We continue our Monday/Saturday recollections of Vatican II.
On October 30, 1963, the Council took a preliminary vote on its work on de Ecclesia, "On the Church." Five propositions were put forward for reworking for the final draft. The bishops, or most of them, believed that there was something of an air of finality on this vote, which went as follows (1) That the episcopacy be defined as the highest degree of Holy Orders, agreed 2123-34; (2) that every bishop is a member of the episcopal body--a vote for collegiality, actuality--agreed 2049-104; (3) that the college of bishops is successor to the college of Apostles, and in communion with--and never without--the holy father, and enjoys a supreme and plenary authority over the universal Church--agreed 1808-336; (4) that the bishops' authority is united to the pope's by reason of divine right--agreed 1717-408; and finally, did the Council Fathers endorse the restoration of the permanent diaconate--agreed 1588-525. The voting trend here is fairly clear; while the vast majority endorsed the sacramental dignity and status of bishops, as the individual consequences of such episcopal authority increased with each ballot, a noticeable minority did increase in oppositional ballot strength, though the minority never approached 25%.
For this reason the bishops were somewhat relaxed as they undertook a traditional Italian long weekend to observe the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. But as the bishops enjoyed the late fall countryside, back in Rome Paul VI had apparently chided the Curia, specifically its "Theological Commission," for foot dragging. Chastened and angered, the body met over the holiday, and speaking of the five-fold vote just taken the week before, Cardinal "Always the Same" Ottaviani announced that the vote results were merely "directive," indicating that he and his commission would not accept the will of the majority. Naturally, word of this reached the bishops, and to add gasoline to the fire, the floor debate resumed on November 5, 1963 to debate bishops and their relationship to the Curia. For professional theologians, the inclusion of this topic was nothing short of theater of the absurd. The very existence of the Curia was not biblical, but it had become a practical necessary in the Middle Ages when the papacy served as something of a supreme court, listening to cases from throughout Christendom. That a church document was actually discussing bishops and curialists as somewhat equal entities with protocols of rights and duties is something rather hard to imagine today, at least from a theological standpoint.
But for the cardinals and bishops with sees or dioceses to govern, relations with the Curia were everything, and in fact bishops often found their hands tied by decisions of the Curia and its various extensions, such as papal nuncios, who made the final recommendation of nominations of bishops in all countries to the Holy See. In fact even today bishops here in the U.S. must get permission before selling church property over a certain market value. The Curia oversaw seminaries, theology professors and their writings, annulments (as Pope Francis has recently reminded us), and sundry other matters, including the Vatican Bank. As it turned out, by 1963 the tide of episcopal sentiment toward the Curia was running out. This was an administrative and, as it turned out, highly personal matter for many bishops. Having just voted the previous week on the sacramental dignity of the office of bishop, the Council fathers found a collective distaste in this debate, after years of highhanded treatment from a bureaucracy that as often as not did not represent the accurate views of the reigning pontiff.
It did not help the Curial cause that the first speakers were in fact Curial officials defending the efficiency of their offices. Perhaps the best example of faulty pre-game scouting reports was the argument of Cardinal Marcella who, noting the great advances in global communications, stated "It is a fact that the Roman Curia has precise and accurate knowledge of each diocese." One can only wonder what even the traditionalist Cardinal Spellman thought about that. At the very least, the Curialist position overlooked a widely endorsed principle emerging on the Council floor, that of "subsidiary" which held that problems should be solved locally with the least necessary intervention of authority. (A close relative of Ockham's Razor, I guess you could say.) But worse, the Curialist stance was personally offensive to bishops, making them sound like ecclesiastical office boys. But who would say this publicly?
The day was Friday, November 8, and the man was Cardinal Frings of Cologne. He was a biblical scholar, graduate of the Pontifical Institute, a mountain climber (literally, not ecclesiastically) until at 76 his health failed him. He was known for dry wit, so what he would stand to say would shock just about everyone in the assembly. First, he chastised the Curia for its belittling of the October 30 "five votes." But then he went on: "We must not confuse administrative roles with legislative ones. This also goes for the Holy Office [headed by Ottaviani] whose methods and behaviors do not conform at all to the modern era, and are a cause of scandal to the world. No one should be judged and condemned without having been heard, without knowing what he is accused of, and without having the opportunity to repair what he can reasonably be reproached with." Frings went on to condemn the excessive bureaucracy of the Curia and the practice of naming its administrators bishops, and even went so far as to recommend the employment of laymen in curial offices. He called for a board of bishops to supercede the Curia and work in consultation with the pope. (It took 40 years for this last proposal to be implemented by, you know who, Pope Francis.) After a moment of understandable shock, the majority of Council Fathers engaged in a long and enthusiastic applause.
