Cardinal Montini: ‘Pensiamo al Concilio’ Part VI

The sixth installment of Cardinal Montini’s Lenten pastoral letter, written in Rome where he is serving on preparatory commissions for the upcoming council. See also Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

46. From these considerations, our wait is curious to other perspectives, first of all on those matters of faith. Will the council, as earlier expected, reveal some new teaching on revealed truth, some new dogma? We do not know, and this already indicates that the definition of some new dogma, as part of revelation, it seems improbable. There seems a rather widespread awareness in the Church that desires some sage admonition, some loving advice today on how we can preserve and deepen our profession of the faith, that faith which is the beginning of our salvation and spiritual heritage which is most threatened by a mentality created by the errors of modern thought and morality.

Pentecost by El Greco

Pentecost by El Greco

47. About the laws of the Church, canon law, on the practical arrangements by which the ecclesiastical authority governs the visible body of the Church, the community, composed of clergy, religious and laity. Of this chapter can expect many new features. The pope himself showed the way when he announced, combined with that of the celebration of the council, to submit the entire Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1917, to a general revision. In this respect, after the Council, legal science will receive an extraordinary explanation after establishing the criteria for such revision. It is anticipated that many reforms of this kind will be little felt by the multitude of the faithful, because, as we said, the Church cannot change its basic structure, its traditional appearance, will not break the law consistent with its interpretation of evangelical spirit (such as, for example, about ecclesiastical celibacy). 1 But it is conceivable that many innovations will be introduced by the council, and favorably noted, even by the faithful in the liturgical, pastoral and missionary fields, where facilities will certainly be offered to the apostolic ministry.

48. There has been talk of an “update” that the council should bring in concepts and rules that govern the life of the Church. What does update mean? that the Church has used the wrong tactic? that the Church is obsolete, is old-fashioned? that the Church is conditioned by external events? that everything that concerns it can be called into question? and that the Church finds reason for being and prosperity only if it put up with the natural evolution of secular history?

This council does not seek to instill fear… It inspires hope and love instead.

As you can see, serious questions loom, such as adaptation of the Church to the times and to the environments in which it is living, adaptation in many ways does not only what mean the Church suffers, but wants and promotes. It is part of its catholicity in time and throughout the countries of the earth this capacity to accept man as he is, provided that he conforms to the natural and positive law of God, and to infuse the spirit of truth and grace. But this adaptation is not absolute and does not affect the eternal and original values that the Church carries and offers to humanity. Relativism, as a shape of its pastoral expression throughout history, is not a sign of weakness or old age. It is rather an effect of an inner force, ever recurring, ever flourishing. This is the time to study the issue of perennial youth of the Church. But for now we just wait for what stunning proof the upcoming council offers there.

49. This innovative aspect of the next council is therefore promises to revive throughout the holy Church a sense of good will. This council does not seek to instill fear, even if it will have to correct error and evil with anathemas. It inspires hope and love instead. This explains the great popularity with which this event is expected. Each of us will have to look with longing and with confidence. We are all interested in its success.

But we must beware of two illusions that could become tomorrow’s disappointments as we view the next council according to the big picture of the economy and traditional history of the Church, and not so much on the screen of our own imagination or our personal desires. The first would be an illusion to think that the council will present the Church with radical and stunning legal reforms, changing its secular features to become an entirely new institution, and, as some say, modern, that is modeled on legal taunts of contemporary social life. Not so. The present legal structure of the Church certainly needs some tinkering, but it can not be substantially changed, it is not the result of an infidelity to the genuine thought of Christ and is not in a condition of decay and disintegration, it is rather the result of ‘historical experience, promoted by a strict regard for fidelity and consistency to the will and spirit of the divine founder of the Church and often combined with an instinctive approach to the study of love and honor for effective forms of human society, a trend that humanizes religion celebrating the Word of God made ​​man. And such a structure has been tested in its essentials from a wonderful testimony of wisdom and holiness, even where the human form has perhaps taken excessive and untimely proportions. As a result of the council the Catholic Church will not change its traditional connotations, it will rather restore, we hope, its logic and the fundamental needs and bring them to a good, very Christian, linearity.

Priests offering factory-style "private Masses" without congregations prior to the Second Vatican Council. Photograph courtesy Time, Inc., from Life Magazine.

Priests offering factory-style "private Masses" without congregations prior to the Second Vatican Council. Photograph courtesy Time, Inc., from Life Magazine.

50. The other would be an illusion to believe that the council will remedy many defects, imperfections, and abuses that we find today in Catholic life. Certainly the council will attempt to fix as many imperfections as exist in every area of Catholic life. It was not only that all persons who were able to give wise advice were questioned, but boards and commissions were created to turn this advice into practically executable formulas. But the council is not an immediate and magic cure. The council will provide programs to revise the discipline and worship of the Church; it will issue provisions and precepts in many areas in need of correction, updating and development. However,this is not its immediate greatness, or even its true efficacy. The council will not be measured purely by its legal and ritual successes. It will be a moment of the ineffable presence of the loving and merciful action of God in his Church. The council will first call for a more lively animation of the Holy Spirit throughout the Church, give unanimous expression to solemn, victorious faith, and set forth great ideas and great principles of Christian living derived from a new and passionate study of the Gospel and from that wisdom which drew light and growth of from the Gospel. This is what the council will do, that is, which it will bring the Church new consciousness, new energy, new commitment, new charity. The Council will provide the Church will give with an intimate knowledge of what it is, of what it should do and this profound and interior impression will give it a new power of expression: in preaching, in the apostolate, in testimony, in suffering, in kindness, in art, in holiness. But this effect will not be immediate or entirely visible. And what’s more this effect will not depend entirely on the council; it will depend on the whole Mystical Body, the Church, and will also depend on each one of us. Therefore, each of us must be committed, as of now, to accept with ready and filial obedience the prescriptions of the council.

