Following is a translation of an address in French made by Pope Paul VI Oct. 17 upon receiving in his private library non-Catholic observers to the Second Vatican Council.
We are profoundly moved by the noble words we have just heard, those of the most revered Cardinal President [Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J.] of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, who presented you, and also those of the most worthy interpreter [Prof. Kristen E. Skydsgaard] of the sentiments of all of you, gentlemen, which find such a deep echo in our heart.
Our meeting tonight renews, in a more intimate atmosphere, what the more official and majestic framework of the council offered us the other day. But is not the fact, the great fact, the same? That is, that you are here, gentlemen, beloved brothers in Jesus Christ, invited by us to attend this important event — the ecumenical council.
To draw closer, to meet, to greet and to speak to one another and to get to know one another: what could be simpler, more natural or more human? Of course it is. But here there is more still: to listen to each other, to pray for each other and, after such long years of separation and after such painful polemics, to begin again to love each other. This is what renders this meeting memorable and full of promise.
Undoubtedly, we would only have to repeat today what we already said in St. Peter’s basilica on the day of the opening of the second session of the council. But here in our library where we receive private audiences, we shall do it in a familiar and friendly manner. A symbolic significance might be attached to the circumstance: that of our desire to receive you not only on the threshold of our house, but in the very heart of our intimacy.
The sincerity of our words and of our sentiments enables us, nay, imposes on us, this new opening up of our heart in the simplest language which, better than the solemnity of Latin, can express to you from the depth of our soul something of what we feel for you.
Therefore, we say to you once more: thank you for accepting our invitation, thank you for coming, and thank you for your presence at the sessions of the council.
Be assured of our respect, of our esteem and of our desire to have with you, in our Lord, the best possible relations. Our attitude does not hide any snare, nor does it intend to dissimulate the difficulties for the achievement of a complete and final understanding; it does not fear the delicate nature of the discussion nor the pain of waiting.
Good faith and charity are the bases which we offer to your presence here. The esteem we feel for your persons and for the institutions and Christian values which you represent makes it easy for us to take up with you the great dialogue, the duration of which nobody today is in a position to determine in view of the yet unsolved doctrinal differences. And faith in Jesus Christ, to whom we are all linked through faith and Baptism, fills our heart with a sweet and powerful hope.
But this is not all. It may be necessary to add a remark, which might better clarify the state of our mind at the joy afforded to us by your visit, full of the remembrance you have just evoked of our regretted and venerated predecessor, John XXIII. This remark is the following: What comes instinctively to our mind, when we have to give a precise significance to the encounter — at the highest level of the greatest responsibility, as you can see — of the Catholic Church with the other Christian denominations? The mind would be tempted to turn toward the past. This would mean getting lost in the maze of history and undoubtedly reopening old wounds which have never completely healed.
In our speech of Sept. 29 we dared to have recourse first of all to Christian forgiveness, mutual if possible — “veniam damus petimusque vicissim” (let us forgive and ask for forgiveness mutually) [Horace].
Our minds need this tranquility if they are to have friendly contacts and serene conversations. First of all, because it is Christian: “If then, in making your offering at the altar, you remember that your brother has something against you, leave there your offering in front of the altar and go first to reconcile yourself with your brother; then return and make the offering” (Matt. 5, 23-24).
And then it is for us the best method, not to look to the past but toward the present, and above all toward the future.
Others can and will deepen the study of ancient history; we now prefer to focus our attention not on what has been but on what must be. We are turning toward a new thing to be born, a dream to be realized. May we be allowed to quote the words of St. Paul, “forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what is before, I press on toward the goal, to the prize of God’s heavenly call in Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3, 13-14). Hope is our guide, prayer our strength, charity our method in the service of divine truth which is our hope and our salvation.
It is necessary that we should unceasingly endeavor to deepen and to process divine truth better and to live of it more fully. “Seek to find and find to seek again.” This phrase of St. Augustine, which we had the pleasure, Professor, to hear you quote, concerns us all. A true Christian is not passive. In this respect, you have opened up prospects which we should take care not to neglect.
The developments you wish for in “a concrete and historical theology centered on the history of salvation” we would willingly subscribe to as far as we are concerned, and the suggestion seems to us wholly worthy of being studied and worked out in detail. The Catholic Church has institutions which would in no way be prevented from specializing in this kind of research, while, should circumstances demand it, the establishment of a new institution for this purpose would not be excluded.
Allow me, gentlemen, before I leave you, to underline the words of your speaker: “We are walking together along a road.” That is to say: we have not arrived.
Like you, dear sirs, as we have told you, we do not expect immediate and miraculous solutions. The fruits we hope for must take a long time to ripen through study and prayer; merely apparent and improvised reconciliations which would disguise difficulties instead of solving them, would hinder rather than help our progress.
As for us, like the sentinel of whom Isaiah speaks: “Custos, quid de nocte? Custos, quid de nocte? (Guardian, what happens at night?) (Is. 21, 11) we are on the alert, trying to discern, and happy to register, whenever they appear in the depth of the night, the signs foreshadowing a luminous dawn.
We mean the signs of real progress in the dialogue which has begun, of a step forward toward the rapprochement of those who feed on the same Gospel, and feel echoing in the depths of their souls the same joyous appeal of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and throughout all and in us all” (Eph. 4, 4-6).
It is the God of mercy, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we believe, that we invoke, gentlemen, in taking leave of you. To Him we entrust our wishes, our expectations, our hopes, from Him we implore for you all peace and joy, grace and blessings. And let us greet you with the same words of the great Apostle whose name we have made our own: “The grace of Our Lord Jesus be with you. My love is with you all in Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 16, 23-24).