Debate Opens on Divine Revelation With Majority, Minority Reports

91st General Congregation
September 30, 1964

The ecumenical council has opened debate on the schema on Divine Revelation with reports setting forth two diverse approaches to the problems of tradition and the Bible.

Because the 91st council meeting was taken up with reports on various matters to be voted on and with the double report on the Revelation schema, only four speakers took the floor. The first speaker did not begin until noon and the last speaker of the day was Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago.

Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh, as a member of the Theological Commission, delivered a report on chapter four of the schema on the nature of the Church which was then voted on. Chapter four is on the laity.

Chapter three of the same schema, which deals with collegiality and the diaconate, was voted on in two votes and all of its 19 articles were approved.

Chapters four, five and six were also voted on affirmatively. Chapters five and six deal with the universal vocation to sanctify and Religious. This left only two more chapters of the schema to be voted on. These deal with the last things — death, immortality, resurrection — and Our Lady.

The schema as a whole still has to be voted on at a plenary meeting and promulgated by Pope Paul VI before it becomes an official council act.

Introducing the schema on Revelation, a majority and minority report representing two views of the 24 members of the Theological Commission were read.

The majority view of 17 members was read by Archbishop Ermenegildo Florit of Florence, Italy. The minority report, representing seven others, was read by Bishop Frane Franic of Split, Yugoslavia.

The essential point of division centered on the question of whether tradition has a broader scope or extension than Scripture or, to put it another way, whether everything contained in the tradition of the Church is found in some way in the Bible or whether tradition extends beyond Scripture and includes elements not to be found in it.

The majority view of the Theological Commission, which the text of the present schema reflects, takes the position that it is best to avoid deliberately taking a definitive stand on the question at this point. The majority maintained it is best to leave the door open on the matter and await the development of theology on this point before making a council pronouncement.

The minority sought to affirm the broader extension of tradition.

Cardinal Meyer sided with the open door approach in general, but warned that while tradition is broader in scope than the Bible, the living tradition of the Church is not always free of human defects.

He said the text is acceptable in general. But he called for clarification of Divine Revelation in the light of modern Scripture research and cautioned against defining the faith in overly intellectual terms.

He pointed out that living tradition arises not only from definitions but also by means of reflection by the faithful on God as found in Scripture. The text says it grows from contemplation of God. But the cardinal objected, saying it is proper to speak of the faithful seeing God through Scripture but that the faithful can only contemplate God in heaven.

Cardinal Meyer held that tradition is extended beyond the limits of the infallible teachings of the Church and that living tradition is subject to failings and defects, since the Church is still a pilgrim in the world. He said it would be an exaggeration to speak of tradition as if there were only a constant progress toward the higher and better.

As examples of where this tradition has deviated from the ideal, he cited the exaggerated moralism of the past centuries, private pious practices which have grown away from the spirit of the liturgy, neglect of the Bible and even the active discouragement of Bible reading among Catholics that occurred in other eras.

He said we must realize that these defects are always possible. He suggested that it can be said that tradition grows through contemplation, yet, since the Church is still a pilgrim in the world, this tradition can also have faults. The value of the Bible in relation to tradition is that the Bible can serve as a corrective norm by which tradition can be judged, he said.

Bishop Wright took the floor at the council to read the relatio or report on the changes that have been made in chapter four of the schema on the Church, which deals with the role of the laity in the Church.

The chapter was approved by a vote of 2,152 to 8, with only 76 votes juxta modum, that is, favorable but with reservations.

The subcommission charged with the task of amending the chapter tried to incorporate the views of the Fathers which could generally be reduced to three main points:

First, that the chapter was too negative in its conception of the layman.

Second, that it was insufficient and inexact in its presentation of the hierarchy’s role in regards to the laity.

Third, that clarification had been asked of the notion of the “royal” priesthood of the laity mentioned by St. Peter and of the laity’s part in the apostolic work of the Church, particularly in the consecration of the world.

Bishop Wright said that efforts had been made to give a positive expression to the layman in conceptual and doctrinal terms. He said the text does not present a definition of the layman as much as it tries to describe him.

Dealing with the role of the hierarchy and how the Church is formed, Bishop Wright said that an attempt had been made to steer a middle course and to avoid identifying the laity and the Church’s ministers as one but also to avoid the chasm separating one from the other too absolutely.

Lastly, a new paragraph had been inserted dealing with the layman’s participation in the Church and its worship and as a witness of Christ. There is also greater stress on the dignity of the layman as being one of the people of God and note is paid to the apostolic significance of Christian marriage and family life. Other points that were clarified were the rights and duties of laymen toward their superiors in the Church, Christian liberty and obedience, and free cooperation and loyalty to pastors.

The meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Bishop Manuel Rodriguez Rosa’s of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop Francois Marty of Rhiems, France. Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, was the moderator of the day.

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, announced that the Fathers were to receive a special booklet explaining parts of the schema on the Church in the world.

Contents of the booklet are not for discussion but only to illustrate and clarify, he said.

At the request of Valerian Cardinal Gracias of Bombay, India, he also denied false reports that the Nov. 28 opening date of the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay had been changed.

A standing vote by the Fathers approved the council moderators’ decision to divide the vote on chapter three of the schema on the Church into two parts. The vote was taken when it was objected that the moderators’ decision was not in conformity with the council procedure.

Archbishop Felici said it was not permissible, as some requested, to vote yes on a proposal and then to send in observations separately. A yes vote, he said, means acceptance without reservation, and if reservations exist they must accompany a juxta modum vote.

The first vote on chapter three — articles 11 to 23, dealing with the nature of the episcopate — was 1,624 yes, 42 no, 572 juxta modum and 4 null. (Articles 1 through 10 are parts of chapters one and two.)

