THE VATICAN COUNCIL
There were many glowing reports of the tremendous accomplishments of the second session of the Vatican Council which met in Rome recently. From daily newspapers to religious periodicals one could find little else but praise for the “great spirit of change” that was found in the Romish Church and for the tremendous accomplishments of the delegates to the Council. But there were some who considered the whole session a grand failure. Time magazine writes: “From a council that promised to bring about a sweeping inner renewal of Roman Catholicism, Vatican II has become a parliament of stalemate, compromise and delay.” Time laid most of the blame at the feet of Pope Paul VI who, Time claimed, failed to act decisively in support of the liberal elements in the Council who were pushing hard for changes. “Pope Paul . . . must bear a large share of the blame for the session’s disappointing record,” Time wrote.
The 2,200 delegates have returned home after a session that lasted two months and adjourned on December 4. They decided to meet again in the third session next year in the early part of September. The interval will give opportunity for many of the documents to be rewritten and revised and condensed. But there is little hope held out that much more will be accomplished then—unless the Pope determines to take a firmer hand than he has.
In reviewing the results of this last session it soon becomes evident how little was actually done. The Council busied itself with trivialities, and did not even succeed in getting these passed for the most part.
The only changes that were actually adopted and are to be put into effect are changes in the worship services of Roman Catholics. The council approved of the use of local languages in the liturgy and in the mass instead of the traditional Latin. The council also approved of the use of modern art in church architecture and decorations, although a warning was attached against extravagant use of abstract art. The use of local church music was also approved for the worship services—even if that implies the use of tom-toms in some African churches. And a fixed date was agreed upon for Easter instead of the varying date which is now observed throughout the church world. This fixed date will only go into effect, however, if secular governments approve and if other Christian churches agree.
Most of the time of the Council was spent in discussing the power of the bishops. In the past, the power of the government of the church has been invested in the pope and his curia. (This “curia” is a group of cardinals that is similar to the cabinet of the president in our country; although the curia has far more power than any cabinet—even over the pope himself.) Usually all problems of importance throughout the entire church had to be referred to the curia for decision. Most of the bishops present at the council wanted this changed. They wanted to share in the government of the church and receive authority themselves to make decisions without always referring them to Rome. They wanted it settled that the authority of the church was given to the bishops as well as to the pope and his “cabinet.”
Although a large majority of the delegates favored this change, it is doubtful whether any changes’ will actually be made. Pope Paul also sides with the majority, but is, at the same time, afraid that he will have some of his own power taken away. And the curia is bitterly opposed to any changes of this kind, for it sees its own influence in the church being taken away. Final decisions on this must still be made.
Another discussion that came up near the end of the Council and attracted widespread comment in the world was a proposal to make a statement about the Jews’ responsibility for crucifying Christ. The Council discussed a statement drawn up by Cardinal Bea that would establish the fact that the Jews alone were not the ones who crucified Christ; but that also the Gentiles had a part in it, and must share responsibility. This seems obvious to everybody who knows anything at all about Scripture; but the sentiment seems to be that the persecution of the Jews especially by the Nazis before and during World War II was inspired by a mistaken notion that only the Jews are to blame for the cross. If this idea is changed, it is felt, persecution against the Jews will cease.
There is however, something political about the whole thing. Recently a play came out in Europe in which Pope Pious XII is blamed for giving tacit approval to Hitler in his massacre of the Jews. That is, Pious did not directly approve of the massacre, but he did not protest it either; and his silence is interpreted in the play as approval. Pope Paul is deeply angry about all this and wants it on the record somehow that the Romish Church does not hate the Jews and bears no responsibility for their persecution by the Germans.
But there are already repercussions. The Arabs in the Middle East, who hate the Jews with passionate hatred, are already up in arms at the thought of the Romish Church making some generous gesture towards the Jews. They want nothing of the kind. On the other hand, the Jews themselves are talking about some moves that they ought to make to come closer to Christians. They are suggesting the possibility of making some new statements about Jesus. Of course, they have no intention whatsoever of saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah. But they could perhaps say that Jesus was some important rabbi, and that some of His teachings are perhaps valid interpretations of the law of Moses that ought to be added to Jewish tradition.
