Several times [during the preparatory meetings], resolutions to abolish the Congregation of the Holy Office outright were brought to the floor. In the sessions that took place last June, after Cardinal Ottaviani had ordered that the Italian translation of a pastoral letter on the Council written by the Dutch bishops be withdrawn from circulation, the Indian cardinal—vehemently supported by Cardinals Doepfner, or Munich; Koenig, of Vienna; and Lienart, of Lille—came to the aid of Cardinal Alfrink, of Utrecht, by informing the Holy Office, and the Roman Curia in general, that while ecumenical councils usually ended with someone in schism, this time, for once, it would not be the outsiders, because they happened to represent not merely the majority of the Church but the senior pars, and they expressed their disdain for the freemasonry (a nasty word in European ecclesiastical circles) of Italian prelates, who have held the Church in thrall for too long.
—Xavier Rynne, The New Yorker, October 20, 1962
What did the Holy Office find so threatening about the encyclical of the Dutch bishops that Ottaviani’s minions had to confiscate it from the bookshops of Rome? Here for the first time in English is the complete text of their encyclical, promulgated on Christmas Eve, 1960, translated by Janice Poss of Los Angeles from the French, Le Sens du Concile: Une Réforme Intérieure de la Vie Catholique.
The Sense of the Council: An Interior Reform of Catholic Life
Pastoral Letter of the Dutch Episcopate
The Archbishop and Bishops to the priests, religious and faithful, grace and peace.
January 25, 1959, at the closing of the International Week of Prayer, Pope John XXIII made known his design for an ecumenical council meeting or a general assembly of the world’s Catholic Episcopate.
After the words spoken by His Holiness: “The council is not the fruits of long consideration, but a kind of spontaneous flower sprung from an unintentional spring1” and “an inspiration from The Most High.”2Now that the first preparatory phase is finished and that the pope has instituted a series of commissions to approach the immediate preparations of the council, on the basis of the desires and wishes coming from the entire world, the opening of the council itself is approaching slowly and steadily. We can now certify by the series of publications and conversations that our faithful in the Netherlands are enthusiastically interested in these ecclesiastical events. When we travel to Rome to represent the seven Dutch dioceses of the Church there, we will know we will be supported by your participation as all in faith. But it is not only when, soon, we will be in Rome, it is from this point now on that we ask your collaboration. This pastoral letter wishes above all to be an impulse and an encouragement. But it wishes also to be a declaration. Unconsciously and involuntarily an impression has been created that an ecumenical council will be a space of a worldwide congress with a democratic base, where a meeting in which one will take into account the interior work of the Holy Spirit, and in addition, in a commendable concern for vital Catholic problems in one’s own country, one does not always show a Catholic openness for life and problems of the entire Church extending over the entire world. Thus often enough is born exaggerated hope concerning auxiliary problems, and one runs the risk of losing the vision of the foremost intention that came from the Pope, according to his own words which must not be misunderstood. In effect, the council can be: a voice that retains and resounds in all the Church, an exhortation of authentic life, according to the Evangelist, in order to obtain that we can present the Church in the world in all her splendor, ‘without tarnish or wrinkle3’ and that when the work of the council has ended, we can say to everyone: “See, brothers, this IS the Church of Christ. We are forced to be faithful to her, in asking of the Lord the grace that she always stay the way he wishes of her.”4
We are very conscious that the fecundity of the council depends on the work and devotion of the bishops and those who are delegated with its preparation. But directly or indirectly this depends on all of the faithful.
As this council enters into history as the Second Vatican Council and as the 23rd Ecumenical Council we expect interior renovation and reform of Catholic life, finally to attain the Church of Christ such as the one that our Lord envisioned. The most urgent and immediate preparation of the council, the one in which all must collaborate, the pope indeed sees it as taking first priority in revealing of a supernatural sense, this also seen by other clergy and the laity.5 In the renewal of evangelical life we recall to ourselves the permanent exhortation of Christ to penitence and conversion. Only this profound reality gives to faithful people’s wishes and desires their religious signification. If one separates these from this reality, these desires create an impression that the council will only be a sort of ‘container of ideas’ on the value of which several technicians would have given their advice.
