The fourth installment of Cardinal Montini’s Lenten pastoral letter of 1962 written in Rome, where he is helping to prepare for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. In this installment, His Eminence begins to address what we might expect from the council. See Part I, Part II, and Part III
28. All this is remembered and made almost evident in the celebration of the ecumenical council. The assistance of Christ to his Church is manifest in the fact that such an event is realized in full consistency with the original word of Christ. It is the thought around which the Bull by which Pope John XXIII announced the council is woven. “The divine Redeemer Jesus Christ, who before ascending into heaven conferred on the apostles He had chosen the mandate to bring the light of the Gospel to all peoples, and at the same time promised them extensive support in order to guarantee their mission: “Behold, I am with you all days even unto the consummation of the world” (Mt 28:20). This comforting assistance , which has been alive and active in all times in the Church, was noticeable above all in the gravest periods of humanity (Humanae salutis, 25 December 1961). As we said, (no. 13) the marks of the Church here stand out: here in the council, as never before, it shows itself one, holy, catholic and apostolic. As ever the divine-human consciousness of the Church holds: “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not of us” (Acts 15:28), as spoken by the apostles in the first Council of Jerusalem, so say the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
We can expect great things from the council: thanks, light, spiritual energies, and also renovations in the discipline, in the worship, in the administration of the Church, in its contacts with the modern world and approaching separated Christians.
29. Strengthened by this certainty that God loves the Church, that Christ assists the Church, that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, and since we are about to experience that, we must look to the council with great reverence and with great hope; reminding ourselves that we must see the intent that moved the pope to convoke the ecumenical council as a sign of the divine will. What does the Lord will by this council? Understanding the will of God would be a great thing: the game of love and the mystery of Providence, in dialogue with history, that is, the sum of the human beings free will in order to prepare for new destinies for the souls and the world, there would be revealed to some extent, and there would be an immensely open view: thanksgiving raining from the sky, responsibility calls to supreme choices, new sources of energy from the bottom of human hearts, the wonderful combination of timing and events of the plot that threads the current view with the things of yesterday and today into the future, towards the future and over time, the final coming of Christ. Superb, if still dim, the vision of a Christian is not totally myopic. But in order for the eye to open in such bright dim light it is necessary, as we said, to focus attention on the intentions of the pope, even in this case mediator, we can see, as a reflection of the only invisible mediator, Lord, Christ, between things celestial and things terrestrial.
30. Prior to repeating here the well-known answer to this question it seems appropriate to observe that the announcement of the ecumenical council has raised in the minds of all men, expectations, dreams, curiosity, utopian aspirations of all kinds, and many fantasies. Even in the faithful waiting for the council it has awakened a large number of desires and hopes (Cfr. Ils attendent le Concile, Témoignage chrétien, Paris, 1961. – Qu’attendons – nous du Concile? Pensée catholique, Bruxelles, 1960. – Un concile pour notre temps, art. di R. Voillaume. Ce que le monde attend de l’Eglise et du Concile, pp. 29-57, Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1961. P. Lombardi S.J., Il Concilio, per una riforma nella carità, Apes, Roma, 1961. Hans Küng, Concile et retour à l’unité, Unam Sanctam, Ed, du Cerf, Paris, 1961). This state of anticipation is justified, and does honor to those who feed it. We can expect great things from the council: thanks, light, spiritual energies, and also renovations in the discipline, in the worship, in the administration of the Church, in its contacts with the modern world and approaching separated Christians.
31. But we must avoid feeding capricious, personal, and arbitrary desires. We must not assume that the council will correspond to our particular views; rather we must enter the general views of the council. Believing that the council will put a stop to human frailty and immediately bring the Church and the world to perfection is a naïve dream. Believing that it will remedy many practical difficulties and also many theoretical imperfections of Catholic life, which each may encounter in his experience as a member or observer of the ecclesiastical society is asking too much. So, to believe that the council will implement these great ideas, which may be in the minds of individual Christians, or to particular religious groups is also excessive demand.
The whole Church, we might say, has helped to provide the arguments for its faith, its piety, its love for Christ and examinations for the deliberations of the great assembly of the council. This should comfort us and make us grow stronger: this is how our Church is!
32. The council – it should be noted – is being beautifully prepared, in order to collect the suggestions of the whole Church, all bishops, all the Roman Congregations, all religious orders, Catholic universities and all the many experts, men and women, people who study, live, and practice, clergy and laity have been questioned, with free power to express what they thought and wished for the good of religion and the Church; and many large volumes 1 have been printed to order and assemble all of this material for use now by the fathers of the council, and later by the gradual development and modernization of Church life. Never before a Council has had such a large and careful preparation. The council does not lack an abundance of tips, experiences, and aspirations. The whole Church, we might say, has helped to provide the arguments for its faith, its piety, its love for Christ and examinations for the deliberations of the great assembly of the council. This should comfort us and make us grow stronger: this is how our Church is! This is how the whole Catholic world, through his qualified voices, in particular hours of its history is free, or rather is invited to express and present in a competent and responsible place, judgments and desires of all kinds. A whole literature immediately and spontaneously came into forming about the next council, and surely another one will form after its completion. Whence it is that so-called dogmatism of the Catholic Church does not suffocate, but well evokes the thought of those who are teachers and disciples within its womb. It is the worship of truth proper to the Holy Church of God that makes such a phenomenon and it is pronounced as a large, living chorus without the countless number of entries to degenerate into chaotic confusion.