Besides, Pope Paul (breaking a papal tradition of over two hundred years) intends to travel outside of Italy and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land sometime this month. It seems as if this too is an astute political move.
But no decisions have been taken on the question of the Jews either.
When everything is said and done, the whole work of the council does not amount to much. And what work was done is surely not very important. There hasn’t been as much as a hint of any basic changes in Rome’s position on doctrine—especially the doctrines against which the Reformers fought; the council has not budged in her attitude towards all the people of God which she killed in years gone by; there has not been any change at all on the stand that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, and that no other churches have any right to existence. As one Catholic theologian put it (perhaps because he was more honest than the rest): “We don’t want change. We want the removal of erroneous understanding.”
But all this does not prevent many Protestants from praising the council to the skies. They have evidently made up their minds to go back to Rome regardless of what is done.
A statement on nuclear war was submitted by the Committee on Warfare to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church that met in Grand Rapids last June. The Synod referred the report to the churches for study pending decision next year.
This statement takes the position that nuclear warfare under all circumstances is wrong, and that a Christian should be a pacifist with respect to it. To quote a few brief excerpts from the statement:
If a general thermonuclear war is able to scorch the earth, destroy all or the major part of the technical, cultural, and spiritual treasures of mankind, and annihilate the human race or leave alive only a maimed and wounded fragment of it, as many responsible scientists allege, then a general thermonuclear war lies outside the traditional concept of a “just” war and must be judged impermissible, whatever the provocation.
The Church recognizes, however, that there exists in thermonuclear weapons and missiles a destructive power too frightful to contemplate with equanimity and too sinister to tolerate for any length of time. It judges, indeed, that the general and unlimited employment of these in the course of war is morally reprehensible and Christianly impossible.
It is not our intention in these remarks to discuss the true and Scriptural teaching concerning warfare. But what does concern us here is the surprising fact that the Committee on Warfare lays down seventeen propositions in support of the position that a Christian should have no part in nuclear warfare, and never once in its entire statement makes any reference to Scripture. No attempt was made at all to discuss this problem in the light of God’s Word. All conclusions reached are simply on the basis of reason. Even the editor of The Banner (who pens an editorial on this report) notices this. The editor does not condemn the position of the report necessarily. He only asks for Scriptural proof that this is true.
However if the report had been made in the light of Scripture, quite a different report would have been written. For Scripture makes it quite clear that wars and rumors of wars shall continue throughout all history until the very end of time. And this is a certain sign of the return of Christ. This is a Scriptural truth which cannot be overlooked in any discussion of war.
Further, the committee (if it had proceeded on the basis of Scripture) would have been forced to admit that the only peace that will ever be achieved here on earth is a peace that shall come under the influence and power of Antichrist; and even this superficial peace shall dissolve in the “battle of the great day of God Almighty.”
But this is not the kind of peace for which the Church of Christ ought to labor. Yet it is to be feared that this is precisely the motive behind this report. The Church wants to cooperate with the world in bringing peace on earth. The Church wants to work through the United Nations, perhaps, to achieve this elusive goal. And in doing so, the Church only shows that it labors more diligently for a kingdom of heaven here on earth than for the kingdom of which Christ is Lord and which shall be realized only with the elect at the end of the ages in heaven.
Even the editor of The Banner writes:
It is indeed commendable that the proposed statement on warfare, by well-chosen words and a graphic description of the horrors of a thermonuclear war, seeks to arouse everyone to a realization of the awful peril to which we are now exposed, and to arouse the church of Jesus Christ to a realization of its grave responsibilities.
Moreover, in view of the unprecedented seriousness of the situation, we ought sincerely to hail such a statement as this in which we as Christians are urged to pray for peace, to work for peace, and to provide badly needed instruction from the Word in the interest of promoting peace.
Nothing of any worth will ever come from this discussion unless the Synod determines to rewrite the entire report from the viewpoint of Scripture.