We are convinced that the faithful people must carry their part in the success of the council by prayer and reflection on faith and on real situations. We are very conscious that the fecundity of the council depends on the work and devotion of the bishops and those who are delegated with its preparation. But directly or indirectly this depends on all of the faithful.
It is for this reason that we confer this work on ourselves to exhort you all to pray and reflect in the spirit of faith on the world Church’s sacred task; in a spirit that is not determined by a purely human or feeble or sinful mentality; but from a conscious faith of what the Church, with its hierarchical authority and believers must realize according to God’s design in the world in virtue of God’s vocation. This is why the moment is opportune to us to trace the grand lineage of the framework in which our conversations, our writings and our thoughts on this future council – that we want most formally to stimulate – must situate itself to be truly the Church. We are convinced that the historical fact of this council can also be envisioned from a secular point of view: sociologically and ethnologically, cultural-philosophically, religious-historically, etc. But that each one be convinced of a strict point of view apart from which itself is constructed from scientific considerations in being conscience that the actual center of a mystery of essential religious health is not taken here into consideration. What will not, indeed, impede that the fact to assume these secular, scientific considerations, partial, in the totality of a vision of faith on the council, we show the historic manifestation by which the Holy Spirit conserves, affirmed and perfectly without cease “truth in charity [love]” in the Church that accomplishes its earthly pilgrimage, of the sort which we all “believe in every regard toward he who is the head, Christ.”6
We are all convinced that we have the desire to be clarified on the religious signification of a council in an epoch where our antique culture seems to be in decline.
We have strong confidence that it is in this spirit that we want everything to have an effective preoccupied place concerning the council. We are all convinced that we have the desire to be clarified on the religious signification of a council in an epoch where our antique culture seems to be in decline. Here is why we want, against this backdrop that is the mystery of the salvation of the Church, to enlighten the dogmatic structure by an ecumenical council.
Chapter I: The Kingdom of God and the Church
The Sensitive Manifestation of Grace
In the grandiose visions where the prophets of the OT endeavored to sound the divine sense of history, it became more and more clear that God manifested the plenitude of his domination in our history “until the end of time”. At the time of consciousness of disorder and sin in the world, and in the life of humanity, born in Israel, under the inspiration of God, the powerful desire of the world was which really lived as the domain of the merciful God, as his Kingdom, a “kingdom of peace, of justice and of love”.Prepared by the OT, itself issued by the chosen people, appeared suddenly amidst the unhappy situation of the history of our earth, a man who announced out loud that “the Kingdom of God is near”.7 From this moment the domination of God in this world became visible and real: it appeared as historical fact in the course of our earthy existence. Vested with “authority” from God8 Jesus was really “in the midst of us as the Kingdom of God”.9 In his word, his acts – healings, miracles and exorcisms –, in the pardoning of sins, it became clear to all that God was manifest in a visible manner his domination and his power of grace. But Jesus was not only the manifestation of divine domination. He was at the same time in this world, by his full obedience of love for the Father – an obedience even unto death –, the perfect revelation of the positive recognition by humanity of divine domination. The domination of God was only entirely revealed in the filial submission of Christ to this domination. Thus the domination of God appears visibly as the “Kingdom of God” on the earth.
“To those whom we love, whom we redeem from sin by his blood, who makes us a kingdom, of priests for God and his Father, to him be glory and power from centuries to centuries.”
