From One Who Was There
As one who actually participated in the Second Vatican Councilas a private consultant during the first period and as an official of the council in the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity for its three other periodsmay I add a few reflections of my own to the articles you published by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., and John W. O’Malley, S.J.?
Both articles contain many positive observations and insights. Still, neither quite conveys the notion of the council as a process, an event in which there was a growth in understanding and a willingness to open up to new horizons while maintaining the great tradition and truths of the faith.
Cardinal Dulles speaks of efforts at harmonizing different opinions and points out thus there were, at times, compromises and even deliberate ambiguities. That was openly recognized by Pope Paul VI. In various addresses he gave during the council, as its head and leader, he indicated ideas for interpretation that are still valid. Often these are not even adverted to, much less used by commentators since then.
Twice in the final homily at the session for promulgating documents held on Dec. 7, 1965, the pope spoke of questions still seeking answers, which in the postconciliar period the church could address with generous and orderly energies. In his words: Since the council had not intended to resolve all the problems raised, some were reserved for future study by the church, some were presented in restricted and general terms, and therefore they remain open to further and deeper understanding and a variety of applications.
No one would deny that after the council, there were some radical interpretations of it and its documents that went beyond what the council said or wanted. In my years of working for the Holy See and in ecumenical dialogues of various types, I myself had to struggle with this extremism, which could cause confusion and misunderstanding and lead to the polarization that often followed. However, in his presentation of the situation, Cardinal Dulles does not clarify enough either the myth or the reality, and so the confusion continues.
First, he does not use, as one important element for proper interpretations, the speeches of Pope Paul VI that I have already mentioned nor the relationes of the various commissions to the plenary sessions of the council, all of which are published. Second, in expounding his 12 points, he generally opts for the most narrow interpretation of the ambiguous statements or legitimate differences found in the documents. The consideration of the role of the laity is also treated in a purely juridical way, without proper consideration of the moral obligations of those in authority in exercising that authorityan idea that permeates quite a few of the other documents (and, incidentally, is repeated incisively in Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte , No. 45). Nor is there any mention of the arrival of the lay auditors during the council’s third period and their contribution to developing a fresh understanding of both the doctrine and the reality of the lay apostolate.
One point I found particularly painful. The ecumenical problem is reduced to a word-battle about the meaning of subsists in the Catholic Church. No attention is given to be the excellent developments that have taken place over 35 years as Catholics and other Christians reflect together on the many treasures found in a wide array of the conciliar documents. In this we have the reality, not the myth.
With regard to subsists, the narrow interpretation of Cardinal Ratzinger, which Cardinal Dulles adopts, was certainly not the view held by the theological commission or in the secretariat as we were drafting texts and responding to the bishops and as the bishops accepted its introduction into the text. We were influenced, for example, by the recognition of the fact that in many churches not in communion with the Holy See, by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Church of God is built up and grows in stature (Decree on Ecumenism, No. 15). Obviously we were not speaking of any second church of God.
This and other aspects of the mystery of communion, real even if imperfect between the Catholic Church and other Christians and their communities, indicate a deeper meaning than Cardinal Ratzinger will admit when discussing subsists. His view has been strongly contested by others, such as Cardinals Willebrands, Koenig and Kasper. Nor will these or others accept his restricted opinions on communion, even when these have been expressed in documents coming from his office.
As one who participated in many of the activities and debates of the council, I believe that there are clear signs of retrenchment from what the council said or left open for legitimate future developments, as Paul VI put it.
On the basis of my experience, I believe that many of the documents mentioned by Cardinal Dulles at the end of his article need further examination and even important rethinking as not corresponding well enough to the debates held in the council and the documents resulting from them.
Pope John Paul II, discussing his office and mission as successor of Peter in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, speaks of finding a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation, and proposes that pastors and theologians of our churchestogether of course[seek] the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned (No. 95). In his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 2001), the same pope writes: To make the church the home and school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning (cf. Nos. 43-45). We are not involved in myths when we continue to engage the reality of that challenge 40 years after.
John F. Long, S.J.
New York, N.Y.
