did napoleon start the road to vatican ii? maybe. see discussion [part 1] of "catholicism: a Global History from the French revolution to Pope francis" 
I spent this past weekend involved in two things: watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament which was on TV here on the East Coast from suppertime till midnight for four straight nights, and during the afternoons reading my second killer history book this month, Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis  by John T. McGreevy. The golf tournament was exhilarating—an upset winner by one stroke—but the book is more discomfiting because [a] it is thinning my herd of sacred cows, and [b] the last third of the book covers my lifetime, a very troubling thing when you still feel young enough to be making history.
McGreevey’s book deserves a lot of attention and discussion. I review books for Amazon, which you may see posted from time to time, but I have a 1,000-word limit on those submissions. [My last review was my 190th with Amazon, dating to 2000.] But in many cases a book deserves a multi-faceted discussion, necessitating a brief Amazon summary for its book site and a longer treatment on the Café blogsite, which has no word limit beyond human compassion and exhaustion. Catholicism deserves a lot of thought and soul searching. I suppose the first question would be the relationship of the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon to the era of Vatican II?
McGreevy is not the first historian to begin a modern church narrative with Napoleon. In his What Happened at Vatican II Father William O’Malley begins with a lengthy overview called “The Long Nineteenth Century” in which he essentially dates the moving forces for Vatican I and Vatican II from the era of the French Revolution, which is dated from 1789. The French Revolution—caused in part by French government bankruptcy incurred, ironically, assisting the American Revolution—created a chain of events in Western Europe that ended what is often called “the marriage of throne and altar,” or the interlocking of church and state. After the Napoleonic Wars there was a shift across Western Europe from the older absolute monarchy model toward representational or democratic government with an emphasis upon independence from churches, particularly Roman Catholicism. Coupled with this was the emergence of strong grassroots nationalism and newfound belief in the freedom and conscience of man independent of religious discipline, rooted in the modern philosophies from Descartes to John Locke. In shorthand, the modern secular era had arrived for good.
No two nations went through these processes precisely the same way, and McGreevy’s book discusses variants of the process, but across the board the changing face of the West in the nineteenth century created a major challenge to the power, influence, and authority of the Catholic Church. Recall that at the time of the French Revolution Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were Catholic monarchs surrounded by Catholic aristocrats. The immortal phrase “let them eat cake” came from a Catholic queen to an angry and hungry populace. When the French Revolution took its violent turn, the properties and riches of the Church were seized, and the new transitional government would eventually persecute and execute clergy and religious. Ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, the Church had laid claim to secular as well as religious authority—consider, for example, that when Spain and Portugal began exploration and settlement of the Western Hemisphere after Columbus, Pope Alexander VI [conveniently, for Spain, a Spaniard] drew the famous “Line of Demarcation” to divide the claims of the two nations in the New World in 1493. [His line, incidentally, ultimately created Brazil as a Portuguese-speaking nation.]
What became very clear in the nineteenth century after the French Revolution was the decreasing influence of the papacy in the course of world events. While Napoleon was finally planted in permanent exile on St. Helena, the future of Europe was debated at the Congress of Vienna [1814-1815], which redrew the map of the old Holy Roman Empire through the workings of Metternich and Talleyrand, to cite two famous international diplomats of the day. Although represented in Vienna, the pope was not invited to draw maps as he had three centuries earlier, and few European leaders were disposed to ask him.
The post-French Revolution era was marked by the birth of a liberalism characterized by national identity and pride, greater democratic process, emphasis upon the rights of man, economic free enterprise, and freedom of governments from interference from organized religions, primarily the Roman Catholic Church. McGreevy provides examples of Western liberalization and distrust of a monarchical Catholic Church in such diverse nations as the United States, England, and Italy. By the terms of the founding documents written by the thirteen original colonies, the United States should have been a safe haven for Catholicism, and in many locales the practice of Catholicism was tolerated to a degree.
However, periodic flareups of anti-Catholicism were widespread and deadly. In her 1997 The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862, Carol Sheriff describes the animosity between residents of New York State and the Catholic Irish immigrants, hard fighting and hard drinking Irish Catholics who had come to America to dig the canal from Albany to Buffalo. It is no accident that the “Know Nothing Party,” a powerful third-party xenophobic force in American presidential politics, had deep roots in Western New York. The Wikipedia entry on the Know-Nothings has interesting overtones of recent American electoral politics:
Fearful that Catholics were flooding the polls with non-citizens, local activists threatened to stop them. On August 6, 1855, rioting broke out in Louisville, Kentucky, during a hotly contested race for the office of governor. Twenty-two were killed and many injured. This "Bloody Monday" riot was not the only violent riot between Know Nothings and Catholics in 1855. In Baltimore, the mayoral elections of 1856, 1857, and 1858 were all marred by violence and well-founded accusations of ballot-rigging. In the coastal town of Ellsworth, Maine, in 1854, Know Nothings were associated with the tarring and feathering of a Catholic priest, Jesuit Johannes Bapst. They also burned down a Catholic church in Bath, Maine.
As more Irish, German, and Italian Catholics poured into America throughout the nineteenth century, white Protestant Americans feared that these immigrants were, at heart, loyal to a foreign power, i.e., the pope in Rome, and if the opportunity arose, would take over the United States as a fiefdom of the Papal States. Catholic politicians in the U.S. were accused of representing the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion,” a charge that rumbled through American politics well into the twentieth century. And, if you listen close enough to monied American interests even today, you hear strains that Pope Francis is a socialist who wants to take our hard-earned money and redistribute it south of the equator. The more things change…
In England, the historical memory of Queens Elizabeth and “Bloody Mary” was enough to inflame similar violence against Roman Catholics throughout the post-Napoleonic nineteenth century. Fears—rational or not—of Roman Catholic takeover of the established Church of England were exacerbated by that nation’s own mistreatment of Ireland, highlighted by the Potato Famine, and resulting in protests and immigration.
But by far the most tempestuous impact of the post-Napoleonic era may have been the upheavals in Italy itself, the cradle of the Church. If you are a little rusty on your Italian history, the Wikipedia entry entitled “The Unification of Italy,” often referred to as the Risorgimento, chronicles the civil upheavals of the peninsula in the nineteenth century. Italy had not been a unified nation since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 475 A.D. The papacy—with its hold on “the papal states”—lived in constant conflict with outside intruders dating back to the Goths in the 400’s to the newly minted nation states after the French Revolution. [The Church Council Vatican I was disbanded prematurely in 1870 amidst the canon fire of the Franco-Prussian War on the doorsteps of Rome.] The Risorgimento called for a unified Italy with a measure of self-determination, a direct challenge and threat to papal civil authority and land holdings. Recall that the status of the papal states and some reassure of Church independence in the new, unified Italy was not legally defined until the Church’s Concordat with Mussolini in 1929, an arrangement that deteriorated soon thereafter.
The French Revolution and its aftermath had two opposite effects upon the Church itself. On the one hand, a sizeable segment of Catholic intellectuals in the Western World began to assess a new understanding of Church life in the “modern era.” The nineteenth century may have been a period of international unrest and searches for new national identities, but it was also a time of intellectual and economic explosion. Consider that the century after the French Revolution would see the advent of modern industrialization, scientific expansion, historical and archaeological advances, democratic governments, medicine and psychology, and even the theories of air travel and nuclear power. Coupled with this were new philosophies and methods of understanding the world, from Hegel to Darwin to Marx.
Religions, including Catholicism, could not isolate themselves from the rapid developments of the times. The nineteenth century saw an explosion in religious scholarship in both Protestant and Catholic circles, and it was impossible for Catholic thinkers and leaders to ignore what was happening around them. Possibly no one better embodies the religious complexities of the time or thought more creatively about them than England’s John Henry Newman, the Anglican priest-scholar who converted to Catholicism in 1845.
