Proposal on Church in the Modern World Advances

105th General Congregation
October 20, 1964

In an attempt to understand the modern world and to interpret the Church’s message to that world, the council Fathers began discussion of one of the most talked-about and long-awaited schemas on its agenda.

Eight cardinals took the floor and all but one expressed general satisfaction with the text of schema 13 on the Church in the modern world. They asked the council to accept it as a basis for discussion.

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York hailed it as “representing the basic hopes of the Second Vatican Council” and asked that in recommending changes, council Fathers take care not to weaken but rather to strengthen the text and improve its clarity.

Both Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, and Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, cautioned against speed in deliberations. The latter observed that “perhaps there is not even time enough left in this session — especially if there is going to be a fourth session next year.”

Saying he was unhappy with the impression given by the text that the Church “fears contagion from associating with the world,” Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago called for a deeper understanding of the role of the world in the plan of salvation. He cited Scripture and tradition to support his contention that the world itself, and not only the soul of man, is the proper object of Redemption.

By a vote of 1,921 to 29, the council approved the whole of chapter seven of the schema on the nature of the Church. Various parts of the chapter had been approved separately on the previous day. The chapter concerns the four last things — death, judgment, heaven and hell — and affirms the final vocation of everyone to paradise. There were 233 votes of qualified approval.

After three speakers completed debate on the proposition on the Eastern churches, the council decided by a vote of 1,911 to take a final vote on it the following day (Oct. 21) rather than to send it back to commission for revision. Opposing this were 265 Fathers.

In the name of the mixed commission of members of the council’s Theological Commission and the Commission on the Apostolate of the Laity, of which he is president, Fernando Cardinal Cento introduced schema 13. He said it was offered with a great deal of “trepidation” and a consciousness of the extreme gravity of the task at hand. This task, he said, is to make the Church stand out as the “light of nations,” according to the words of Pope John XXIII.

The Church is conscious that it is not growing old, but ever younger, he said, because of the presence in its midst of its Divine Founder.

“The Church must find answers in Christ for a world living in constant fear of an apocalyptic conflagration,” he said. It must try to understand man and his problems, but it must also seek the supernatural order. It must frame a message which can be sent not only to believers, but to atheists as well.

He explained that the text was drafted by the mixed commission through a special subcommission headed by Bishop Emilio Guano of Leghorn, Italy, with Father Bernard Haering, C.SS.R., as its secretary. Father Haering is professor of moral theology at the Redemptorist Fathers’ Rome institute of higher studies.

Bishop Guano then gave a report on schema 13. He said the Church stands between Christ and human society, never as an end unto itself, but with a concern and desire to belong to Christ, to act for and with Him, and to belong to men and to act for and with them.

Men are concerned about earning their daily bread, about peace in the world and about human dignity, he said. Some are hostile and others indifferent to the message of Christ, he noted. But, he added, the Church has something for all men and it must remember that it can never remain closed up in a fortress protecting only its own members. It must speak with all and try to answer their questions, he said, and added that the council is the symbol of this dialogue.

Bishop Guano said the aim of schema 13 is different from that of all the other schemas. It does not concern doctrine or theoretical principles, he stated, so much as the transition of the council to the treatment of the problems that concern man today. It is an attempt to promote a dialogue in which man can know more about the Church and at the same time the Church can gain a deeper understanding of man and his problems. It is difficult to find the proper equilibrium between the principles of the Gospel and the practical lives of men, but this is the job now set before the council, he said.

All men feel the need of some absolute, he said, and the Church must live up to the task of providing what answers it can. The Church loves the world just as God did giving His only Son for its Redemption, he continued. But the Church also recognizes the presence of original sin in the world, and it condemns sin and intends to liberate the world from sin, Bishop Guano concluded.

In his talk, Cardinal Spellman emphasized the obedience of Church members to the authority of the hierarchy and asked that this obedience be not merely a legal compliance with commands, but rather a Christian obedience which remains consonant with freedom.

He said the text is good, clear and sincere and that it rightly calls for Catholics to act on their own responsibility when there are no specific directives to follow. But, he said, the essential condition for a dialogue with the modern world is fidelity and obedience to the Church.

Calling for a “compenetration” between the world and the Church, Cardinal Meyer cited proofs from Scripture and tradition that the world itself, and not only man, is the proper object of Redemption. Quoting St. Paul’s statement that “all things are created through Him and unto Him,” Cardinal Meyer observed that work here on earth pertains not only to the temporal order but to the everlasting as well. By his labors, man “prepares the way for the final transformation of all things into a new heaven and a new earth,” he said. At the end of his talk he was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

The opening Mass of the 105th general council meeting was celebrated by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, Poland. The day’s feast was that of one of Poland’s patrons, St. John Cantius of Cracow. The Gospel was enthroned by Bishop Michael Arattukulam of Alleppey, India. The moderator was Cardinal Doepfner.

