Encyclical’s Impact

An editorial from America, May 4, 1963

Initial reactions to Pope John’s encyclical Pacem in Terris quickly revealed areas in which its practical impact can be expected to make itself felt.

When the London Sunday Times hailed the document as “an act of leadership for which the world was longing,” it explained in part the torrent of editorial comment flooding the world press. A Rome daily, II Tempo, might speak peevishly of an “encyclical of enthusiasms, conceived under the sign of optimism and irenicism.” But the internationally respected Le Monde of Paris termed it rather “realistic, serene and confident of the future.” These qualities it saw as “reflecting the character of its author.”

Religious leaders everywhere praised the profound moral tone and insight of the Pope’s message. Here in the United States, J. Irwin Miller, president of the National Council of Churches, noted “remarkable similarities . . . between Roman Catholic thought and that of our constituency.” He pledged that the document’s “principles and proposals . . . will receive our interested study and exploration of ways of co-operation.” In a similar vein, the president of the American Jewish Committee, A. M. Sonnabend, declared that the encyclical “creates a broad dimension of possible cooperation among diverse religious, ethnic and racial communities.”

No reactions won more attention, however, than those in the Communist press on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Moscow’s Pravda professed to view Pacem in Terris as “an initiative in favor of peace.” Radio Budapest spoke of “a new wind blowing from the Vatican.” A Warsaw daily, Trybuna Ludu, linked the document with a papal plea for peace during the October 1962, crisis in Cuba, and described it as “very important.” In Italy, Communist boss Palmiro Togliatti claimed to see in the Pope’s message “something entirely new, conveying the very essence of life itself and telling the world that all of us on earth are part of past, present and future history.”

Here in the United States, the Worker, official Communist semiweekly, insisted that the new encyclical would make Western leaders “change their way of thinking.” Indeed, the secretary of the American Communists, Gus Hall, intimated that party members themselves might have to change in another respect. “There is need,” he commented, “for all forces of progress to re-examine and perhaps readjust our over-all estimate of the Roman Catholic Church as a social institution.”

What did these straws in the Communist wind add up to? Surely nothing in the curiously muted statements issuing from any Communist source even hints at compromise or coexistence, on the ideological plane, with the West—let alone with Christianity. More importantly, of course, even the most casual reader of the encyclical must realize that the Church has no intention of compromising its doctrine based on the teachings of the gospel. It can never remain true to its divinely instituted nature and at the same time renounce its vision of human dignity and the consequent necessity of grounding true peace in respect for the inalienable rights of men. Thus, for the Church any genuine coexistence supposes respect for such rights, including true religious freedom.

Pacem in Terris must be seen as far more than an idle or merely sentimental gesture toward peace. Whatever the motivation behind his remark, Premier Khrushchev spoke the truth when he remarked to an Italian journalist that the encyclical genuinely sought peace, which “can and must be defended by men of good will of every philosophical and religious conviction.” Such peace, Pope John would add, can survive only in an order rooted in “truth, justice, charity and freedom.”

For the rest, Le Monde rightly notes, “there can be no mistaking that the encyclical’s closely written lines trace out new approaches heavy with meaning for the future.”

Things Old and New in “Pacem in Terris”

From America, April 27, 1963

By John Courtney Murray, S.J.

An adequate interpretation of the encyclical “Pacem in Terris” must wait on lengthy study, because the reach of the Popes words, in its breadth and depth, is greatly extensive. What follows are some comments on certain salient points of the encyclical, on the quality of the Pope’s thought and its major accents.

It is obvious, in the first instance, that the Pope here offers a shining example of everything that he means by his own word, aggiornamento. He situates himself squarely in the year 1963. There is not the slightest note of nostalgia, nor of lament over the past course of history or over the current situation that history has evoked here on earth. The Pope confronts all the facts of political, social, economic and cultural change that have been the product of the modern era. Generously and ungrudgingly, he accepts those elements of historical progress which can be recognized as such by the application of traditional principles as norms of discernment. Continue reading

The Cardinal of Unity

From America, April 13, 1963: 

The words “humble,” “gentle” and “love” were in frequent use to describe Cardinal Bea while he was in this country. Thus, the president of 100-year-old Boston College, in conferring the degree of Doctor of Civil and Canon Law on the cardinal, said that “in this humble German scholar, this gentle Roman prince, as in none other save Pope John the Great, we find our hope for a united flock which may hear unblushing testimony to the still pre-Christian world: ‘See how these Christians love one another.’”

