We continue with our Monday and Saturday retrospective looks at Vatican II, which was in session exactly fifty years ago.
To compare the October/November 1963 discussions of Sessions Two as the Gettysburg of the Council may be an exaggeration, but only a slight one. The schema or working paper on the Church was fiercely debated, as the nature and authority of the Church itself were being discussed with an openness that one would have to look back five centuries to see replicated. The event in question was the Ecumenical Council of Constance (1414-1418), whose main agenda was the multiple claim of three men to be valid popes at the same time. Under great pressure by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, this Council produced two teaching documents: (1) Sacrosancta, which proclaimed that the Council of Constance received its direct teaching authority from Christ, and that Councils were the supreme authority of the Church; and (2) Frequens, which directed that world synods of bishops should meet every three years to discuss reform and eradication of errors and abuses.
Human nature what it is, when the Council banished the three pretenders, the legitimate Bishop of Rome appointed by this Council, Martin V, made a bee line to the strengthening of the papacy versus the world’s bishops, an ongoing tension known among theologians then and today as Conciliarism. After the Council of Constance very few councils were called by successive popes, who saw the specter of collegial (episcopal) power as a threat to the Vicar of Christ and the successor of Peter. I have read history books which argue that the provisions of Frequens and its reforming intent would have prevented the wholesale explosion of the Reformation, but we will never know. It is safe to say that within the Church the role of the papacy continued a steady evolution in legal and spiritual autonomy, highlighted by the declaration of the doctrine of papal Infallibility in 1870. However, the exact reverse was taking place outside of the Church as the pope’s influence in matters of the world continued to wane. This is why the encyclicals of Pope John XXIII, notably Pacem in Terris, addressed to all people of good will, were striking for their times.
When Pope Francis celebrated Mass with the bishops of the United States this week, I did not hear any commentary on the nature of the Canonical legal powers held by the pope vis-à-vis the bishops, nor on their collective authority as U.S. bishops. But this was exactly the debate of Session Two, as many bishops and theologians raised the question of whether the papacy (and by association, the Curia) exercised too much authority in relation to the baptized laity, to be sure, but even more to the point, in relation to fellow consecrated bishops understood in Church Tradition as the “Successors of the Apostles.”
Xavier Rynne describes the October debate on “collegiality” (that is, common governance), as long and tedious, but the stakes were so high that time was extended for every position to be heard. The first question under discussion was whether indeed there was such a thing as a college or corporal body of bishops with legal standing in the Church. This in turn led to a sacramental question: does consecration of a bishop give him a new empowerment, or was appoint of a priest to a vacant see simply a juridical extension of Holy Orders? Pius XII, in line with the majority of Church scholars, had reiterated the first position. This being so, when does a bishop become part of the exercising college of apostolic teachers? I need to point out here that as late as the 1960’s bishops were often named for outstanding service to the Curia, men without specific sees, or “ministers without portfolios.” To tell you the truth, such men were the butt of jokes in seminaries, as my professors often referred to them as “spaghetti bishops.” After the Council the practice was generally halted.
The old Curia hand Cardinal Ruffini stood up and declared that “I still have not been convinced that Christ constituted the apostles as a college,” implying that in terms of governance Christ had focused his teaching and authoritative legacy only with Peter. The majority of fathers did not concur, and there was general (though not total) acceptance that some sort of corporal teaching and governing reality resided in the body of bishops as a whole. Cardinal Siri, another Curialist, pointed out that yes, there was a true sense of collectivity of bishops, and that history—namely all of the previous ecumenical councils—bore witness to that. But he stated that in no way could the bishops as a whole take a position opposite the Holy Father, given the infallibility teaching of 1870.
The American Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, whose background in Scripture study enhanced his respect on the floor, made a brilliant defense of Christ’s intent to trust the Church to the body of the Twelve, and thus rooting the corporate concept in New Testament practice. His argument was addressed by Bishop Martin of Barbastro, Spain, who contended that “if collegiality were of divine law…the pope would be obliged to set up a permanent council of bishops, which is certainly not true.” It escaped Martin and others that a permanent body did in fact already exist, the Curia, and it could claim no roots in New Testament practice.
