Council Wrestles With Divine Revelation Proposals for Second Day

92nd General Congregation
October 1, 1964

Sidestepping the problem of whether tradition is broader than Scripture and contains truths not found in the Bible won support and opposition as the ecumenical council debate on the Revelation schema entered its second day.

Twenty speakers took the floor at the 92nd council meeting, including Fathers speaking for 45 Peruvian bishops, 67 African bishops and another representing the entire hierarchy of Poland.

Bishop Kazimierz Kowalski of Chelmno, Poland, called on the council in the Polish bishops’ name to issue a condemnation of atheism as the “enemy of reason, science, the human person and Revelation.”

Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore stressed the part played by man in the process of Revelation. He offered an amendment to the text which emphasizes that the action of Revelation by God to men was broader than the mere presentation of certain propositions to be believed and that Revelation was received by man and recorded by him.

Early at the meeting, Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, announced to the Fathers that Father Jean Janssens, S.J., general of the Society of Jesus, was dying and asked for prayers for him.

The meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Bishop Raffaele Campelli of Cagli and Pergola, Italy. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop Alberto Ramos of Belem do Para, Brazil, on the 25th anniversary of his consecration as a bishop.

No votes were taken at the meeting, at which Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, presided as the day’s moderator.

Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal, the day’s first speaker, praised the decision of the council’s Theological Commission, which drew up the Revelation schema, to avoid making a matter of council definition the question of the extension of tradition. However, during the debate three bishops — one Italian and two Indians — warned that to do this would be to reverse the Church’s position and teachings as pronounced by the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.

The cardinal also stated that it should be recognized that there have been at times certain indiscretions in regard to the insistence on infallibility without making all the necessary distinctions. This sets up a wall of separation with separated Christians, he said. He added that council Fathers should distinguish between the infallibility which is strictly proper to Revelation and that which is proper to the teaching authority of the Church.

Before debate got underway, Archbishop Felici announced that another attempt to speed the council’s progress would be introduced on Oct. 2. He said it was planned to distribute three chapters on the ecumenism schema and then propose new plans of voting. Details were not given.

Voting on the amended ecumenism schema begins Oct. 5. Archbishop Felici said that he was asked what value could be attributed to the booklet on schema 13 on the Church in the modern world distributed the previous day. He at first said it was compiled and issued by the Lay Apostolate Commission and was a private document explaining various points in the schema.

Later in the meeting he said that it was the work of a mixed commission of members of the Lay Apostolate Commission and of the Theological Commission and was not merely private, although it still has no conciliar value.

Cardinal Leger’s support of the draft schema on Revelation was straightforward. He called it excellent and in accord with the spirit of the modern Biblical movement. He termed wise the decision to avoid the problem of tradition’s extension.

As debate continued, it became clear that various Fathers were using the word tradition in two senses. Some Fathers restricted the word to the apostolic tradition and took the position, as Cardinal Leger did in his speech, that it is wrong to speak of tradition as living and always evolving. Others, as Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago had done on the previous day, used the word in a broader sense to include other elements not of the apostolic period.

Cardinal Leger stressed the difference between apostolic and post-apostolic tradition, and said the word should be used carefully. He said the text itself skips from one usage of the word to another and back again without distinguishing. He asked that this defect be cleared up.

He further stressed the transcendence of Revelation and declared that Revelation is above and superior to post-apostolic traditions. He said it also transcends the teaching authority of the Church. Likewise, he declared, there is a distinction between the teaching office of the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of Christ, and the teaching office of their successors, the bishops, which is to safeguard and hand down what the apostles gave them as witnesses of Christ’s life and teaching.

If these distinctions are clear, he said, it will do much to foster the spirit of Christian unity.

Bishop Enrico Compagnone of Anagni, Italy, and two Indians, Bishop Michael Arattukulam of Alleppey and Archbishop Joseph Attipetty of Verapoly, disagreed completely with Cardinal Leger in urging avoidance of the tradition problem.

Bishop Compagnone said he thought the wider extension of tradition was a very firm teaching of the Church. Citing the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, he warned that to sidestep the problem would make it appear that the present council is reversing established teaching.