The second part of the vote — on articles 24 to 29 dealing with the ministry of the episcopate, but without inclusion of the approval of the diaconate for younger men without the obligation of celibacy — was 1,704 yes, 53 no, 481 juxta modum and 2 null.

A special vote was taken on whether there should be a separate chapter on Religious distinct from the chapter on sanctity, into which the Religious had been incorporated. A separate chapter won by a large majority.

Chapter five on the universal vocation to sanctity was passed by 1,856 yes votes to 17 no. There were 302 juxta modum votes.

Chapter six on Religious was passed 1,736 yes to 12 no, with 438 juxta modum votes. All juxta modum votes are to be carefully examined by the commission, even though the majorities are won.

Bishop Wright, in concluding his report on chapter four on the laity, said: “This entire treatment is of the utmost importance. As has been said, everyone forms his judgment about a racetrack according to how his own horse performs. Consequently for the mass majority of the Church, namely the body of the laity, the image of the Second Vatican Council will depend largely on the chapter dealing with the laity.”

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel later in the day Bishop Wright expanded his remarks on the laity’s relations with bishops, saying:

“Bishops must recognize and encourage the Christian liberty and initiative of the laity so that they may plan a proper part in the consecration of the world. The laity must recognize the rights and obligation of the hierarchy to exercise the office of teaching.”

He said he referred specifically to the bishops’ teaching authority because it is from its exercise that the laity is given principles of action.

Abbot Benno Gut, O.S.B., abbot primate of the Benedictine Confederation, had presented 679 recommendations submitted on the chapters voted on during the day, with the result that numerous important changes had been made.

There is now greater emphasis on the objective and moral sanctity which the Church has from God and Christ, Abbot Gut said at the council, and more stress on the universal vocation to sanctity. The text makes it clear that although sanctity is substantially one, nevertheless it varies according to degrees of cooperation on the part of man’s free will.

The chapter on Religious sets down the divine origin of the counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience and there is greater emphasis on the Christ-like form of the Religious state. A more detailed explanation of the relation of the Religious state to the Church has been introduced, he said. In general, the Religious state has been treated from the theological aspect rather than the jurisdictional one.

Bishop Franic, in presenting the minority report on the Revelation schema, said that the minority of the Theological Commission felt the schema will be basically defective unless a clear stand is taken on whether certain doctrines could be held by the Church in virtue of tradition alone, even though they were not based on the Bible. He argued ecumenically, saying that the affirmation of this would have value in the Church’s relations with the Orthodox Churches and the Protestants want a clear statement on the matter. He also cited various references, including the First Vatican Council, which he said have affirmed this position.

Failure to take this stand could lead to confusion, Bishop Franic declared. It would seem that Catholic doctrine on this point had been changed, he added. Catholic Biblical scholars would be forced to an insincere exegesis, trying to trace various traditions to the Bible. He cited, for instance, the sacraments and said there is not a Biblical basis for all seven of them. Lastly, he noted that the minority view did not hold that the schema was in error, but that it suffered from substantial defects.

Archbishop Florit disclosed that the present schema, which succeeds the one withdrawn by orders of Pope John XXIII, was drawn up with the aid of 280 observations submitted during the first council session. The schema is divided into six chapters. It is the second chapter that the minority object to.

The first chapter was approved without difficulty and treats of the nature and object of Revelation, preparation of the Revelation of the Gospel through the Old Testament, Christ as Consummator of Revelation, the credence to be given to Revelation and lastly, revealed truths.

Chapter two deals with the transmission of Revelation under four headings. They are the apostles and their successors as heralds of the Gospel, tradition, the mutual relationship of tradition and Scripture and, lastly, the deposit of Revelation in its relationship to the entire Church and to the Church’s teaching power.

Before debate on the Revelation schema opened, Bishop Jean Gahamanyi of Butare, Rwanda, speaking in the name of 70 African bishops, spoke on the declaration on the Jews. His point was that though much has been said of the similarities between Christians and Jews and between Christians and Moslems, there still remain points on which they are far apart. At the same time, much in the animistic religions of Africa have points of similarity to Christianity and it would be offensive if only the Jews and Moslems were mentioned. Instead, the declaration should deal with all non-Christians and devote sections to the Jews and Moslems.

The first speaker on Revelation was a Biblical scholar, Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, who declared himself in agreement with the minority view, and said this was the constant teaching of the ordinary teaching authority of the Church up to the present time. He also questioned the use of some of the Biblical citations in the schema.

Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, speaking in the name of the German and Scandinavian bishops, said the text was acceptable because it provides an adequate relation between Scripture and tradition without involving itself in the question raised by the minority. He said this problem should be left open in all revisions of the text and that changes are needed to eliminate doubts, avoid repetition and achieve clarity.

Cardinal Meyer closed the session.

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Bishop Wright, commenting on the Revelation schema, stated: “We should keep it always in clear focus that the sum and living center of all Revelation is the living Christ, the word made flesh. It may be that some schools of thought concerning the channels of Revelation have tended to be over formalized and institutionalized.”

He warned that there has been a tendency for some people to be “prisoners of tradition with a capital T or prisoners of the Bible with a capital B.”

Bishop Wright said: “These rigid patterns tend to take on deeper meaning when seen in terms of their relationship to the person of Jesus Christ. It is Christ, eternal and incarnate word, who is the living source of Revelation. The Bible and tradition have their significance only in terms of what they tell us about Him and His thoughts. He is the sole full witness to God’s truth, and other sources of that truth have their validity and veracity as a result of their demonstrable relationship to Him.”

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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