Newman’s journey to Roman Catholicism was long and complicated. As an idealistic youth his evangelical faith caused him to regard the Catholic pope as the antichrist. In his college years he matured into the mainstream of Anglican faith and scholarship. But convinced that the Church of England stood in need of reform, he joined with other Oxford scholars in a spirited study of the early Church Fathers, which they published as papers or “tracts” that came to be known as the Tractarian Movement or the Oxford Movement. In his studies Newman and many of his confreres came to be believe that the Roman Catholic Church had best embodied the traditions of the Christian roots of the Fathers. He converted to Catholicism and would eventually become a Cardinal of the Church. Newman would become one of the greatest minds of modern Catholicism, and his thought forms the basis of many of Vatican II insights, including his writing on the development of doctrine. He was, in fact, canonized on October 13, 2019, by Pope Francis.
Newman appreciated better than most that Catholicism would need to make considerable accommodations to the scholarship and the spirit of the best of contemporary thought and practice to remain intellectually honest, but he appreciated—far ahead of his time—the challenges we face today as Catholics. In a famous essay on the nature of a university, Newman described the dilemma of the Catholic in the new world at hand:
[From Wikipedia]: Newman believed in a middle way between free thinking and moral authority—one that would respect the rights of knowledge as well as the rights of revelation. His purpose was to build a Catholic university, in a world where the major Catholic universities on the European continent had recently been secularized, and most universities in the English-speaking world were Protestant. For a university to claim legitimacy in the larger world, it would have to support research and publication free from church censorship; however, for a university to be a safe place for the education of Catholic youth, it would have to be a place in which the teachings of the Catholic church were respected and promoted.
Finding the balance of “being in the world but not of it” was one of the significant challenges of Vatican II, but that was still long in the future. For despite the insights of Newman and others, much of nineteenth century Catholicism was governed by two Popes, Pius IX, and Pius X, who saw the Church as the last bastion of a sacred history that must be preserved at all costs. Theirs was the predominant reaction of Catholics to the post-Napoleonic upheavals, the “Ultramontanism Era” [from “the other side of the Alps mountains,” a reference to Rome and the papal states.] In our next discussion of McGreevy’s book, we will immerse ourselves in the Ultramontanism revival, which many of us may recognize as the pre-Vatican II world we grew up with.
To READ CHURCH HISTORY IS TO DISCOVER YOURSELF: "THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY" [Volume One] by JUSTO CONZALEZ
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s those of us studying Church History depended upon the splendid Penguin History of the Church series for an orientation to the almost two-millennia sweep of Christianity. Now, a half-century later, it is intriguing to look at the story with the advantage of five decades of fresh research. Justo L Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation  is both a refresher for us Penguin champions now in our senior years as well as an excellent introduction to Christianity’s story for those whose religious education never progressed past sixth-grade Confirmation and the sixth commandment.
If you are conditioned to “hate history,” [perhaps from education’s tendency to “teach for the test”] then Gonzalez’s style and content might change your mind. than the captivating story of who we are and how we came to be. “The Story of Christianity” is the presentation of history best enjoyed on a quiet evening in a generous leather seat with a brandy or cigar at hand. History finely written is a pleasure to embrace, even when its narratives take us to unthinkable tragedies and outrages. Even details and numbers capture us: did the Black Plague really kill 1 of every 3 Europeans? How do you feed 120,000 Crusaders without starting a second war?
This volume [as well as its companion, from the Reformation in 1517 forward] is the story of the Christian experience from the ground up, in a narrative that is informative and rarely overwhelming. We discover, for example, that with a few notable exceptions such as St. Paul, the first centuries’ proliferation of Christianity depended less upon charismatic missionaries as true anonymous word of mouth believers, particularly in the lower echelons of Roman society. [“Nameless merchants and slaves” who transversed the empire, as the author puts it.] Christian fraternity and solidarity—particularly the custom of the agape or love meal—were the characteristics that won new admirers and perplexed many Romans, who tended to view Christians as “low life.” Except for the Emperor Diocletian’s broad persecution in the late third century, Roman harassment of Christians was sporadic, regionalized, and at times eccentric.
Gonzalez presents the development of Christian theology and creed in a manageable narrative as the Church defended itself from a variety of external and internal assaults upon its sacred treasury of belief, most notably the humanity and divinity of Jesus defined by the first Church council, Nicaea, in 325 A.D. The most enduring doctrinal crisis of the first millennium was “Arianism,” which, briefly put, denied that Jesus is “of the same substance” as the Father, i.e., that he is God. Arian thinking did not deny the unique mission of Jesus on earth, which is why this errant trend had a long shelf life, including among many of the “barbarian” settlers in the Western Roman Empire who were converted by Arian missionaries.
It is clear from this text, and other contemporary works, that historians have been very busy over the half century since I went to school. Gonzalez highlights the discoveries of the “desert mothers” who prayed, worked, and wrote as contemporaries of the “desert fathers,”—those who sought to escape the mediocrity and madness of the later Roman Empire from the fourth century. He continues to highlight the richness of later feminine monastic life parallel to the male orders, and on down to the grassroots independent mystical communities of the late medieval era that marked the democratization of religious experience and exasperated and threatened a male church governance fragmented and running on fumes by the 1300’s. It was this explosion of lay spirituality, known as the Via Moderna, which produced the classic text The Imitation of Christ.
Gonzalez provides a steady narrative of the major events of the Christian era, through the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the corresponding emergence of the East, the rise of Islam and the crusading response, the Eastern break from Roman hegemony, the development of the Holy Roman Empire with Charlemagne, the Hundred Years War, the Black Plague, the Avignon Papacy, and the Western Schism of three popes, to cite several. Each subject, of course, remains the object of ongoing study, and this volume will hopefully inspire newcomers to Church history to break off into specific readings on such compelling episodes as the Fourth Crusade or the rise of Ferdinand and Isabella.
The author, who has a three-volume history of Christian thought among his completed works, provides insightful descriptions of the medieval thinkers and the universities they raised. Anselm, Abelard [with Heloise, of course], Albert and Thomas Aquinas all get their due, though it is mildly amusing to see William of Ockham, of “Ockham’s Razor fame,” bringing up the medieval decline portion of the narrative. Overall, Gonzalez captures the early Renaissance shift in philosophy and anthropology from a systematic and other-worldly exercise to a subjective celebration of human experience and destiny. The bridge from Ockham to the modern era’s Descartes becomes intelligible.
Gonzalez concludes this volume with a lengthy narrative on the Spanish and Portuguese ventures to the East. Although commercial motivations were the initial driving force, the success of both nations in the Western Hemisphere and the Orient raised major ecclesiastical questions. Columbus, for example, originally wondered if he had stumbled into a primordial Eden when he landed in Hispaniola. Just as the Reformation in Europe was taking shape, the Church wrestled with the religious nature of indigenous peoples [did they have souls?], missionary outreach, national jurisdictions in the New World, and moral questions involving slavery and the destruction of existing cultures.
It goes without saying that the subject matter of this historical survey is organically connected to Christian/Catholic life today, in part because we are still looking for solutions to yesterday’s questions. But for a Christian, this work is a family history: we carry the religious genetic codes of this narrative in our individual and communal being. In studying Church history, we discover ourselves.
LUCKILY, THIS FELL INTO MY LAP….
With summer in the air, and hopefully a little more leisure in your lives, I want to make a pitch to anyone who follows the Café to take the plunge into some corner of academic theology where you think you’d feel most at home. As I posted a few days ago, I put together a “poor man’s reading list,” i.e., something I cobbled together myself from my own reading and teaching as a starter for any of you who want to make the jump from church pamphlet racks into the “hallowed halls” of theological discussion. Coincidentally, I was reminded of the importance of Catholic theological life in our churches in a curious way this weekend, listening to the sermon for the Feast of the Ascension.
Our parish deacon, who is also our overall director of faith formation, was preaching on the Ascension, and he quoted an appropriate commentary passage by name and source from a noted English Scripture scholar whose work I recognized and respect. I was delighted that he referenced a major scholar in his sermon! It occurred to me that over the thirty years or so I have attended Mass instead of leading it, it has been extremely rare to hear any extra-biblical source cited in a sermon. Even citations from the Bible are not habitual. Years and years ago our founding pastor used to quote the martyr Edith Stein in his sermons, as he had a significant devotion to her, but that has been it for decades. Generally, the parish sermon has never been a place to get one’s theological thirst quenched by a saint or a scholar, and that is sad on many levels. Years ago, one of my psychology professors at Rollins College referred to the generic church sermon as “the martini hour of the mind;” I was a working pastor and preacher at the time, so I gave him the stare, but truth be told, he wasn’t too far wrong.
