Document on Nature of the Church Gets Extensive Debate

40th General Congregation
October 3, 1963

Criticism of the document on the nature of the Church continued unhurriedly on the fourth day of the ecumenical council’s second session.

Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, asserted that some of the Biblical passages cited in the text did not prove what they were supposed to prove.

Joseph Cardinal Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis, indicated that the document does not give enough emphasis to the need for restoring preaching to its proper place in the life of the Church.

The majority of the critics of the “De Ecclesia” schema made two particular points: that the text should be more clear about the fact that through Baptism all Christians are included in the Church, and that the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church should be treated in the schema on the Church rather than separately.

This 40th general congregation since the beginning of Vatican Council II was held on Thursday, Oct. 3. The presiding moderator was Leo Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Belgium.

Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna left the moderators’ table to go to the microphone and open the day’s discussion on the first chapter of the schema on the Church.

The Church and the Mystical Body of Christ are one but are not considered under one same aspect, he said. We must admit, he continued, that our separated brethren are incorporated into the Church by their Baptism, and that Baptism imprints a sacramental character on their souls, even though heresy or some other obstacle may interfere with the full exercise of their rights and with their share in the spiritual and social benefits deriving from the Church.

With an apparent reference to the speeches made previously in the council hall by the Fathers, Cardinal Lercaro declared that the doctrinal commission — the Commission on Faith and Morals — should not concern itself only with minor textual changes. It should, he said, give special attention to the views expressed by the entire episcopal conferences on the general content of the schema. Those Fathers who have expressed various views on the schema should arrange to coordinate their remarks and present them to the commission on doctrine, he added.

His reference was to such men as Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, who spoke on behalf of 65 German-speaking and Scandinavian bishops, and Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez, Archbishop of Santiago, Chile, who spoke for 44 Latin American bishops. Such group spokesmen should be given particular attention, according to Cardinal Lercaro. He also urged that some arrangement be made to create other joint statements — perhaps with an eye to reducing the number of individual, and sometimes repetitive, speeches.

Benjamin Cardinal de Arriba y Castro, Archbishop of Tarragona, Spain, followed. He spoke in the name of “60 bishops, mainly from Spain.” In opposition to the urgings of Cardinal Silva and Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico, who had spoken two days earlier, he proposed that treatment of the Virgin Mary be kept as a separate schema.

The Chilean Cardinal and Bishop Mendez had asked that the schema on St. Mary be incorporated into that on the Church in order to give devotion to the Mother of God a proper perspective and to avoid removing it from the proper devotional life of the Church. Cardinal Arriba instead held that the importance of Mary in the Church merits a separate treatment.

Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, secretary of the Consistorial Congregation, proposed that a clearer definition of the Church could be gained by recalling the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church on Pentecost.”

Increased attention to “the praying Church” was urged by Paul Cardinal Richaud, Archbishop of Bordeaux, France.

Cardinal Ritter, the second prelate from the United States to speak in the second session of the council, alluded to the schema’s reference to the Church as a “sacrament of union.” He said that the text should indicate how the Church is a sign and an instrument of this union.

The Cardinal went on to say that preaching and teaching, while sacred duties, are either poorly done or not fulfilled at all. The necessary reforms brought about by the Council of Trent were responsible for putting preaching somewhat into the background, he said. But he added that it is now necessary to restore to preaching its basic importance as an indispensable condition for the success of all other reforms.

Archbishop Eugene D’Souza of Nagpur, India, also touched upon the Church’s duty to preach, but in the framework of the mission world. The missionary responsibility of individual bishops, he said, does not end when they have evangelized their own dioceses.

Then Cardinal Bea attacked the schema’s use of certain Scriptural passages. He urged that its quotations from Scripture and its arguments from Tradition should be carefully reexamined. Some of the passages used, he said, did not actually prove what they attempted to prove. As to the arguments from Tradition, he said that they should come from sources prior to the Eastern schism of 1054 in order to better serve the purposes of the council.

The text should make special mention of the Jews, said Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, because of their close common bonds with the Church and the possession of the Old Testament.

Archbishop Geraldo de Proenca Sigaud of Diamantina, Brazil, proposed a new paragraph in the text which would discuss the Church as the family of God, since God is the Father of all men. He was joined in this argument by Bishop Simon Hoa Nguyen van Hien of Dalat, Vietnam, who said that this concept would provide an open door to people of all cultures.

Bishops Hermann Volk of Mainz, Germany, Antonio Pildain of the Canary Islands and Angelo Jelmini, Apostolic Administrator of Lugano, Switzerland, followed with requests for greater emphasis to certain elements in the schema. Then Archbishop John C. Heen-an of Westminster, England, took the floor to underline the Church’s obligation to work for the conversion of the separated brothers.

Our separated brethren know, he declared, that we cannot be satisfied until they have become one with us. He said that Catholics can show other Christians no greater charity than, with God’s help, to bring them to the fulness of truth.

Bishop Abilio del Campo of Calahorra, Spain; Bishop Gerard van Velsen of Kroonstad, South Africa; Archbishop Herculanus Van der Burgt of Pontianak, Indonesia; and Archbishop Joseph Martin of Rouen, France, all urged greater emphasis on the Mystical Body of Christ, the concepts of the “People of God,” and of the “Family of God” as effective means of establishing contact with non-Christians and non-Catholics.

Archbishop Emile Blanchet, rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, and Bishop Jacinto Argaya of Mondonedo-Ferrol, Spain, submitted their observations in writing.

It was announced at the end of the assembly that the second chapter of the schema on the liturgy would be submitted for a vote during the week of Oct. 6. This was to be done without interrupting the discussion on the schema on the Church.

Taking such a vote without interrupting the discussion is possible according to procedural rules in the case of 1) A vote on a schema as a whole, which approves it for discussion; 2) discussion of the parts of a single chapter; 3) a vote on the amendments to a single chapter; 4) a vote on the entire schema, each single chapter of which has been passed with its amendments in its turn.

Discussion on the schema on the Church was to be interrupted only long enough to present the amendments to the second chapter on the liturgy and take a vote on it.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief

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