more explicit treatment of the sacramental character of the episcopate, and this would throw new light on the nature of the priesthood and on the relationship of the bishops and priests.
Much discussion has been taking place among theologians on the nature of membership in the Church, especially since Pope Pius Xll's encyclicals on liturgy and the mystical body, and this occupies a chapter of the present project.
A point of view, again more theological than juridical, looks primarily to the inner dispositions of those outside the Church who may, by faith and love, be drawn into life-giving union with Christ.
While affirming that, for salvation, it is necessary to belong to the Church in some way, the Council will indicate the ways in which such union may be realised, and the conditions for it to be effective.
The position of the laity in the Church is treated more positively, too, when seen in the light of the doctrine of the mystical body. As members, they are active elements in Christ's body. They have a function of their own in virtue of the divine constitution of the Church, and must not be seen merely as carrying out the directives of the hierarchy.
A distinction is to be made between what is officially called Catholic Action, which comes under the immediate direction of the hierarchy, and other forms of Catholic activity proper to laymen as such, especially in the pursuit of their own professions, which should form part of the organised activity of the one body of Christ.
The laity have their own mode of operation: and many , Fathers want this divinely appointed function of the lay members of the Church to be more expressly recognised. especially in view of the doctrinal basis whereby the lay
man is incorporated into the Church by baptism and shares in the priesthood of Christ by the sacramental character.
Church and State relations pre sent a touchy question for the Council, especially because of the very different situations in different countries. A century ago, Pius IX condemned those who advocate the separation of Church and State, but separation can occur in varying ways and degrees, and propositions are to be judged, not in the ab stract, but in their particular form, and in the light of the motives of those maintaining them, The Fathers will discuss civil and ecclesiastical authority; subordina tion of the end of the State to the end of the Church; limitations of ecclesiastical power; the duty of Church and State towards each other. Requests have been made that the Church's position be stated, not in the abstract, but with due attention to modern conditions, and in such a way as not to anta gonise civil authorities. The Church is ready for, but does not provoke persecution.
Religious toleration and freedom of conscience will come up. We may expect the Council to reaffirm the right of all men to worship God in the way they think right, and this would call for a complementary declaration that each individual has a duty to speak the truth to the best of his ability.
Mixed marriages, and joining with non-Catholics in prayer and religious services are certain to be discussed, and some alteration in the regulations governing these questions may be expected. The project also includes the question of ecumenical dialogue between the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church with members of other faiths.
Polish engineers last Saturday moved a 6,800 ton Warsaw church seventy feet back from a main road which is to be widened. 'the work, agreed some tine ago between Church and State officials, took only four hours.