My photo
A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


On the Second Vatican Council II

Continuing my series, I have begun a close reading of the documents of Vatican II. Since the objections to the Council stem from a few of the sixteen decrees, I shall probably focus upon those most of all: e.g. Lumen Gentium, Dignitatis Humanae, and Unitatis Redintegratio. But first, I shall lay out the structure of the Council and examine as a whole the Opening Address of Pope John XXIII. Then I shall examine each Council text in the order of composition. When I reach a controversial declaration, I shall also examine pre-conciliar pronouncements to clarify the interpretation of the Council; so, for example, Pius XII's Mystici Corporis in conjunction with Lumen Gentium, Gregory XVI's Mirari Vos, Leo XIII's Immortale Dei, etc. with Dignitatis Humanae, and so forth.

The Second Vatican Council composed and promulgated sixteen documents over a period of four years, 1962 through 1965. They range from a constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to a decree on religious liberty (probably the most controversial of all the Church's pronouncements). In order of composition, they are:

Session I: 1962  
  • Opening Address of Pope John XXIII 
Session II: 1963
  • Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy)
  • Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communications)
Session III: 1964
  • Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church)
  • Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rites)
  • Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) 
Session IV: 1965
  • Christus Dominus (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops)
  • Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life)
  • Optatum Totius (Decree on Priestly Training)
  • Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education)
  • Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation to non-Christian religions)
  • Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)
  • Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity)
  • Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom)
  • Ad Gentes Divinus (Decree on Mission Activity of the Church)
  • Presbyterorum Ordinis (Decree on the Ministry of Priests)
  • Gaudiam et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)
Pope John XXIII prefaces the purpose of the Council: men are either with Christ and His Church, in which case they are blessed with light, goodness, order, and peace; or they are without Him, or opposed to Him and His Church, in which case they are thrown into confusion, bitterness amongst themselves, and in constant danger of fratricidal war. For this reason, for the sake of throwing light on the darkness of mankind, the Opening Address identifies several aspects of the Council's mission: to let the Magisterium, taking into account the errors, requirements, and opportunities of our time, be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world; that the deposit of faith may be guarded and taught more efficaciously, for it embraces of all man, everything that is human; to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without attenuation or distortion, which has become the common patrimony of men. Thus the Supreme Pontiff is not interested in revising or altering traditional formulas, creeds, explanations of the faith, etc. As he says,

The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all. For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.

Vatican II thus presupposes the Faith. It will not alter or change it, but will re-present it that the Gospel might be preached more effectively; that all men might recognize their duty of ceaselessly tending toward the attainment of heavenly things. This means all the harsh-sounding encyclicals, all the fierce anathemas - all these will be presupposed within the texts of the Council, and these must be our guide in interpreting it.

I wrote last time about the staggering naivete (I cannot call it anything else) the the Pope put forth, and there is no reason to harp on it. The Enemy has been hard at work among men, especially in the West, for the past fifty years, and the fruits are available for all to see. But in the midst of this unbelievable wishful thinking, a peculiar prescient section produced itself: "She consider that She meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of Her teaching rather than by condemnations." Now if all the states of the world were confessional and the temporal reign of the Pope were a fait accompli, Holy Mother Church would and should use condemnations to confute error. But our era is one of faithlessness; immaterial reality has, as a certain German put it, ceased to be meaningful for us. It is thus clear that condemnations require, on the part of the faithful, adequate formation in faith. Everybody knows that the Church forbids divorce. But Her authority is no longer, as it once was, sufficient to keep the purity of the Faith intact. It must be known, its truth must be demonstrated, proposed. The Second Vatican Council, then, is the first post-Christian Council. No longer can the Mystical Body rely upon the secular arm to enforce the truth; it must be appropriated and imbibed in its life-giving purity by all men without exception. John XXIII is thus calling all the faithful to become saints.

The Catholic Church desires to show Herself to be the loving Mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from Her. The Church does not offer to the men of today riches that pass, nor does She promise them merely earthly happiness. But She distributes to them the goods of divine grace which, raising men to the dignity of sons of God, are the most efficacious safeguards and aids toward a more human life. She opens the fountain of Her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and their purpose are, and, finally, through Her children, She spreads everywhere the fullness of Christian charity, than which nothing is more effective in eradicating the seeds of discord, nothing more efficacious in promoting concord, just peace, and the brotherly unity of all.

These are beautiful, inspiring words. The effusive naivete regarding the awfulness of humanity is still worrisome (and I'll probably encounter it again in the decrees), but the aim and purpose of the Council is finally clear. Next stop, Sacrosanctum Concilium.