THE VATICAN COUNCIL
The Roman Catholic Church has already passed some important resolutions in what is generally agreed to be the last session of the Second Vatican Council.
The session began with a speech by the pope in which he expressed his intention of establishing what he called a “Synod of Bishops” which will be called together from time to time to discuss problems arising within the Church and serve the pope with advice on these problems. The establishment of this organization is intended to implement a former decision of the council which called for an increased share of the government of the Church to be given to the lower echelons of clergy. The avowed purpose of many was to try, if possible, to curtail the power of the Roman Curia which is composed mostly of Italians, is conservative and traditional in matters of church policy, has tremendous power within the Romish hierarchy, and which is cordially hated by a vast segment of the liberal wing of the church. But this hatred is due mostly to the fact that the Curia is always attempting to block the reforms that are so dear to the hearts of the liberals. This new Synod of Bishops will not be allowed to detract however from the power of the pope. He intends to retain the right to choose 15% of the members; and he alone will determine when the Synod meets and what it discusses.
As far as the decisions of the Council thus far are concerned, the most important decision has to do with the “schema” on Christian liberty. This deals with an issue that has burned in the Roman Church for centuries. The Church has always taken the position that the Roman Catholic Church is the only legitimate and God-ordained denomination, that there is no salvation outside of it, and that therefore it is the only church which has a right of existence in the world. In bygone years this policy was carried out by means of severe persecutions of, e.g., Waldensians, individual heretics and Protestants after the time of the Reformation. This policy of persecution has continued even in the present day in such countries as Spain and Columbia. And from this policy came also the efforts of the Romish Church to establish itself in various countries in which it had a majority of the population as the established religion.
But in recent years this policy has been the object of criticism by liberals within the Church. The liberals contend that every man has the right to decide for himself what his religion shall be. Hence there was throughout the sessions of the council intense agitation for adopting some schema to spell out this position as being the official position of the Church. Last year the council was about ready to vote its approval of such a policy when the pope himself intervened to prevent a vote. The result was that last year’s session ended on a very sour note. Once again this year the schema dealing with this subject came up for discussion and debate. By a vote of 1997 to 224 the schema carried. The result is that the Church has changed her position on this crucial issue and repudiated her position of the past. (Although it is interesting to note that there has been no condemnation made by the council of the actions of the Romish past, and no apology made or confession of sin for the blood of God’s people that was shed.) The Church now recognizes the right of every one to believe what he chooses. It affirms the right to religious liberty because this liberty is based on both divine revelation and the very dignity of the human nature of man. It asserts that no one at all can be forced to act against his conscience, that the state must protect this human right, and that governments can neither impose any religion on an individual nor prevent him from joining or leaving any religious group. This includes every religion be it Hinduism or atheism.
The liberals were elated for many had made a favorable vote on this one issue the deciding factor in whether this was to be a successful council which would truly reform the church or a wretched failure.
However, the decision of the council is not yet the last word on the schema. It must still go to the pope. And while he cannot refuse to accept the schema itself (and indeed will not since he took a hand in seeing to it that it came to a vote when the conservatives made one last effort to sidetrack the matter), nevertheless he does retain the right to alter the language as much as he sees fit. Thus there is still fear that the language will be watered down and made so ambiguous that the conservatives win out after all and the tradition-encrusted Curia gets its way in the end. What the pope actually intends to do has not been made public.
The second decision of importance dealt with the Council’s statement on non-Christian religions.
While this schema dealt with such religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, atheism, etc., the real bone of contention was a statement in the document which partially absolved the Jews from blame for crucifying Christ. There was a great deal of politics involved in this one. On the one side is the lingering charge made against the Romish Church which claims that it is anti-Semitic. This charge was recently made by some when the claim was made that the Roman Church did not do enough to help the Jews who were being persecuted by Hitler when it was within the power of the church to do much to alleviate the suffering. The statement of the council therefore was intended to put this charge to rest once and for all. And, naturally, the Jews themselves were heartily in favor of this. But on the other side stood the Arabs many of whom belong to the Romish Church. And these Arabs hate the nation of Israeli with passionate hatred. Any statement made which in any way would speak kindly of the Jews was anathema to the Arabs and would be interpreted as pro-Israel and anti-Arab. The whole issue revolved around the question whether the Council should take a stand against the charge that the Jews were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion. The teaching of Scripture was scarcely considered in the matter; it was primarily a question of ecclesiastical politics.
