Today’s Theme: How Should the Church Speak to the Modern World?

106th General Congregation
October 21, 1964

Should the Church speak to the world more from its treasury of Divine Revelation or should it depend more on rational arguments in helping the world to understand itself?

This was the central point of debate at the council’s 106th general meeting. Eleven Fathers asked the council to accept schema 13 on the Church in the modern world as a basis for discussion. Only one speaker asked for its rejection.

Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, said he wanted a more Scriptural foundation for the schema, observing that the text is addressed primarily to believers. He called for a declaration of the universal dominion of Christ over all created things and an expression of man’s twofold life, natural and supernatural.

Following the lead given by Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago in his address the previous day, Maronite-rite Patriarch Paul Pierre Meouchi of Antioch said he wanted a clearer theological foundation for the text based on the notion that the world itself is the proper object of salvation.

Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, Poland, on the other hand, said he felt that the draft stated sufficiently the Church’s treasury from Scripture and tradition. He asked rather that it speak not only from authority, but give clear and intelligent arguments from natural law and reason, leading the world to discover its own answers.

The council voted on five of the seven sections of the already debated proposition on the Eastern Churches, accepting all of it but the section concerning the choice of Catholic rites for converts from Orthodoxy. The present text would have insisted that they keep the same rite on entering the Church. A majority of speakers had pleaded for freedom in the choice of rite. Because it failed to receive a two-thirds vote of approval, this section will be returned to commission for reworking and revoting at a later date.

Coadjutor Bishop Leon Elchinger of Strasbourg, France, also wanted a more theological footing for the text. The Church should state clearly, he said, that its mission first of all consists of the obligation of preserving what is essentially human in life. “You cannot implant the Gospel in men who have been reduced almost to the state of inhuman machines,” he said. Rather than being subjected to undue organization, men should be given the right to act in a spontaneous and creative way, he stated.

It is strange, said Archbishop William Conway of Armagh, Northern Ireland, that nothing is said about the serious root of so many evils today, such as the vast commercialization of sex. Such corruption of morals, particularly of the young, would have been a capital offense in the ancient world, he stated. In the modern world it is a most profitable business, he said.

Another omission that he said he found surprising was the lack of mention of suffering Christians who are denied their freedom because of their religion. No doubt mention of the Church of Silence has been omitted to avoid impeding the dialogue with the persecutors, he said, “but the first condition of dialogue is sincerity and honesty.” Any other approach is “excessively timid,” he declared.

In enumerating the signs of the times, Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez of Madrid observed that the text is incomplete since it omits any mention of the right of migration, modern overemphasis on sex, atheism and the problems of want and hunger. Because of these omissions, he said, the Church is far from really understanding the signs of the times and hence far from speaking to the world of today.

The meeting began with concelebration of a Rumanian-rite Liturgy (Mass) by Bishop Basilio Cristea, visitor delegate of the Congregation for the Oriental Church for Rumanians in exile, and five exiled Rumanian priests. It was announced that these priests represented the five dioceses of the Rumanian-rite Church at the time of its suppression in 1948, as well as the memory of the five bishops of these dioceses who died in prison. The Gospel was enthroned by Byzantine-rite Bishop Stephen J. Kocisko of Passaic, N.J. The day’s moderator was Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany.

During the meeting a report on the proposition on the Church’s missionary activity was distributed, and it was announced this would be next on the agenda.

Voting on various parts of the proposition on the Eastern Churches was as follows:

The introduction, setting forth the value and importance of the rights and traditions of the Eastern Churches, was approved by 1,790 to 119. There were 265 votes cast favorably but with reservations.

The vote on articles two to four, dealing with particular Churches of the East and including the choice of rite by converts, was 1,373 for to 73 against, with 719 favorable with reservations. Since this part failed to receive a two-thirds majority of yes votes, it returns to the commission for revision and the incorporation of suggestions made by those voting with reservations.

Articles five and six, on the preservation of the spiritual patrimony of the Eastern Churches, were approved 2,005 to 31 with 136 favorable with reservations.

Articles seven to eleven, on Eastern-rite patriarchs, were passed 1,790 to 183, with 186 favorable with reservations.

Articles 12 to 18, on the discipline of the sacraments, were approved 1,920 to 103, with 118 favorable with reservations.

Two votes remained to be taken on the proposition’s sections — one on divine worship and the other on contacts with the separated Christians.

The day’s first speaker, Juan Cardinal Landazuri Ricketts of Lima, Peru, said the Church can no longer flee from the world but must be of service to it. The world has opened a dialogue with the Church on the things troubling it, and the Church must try to answer its questions.