In his article Vatican II: The Myth and the Reality (2/24), Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., observes that the council fathers sought to harmonize differing views, without excluding any significant minority. He further quotes the principle for sound interpretation of the council that was laid down by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985: Each passage and document of the council must be interpreted in the context of all the others, so that the integral teaching of the council may be rightly grasped. Cardinal Dulles concludes, The artful blending of majority and minority perspectives in the council documents should have forestalled the unilateral interpretations.
In my judgment, Cardinal Dulles’s article offers just such a unilateral interpretation of the council. His procedure is to quote what in many instances are oversimplified or inaccurate statements people have made concerning points on which the council moved beyond previous Catholic doctrine. Cardinal Dulles then refutes each of these statements by selectively quoting texts that could lead one to believe that the council did not really say anything new on that issue. But the fact is that the council really did say something new on each of those issues, and the texts that Cardinal Dulles cites must be interpreted in the context of the others, so that the integral teaching of the council may be rightly grasped.
I shall comment specifically on just one point: the meaning of the conciliar statement that the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Dulles refers to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s argument that because the church of Christ has its subsistence in Roman Catholicism, it cannot subsist anywhere else. In fact, this is the interpretation given by Cardinal Ratzinger’s congregation in its 1985 critique of a book by Leonardo Boff. However, in its recent document Dominus Iesus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith no longer invokes the philosophical notion of subsistence, but translates subsistit according to the basic meaning of the Latin word, which is to continue to exist. Thus, it now explains Vatican II to mean that the church of Christ continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church. This implies the recognition that the church of Christ continues to exist, but not fully so, in other churches. This interpretation is consistent with the same document’s description of the separated Eastern churches as true particular churches. Vatican II teaches that the universal church of Christ exists in and out of the particular churches. I do not know how we could recognize the Orthodox as true particular churches if we did not also recognize that the universal church of Christ is wider and more inclusive than the Roman Catholic Church.
Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
I greatly appreciated the two articles on the Second Vatican Council by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., and John W. O’Malley, S.J. (2/24). However, each of these essays failed to mention an important dimension of the council’s method of reflection.
As regards the details of Cardinal Dulles’ s paper, I could not agree more. The weakness of his treatment is that it is entirely conceptualistic, and this makes Vatican II a doctrinal council in the tradition of Trent and Vatican I. About such issues Pope John XXIII said, For this a council was not necessary (opening speech). Hence, Cardinal Dulles’s technically correct analysis derogates from the pastoral role of Vatican II.
Father O’Malley’s appropriation of style to describe the pastoral role of Vatican II is much more congenial to my own understanding of the council’s methodology. But the conclusions he derives from this insight totally escaped my comprehension. Father O’Malley makes no reference to the phenomenological/existentialist movement that had a serious impact on European theologians since the 1920’s.
Since the era of the Enlightenment, especially in the West, there has been a growing crisis of meaning and values. Today this crisis is affecting Islam and the developing nations. This is a very dangerous situation, since we live in an age of ABC warfare and rapidly developing technology. The central question of our time is, What does it mean to be a human being?’
In his last talk to the bishops in council Paul VI said that the council’s answer to the above question was totus homo phaenomenicus, the whole man as a phenomenological reality. This is the whole Christ, God’s archetype of authentic human possibilities, transfiguring the human dynamisms of the church, the new people of God, and projecting a relevant Christian anthropology (humanism) to help solve the crises of modern humanity. The subsidiary pastoral model of the council’s undertaking is, in the thought of Paul VI, the parable of the good Samaritan.
John F. Kobler, C.P.
Eager to Hear
The article by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., (2/24) on the Second Vatican Council was distressing and depressing. We do not need to be told what Vatican II did not say. We need to be reminded of what it taught and did. It is easy to propose caricatures of the teachings of the council in order to refute them, which is what Cardinal Dulles did. One of his primary complaints concerns what he calls the hermeneutics of discontinuity. The continuity of the council is not with the post-Reformation church of Trent, it is true, but it is with the church of the Apostles and the fathers. This article reminded me that when Cardinal James Francis McIntyre of Los Angeles returned from the council, he gave a talk at the seminary in which he said, Gentlemen, nothing has changed. He believed what he said, and he thought we wanted reassurance about immutability, when, especially at that time, all of us, faculty and students, were eager to hear of all the wonderful developments at the Second Vatican Council.
