Council Debates How Best to Prepare Seminarians for Priesthood

123rd General Congregation
November 16, 1964

The importance of choosing the right people to staff seminaries and of training them adequately was insisted on at the council’s 123rd session before debate on the document on the renovation of seminaries was closed.

Twelve speakers took the council floor during the session to air their thoughts on how seminaries and priestly training can be modernized to meet the needs of the day. Two of them made it a point to answer Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger of Montreal, who two days earlier had recommended a de-emphasis on Thomistic philosophy and theology.

Enthusiastic applause filled the council chamber when the secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, announced that the moderators after long deliberation had decided that no afternoon sessions would be held during this last week of this session. However, he informed them regular morning sessions might be prolonged from noon until 1 p.m. to deal with the press of work.

During the day’s session three votes on the propositions on Religious life were taken. This concluded for this session the council’s handling on the draft document. The results are as follows:

Vote seven — Articles 15 through 17, on the foundation of new institutes, adaptation or suppression of the undertakings proper to existing religious institutes and abandonment of decadent institutes — “yes” 1,833, “no” 63, “yes” with reservations, 226.

Vote eight — Articles 18 and 19, on the promotion of cooperation and unity among institutes and on national conferences of major superiors — “yes” 1,936, “no” 50, “yes” with reservations, 131.

Vote nine — Article 20, on the promotion of Religious vocations — “yes” 1,639, “no” 50, “yes” with reservations, 419.

Before the day’s debate opened, Archbishop Felici told the Fathers that there was a typographical error in the booklet containing the changes in the third chapter on the nature of the Church which gave the impression the Fathers would have to vote on each and every change. Instead, he said, they would be asked to vote only to accept or reject the theological commission’s method of handling the changes suggested earlier on the floor.

He took time out to pay tribute to the Vatican Press printers who had been working round-the-clock to ready documents for distribution on the council floor during the final week of meetings.

He also assured the Fathers that all procedural rules for handling documents had been observed and there were no grounds for the complaints that some had voiced. Furthermore, he answered the question raised by many who wanted to know what precise value would be attributed to the declaration on the Church if it were passed by the council and promulgated by Pope Paul.

He said there is no question of an infallible definition unless that is specifically stated, which the document does not do.

The question of value centered essentially on the doctrine of episcopal collegiality, and Archbishop Felici took the opportunity to read an explanatory note accompanying the text. This note, which had been contested by some, was an attempt to describe relations of the college of bishops to the Pope and served as a defense of the primacy and independent authority of the Pope.

Archbishop Felici also warned the Fathers to expect many series of votes, and said that although they might be confusing, he hoped that the Fathers would be patient.

He said many bishops had asked what they could do to emulate the example of the Pope’s donation of his triple crown for the poor on Nov. 13. Archbishop Felici said that if they wished, they could help by sending aid to the Pope so he could make further contributions to the poor.

Debate opened with Antonio Cardinal Cagayan of Buenos Aires declaring that one of the main points of the schema on seminaries was on how to reorganize ecclesiastical studies to permit the integral formation of seminarians as men and priests. He said it was a problem of choosing to keep the good qualities of the older concepts and yet to add what is useful and valuable from new techniques so that seminaries could meet the demands of the times.

Cardinal Caggiano was the first speaker to stress the need for teaching of Thomistic methods and principles. While asserting that the outer covering of the body of teaching of St. Thomas is clothed in scholastic terms, he said that the inner marrow is what is important, and that it is this that should be preserved.

An even stronger defense of St. Thomas came from Antonio Cardinal Bacci of the Roman curia, who said he was dismayed by comments on St. Thomas which almost belittled the great doctor of the Church. Citing the writings of 80 popes, including Paul VI, Cardinal Bacci said that if the council were to deemphasize St. Thomas’ place in the curriculum of seminaries, it would appear that the council would be placing itself above or against the Pope.

Persons present in the council hall said that when Cardinal Bacci made this statement, a rumble of noise was heard from the bishops’ benches.

Cardinal Bacci proposed that a new paragraph be inserted in the text insisting on the rightful place of Thomism as the perennial philosophy of the Church, as is evident from the mind of the popes. This, he said, would not mean neglect of the other Church Fathers and doctors.

Three council Fathers rose to speak on the need of selecting the faculty of seminaries carefully and for special training of this personnel.

The first to broach the subject was Bishop Antonio Anoveros of Cadiz, Spain, who said the success of a seminary’s training depends on the men in charge. Train superiors well and be careful not to choose men too young, he advised. He said that otherwise there is a risk that they will mistake what he called the crisis of adolescence to be a lack of vocation. Many vocations are lost because of this mistake, he said. He also recommended that seminaries be regional rather than diocesan, since it is easier to find competent personnel from a greater area, and money can be saved by cooperative effort.

Poland’s Bishop Antoni Pawlowski of Wloclawek cautioned that a seminary should not be run by the rector alone, but needs the cooperation of the members of the faculty. Thus it is important to pick the right type of men for seminary assignments to get the best results, he said. He also cautioned against introducing changes too frequently or too suddenly. This could lead to a mentality of relativism on the part of students and faculty, he said.

Bishop Jean Weber, S.S., for Strasbourg, France, also stressed the need for the proper type of men on seminary faculties. He asked the council to avoid two extremes in proposing changes — iconoclasm, the destruction of everything done by the Council of Trent, and immobilism, which, he said, would be turning a deaf ear to the crying needs of our times.

