Text of Pope Paul’s letter on resumption of Vatican council

Following is a translation of a letter in Latin from Pope Paul VI to Eugene Cardinal Tisserant concerning the Vatican council, dated Sept. 12, 1963.

To our Venerable Brother,

Greetings and Apostolic Benediction:

According to the requirements of our apostolic ministry from the beginning of our supreme pontificate, we have turned our attention to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the second session of which, as is known, we have ordained to begin on Sept. 29 next, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, patron of the Church Militant.

This project was due primarily to the memory of our predecessor John XXIII of venerable memory. We consider him sent from God since the Church has celebrated an event of such importance, that is, an ecumenical council, which he began under circumstances and with the norms known to all, and he was the first to stress its providential, mysterious greatness.

Oh! How he was inflamed and how happy was he in such a project; how he foresaw its salutary fruitfulness; how he wanted its spiritual function in the history of the Church and of the world recognized and celebrated, so that all could recognize the advantage it would be for the Church and for mankind in the future. How great must have been his sacrifice not to be able in this life to see, after its first problems, the council’s development and conclusion!

We are immensely grateful to God that He has given us as a supreme gift such an admirable supreme pastor. He, in the openness of his simplicity, in the splendor of his virtues, in the tenacious efforts for achieving peace, not only filled the entire world with love and admiration of his person but, moreover, by summoning an ecumenical council, he opened new roads for the saving activities of the Catholic Church. May the most merciful God grant that this great work begun by him be brought to a happy and not too distant conclusion by hastening the coming for the Church and for the world of that brilliant day of which he, thinking of the ecumenical council, foresaw the dawn.

Having lost such a supreme pastor of the Church and through the inscrutable divine design and with great trepidation and near-anguish in our soul, it chanced that on our shoulders, unequal to such an honor, was imposed the weight of the government of the Roman and universal Church.

It is an all the more serious weight for us in that it brings with it the responsibility of continuing the already initiated ecumenical council. The weight of this duty is not felt by us, and we confess it openly, without fear. The weakness of our powers, the great task of the conduct of the council, and lastly the grave problems of our age, terrify us.

Yet it remains our duty to carry out this undertaking. We not only esteem, as we have said, the revered memory of that Pontiff to whom we were bound by so many ties of affection and veneration, but likewise we are impelled by a duty which arises from the council, already begun, which is an obligation for him whose whole life must be spent for the service and the increase of the Holy See and of the Catholic Church.

Moreover, we are impelled by the hope we have for the happy outcome of the ecumenical council from which great things are expected: the greater prosperity of the life of the Church; the encouragement and hastening of the unity between separated brothers and the Catholic Church and, lastly, the promotion of peace and spiritual prosperity of mankind throughout the world.

The labors of the ecumenical council will be resumed and continued. As for us, we shall use all our efforts for this work, confident that the help of the council Fathers and of the Holy Spirit, which gives assurance to our hope, will not be lacking.

For the continuation of the coming ecumenical council, for the better assistance and more diligent preparation of its labors, we have made several decisions which seem to us very useful.

There was established a new commission, as you well know, for the coordination of the labors of the council, the competence of which is to regulate the efforts of the various commissions, to follow them and to meet with the most eminent presidents of the same commissions not only in regard to questions within their competence but also in relation to questions affecting the harmony of the various projects with the aims which the council proposes.

The projects have been re-edited and newly revised in a briefer form, with this criterion in mind: to present above all the most general principles, leaving aside the nonpertinent questions. It is to be kept in mind, in fact, that the ecumenical council is concerned with the universal Church.

In the redrafting of the projects, the pre-eminence of the pastoral nature of this council is kept in mind.

It is, in fact, necessary for the sure and unchangeable doctrine of the Faith, declared and defined by the supreme magisterium of the Church and by preceding ecumenical councils, above all, that of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, which must be given faithful respect, to be expounded in a manner suitable to our times, so that men of our age may more easily find the way of embracing truth and of receiving salvation which Jesus Christ gave us (cf. Discourse of the Holy Father John XXIII, Oct. 11, 1962).

The projects have been reedited so that they are fewer in number—17; copies of which have been sent to most of the bishops.

To our venerable brother Martin John O’Connor, Titular Archbishop of Laodicea in Syria, we have entrusted the task of improving and enlarging the means of news publication. We have likewise established that among the council Fathers there be admitted some Catholic laymen and also some representatives of the greater international Catholic institutes which have been recognized by ecclesiastical right.

Likewise we have taken steps to again call to the ecumenical council the observers of Christians separated from the Apostolic See and even thought to increase their number. Moreover, it has seemed opportune to us to extend the charge of the previously constituted Secretariat (for Christian Unity), even to those of non-Christian religions.

Likewise we announce to you that the Secretariat of the Council for Extraordinary Affairs has been abolished and that we have called to be among the members of the College of Presidents three other cardinals; that is, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Archbishop of Warsaw; Joseph Cardinal Siri, Archbishop of Genoa, and Albert Gregory Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago.

The task of this college is to insure the correct observance of the order of the ecumenical council, resolving doubts and difficulties as they arise. Soon there will be elected several cardinal delegates or moderators of the council, to whom we give the task of directing the labors of the council, which will follow each other in the ordering of the discussions of the general congregations — always respecting the freedom of the council Fathers — so that toward this end they can individually and corporately work together for greater order and clarity.

During the holding of the second council session there will be interruptions, which mean that the conciliar meetings will be suspended on Saturdays and Sundays.

However, in the Vatican basilica there will be solemn rites, including several beatifications; on the Sunday designated for the observance of the missions, that is the 20th of October, 14 bishops will be consecrated by the Supreme Pontiff.

A solemn commemoration of John XXIII of happy memory will take place on Oct. 28, that is, on the day of his election to the Chair of Peter. Likewise there will be celebrated the fourth centenary of the decree of the Ecumenical Council of Trent on the institution of seminaries on Nov. 4, the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, at which we ourselves will be present for the solemn ceremony.

Lastly we will pontifically take possession of the Lateran archbasilica on Nov. 9 on the feast day of its dedication.

All this we have chosen to communicate to you, our venerable brother, with the hope that, if it is carried out, the labors of the council will proceed more quickly and more surely will its good outcome be achieved.

To you, therefore, is entrusted the task of communicating these decisions and these our desires and wishes to the council Fathers. As we warmly thank you for doing so, we impart to you most willingly the apostolic benediction as token of eternal divine favors.

From the Vatican, Sept. 12, 1963, feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, the first year of our pontificate.

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