Charles E. Miller, C.M.
Regarding ecumenism, I am not sure exactly what Cardinal Avery Dulles is driving at (2/24), but I trust he is not trying to say that the Second Vatican Council taught there is only one true church of Christ that is to be completely and solely identified with the Roman Catholic Church. If they had wanted to, the council fathers could easily and clearly have stated, The one true church of Christ is the Roman Catholic Church alone. They refused to do that. Evidently they did not think it was the proper thing to do. I trust Cardinal Dulles doesn’t either, but the way his article on the council is worded makes me somewhat unsure of his thought.
Make a Difference
Cardinal Dulles’s defense of conservative Catholicism’s interpretation of the Second Vatican Council overrides one important fact and affirms one traditional Curial principle. The fact is that people who were there told us what they meant when they voted. One would appreciate his use of the biographies, autobiographies and commentaries of those who were there in defending his position. One would think that those who voted on the documents knew what they voted on. But documents and votes never did make a difference to those who hold his position. As one Curial official said to me in 1963, When they all go home we will still be here. We, not they, determine what this council is.
Cardinal Dulles’s reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council left me mystified: Was this the same council I remember? The one area in which I have done some study is ecclesiology, and I recalled an article published in 1987 by Cardinal Jan Willebrands (Origins, May 28), discussing the development of the council’s use of the expression subsistit in rather than est. Perhaps I am engaging in dueling cardinals, but Cardinal Willebrands is pretty explicit that the council used the term to express the truth that the church of Christ exists in its fullness in the Roman Catholic church but that it is not co-extensive with the juridical boundaries of that institution. It may be that Cardinal Dulles wishes to preserve that insight as well, for he specifically says that Non-Catholic communities that have a genuine apostolic ministry and a valid Eucharist are properly called churches, but they should not be reckoned as constituent parts of the one and catholic church in which the true religion subsists. Is Cardinal Dulles drawing a distinction between the Catholic Church and the church of Christ?
Father O’Malley points out that the council taught us how to be a church. In my opinion, the break with the pre-Vatican II church was in certain respects even greater than he describes. First of all, in Gaudium et Spes the council did recognize that we, the church, can expand and deepen our understanding of the most basic theological datum, human nature, through a fruitful dialogue with contemporary culture. The second point I would make flows from that insight of humility. Lay Catholics and non-Catholics participated in the production of Gaudium et Spes. The open process of dialogue and debate contrasts sharply with the experience Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J., related as the author in 1931 of Quadragesimo Anno; then he was sworn to secrecy and forbidden to consult with anyone.
I thank America for providing the stimulus for rereading the documents of Vatican II. They restore my hope in the church with the confidence that the Holy Spirit worked and works well in our midst.
Greenwood Village, Colo.
After reading Cardinal Avery Dulles’s article about how traditional the Second Vatican Council really was, one cannot help but be struck by how much the reality of Catholic life, at least in this country, has already changed since the council.
The council may not have legitimized dissent from noninfallible teachings, but one need only go to a meeting of a scholarly religious society to learn that dissent is flourishing, especially as more and more lay people and particularly lay women become theologians. The council may have taught that the celibate life is superior to the married one, but Catholic students, from elementary school to university, are almost all taught by lay people who neither accept nor teach that perspective. The council may have reaffirmed traditional teaching on contraception, but surveys show the vast majority of American Catholic women have used it, often after presenting it as a matter of conscience to a confessor. The council may have reaffirmed the pope’s authority, but authority has little value if people ignore it. In the last three presidential elections, the majority of Catholic votes went to the pro-abortion candidate. For better or worse, many of the council’s positions are becoming history in American Catholic life.
Cardinal Dulles closes his article by observing we may expect future developments in doctrine and polity. Those developments may already be taking place. The task now is to discern which are occurring under the guidance of the Spirit.
Joseph F. Kelly