The schema finally adopted stated that not only the Jews but also the whole world was responsible for Christ’s death. This was less than the liberals wanted; it was a disappointment to the Jews; and it did not satisfy the Arabs either. In other words, it was a compromise satisfying no one but not deeply antagonistic to any. The pope still has the final word on this matter, too.
Although the changes made in the schema on Christian Liberty were perhaps the most important changes in the position of the Church, it is still evident that while the church speaks of reform and adaptation to the needs of people in the 20th century, Rome is only interested in putting on a new suit of clothes tailored in 20th century fashions while it remains the same kind of a Church it has always been throughout the centuries since the Reformation. It is therefore, still the enemy of the Church of Christ, the new clothes and the nice smile notwithstanding.
A couple of other items of interest in this connection.
We reported in these columns a short time ago that there was agitation among some liberal theologians for a change in the doctrine of transubstantiation. It appears as if this agitation hit a raw nerve in the church, for the pope decided to issue an encyclical concerning the matter. In this encyclical the pope made it clear that he had no intention of stifling research or squashing free investigation in matters of the faith. But he nevertheless considered these new opinions to involve the Church in grave dangers. He warned all that the doctrine of the church was still emphatically that in the mass, the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ even though they appear unchanged to the participants. This doctrine may not be touched.
It is well known by this time that the pope’s visit to this country has attracted worldwide attention. We are not interested in discussing the whole matter any more than it was discussed by the news media. In fact, the newspapers, radio and television covered the whole visit so thoroughly that it was even somewhat indecent.
What particularly is of importance is that the pope’s plea for peace before the United Nations was so completely secular. In all the speech this man who claims to speak for Christ and represent Christ upon earth never mentioned Christ’s Word or His cross and scarcely mentioned the name of God. His entire plea for peace on earth was a plea to which any man could subscribe—as the atheistic Russians were quick to point out when they spoke of the pontiff’s speech as “helpful.” The pope became then, not the spokesman of Christ but the spokesman of the secular world which denies Christ and strives to attain peace here on earth apart from the blood of the cross.
It is well to remind ourselves at this point that the pope had only one calling before the United Nations: that was to inform this body that the cause of war was the utter depravity of man’s human nature; that there is no possibility of peace in this world until that depravity is taken away; that this is accomplished only through the blood of atonement; and that consequently the peace of the cross is the peace of a heavenly kingdom which shall be given graciously by God only to God’s elect. Can you imagine such a speech before the U.N.? But this is all there is to say.
To sum up the work of the Vatican Council: there have been five schemata adopted by the Council before this last session. They are “Constitution on The Church”, “Constitution on Liturgy”, “Decree on Ecumenism”, “Decree on Mass Communications”, and “Decree on Oriental Rite Churches”. Apart from the two discussed above, the following are still to be discussed:
—The Church In The Modern World; this is a kind of a catch all which discusses such questions as international relations, culture, politics, economics, family life, birth control.
—Missionary Activity; Brought up by Paul himself at last year’s session, it received a thorough overhauling.
—The Priest’s Life and Ministry.
—Divine Revelation; dealing with the relation of Scripture and tradition. This is an important one, voted on in principle last year, but still subject to further debate and amendment.
—The Lay Apostolate; dealing with the laymen’s role in the Church.
—On Religious; discussing mainly vows and orders.
—Statement on seminary life.
—Christian Education; General list of principles on parochial education in the Romish Church.
—The Pastoral Function of Bishops; Important schema discussing the relation of the bishops to the church bureaucracy in Rome.