This divine domination finds its principal expression in the death of Jesus, the supreme act of submissive love; the first community of believers was tested by it in a sensitive way in and by the resurrection of Jesus, who is thus “constituted as Lord and Christ”,10 “living by the power of God”.11 “Now that he is raised at the right hand of God that he received himself from God, the Holy Spirit who had been promised, he has spread out among us what we see and hear”.12 In the community of believers, the “Church of God”,13 the power of God lives visibly near to us. In Christ the “domination of God” carries salvation in the form of an obedient man and thusly, fully manifested the Kingdom of God. From the same saving domination of God in and by Christ makes the Church a people who obey God, in whom the Kingdom of God lives visible on the earth. The people of God, the people who live in the proximity of God’s domain, is a people of believers who “know” 14 the Kingdom of God; that is to say that they experience the Kingdom of God such that he received historically from in this terrestrial world, and they have received at the same time the mission to make this Kingdom known to others.15 In the Church, the Kingdom of God that comes is then always near to us under a visible form. To them in effect “the Kingdom was given”16; everyone partakes, according to the word of the First Vatican Council, “to the Great Sign that was erected among nations and that invites all those who do not yet believe “. The entire people of God have as their task to edify the interior and the exterior of the Church as the “Body of Christ”. 17 Because in its totality the Church is the assembly of all who “previously were not a people and who are now the people of God”,18 who have been called by God in Christ Jesus, to become, as the redeemed of the world, the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God. “To those whom we love, whom we redeem from sin by his blood, who makes us a kingdom, of priests for God and his Father, to him be glory and power from centuries to centuries.”19
The Church is the Kingdom of God becoming.
Assuredly, this earthly proximity of the Kingdom of God is again sacramental, enveloped in signs. This tells us that the Church is again on the way. Church and Kingdom of God do not coincide perfectly yet. The Church is the Kingdom of God becoming. This advisement is addressed always to us, members of the Church: “You convert, because the Kingdom of heaven is near.”20 For each of us it is then clear that the visibility of grace is continually obscured by us all. Ancient things continue to exist next to new things. This is why the Church is not only a fact; she is for us all a task and a daily responsibility. They are not yet the triumphal sign of grace victorious of God. From this Christian victory she constitutes the humble sign dressed in the form of a servant. She is on the way to glorification; this is only the glorified corporality that grace manifests itself in its visible purity. But rich harvest cannot mature before the seeds die in the soil. The life of the baptized, from those who have entered into the ecclesial sign of the Kingdom of God, is consequently a struggle where the divine power shines across human weakness.
Priest and laity
Priest and laity, clergy and people belong to a unique great Sign, visibly elevated in this world as affective grace
Saint Paul from this earthly community in faith: “To each manifestation of the Spirit is given a common use”.21 There are “diverse gifts”.22 Each “is established by God in the Church”23 in a determined and proper place, in order that, “professing truth in charity, we grow in every regard toward he who is the head, the Christ, and of which each body, coordinated and assembled by all sorts of bonds, pulling its growth according to the proper force to each of its parts, and edifying himself in charity.”24 In this image of the Church, “nourished body and assembled by links and bonds”,25 the apostolic function, prolonged in the ecclesiastic hierarchy occupies its proper place in the middle of the people of God. Christ gave to his apostles: “full power”26; he who listens to them, listens to Christ27; to them was given the keys to the Kingdom.28 Plus with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, achieved in the glorification — as the most perfect visibility of the domination of God –, is remitted to their hands under the form of the Eucharist. In its own manner, so much in the realm of the leaders and the clergy as in the realm of the ecclesial people of God, the domination of God by the Spirit of Christ is at this point close by that she is experienced in fact: in its totality the Church is the visible concentration of the victorious force of the grace of Christ, which acts also however on the outside of the Church, precisely to lead each one to the plenitude of Christ in his Church.The Church is to say the least “the earthly domicile” of the Kingdom of God, the ray of light from the divine domination that approaches us in the powerful manifestations of Christ and in the obedient submission to the Father. This is why those who belong to the Church are the collaborators who “work for the Kingdom of God.”29 Because the glorified Lord operates now since his glorification, by the visible action of the Church, that which was operating during his earthly life by the visible action of his historic humanity. Indeed, when Christ lived historically among us, we entered the Kingdom by recognizing by faith the salvific operation of God in humanity from Christ, and by submitting in the obedience of faith to this salvific action exercised by his visible humanity. At the same time we enter now into the Kingdom of God by looking with faith at the reality of salvation that is Christ in the visible actions of his Church, “the body of the Lord”, and in us, submitting with faith, in an active participation, with the salvific action that he accomplishes by these visible ecclesial acts: in Word, in Sacrament, and in pastoral and administrative direction of the Church. The Church is then communion of grace with Christ, realized from the plenitude of Christ, in and by the visible sign of the exterior community of its leaders and of the people.
