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THE CONVOCATION OF VATICAN II 

The official text of the Vatican statement which first announced the proposed council, read:

On the occasion of his visit this morning to the Patriarchal Basilica, the Supreme Pontiff John XXIII, after assisting at the Papal Chapel, delivered a discourse to the eminent Cardinals present at the solemn rite. 

His Holiness dwelt on several of the more important aspects of apostolic activity, which had come to his notice during these first three months of his pontificate . . . 

As supreme pastor of the Church, he underlined the daily increasing perils threatening the spiritual lives of the faithful, notably errors which are infiltrating their ranks at various points and the immoderate attractions of material goods which have increased more than ever with the advent of technical progress. 

. . . The convocation of the ecumenical council, in the thoughts of the Holy Father, aims not only at the edification of Christian peoples, but is intended also as an invitation to the separated communities in quest of unity, to which end so many hearts aspire in so many parts of the earth.7

Two statements in this official text, possibly deliberately vague, gave rise to erroneous conclusions in some “Protestant” circles. According to the Pope, the Council aims at the “edification of Christian peoples,” not only, but it is also “an invitation to the separated communities in quest of unity. . . .” Some concluded that the council possibly would be a gathering of delegates of all churches, under the sponsorship of Rome, to discuss and seek solutions to differences separating the churches. Or, at least, so the speculation ran, Rome would invite a number of participating delegates from other churches. 

But soon it became evident that the council was wholly a Roman Catholic affair. In time, invitations were issued to certain receptive churches to send observers; but, of course, they had no vote nor any opportunity to present their ideas before the council. The reason for calling the council, according to Pope John, was to “renew” the Roman Catholic Church in order to make it more “up-to-date,” and thus also more attractive to the “separated brethren.” The New Republic magazine gave this summary of the official Romish attitude concerning the purpose of the council:

(The Council) is to engage in an inner purification and realization of the Church, so that it may offer more of what the Pope has termed “a gentle invitation” to non-Catholic Christians. The word—which defies translation—most frequently used to describe the end toward which the Council will strive, is aggiornomente, to renew the life of the church in the light of new circumstances.8

WHAT VATICAN II CANNOT DO

When the council was fist announced, some naively spoke of the possibility that several of the more offensive (to Protestants) dogmas might be revised or revoked by the council. Among these, the most commonly suggested was the dogma of papal infallibility. Other dogmas were also mentioned: those concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus; the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper; and even the subject of justification by works. 

But Vatican II cannot and will not either revise or revoke any of these dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. Let this be clearly noted and remembered! First, justification by faith vs. justification by works is considered a dead issue. Most Protestants are no longer offended by the Decrees of Trent on this question—how could they be, in light of what they themselves teach? Hans Kung (Swiss Roman Catholic theologian, and one of the foremost advocates of reform) correctly states concerning most Protestant theologians:

Even Protestant theologians admit today that Luther (and hence the other Reformers too) did not have St. Paul and the Scriptures behind them in all their declarations and demands, and were to this extent mistaken in particular points of their understanding of the Faith. Even those who see much that is positive in them cannot simply regard Luther and the Reformers as perfect hearers of the Word of God. . . . 

This is shown, among many other things, by that very article of faith which was once regarded as the theological root of the schism of the Reformation, but which could scarcely serve today to bring about any division from the Church whatsoever: the doctrine of the justification of the sinner by God’s grace.”9

Besides, it is the position of the Romish Church that its dogmas are infallibly inspired and in adopted by the church. Thus, it is impossible that error should be found in adopted dogma. For instance, the decrees of Trent cannot be changed. Papal infallibility remains an eternal truth. These dogmas, once adopted, can be elaborated upon and developed, but never, never rescinded. The reform-minded Kung reminds us very forcefully of this fact:

We cannot speak of any “deformation” in the Church’s dogma, such as is possible in theology, nor, in consequence, in this sense, of a “reform” of doctrine. What the Catholic Church does recognize in her dogma is the giving of new forms or more developed forms to a doctrine which has not in every respect achieved its complete form; as the Vatican Council defined it, a growth and advance. . . . 

Can we be Christian without—though in a different way—being Marian too? Can we work at Christian theology without—though in different way—working at Marian theology too? Considering how often it took centuries to plumb the depths of scriptural meaning, is it not possible that here too there were precious treasures lying hidden for quiet meditation and prayer to discover? Can there, finally, be any reunion in Christ which would leave the mystery of Mary to one side? Do we not here again need the undiminished Gospel, given its undiminished value and brought out into the full light of day?”10

If there is yet any doubt whatsoever, let us listen to Pope John XXIII himself as he spake the opening address to the Vatican Council:

In order that this doctrine influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the fathers. . . 