No votes were yet taken, and under this particular section of the schema was included discussion on a married diaconate. It is worth noting that Cardinal Spellman of New York made his “maiden speech” of the Council on the subject. As it turned out, the Cardinal’s theology and his politics were both faulty—bishops in Latin America in particular were much in favor of the restored diaconate—and when told this by a reporter, Spellman snapped, “Let them say so.” Another topic under this umbrella was the generic role of “the people of God,” the laity, a debate that fell along predictable lines: modern theologians elaborating new and deeper understandings of baptism and its empowerment of lay Catholics in the mission of the Church versus a concern for any hint of diminishment of the ordained priest. In this debate Bishop Wright of Pittsburgh delivered an inspired support for strong recognition of the vocation of the laity. A subset of this debate involved the interplay of the Church, laity, and secular government or Church-state concerns as well as the Catholic layman’s role in combatting racism, in which Bishop Tracy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, delivered a remarkable intervention connecting discrimination within the Church with racial divides in his home diocese.
Rynne observes at this juncture that the Council was coming to “the first stage of its crisis” when, on October 15th, it was announced that five straw ballots (pre-ballots) would be taken among the Council fathers on the issues discussed above. It was not so much the numerical results as the various reactions and counter plays that would leave the fathers and the world at large wondering if the Council could be saved.
I am back with the blog today after a full day Saturday at my diocese’s Festival of Faith, an annual day-long immersion into catechetical faith formation and a celebration of the ministry, conducted at about the only diocesan institution large enough to hold major gatherings and 20-some smaller workshops simultaneously, Bishop Moore High School on the edge of Orlando. I have included a few photos to (1) prove I went, and (2) show that the powers that be actually give me something to do. One of my students took the photos from my I-phone, and when my program got boring, she answered all my emails, too. She asked to remain anonymous on the blog, however. But thank you—you know who you are.
It is less than 30 minutes of driving from my home to Bishop Moore on a Saturday morning before sunrise, and I was there around 7:30 AM to get the coffee when it was freshly brewed, get my first classroom set up, and “hang out” with the old guard, friends I have known and worked with from the chancery and parishes over the years. Most of us are showing our years, but the old “fight” is still there. One friend to me, “You look younger.” I replied, “True. But I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” Anyway, I have a briefcase full of notes, business cards and phone numbers to set up lunch dates. They all agreed to be interviewed for future blog entries. So, as soon as the Café credit card gets paid down….
I drew the short straw on scheduling: first session at 10:30 and the last at 2:30. When I ran into my chancery “handler,” one of the first things he said was “I didn’t do the scheduling.” (The jury is still out on that.) This convention, like just about every one of its type including my first NCEA conventions, did not exercise clock management for the opening events—no group ever does, really. Yesterday’s program squeezed a lengthy word service, the bishop’s welcome, the administrator’s welcome, and the keynote address into a 75-minute time slot in the printed program, which turned out to be more of a wish than a fact . This in turn puts great pressure on the first workshop providers to get the day back on the clock—by cutting our own presentations. I lost one-third of my first session, timewise. As my topic was “The Crusades” I looked at the clock, then at my students, and said, “We will attempt to cover four Crusades in 40-minutes.” (Educational footnote: time management is as critical to religious events as it is to football teams. Always have a stop watch in your free hand.)
Editing on your feet in front of a group is quite an adrenaline rush. All of this notwithstanding, I was still able to tell my humorous historical anecdote about Frederick Barbarossa, old “Red Beard,” in the Third Crusade. He was leading his men when they came to a swift and treacherous river that the men were afraid to cross. Red Beard berated them, and then proceeded into the water in armor on his horse. He immediately disappeared. I observed that “when the last air bubble broke the surface, his men lined the bank and cried out in unison, ‘we told you so.’”
