Thursday, August 18, 2011
It is hard to write any theological work on the modern history of the Church without an appreciation of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). By all accounts, Vatican II (1962-1965) is historically the most ecumenical or universal Council in Church history. It was attended by almost 3000 bishops from all over the world. Although the Orthodox Churches of the East did not participate in the interventions, they sent representatives as observants, and so did the Anglican Communion and many other Protestant Communions. Distinctively the Eastern Catholic Churches participated in full vigor. On the eve of the Council Athenagoras I, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, sent a message to Maximus IV, Patriarch of the Melkite Catholics in which he said "You represent Eastern Orthodoxy." So much was there hope and fraternal love between the Churches that Blessed Pope John XXIII sought in invoking the Council the unity of all Christians. But in fact the Council became a much larger factory for the presentation of Catholic dogma always in need of representation to different ages yet always guided by the Holy Spirit in the fullness of truth. In his address in 1959, John XXIII attributed the call to the Council to a sudden inspiration by the Holy Spirit for "a new Pentecost"! It is worth mentioning the names of giants that contributed to the documents and reforms ushered by Vatican II, most of them were experts invited by the Pope or assisting the bishops coming from different countries: Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), and many others...Why do we need to recall Vatican II to mind? It is because we see fundamentalism growing as the evil reaction to such a blessed event. When the Council completed its work, the Catholic Church experienced new lay movements such as the Neo-Catechumenal Way, but also as lay people started getting involved in the New Pentecost, some priests and nuns left their vocations and fidelity to the Catholic Church. Hans Kung, a liberal theologian who participated in the Council challenged the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope and was therefore expelled from teaching in Catholic universities. Liberation Theology was born in Latin America and was immediately espoused by leading theologians there where Marxist ideology was infiltrating Latin America. In addition some Fundamentalist Christian sects started to attract more Catholics away from the bosom of the Mother Church. The Sexual Revolution ushered in Europe brought promiscuity into the minds and actions of many young adults. And individualism crept in all over the Western hemisphere promoted by lax civil laws about divorce and legalized abortion. It seems that Heaven intervened with the election of John Paul II. He was a blessed man. John Paul II took his name in veneration of Pope John Paul I who had taken his name in memory of the two great Popes of the Council: John XXIII and Paul VI. John Paul II dedicated his long pontificate to the vigorous implementation of the directives of Vatican II. He defended the Council's teachings on the dignity of every human person which became the hallmark of his pontificate.
What are some of the highlights of the doctrinal pronouncements of Vatican II?
1. The development of doctrine
2. The governance of the Church by the bishop of Rome and the other bishops in communion with him (Collegiality).
3. The infallibilty of the Church a) in pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils b) When the bishop of Rome speaks as teacher of the Church Ex-Cathedra c) When all the bishops of the Church together with the Pope pronounce on doctrines or morals d) When the entire Church believes certain doctrines.
4. Evangelization to non-Christians as necessary for the mission of the Church.
5. The possibility of salvation to non-Christians who have not received the gospel.
6. The primacy of conscience of every individual provided he searchs for the truth.
7. The development of understanding in Tradition of the words of God in the Bible through the Magisterium.
8. The recognition that the Orthodox Churches retain valid sacraments, although they are in imperfect unity with the Catholic Church.
9. The recognition that all Christians have in common the fundamental doctrines that Christ preached as recognized in the Nicene Creed.