Saturday was a valuable teaching moment for our parish for several reasons. First, our deacon modeled a critical aspect of the baptismal priesthood: we are all, ordained and lay, students of the Word, and there is a two-to-three-thousand-year history of organized Judeo-Christian Biblical thought that forms the backbone of what Catholics call “Tradition.” When a preacher cites a scholar, a saint, or a contemporary source, he is sharing valuable information with his hearers that they may in turn take a critical look at the Word in communion with those who have dedicated their lives intensely to the study of God’s Revelation, now and in our past. Collectively, we are all the students and eventually all teachers as well. This includes parents, “the first…and best teachers of their children” as the Infant Baptismal Rite proclaims.
Second, a preacher who brings proof of his homework into his message is modeling the kind of work that any of us who “do ministry,” however one defines that, needs to be doing constantly so that the Word is “ever fresh” in our hearts. In my lifetime I have heard preachers say, with a straight face, that they do not prepare a sermon but wait for the inspiration of the Spirit to gift them in the moment. That is bad on so many levels—I don’t think I need to spell them out—and, this is not our history, either.
Theology is a labor of love, but it is still a labor. Over the past weekend I was reading Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity , a truly fine introductory history of the Church from the Apostles till the eve of the Reformation in 1517. [The book is listed in the Café “Bookshop”]. I was surprised to discover, in the fourth and fifth centuries, how many of the theological Church Fathers [most of whom are saints] worked [and even lived] with the “Desert Fathers” and “Desert Mothers,” the austere hermits and primitive monks who had fled the corrupt lives of the Roman cities for solitude, prayer, study, and penance. The Church Father St. Athanasius, defender of the identity of Jesus as true God and true man, lived with the monks from time to time to study, pray, do penance, and hide from the Roman emperors. St. Jerome composed the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, in a cave or primitive setting near Bethlehem. St. Augustine hoped to live out his days in the desert of North Africa until he was forced by the populace to assume episcopal leadership. Gonzalez’s point: the Church received its inner truth from the prolonged asceticism and sacrifice of its theologians and teachers.
I cite this piece of our history to emphasize the intimate interlocking of spirituality and theological study. There is no such thing as “cheap grace,” snappy answers, or shortcuts in pursuit of God’s truth. The pursuit of theological wisdom is impossible without a spiritual temperament, but by the same token that temperament is enriched by the theological corpus of the Church.
MAKING YOUR FIRST READING CHOICE, AS SUMMER APPROACHES:
I gave a lot of thought to what advice I would offer about selecting books that would whet your appetites. If you were entering major seminary or a graduate theology program, there is a well-defined progression of introductory texts and course outlines, and I am looking at some new ones right now for the book list. However, human nature being what it is, our whimsy is often our entry into new experiences, and it may be that a subject of your particular interest is what draws you into the bigger tent. So, I searched down some of the “colorful” or “intriguing” texts under the various headings as possible “summer starters for reading next to the pool.”
Scripture: Try Father Francis J. Moloney’s The Resurrection of the Messiah: A Narrative Commentary on the Resurrection Accounts of the Four Gospels  First, most readers are familiar with at least some of the Resurrection texts already, and we have just concluded the Easter Season in Church. Second, Moloney’s book provides a lot of surprises while explaining how scholars use the differences between Gospels to understand the vision of each author. It is a relatively easy introduction into the science of Biblical interpretation. My review is on the Amazon site. On Amazon Prime, $22 new and $18 used in paper, also in Kindle.
History: Believe it or not, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople  by Jonathan Phillips is an intriguing look into medieval life, the papacy, and the religious motivations of the crusading foot soldiers against the backdrop of a crusade that went horribly wrong, so much so that Pope John Paul II apologized for this venture on its eight hundredth anniversary in 2004. My review is on the Amazon site. Amazon Prime has this work for about $15 new and much cheaper used.
Spirituality: The Trappist monk Thomas Merton was tragically killed in 1968 while still a relatively young man. His 1948 autobiographical story of his conversion to Catholicism and then to the monastic way of life, The Seven Storey Mountain, remains a centerpiece of contemporary spirituality. It was credited with encouraging a wave of new applicants to monasteries after World War II. His New Seeds of Contemplation  remains among Amazon’s best sellers. My Trappist reading circle just completed New Seeds a few months ago. These works are easily purchased in many markets and formats for very reasonable prices. If you prefer a biography of Merton, I found Michael Mott’s The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton  very good if a touch dated—Merton’s letters and diary are now available to the public for purchase as well.
Ecclesiology: Easily the best read in the study of the Church is What Happened at Vatican II  by Father John O’Malley, S.J. If you like O’Malley’s style, he has written similar works on the Councils of Trent [1545-1563] and Vatican I [1869-1870]. My review is on the Amazon site. Amazon Prime price is $26 paper, $18 used, and $6 Kindle as of this morning.
Sacraments: I was intrigued this year by Sin in the Sixties: Catholics and Confession 1955–1975  by Maria C. Morrow. I reviewed the book on its Amazon site. This is a fascinating introduction to the discipline of liturgical study, in this case focusing on the near disappearance of the practice of regular confession. Amazon Prime has this work at $34 new, $25 used.
Biographies: Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life  by Adrian House is a fine general introduction to both the man and medieval spirituality. My review is posted at the Amazon site. Amazon Prime has the text at $24 new and starting at about $5 used. Equally good and very current is Light of Assisi: The Story of Saint Clare  by Sister Margaret Carney, OSF. My review is on the book’s Amazon site; current price is $14 new and about $9 used.
Morality: The best book on Catholic Morality at present, A History of Catholic Theological Ethics  by Father James F. Keenan, SJ, would be a very ambitious starter text, and it costs $50 on Amazon Prime [probably because it is becoming a college/graduate moral theology textbook, and rightfully so.] A simpler but intriguing book to introduce you to the controversies and stresses faced by Catholic moralists today is Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church  by Robert McClory. I did not review it on Amazon because Jay Young’s review is quite good. I purchased my hardcover copy used [with McClory’s autograph, no less] for about $5 last year, and those prices are still current on the site.
I am still filling out other categories as we go on: Eschatology [“the last things”], Canon Law, Mariology [Mary], Social Justice, etc. will follow as soon as I can review some of the new introductory texts. I will post new reviews and acquisitions on the Café social media sites as they become available. Next week I will try to get you the links to the major Catholic publishers, and you can subscribe for free to receive catalogues, reviews, notices of new releases, etc.
So, this summer: Read, Read, Read! [There will be a test in September.]
“To Teach as Jesus Did” was released by the NCCB (now USCCB) in November, 1972; the document was the first effort of the American hierarchy to bring the attitudinal and pastoral dimensions of Vatican II into the United States Catholic educational schema. There are good intentions here, some strong endorsements, encouragement of creative ventures, occasional analyses of structural problems, recognition of changing times and escalating troubles. But as in most projects the devil is in the details, of which there are precious few in those particular areas of concern then and today: the increasing marginalization of religious belief and values from contemporary America.
I just happened to read “Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Catholic Church” (2014) prior to reviewing this document. “Young Catholic America” is a magnificent research venture into the present day faith life of Catholic young adults (18-23); it is also one of most depressing glimpses of the failure of the Catholic formational effort, so much so that I got to wondering: could the bishops in 1972 have written (and more importantly, acted) in ways that might have averted or mitigated the estrangement of Catholic truth among the young, and their parents for that matter, who are also the product of the post-1972 era. In many, though not all instances, the answer is a qualified yes.
The opening of TTAJD expresses hope that all Catholic education will be judged on its success in bringing men (sic) to holiness. Its most famous paragraph is arguably 14, which establishes the three-legged stool of formation: (1) presentation of Christian truth (2) in a vibrant communal setting (3) toward an energetic life of service to the world. This formula survives to the present day as an organizational principle in Catholic education. The authors seem to understand the importance of parents in the formation of their children, and they discuss it at length. Remember that community and family-based programming was still on the formative drafting table: old timers will remember the seminal catechetical work of Christiane Brusselmans, for example. It is interesting that the bishops cite the initiation sacraments and Penance as important moments of parental contact with the process (para. 25) and return to adult education in paras. 45-50.
Once entering pastoral waters, the bishops cannot avoid addressing parochial division regarding what we called then “the new theology.” (paras. 53-59) Think Common Core for a parallel. Those “vibrant communities” of para. 14 were presently agonizing over monumental liturgical and theological change. Figurative hand to hand combat, even in rectories, was not uncommon. A historical argument could be made that the greatest educational project of the twentieth century Church, the implementation of Vatican II, was a challenge for which few in the hierarchy or anywhere else were equipped to negotiate smoothly. A unity of parish faith and practice could no longer be assumed.
The bishops turned to the call and challenges facing Catholics in colleges (Catholic, private, state, commuter, etc.) at several juncture. Regarding younger students, the bishops make it clear that Catholic elementary and secondary schools are the preferred formative experience (para. 84). But by 1972 the crest of the Catholic school explosion was well along the way of subsiding. And here, I believe, is the most critical strategic shortcoming of the document, an absence of critical analysis of the sociology and business of institutional education. Based upon this document, one can only assume that the hierarchy had made up its mind to accept the exodus from Catholic schools as inevitable, impossible to stem or reverse. Lest we forget, this is a major paradigm shift from the 1880’s Plenary Council of bishops in Baltimore.
This abdication put the bishops in the unenviable position of trumpeting the glories of CCD, which is one of the true “emperor’s new clothes” vignettes of contemporary American Catholic life. The bishops would logically have to argue that the formational professionalism of Catholic schools is matched successfully by after-school, weekend, or “released time” programs to justify their decision. (Even today the number of professionals who maintain this incredulous proposition continues to surprise me.) Thus, the reader is treated to the supposition in para. 88 that one of the untapped advantages of CCD programs is their voluntary nature. As any unpaid religious education will tell you today, the only things voluntary are the instructor’s time and labor, and the poor attendance pattern of students. In 1972 the bishops called for a number of reforms yet to be acknowledged: Connectedness of CCD to Catholic schools (para. 93) including a call for “common funding;” development of parish educational centers (para. 94); funding for in-service training of religious education personnel and appropriate salaries for administrative positions (para. 97). In many instances, this would amount to a “dual system,” so to speak, of staff and buildings, which might lead a consultant to ask in 1972, why not reinforce your system already in place rather than embark upon a costly bifurcation that stood little chance of success in the first place? In any event, the monies for both tracks were frequently woefully short of this call as forty years would show.
TTAJD is a testament to the influence of the unbridled hopes and creative enthusiasm of Catholic intellectuals of the left, some of whom were chronically disenchanted by the hegemony of the Catholic school systems. To a degree this includes religious teaching communities, and para. 146 questions why religious were leaving the teaching profession, specifically women religious! The document reports (concedes?) that most Catholic school education in the future would be conducted by the laity, and equally of note, that lay persons would eventually assume administrative positions (para. 147).
“To Teach as Jesus Did” and its multiple successors stand as an indispensable lesson for all pastoral documents: map the terrain and gather intelligence before announcing a battle plan. Piety, enthusiasm and hope are indispensable to the Church, but they are no excuse for the losses in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
I came across a true “period piece” in an online bookstore, “Catholic Bishops: A Memoir”  by Father John Tracy Ellis. This brief but captivating narrative of the American “episcopal giants” of the twentieth century reminds us that the office of bishop in the United States has evolved significantly throughout the history of this country. A U.S. Catholic bishop in the 1920’s exercised his power in different ways than his frontier predecessor of the 1820’s or than the pastoral coordinator of the 2020’s. Many of the bishops Ellis describes in this memoir are the big city bishops of the coasts and the Midwest, where immigration had fed city church rolls and made the urban bishop both a spiritual father and a metropolitan player, so to speak, in public affairs in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, and St. Louis.
Ellis [1905-1992] knew many of America’s bishops from his years of teaching history at the Catholic University of America in Washington. In his time the bishops, as chancellors of the nation’s only pontifical university, made frequent visits to the campus as its custodians, as well as conducting their annual meetings on the campus. The author found himself in close proximity to many and developed longstanding friendships with not a few. Many bishops would have been familiar with Ellis’s epic history of James Gibbons [1834-1921], the U.S.’s second cardinal, though some bishops complained that Ellis was less deferential and more candid in his treatment of this eminent churchman than they would have liked.
Ellis is not without his agenda in this work, and it should come as no surprise to those who recall that in 1955 this priest-historian excoriated the American Catholic Church for the poor academic quality of its colleges and seminaries in his essay “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life,” published in the journal Thought, a piece that desperately needs redistribution in seminaries and, yes, parishes today. He held a special respect for the rare bishop who was himself well educated or who supported quality education, but his regard for episcopal acumen was generally pessimistic. At a Catholic University banquet to welcome a foreign church dignitary, the school’s bishop-chancellor introduced Ellis to his guest: “He writes books.” Ellis frequented chanceries around the country to seek permission and access to the papers of deceased bishops, perhaps another reason for his modest expectations.
Ellis begins his walk down memory lane with Chicago’s George W. Mundelein [r. 1915-1939], a surprise candidate from Brooklyn known for “thinking big,” including an ambitious plan to merge his archdiocesan seminary with Loyola and De Paul Universities, a menage trois never consummated beyond a chaste kiss. His installation is remembered for, among other things, the poisoning of the soup at his evening banquet by an anarchist which sickened several hundred people.
Michael Curley [r. St. Augustine, Florida 1914–1921; Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland 1921–1939; first archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington 1939–1947] was respected by the author for his tolerance of scholars and teachers with whom he disagreed. Curley, who opened the Baltimore-Washington archives to the author, made it clear he did not appreciate Ellis’s biographical treatment of Cardinal Gibbons. Yet the two men grew closer as Curley’s health deteriorated, and the last formal act of the archbishop on the last night of his life was signing Ellis’s incardination papers to join the Archdiocese of Washington.
A towering figure—in multiple senses—was William Cardinal O’Connell [r. Portland, Maine 1901-1906; Archdiocese of Boston 1906-1944], known in Massachusetts as “Number One” for his ecclesiastical and political clout in the Commonwealth. O’Connell is believed to be the inspiration for the character of the Cardinal opponent of Mayor Frank Skeffington in Edwin O’Connor’s novel “The Last Hurrah.” In Ellis’s assessment there is no telling how far O’Connell’s career might have progressed had it not been for the demotion of his Roman patron, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Merry del Val, and a more personal setback at home.
O’Connell’s nephew, James, Chancellor of the archdiocese, “left the priesthood, married, and took a substantial sum of archdiocesan funds at his departure.” O’Connell made the mistake of denying these events in a face-to-face meeting with Pope Benedict XV, who immediately pulled out a copy of the civil marriage license from his desk. [p. 73] Coincidence or not, O’Connell was assigned the one auxiliary bishop he did not want, Francis Spellman. Of “Spelly,” O’Connell was supposed to have said, “Francis epitomizes what happens to a bookkeeper when you teach him how to read.”
Ellis writes of Spellman [r. Archbishop of New York 1939-1967] that at his death in 1967, two years after Vatican II, the end of the era of the episcopal giants was at hand, given the Council’s emphasis upon the collegiality of bishops and broader structures of participatory leadership. The author had multiple dealings with Spellman, who was pressing for a biography of New York’s Bishop “Dagger John” Hughes of the Civil War era. To treat of Spellman, of course, meant treating of Fulton Sheen, with whom Ellis had a long professional and personal relationship. The author, in his student days, had served as Sheen’s secretary, and later lived with him in Washington for a time. Ellis provides fascinating information, such as the bishop’s acquired wealth from television and other ventures. The famous feud between Spellman and Sheen, which led to the latter’s exile to Rochester, N.Y., in 1966 is noted but not elongated.
Ellis, a Catholic University graduate and professor, devotes a chapter to the bishop-rectors of the school. He notes that “the university was made to suffer from the interference and bungling of churchmen who were ill equipped to foster true university education. [p. 32] He provides insights into the lives of auxiliary bishops, of which the U.S. was awash, mostly men who had resigned themselves to careers on the “Confirmation circuit.” Many auxiliaries proved to be excellent sources for this intriguing introductory glance into the twentieth century American hierarchy by a true working historian.
