Bishop Reminds Council Fathers: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

135th General Congregation
September 24, 1965

The ecumenical council was urged to keep in mind the intention of Pope John XXIII to show the world a renewed face of the Church that would attract all men by the splendor of Christ’s teaching.

The reminder of the late Pope’s often expressed intention was raised by Coadjutor Bishop Leon Elchinger of Strasbourg, France, as debate continued on the document on the Church in the modern world.

“The men of our times,” Bishop Elchinger said, “await actions rather than theories.” Instead, he continued, the present text says much about what the world must do but says little about what the Church intends to do to come into closer contact with the world.

Having spoken out on the importance of conscience and liberty, it is now necessary to say what the Church intends to do so that these values may be concretely recognized within itself. People want to know how the Church intends to reform itself and what defects it will eliminate in order to realize Pope John’s intention of showing a renewed and attractive face to the world, he said.

During the day’s session, 12 speakers took the floor. Discussion on the introduction of the schema was ended after six had spoken, and discussion on the first part of the document was opened with six others airing their observations. Meanwhile, as discussions continued, seven more votes were taken on the document on the lay apostolate.

The congregation began with the Gospel enthroned by Ethiopian-rite Archbishop Asrate Yemmeru of Addis Ababa. Mass was celebrated in the presence of 2,182 Fathers by Latin-rite Bishop Jan Janssen, vicar apostolic of Gimma, Ethiopia.

Before the day’s debate began, the council’s secretary general, Archbishop Pericle Felici, announced the death of three bishops. One was retired Bishop Francis Tief of Concordia, Kan., who had been ill since 1938. The others were Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ferche of Cologne and Bishop-elect Alfredo Caselle, who was to have been auxiliary of Melfi, Rapolla and Venosa, Italy.

Archbishop Felici also read the text of a telegram being sent in the name of the council to Pope Paul, congratulating him on his 68th birthday (Sept. 26).

Among the day’s more interesting interventions was one from Yugoslavia’s Franjo Cardinal Seper, who called on the council to come to grips with the problem of atheism.

Calling it “one of the greatest problems of the Church in the contemporary world,” he noted that there are men and movements today which consider atheism as an essential condition for the construction of a real humanism and for the progress of the world and society.

The cardinal said it is indispensable that the council speaks to the world and to all men on the problem of atheism, and not only to Catholics and men of goodwill.

In speaking to all men, we should approach the problem positively, he said, and instead of condemnations or efforts at conversion, the council should set forth clearly how Christians regard atheism.

The council should speak of the Christian position toward atheism and of the way faith in God stimulates and contributes effectively to the integral progress of mankind, said Cardinal Seper. It must show that atheism does not contribute to progress because it lacks a real set of values.

The day’s first speaker was Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne, who took the rostrum to say that Archbishop Felici would read his speech for him. Cardinal Frings is nearly blind.

The German cardinal found several equivocations in the introduction which, he said, required that the entire section be revised. First, he said the dedication of the People of God to work to solve modern problems should not be presented as a gesture of merciful condescension, as if the People of God — Christians — were on a higher level. Rather the People of God are concerned with these problems because they are part of humanity itself, Cardinal Frings said.

The cardinal also objected to what he called the document’s unclear conception of the world. He also said the purpose of the document is not clearly stated, adding that these defects give the impression of confusion between human progress and supernatural salvation.

Cardinal Frings was followed by Germany’s Bishop Hermann Volk of Mainz who said in regard to atheism that it is necessary to make people feel the void created by a denial of God. Otherwise, he said, one will find no assistance in opposing atheism.

Moreover, Bishop Volk said the text’s treatment of Christ is superficial. There should be an exposition of the theological aspect of the world created by God, fallen in sin, redeemed by Christ and destined to a supernatural goal. As it stands, the theology of the cross as demonstrated in the text reflects “childish optimism,” he said.

