Catholic-Orthodox Unity, Nature of the Church Are Major Topics

29th, 30th and 31st General Congregations
November 28, 30 and December 1, 1962

The Vatican ecumenical council has ended debate on a proposal to attain unity with separated Eastern Christians and started discussion of a proposal on the nature of the Church.

During its 29th, 30th and 31st general meetings (Nov. 28 and 30 and Dec. 1), the council also passed nine amendments to the liturgy proposal, the first topic it considered.

Bishops are pictured on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica following a meeting of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. (CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

In their first 31 general meetings the council Fathers discussed five of the 67 proposals – officially known as schemas – scheduled to be dealt with by the council, whose first session is closing on Dec. 8.

The council press bulletin said the proposal on the Church known as De Ecclesia treats such matters as “the nature of the Church and its members, the episcopate, Religious and laity, authority in the Church, the magisterium [teaching authority] and the missionary task of the Church and, finally, ecumenism.”

The proposal was taken up despite the fact that Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, president of the Theology Commission which drew up De Ecclesia, had urged that its discussion be postponed because of the short time remaining in the council’s first session.

The press bulletin reported that speakers “generally praised the substance and structure of the project,” but added that some speakers had called for changes. It noted that the hope was expressed that it could be given “a more pastoral and missionary tone, leaving aside certain aspects which are too juridical. In this way, it was said, it might better respond to the modern world’s expectations of the Church.”

The council voted general approval of the proposal for efforts toward union with the Orthodox Christians. It voted for a suggestion to unite this proposal and two related proposals on ecumenical matters, which the council will discuss later, into a single ecumenical document.

The unity proposal, the bulletin said, noted that the Church does not want to leave “anything untried for achieving unity,” but added that it does not wish to gain unity “to the detriment of any truth.”

The bulletin reported it was stated at the council that “unity is a matter of extreme importance in these times … and for this reason it would be advisable to put it in special evidence by a project which would treat exclusively of the unity of the Church.” It quoted the speaker as saying that efforts toward union respond “to an increasing need felt among Christians to unite in the face of the grave danger which threatens the Faith.”

The bulletin added that some council Fathers expressed regret that “the first session of the council will close without having dealt explicitly with the Protestant churches, some of whom have shown great interest in the council.”

Both Catholics and Orthodox must show humility in order to attain the goal of unity, a speaker declared at the 29th general meeting of the council (Nov. 28). The bulletin quoted the speaker as stating:

“In order to achieve union it is necessary to exercise great humility on both sides so that both parties to union might recognize their errors; and to exercise charity so that both parties to union might forgive harm done to each other.”

A speaker also suggested that “a prayer be composed which could be recited by all Christians publicly and privately and particularly by children that they might be educated in the desire for union.”

Changes in the proposal’s text, the bulletin reported, were suggested in “those references to the relations between the different churches and the state, and in those which appear to call into question the morality of certain customs in the Oriental nations.”

An expert of the U.S. bishops’ press panel commented on this, saying that the reference to Church and State may have to do with the fact, for example, that the Greek Orthodox Church is the state church of Greece. He noted that the King of Greece is represented in the Holy Synod, the ruling body of that church.

The reference to morality, the expert continued, could pertain to the practice of divorce and remarriage which is permitted by some Orthodox churches.

Toward the close of the 29th meeting the council’s general secretary, Archbishop Pericle Felici, read an announcement suggesting that during the novena in honor of the Immaculate Conception (Nov. 29 to Dec. 7) the council pray for the world’s bishops, both those at the council and those prevented from attending, and for all Christian people.

It was reported that the suggestion was inspired by the speech of Pope John XXIII at the council’s opening (Oct. 11) in which he asked for prayers for bishops kept away from the council. The suggestion was greeted with applause.

At the 30th general meeting, the bulletin said, it was stated that work for unity had “acquired a new development after (the encyclical) Mystici Corporis of Pope Pius XII and that it had increased still more during the pontificate of Pope John XXIII.

“But in the Catholic Church there has always been great veneration for the Oriental Fathers, and therefore the wish for returning to the unity of the Church of the first centuries has always been cultivated.”

While the great importance of the unity proposal was stressed and there was agreement that “it is composed well, there were also a number of suggestions as to its content and form,” the press bulletin said.