. . . The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another, of one fundamental doctrine of the church, which has repeatedly been taught by the fathers and the ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well-known and familiar to all. 

For this a Council was not necessary, But from the renewed, serene and tranquil adhesion to all the teachings of the church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still stands resplendent in the acts of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, the Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration. . . .11

WHAT VATlCAN II STRIVES TO ACCOMPLISH

If Vatican II cannot and will not reform its dogma, then what is this “doctrinal penetration” of which Pope John spake? We can determine this somewhat from the schemata presented to the council for, consideration. The following appear to be the principal problems to be confronted: (1) the question of the “separated brethren” and their “return”; (2) Mariology; (3) the Bible, tradition, and their relationship; (4) the relationship between science and religion; (5) the influence of the church upon world peace; (6) the relationship of church and state in the field of education; (7) decentralization; (8) the relationship of church and state in the sphere of “religious liberty”; (9) the lay apostolate. 

The late Pope John himself declared:

The forthcoming Council will meet, therefore, and at a moment in which the Church finds very alive the desire to fortify its Faith and to contemplate itself in its own awe-inspiring unity. In the same way it feels more urgent the duty to give greater efficiency to its sound vitality and to promote the sanctification of its members, the diffusion of revealed truth, the consolidation of its agencies. . . . 

Then, at a time of generous and growing efforts which are made in different parts for the purpose of rebuilding that visible unity of all Christians which corresponds to the wishes b of the Divine Redeemer, it is very natural that the forthcoming Council should provide premises of doctrinal clarity and of mutual charity that will make still more alive in our separated brethren the wish for the hoped-for return to unity and will smooth the way. . . .

And finally, to a world which is lost, confused, and anxious under the constant threat of new, frightful conflicts, the forthcoming Council must offer a possibility for all men of good will to turn their thoughts and their intentions toward peace, a peace which can and must, above all, come from spiritual and supernatural realities, from human intelligence and conscience, enlightened and guided by God the Creator and Redeemer of humanity.12

We ought to note the pope’s emphasis upon the “hoped-for return to unity,” and secondly, the seeking of an earthly “peace.” The aim of the council, then, doubtlessly is to modernize the Roman Catholic Church—not retract any of its dogmas, but streamline or bring up-to-date its outward appearance and its mode of operation. I conclude, that the reasons for this modernization are threefold: (1) to facilitate the spread of Roman Catholicism (through the revision of its liturgy, by sending more ordained men on the mission fields, etc. ); (2) to encourage the return of the “separated brethren” (through the removal or minimizing of traditional objections especially toward the hierarchy, and by encouraging a certain “holy liberty” of expression at the council which many Protestants thought impossible in the Romish Church); and (3) to increase the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the world (especially in promoting itself as the most promising instrument for establishing peace on earth). As you read of future decisions of the council, observe how these decisions will readily serve one or more of the above three purposes. 

To my mind, the council represents a long step toward the establishment of the one united church of the antichrist which will exist briefly at the end of time. I dare not say precisely how the decisions of this council will serve that end, but the way is definitely being opened. There is, additionally, the deliberate attempt to establish peace, not of Scripture, but of that final antichristian kingdom (the Romish Church is hardly alone in seeking that peace). Thus, not the cause of Christ, but the cause of the antichrist is being advanced. Time magazine (March 13, 1964), speaking of the rapid rise and increasing popularity of the ecumenical movement, concludes, “Yet even churchmen who do not want, or foresee, the ultimate creation of one great Christian church believe that the ecumenical tide cannot be stemmed, nor should it be. ‘What it really amounts to,’ says one Catholic priest in Pittsburgh, ‘is a diminution of suspicion and an acceleration of good will. We simply aren’t fighting each other any more.'” The Vatican Council; to a very large degree, has fostered this situation. The council, then, ought to be a reminder to each of us again how very near we are to the end of time. 

—G.V.B.


7. The New York Times, January 26, 1959, page 3 

8. The New Republic, November 6, 1961, pg. 7 

9. Hans Skiing, The Council, Reform and Reunion, Sheed and Ward, pp. 74, 116 

10. ibid., pp. 112, 128 .

11. New York Times, October 12, 1962, pg. 8 

12. Pope John XXIII, Christmas Day Bull – 1861