As I noted, I had a second presentation in midafternoon, “The Resurrection Narratives,” how to teach them. I had given this presentation before, at the NCEA Convention in the spring. By mid-afternoon, temperature in the mid-90’s, the entire convention was beginning to show some battle fatigue. I had no dramatic drowning stories for this particular group of participants. There was a closing ceremony after the last workshops, but looking at the line of cars heading out, and a very ominous thunderstorm in plain view, I don’t know how many actually stayed. I actually forgot where I had parked my car. It is a seven-hour event in toto, but the participants do get appropriate CEU’s depending on their particular professional needs.
I had a generally favorable reaction to the day. Talking to a number of professional in the exhibition hall and elsewhere, I found agreement that the range of needs among those teaching catechetics and conducting other ministries is very great. Thus, for every person who attended my program on the Crusades, there were 25 who were struggling to grasp basics and draw up class plans. My diocese is quite culturally diverse; in the lunch areas and other common sites there was more Spanish spoken than English, at least in my hearing (bad as it is), but I believe I saw workshops offered in Vietnamese and Creole as well. It crossed my mind a few times how a diocese like Orlando (or many others, for that matter) will maintain an organic unity with the diversity of language, pieties, and world outlook, over the next quarter century or so.
I would be remiss, though, if I did not comment upon youth. As the convention was held on the grounds of our local Catholic High School, its students served as “floor managers” of the day. Each speaker was accompanied by a designated student to the “green room.” On each floor of classrooms in each building there were three students assigned to direct participants to the right sites, and to tend to instructors’ needs. Someone kept bringing me a bottle of water, (thank you! thank you!) and in one visit fixed a glitch in my IPad. They were without exception very kind and quite conversant, actually. They must be doing something right at Bishop Moore, though more than a few had my wife as their elementary school principal, too. Signs of hope. I had time as well to talk with our diocese’s new director of youth and young adult ministry; as it turned out, we were presenting at the same time on the same floor. She was speaking on “millennials” and their pastoral needs; actually, if I had been free, I probably would have attended.
My wife, meanwhile, was assigned to a parish down the road some from our home to speak at all the Masses this weekend on behalf of our diocese’s missions in San Juan de la Managua in the Dominican Republic. Matrimonial loyalty overcame fatigue, and I pulled myself together to join her for her first Mass this AM at 7:30. After Mass I left for the comfort of home and hot coffee; as of this writing at about 1 PM she is getting ready for her last Mass at 1:30 PM, I believe. She was terrific, even if I am biased. Despite the early hour of the Mass we attended together, she had a line of people afterward to get details for future involvement. Very promising.
I had half of yesterday’s post finished when I went out for a late morning hike; it had rained earlier and I was off my “routine,” such as it is. In any event I aggravated an old leg injury out on the road and doggedly stuck it out till the end of my normal routine. By the time I got home I was limping about in pain and managed to find my arthritis strength Tylenol. This is the aftermath of an on-the-job accident, so to speak. In 1979 I took a large number of my CYO kids (the old name for parish youth groups) to one of Central Florida’s more popular tourist attractions, Wet ‘N Wild, a swimming amusement park. I foolishly accepted a dare from the kids to go down the water slide (there was only one in 1979) and as I approached the bottom I realized the pool was deeper than I thought and I instinctively braced myself and hit the water awkwardly, injuring my sciatic nerve and some other joints, including my neck, that my present physician has X-rayed and diagnosed as multiple sites of arthritis.
