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ECUMENISM 

In the last article, I did not conclude the treatment of the fifth schema, Ecumenism. I quoted a summary of the fourth of five chapters: The Relations of the Catholics to the Jews. There is considerable opposition to this chapter, though there is evidently nothing in it which conflicts with other Romish doctrine. The opposition probably arises because the Romish churches in Arab lands fear reprisal if Rome takes any favorable stand regarding Jews. A brief commentary on this chapter is presented by Father Gregory Baum:

The content of the brief chapter is in no way controversial. It tells the story of the Church’s foundation in Israel. The Church was prepared by the patriarchs and prophets; it was founded by Jesus and built upon the apostles. It was thus within the people of Israel that the Church came to be. Jesus, Mary, and the Master’s disciples were all Jews. For this reason it is absurd to pin responsibility for the death of Jesus on the whole Jewish people, or even the Jewish people living in Judea at the tune. It is, moreover, most unjust to attribute to the Jews of our day a stigma derived from the events of Jesus’ death. On the contrary, we know from the Scriptures that despite their unwillingness to accept Jesus as savior, the Jews remain linked to the church by the bond of a common destiny, and because of our common heritage they always remain our brothers according to the promises. The chapter condemns persecution of and contempt for the Jews, and encourages Christians to seek to understand and love their Jewish neighbors. 

Why was this chapter placed into the schema on ecumenism? The reasons are theological. The people of Israel belong irrevocably to the history of salvation; and we cannot understand the mystery of the Church . . . . without taking into consideration the mystery of Israel.23

The final chapter is On Religious Liberty. This chapter met also with much opposition by a minority of bishops—especially from lands which are predominantly Roman Catholic. The Romish church m the past, and even today, has notoriously suppressed all religion contrary to its own. This chapter appears to adopt a different position. If and when the chapter is finally adopted, it would be Worthy of very careful study. A summary of the chapter follows:

“On Religious Liberty”—made two definitions of that phrase. In positive terms, it said, religious freedom means the right of a person to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of his conscience. Looked at negatively, it means immunity from all external force in his personal relations with God . . . 

It says, to the contrary, that religious liberty implies a human autonomy enjoyed as regards to external coercion, but, not coming from within. The chapter asserts that every person who follows his conscience in religious matters has a natural right to true religious liberty. It proposes that the Council Fathers solemnly demand religious liberty for the whole human family, for all religious groups, for each human person, whether the conscience be true or false concerning faith, provided that the conscience is sincerely followed. 

It labels as “the greatest injury” prevention of a man from worshipping God and from obeying God according to the dictates of his own conscience. 

It affirms, however, that external manifestation of the dictates of conscience is not unlimited and can be regulated by public authority for the common good.24

It would be encouraging, of course, if greater religious freedom is permitted Protestants in Roman Catholic lands. But it is indeed questionable how much this freedom means if Roman Catholic and Protestant members continue closer and closer fellowship and the working toward eventual union. Then “freedom of worship” would simply be a term with no practical value. Besides, the Scriptural view of religious liberty is hardly the same as that presented in this chapter. Could you ever imagine Christ saying that a person has “the right . . . to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of his conscience?”

Rather interesting is the comment of Father Baum in this connection:

Chapter five on religious liberty is a more difficult question. If the chapter had simply asserted that in our pluralistic society of today, we must affirm the principle of religious liberty, perhaps not a single voice would have objected. However, the chapter is doctrinal: it teaches that religious liberty is a good given by God to man created in His image, which good the teaching of Christ illuminates in a special way. Religious liberty, therefore, is a good to be announced and defended by the church whatever the sociological or political situation in which she finds herself . . . 

On the last day Cardinal Bea spoke. He said that the reason why we cannot proceed with chapters four and five is lack of time. This was true. There was no time for further discussion. But this did not answer the question of the votes. When a week ago it had been announced that the votes on Chapters four and five would take place “in the next few days,” the moderators must have judged the preceding discussion sufficient to justify a general vote. Why did they change their mind?20

Other Roman Catholics also were disturbed, publicly so, because of the failure of the council to take any decisive action on chapters four and five discussed above:

. . . More troubling was the failure of the Fathers to vote on those two parts of the ecumenical schema, chapters four and five, which dealt respectively with the Jews and with religious liberty. More than on any other occasion, this omission showed the power of a small minority to frustrate the will of a majority; . . . No less distressing, we hate to say, was the failure of the Pope to press the issue in accordance with the will of the Fathers.25

UNTREATED SCHEMATA

At the beginning of the second session of the council, there were listed seventeen schemata to be acted upon. There remain presently ten schemata which have neither been voted upon nor discussed. I do not have at present any information concerning the contents of these schemata, but I will merely list them for your information: schema six: The Clerg; seven:Religious; eight: The Lay Apostolate; nine: The Eastern Churches; eleven: Pastoral Work; twelve: The Sacrament of Matrimony; thirteen: The Education of the Clergy; fourteen: Catholic Schools and Universities; fifteen: The Missions; seventeen: The Church in the Modern World. It is questionable whether any of these schemata will reach the floor for discussion; rather certain it is that many, of them will remain untreated for lack of time. It would seem that the only hope of treating most of the subject material would be a council which continues working for a decade or more. Some Roman Catholic theologians are suggesting this possibility:

