What did the Holy Office find so threatening about the encyclical of the Dutch bishops that Cardinal Ottaviani felt the need to confiscate it from the bookshops of Rome? Here for the first time in English is the second installment of 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. Read Part I.
Chapter II: The Sense of Faith in the Ecclesial Community and Hierarchical Direction
Revelation and Faith
The revelation of God in Christ is the gift of the personal self of the living God who makes himself known and intimately experienced in personal gesture, by which he comes to meet man, inviting him to living communion with himself. This is why the salvific reality of revelation, addressed to men and women, is not understood solely by divine acts of salvation that are historically dated (“public revelation”) but also by the interior word of God, in and by the grace of faith, or “the light of faith”, by which we can personally perceive in our heart the gracious offer of God’s salvation. This is the “salve of the heart”, of which spoke the apostle St. John, who made in a way “faith by hearing” or the truth preached about salvation can be equally perceived by the believing heart.1 “All will be taught by God”.2 Reattaching oneself to Scripture and to the several Fathers of the Church, the great medieval theologians, among others the saintly doctor of the Church, Thomas [A.] speaks in the same spirit about one “interior and divine instinct that invites us to believe”.3 The anterior councils also mention this as “an impulsion and an interior illumination”.4 Marvelous form of this Christian faith! The merciful intervention of God in history, that attains its culminating point in the person and life of the Man-God, becomes comprehensible to us, to us humans, in and by the public word of the prophets inspired by God. And finally personal grace of the light of faith opens the heart to each faithful person in the implication of this revelation.
If it was thus in the OT and in the time of Jesus, it is equally so today in the framework of the prophetic Church. Revelation continues to live in Christ, the head of the Church, and so in the Church, his body; by its prophetic mission the Church will open the senses and by the light of the interior grace of faith we learn interiorly from God what we hear exteriorly in ecclesial predication. Making allusion to this reality of grace, one of the fathers at the Council of Trent said:”As the Son of God does not always remain corporally among us, he sends the Holy Spirit, who reveals in the hearts of the faithful the mysteries of God, who instructs daily until the end of time. The Church in all truth and that eventually resolves doubts arise in the human spirit.”5
The sense of faith
Ecclesiastic tradition teaches unanimously that the certitude of the light of faith, expression in us of salvific action from the Holy Spirit, is of itself infallible.
Ecclesiastic tradition teaches unanimously that the certitude of the light of faith, expression in us of salvific action from the Holy Spirit, is of itself infallible. A conception of faith that is truly inspired by the sense of faith cannot be false. The difficulty comes from what all the conceptions of faithful individuals does not truly flow out of the sense of faith. “It is possible in fact,” says St. Thomas, “that a believer falsely names a true thing of faith from some human appreciation, but it is impossible that this takes place from the light of faith.”6 It remains to determine if what lives in public opinion about the Church is really the expression of the sense of faith, and thus infallible. The constraining force of the grace of faith, fortified by Christian charity, has then to say only a discrete function, hidden. This is a divine impulsion of the Holy Spirit, recalling to us what Christ was and taught, an impulsion that lives veiled concretely in the human conscience, in which all sorts of opposing tendencies from prejudices, foreign influences, human considerations, and even sins can veil the pure action of the light of faith and its delicate conduct. The light of faith, unction of the Spirit of Christ, always remains faithful to its directive role, even as the centuries pass before the eye of faith distinguishes with sufficient clarity and purity what has been revealed. The sense of faith is implicated in the divergent factors of conscience and human existence; so explains the progressivity of the tradition of ecclesial faith, which takes shape in the middle of trial and error and hesitations. But, by this submission perhaps capricious, the sense of faith will become more and more surely and clearly explicit about its judgment on faith. Here is why the concrete conception of the faith of a believing individual can neither offer us the guarantee of an orthodox faith, nor of what is good and salvific for ecclesial life. In the first instance we must refer ourselves to the collective conception of every ecclesial community.