The council’s secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, announced that after some debate on the general principles of schema 13, a vote would be taken to determine whether the Fathers were ready to open discussion of the individual points. Contrary to previous procedure, he said, this vote would be secret. If favorable, discussion would proceed in three parts: on the introduction and first chapter, on chapters two and three together, and then on chapter four which, since it contains much detailed material, would be discussed one topic at a time. These topics include the dignity of the human person, marriage and the family, the right promotion of culture, economic and social life, human solidarity and peace.

The first speaker on schema 13 was Achille Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France. He said he welcomed the schema as an important one as well as one unique in the history of ecumenical councils. He said the text is acceptable in substance but not in its present form, which in many cases is illogical.

Observing that the text is an exhortation to Christians to aid the world, he said it should not be addressed only to Christians. He added: “The world carries on its life and activity in the natural order which, with the supernatural order, is the work of God. We must make it clear that elevating man to the dignity of a son of God makes him more of a man.” He suggested that the Church declare clearly its esteem for the natural order.

The lone dissenter to the general acceptability of the text was Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, who called it obscure in many ways, filled with flaws and weakened by repetition. One of the obscurities, he said, was its stress on the humanitarian mission of the Church almost to the exclusion of its main mission to procure eternal salvation. He said he also saw an exaggeration in dealing with ecumenism. He asked for a complete revision of the text based on the encyclicals of modern popes, beginning with Leo XIII.

Cardinal Lercaro cautioned the Fathers not to fear difficulties in the present discussion, adding that the council has committed itself to schema 13 and must keep its word.

“We must expect contradictory viewpoints and we must face them,” the cardinal said.

He urged the Fathers not to send the text back to the commission, because then the commission would not have the benefit of their opinions to guide it. He said a thoroughgoing discussion is essential, especially since the text admittedly has not achieved the proper balance on many delicate points. One of its chief weaknesses, he said, is its European and Western outlook, which must be corrected during the discussion.

He cautioned against haste so that the council can obviate the danger of fastening on concrete situations which may soon be obsolete.

Again there was applause in the council hall.

Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal asked the council to avoid all “sterile condemnations” and work positively, showing how the construction of the world is a task to which Christians can make a very special contribution. He asked that the council use the experience of recognized experts in the specialized fields covered by the text, mentioning specifically the problem of world hunger.

Cardinal Doepfner called for a clearer concept of “the world” and the “service” to be given by the Church to the world. He asked for more attention to the problem of atheism and men not yet reached by Revelation, lest “as we direct our text to the entire world, we still seem to be talking only to ourselves.”

He said he wanted Scripture scholars to examine the text’s use of Biblical references to make sure they correspond with the demands of modern exegesis, and asked that all the text’s arguments be put on a stronger Scriptural basis.

The day’s last speaker was Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile, who listed four reasons why schema 13 was important:

  1. Because of the mission of the Church.
  1. Because of the secular character of the laity, whose orientation would be incomplete without a discussion of their temporal mission in the world.
  1. Because we must demonstrate the effectiveness of the Church’s doctrine, since the Church is accused of being interested only in heaven. We need a “Christian cosmology.” We are denying no temporal values.
  1. Because of the necessity of dialogue with present-day humanism, often atheistic. We must try to understand atheism and get to the roots of its error.

Preceding the introduction of schema 13, three final speakers ended the discussion on the proposition on the Eastern churches — Archbishops Maurice Baudoux of St. Boniface, Man., and Dominic Athaide of Agra, India, and Melkite-rite Bishop Georges Hakim of Acre, Israel.

Bishop Hakim asked for an affirmative vote on the proposition. Although he admitted the text was not perfect, he added, “Only God is perfect.” He also asked that an extension of faculties for concelebration between the different Catholic rites be granted to local authorities, not only for pilgrimage centers, but also on the occasion of national and international gatherings.

Archbishop Baudoux called for ecclesiastical discipline to insure that the Catholics do not change their own rites. He said he felt this would provide a safeguard against social pressure to change.

He said any diminution or belittling of the patriarchal system would be an “injury to the Church and will constitute a real obstacle to effective dialogue.”

Archbishop Athaide asked that to avoid “jurisdictional pluralism,” the text should provide that in every territory there is only one diocesan bishop responsible for the welfare of all souls in his territory. This obligation could be fulfilled either through special parishes or through the appointment of vicars with appropriate faculties. Only if this fails should special hierarchies be set up for various rites, he said.

