Atheistic Communism Is Focus for Council Speakers

136th General Congregation
September 27, 1965

Speaker after speaker at the ecumenical council’s 136th general meeting urged the council to speak out loudly and clearly against atheism, especially the Marxist brand of atheism which rules a third of mankind.

Debate on the entire first part of the schema on the Church in the modern world focused on one article only, the one dealing with the problem of atheism. Although this article does not mention Marxism by name, it describes Marxism in unmistakable terms, deplores its irreligious intolerance and denounces it as a denial of what all men learn through experience.

But this was not enough for many of the day’s speakers.

“It would be a grave scandal for future ages if the council were not to speak of atheism, which is not just any heresy but the very denial of God,” declared Bishop Antonio Pildain y Zapiain of the Canary Islands.

The general of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., branded the schema as too intellectual in its approach to the highly practical problem of atheism. He called for a realistic plan of battle against atheism, marshaling the Church’s forces in the most efficient manner. In this he was echoing the mandate Pope Paul VI gave the Jesuits at the time of Father Arrupe’s election to the generalate.

Father Arrupe asserted that atheistic communism has virtually taken over the international organizations which play such a key role in today’s world. He saw it holding “almost complete sway” in other important fields as well — “in financial circles, in the field of mass communications: press, movies, radio and television.”

Another council Father with a special mandate from the Pope on atheism, Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, said a council should invite atheistic governments to promulgate a doctrine of religious liberty based on the natural law. Cardinal Koenig, who is president of the Church’s Secretariat for Unbelievers, said he agreed with criticism launched against the schema by Franjo Cardinal Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. He called the schema unsatisfactory because it fails to distinguish sharply enough among atheism’s various forms.

The council’s outspoken octogenarian, Melkite-rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch, said many sincere men who call themselves atheists are not really against the Church but are scandalized by a Christianity which often shows itself to be selfish.

On a different tack, one council Father deplored what he conceived as a lack of real debate in the council. “Instead of discussion, we have had only a prolonged series of monologues,” asserted Archbishop Eugene D’Souza of Bhopal, India. He added that if it were not for the council’s coffee bars, there would not have been any discussion worthy of the name and of the council.

While the debate, or series of monologues, continued, council Fathers continued their voting on amendments to the schema on the lay apostolate.

Some of the voting bore on the way the commission had handled modifications offered by council Fathers, and therefore did not admit qualified votes. Other voting dealt with chapters as a whole and therefore allowed qualified votes. Results of a vote taken the previous Friday (Sept. 24) were also announced.

The Friday vote was numbered 14 and was on articles 18 (the importance of associations in the promotion of the apostolate) and 19 (various forms of the apostolate). Result was: yes, 2,013; no, 8; null, 1.

The Sept. 27 votes were:

Fifteenth vote — on modifications in article 20 (Catholic Action), article 21 (esteem for associations) and article 22 (the laity in the special service of the Church) — yes, 2,104; no, 35; null, 4.

Sixteenth vote — on whole of chapter 4 — yes, 1,834; no, 7; yes with qualifications, 287.

Seventeenth vote — on parts of chapter five on the observance of proper order, including article 23 (introduction), article 24 (relations with hierarchy) and article 25 (assistance from the clergy) — yes, 2,123; no, 11; null, 5.

Eighteenth vote — on article 26 (some means of mutual cooperation) and article 27 (cooperation with other Christians and non-Christians) — yes, 2,121; no, 18.

Nineteenth vote — on whole of chapter 5 — yes, 1,894; no, 9; yes with qualifications, 230; null, 7.

Twentieth vote — on parts of chapter 6 on training for the apostolate, including article 28 (the necessity of training), article 29 (principles of this training) and article 30 (various centers for training) — yes, 2,063; no, 17.

Twenty-first vote — on article 31 (adaptation of training to various forms of the apostolate), article 32 (various means of formation) and article 33 (exhortation to all the laity, especially youth) — yes, 2,012; no, 5; null, 3.

Twenty-second vote — on whole of chapter 6 and the final exhortation — yes, 1,865; no, 3; yes with qualifications, 143; null, 5.

First speaker of the day was Patriarch Maximos, who was made a cardinal last February. He called the schema fundamentally good because it rests upon Christ and shows the world a spirit of charity. But, he said, that charity is carried too far in regard to atheism.

The patriarch said that to save men from atheism more is required than a mere condemnation of Marxism. What is needed, he said, is a dynamic mystique plus a real social morality. The proof of the Christian pudding, he continued, is in the living: people who call themselves atheists are scandalized by a Christianity which shows itself to be selfish. These self-styled atheists are only seeking a clearer idea of God and a better way of helping the needy and the poor, he stated.

Catholics too should be opposed to the exploitation of man by man, he said. If we want an effective dialogue between the Church and atheists, we must lead social values back to their authentic Christian source and show that true socialism is to be found in Christianity.

We can defeat atheism if we live our ideals of brotherhood, he concluded.

Cardinal Koenig said the Church is faced with the problem of reconciling the worldwide spread of atheism with the traditional notion that every soul is naturally Christian. Atheism’s various disguises must be distinguished one from the other, he stated.

The roots of atheism, said the cardinal, reach down into history. In the 16th century, the unity of Christendom was ruptured. In the 17th century the supernatural order came under attack. In the 19th century men tried to expel God from the world. Christians themselves do not act in conformity with Christian social principles, he said.