Bishop Arattukulam agreed that the schema as it stands is in conflict with the Council of Trent, which stated that the Bible and tradition are to be received with an equal feeling of piety. He said that the Council of Trent was clearly referring to two different things.

He warned that such practices as infant baptism and the existence of all seven sacraments are endangered if it is insisted that tradition can be found in the Bible.

Archbishop Attipetty said a stand must be made, since the two views are mutually contradictory. Any hesitating on this, he stated, leaves the council and the Church’s dogmas open to ridicule.

Archbishop Attipetty suggested that if the council does not take a stand on the breadth of tradition, it should be referred to Pope Paul VI for a decision in view of his supreme teaching authority.

In essence, the council Fathers were rearguing the problem which ultimately led Pope John XXIII to have the whole schema on the two sources of Revelation removed from the first session and redrafted.

Juan Cardinal Landazuri Ricketts of Lima, speaking for Peru’s bishops, agreed with Cardinal Meyer, holding that Revelation is not a closed deposit but a living one. He urged clarification of the text in several instances.

Irish-born Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., of the Roman curia, a theologian, deplored the lack of a provision for the role of theologians in treating Revelation. His view was that tradition does not grow; rather it evolves in regard to its expression, but not in regard to its substance.

Following Cardinal Browne the floor was taken by Armenian-rite Patriarch Ignace Pierre XVI Batanian of Cilicia, who called the schema excellent. He said he was pleased with the link given to tradition and Scripture.

An impassioned plea for a council statement condemning atheism was delivered by Bishop Kowalski, who called it a grave moral duty. He said such a statement would be welcomed by all men of good will.

Bishop Vittorio Costantini of Sessa Aurunca, Italy, praised the text and said it was clearer than the first one. But he called for some changes to forestall worries and anxieties.

Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger of Paderborn, Germany, agreed with Cardinal Browne that tradition does not grow. He also called for a fuller concept of Revelation, which he described as a colloquy of God with man through Christ.

The same stress on this point was given by Archbishop Shehan, who said he thought that the text is not complete enough and is not sufficiently explicit because there is a certain task left to the subject of Revelation, which is the human mind.

Supernatural Revelation is really the communication of God to men by which God manifests Himself to men, he said. There should be inserted in the text, he stated, both parts of the process of Revelation — one, that action of God which is broader than the mere presentation of certain propositions to be believed, and, two, that reception of this action and its interpretation by men. This interpretation depends on objective deeds in history and therefore is not completely subjective. The role that man played in the reception of Revelation should not be ignored, he concluded.

Two council Fathers called for insertion of a reference to Moses in the text, as had other pleas on the previous day. Bishop Felix Romero Menjibar of Jaen, Spain, said more emphasis should be given to Moses, who together with Abraham and Christ were great communicators of Revelation. Italian Archbishop Antonio Vuccino, former Ordinary of Corfu, Greece, also wanted Moses referred to.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Reuss of Mainz, Germany, objected to the text’s treatment of the act of faith which Catholics have toward Revelation as insufficient. He said it does not sufficiently stress the act as an act of the whole man.

Bishop Emilio Guano of Leghorn, Italy, objected to what he felt was too much emphasis on the separation of tradition and Scripture. He said they were not two rivulets, but rather one stream.

Bishop Tomasz Wilczynski for Olsztyn, Poland, said he was pleased that the schema did not close the door on further theological research, thus siding with the open door approach to the tradition question.

African Archbishop Paul Zoungrana of Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, spoke in the name of 67 bishops. He asked that a statement be inserted in the text saying that the person of Christ is a fact of Revelation, that Jesus Christ as a historical person is a fact of divine Revelation.

Italian Archbishop Armando Fares of Catanzaro said he wanted clarification of the criteria to be used in the arguments for the historicity of the Gospels.

The day’s last speaker was Bishop Pierre Rouge of Nimes, France, who praised the text. He expressed his satisfaction that the great effort of the past to enhance tradition is not reflected in the present text. He said stress should be on the action of the Holy Spirit in guiding and developing the Church’s life and customs.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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