Anyway, I was very uncomfortable and feeling “ornery,” and I decided to save the blog entry on Vatican II till tomorrow (Monday). Then I hobbled to my “meditation chair” and pulled down the classic from St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, (available in paper, Kindle, Audible). Let me note here that the Wikipedia entry for St. Therese (1873-1897), which I examined closely, is one of this site’s best in terms of detail, sources and accuracy. I had purchased a paper edition a few months ago, with the idea that this work might be a useful resource for the blog. Noting that St. Therese died at the age of 24, I did have a critical curiosity, too, about what a young person—and one who spent her last nine years in a cloistered convent to boot—might have to offer, particularly given that she has been declared a Doctor of the Church (the spiritual counterpart of being rated in the top 20,000 in sales of all titles on Amazon.com as of this morning.) When John Paul II and Jeff Bezos confirm her importance, who can argue with that?
The story of the saint’s life is itself quite a tale, involving as it does her intriguing parents. Therese wrote this work under a “gentle obedience” from two different superiors in the Carmelite cloister. It is actually a compilation of three different ventures undertaken in the later years of her life, and as far as I can tell Therese originally intended these writings as a gift to her superiors, but in her last years she seems to have had some significant insights about her place in the world as a missionary despite her life behind the walls. However, in fact much of her writing was done with an expectation of privacy, so that her spiritual struggles have an air of realism that has probably contributed to the extensive use of her book by over a century of Catholics.
It would be wrong to say that Therese had limited experience to draw from. Her French parents had both sought entry into religious life themselves before finally marrying. Nonetheless, they were determined to live after marriage as “brother and sister” (i.e., celibate) until a confessor suggested another path, which led to the birth of eight children. Half died in early childhood, and Therese’s mother—whom the future saint adored—may not have been fully accessible to her children, as the foreword to my text makes allusions to Therese living with other relatives and attending a boarding school. Again her biographers leave clues that Therese bore scars from her pre-convent years, perhaps along the lines of Separation Anxiety Disorder or other similar affliction. Her mother was misdiagnosed for eleven years till a competent physician identified an advanced breast cancer that killed her while Therese was still a minor. I might add, too, that at least two of Therese’s siblings became cloistered Carmelites and it was during a conversation between the three of them that the first section of Journey of a Soul was discussed.
As a guy, I guess that my reluctance to embrace St. Therese was her subtitle “The Little Flower.” I had a similar reaction to devotions to St. Anthony in the seminary, where we prayed to the Franciscan saint as “the lily of purity.” Much to my delight, Therese opens her autobiography with a discussion of flowers, a four page discursus actually. Regardless of how later Catholics have understood the flower analogy, Therese begins with her own question of how someone can resist the all-powerful love of God and then proceeds to posit her own answer. The flower is analogous to the individual human. Each human has a capacity and a disposition to grow in a different way, as do flowers. Varieties of flora can be spectacularly beautiful (like the $200/dozen roses you send to your wife*—at work, of course) or they can be Florida viburnum. Her point is that all flowers grow under the same sun and are empowered in unique ways according to their nature. It is an optimistic and, one might say, ambitious view of the spiritual life in union with God. Therese had misgivings about an autobiography, and she had to address them, by justifying the fact that God could make something beautiful from any species of plants, so to speak. It was her way of addressing a question that bedeviled Augustine and Thomas, grace and free will.
I am looking forward to continuing this work. I have a hunger to return to the inner life and truth of God in his Scriptures and in his saints. I felt this acutely when I received a letter from someone who offered me an exhaustive diatribe (the writer’s words) against Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Party. I have been looking for the right way to explain to the writer what my blogsite is about, and beyond that, my utter exhaustion with diatribes of all sorts. I live in a Church and a nation where it is unsafe at the present moment to speak in any language other than a diatribe. I find great appeal in a 20ish French woman who found the ultimate un-diatribe vehicle to talk about that which is most important. I will let you know what I continue to discover.
*And of course it is wives’ moral duty to tell their husbands they spent too much—but their hearts are never in the telling.
I'd love to tell you I'm deep sea fishing for the holiday, but today I am just catching up on correspondence with old high school buddies and will be barbecuing veggies and sausage for dinner. So, nothing profound here at the Café today. I should be up and running tomorrow, continuing our saga of Vatican II. In the meantime, enjoy the long weekend!
On My Mind