According to Xavier Rynne, Pope Paul VI called Frings to congratulate him on his intervention. It is also reported that Ottaviani went to see the pope that afternoon, but as Rynne reports, he did not receive an endorsement from Paul VI and was so upset that he threatened to resign. However, these private interventions by the pope were not generally known, and in truth the Council fathers had no real sense of what the fallout might be from l'affaire Frings-Ottaviani. If anything, tensions were heightened throughout the balance of the Second Session.
As if to underscore the surreal nature of Friday, November 8, 1963, the Holy Office was scheduled to provide an evening of entertainment for the Council Fathers, with Ottaviani as official host. In 1962 his office had provided a viewing of the film "The trial of Jeanne d'Arc." On this memorable night, the film chosen in advance was the American offering, "The Cardinal." If you don't remember it, there is a good reason--one reviewer summed it up as "stupid and in questionable taste."
We continue our Monday/Saturday review of the proceedings of Vatican II, from the works of Xavier Rynne and others.
On September 21, 1963, a week before Session Two of Vatican II, the newly elected Pope Paul VI made a surprising public statement. (This was 52 years ago today and the Feast of the evangelist St. Matthew). Paul VI identified himself as “the pope who today has made the legacy of John XXIII his own, and has also made it a program for the entire Church.” He then went on to say that the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy for want of a better description, was in need of reform. Then he added this: “We will say more: If the Ecumenical Council wishes to see some representatives of the episcopacy, particularly bishops heading dioceses, associated…with [the pope] in the study and responsibility of ecclesiastical government, it will not be the Roman Curia that will oppose it.”
In the light of the dynamics of the first session in 1962, this was a truly remarkable statement, given that the Curia had fought Pope John and the majority of bishops on nearly every point of discussion in the historic first session. Pope Paul was stating first and foremost that he was in total agreement with his predecessor regarding the urgent need for the Council. Most outside observers assumed this was so even before he spoke; he had, after all, just won election in the papal consistory by a representative worldwide body of Cardinals. The greater questions dealt with fear that the Curia would sidestep his wishes as it had his predecessor. Paul was a smarter man than John and anticipated the need to address this elephant in the living room. But as Xavier Rynne observed, Paul was setting out a new agenda: if not the Curia, then who would join the pope in the governance of the universal Church? The answer is found in Paul’s above cited directive: it would be the bishops, successors of the apostles and sharing episcopal consecration with the pope. The theological term for this is collegiality, the body of bishops ruling as a college in communion with the pope, primus inter pares in a very real sense. Session Two would be remembered as the autumn of the bishops.
On September 30, 1963, Session Two opened with a “dialogue Mass,” one of the first templates for the changes in the Mass rite sanctioned in the previous year’s session. The first schema or discussion document on the agenda was De Ecclesia or “on the Church.” Cardinal Frings of Cologne summarized his concerns about several points in what was otherwise a rather good first draft. He argued that the schema was not intended to define who was in and who was out of the Church (an issue that many still contend to this day); he expressed concern about the “cherry picking” of Scriptural texts to support arguments, and that there was much more material on infallibility than on the teaching office of the bishops. Of particular interest in this schema was the use of the term “people of God” to describe the Church faithful, a far cry from “pay, pray, and obey.” Implied in the title was the identity of the laity as essential to the Church by virtue of baptism, spirituality, wisdom and good works. In all, the bishops were pleased with the general tenor of the document and voted favorably to bring it back for chapter by chapter analysis, 2231-43.
As the debate on de Ecclesia entered the paragraph by paragraph phase, a French bishop relaxing in Bar Jonah was heard to say, “To be a good Council Father, you need the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon, and it also helps if you have a cast iron bottom, alors!” Debates took place in widely varying degrees of Latin competence for stretches between two or three hours. (Years later, Karol Wotyla would bring a philosophy journal to pass the time at the consistory to elect a successor to Pope John Paul I, probably mindful of his Vatican II experiences. Wotyla, of course, was elected as John Paul II; no word if he finished his reading.)