To remedy this, Cardinal Koenig looked to brotherly cooperation among all Christians in every field where differences of faith are not touched.

The Church’s policy, he said, should not be to hurl anathemas but to establish communication with all men of good will. Atheistic governments should be invited to declare freedom of religion, he said.

At the purely civil level, Cardinal Koenig said, we should try to show that religion contributes more to the public welfare than does atheism.

Ermenegildo Cardinal Florit of Florence, Italy, deplored the lack of clarity and strength in the schema’s treatment of atheism. The council, he said, should make it plain that the atheism of dialectical materialism is not simply accidental. Atheism itself has no room for a spiritual soul or personal dignity, he added.

Too many men are deceiving themselves, Cardinal Florit asserted, into thinking that communism’s atheism can be weeded from its economic system.

Angelo Cardinal Rossi of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the name of 90 Brazilian bishops, said the text should turn its attention not merely to those nations of Asia and Africa which have recently achieved political independence. Also in need of attention, he said, are the nations of Latin America, which, after a century of political independence, are still in the grip of uncertainty.

Bishop Michal Klepacz of Lodz, Poland, said that in a world boasting almost incredible scientific progress, yet suffering from moral decay and a lack of spiritual values, false prophets and false reforms sow confusion in the minds of men.

The Polish bishop made a clear reference to the situation in his own country. We must have very clear ideas on truth, justice, right, man and democracy, he said, because these same words are used with altogether different meanings in atheistic circles. He called for a clear statement on how these words can be twisted. In the atheistic world, he said, these words are simple instruments of government.

Bishop Giuseppe Ruotolo of Ugento, Italy, called for a revision of the schema to provide a more natural order of presentation based upon different concepts of what constitutes human dignity. He outlined three such concepts: atheistic, naturalistic and Christian. He called for a convincing refutation of the atheistic notion that God’s existence is not necessary for human progress.

Archbishop D’Souza called for a recognition of the “signs of the times” (a concept which played a great role in the earlier draft of this schema). He asserted that the Church has sometimes failed to recognize them, citing the sense of liberty, social justice, scientific progress, emancipation from colonialism and the value of sexuality.

Ranging further still, he asserted that the Church took more than 100 years to recognize the rights of man as declared in the French and American Revolutions. He asserted that the Church waited decades after Karl Marx’s appearance to recognize the phenomenon of the working class and its problems. He cited the cases of Galileo, Darwin, Father Lamennais, Freud and Father Teilhard de Chardin.

He demanded a “sweeping revision” of the schema to make it “a living soul helping the Church to obey God’s voice.” He singled out for attack the “immovability” of certain ecclesiastical officials, excessive concern for administration, and what he termed obsolete pomp.

Byzantine (Ruthenian) rite Bishop Nicholas Elko of Pittsburgh also referred to “signs of the times.” For him dialectical materialism — or Marxism — is the sign of the time and the extrinsic cause of the ruin of the social order. He compared it with the dragon of the Apocalypse, endeavoring to devour the entire world.

It is imperative, he said, that we concentrate our attention on this evident fact. Atheism must be branded a pestilence of modern society. We must condemn it forthrightly lest we be accused by future ages of cowardice in the fight against atheism. The council is the voice of all bishops and this voice will be heeded by the world, he said.

Father Arrupe then made his first appearance at the council lectern since his election as general of the Jesuits.

Then Archbishop Emile Guerry of Cambrai, France, referred to Pope Paul’s appeal for peace at Bombay shortly after the conclusion of the council’s third session last year. It is incredible, he said, that this message is not found in the present text.

Archbishop Guerry asserted that some people are trying to play off the council’s teachings against the teachings of the popes. Unless the council expresses itself clearly on social doctrine, such people will deny it or throw doubt upon it, he concluded.

Bishop James Corboy of Monze, Zambia, said that the text should concern itself more with principles than with specifics. Care should be taken, he added, that principles presented in part 1 find their concrete application in part 2.

In the text as it stands, the connection between the two parts is very slender, he stated.

The missionary bishop stated that in emerging nations the Church’s social teachings often will be the only means of making the Church’s presence felt.

He said that since the schema addresses all men, it should treat of God’s rule before speaking of Christ’s rule.

The master general of the Dominican Order, Father Aniceto Fernandez, O.P., said that to solve mankind’s current problems theoretical principles do not suffice. The council must get down to the concrete, he said.

The theological foundation of the equality of all men and of all peoples, he continued, is creation and their descent from the same first parents, their redemption by the same Christ, and their participation in the adopted sonship of God and their membership in the same natural and supernatural family. It should be kept in mind that the supernatural Christian life bestows a new dignity even on the natural order. All discrimination in the spiritual kingdom is unlawful, he declared.

The day’s Mass was celebrated by Bishop Etienne Loosdregt, for Vientiane, Laos. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop Joseph Attipetty of Verapoly, India.

Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the College of Cardinals, led prayers for the repose of the soul of retired Archbishop Giacinto Ambrosi of Gorizia, Italy, after his death was announced.

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced voting would begin Sept. 29 on amendments to the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops.

He also read the text of a telegram the Pope sent to the council Fathers thanking them for their birthday wishes and emphasizing his deep esteem for all council Fathers.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome correspondent

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