The bulletin reported that “some noted that the problem of union must be studied according to concrete circumstances of modern life rather than according to the books, and in a realistic manner so that a true balance could be found between the desire for ecumenism, which in itself is excellent, and the need for safeguarding the immutable principles of Catholic teaching.”

One speaker said that from the historical point of view “it can be stated that Catholics also may have been in the wrong, but from the theological point of view the Catholic Church cannot be blamed for the schism.”

It was stressed that the drafting of a proposal on unity was of special importance, since it “could represent a kind of special invitation addressed to brothers who are already close to it.” It was added that it could serve as a basis for a council decree which “would truly show how Catholics on their part had done everything possible to promote union.”

The bulletin noted that “the best way of achieving union is not in a multiplication of words but by the example of Christian life. One should take into account that doctrine, though remaining unchangeable, can be presented in many ways according to the requirements of men and the times.”

Speakers noted that the Pope has done all he could for the Protestant churches interested in the council and the observers themselves “have been able to note with satisfaction that the Catholic Church is not a monolith without possibility of contacts. Indeed they have noted a freedom of expression en joyed by all and possibilities for exchanges of opinion and experience.”

At this point it was proposed that discussion of the unity proposal be ended because the matter had been sufficiently examined. The standing vote to do so was unanimous.

At their 31st meeting (Dec. 1) the council Fathers voted to give general approval to the unity proposal subject to revision.

Following the vote a suggestion was made to adopt the unity proposal, called De Unitate Ecclesiae, but to include it in the decree on ecumenical matters drafted by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the chapter on the same subject drafted by the Theology Commission. The suggestion read:

“Having terminated examination of the decree on the unity of the Church, the Fathers of the sacred council approve it as a document which contains common truths of the Faith and as a sign of their mindfulness and benevolence toward the separated brothers of the East.

“This document, in consideration of the observations and proposals heard in the Council Hall, will form, however, a single document with the decree on ecumenism which was prepared by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and with Chapter 11, also dealing with ecumenism, of the project for a dogmatic constitution on the Church.”

Result of the vote on the suggestion, announced at the close of the 31st meeting, was 2,068 in favor, 36 against and 8 void ballots.

Cardinal Ottaviani then introduced the proposal on the nature of the Church. At the 29th meeting the Cardinal had urged that the council postpone consideration of the proposal. He gave as his reason the fact that it was too long to be completed in the few days that remained of the council’s first session. He suggested that the proposal on Our Lady be discussed instead, since it is short and might be finished before Dec. 8. The council presidency took the suggestion into consideration following the 29th meeting, but it was decided to go ahead with discussion.

The council bulletin said after the 31st meeting that “certainly this project on the Church is one of the most important items to be treated by the Second Vatican Council.

“It is difficult, therefore, to expect it to be completed in the few days which still remain in the first session.

“It will be possible, nevertheless, to draw from today’s discussion and from those of the general congregations [meetings] of the next few days timely indications of a general character which will facilitate examinations of the project when the council reconvenes in September, 1963.”

The proposal consists of 11 chapters divided into 45 points contained in 90 pages. Half of the pages consist of explanatory notes and citations from Scripture and the Fathers and are not part of the proposal proper.

Cardinal Ottaviani said in introducing the proposal that it had been drawn up after careful study by about 70 members and consultors of the council’s Preparatory Theology Commission and that it had been reviewed by the Central Preparatory Commission. The bulletin reported:

“For this and for other reasons … derived from the substance of the project itself, he held that it merits thorough and diligent examination by the council Fathers.”

Bishop Frane Franic of Split, Yugoslavia, outlined the material contained in the proposal on the Church. He indicated, according to the bulletin, “the points which constitute matter for free discussion.” This was understood to mean matters that have not already been formally defined by the Church.

Bishop Franic also noted that certain subjects such as ecumenical matters, the role of the laity and of Religious are treated only from a theological aspect.

The bulletin said that speakers “generally praised the substance and structure of the project, principally because it takes into consideration problems which attest to the progress of studies on the Church, such as the Mystical Body of Christ, ecumenism and the laity.”