This review may be found by following this link to the book's Amazon site.
There are plenty of things that need fixing in the Catholic Church, but Thomas Day is the first commentator of my acquaintance to address the issue of liturgical music between hard covers. His first edition of Why Catholics Can’t Sing  raised eyebrows at a time when perhaps the patient might have been saved. His 2013 edition featured here, concedes that the errors of the early days of liturgical music reform are so entrenched that those remaining brave souls who soldier on to Mass each Sunday are inured to leaders, texts, melodies, and accompaniments that systematically deny them their Baptismal right of participation specifically called for in Vatican II’s “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the decree on the Sacred Liturgy.
Day’s 2013 edition recounts the Irish tradition of “secret, quiet Mass” rooted in the painful days of English suppression on the Emerald Isle. Expressive singing was the provenance of Protestants. Catholic immigration from Ireland formed the backbone of mainstream church custom in the United States, particularly in the big cities, and that reserved devotional style of Mass participation survived Vatican II and, in many ways, colors our congregational behavior to this day. [If Day undertakes a third edition, he may wish to contrast the natural musical freedom of growing Hispanic and Afro-American Catholic congregations which are not beholden to Anglo-Irish history and experience.]
Vatican II’s “Sacrosanctum Concilium” called for skillful merging of the rich tradition of the Latin heritage with adaptations that would make for possible greater participation of the faithful, who frankly had little experience of this. The author notes a certain arrogance among many post-Conciliar American reformers who belittled the traditional pious sensitivities of Catholics as backward [his anecdote of the resistant old woman who refused to participate in the Kiss of Peace with a firm “I don’t believe in that s---“ is priceless. (p. 5)] Moreover, the self-induced pressure to “get the congregations singing” led to a grassroots development of new English hymnody “in tune with the times.” The first decade or so is remembered as the “guitar Mass” era which, as Day observes, was often relegated to the church basement or off hours by nervous pastors.
The second wave draws more of the author’s critical energy. The peppy strums of Ray Repp’s 1960’s “Sons of God” gave way in the 1970’s and 1980’s to what I call the “John Denver” era, or what more people would refer to as the age of “The St. Louis Jesuits,” a representative group of the time. In Day’s assessment, this second wave of music became embedded as the permanent template of liturgical hymnody to this day. As a friend of mine put it, you still cannot go to an ordination without hearing “Here I Am, Lord.” Day has several major critiques of that era’s product. The first is its orientation toward performance—its creators did, in fact, become “stars” in the Church music world. Second, the music product was/is often unsingable for a typical congregation—it is verbose, complicated, and inconsiderate of average range. There is not a man alive who can sing “I Will Raise Him Up.” And it requires the impediments of bulky hymnals and progressive lens glasses--or NBA arena style jumbotrons.
The third critique involves the identity of the pastoral musicians ministry as a whole. Day is in step with the American bishops’ “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship” , one of the finest documents to come out of the USCCB. Both Day and the bishops concur that the function of cantors, choirs, and musical instruments is, at the most, to assist the congregation to begin singing, and then to melt into the congregational event. It is rare to see this process unfold correctly, because in truth there is extraordinarily little congregational singing to melt into. Have you ever wondered what your church would sound like if someone suddenly pulled the plug on the microphones and the organ during a song?
If my memory serves me, Day’s 2013 critique is more inclusive of the entire liturgy, highlighting those factors which break the mood of the common Eucharist, or as he puts it, the unity of the sacred “dance.” Is it necessary, for example, for the celebrant to say “Good morning, folks” after the opening hymn and sign of the cross? He raises questions about the atmospherics of too much artificial lighting and carpeting which absorbs the sound of congregational singing.
In a different key, Day pays more attention to the liturgical publishing houses and their influence upon local church music. If the goal of the liturgical renewal is common worship in song, it would stand to reason that  we need fewer hymns and more ways to sing the Mass parts themselves, and  our parishes’ repertoires ought to be small and familiar, eliminating the “book element.” Do we need hymnals with 750 selections?
Not surprisingly, the author has numerous and thoughtful recommendations for a reform of the reform. Among others, he calls for a rejection of the common wisdom among musicians that the goal of church music is “to energize people and create spiritual excitement.” [p. 205] He calls for an abandonment of music which celebrates “the contemporary us” [p. 216], including a disturbingly large repertoire where the congregation is expected to sing in God’s voice, such as “Be Not Afraid.” [p. 73] He encourages fidelity to the Council’s priority that we sing the Mass itself [and avoid the pitfalls of the “four-hymn sandwich” format.] On this latter point, he is not afraid to introduce Gregorian Chant as well as antiphonal formats for singing the Gloria and Creed in English. And, a refreshingly novel thought, he reminds us that not every Sunday Mass need be a full musical showcase, recalling that years ago there was only one “high Mass” in every parish.
Day’s 2013 edition obviously predates the Covid exodus. But his excellent analysis of liturgical music is even more potent today: will people return to Eucharist if their place at the table is not set?
It will be sixty years next week, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, that the first of four sessions of Vatican II adjourned after a grueling two months of work. The formal close of the first session was overshadowed by the realization that Pope John XXIII, the pontiff who had called the Council back in 1959, was dying. The pope’s declining health was obvious to everyone. In attendance the Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, observed “What was intended as au revoir turned into an adieu.” [p. 239] There was a certain degree of anxiety among the bishops about the future of the Council, as councils are automatically disbanded at the death of a pope until [or if] the next pope chooses to reconvene it.
I strongly recommend John O’Malley’s What Happened at Vatican II  for an excellent description of the preparation of the Council and the rejection of the presented agenda by the bishops in that first session of 1962. [See my Amazon review of O’Malley’s book here.] In brief, suffice to say that when Pope John established the various working committees to draw up the discussion drafts for the Council, he turned to the Roman Curial departments to organize and complete this work. The Roman Curia had responded quite negatively to the pope’s announcement of the Council in 1959, so it may seem surprising that the preparatory work for the Council was entrusted to men who were less than enthusiastic about it in the first place.
In truth, the pope was limited in his options. The Curia was the only functioning bureaucracy in Catholicism capable of preparing for a council with a three-year deadline. In addition, Pope John was enough of a loyal traditionalist that he would not intentionally embarrass or diminish the reputations of men who had served the church for decades. And, at some level, he perhaps hoped to win their approval for the aggiornamento or winds of change he believed were permeating the Church through the Holy Spirit.
The Curia recruited eight hundred persons to prepare the Council drafts, though as author Peter Hebblethwaite points out, many of the greatest theological minds in the Latin West were excluded for what we would call today “progressive methodology.” Among those excluded: Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves-Marie Congar, and the American priest-scholars John Courtney Murray and John L. McKenzie. What the Curia—operating in secret--could not control was the growing interest in the Council as discussed in the secular media and in popular writing, including the Swiss theologian Hans Kung’s The Council, Reform and Reunion.  See America Magazine’s review of this work here. Kung’s book, eminently readable, shaped the possibilities of the upcoming council, particularly its implications for Catholic relations with other Christian Churches. Mainstream Protestant leaders became very interested in the possibilities of Vatican II.
Pope John, it seems, was quietly pleased with the “outside rumblings” of Kung and other churchmen and worked behind the scenes to obtain a position of major importance for Father Austin Bea, S.J. on the newly created “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity,” which would have powerful influence later in the Council. In August 1962, two months before the opening of the Council, only seven drafts of conciliar documents were ready for dispatch to the world’s bishops. Four of these would be rejected outright on the floor of the Council. It was becoming clearer, to insiders at least, that the first business of the Council would be control of the agenda.
On Sunday, September 23, 1962, Pope John was informed by his physician that his stomach cancer had progressed to the point that he was living on borrowed time. He decided to keep this prognosis secret, particularly in view of the Council, and he devoted much of his pre-Council work to negotiations with Communist governments to allow bishops behind the Iron Curtain [including Karol Wojtyla] to attend Vatican II. Finally, on October 11, the solemn opening of the Council was highlighted by the most important sermon ever delivered by John XXIII, on the purpose of the Council. [Sadly, it was also his last major address as his illness was advancing.] I take the liberty to quote his address at some length:
The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.
Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.
The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.
For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character. [Emphasis mine.]
Pope John’s charter for the Council is clear enough. Vatican II would not create new doctrines, new feasts, or radical departures from the corpus of Catholic Faith. In fact, this aspect of the mission here is articulated quite traditionally. The challenge to the Church was the need to reexamine the language and understanding of timeless revealed truth by the lights available in the twentieth century—with the hoped-for outcome that the Gospel of Jesus would become better grasped, greater loved, and devotedly followed. In the last sentence cited above, John calls for a “pastoral” style of engagement with Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Vatican II would have no condemnations; there would be no burnings at this council as actually happened at the Council of Constance in 1414 when the reformer Jan Hus was executed during that council’s proceedings.
Again, I would direct you to a full source on the substance of Vatican II, such as the O’Malley text cited above, to get the full flavor and detail of the first session in particular, the session Pope John lived to see. In the space of two months the bishops were faced with the challenges of setting priorities, and operating procedures to set something of a level playing field vis-à-vis the packaged plan proposed by the Roman Curia, all of this undertaken in Latin, which few bishops outside the Curia could speak. One might call the Council the precursor of “Synodality” as we use the term in very recent years.
During the first session Pope John received advice on the direction of the Council from Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who proposed an outline for discussion that proved to be strikingly close to what would unfold, except that the Council ran to four sessions instead of Montini’s projection of three. Montini advised that the first session should focus on the nature of the Church itself, a subject which included the exercise of papal authority and the nature of the ministry of bishops. [The pope-bishop dynamic was a continuation of Vatican I’s work, a council forced to adjourn prematurely due to the danger of war.] The second session, the cardinal proposed, would deal with the mission of the Church, and would include the reform of the Liturgy. The third session in this plan would discuss the Church’s relationship with “human groups,” a hint of what would become Gaudium et Spes. Interestingly, Montini’s correspondence here was not discovered until 1983, twenty years after the Council. Montini, incidentally, was elected to the Chair of Peter in June 1963, taking the name Pope Paul VI, and oversaw the final three sessions of the council.
Pope John observed the proceedings with great interest, and never lost hope in the outcome of the Council though he had plenty of reason to do so. The first session promulgated or issued no documents, and bishops became increasingly aware that the Council would last several years. But as the first session ended, Pope John recorded this entry in his journal: “Brothers gathered from afar to get to know each other; they needed to look each other in the eye in order to understand each other’s heart; they needed time to describe their own experiences which reflected differences in the apostolate in most varied situations; they needed time to have thoughtful and useful exchanges on pastoral matters.” [p. 239]
The first session ended in an “almost penitential” mood on December 8, 1963, as the pope’s declining health overshadowed other concerns and left some question as to whether a new pope would even reconvene the council. A thoughtful man to the end, the Pope’s farewell address at the end of the Council was addressed primarily to the conservatives of the Curia, who had endured a hard time of things as their planning and documents were discarded or significantly redrafted.
It is little known in the United States that Pope John had been involved in working toward the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which coincided with the first two weeks of the Council. Hebblethwaite believes that John Kennedy was reluctant to make this fact known because of his sensitivity over appearances of “taking orders from Rome,” a real issue in the 1960 presidential election. The likelihood of a nuclear holocaust led the dying pope to pen his most famous encyclical, Pacem in Terris [Peace on Earth], issued on April 11, 1963, just seven weeks before his death on June 3. At the conclave that followed, Cardinal Montini, his close friend, was elected to succeed him on the sixth ballot. The Council resumed that fall.
Pope John XXIII’s reign as pontiff lasted less than five years, and it is most remembered for the Council he convoked, Vatican II [1962-1965]. One of the ironies of John’s life is that he lived only through the first session, 1962, and died of stomach cancer before the second session in 1963. More than that, the only session he lived to see produced not one of the sixteen documents that comprise the corpus of Council’s teaching. And yet, before he died, he navigated the three-year planning and the operation of the first session—admittedly in trial-and-error fashion—and carried forth the Council when many were working against it and others doubted whether it was even possible.
No one from the last Council, Vatican I [1869-1870], was alive when John announced the future Vatican II. He was aware that Pope Pius XII had considered a council during the late 1940’s, to condemn errors and proclaim the Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary; Pius decided against a council by condemning the errors in his encyclical Humani Generis  and he declared the Assumption a dogma through his own infallible office. John was not certain precisely what shape his council would take, but his biographer Peter Hebblethwaite is clear that he did not want a Pius XII-style affair. “He expressed this by saying that its purpose was ‘pastoral.’ This meant it would not be primarily concerned with doctrinal questions but with the new needs of the Church and the world.” [p. 159] If the Roman Curia was sullen to the idea, the pope’s discussions with cardinals at the conclave and elsewhere convinced him that a pastoral direction might be well received.
One of the enduring myths of Vatican II is that John’s call for a council was hijacked by European liberal theologians and bishops which led to a radical outcome never intended by John. This interpretation is an aberration drawn from several realities. First, in the Western Latin Church the only outstanding schools of theology were in Western Europe. [Catholic scholarship in the U.S. was languishing and smarting from the now-famous critique of Monsignor John Tracy Ellis in 1955.] Second, Europe had experienced the full fury of two World Wars and the disillusionment with parochial Catholicism that followed. A further consideration is that despite his desire for a pastoral council, John turned the preparation of the council’s agenda over to the Curia.
Moreover, John seemed content to let major spokesmen from among the Curia explicitly define the philosophy and shape of the coming council. Cardinal Domenico Tardini in particular was not averse to taking the lecture circuit and press conferences [a new format for Vatican affairs] to make clear that he was not interested in ecumenism nor in “learning from the world.” [p. 171] From his journal and private conversations, it can be drawn that John was not overly upset by his argumentative “barons of the Church,” looking upon them as well-intentioned if not querulous uncles. He hoped to win them over despite the local jokes about the operation of the Vatican, that one official reigns, another spies, another keeps watch, another governs. And John merely blesses.” [p. 175]
The Synod of Rome consumed much of the pope’s time in 1959. Predictably the Roman Curial cardinals considered this synod [discretely] a waste of time. Even those enthused about the Council, due to start in 1962, were perplexed about the timing of this local Roman affair. Many theories have been put forward about its purpose—one of the more ludicrous being that the pope called this synod as a sop to keep the curial cardinals occupied while Vatican II was under preparation. But here is another example of underestimating this pope. John, the student of history, recalled that the Council of Trent [1545-1563] had called for local synods as the means of reforming the spiritual lives of the faithful and the clergy. In fact, many dioceses throughout Italy had held synods over the centuries; Rome had not. John convoked the Roman synod at the city’s mother church, St. John Lateran. Unfortunately, the event itself was such a dud—a reading of canonical minutiae [priests were never to be alone with a woman, the racetrack was out-of-bounds for clerics, etc.]—that, if nothing else, it lowered the bar of expectations for the council. The pope consoled himself with the thought that “nothing is perfect in this world.” [p. 179]
With Curia leaders dragging out the preparations for the Council and lowering expectations, the pope was not about to get exercised about the stalemate. But equally true, he was not going to squelch the enthusiasms for the future Council from outside Rome, either as prominent bishops and theologians began to weigh in, both on the style of the Council itself and the matters it would tend to. No theologian saw a greater window of opportunity than Hans Kung, a brilliant and youthful priest from Sursee, Switzerland and professor at the University of Tubingen [Germany] at the age of thirty-two. Kung, who had the good fortune of completing his doctoral dissertation just a few years before the Council about justification and the Christian Churches, grasped the ecumenical possibilities of the Council, intuiting the Pope John shared similar concerns for the unity of Christendom.
Kung’s research had immersed him into the workings of the Council of Trent [1545-63], again connecting to one of the Pope’s own considerable historical interests. Among his findings Kung discovered that there was no one standard formula for conducting a council, and that the future Vatican II ought to take whatever form necessary to assist the Church. Most noteworthy in terms of public relations impact was Kung’s book entitled The Council, Reform, and Reunion . In this book Kung argued that Trent has been a reform council upon which the twentieth century Catholic Church could build, and he provided seven reforms that the Council could undertake that would, among other things, bring greater union with all the Christian Churches. All seven points were eventually embodied in the final decrees of Vatican II.
