Protestants on the Council

Though the delegate-observers at the Second Vatican Council have respected the confidence of their hosts by maintaining discreet silence on the inner workings of the first session, recent statements from a number of them now reveal the basic reactions they reported back to their non-Catholic constituencies. These reactions, whether publicly or privately communicated, will certainly be the object of careful and sympathetic study by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and by a vast number of interested Fathers of the Council.

At the close of the first session, Rev. Dr. Lukas Vischer, research secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, expressed to Amleto Cardinal Cicognani the “gratitude and hope” felt by all the delegate-observers because of what they had witnessed at the Council. He summed up this experience in saying: “We have had free access to all sessions and we have been able to see repeatedly the great efforts made to understand our conviction, our own character, our experiences and our difficulties.” This sentiment came also from Dr. George A. Lindbeck, a Lutheran delegate-observer, who remarked: “Most moving of all, we have been entrusted to an astonishing extent with information about the inner difficulties of the Roman Catholic Church, in the confidence that we will use this knowledge with Christian love and understanding rather than maliciously.”

Repeatedly, too, observers testified to their gratification with the spirit of freedom prevailing in the Council’s debates. Some were frank to admit that this factor, among others, contributed to a sweeping revision of preconceptions, expectations and, in instances, prejudices they had entertained before the Council met. Thus, Pastor Herbert Roux, a French observer for the World Presbyterian Alliance, wrote that the Church has made a “remarkable effort of spiritual intelligence, humility and loyalty” in taking the initiative in ecumenical contacts with other Christians. And Prof. James H. Nichols of Princeton Theological Seminary, also a Presbyterian observer, described as “the single most striking impression” he brought home, “the maturity, depth, intellectual grasp and spiritual discipline” represented by the theologians assigned to lead discussions with non-Catholics. Other observers also spoke of the new image they have of ecumenical awareness in some Catholic circles where they never thought it existed.

The observers generally spoke with enthusiasm of the Council’s handling of the topic of liturgical practice in the Church. Dr. Vilmos Vajta of the Lutheran World Federation noted, however, that some of the emphasis on liturgical participation seemed lacking in the religious ceremonial of the Council, with the exception of occasions when the great Eastern liturgies were conducted. Similarly, the pivotal debate on revelation in mid-November won praise, though Anglican Bishop John Moorman, who had described the project on the liturgy as “hopeful—really forward-looking,” found the one on revelation “less hopeful.”

In general, non-Catholic reaction emerges as one of hopeful, yet guarded, expectation of the final outcome. Rev. Dr. Douglas Horton, observer for the International Congregational Church, said that an “ecclesiastical iron curtain” has been pierced “in prayer, in biblical scholarship and in contact with individuals.” And Dr. W. A. Visser’t Hooft, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, recently affirmed that the Catholic Church “has a greater capacity for renewal than had been considered possible.” Yet he added that the great question is “whether the ecumenism of the Human Catholic Church will only take the form of different terminology and a more friendly attitude, or whether it will develop into a readiness to enter into real dialogue.”

This, for the Protestant world, means opening up such questions as religions liberty, mixed marriages and the like. No informed Protestant or Catholic expects that such discussions will be easy. Beginnings have been made, however, and more was accomplished in a few months than even the optimist would have thought possible only a few years ago. Right now it must be remembered, as Fr. Gustave Weigel, S.J., recently recalled, that “it is not the purpose of ecumenical action to make a single, organic church. Rather it is the hope of those engaged in the conversation that their work might, if it so please the Lord, bring about some kind of unity.”

From America, March, 2, 1963.

Complex Issues Plague Relations with Orthodox

The many obstacles standing in the way of Christian unity were stressed at least implicitly when the Orthodox Churches of Greece and of the Near East declined the invitation to send observers to the Second Vatican Council.

But the stand of the Greek Orthodox could stimulate the council Fathers to study with special attention the problems concerning the Eastern Churches — of both those in communion with the Holy See and those separated from it.

One of the problems concerning Eastern Rite Christians is that because 97% of all Catholics follow the Latin Rite, it is often assumed that this is the best, and that others are somehow suspect.

To many Latin Rite Catholics, it seems strange to find other Catholics whose Mass is in languages other than Latin, whose laity receive Holy Communion under both species, whose Baptisms involve plunging the child entirely into water three times, and who have married men who are ordained priests.

Such customs mark most of the Eastern Churches, separated as well as Catholic. Some separated Eastern Christians fear that if they came into unity with the Holy See in a body such customs would result in their being considered second-class Catholics. Continue reading

Council Fathers Consider How to Describe Tradition

The ecumenical council may adopt one of two views as a result of its discussions on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, an official council expert said here last month.

Father Georges Tavard, A.A., of the Pittsburgh diocese, told reporters at a meeting of the U.S. bishops’ press panel that the two views are:

1.That Scripture and Tradition appear as two sources of Faith (or as two sources of Revelation).

2.That Tradition and Scripture are not two sources standing side by side, but that Tradition is the explanation of Scripture by the Church.

Father Tavard also noted that the council’s stand on the matter can affect the movement for Christian unity. Prior to the council’s opening the priest was a consultor of the Preparatory Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and is now one of the experts named by Pope John XXIII to advise council Fathers. Continue reading

Protestant Scholar Says Council Observers Pleased

Non-Catholic observers at the Second Vatican Council are pleased at the concern shown by the council Fathers for the Catholic Church’s relations with other churches, according to a leading Protestant scholar.