Other speakers, it reported, called for making “more precise the concept of the Mystical Body without forgetting, however, that the intention of the project must be to expose Catholic doctrine while respecting that which is mystery.”

Some speakers, it continued, called for a study of the nature and limitation of the power of bishops and “in this respect to clarify the powers of episcopal conferences and of patriarchs.”

Some council Fathers, the bulletin said, insisted that “the council should clarify the position of the faithful in the Church as the people of God, at whose service the hierarchy must place the means of salvation.”

“It was proposed finally that the questions which will be treated by other projects, such as ecumenism, the lay apostolate and the states of perfection should be omitted from the project De Ecclesia,” the bulletin said.

It reported that certain differences were noted in the Church’s condition today as compared with the past. The bulletin stated:

“These differences, it was said, have created new characteristics in the methods of the apostolate and in theological studies themselves. For example, whereas in the past the nature and functions of the supreme pontiff and the hierarchy, as well as the mission of salvation of the Church toward the faithful, were particularly specified, today the themes of the episcopate, laity, and the missionary spirit of the Church are studied more thoroughly.”

In the course of the general meetings in which discussions were centering on the questions relating to Christian unity, the council Fathers also voted on several texts concerning the liturgy.

Printed copies of the revised draft of the first nine articles of the first chapter of the proposal on worship were distributed to the council Fathers (Nov. 28) during the 29th general congregation.

Two days later, before the unity deliberation was reopened, Archbishop Felici proposed the nine amendments to the liturgical treatise for a vote. The results of five tabulations were revealed at the end of the same general congregation.

Bishop Joseph Albertus Martin of Nicolet, Que., a member of the council’s Liturgical Commission, explained the work of the commission in drafting the amendments and said that the commission had followed the example set during the First Vatican Council. He said 59 amendments had been made. Of these, nine were considered of prime importance and were therefore submitted to a vote.

Ten other amendments were considered to be of “secondary importance, while the remaining 40 concerned only style,” he said. Because of this, he said, the “secondary” and stylistic changes would not be submitted for a vote.

It was not reported what the amendments concerned. The results of the voting on the amendments —  which required a two-thirds majority for approval — were as follows:

First amendment: number voting: 2,145; in favor, 2,096; opposed, 41; void, 8.

Second amendment: voting 2,143; in favor, 2,103; opposed, 34; void, 6.

Third amendment: 2,139 voting; in favor, 1,984; opposed, 150; void, 5.

Fourth amendment: 2;135 voting; in favor, 2,113; opposed, 13; void, 9.

Fifth amendment: 2,125 voting; in favor, 2,049; opposed, 66; void, 10.

The results of the voting on the other four amendments were read by Archbishop Felici at the opening of the 31st general congregation (Dec. 1). They were as follows:

Sixth amendment: 2,122 voting; in favor, 2,101; opposed, 15; void, 6.

Seventh amendment: 2,120 voting; in favor, 2,014; opposed, 101; void, 5.

Eighth amendment: 2,116 voting; in favor, 2,092; opposed, 19; void, 5.

Ninth amendment: 2,117 voting; in favor, 2,097; opposed, 13; void, 7.

The amended text thus won overwhelming approval, and became the final text of that part of the proposed “constitution” on the liturgy. It also became the first proposal, or project, on the council agenda to arrive at its final form.

Before debate opened at the 32nd general congregation (Dec. 3), the council Fathers were asked to vote on two of the additional six amendments to the liturgy project distributed two days earlier. Both amendments were passed.

The voting was as follows:

First amendment: number voting, 2,112; in favor, 2,096; opposed, 10; void, 7.

Second amendment: number voting, 2,109; in favor, 2,051; opposed, 52; void, 6.

Before the amendments were put to a vote they were explained by Archbishop Francis J. Grimshaw of Birmingham, England.

The council press bulletin said: “The remaining four (amendments) are concerned only with language and are of marginal interest, and were therefore considered not to require a vote.”

The Archbishop also explained why certain proposed amendments had not been accepted.

The press bulletin reported that the first of the two amendments adopted (Dec. 3) “put in greater evidence the reason why the faithful should participate actively in the liturgical functions by reason of their baptism. The second indicates the required place of importance which the liturgy should have in the curricula of seminaries, religious institutes and theological faculties.”

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