While in Rome participating in meetings in preparation for the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during the early months of 1962, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan, wrote a lengthy Lenten pastoral letter to his diocese about the council. He entitled his letter Pensiamo al Concilio, which, translated into English, means Thinking About the Council. This post is the first of several installments of what, as far as I can tell, is the first English translation of this important letter written on the eve of the Council.
Venerable brothers and beloved sons and daughters,1. We begin to write this pastoral letter from Rome where the preparation assemblies for the ecumenical council calls us, indeed we enter these preparatory assemblies for the ecumenical council to be held by the end of this year of 1962, as it was solemnly announced by the Holy Father, Pope John XXIII, with the bull entitiled Humanae salutis, of 25 December 1961. Indeed, we now know from the announcement made by the same pope that Vatican Council II will open on 11 October.
The importance of this event is such that there is no other theme to choose for our yearly principal instruction, even if the singularity and largeness of the announced ecumenical council has already provoked a thousand voices of explanation, comment, and warning, and even if preparations have already filled up the world of news and signals: in omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, “A report goes forth from through all the earth” (Ps. 19 :5).
…the council is questioning us as well not only because it in some way touches our interests and destinies, but also because if we are truly limbs of the mystical Body of Christ, we must participate in this event to a certain extent: the whole Church is expressed in the council, and we are the Church.
2. We have also recently said much about the council. From the very first moment the pope made the announcement we raised a cry of joy and hope, crying “the hour of God will soon arrive.”1 Publications, conferences, conventions, instructions, and prayers have already disclosed information and provoked feelings that would be enough to predispose our minds to celebrate the council; but we think that it is not useless to offer this our paschal message next to new reflections on a topic of much amplitude and much weight: to study in depth not only the historical and external significance, but also the interior, spiritual, human, and religious significance of this event, experiencing its mysterious and inebriating wealth, an event that does not have as have as its protagonists only men of this world, but another and great one, the life-giving Spirit, who animates the Church of Christ and who will now speak through such an event. We will therefore seek to set forth our thoughts about the council with all the good and fantastic religious fervor it has awakened, in order to give structure to such thoughts and to try, to the extent possible, to show its validity. The council seeks to take up many of the most interesting topics that regard the inner life of the Church and their influence on the spiritual and moral life of the world; we must somewhat prioritize them in our minds in order to know them better and grasp their meaning and importance. Finally, we should persuade ourselves about the universality of this event; the council is questioning us as well not only because it in some way touches our interests and destinies, but also because if we are truly limbs of the mystical Body of Christ, we must participate in this event to a certain extent: the whole Church is expressed in the council, and we are the Church. We must, therefore, as individuals and as a community, prepare ourselves for the council and to participate as much as possible; and then arrange ourselves correspondingly; since without such a communion of minds and purposes the celebration of the council would not fulfill its entire scope.
3. This vision of the extraordinary importance of the upcoming ecumenical council is made wider and more clear to our spirit in the present moment here in Rome, where we have spent the majority of our life, always straining to penetrate the mystery of the Church, while with humble but assiduous hard work we lend ourselves to the offices of the Apostolic See trying to discover and awaken signs of the perennial vitality of Christianity under the guide of the Successor of Peter.
The new commotion now present in Rome is strange to us and we do not know what it means, we thus feel ourselves obliged to take you into our confidence and to give you some preliminary instructions in order to draw your attention on the eve of the council, it seems to us coming from the Roman chair they will be more authentic and will be widely promulgated.
4. It seems that we should intelligently associate the idea of the council with Rome. Not that Rome is the only place for an ecumenical council: the majority of councils were not held in Rome. But it is clear that Rome is the best site for an ecumenical council because of her prominence; the fact that He make His congenial light shine in this place. Rome is the city of unity, the city of authority, the city of catholicity, the universal city, the city of truth, the city of love. And what is an ecumenical council if not the celebration of the human ideals that only the religion of Christ realizes, makes eternal, and sanctifies? Rome is the Church’s city; a council is a moment of fullness for the Church. Rome is the city of Christ, and while a council is meeting it is an hour of the mystical presence of Christ in His Church and the world.
A profound charism will animate the city. The human city transformed into the city of God. Rome will become Jerusalem.
5. It thus seems that the council will give to Rome a sublime and never perhaps surpassed splendor and it will instill an incomparable vigor to the Vatican’s word of God to men and of men to God. A profound charism will animate the city. The human city transformed into the city of God. Rome will become Jerusalem.
6. Two thoughts mainly flowed to our spirit in this swirling of feelings and ideas, which Rome usually evokes to those contemplating it, two thoughts, apart from other ones, with countless witnesses, being so easy in this blessed atmosphere to experience them. One is about Roma patria commnis: nobody is a stranger in Rome when he joins in its spirit. All those who will converge in Rome for this solemn meeting will find themselves not strangers, not guests, not travelers, but citizens. Whoever comes to Rome as a pilgrim knows and feels this mysterious election to citizenry in the true humanity. Much more, whoever will be welcomed to exert a duty – the ecclesiastical magisterium – universal of its own nature, will be at home. It is wonderful that there is a place in the world and in history where each and every one can feel at home. Even laymen and non-believers experience this mysterious feeling when in Rome. Please read this example: “I had a kind of wonderful feeling like being at home. It was my companion until the end of my stay and I don’t think it could be fully explained by the fact we are familiar since youth with pictures of so many of its monuments. I would rather say Rome is innate to each human being, it is like an ideal place of birth, which we join with something we have within ourselves, from which each of us has taken something. We can say it does not matter how wretched you are, Rome will tell you exactly what is in yourself, it will tell you an unrelenting truth…” (S. Negro, Seconda Roma, IX-X). We think it is a prelude to better understand the meaning and appreciate the value, the fact the council takes this sense of community, of brotherhood, of family just because it is summoned in Rome.
7. The other thought refers to hope, which seems to be running to Rome searching for its home, even if it is not always felt that way, a hope with a messianic and eschatological nuance. It is not correct to label Rome only as a town from the old time, which survived as a modern capital (see Gregorovius, Storia della Città di Roma nel Medio Evo, 1, 5-6). Rome contains a destiny moving towards the future. Its history is not over yet and at present it has not realized its mission in time. There is an expectation in Rome, there is a logic meant to evolve and to reach a new purpose. In Rome these are the premises which should be considered as promises.
Nothing ended in Rome, everything began there. In Rome human needs request and find their the supreme site of appeal. In Rome human thrust and humanly perfected art reside in their own castle, in their own workshop.
There is no room for pessimism on its soil; here redemption is always possible. Here peace is always attainable, here human progress can always be pursued.
There is no room for pessimism on its soil; here redemption is always possible. Here peace is always attainable, here human progress can always be pursued. Here the true humanism seems to find its endless evolution. The biblical word is at home here: “let us make mankind” (Gen. 1:26) in God’s image, which is according to the highest prototype and in an effort never satisfied with its results, this is the program.
Because here Christ is in progress: “…until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19) and the effort, and the mission of Catholic Rome: to preach and communicate Christ, neglecting impassible difficulties and persecutions with an unshakeable thrust of His glorious final return. The council, that is, the whole preaching and evangelizing Church gathering in Rome, will give the impression that its hope is unfolding, as a flag in the wind of history and will spread around the restless and doubtful world as an orienting and comforting sign.
- “Diocese of Milan Review,” p. 73 and 101-102 ↩