The Second Vatican Council is promising to become the task of this generation of the Church. Historians are recalling that, with interruptions, the Council of Trent lasted 19 years . . . .26

IN RETROSPECT

Roman Catholic periodicals in the U.S., in evaluating the first two sessions of the council, admit that not much progress has been made, though at the same time these seek to convince the readers that the council has nevertheless been very successful in uniting the leaders off the church. Typical is the following:

What is the achievement of the second session of Vatican II? From the viewpoint of doctrinal formulation little has been accomplished. The schema on the liturgy (which is excellent and will have a profound influence on Catholic life) and a brief exhortation on the use of mass media were promulgated by Pope Paul on December 4. But these were basically the work of the first session. The great achievement of this (second) session was rather the growing unanimity among the Council Fathers. . . . 

The delay in the work of the second session is mainly due to the obstruction on the part of a tiny minority, whose influence is out of proportion to their number.23

The Protestant press was rather more outspoken in its evaluation of the council. One typical summary I quote from The Christian Century: 

Reactionaries Win Second Round

Progressive Roman Catholic bishops who responded eagerly to John XXIII’s prophetic call for a renewed church addressing itself to the modem world had cause to leave the second session of Vatican Council II with a heavy sense of despondency, if not outright despair. They went to Rome expecting much they returned having achieved little. By overwhelming majority the Conciliar Fathers early in the session asked for “collegiality,” the right to share the rule of the church with the pope. This hope was thwarted by the reactionaries in the Curia. . . . Throughout the second session bishops pressed for the adoption of a schema on ecumenism, including a chapter on the relationship of the Church to the Jews and another on religious liberty. These two chapters were buried, and no one knows with certainty that they will be resurrected in the council’s third session in the fall of 1964.27

Finally, what ought we to say concerning the Vatican Council—particularly its first two sessions? It would be difficult to present a fair and complete evaluation without having a far more intimate contact with the council than this writer has had. However, on the basis of what we know of the Romish Church, and in the light of the comments of the religious press, several conclusions can be made. 

First, Rome has long ago departed far from the mainstream of the truths of God’s Word. This could be easily demonstrated, but for now I simply present it as a fact. And Rome has passed the “point of no return.” The apostate church, having, departed from the basic truths of Scripture, rapidly sinks into the mire of ever greater error. Past history will also demonstrate this. What else can we then conclude but that in its council, Rome will never approach nearer the truth of God’s Word, but will only drift farther away. This will prove true whether it adopts or rejects the proposed schemata. 

Secondly, most commentaries on the council distinguish between two major groups at the council commonly called the “conservatives” and the “liberals.” Again, these two blocs can be subdivided into various other groupings. The so-called conservatives seek to maintain the old position of the Romish Church. They oppose any major changes and seek development only along lines already laid down in the past, as, for instance, development of the theories of Mariology. The conservatives are very much a minority group, but they exercise a power far disproportionate, to their number. They are being blamed for preventing much positive action thus far at the council. Their power is to be explained by the fact that the Curia (helpers and advisors to the pope) is largely composed of conservatives. Because of their positions, the conservatives have been able to suppress or side-track most of those measures which they oppose. If the conservatives can force their will on the council, it will mean that Rome will remain much the same as in the past. Its old errors would be as pronounced as ever, but discussions and progress toward union with other church groups would be slowed down. But success for the conservatives, if it comes, can only be temporary. The “liberal” element is far too great to be bound for long by those who refuse to change. 

The second group, a very large majority of the Romish church, are called “liberals.” These favor the changes proposed in the various schemata, specifically, the collegiality of bishops, the idea of religious freedom, and other such measures which will make the Romish church more appealing to Protestants. If these liberals can regain control of the council, one will see action taken which will promote the cause of ecumenism and all that this implies. We must remember, however, that both the liberal and conservative are Roman Catholic, and therefore both seek (though in different ways) to gather all those called Christian under the banner of the Romish church. 

Now we await further developments next fall when the council convenes for its third session, scheduled to open on September 14, 1964. What will happen? Will the liberals or conservatives have control? Will the various proposed schemata be approved? We do not know. But this is certain: our God will direct even these events that His Church will be maintained, and finally delivered when Christ returns in glory. 

—G.V.B.


23. The Commonweal, Father Gregory Baum, O.S.A., p. 393, Dec. 27, 1963 

24. Denver Catholic Register, supplement, Dec. 26, 1963, p. 2 

25. The Commonweal, p. 384, Dec. 27, 1963 

26. Denver Catholic Register, Rev. Edward Duff, S.J., supp., Dec. 26, 1963, p. 3

27. The Christian Century, Dec. 18, 1963, p. 156