Proposal on Revelation Stirs Debate

19th, 20th and 21st General Congregations
November 14, 16 and 17, 1962

A proposal regarding the sources of Divine Revelation brought out differences of opinion at the 19th, 20th and 21st general sessions of the ecumenical council (Nov. 14, 16 and 17).

The council Fathers, it was reported in a council press bulletin, voiced three opinions regarding it:

1) The objectors demanded that it be rewritten in its entirety.

2) The defenders said that it was basically sound and should be debated in its particular provisions, being amended only where necessary.

3) Others wanted the whole project put on the shelf.

At the 19th assembly of the council it was voted to pass the project on the liturgy on to the liturgical commission for amendment. The vote, taken on a motion by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College, resulted in an overwhelmingly favorable majority. A mechanical tabulation showed 2,162 of the perforated ballots were affirmative, 46 were opposed and 7 were void.

Cardinal Tisserant’s motion asked for a prompt return for the project from the commission to the general body, so that a vote could be taken on it in its final form. Votes were taken on four commission amendments at the 21st session and all were overwhelmingly affirmative.

Objections to the council’s proposed constitution on Revelation mounted at the 20th general congregation, as some Fathers demanded that it be rewritten root and branch.

But voices were also raised defending the project. Arguing that it was basically sound, the defenders urged that it be debated in its particulars and amended only where necessary.

At the 19th general congregation (Nov. 14) the debate centered on the project as a whole, without examining its details.

The very title of the project, “The Sources of Revelation,” has been subject to debate among theologians. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) spoke of a “unique fount” of Revelation, and the term “two sources of Revelation” came into use among Catholic theologians in the post-Tridentine period when they were defending Tradition against the attacks of Protestants, who put all their faith in the Bible alone.

A proposal was made in the debate that a study group be formed of council Fathers who want an entirely new project and those who want to amend the present project. This group would have the task of finding points of mutual agreement.

Those wanting to throw the project out and start afresh argue that as now proposed it smacks too much of the classroom, that its terms are excessively abstruse and are in danger “of making the truth incomprehensible to the separated brothers,” that some of its statements are too rigid, that it does not take enough account of the growth of dogma and is therefore not mature enough from a theological point of view, and that it overlooks problems of salvation “prior to Revelation” (as the council communique put it), and gives little encouragement to scientific research in theology and Scriptural studies.

The communique said the defenders made the point that “The foundation of pastoral action is very clear in its exposition of teaching, and the truth does not give offense to the separated brothers who also are in search of it.”

The proponents were reported to have added: “The duty of the council is to illustrate and safeguard Catholic doctrine intact. The project as it is presented has been prepared by learned bishops and priests and, moreover, has been approved by the central commission made up in large part by cardinals.”

The defenders also said seminaries are awaiting precise directions from the council on doctrinal and exegetical problems “which are discussed today in journals and books without clarity of ideas and depth of study,” as the communique expressed it.

Suggestions for amendment have centered on the project’s alleged repetitiousness, its length, its alleged emphasis on the legislative at the expense of the pastoral, and “the failure to suggest remedies for atheism,” to quote the council communique.

At the same general congregation, the council’s liturgical commission submitted its amended version of the first four points of the introduction of the project on the liturgy. This called for four votes on the amendments, one for each point, and these were taken the next day.

Twenty-one Fathers spoke, including 10 cardinals and Abbot Christopher Butler, O.S.B., Abbot-President of the English Benedictines.

Achille Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France, presided at the 20th session and Armenian Rite Archbishop Georges Layek of Aleppo celebrated the opening Mass in the Armenian Rite.

Speeches on the Revelation project at the 21st session (Nov. 17) were much the same as those on the previous day, with some calling for examination of the project in the council hall while others asked for a complete revision of the project and still others pressed for the drafting of a completely new version.

Some Fathers questioned the advisability of clarifying in the council hall in a solemn form the doctrine regarding the sources of Revelation, since they maintained many theologians feel the study and development on this point has not sufficiently matured.

Others wanted clarification on the question of whether Scripture and Tradition are to be considered two distinct sources or a single source considered in two different manifestations.

At the 21st session, presided over by Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, after an opening Mass celebrated by Archbishop Anton Baraniak of Poznan, Poland, the proceedings began with a series of votes on the liturgy amendments. Then the discussion turned to the Revelation project.

Two reports by members of the liturgical commission, Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, and Bishop Joseph Martin of Nicolet, Que., were read before the votes were taken. They outlined the methods followed by the commission and the standards involved in accepting or rejecting the amendments submitted by the Fathers.

Before voting the Fathers were presented with a booklet carrying the text of the original points in one column and the amendment points in a second column with the variations printed in italic type so that the Fathers could quickly see the changes.

The voting results were as follows:

First point — present, 2,206; majority needed to pass, 1,471; for, 2,181; against, 14; void, 11.

Second point — present, 2,202; majority needed to pass, 1,468; for, 2,175; against, 26; void, l.

Third point — present,2,203; majority needed to pass, 1,469; for, 2,175; against, 21; void, 7.

Fourth point — present, 2,204; majority needed to pass, 1,470; for, 2,191; against, 10; void, 3.

The entire liturgical project occupied the time of 15 general sessions, from Oct. 22 to Nov. 13. A total of 625 proposals or amendments were submitted by the Fathers, of which 329 were read orally in the council hall.

Each day the secretary general turned over the written proposals, including those which had not reached the floor because of the vote to close discussion, to the liturgical commission. As it stood at the 21st session the project consisted of 33 pages divided into eight chapters and subdivided into 105 articles.

The entire period of voting, scrutiny of ballots and the announcements of the results took an hour and a half.

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