Echoing a common complaint voiced by several earlier speakers, Bishop Giuseppe Marafini of Veroli-Frosinone, Italy, said that in discussing the world’s problems it is necessary to speak first of the cause of all evil, sin. One must present the doctrine of original sin, he said, because without it, it is impossible to understand man and his weaknesses.

He recommended inserting proofs for God’s existence to counteract atheism and warned that the schema regards the world with an “optimistic eye” which fails to see it as it is, a theater of conflicts between good and evil with victory achieved only through grace.

Bishop Charles Himmer of Tournai, Belgium, spoke of the need to emphasize the dignity of work. The text should admit that every improvement achieved for working people is a contribution to real human progress and that this progress must be extended to all aspects of human life, he said.

The last speaker to comment on the introduction was also a Belgian, Bishop Andre Charue of Namur, who said that the text should be revised by a group of Biblical experts because the Bible uses the term “world” in various senses. Unless it is clear in each case how the word is being used, there is a danger of false interpretations.

The leadoff speaker in the discussion devoted to the first part of the text, which covers four chapters, was the Maronite-rite Patriarch of Antioch, Paul Cardinal Meouchi. He and another Maronite-rite prelate, Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, Lebanon, both maintained that the text lacked sufficient emphasis on the significance of the Resurrection of Christ in the salvation history of the world.

Both stressed the importance the Resurrection has in Eastern theology, and Cardinal Meouchi called it “a cosmic universal fact.” He said the “Resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of humanity and the contemporary world.”

The patriarch further noted the need for more emphasis on the action of the Holy Spirit in relation to the People of God and the need for a Christian anthropology — or study of man — instead of the juridical and extrinsic treatment now in the text. If these suggestions were followed, he said, it would lessen the Western tone of the document and bring Eastern and Western thinking on the subject closer.

Paul Cardinal Richaud of Bordeaux, France, said he found the document admirable in its balance and depth of teaching. But in speaking of the equality of man, he said, there must be taken into account differences of a physical, intellectual and moral nature.

The French cardinal began speaking on a subject contained in the second part of the document and the day’s moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, halted him and advised him to speak only of matters found in the first part of the document. Cardinal Richaud concluded by saying the text fails to include the Church’s social teaching as already given by the popes and particularly by Pope John XXIII in the encyclical Mater et Magistra.

Rufino Cardinal Santos of Manila took exception to the section which stated that the People of God rejoice at those nations which consider religious liberty a constructive element for the common good. He then said:

“The truth of Christ cannot be imposed by force, but it is left to be freely loved and by its own attraction.” Enough has already been said on this subject in the declaration on religious liberty and this section should be deleted, the Filipino cardinal argued.

The final speaker of the day was Archbishop Pedro Cantero Cuadrado of Saragossa, who said the schema is substantially acceptable but needs improvement. He warned that the text could give rise to clericalism since it deals with particular earthly problems which are not within the competence of the Church but which are the concerns of the state. In the declaration on religious liberty, he said, the state is forbidden to interfere in religious matters, yet in this document it is affirmed that the Church can and should concern itself with matters belonging to the state’s competence.

During the meeting seven votes were taken on portions of the schema on the lay apostolate. Six votes had been taken the day before. Results of the 7th to 13th votes were:

Seventh vote — dealing with the exercise of charity in the lay apostolate — yes, 2,163; no, 8; null, 0.

Eighth vote — on chapter two as a whole — yes, 1,975; no, 2; yes with reservations, 190; null, 0.

Ninth vote — dealing with various fields of the lay apostolate — yes, 2,161; no, 8; null, 3.

Tenth vote — on the lay apostolate in relation to the family and youth — yes, 2,145; no, 14; null, 3.

Eleventh vote — on the social and national and international scope of the apostolate — yes, 2,065; no, 6; null, 2.

Twelfth vote — on the whole of chapter three — yes, 1,707; no, 4; yes with reservations, 313; null, 1.

Thirteenth vote — on various modes and aspects of the apostolate — yes, 1,972; no, 3; null, 0.

James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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