51. The inspired words of John XXIII himself present such a supreme and partly mysterious purpose of the coming council and thus are instructing us: “the work of the new ecumenical council is truly and totally devoted to restoring radiance to the face of the Church of Christ, to the simplest and purest features of her birth, and to present her the same way the divine Founder made her: sine macula et sine ruga. 2

The council will provide programs to revise the discipline and worship of the Church; it will issue provisions and precepts in many areas in need of correction, updating and development

Her long journey throughout the centuries is yet quite far from reaching the verge of her transformation into triumphant eternity. Therefore, deeply meditating and engaging in a loving research about the signs of her most fervid youth, in order to put them together to reveal their conquering power on modern spirits, which are tempted and compromised by the false theories of the prince of this world, manifest or hidden antagonist of the Son of God, Redeemer and Saviour, this is the noblest intent of the ecumenical Council.” 3

52. Such a consideration can be integrated with the other most important conciliar expectation regarding the influences of the council on the contemporary world outside the Catholic Church. Because of its nature the world does not have any practical connections with such a great ecclesiastical event, and unlike the past (Hefele…, I introduz. passim. Sui Concilia mixta cfr. D. Th. Cath.: Conciles), including the Council of Trent, nowadays civil authorities are totally unrelated. The growing process distinguishing and separation of Church and State bars any presence of the civil society within the council; and this is an expression of modern laicism. Also any earthly power and temporal interference are barred from the discussions of this greatest event, both human and religious. Only the Church is entitled to celebrate it; the Church might be – God forbid- hindered and troubled while carrying out this event, as happened during Vatican Council I, but thanks be to God, as we stated previously (sec. 21) the Church is independent.

Soviet weaponry on parade in Moscow during the early 1960s

Soviet weaponry on parade in Moscow during the early 1960s

53. Nevertheless, necessarily the council will not avoid some particular reference to secular society. It is such an historical episode, such a human and visible event, such an assertion of principles and laws, such a source of elements affecting ideas and customs, such a concentration of international representatives, that the surrounding world will somehow take into consideration this extraordinary event and might benefit directly.

54. The council not only desires a relationship with the modern world, but also the international world. The pope repeatedly said, with wonderful emphasis, sounding like an echo to the old prophecies of the Bible. For example, listen to this: “… indeed the Church of God is expecting abundant fruits from this event, which is meant to be a service to the truth, an act of love, an example of peace announced to all people from this highest Chair…” (from the allocution at the Consistory of 16 January 1961).

“even though (the Church) does not have direct earthly purposes, however during Her journey she cannot ignore problems and sufferings of this world” John XXIII

And from the Bull announcing the council: “even though (the Church) does not have direct earthly purposes, however during Her journey she cannot ignore problems and sufferings of this world. She knows how beneficial to the soul are those means intended to make the life of single people, who must be saved, more human; She knows that vitalizing the temporal order with the light of Christ will also reveal human beings to themselves, leading them to find their true being within themselves, their dignity, their destiny. Hence the live presence today the Church reaches international organizations, by law or de facto, hence the development of Her social doctrine regarding family, education, work, civil society, and all the related issues, which has raised Her teaching to the highest esteem, as the most authoritative voice, interpreting and asserting moral order, avenger of rights and duties of all human beings and of all political communities. In this way, We strongly hope, the influence of the conciliar decisions will have such an impact, so that not only the inside of the souls will receive Christian light and be penetrated by a fervid spiritual energy, but the whole human activities as well (Bolla Humanae salutis, Natale 1961. Cfr. “Vita e Pensiero”, C. Colombo, La indizione del Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II, Gennaio 1962, p. 2-6).

More to come

  1. On ecclesiastical celibacy the council merely re-stated the doctrine of the Church, recalling in particular the decree Prebyteruim Ordinis. In fact, Paul VI, with a message read at the 11 October-1965 during the 146th General Congregation, said he did not want an inconvenient academic argument on the subject, reserving the question to himself (cfr. C. SOETENS, Interventions du Pape Paul VI au Concile Vatican II – Périodes II, IIL IV: 1962-1963, in Paolo VI e i problemi ecclessiologici al Concilio). International Colloquium of study, Brescia 19-20-21 September 1986, Istituto Paolo VI- Studium, Brescia-Roma 1989, pp. 565-566, Pubblicazioni dell’Istituto Paolo VI, 7. Paul VI issued the encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus in 1967 [cfr. AAS, LIX (1967), 657-697
  2. “without spot and wrinkle” trans. Ed.
  3. A passage from the speech given by John XXIII on November 13, 1960 during the solemn Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine-Slavic rite celebrated in St. Peter’s (cfr. Discorsi Messaggi Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, III, pp. 3-10)

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