Council Text on Church in Modern World Critiqued for ‘False Optimism’

133rd General Congregation
September 22, 1965

The revised council document on the Church in the modern world drew limited praise as a whole and general criticism of some of its parts as the ecumenical council entered its second day of debate on the massive schema that seeks to set forth the place and role of the Church in relation to modern times.

Twelve council Fathers spoke on the general aspects of the document. While their objections and criticisms covered a variety of points, it was noted that several were particularly concerned with what one described as a “false optimism” about the world.

They objected that the document overlooks the presence of evil in the world today and that it fails to take sufficiently into account the weakness of man caused by original sin.

Before debate was resumed on the new draft, four other council Fathers took advantage of a council rule which provides that they may address the council on a matter of business already closed if they present a petition signed by 70 or more Fathers. They chose to speak again on the proposed religious liberty declaration on which debate had been closed the previous day.

At the start of the meeting the Gospel was enthroned by Auxiliary Bishop Jacques Le Cordier of Paris and Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Franciscus Ndong of Libreville, Gabon.

Before debate began at the council’s 133rd general meeting, its secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, read congratulations to Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, Papal Secretary of State, who on the following day celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest. Applause greeted the announcement honoring the 82-year-old prelate.

Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, was the day’s first speaker on the Church in the modern world debate. He said the text sheds abundant light on the problems of the age but fails to take into account the moral vice that abounds in the world. It fails to pay attention to crimes and faults which affect a great part of society and especially those nations that boast of their refined humanism, he said.

He also agreed with Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, who on the first day of discussion objected to the length of the text and to its bad Latin. Cardinal Ruffini also objected to the text’s apology for the Church’s role in past conflicts between faith and science. Instead, he said, the text should speak of the contribution the Church has made to civilization and culture in every age and every country.

Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, likewise agreed that the consequences of sin are not sufficiently emphasized and warned against leaving in the text a sense of false optimism. He said the schema at times runs the risk of arousing false hopes. Since there has not been time for sufficient consultation with lay experts and since the matter under discussion is so new, he thought it would be best to treat the document as a beginning of a dialogue with the world which must be continued after the council closes.

Archbishop Geraldo de Proenca Sigaud of Diamantina, Brazil, was another to caution against forgetting the consequences of original sin which creates imbalance in the heart of man.

He said he felt the text too strongly urges Catholics to take part in scientific progress since it implies it is non-Catholics rather than Catholics who have been leaders in science. Lastly, he said the council would find in the 20 volumes of the messages and speeches of Pope Pius XII “a human and divine, simple and profound teaching for all problems.”

Bishop Russell J. McVinney of Providence, R.I., while saying the text had praiseworthy intentions, declared that it ends up by offering nothing more than a dubious compromise with those who are at the root of the very evils which today afflict humanity. He said that it contributes to weakening the sense of authority and that there is a crisis of obedience not only among the laity but also within the ranks of the clergy. He declared that without a definite hierarchy there cannot be a people of God.

The day’s moderator, Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro, twice urged Bishop McVinney to stay within the limits of general discussion.

Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa, Italy, said that the aim of the document is excellent but objected that it speaks of the person, of the population problem, of economic and international problems, but does not dedicate a word to sin, to indifference to sin, to indifferentism and relativism.

He said the Church cannot consider the problems under study on a purely naturalistic plane but must, on the contrary, be concerned with discussing them in the light of the supernatural.

Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, stressing that the text was drawn up without past precedents and is a completely new project in the history of councils, said it was of greatest importance that the text make it clear who is speaking, to whom it is addressed and by what right it makes its affirmations.

As it stands, he said, terms are used ambiguously and there is an insufficient concept of faith as well as of the terms “world,” “man” and “history.” He too said it must keep in mind the problem of sin, of the truth of the Cross, of the need of penance and the hope of resurrection in Christ. It is also necessary, he said, that it be stated that the council does not have adequate answers for all problems but that it does in this document sincerely seek a solution.

Cardinal Doepfner, who spoke in the name of 91 German and Scandinavian bishops, in general praised the new text, saying it was clearer than the earlier one and better ordered. But he objected to the lack of theological criteria advanced to back up its assertions.

Archbishop Giuseppe Amici of Modena, Italy, speaking for a number of Italian bishops, warned that the council is faced with the need to bring its work to an end and therefore cannot ask that the text be completely revised, despite the danger of disappointing the hopes of many.

To deal with this situation, he suggested that the council should concern itself with concrete problems and give the answers to them that are to be found in the Gospels without useless commentaries. Applying the teachings of the Gospels to human problems is the only means by which the Church can be heard by all, he said.