This dialogue is delicate, he said, because it involves the application of eternal principles to temporal circumstances. With the speakers of the previous day he called for a clear definition of the “Church” and the “world” and a clearer explanation of the spiritual-temporal tensions so characteristic of man today.

Though the Church cannot multiply the loaves and fishes like Christ, it should have a greater concern for the problem of hunger, he said, pointing out that of the 50 million who die each year, 35 million die from malnutrition and starvation.

Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels said it would be a mistake to hide the Church’s mission of evangelization under a bushel while waiting for a complete humanization of the world. Paraphrasing Pope Pius XI, he said the Church civilizes by evangelization, but does not evangelize by civilizing.

The open profession of atheism today cannot be ignored, he said, nor can it be simply condemned. The Church must show atheists who the God is whom they attack. Perhaps we will find, he said, that the God they reject is not the real God but only a caricature.

He called for the introduction into the schema’s text of some of the material contained in its supplements, particularly the material on collaboration in international organizations, on marriage and on family life.

The Church is not like a doctor diagnosing illness from the outside, Bishop Alphonse Mathias of Chikmagalur, India, observed. It is rather a part of the world it is examining.

He said he wanted the wording of the text to be simpler and more practical, expressing the unity, fraternity and equality of man.

He asked for greater emphasis on the role of Divine Providence in the world as a bulwark against materialism and the denial of Providence, and called for a defense of the principles of natural ethics in both private and public life.

Bishop Giuseppe Vairo of Gravina and Irsina, Italy, said he thought the treatment of evolution, original sin and the primary end of marriage is “not entirely satisfactory.” He said the schema has no clear-cut statement on the position of the Church in the face of modern philosophies. The text should present a “Catholic synthesis” which will harmonize temporal and eternal values, he added.

Being a good shepherd is much more important than being a good administrator, said Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt. He said he wanted churchmen characterized as mediators between the world and the poor. “Bishops can no longer live as princes of the Church, withdrawn from everyone in their palaces in order to save face. The more we have to associate with the world and rich, the more we must be with the poor,” he declared.

Ukrainian-rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk of Winnipeg, Man., noted that he saw in the text an “unfortunate” introduction of a dualism between man’s natural and supernatural vocation. It should be demonstrated clearly, he said, that the latter demands the perfection of the former.

Patriarch Meouchi accepted the text as a basis for discussion but said it needs “sweeping reorganization.” There are numerous repetitions, ambiguities, lack of logic and inconsistencies in the use of terms, he stated. The mission of the Church is so closely linked with the solution of the world’s problems that the impression is given that the Church would not exist if there were not works of charity to be performed or social and economic problems to be solved, he continued. He said he wanted a statement inserted on the sanctification of the world through men’s work, and another on the evolution of the world into the kingdom of God.

“In a word, the text is individualistic, whereas the Church is essentially collective,” he declared.

He called the text “immature” and said it must evolve the theology of the Incarnation and the theology of history. It must bring God closer to His creatures than they are to themselves, he said.

Archbishop Wojtyla spoke in the name of all the bishops of Poland. He said it must be borne in mind, in any document intended for men the world over, that part of that world welcomes the Church’s presence and another part would prefer its absence.

While speaking to those outside the Church, he said, the text uses the mentality and language of the Church. The schema should be directed to all men, both Catholic and non-Catholic, and must consider the problem of the language to be used for both, he said. He added that the text is also defective because it fails to provide a close reasoning on moral issues and then attempts to bridge this gap with exhortations and moralizations. This, he said, is no way to carry on a dialogue.

Hitting what he called the “economic and biological idolatry” affecting many Christians today, Bishop Elchinger said the Church’s mission is to fight against idolatry. It must point out the ambiguity of modern progress, taking the values of the world as they are and putting them in a supernatural light, he declared.

“We can be witnesses to life only if we are genuine lovers of life. These problems must be treated not with the reasonings of a professor, but with the inspiration of a prophet,” he said.

Archbishop Morcillo was the only speaker to reject the draft as a basis for discussion. He said it was completely unacceptable and wondered how it was ever hoped that it would reach those for whom it was intended. Its great weakness, he said, is that it uses the same language throughout, whether speaking to believers or nonbelievers. To Christians the Church speaks as a mother and teacher, he said, and to non-Christians it speaks as a religious group drawing on 20 centuries of experience and on the natural law for its authority. The Church cannot be properly understood if it speaks in the same way to both, he stated.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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