Kung was hardly the first theologian to speculate on the Council—liturgical studies utilized by the Council dated back as far as the 1920’s—but Kung’s book, published jointly in English by Sheed and Ward, and Doubleday, appeared as a simple, straightforward paperback in multiple languages in the early 1960’s. It was the first book on the Council to appear in neighborhood American bookstores and to introduce the Catholic population—lay and cleric—to the possibilities of a “council,” a term which did not even appear in the standard Baltimore Catechism that I studied in the 1950’s. Scholars here in the United States, for example, reviewed this book in Catholic publications. Kung himself—who spoke multiple languages--became both a media figure and a lecturer in high demand. The Curia, working in secret on a council template with limited collegial discussion, was outraged.
Pope John himself never publicly commented on the book. But he personally invited Kung to serve as a peritus [theological expert] for the Council before it opened; Kung recommended to the pope his professorial colleague who would also make major contributions—Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. In the years leading up to the Council, it was now reasonably safe for leading scholars and church leaders to publicly discuss and advocate for issue to be addressed, regardless of what the Curia might put forward at the opening of the Council. Pope John’s biographer Peter Hebblethwaite devotes an entire chapter to the role of the Jesuit scholar Augustin Bea and his personal impact upon the pontiff. [pp. 190-198]
Augustin Bea is one of the most remarkable men produced by the Church in the twentieth century. If you have the time, his biography here is worthy of review. Bea was nearly eighty during the planning years of the Council. A Jesuit priest, biblical scholar, and confessor to the late Pope Pius XII, Bea was one of those men who engendered trust on both sides of disputed issues. And so, it came to be that when the thorny issue of ecumenism arose in the planning stages, the pope approved a special commission headed by Bea to make commendations. In Hebblethwaite’s words, “Did he [Pope John] realize he had just made the most important appointment of his pontificate?” [p. 194] Later the pope would call it one of his “silent inspirations of the Lord.”
No doubt assisted by Bea, Pope John established The Secretariat for Christian Unity, a branch of the Vatican bureaucracy that would be devoted to improving relations with separated Christians. Recall that the general principle of “outside the Church there was no salvation” was still entrenched in the minds of some Catholics. The more common and pastoral understanding in 1960 was that Protestantism [and non-Christian religions] lived in a defective relationship in separation from the one, true Catholic Church. Thus, the idea of an official branch of Catholic governance devoted to relations with other Christian Churches was a truly inspired innovation, a kind of “anti-Inquisition” if you will. Hebblethwaite writes that “John had always known that Vatican II would not be a council of reunion” in the sense of medieval councils such as Lyons and Florence. Bea stated the pope’s intention clearly: “The Holy Father hopes that the forthcoming Council may be a kind of invitation to our separated brethren, by letting them see, in its day-to-day proceedings, the sincerity, love and concord which prevail in the Catholic Church. So, we may say, rather, that the Council should make an indirect contribution to union, breaking the ground in a long-term policy of preparation for unity….” [p. 195]
Bea, by breaking the ecumenical ice, influenced multiple documents of the Council, and collaborated intimately with Pope John during the first session, though this position did not spare him the consistent enmity and surveillance of Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office. The pope let them duke it out hoping for a Hegelian synthetic compromise. This did not happen, and Bea would have to wait until the Council was in full force to see his work vindicated. In December 1960 Pope John received Doctor Geoffrey Fisher, the [Anglican] Archbishop of Canterbury at the Vatican, albeit discretely. Hebblethwaite: “The Curia was hostile to this hob-nobbing with ‘dissidents.’” [p. 197] And Fisher did his best imitation of an archbishop behaving poorly, using his time in Rome to address Anglican audiences on Catholic paternalism and other faults.
With one year left to prepare for the Council, Pope John turned eighty, and as his biographer observes, he was growing more confident in his papacy and entered discussions on thorny practical details of Vatican II. Not all these matters were, strictly speaking, theological in nature. [In his outstanding history of the Council, What Happened at Vatican II (2008), John O’Malley describes the shortage of bathrooms, smoking areas, and coffee bars in Saint Peter’s. See my review on the book’s Amazon site.] In his address to the Central [planning] Commission in June 1961, Pope John reviewed many of these practical matters of the Council at considerable length. For example, the role of the periti or theological experts was considered, as well as the voting procedures and the rules of debate. On this matter of floor debate, the Curia determined that all discussions of the Council would be conducted in Latin.
Stop and think about this linguistic conundrum. Four years of complicated theological debate conducted in a language that, truth be told, very few bishops had mastered to the point of being conversational. In fact, during the first session of the Council, Cardinal Cushing of Boston famously uttered “In Latin I represent the Church of silence.” [p. 199] Cushing offered to pay for a simulcast translation in multiple languages—United Nations style--for the participants of the Council, but the Curia rejected his offer, preferring to keep participants at a disadvantage. Cushing, in a huff, went home and boycotted the Council for a year. But this was in the distant future.
Speaking of Latin, one of Pope John’s most ineffectual documents of his papacy, according to Hebblethwaite, was his Veterum Sapientia on February 22, 1962. The document reimposed the use of Latin as the teaching medium of philosophy and theology in major seminaries. There has been much speculation about why he issued this teaching when he did. Hebblethwaite suggests that since the Council floor meetings would be in Latin, it did not seem unreasonable to the Pope that priests and bishops of the future ought to at least be able to read it fluently. While John was a devout reader of Latin sources, his conversational fluency was so minimal that he practiced twice a day with a Vatican official prior to the Council. Those seminaries that tried to observe Veterum Sapientia gave it up at the end of the semester. [p. 207] One theory has it that the liturgical planning council was considering a renewal of the Mass at least partly in the vernacular, and that the Curia prompted John to push the brakes on what could be a potential runaway train by reinstating Latin in seminaries.
The Pope expressed interest in the manner that the Council would be covered by the press and the electric media. He issued a directive that “nothing which helps souls should be hidden. But in dealing with grave and serious matters, we have the duty to present them with prudence and simplicity, neither flattering vague curiosity nor indulging in the temptation of polemics.” [p. 200] As Hebblethwaite observes, this was an ambivalent directive at best, and the Curia was quick to interpret the directive as meaning all issues of the Council were “grave and serious matters” and thus, in the planning stage it was understood that the Council would be conducted in secreto. [No translation necessary.] However, one of the periti of the Council, whom we now know to be a Redemptorist American priest, entered a contractual agreement to report on the Council for the secular New Yorker Magazine for reports from the Council. Under the pseudonym “Xavier Rynne,” the American public—and much of the world—got a continuous commentary on the progress—or lack thereof—of the conciliar debates and the politics of the assembly. [See my review of Rynne’s Vatican II here.]
On his eightieth birthday the Pope received greetings from Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev. Unbeknownst to most of the world, John was quietly cultivating a relationship with Russia through the Italian Socialist Party. The Pope was not a Socialist, but rather, as his pontificate progressed, he became much more worried about war and peace, particularly in the nuclear milieu. Historians cite his involvement in the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He would write his most famous encyclical, Pacem in Terris [“Peace on Earth”] in April 1963, two months before his death.
In November 1961, a general meeting of the planning board of the Council was convened. Composed of curial officials, senior bishops, and a sprinkling of periti, the body was tightly controlled by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Prefect of the Vatican’s Holy Office. There was considerable grumbling when Ottaviani revealed his blueprint for the council; he called for a new “Profession of Faith” that would repeat the anti-Modernist oath [of Pope Pius IX], repudiation of the errors of “the new theology,” affirmation of the difference between priests and laity, and denunciation of those who “spoke with exaggerated emphasis about the Church’s guilt and sinfulness.” [p. 206] In truth, this agenda could have been submitted in 1860 with virtually no change, which led the visiting planning bishops to ask, “so why are we meeting at all?” Ottaviani’s blueprint did not sound very much like the Pope’s call for aggiornamento, “opening the windows for fresh air.” The United States bishops’ representatives did not understand the Latin, either, and depended upon an elderly English cleric for summaries of the debates.
