39th General Congregation
October 2, 1963
The Catholic Church “exists for service, not for privilege or domination,” India’s Cardinal declared in the ecumenical council.
Valerian Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, made his point in connection with the council document “De Ecclesia” — on the nature of the Church. He spoke during the third general assembly of the council’s second session.
Cardinal Gracias told the council members that care should be taken in the schema not to present the Church as a community closed within itself, but rather as one open to the world.
Here the Indian churchman switched from Latin to quote from John Henry Newman in English. He cited Cardinal Newman as saying of the Church: “Grow we must… But of what value is growth without corresponding growth in moral values?”
Then Cardinal Gracias said:
“The Church exists in itself but not for itself; it exists for service, not for privilege or domination…. The Church seeks to expand not as a means of increasing its power, but rather in order to increase the scope of its service.”
The Cardinal also used an English adage in speaking of the character of the schema text: “Too many cooks spoil the soup.”
He said that the schema should show greater continuity in its composition and style.
The first speaker at this meeting — the 39th general congregation since the opening of the council last fall — was Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, who spoke in the name of the 153 bishops of Brazil.
Cardinal Camara urged first of all that the schema contain a declaration of the Church’s concern for and solidarity with the great masses of the poor and suffering people throughout the world. He said that the text as it stood underlined the Christian’s participation in the glorified life of Christ. But since Christians share in the whole life of Christ, he said, the schema should also note the Christian’s sharing in the Passion and Death of Christ as well as in His glory.
It was at this third general congregation that the first American Bishop spoke —Bishop Ernest J. Primeau of Manchester, N.H. His introduction provided a moment of comic relief to the serious deliberations.
The presiding moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner, Archbishop of Munich, introduced him as the Bishop of Manchester, England. Then Bishop Primeau came to the microphone to correct the error by saying that the Bishop of Manchester, England, is “a separated brother” — a bishop of the Church of England.
After the laughter died down, Bishop Primeau went on to say that the schema on the Church should distinguish between two ways of being incorporated into the Church: the first before God, according to the judgment of God; the second before the Church and according to the judgment of the Church.
This distinction, he said, might be between the Church as a community and the Church as a visible society.
The two considerations do not always coincide, he said.
The Bishop at the end of his remarks made separate comments on the absence from the schema of a treatment on the relationship between the Church and civil governments. In this he said he was associating himself with similar comments made the previous day by Auxiliary Bishop Primo Gasbarri of Velletri, Italy.
Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, the Netherlands, spoke right after Cardinal Gracias. He took exception to the schema’s use of the phrase “Peter and the Apostles” on the grounds that it implies that Peter is not one of the Apostles. He suggested that it be changed to some phrase such as “Peter with the other Apostles.”
St. Peter is prince of the Apostles, the Cardinal explained, because he is one of the Apostles. To associate him with the other members of the apostolic college does not weaken his position. Scripture makes it clear, said Cardinal Alfrink, that Peter alone is the rock on which the Church is founded, but at the same time the Church is in some way founded on all 12 Apostles — each in his own way having a part in the foundation of the Church without prejudice to the special position of Peter.
Slightly opposed to Cardinal Alfrink’s position was the speech of Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, Italy, whose turn followed the Cardinal’s by seven speeches. He too
objected to the expression “Peter and the Apostles,” and for the same reasons as Cardinal Alfrink. But then he added that the Scriptural texts which refer to the apostolic college as the foundation of the Church are not to be understood as referring to its historical foundation. This question, he said, was discussed in the First Vatican Council and should not be raised again.
Certainly, neither of the two prelates was calling the primacy of Peter into question. Nor was there clearly apparent a difference of opinion on the collegiality of the apostolic college. The difference seemed to be concerning what part the apostolic college played in the foundation of the Church.
The Ordinary of a See in South India, Bishop John Abasolo y Lecue, O.C.D., of Vijayapuram, asked the council Fathers for a change in terminology in referring to Christ as the “Light of nations.” The Latin for this, “Lumen Gentium,” could also be translated as “Light of the Gentiles.” Care should be taken, he said, not to give any impression that the mission of Christ is restricted to any one group.
Following Bishop Abasolo, the microphone was taken successively by Bishop Jan van Dodewaard of Haarlem, the Netherlands; Archbishop Charles De Provencheres of Aix, France; Auxiliary Bishop Anastasio Granados of Toledo, Spain; and Bishop Enrico Compagnone of Anagni, Italy. Each called for incorporation of some idea into the document on the Church.
Bishop Frane Franic of Split, Yugoslavia, suggested the establishment of a special office in the Roman curia to deal with the problem of present-day atheism. Such a research office would be of great assistance to bishops throughout the world, he said.
Bishop Felix Romero of Jaen, Spain, followed, asking for a greater development of the reference to the Church as the Kingdom of God. Then came Bishop Carli of Segni with his remarks on the phrase “Peter and the Apostles.”
Bishop William Brasseur, C.I.C.M., Vicar Apostolic of Mountain Province, the Philippines, raised a question about the salvation of non-Christians. The traditional arguments concerning the salvation of non-Christians and the requirements for sharing the Christian Faith, he said, have not yet reached that stage of clarity necessary to become the subject of a solemn council declaration. Some expression should be used, the Belgian-born churchman said, which would emphasize the fact that — in a spirit of universal charity — the Church opens her heart to all men.
(Father Georges Tavard, A.A., of Pittsburgh later commented on Bishop Brasseur’s point at a session of the American bishops’ press panel. The Bishop was certainly not questioning the fact that non-Christians can be saved, he said. What Bishop Brasseur was saying was that the arguments on the manner of their salvation have not yet matured sufficiently for a conciliar declaration, according to Father Tavard.)
Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons, France; Bishop Emilio Guano of Leghorn, Italy, and Bishop Jesus Enciso of Mallorca, Spain, followed Bishop Brasseur with speeches asking for emphasis on one theological note or another in the schema.
It was then that Bishop Primeau of Manchester gained the floor.
The last to speak was Abbot Christopher Butler, O.S.B., of Downside Abbey, president of the English Benedictine Congregation. He urged that if the concept of the Church is to be understood better, the schema should clarify the position of the separated churches within the scope of the Church, understood as the Kingdom of God.
In effect, Abbot Butler was saying that it is not entirely correct to identify the Church as identical with the Kingdom of God — the latter being much broader. He was saying that the non-Catholic churches are not simply organized groups, but rather, somehow, supernatural communities themselves. He was therefore asking for a pronouncement on the churches in their relationship to the Church Universal.
A total of 2,288 council Fathers were present at that 39th general congregation.
Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief