Council Examines Ecumenism

22nd General Congregation
November 19, 1962

The ecumenical movement, which aims at eventual reunion of the Christian churches, has come under direct examination at the Second Vatican Council for the first time.

The council Fathers’ debate at their 22nd general session centered on expressions in a draft text concerning divine revelation. Some speakers maintained that as it stood, the text would tread unnecessarily on non-Catholic sensibilities.

One council Father, speaking on behalf of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed up the problems which an inflexible and highly scholastic formulation of Catholic teaching on revelation might create for the unity movement.

“It was underlined that the council must mark progress and not regression in the ecumenical movement, that it must be a help and not an impediment,” said the council communique. The communique also summed up the defense of the draft:

“On one hand there was emphasis on the need for clearly exposing Catholic truth at a time when it is threatened by so many errors. The fruits of the council, it was said, must be the fruits of sanctity for clergy and laity, the fruits of truth for all who honor the name of Christian; but the fruits will mature only on the tree of truth.”

Summing up the criticism offered by opponents of the draft, it said:

“On the other hand, it was said, special emphasis should be given to the purpose of the council in respect to the separated brothers with the intention of also finding for the project under examination an explanation of the truth done with charity, clarity, simplicity and gentleness.”

The bulletin said that the ecumenical movement “in recent years has placed the dialogue with the separated brothers, Orthodox as well as Protestant, on a new basis.” It continued:

“In order to achieve relations which may be better than in the past and which could indicate a way toward union, the point was made that each must make a clear exposition of his own doctrine in a calm, objective and clear manner, while taking care to respect the positions of others and to seek a manner of expression which does not divide but unites.

“This manner of expression would be the authentic ecumenical style, which the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity also has clearly demonstrated as being its chosen usage.”

The debate dealt not so much with the content of the text of the project as with its formulation, the council bulletin said. It added that “all the Fathers agreed on the fundamental truths contained in the project but some expressed reservations on the timeliness of examining in the council questions which are still being debated among the different theological schools.”

(A Biblical scholar in Rome for the council said such a debated question might be the mode by which inspiration works in the inspired author.)

Some council Fathers proposed that since the various Fathers’ positions on the project had been made clear, the examination of the project might be postponed until the second session of the council, which begins May 12. It was also proposed that an entirely new text of the project be written, taking into account points on which all the Fathers are agreed.

Six cardinals spoke, including Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago, Juan Cardinal Landazuri, O.F.M., Archbishop of Lima, Peru, and Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa, Bishop of Bukoba, Tanganyika. Among the 11 other council Fathers who spoke were Auxiliary Bishop James H. Griffiths of New York and Archbishop Denis E. Hurley, O.M.I., of Durban, South Africa.

Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, was the presiding officer for the session. The celebrant of the opening Mass was Archbishop Matthew Beovich of Adelaide, Australia. A total of 2,197 Fathers were present to see the Gospel book enthroned by Bishop Carlos Quintero Arce of Ciudad Valles, Mexico.

At the conclusion of the general meeting, the council presidents remained in the council chamber for a meeting of their own. The development in the council seemed to indicate that the presidents were considering whether to ask for a standing vote to close the discussion.

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