Unknown to everyone on the eve of the Council were the results of a physical examination of September 23, 1962. Pope John was informed that stomach cancer—a scourge which had claimed several members of his family—was well-advanced and would claim his life in the not-too-distant future. The Pope did not reveal his condition publicly. But when asked what his role would be at Vatican II, he always answered the same way: “My role in the council is to suffer.” [p. 218]
Biographer Peter Hebblethwaite begins his narrative of Angelo Roncalli’s/Pope John XXIII’s papacy with a quote from Time Magazine published barely three weeks after his election on October 28, 1958: “If anyone expected Roncalli to be a mere caretaker Pope, providing a transition to the next reign, he destroyed the notion within minutes of his election…He stomped in boldly like the owner of the place, throwing open windows and moving furniture around.” [p. 144] Of course, his first matter of business was choosing his name. Only a Church historian could appreciate the humor in the fact that during the Great Schism there had been a John XXIII, a pseudo-pope of such poor character that the common wisdom held the name John to be unsuitable for any future pope. But Roncalli was a historian, too, and realized that the importance of the Apostle John should continue to be commemorated in the papal line, and indeed later in the century both John Paul I [r. 1978] and John Paul II [r. 1978-2005] would take the name of the Apostle ‘whom Jesus loved.” [p. 145]
Pope John appointed his secretary of state, Cardinal Domenico Tardini, the very next day. In truth, the two men were not particularly close, but the pope, who had not served in Rome since 1925 and did not know the inner workings of the Curia, wanted the counsel of an old hand. Hebblethwaite writes that the new pope was highly sensitive and respectful of the Curia, hoping to win their support for the reforms he had in mind, but added that “Later, Pope John would pay a painful price for this kid-gloved handling of the Curia; but as an opening move it was tactically shrewd.” [p. 147] Another early and interesting selection by the new pope was that of his confessor, and it became his practice to make a weekly confession at 3 PM on Friday, the hour of Christ’s death on the cross.
Roncalli’s coronation lasted five hours, in part because he broke with custom and decided to preach. It was a groundbreaking homily, for in it the new pope said, in effect, that he was not going to imitate his predecessor as the master of all things. He described himself in these terms: “The new Pope, through the events and circumstances of his life, is like the son of Jacob who, meeting with his brothers, burst into tears and said, “I am Joseph, your brother.” [p. 150] It had been a great many years since any pontiff had identified his ministry in these terms. One might have to go back all the way to Saint Peter, and even then, only on the Apostle’s good days. By comparison, consider biographer Roland Hill’s account of the English Catholic layman Lord Acton’s audience with Pius IX just a century before: “He [Pius IX] leaned forward and gave us his hand to shake than merely to kiss, very gracefully and raised us up by it—without allowing us to kiss his red-shoed foot. He made us all sit down.” [Hill, p. 79]
Pope John used his first days in office to introduce the idea “that a pope above all should be “pastoral.” One of the early groups to experience this fraternal outreach was the secular press corps. Two days after his coronation he met with the press for an informal conference, without prepared notes. He told the journalists that he had enjoyed reading their news coverage of how the world was responding to events in Rome. Then he added a truly funny aside when he said that was also reading their papers “to learn the secrets of the conclave.” Hebblethwaite notes that the pope’s friendliness and warmth won over the writers: “some tough-minded journalists admitted afterward and in private, to tears.” [p. 151]
The pivotal decision by the new pope—and it was made early in his papacy—was the decision to call an ecumenical council, which would ultimately be named Vatican II. How the decision was made—and when it was made—is an intriguing narrative that different historians have treated in diverse ways. Hebblethwaite’s account is the most detailed. He reports that on the night before Roncalli’s election in the conclave, when it appeared that he would be elected pope, he was visited in his room by Cardinals Ruffini and Ottaviani, the latter the head of the Vatican’s Holy Office and arguably the most influential of the Curial Cardinals. Ruffini had suggested the idea of a council to the newly elected Pius XII in 1939, and twenty years later he made the same pitch to John XXIII.
That Ottaviani—who proved to be one of the most oppositional forces in the unfolding of Vatican II—should be an inspiration for its calling is difficult to digest from our vantage point in history. However, it is very possible that Ottaviani had in mind the templates of at least the previous two councils—Trent [1545-1563] and Vatican I [1869-1870]—which solidified the doctrine and discipline of the Church. It turned out, however, that neither Ottaviani nor Ruffini knew the inner dispositions of the new pope and the kind of council he would endorse. Hebblethwaite quotes from the new pope’s diary Pope John’s encounters with cardinals from outside of Rome who came to pay their respects before departing for home. He heard “the expectations of the world and the good impression that the new Pope could make. I listened, noted everything down, and continued to wonder what to do—concretely and immediately.” [p. 157]
It is extremely hard to know—even in our most private selves—when and how we make the pivotal decisions of our lives. So it may be that we will never know the precise moment that Pope John XXIII decided to call a council. If I had to guess, I would say that during his tenure as Patriarch of Venice, where he was a very active “peoples’ bishop” and rumors began to circulate that he was papabile, a “papal candidate,” so to speak, he must have begun to pray and reflect upon the kind of pope the world needed in the post-war nuclear era. It was truly a gift of the Spirit that the new pope came to decide that a new council should not follow the template of previous ones. As Hebblethwaite puts it, “Becoming pope had not magically endowed him with instant solutions for the universal Church. The best course would be to get all the bishops thinking about these problems together.” [p. 157] From the vantage point of history, Pope John’s council would be a true synod, a “walk together.”
The new pope was acutely aware that time was not on his side. He celebrated his 77th birthday shortly after his election, and in reviewing the history of previous councils, he noted that Vatican I had taken six years to prepare. On the other hand, this was 1959 and not 1863, and travel and technology might facilitate preparation for a Council that, for all purposes, looked like a one-year session at most. However, time was the least of his problems, as he discovered on Sunday, January 25, when he assembled the nineteen curial cardinals to make his formal announcement.
Frankly, the “rollout” at St. Paul’s Beyond the Walls was a mess. The pope attempted to do too many things and serve too many masters in making his announcement. The occasion was the final day of the Church Unity Octave, the eight-day annual novena of prayer for the reunion of the Church, an observance still celebrated today in Roman Catholicism. The day was chosen as a fitting backdrop to announce a council that, in the pope’s mind, would be a brotherly outreach to all peoples of good will. However, the content of the pope’s address was geared toward winning over the conservative cardinals. To reach them, he resorted to language they might understand and embrace. Hebblethwaite summarizes: “He still seemed to be using borrowed language when he went on to deplore the ‘lack of discipline and the loss of the old moral order’ which had, he claimed, reduced the Church’s capacity to deal with error. This pessimism about the present state of the world—sunk in error and in the grip of Satan—so contradicts Pope John’s usual attitudes that some explanation is called for. The simplest is that this address had one precise goal: to win over the cardinals to his project of a Council. To assist this process, he reflected the views he knew they held.” [p. 162]
The pope complicated matters further by announcing three events at the same time: a council, a synod of the Diocese of Rome, and a revision of Canon Law. One could argue that the Rome Synod would serve as a “dry run” for the Council, though that was a stretch. The Code of Canon Law was revised—in 1983! —so there was hardly any urgency about the Code that should have distracted from the main agenda, the ecumenical council. As is well documented by historians, the cardinals received the news in cold, sullen silence. Pope John was bitterly disappointed at the response. In his car on the way back to the Vatican he said to his companion, “It’s not a matter of my personal feelings. We are embarked on the will of the Lord…Now I need silence and recollection. I feel tired of everyone, of everything.” [p. 163]
The ultimate “downer” of the day was its coverage in the press. L’Osservatore Romano, the daily Vatican paper, ran the pope’s grim, anti-Communism reflections to the cardinals on the front page, and buried the announcement of the council on the inside. The good news—though it was not yet visible or widely appreciated—was the reality that many bishops and theologians, particularly in Europe, understood both the pope’s vision and the need for a council of hope and healing. In the coming days they would not let him down.
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