Auxiliary Bishop Jacobus Komba for Peramiho, Tanzania, speaking for 40 missionary bishops, wanted the title changed to “The training of future priests,” because, he said, the present title would include the training of priests even after their ordination.

He also wanted it urged that there should be perfect coordination between the curriculum of the seminaries and with the educational requirements of the countries in which they are located, so that priest-graduates would be entitled to the diplomas and academic ratings demanded by the state.

Archbishop Denis E. Hurley, O.M.I., of Durban, South Africa, praised the text, stating it tries to correct two defects found in many seminaries: a lack of organic unity, and a lack of truly human formation. The first aim of a seminary, he said, is to provide for the pastoral training of future priests and therefore the Bible should be at the heart of the seminary training. From this there should be developed a dynamic and organic knowledge of the Church Fathers, scholastic philosophers and theologians, he said.

Pastoral training should complement ecclesiastical studies and there should be a relationship between doctrinal and pastoral studies within the framework of spiritual formation, which essentially should be based on the word of God. Seminarians should prepare for their life of preaching of the word of God and thus must learn self-control, how to use liberty well, how to use initiative and develop themselves to working for the poor, Archbishop Hurley said.

Speaking for 102 Brazilian and other bishops, Bishop Benedito Zorzi of Caxias asked for inclusion of statements on the need for studying Latin and also on the need for devotion to Mary. He warned against spiritual avarice on the part of dioceses rich in vocations. He pointed to his diocese as one of the less poor dioceses among very poor ones. His diocese is open to all religious houses which want to come, he said, and also sends priests to help the poorer dioceses. Yet his diocese has not suffered from a lack of vocations. Twisting the Gospel a bit, he said: Give unto them, and it will be given unto us.

France’s Bishop Paul Schmitt of Metz said the main problem is how to adapt seminaries to the conditions of modern times, as the cultural world of many of the older seminaries is that of the Middle Ages. The question is furthermore one of whether diocesan seminaries are to be like religious houses or more like parish houses in which seminarians are to live in the future.

Bishop Schmitt said positive formation should be stressed. He urged that religious superiors take seriously the doubts and problems of their seminarians and that they concentrate on the good qualities of their students instead of concentrating only on the defects. To modernize seminaries, he said, lay experts in the educational field should be consulted.

Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Rivera of San Salvador, El Salvador, declared that the council should not be afraid to say unpleasant things about the need for discipline in the seminary. Too often discipline is rejected by the young as hampering the development of the personality. This cannot be left uncorrected, he said.

Bishop Andre Charue of Namur, Belgium, wanted concentration on the need for a deep spiritual formation. While there is a spirituality of activity, he said, it must be based on a spirituality coming from intimate unity with Christ. The spirituality of the clergy should not be just a happy transition of monastic spirituality to a worldly situation but rather it should be spirituality proper to its situation.

The day’s last speaker was Coadjutor Bishop Emilio Benavent of Malaga, Spain. He supported the suggestion that seminarians have a period of pastoral experience before being ordained.

He urged that after completing theological studies, seminarians be sent out to parishes for two years for practical and personal experience in pastoral and social activities under the direction of the pastors. He also suggested that it would be good if seminarians spent their summers working with the poor.

Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, one of the four council moderators, asked the Fathers to approve closing debate on the propositions. Cloture was approved by a standing vote. A vote was to be taken the next day as to whether the council should immediately proceed to vote on individual propositions of the schema on seminaries. If approved, the proposition would be submitted to the Fathers in a series of seven votes.

The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Sebastian Valloppilly of Tellicherry, India, in the Malabar Rite. The book of the Gospels was enthroned by Bishop Matthew Potanamuzhi of Kothamangalam, India.

The explanation of episcopal collegiality which the council’s doctrinal commission sent along with the revised text of the document on collegiality rules out the idea that collegiality is a vague charitable affinity among bishops.

Instead, according to the commission’s explanatory note, the college of the Church’s bishops is a stable body whose structure is explained through Revelation, which is the Church’s heritage.

This college is a dynamic reality demanding juridical form, the note said. But the note insisted that it is not to be understood in the strictly juridical sense of a group of equals who delegate power to a president.

Membership in the college is achieved through episcopal consecration plus hierarchical communion with the head and other members of the college. (Deliberately left to one side is the question of the powers of the bishops of the separated Churches of the East.)

In explaining the schema’s teaching that the college, with its head and never separated from it, is the subject of full and supreme authority over the Universal Church, the commission made the operative distinction not between the Roman pontiff on the one hand and the other bishops on the other, but between the Roman pontiff on the one hand and the Roman pontiff with the bishops on the other.

Father Charles Davis, English theologian who summarized the commission’s note at a meeting of the American bishops’ press panel, commented that this seems at first glance to favor the theory that supreme authority in the Church resides in a “double subject”: the Pope on one hand and the college on the other. But Father Davis pointed out that the commission states expressly that it is not entering into the question of whether there is a single subject of supreme power or two subjects incompletely distinct. He said the commission’s handling of the “modi” — changes suggested by the council Fathers — bears this out.

The commission also explained that the Pope is able to exercise his power at will. However, the college of bishops, while it always exists, is not always “in full act.” It acts only with the consent of its head.

This part of the commission’s note dealt with a change which the commission had made in the text as a result of the debate on the document on the council floor. This removed the statement that collegial power cannot be exercised “independently,” leaving out the question of the dependence of the college on its head and making the relation between pope and college one of communion.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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