Archbishop Anthony Jordan of Edmonton, Alta., praised the document in general. He said the text does not claim to have all the answers and noted that “the Church is portrayed rather in the posture of a humble inquirer striving honestly, not without the help of all men, to tap the sources of divine and human knowledge in her search for truth.”

He suggested a number of changes, such as more stress on the use of leisure time and more attention to the sick and infirm.

Archbishop Juan Aramburu of Tucuman, Argentina, asked that the text begin by setting forth the natural condition of man — that he is a created, rational and social being — and to proceed from this foundation to treating die problems of the world today.

Italian Archbishop Giuseppe D’Avack of the Roman curia maintained that the text is impregnated with naturalism and ignores the supernatural side of man, the reality of the crucified Christ and the indispensable aid of grace. Charity cannot be lived, he said, save with the help of the grace which Christ merited for us by means of the Cross.

Bishop Paulus Rusch of Innsbruck-Feldkirch, Austria, declared that he thought the text was too philosophical at the expense of theology. He said the text does not treat of evil and pain and must be edited to give it greater theological character and to make it more dynamic, practical and complete.

The day’s last speaker was Ukrainian-rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk of Winnipeg, Man., who said he liked the text but had some reservations. He said he liked it because it is universal, ecumenical and pastoral. He added, however, that its divisions are illogical and its style too scholastic and said there are incoherencies and inconsistencies.

As an example he cited one part that recognizes the concept of responsible parenthood and another section urging parents to trust Providence in the number of children given a family.

The first of the four speakers on religious freedom was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Crakow, Poland, speaking in the name of Polish bishops. He asked for doctrinal clarifications to forestall subjectivism and indifferentism and to determine the limits of religious liberty.

He declared that on the subject of the limits of this freedom, one must invoke the principle of the need to observe the moral law, and that limits can be set only in terms of abuses of religious freedom. He objected to founding the right to this freedom on juridical norms and positive law.

Maronite-rite Bishop Michel Doumith of Sarba, Lebanon, speaking for 70 Middle Eastern, African and Asian bishops, warned that the section permitting privileged status to a religion was too broad and was dangerous for the Church in non-Christian countries where non-Christian religions have special legal status.

There is a risk that in countries where there is a state religion only its adherents will be considered as first-class citizens, he said. He recommended insistence be laid on the condemnation of any religious discrimination.

Bishop Giocondo Grotti of Tunigaba for Acre and Purus, Brazil, said he had handed in his speech. He only wished to caution against attaching too great an importance to the overwhelming majority vote the previous day given to the proposal to pass a definitive statement on religious freedom. He said he hoped the final summation delivered by Bishop Emile De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, would be realized in the re-edited text.

The last of the four speakers was Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ankle of Lyons, France, speaking for 100 French bishops. He asked for a more metaphysical foundation for the right of religious freedom, asserting that to base it on the dignity of the human person was insufficient.

He said man has the duty of seeking objective truth and of conforming his whole life to that truth. Hence he must have the freedom to fulfill this obligation.

During debate 10 more votes were taken on sections of the schema on divine revelation. Ten votes had been taken earlier.

The results were:

Eleventh vote — on the third chapter as a whole-yes, 1,777; no, 6; yes with reservations, 324; null, 2.

Twelfth vote — vote as a whole on the fourth chapter dealing with the Old Testament — yes, 2,183; no, 0; yes with reservations, 47; null, 3.

Thirteenth vote — dealing with the New Testament and its excellence, which shows the revelation of the word of God in its fullness and treats of the apostolic origin of the Gospels — yes, 2,211; no, 15; null, 4.

Fourteenth vote — treating of the historical value of the Gospels — yes, 2,161; no, 61; null, 10.

Fifteenth vote — treating briefly of the other books of the New Testament — yes, 2,219; no, 6; null, 6.

Sixteenth vote — on the fifth chapter as a whole — yes, 1,850; no, 4; yes with reservations, 313; null, 3.

Seventeenth vote — dealing with the Church’s veneration of the Bible, its right to determine accurate versions and the opportuneness of translations carried out with non-Catholic Christians — yes, 2,029; no, 8; null, 3.

Eighteenth vote — underlining the role of Bible scholars and theologians and encouraging their work and establishing the central place of the Bible in theological studies, catechism, preaching, etc. — yes, 1,958; no, 21; null, 3.

Nineteenth vote — recommending reading of the Bible and sixth chapter’s conclusion — yes, 2,041; no, 9; null, 7.

Results of the 20th vote on the sixth chapter as a whole were counted when the council adjourned. With these votes, voting by sections on the divine revelation schema was completed. It now goes back to commission for revision in the light of the “yes with reservations” votes. Later it will be returned for further voting.

Present for the day’s session were 2,260 Fathers.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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