One of the more pertinent issues to arise was the nature of the word “church,” and whether this could be appropriately attributed to Protestant assemblies. This intervention came from the first U.S. bishop to speak at Session Two, the colorful and humorous Ernie Primeau of Manchester, New Hampshire. Primeau had been wrongly introduced as the bishop of Manchester, England. Primeau, on taking the microphone, set the assembly laughing when he observed wryly that his counterpart across the ocean was “a separated brethren” (of the Church of England). Primeau then delivered a thoughtful and critical reflection on the importance of the term “church” vis-à-vis the ecumenical movement in countries like the United States. A consensus was slowly emerging that any definition of “church” must somehow embrace all baptized persons, and equally important, some statement of recognition of the validity of other church bodies worshipping the same Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Lercaro cut through one Gordian knot by defining the Catholic Church as full and complete, a phrasing that did not belittle the Christian reality of other churches who possessed critical aspects of an understanding of Revelation and mission. He went on to define the Church as a dynamis or “dynamic power,” ever growing and responding to the challenges of this day, a radical turn from Ottaviani’s belief of “always the same.” On October 4, the Feast of St. Francis, a number of speakers called for a greater inclusion of the Church’s mission to the poor in its declaration of its identity, a distant forerunner of Pope Francis’ preaching a half-century later. The bishop of the Canary Islands raised the issue of “fallen away Catholics;” I found this a fascinating intervention in that bishops in 1963 were already worried about the trend of departures that has grown exponentially since then. The second American intervention, from Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, emphasized the importance of identifying the Church’s salvific work of preaching the Scripture. This was another step away from the Church as an unchanging, static, legal entity.
Enough significant contributions had been made for the first portion of the de Ecclesia schema to go into final drafting. The much more contentious discussion on collegiality—the relationship of bishops and pope—would be taken up next. At this juncture Archbishop Felici, a curial officer serving as parliamentarian and manager of the proceedings, announced that no pamphlets or booklets were to be distributed to the Council Fathers without permission of the Council presidents (i.e., Felici) This was interpreted by Vatican watchers as an attempt to have certain books and publications taken off the bookshelves of bookstores in Rome. The offending writers, it seemed, included one Xavier Rynne.
A continuation of our Monday/Saturday look at the sessions of Vatican II, 1962-1965
By December 1962 the First Session of the Council was drawing to a close. The very fact that another Session was called by Pope John for the Fall of 1963 was a message to friend and foe alike that there was a majority determination to see this venture through, though no one saw a repeat of the Council of Trent in the offing (1545-63). Statistically speaking, the First Session found the Council rather far from Pope John’s goal line: of sixteen schema or documents up for discussion and approval, only one of the “big four” were completed in this session: the major Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy on December 4, and the somewhat minor Decree on Social Media, of moderate importance at best. On the other hand, discussion on other issues such as the nature of the Church, Church Unity and Ecumenism were underway. And, from a legislative standpoint, one of the most important decisions of the Church fathers was to hold in abeyance the bitter and prolonged debate on Sacred Revelation for a future session. John himself had his fingers in this, believing—rightly so—that a Council whose reforming building blocks were the truths of the Sacred Scripture in the modern world could hardly be taken seriously if seventeenth century principles of scholarship were still the order of the day—and second to Church Tradition at that, a belief among many in the old guard.
Session One had been a true learning experience for all involved. Pope John absorbed how deeply the reactionary forces of the Curia were entrenched against him. The bishops themselves, on the whole, were adjusting to an event none of them expected to see in their lifetime. Those of us who have attended large conventions or gatherings can appreciate how much in the dark these churchmen from around the world must have felt, given that there was no real official in-house news organ to keep them up to speed on trends and dynamics. The official Vatican newspaper L’osservatoire Romano was a mouthpiece of the Curia, and for the first session copies of Xavier Rynne’s New Yorker magazine accounts were probably the only major informational ombudsman. As the Council progressed into future sessions, the thousands of international reporters would eventually find an equal number of bishops eager to talk with them. Still, by the end of Session One the bishops were becoming more adept at caucusing and floor management. By December 1962 it was statistically evident that about 75% of the bishops were “progressive,” that is, they had come to reform the Church and were willing to take the chances necessary to do that.
