Cardinal Montini: ‘Pensiamo al Concilio’ Part III

The third installment of Cardinal Montini’s pastoral letter, written in Rome, explains the Church as mystery, as a pneumatic synthesis of all who are joined to her. See Part I and Part II

19. Therefore the council is not like a parliament elected by people, but a body composed of clergymen invested of their own authority; it is not an assembly of experts, professors, theologians and canonists, but pastors and doctors of the Church of Christ; they are appointed to such office not because of a particular personal qualification, nobility or dynastic succession, historical or local privilege, but because they are legitimately appointed to succeed the apostles, if they are bishops, and they are given power and dignity, assuming a call from above which could fall on any individual’s shoulders [who is] considered suitable to such highest and important service, regardless of class, nation or race. Church authority comes from above, that is, derives from Christ only, not from the community, but it is not afraid to lower down through the freest choice of its elected. This is how the Church is. Also this feature about the Council composition will deserve our meditation in order to admire God’s work in a spectacular human event.

20. Since only the members of the Church of God appointed to the “authority service” are sitting in the council’s assemblies, it is understandable why the other members of the community of believers—priests, clerics and laymen—do not appear. Nevertheless the whole community is present in the council because its faith is expressed there, its interests are taken care of there, its pastors are guiding it, interpreting it and representing them there. If the council is conceived of as a meeting of clergymen, apart from the rest of the Church, we could not understand its synthetic nature: priesthood is for the faithful; more prominent is the priestly element in an assembly, more emphasized is the moral presence of the Christian people. Thus the council will represent the whole Church, because not even the pope or the episcopacy could be conceived without it.

21. Nowadays, during the assemblies of the council, civil authorities will not appear. They used to in the past, with various functions; anyway they were never intrinsic to the exercise of the magisterium. The growing clear distinction between civil and ecclesiastical society, typical of present public law, makes neither possible nor desirable civil authorities’ participation to the council. There, the Church will appear lonely, helpless, but free in its most complete and original expression (Cfr. Hefele, I, 41, n. 3, 47-48; 52; 57, etc.).

Christ is at the origin of the ecumenical councils.

22. These hints would lead us to take a look at the history of councils. However this would distract us from our purpose which is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to indicate the religious importance of the council for which we are preparing. One remark only we derive from the council’s historical sequence, about the collegial aspect of the episcopacy, as the successors of the apostolic college. Because the apostolic college had Peter as its head, the college of bishops has the pope as its head. We are reaching the root of the constitutional law of the Church. Therefore, the college of bishops assemble through the pope, who establishes the ecumenical council by divine right (Wernz-Vidal – Jus canonicum, II, p. 444, n. 457. – Christ established neither the obligation, nor the time, nor the mode for instituting a council, which He subordinated to the power of the keys, that is to the fullness of jurisdiction given to Peter over the whole Church).

Christ is at the origin of the ecumenical councils.

23. In addition, a long series of these great assemblies (It is commonly accepted to count up to twenty-two ecumenical councils, computing among them the Jerusalem Council, narrated in the Acts of the Apostles (15: 6-29), and the next Vatican II. The dissident Oriental Church is only acknowledges the first eight ecumenical councils (seven according to some) all of them celebrated in the Orient and summoned by emperors, and subjected to the approval of popes. After the Council of Constantinople (869-870) there was a break until the Lateran Council convened by Pope Callisto in 1123. Since then ecumenical councils were celebrated in the West. There is a debate about the ecumenical aspect of Basel Council (1431) ending up in the Ferrara-Florence Council (1438-1442). For these reasons we do not have a common agreement about the total number of the councils (cfr. Refete, Histoire des Conciles, I, 79 ss. “A proper acknowledgement of these councils as ecumenical is not due to a papal legislative act including all of them, but just made its way into ecclesiastical practice and knowledge­” Jedin, Breve storia dei Concilii, p. 9, Roma, Herder, 1961). As everybody knows, there are uncountable non-ecumenical councils celebrated during the history of the Church: general, national, provincial, diocesan) 1 offers us the secular itinerary of ecclesial history, showing the most dramatic and decisive moments of Christianity in the world, in order to define the meaning of the word revealed by God, to assert the Church’s freedom, to recompose its unity, to let its inner genuine vitality spring from its own womb (cfr. N. Mosconi, Vigilia Conciliare, Rovigo 1961; Various authors: Le Concile et les Conciles, Ed. du Cerf, 1960; translated in Italian.: Il Concilio e i Concilii, Ed. Paoline, 1961).

The Church is not just a set of doctrines, precepts, and rituals. The Church is a mystery.

24. And here we are obliged to fix our eyes more deeply into this recurring historical phenomenon, so large a part of the life of the Church, in the determination of its thought and its spirituality, the robustness of its team, its survival and longevity. The Church is not only a visible institution composed of men. The Church is not only a unique historical phenomenon. The Church is not just a set of doctrines, precepts, and rituals. The Church is a mystery (cfr. De Lubac, Méditation sur l’Eglise, Aubiet, Paris,1953. – Congar, Esquisses du Mystère de l’Eglise, Ed. du Cerf, Paris 1953; Clérissac, Le Mystère de l’Eglise, – Hasserveldt, Il mistero della Chiesa, Ed. Paoline, 1956. Guardini, Il senso della Chiesa, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1960). It is a divine plan, a divine presence, a divine action. Design, presence, mysteriously visible action and mysteriously hidden: those who have the grace of faith, and lucidity of mind with the willingness to accept the faith, and the lucidity of mind with the willingness to accept the faith and to love and to live it, will see, understand, rejoice. But to enter into this mysterious inner vision and the vision of the Church will help the historic exterior and the same Church, which is a sign in itself, with its unmistakable notes of truth (20. Joumet,…p. 647 ss. – cfr. Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, passim).

And the Church, that is, humanity united in Christ, is nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s loving plan for us.

25. The Church is a mystery that forces us to look within the mind of God. It is, therefore, necessary to get used to making a humble, caring, loving, search for the origin of the Church in the divine thought, by treasuring the words of Sacred Scripture. Moving to this research we immediately make this sublime discovery: before we started looking for God, God was looking for us! “He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And the Church, that is, humanity united in Christ, is nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s loving plan for us. It is God who seeks his people and constructs His own Jerusalem in the Old Testament (Cfr. Sirach 24:11 ss); it is God who forms his people in the image of His Son, sent to redeem the world for love, in the New Testament (Cfr. Rom. 8:20; John 3:16).

26. Indeed, the Church is the continuation of Christ in time and the expansion of Christ on earth. It is His living presence. In the authority and teaching of the Church: “He who hears you, hears me” (Lc. l0, 16). In the community of the Church lawfully constituted: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). In activity and in apostolic succession, forever present: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice perpetuates this ineffable presence of Jesus among us: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

27. It is His saving action. That is, through its action saving, the vehicle; His instrument in the exercise of the authority of order, that is, administering the sacraments, and collaborating in the exercise of the power of jurisdiction, freedom and human second cause (Journet, ib., I, 132). The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus as the animator of the Church, and creates in it the grace, with His charisms and gifts (Cfr. Jo.: discorsi dell’ultima Cena; ad es. 14-16).

See Part IV

  1. This parenthetical note is one sentence that begins in the middle the single sentence that otherwise constitutes this section of the letter.

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