From the very first announcement, Orthodox and Protestants have looked with great interest on the forthcoming Second Vatican Council. After some early enthusiasm, however, most ecumenicists have taken a more cautious view of the results that may be expected from the Council. In a recent talk given at the Jesuit Seminary in Toronto, Canada, Father Gregory Baum, O.S.A., discussed some of the misgivings now felt by non-Catholics. The text of Fr. Baum’s talk, reprinted here from the weekly The Catholic Messenger
(407 Brady St., Davenport, Iowa, $5.), follows:
In the year after the convocation of the ecumenical council by Pope John in 1959, the ecumenical climate surrounding the Catholic Church reached a level of unprecedented friendliness. The Pope had declared that the purpose of the council was the reunion of Christians. It was explained immediately, it is true, that the council would be an affair of the Catholic Church alone, but the aim of the endeavor to renew and adapt Catholic life to the needs of the modern world was to prepare the way for Christian unity.
New tensions have arisen. The attitude of separated Christians, Orthodox and Protestant, has become more reserved, more critical, and a little disappointed. Several pronouncements which have recently come from the Vatican have hurt, or frightened, separated Christians.
The response of Orthodox and Protestant Christians was, on the whole, very favorable. The ecumenical attitude of Leo XIII towards the Orthodox had finally borne fruit; and the friendly approach toward Protestants of Pius XII and the generosity of certain ecclesiastical documents published during his pontificate had been led to an unexpected fulfillment. Following the example of his great predecessors, Pope John expressed his sympathy and understanding for the Christians separated from the Church. Without expecting startling changes or complete reversal of policies, the Christian world looked forward to the council as the starting point for a more intensive ecumenical movement within the Church and better ecumenical relations with other Christian communions.
Orthodox and Protestants were hoping that the Catholic Church would remove from her life those obstacles to Christian unity which were not considered part of her essential structure. In a multitude of articles and books, published mainly on the continent of Europe, these Christians expressed their concern and expectations, and many of their suggestions were full of wisdom.
However, if we observe the ecumenical climate surrounding the Catholic Church in Europe in the spring of 1962, we notice that a certain decline has set in. New tensions have arisen. The attitude of separated Christians, Orthodox and Protestant, has become more reserved, more critical, and a little disappointed. Several pronouncements which have recently come from the Vatican have hurt, or frightened, separated Christians.The papal encyclical on Leo the Great, Aeterna Dei Sapientia, issued on November 11 of last year, has provoked a rather negative reaction among the Orthodox. It was felt that the ecumenical tone which Leo XIII had begun and which the Popes had continued since his days had been abandoned. The new encyclical presents Catholic doctrine clearly and sharply, without giving the nuances significant in the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. The new document asserts the papal claims without simultaneously conceding the traditional place to the Orthodox hierarchy, and more especially the second place to the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the Church universal reconciling East and West.
The Orthodox Bishop Emilianos, at present at Geneva, has expressed his regrets and disappointment in several articles dealing with the new encyclical. Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, has declared, in a public meeting in Paris, that the encyclical speaks of the Orthodox in terms which are not in keeping with the new ecumenical climate.A second instance which has disturbed Orthodox and Protestant Christians in Europe was the reception the Vatican accorded to Father Lombardi’s book on the ecumenical council. As is well known from the Catholic press, Father Lombardi’s book deals with the charity and spiritual perfection which must pervade the mystical body of Christ on this earth. Towards the end of the volume, in a section dealing with practical applications, the author suggests certain adaptations and reforms of the Roman Curia. The book, published with the permission of the author’s religious superiors at Rome, was criticized quite harshly, and apparently with authority, in L’Osservatore Romano, and the impression was created in this Vatican paper that the organization of the Roman Curia was not a matter for free discussion in the Church.
…the impression was created in this Vatican paper that the organization of the Roman Curia was not a matter for free discussion in the Church.
For the sake of clarity it must be mentioned here that the organization of the Roman Curia does not belong to the divine structure of the Catholic Church. Christ founded his Church upon Peter and the Twelve; and today it is their successors, the pope and the totality of bishops, who are the divinely established hierarchy governing the faithful. The Roman Curia is the administrative body, made up of cardinals, bishops, and other high ecclesiastics permanently established at Rome, through whom the pope exercises his supreme government in the Church. The Roman Curia has been re-organized many times in the history of the Church.
The affair of Father Lombardi, though perhaps of slight significance, has provoked rather unfortunate reactions among Protestants. Certain Protestant writers had, from the beginning, assumed a hesitant and incredulous attitude towards the coming council. They had claimed that papal power had reached such proportions in the Catholic Church of today that free discussion and significant organizational changes would no longer be tolerated.
Professor Benz, a well-known German scholar, had deemed it necessary to prophesy, rather unkindly, that the forthcoming council would resemble a Reichstag in a one-party state under a totalitarian head. Many Protestants have had the fear, not always expressed, that the Second Vatican Council will not enjoy the freedom of past councils but that the pope, or the influential men of the Curia, will impose their will upon the assembled bishops. The affair of Father Lombardi has appeared to many Protestants as a sign that the Roman Curia seeks to silence discussion before the council begins.
The third event which has created the low in the ecumenical climate of Europe was the recent apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia, on the use of Latin in seminaries. Protestant observers familiar with papal documents of the last two generations find in this document a mode of expression which is unprecedented in this century.
The style, they say, is quite unlike the tone of Pope John’s pronouncements of the past. They find the doctrine of the document difficult to reconcile with the claims made by recent popes in their mission encyclicals, the claim namely that the Catholic Church is not basically wedded to Western civilization. They are frightened by the sentence in the document forbidding Catholics to write against the use of Latin in seminary teaching. Some Protestant observers believe that this document is a means of intimidating the bishops in the Church and silencing free discussion before the council begins.
What is the Catholic reply to these interpretations? While we admit that is the long history of the Catholic Church, the Roman Curia, fearing loss of power, has often worked against ecumenical councils, we do not believe that this is true in the year 1962. The final answer to these interpretations can only be given by the council itself. The freedom of discussion at the council will demonstrate that bishops are still conscious of their divinely-given power to rule and to teach, and the willingness of the Catholic hierarchy to express their friendship and understanding to all men of good will, will demonstrate that the fears of Protestants and Orthodox were really unfounded.
From the May 11, 1962 issue of Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Used by permission.