It became clear to perceptive participants, observers and periti that the following Sessions, whatever their number, would be hard. John XXIII was the man of hope and determination; within his imagination the full plot lines of this Council were sketched out. The adulation he enjoyed at the end of 1962 by most bishops and a worldwide audience of Catholics and “those of good will everywhere” breathed a confidence that whatever might happen in 1963 or beyond, the way would be found to that brave new future.
What happened next would indeed shape the Council: Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963, four months prior to the opening of Session Two. Although the pope’s worsening stomach cancer was hardly a secret (Xavier Rynne characterized John’s death as “agonizing”) the shock around the world was palpable. Vatican II was thus far Pope John’s Council; the Church was now in the very unusual historical situation of electing a pope during a council. Given that the old procedures of election were still in place—a preponderance of Italian electors, large numbers of Curial cardinals, and no age restrictions—it is surprising that the conclave proceeded as smoothly as it did and elected the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Montini, to succeed John XXIII. Montini took the name Paul VI. Montini seemed to have been John’s choice to succeed him, as the latter used to refer to him as “our Hamlet” in many of their working meetings prior to Vatican II. In truth Cardinal Montini was excellently positioned for the papal election, and I have seen little literature to suggest that anyone seriously challenged him. The biggest obstacle may have been Montini’s own hesitations, his understanding that both the successful completion of the Council and, probably more difficult, the implementation of the sixteen schemas, would take place on his watch. The old guard Curia did not object to his election because for many years he had been one of them; in fact, he seemed positioned to become secretary of state for Pius XII, but Pius chose to manage international affairs himself.
Thus, Montini was appointed to Milan, where he developed a reputation as something of a progressive who enjoyed mixing with intellectuals of all stripes and who evolved a keen interest in the “social justice” aspect of the Church’s mission. (Living through two world wars rarely leaves a man untouched.) As a close confidant to Pope John, he shared the pope’s enthusiasm to see the Council move forward, and upon his election he embarked on something of a flurry of symbolic gestures not totally unlike the first days of Pope Francis. Interestingly, the new pope studied history in his spare time and enjoyed the TV genre of “westerns,” possibly making him the first pontiff to see a Clint Eastwood movie.
As the story of the Council unfolds, it will become clear that history has not been kind to Paul VI. As a more profound philosopher/historian than John, Paul was perhaps more perceptive regarding the implications of Conciliar decisions. This will be particularly clear in matters of Church authority, the prerogatives of the office of the papacy itself, and matters of marriage and contraception. The most generic criticism of Paul VI, during his lifetime and certainly afterwards, was the one made, ironically in jest, by Pope John himself who described Montini as a “Hamlet.” There is some truth to this: as a trained diplomat Paul VI saw the Council as “consensus building,” troubled that there might be blocks of voters in every ballot very unhappy with majority decisions. Paul spent considerable time and energy in his attempts to bring the dissidents along.
On the other hand, the new pope’s diplomatic style of free discussion and airing of concerns led the more progressive element to embrace more optimism about change than perhaps the time and this pope warranted. Nowhere is this more evident than in Paul’s management of the marriage and birth control discussions in the 1965 Fourth Session. There was a sentiment of betrayal when groundbreaking proposals were pulled back for reasons of ecclesiastical caution.
But this was in the future. Elected in June, Paul VI indicated that the Council would push on with energy, actually moving the next opening date ahead to September 29, 1963. Session Two would have its own drama and surprises.
We continue our Mondays and Saturdays close-ups of the inside workings of Vatican II.
On Wednesday, November 14, 1962, the Church Fathers at Vatican II turned to a second schema or document, which would eventually become “The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” This is a highly complicated debate, focused as it was on how we know God is speaking to us and who within the Church should ultimately make this determination. Thus, among the questions to be resolved were (1) what role does the Scripture play in the Church; (2) what to make of the modern post-Enlightenment scholarship which, when applied to Sacred Scripture, was beginning to reevaluate some critical support texts in traditional Church doctrine, and (3) what was the extent of the term “Tradition.” If you are old enough, you remember that we were taught the two track theory of Revelation, Scripture and Tradition.