“I am not betraying any secrets when I tell you how glad we are to note how a concern for ecumenism pervades these discussions,” said Prof. Oscar Cullmann of the Universities of Paris and Basel (Switzerland).

“Yet even here,” the noted Scriptural and patristic scholar told newsmen, “we must be on our guard against illusions. We certainly hope with all our hearts that this renewal [of the Catholic Church] will be realized. For we are convinced that if it is, it will make so much easier the dialogue between Catholic and non-Catholic that will go on after the council. Continue reading

Bishops and the Common Bible

From America, December 8, 1962, by Walter M. Abbott, S.J.: The Fathers of the Council discuss the Bible as a common Christian heritage

Each day at the Second Vatican Council begins with a dialogue Mass. The celebrant faces the Fathers of the Council. After the Mass there is a ceremony that impresses all who behold it, including the Protestant and Orthodox delegate-observers. An archbishop carries a book containing the Gospels up the aisle of the Council hall, the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the address he gave on the fourth anniversary of his coronation, Pope John referred to the ceremony in these words:

With happy thought, and following what was done at the First Vatican Council, our general meetings begin with the enthronement of the Gospels, so that the sacred code of the teaching and laws of Christ may continue to shine and have its central place at our meetings. . . .

The Gospel book lies open on the altar all during the Council Fathers’ deliberations.

As the bishops and the delegate-observers know, the text of this Gospel book is in Latin. They know, too, that the Latin text with its many gold letters and gold titles was made into a book during the Italian Renaissance by Matteo de’ Cantugi di Volterra. What is more important, they know that the Latin text dates back to a time when Latin was the common language of the Western world. The Bible in those early days was, truly, a common Bible—common to all who professed Christianity. Continue reading

Cardinal Bea Optimistic for Wider Participation

Following is the text of a ‘press conference given by Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, at the council press center in Rome on Nov. 8.

Introduction: Allow me to begin with a personal word. The Holy Father has told you wonderful things about the importance and the grave responsibility of your profession, and he has also expressed his heartfelt thanks to you for all you have done to inform your readers about the Council, about its intentions and its preparation. But I wish to express very sincere and personal thanks to you for all the collaboration that so many of you have given to the work of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, or to my personal work, in the press, on the radio and on television. This collaboration was certainly not always easy, if only because it was not in any way possible to satisfy all the requests and because on more than one occasion it was necessary— though with sincere regret—to refuse even important requests. I can tell you in all sincerity, however, that, with the exception of a very few cases, the collaboration was carried out in a satisfactory manner—and I believe for both sides. If the work of the secretariat had the widespread echo that it did in world public opinion—and consequently also in the council itself—a considerable part of the merit belongs to your profession. Therefore, my sincere and heartfelt thanks.

I would also like to add a word of what is almost an anticipated apology. During the work of the council it will not be possible for me, unfortunately, to continue the aforementioned collaboration with the lively and steady rhythm it has had in recent months. Everything must come in its own time. The work of the council with all the accompanying studies and consultations must now have absolute precedence. I do not doubt that you will understand this fact and that you will agree. I accepted this meeting with you today almost as a consolation for this sacrifice and to give you information on the work of the secretariat. Continue reading

Cardinal Bea Welcomes Non-Catholic Observers

Following is the text of remarks made Oct. 15 in Rome’s Columbus Hotel by Augustin Cardinal Bea, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, to non-Catholic observers delegated to attend the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

My dear brothers in Christ:

Instead of listing at length your titles, which I certainly do respect, please allow me to address you with these simple yet very profound words, “My brothers in Christ.”

This title plunges us immediately into the profound consciousness of the immeasurable grace of Baptism which has created bonds that are indestructible, stronger than all our divisions. Christians all over the world are daily becoming more conscious of these bonds.

These bonds have prompted authorities to delegate you as observers to the Council of the Roman Catholic Church. And these same bonds prompted His Holiness Pope John XXIII to create the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, in order that the non-Catholic Christian communities may better follow the council’s work.

Now that this fraternal encounter, longed for by so many baptized persons, has become a reality, I believe that the first and most sincere feeling of all is one of the gratitude that lets us say with St. Paul, “Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1,3). Continue reading

Pope Intends to Work, Suffer to Hasten Unity

Pope John XXIII told non-Catholics attending the ecumenical council that he intends to work and suffer to speed the achievement of Christian unity.

Pope John spoke at a special audience (Oct. 13) in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall for 35 delegate-observers and guests representing 17 Orthodox and Protestant denominations.

The 35 were led into the audience by Msgr. Jan G. M. Willebrands, secretary of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.

The first two delegate-observers to enter were the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church who had arrived from Moscow the day before. Others included observers from the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Church, the Armenian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Old Catholic Church, as well as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Quaker, Congregationalist and Methodist observers.

Among the seven official guests of the secretariat were the Rev. Stanley I. Stuber of Jefferson City, Mo., a Baptist, and the Rev. Joseph H. Jackson of Chicago, president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.

The visitors, who showed warm sympathy toward the Pope, gathered in a semicircle around the Pontiff, who was seated not on the usual throne but in an armchair. Continue reading