At whatever point that the growth of the Church’s faith is influenced by strong religious personalities, she is still open to the community. It is a slow maturation at the seat of the entire ecclesial community. At the interior of this community all types of influences, opinions, impressions and theological tendencies act one on the other making themselves known to the community, are studied by yet others. Thus is born a continual process of confrontation and purification, in which all the faithful have their action; in sacramental practice, popular, in ecclesiastical movements, in theological work, in the intellectual aptitudes of all people, in sensitivity oriented in every way in the laity and clerics, etc., all factors run concurrent to the growth of the life in faith. In all this the light of faith ‘works’ in an imperceptible way, timid and indistinct at first, then later more and more clearly, across a process of complicated maturation, until all voices are united and express themselves at the heart of the community of faith that is the Church; the conviction that one determined conception is really the translation of things of which the Church has lived for a long time and that had their origin in the act and the word of the salvation of Christ. In this gradual fermentation foreign elements are eliminated little by little and theological formulation find adequate expression that was a manner implicit in the Church for a long time. If we are then really before a collective conception of all the community of ecclesial faith, this conception is fallible, not only in rite, but also in fact. “The faith of the universal Church…cannot be wrong”, thus just as Saint Thomas formulated the opinion of all belief tradition.7
The collective sense of faith and ecclesial authorityBut there exists a difficulty in the fact that we never very clearly see if we really have uniform faith throughout the Church. The appreciation on a presence of a unanimous conviction cannot be left to a natural or scientific instance. It is necessary here is an authority who receives power neither from human instances, nor even the community of faith that is the Church. We have already said that Christ was provided power here by doctrinal authority from a hierarchy: the pope as the head of the apostolic college of the world episcopate. By the charism of office and infallibility attached to it, only the ecclesial magistrate can determine from an infallible manner if a collective conception of faith is really in the Christian people a conception responding to a conscience of faith, in other terms if it agrees truly with the sense of faith that is itself infallible. That is why the world episcopate, in communion of faith with the pope, is the final judge of faith: norm and judge of our life of faith. This is not as if the doctrinal magistrate must uniquely make note of the existence of this faith. The slow maturation of faith is not only submitted continually to the direction or the correction of the hierarchy; the final judgment of doctrinal authority is really the judgment that, in virtue of the gift of infallibility, confines, precise and cleanly defines the content of faith, and that takes equally, from this judgment on faith, ecclesiastic measures that impose itself.
All this shows that official infallibility of the pope cannot be separated from the totality of faith in which it has been situated by Christ.
All this shows that official infallibility of the pope cannot be separated from the totality of faith in which it has been situated by Christ. The precipitated interruption of the First Vatican Council created the impression that the separated definition of pontifical infallibility is an isolated dogma. In fact the personal infallibility is inserted into the official infallibility of the global episcopate, itself carried by infallible faith of every community.
The manner of which ecclesiastic authority assesses the conceptions of faith of the believing people, its judgment under form of definitions and of directives, exert themselves in a wide variety of ways.Already in the current predication of faith by the episcopate, that reaches in general the believing people by the intermediaries of priests, shows itself as the “ordinary magistrate” of the Church. The First Vatican Council defined that what was unanimously announced by the global episcopate in communion of faith with the pope was the infallible expression of the faith of all the Church. It is evidently not always easy here either to determine to what measure this unanimity is present in the daily predication of faith by the global episcopate. This is why canon law has defined that this unanimity must “be manifest”,8 before we can speak of true infallibility. It follows that practically the last and absolute certitude that we have in a truth of faith is the extraordinary definition of the Church: that is to say either a definition ex cathedra by the pope, or a solemn definition of an ecumenical council or a meeting of the global episcopate with the pope. It is instructive to read in history how the bishops, conscious of their power in their own bishoprics, stayed also completely conscious of their collegiality with the other bishops and finally with the pope. Consciousness of this essential collegiality and collegial care for all the Church was born, above all in the third and fourth centuries, the need for general councils, in order to give a definitive solution to disputed questions, in the same way as in the earliest time of the Church the apostles went to Jerusalem on the occasion of certain urgent problems, in order to bring there the local clergy, “the ancient,”9 a definitive judgment, in these significant terms: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to we ourselves.”10 This collegial declaration put an end to all discussion: “causa finita est,” the problem received a definitive solution.
Chapter III to come
- I Jn 2:20-27. ↩
- Jn 6:45. ↩
- Commentary on St. John, chap. VI, lect., 5; equally, Summa Theologiae, IIa -IIae, q, 2 a. 9, ad 3. ↩
- See Denzinger, nos. 178 and 1791. ↩
- Council of Trent V, II and VII, 508. ↩
- IIa -IIae , q. I, a. 3, ad 3. ↩
- IIa – IIae, q. 2, a. 6, ad 3. ↩
- Code of Canon Law, Can. 1323, no. 3. ↩
- Acts 15:6. ↩
- Acts 15:28. ↩