Not surprisingly, Cardinal Ottaviani was first to the starting line, The initial battle lines formed very quickly: the Curialists and supporting bishops opposed the schema strongly, with the argument that the purpose of the Council was primarily to emphasize and defend the doctrines of the Catholic Church; new studies in Scripture would cast doubt upon the deposit of faith and make it appear that the official doctrines proclaimed in the past were in some ways erroneous. However, several of the academic and pastoral giants raised significant counterpoints. Cardinal Lienart stated that the expression “Scripture and Tradition” essentially made no sense. Scripture came first, and to speak of a Scripture/Tradition as two complimentary sources was contrary to the intent of Scripture. Rynne describes Lienart’s presentation in great detail: The Cardinal pointed out that there is only one font of salvation—the Word of God, the good news announced by the prophets and revealed in Christ. (Privately I do not believe Lienart was denying the need of a teaching Church, but rather was addressing the sometimes extreme claims made of Church Tradition.)
Our old friend Cardinal Frings of Cologne went at it again with Ottaviani, this time quoting Thomas Aquinas and many other historical sources to the effect that the term “Tradition” was used only recently in Church history and by implication still a developing concept. Frings knew where to aim his bow: Curialists feared and disdained a historical approach to theology, for want of a better term, precisely because of the skeletons that might tumble out into the street. Two other emerging churchmen in the Council made timely interventions: Paul Leger of Montreal made a plea for Catholic theologians to enjoy academic freedom and scholarship, particularly Biblical scholars. Cardinal Konig of Vienna joined forces with Cardinal Alfrink in reminding the assembly that John XXIII had expressly wished for a new emphasis upon preaching and teaching the Bible to an unbelieving world, and added that the present schema was hardly distinguishable from any traditional theology textbook then in use.
Cardinal Leo Suenens of Belgium observed that with all the discussion of this schema on Revelation, Vatican II was on a pace to last longer than the Council of Trent (1545-1563). He recommended full rejection and a rewrite of this schema. While debate did not stop on a dime, its intensity diminished as the members realized that a new document would be forthcoming down the road. Meanwhile, in the midst of this debate the results of the voting on the first schema, on the Sacred Liturgy, was presented to the fathers. The vote was 2162 placet, 46 non placet, and 7 abstentions. The vote was widely covered by the press, and the various liturgical movements around the world took this vote as a green light to push forward with liturgical experimentations. Anyone who lived and worshipped in the U.S. will remember the following decade as a period of very uneven liturgical implementation. Much of this was due to the fact that bishops, after this vote, still had three years to go in Council and were unable to gather themselves in national conferences to debate implementation of the liturgical reform. In fact, an official Roman Missal for the reformed rite of the Eucharist was not promulgated till six years after the 1963 vote!
On November 16 the general assembly discussed the problem of world-wide media coverage. Cardinal Santos of the Philippines even complained that reports from the Council were causing his seminarians to be “spiritually disturbed.” This concern had validity: with just one schema passed (and many, many more to come) Catholics who had been raised on the premise that “the Church never changes” were reading in secular papers (and no doubt The New Yorker, thanks to Xavier Rynne) of things they were assured would never happen—Mass in English, drinking from the cup, etc. Some Catholics were indeed “spiritually disturbed.” Others became overly enthusiastic, particularly regarding an issue of pressing interest and concern, “the pill,” when Council discussions turned to that issue down the road. There was not a great deal to be done about this by the Council fathers in session. The Vatican’s official policy was one of secrecy or minimalism in the press office. Finally—and I am not sure exactly when—bishops and periti began holding interpretive press conferences to put the Council’s activity in context and answer theoretical or pastoral questions.
As to the outcome of the debate on Divine Revelation, several more days revealed how seriously the Council was embattled on this issue. Finally, on November 20, a confusing ballot was put forth in which the fathers were given an option to table the schema for a rewrite or continue the debate. The results were inconclusive and the debate was continued, but much to the surprise of all, Pope John pulled the schema off the table and appointed a new body to undertake a rewrite.
On Friday November 23 the Council addressed a lower voltage schema, Modern Means of Communication. Although an interesting and no doubt important subject, the final product has been relegated to historical interest by a half-century of development in Church evangelization and the complexities of technology and the changing methodologies of news reporting.