All the baptized are equally responsible for the Church and its function as sign in the midst of the world.
Priest and laity, clergy and people belong to a unique great Sign, visibly elevated in this world as affective grace: and in everyone, priests and laity, the Kingdom of God can see itself and hear itself as a force that invites and excites faith. In active personal participation with this Sign, that carries to all of us visibly as a gift of the grace of Christ, we communion with Christ, our salvation. One cannot thus find the ecclesial distinction between lay and cleric on the fact that the cleric is in charge of the Kingdom, while the laity, passive object of sacerdotal care, would have a secular task. At whatever point that the laity also receive, by their baptism or incorporation into the Church, the task to integrate secular human activity in the communion of grace with God in Christ, the ecclesial distinction between laity and clergy can uniquely base itself on the internal structure of the supernatural society that is the Church. This is because there is a community of faithful, of laity, a people of God, that it is necessary in the Church for leaders of these people, a hierarchic authority. And it is because this community of grace, interiorly united by the supernatural bond of faith, of hope and of charity [love], thus by the unity of the same sacraments of unique faith, that, in this community, authority cannot be of natural origin: it must receive in this way the full power of Christ, with the charism, interior force of his Spirit, tied by Christ to this supernatural mission. As baptized, laity, as well as clergy, are a sacral-ecclesial task. The clergy accomplish this task as authority and principle of direction, in magisterial activity, of sacerdotal direction and manifestation; while laity must have the same concern as the Kingdom of God, but this as the people of God, without the function of authority and then without official priesthood. The lay community itself also belongs to the form of historical manifestation and visible redemptive grace that is the Church. By their incorporation in the Church or by their baptism, laity are thus part of the essential function of the Church; they are charged with the task to give a visible form, in and by their whole life, to the communion of grace with Christ in faith. This is why all the baptized are equally responsible for the Church and its function as sign in the midst of the world.
The unity of faith, of hope and of charity [love] in the Church is not only a question of interiority; this unity is incarnate in the exterior believing community, directed by the apostolic function of the hierarchy. The unity of the Church, community of love founded on the unity of faith, is then an incarnate spiritual-religious reality in the exterior form of a visible unity, in which ecclesial authority and the people of God have each one their proper place and their active part.
Considering the place of the laity in the Church, we must say even though that the hierarchical direction, such as it manifests itself in this comprehensive fashion in an ecumenical council, becomes unthinkable without the proper contribution of the laity. This is what we are going to endeavor to show.
- Ellocution of the Italian directors of Catholic action, see Catholic Documentation, 1959, col. 1098. Equally see the Motu Proprio, Superno Dei nulu, Pentecost, 1960, Dec. cath. 1960, 705. ↩
- Doc. cath., 1960, 705. ↩
- Eph. 5:27. ↩
- Doc., Cath., 1959, 1008. ↩
- Short speech of Pentecost, Doc., Cath., 1960, 804. ↩
- Eph. 4:15-16. See Short speech and Pentecost, Doc. cath., 1960, 805. ↩
- Mk 1:15, Mt 3:2; 4:17. ↩
- Mk 1:27-28. ↩
- Lk 17:20-21. ↩
- Acts 2:16, 5:31. ↩
- II Cor., 13:4. ↩
- Acts, 2:23. ↩
- I Cor., 11:22. ↩
- Mk 4:11, Rom 10:9. ↩
- Mt 27:8-20, Acts 2:36-38. ↩
- Lk 12:32. ↩
- Eph 4:7-16, Col., 1:18,24. ↩
- 1 Pt 2:10. ↩
- Rev 1:5-6. ↩
- Mt 4:17. ↩
- I Cor 12:7. ↩
- I Cor 12:4-6, 14-26, 28-30. ↩
- I Cor 12:27. ↩
- Eph 4::15-16. ↩
- Col 2:19. ↩
- Lk 9:1-2, Mt 10:7. ↩
- Lk 10:6. ↩
- Mt 16:19. ↩
- Col 4:11. ↩