He said he felt that Eastern-rite patriarchs should be shown no less honor than that given to cardinals.

The final summary on the Eastern churches was given by Archbishop Gabriel Bukatko of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, who had given the introductory report. He observed that the text could still be perfected, but that this would be possible only if the council first approved it in a vote the following day.

The council press bulletin reported the statements of Cardinals Spellman and Meyer as follows:

Cardinal Spellman said that the schema is good, clear and sincere.

The commission has done an admirable piece of work. Any modifications of the text should be careful not to weaken it. Our only altering of the text will be to increase its clarity. The council’s aim in this schema is to listen and to be listened to as we try to help the entire human race. All the faithful are rightly called to the full dignity of sons of God and to open dialogue with all men.

Frequently when ecclesiastical directives are wanting, the faithful must act on their own responsibility. The essential condition of all fruitful dialogue is fidelity to the Church and to its authority. There is danger of an obedience which will be only juridical. This text gives hope for a new impulse to dialogue and will serve to increase the vigor and sanctity of the Mystical Body of Christ. It should serve to direct all our thoughts and our hopes.

Cardinal Meyer of Chicago said that:

We must make men realize that their daily work is an essential part of the plan of salvation.

The text seems to fear contagion from the world. Nevertheless, the material world is part of the whole plan of redemption.

We must teach how the perfection of the natural order helps the perfection of man in the supernatural order. St. Paul teaches this eloquently when he speaks of the hope of the world and the redemption of the body. Both body and soul are to be freed from the slavery of sin. Material work is to be transformed into the new heaven and new earth of which St. John speaks. All things must contribute to the restoration of the world in Christ.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent

* * * *

Introduction of the famous schema 13 on the Church in the modern world almost automatically insures the fact that a fourth session of the ecumenical council will have to be held.

“Debate on this schema gives every reason to think that it will occupy many weeks of the council and it may occupy the whole rest of this session. I hope it does,” declared Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh, one of the members of the mixed commission which drew up the document, introduced at the 105th session of the council.

In brief, the schema consists of an introduction and four chapters. Chapter one deals with the vocation of the whole man as a Christian living in the world.

Chapter two treats of the Church in the service of God and men — what the Church can give to men and what the Church receives of men.

The third chapter deals with the Christian mode of life in the contemporary world, and the last chapter deals with the principal tasks of the Christian today.

This in substance forms the document which the council Fathers will debate. Added to this, however, are five long appendices which cover a multitude of various practical and specific problems. These appendices will not be debated on the floor of the council, but the council Fathers have been asked to submit any comments they want to make on them in writing to the mixed commission.

At present, Bishop Wright said at the press panel of the American bishops, the appendices have no conciliar character, but are intended as an aid or means of helping debate on the draft.

Father Roberto Tucci, S.J., editor of Civilta Cattolica, Rome Jesuit review, explained how the document and appendices reached the form they are now in. After the first preparatory work had been done, a draft document of six chapters was produced. Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, then suggested it be reworked because it was unwieldy. This reworking is known among the mixed commission experts as the “Louvain text” since it was prepared by theologians of Louvain University in Belgium.

The product of this effort was the second text. This text was basically the first chapter of the original text presented in three chapters, which are the same as the first three chapters now before the council. The remaining five chapters were made appendices and stand as such in the latest draft.

The mixed commission was not satisfied with the so-called Louvain text, mainly because it felt that by putting all practical considerations in the appendices the text became too abstract and up in the air, Father Tucci said.

So a subcommission was appointed to rework the text for a third time. The result is the present schema, consisting of the essentials of the three chapters of the second draft and a new fourth chapter which seeks to synthesize the contents of the five appendices.

Bishop Wright explained that because the mixed commission never had time to study and officially approve the appendices, it could not present the appendices as conciliar documents. He estimated it would take a year to review and study sufficiently all the material contained in the appendices. The commission intends to do this in the coming months and may at a later date announce to the council Fathers their approval of the material.

Msgr. George G. Higgins, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, suggested that it would probably be a mistake for the appendices to be made acts of the council since they contain much material that may be altered by circumstances at some future time. Many Fathers would have serious misgivings if such material were made full conciliar acts, he said.

Regarding the overall view, Bishop Wright summed it up by saying:

“What we have here in this text is at best and most — although I’m happy that we have this much — the basis of a document which we hope will be long and warmly discussed. It would be a disappointment for us of the mixed commission if it were only discussed briefly. The document is offered for a long, detailed and fierce discussion that will hammer out a final draft of great importance and significance.”

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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