The slightest hint of criticism from such a man, therefore, would be striking. In the first of his talks during Harvard University’s four-day Catholic-Protestant colloquium, the cardinal said: “We can even hope that this genuine spirit [of ecumenical attitude and concern] will grow more intense, especially if there be present [at the Second Vatican Council] more delegate-observers from the venerable Orthodox Churches of the East.” In his third and final talk at Harvard, the cardinal quoted Heidelberg professor D. Bornkamm, president of the German Evangelical Union, as saying that every Christian as well as every denomination has an interest in the Second Vatican Council. “In this light,” the cardinal continued, “one can see a certain justification for the criticisms which have been directed against church authorities, for instance, of the Baptist Alliance and the Greek Orthodox Church, who did not send observers to the Council.” Continue reading


The interest in Church affairs sparked by the Second Vatican Council has forced journalists, TV commentators, the man in the street, and even some professional theologians, to brush up on the latest in theological terminology. One term that keeps popping up with great frequency is “collegiality.” It designates a development of profound importance for the future course of the Council, and thus of the Church.

Perhaps the commonest use of the term is to indicate that the bishops of the world, as a body, are heirs of the twelve Apostles. In a sense, as Fr. Gregory Baum, O. S. A., has remarked, its more basic meaning refers to the Church as a whole. “The Church being the mystery of charity in the world, incarnate in a community, embraces her members in such a way that in all significant actions all members are in some sense involved.” The fact remains, however, that the concept of a body of bishops acting collegiately, as a college or conference, has rightly attracted the greatest attention and interest at the present moment.

Like so many developments in the Church, interest in this concept represents a return to, or renewal of interest in, a very ancient Catholic tradition. Indeed, some see in this renewed emphasis a much needed corrective to popular thinking. For some time, a common tendency has been to picture the Church in such a way as to leave the inadequate impression that all power and teaching authority is in the Pope. Actually, the bishops, in union with the Pope, their head, exercise their sacred ministry for the good of the universal Catholic community. Events in the first session of the Council served to demonstrate the high consciousness which the bishops of the whole world have of their corporate responsibility. Continue reading

A Thought for the Interim

From America, March 30, 1963, by William F. Barnett:

Evelyn Waugh’s remarks on Vatican 11 unveil a paradox—the isolated Catholic

Evelyn Waugh has spoken, simultaneously in National Review and in the London Spectator, to the bishops of Vatican II. Despite the fact that the Holy Father has called these men to Rome to effect the rejuvenation and renewal of the Church, Mr. Waugh pleads that they leave him in his present blissful tranquility. The storm breathlessly promised by his publishers has not yet broken in the wake of the article, and Mr. Waugh’s amazing request has received scant attention from the bishops, pastors, scholars and laymen of the Church. Of course, the leaders are busy these days; perhaps they judged this voice from the British Isles unworthy of note. This should not be so.

Mr. Waugh’s article contains several well-founded complaints and some useful suggestions, no one of which is, however, particularly significant. But the trend and tenor of his thought deserve serious consideration. It will not do to brush him off as a slightly eccentric littérateur. Rather, certain of his assertions most indicative of his fundamental point of view should be examined with care and candor. The months between the sessions of Vatican II seem particularly appropriate for such a study. Continue reading

Pope John: New Look

From America, March 23, 1963: 

John XXIII has quietly put Church-State relations on a new footing in Italy

ROME—Readers of the Washington Post for February 19 may have raised an eyebrow over a remark reported from a luncheon held at the National Press Club the previous day. The guest of honor at the affair happened to be a visitor fromItaly, Giuseppe Saragat, head of the Social Democratic (Right-leaning Socialist and historically anticlerical) party. Reporters queried him on the current status of Church-State relations in his country. He replied indirectly by remarking: “I hope the present Pope lives a long time.” What some may have missed in what the Post report described as Signor Saragat’s “quip” could be appreciated only by someone who has witnessed what breezy Italian journalists refer to as Pope Roncalli’s “conquest” ofItaly.

Perhaps Americans wonder what all the fuss is about. After all hasn’t John XXIII conquered the whole world? Hasn’t Time certified the fact by bestowing its supreme accolade in choosing him as its “Man-of-the-Year” for 1962? Continue reading

Vatican II: Early Appraisal

From March 9, 1963:

Any attempt to evaluate all the accomplishments of the Second Vatican Councils first session would be not only presumptuous but also premature. Some things, however, may be profitably noted.

In the address with which he closed the first session, the Pope expressed satisfaction with the Councils achievements. Although there were no conciliar decrees to give to the Church or to the world, he felt that there had been sufficient gains to justify the convocation. An educative process had been set in motion. The prelates not only became aware of the Church as a truly universal extension of the Body of Christ, but also found it necessary to dig into the deeper significance of theology, a theology whose primary purpose is to confront and inform consciences in the concrete circumstances of modern life.

Taking note of the divergent views expressed by many of the Fathers of the Council on important questions, the Pope said, in effect, that this was a healthy sign. It meant that the Council was alive and that the prelates of the Church were seriously concerned with their obligations to place before all men the good and comforting news that is the message of the Christian gospel. Questioned on this point, the Holy Father is said to have asked: “What did you expect the bishops to do? Behave like a group of monks reciting the Divine Office in choir?” Continue reading

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.