33 – At present, the chorister of the great living choir is the pope, who provided the ecumenical Council two fundamental topics: the inner reformation of ecclesiastic Life and the endeavor to reconcile the separated Christians in the Catholic unity of the Church. This is how He is talking to us: “the Council’s main purpose will be promoting Catholic faith growth, regenerating morality of the Christian people, as well as conforming ecclesiastic discipline to the necessities and methods of our times. This will be a wonderful show of truth, unity and love; and at this sight, we hope those who are separated from the Apostolic See, will perceive a sweet invitation to search and reach that unity Jesus Christ himself passionately asked for to his heavenly Father (Enciclica ad Petri Cathedram AAS – 1959, p. 511).
34 – Therefore the concept, so easy and so difficult, of the reform of the ecclesiastical life arises in our spirits. And this time, the pope himself is presenting it before the whole Church. A program for saints and trumpet of rebels, naivety of utopians and velleities of politicians, the deep need of contemplative people and pastors, untamed fancy of restless and stubborn spirits, over the centuries, from time to time, the reform has been the ferment renovating the Catholic tradition, and also the ferment ripening the ecclesiastic structure. Whoever knows Church history is aware of the importance and the dynamic of such a concept for the life of Christianity over the centuries. Let us be reminded, it was called to reform the great religious and political crisis that separated the Protestant from the Catholic Church, and the great effort made during the Council of Trent followed by the restoration of Catholic movement, to determine doctrinal issues and to repair moral evils, this crisis was inappropriately called the Counter-reformation, whereas it should be considered not merely as a defensive and conservative reaction, but a true and positive Catholic reform, still sending us, since the sixteenth century, abundant benefits. (An argumentation about the historical demonstrations of the reform concept within the church would be as long as its history. As far as the incubation of the concept before the Council of Trento cfr. H. Jedin, Storia del Concilio di Trento, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1949, p. 14 ss.).
35. We need to understand for ourselves such a concept of reform because it is very important in order to understand the purpose of the ecumenical council and to penetrate its spirit, and also because such concept is affecting the modern mentality deeply and diversely. From whence does this concept of reform originate? It germinates from two roots: from the observation of something evil and from a reaction conceived diversely.
We must differentiate two aspects within the Church: the divine institution and the community made of human beings; we could also say the ideal and the real aspect…
Hence it prompts a deceptive objection: can there be evil in the Church? Is not it the Church holy? Is not it the Church infallible? The answer is easy for those able to recognize the work of God within Church, its plan, its divine gifts of grace, its ultimate purposes aiming to God and to eternal life: this work is holy and sanctifying, in its divine principle is the Holy Spirit, and is infallible in some qualified and very special acts – such as the sacred dogmatic definitions. Yet, the work of God is accomplished by earthly men, who could be fallible and frail, even though are supported by the grace and the commitment of following Christ. We must differentiate two aspects within the Church: the divine institution and the community made of human beings; we could also say the ideal and the real aspect, or also the efficient cause – formal and ultimate, which is work of God, and therefore is perfect- and the material cause –still permeated by the formal one-, which is its human composition, resulting in imperfect human beings, maybe sinners, but always sanctified through Baptism. The first aspect is the stunning and immaculate example of the Church, like Christ conceived and loved her as a mystical Bride: “with no speck” – as Saint Paul wrote (Eph. 5, 27) “holy and faultless.” Yet not only an example, but a reality in the process of being implemented, which is showing its second aspect through its historical and practical expression: the humanity gathered in the militant and not perfect Church, but on its way to perfection and sainthood according the example, according the idea expressed by Christ regarding the glorious Church; eschatological, according the definition, that is reaching its ultimate goal beyond time (Cfr. Schnell, Der Katholizismus als Prinzip des Fortschrittes, 1897; Keppler, Wahre und falsche Reform, 1902; Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Eglise, Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1950, p. 92 ss.; De Lubac, Méditation sur l’Eglise, Aubier, Paris, 1953, p. 651 ss. e 76; Journet, L’Eglise du Verbe Incarné…, I, 314: “de ce point de vue on dira que l’Eglise visible peut bien contenir des pécheurs, mais non pas des péchés” 2; cfr. ib. p. 124 ss.; Philips, Pour un Christianisme adulte, Casterman, 1962, p. 167 ss.). Therefore, reform is the Church’s endless effort, which tries to bring closer the divine idea and the human reality, and the latter to the former.
36. In this way, our present earthly Church, learner of Christ, in its human corporeity and in its sanctification stage, is and must be in a continuous and tireless reformation process. The Church’s transcendent reality itself demands its natural reality to improve perennially. When Jesus tells us: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5, 48), and when Saint Paul warns us “As God’s dear children, then, take him as your pattern” (Eph. 5, 1), and urges us “to be renewed in spirit…and to put on the new man” (Cfr. Eph. 4, 23-24), we are invited to improve ourselves relentlessly, boundlessly and we should live in a continuous moral tension, which is the exact attribute of the Christian ascetic form in this world, and shapes the whole legal framework, the whole moral instruction, the whole ascetic and mystical Church’s vigilance. The reform is part of the Church’s ordinary program. The reform is endless.
More to come
- Work in preparation for the council is faithfully documented in: Acta et documenta Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II apparando, Series I (Antipraeparatoria) 4 voll., Series II (Preparatoria l), 4 voll., Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Città del Vaticano, 1960-1993. Ed. footnote in origina ↩
- “From this point of view we say that the visible Church may well contain sinners, but not sins” trans. Ed. ↩