VATICAN II (1962-1965)

& Pope Benedict XVI recent communication about Protestants

 

          Vatican II Processional                                    Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican II1, also called the Second Vatican Council was the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It was convened by Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962 and concluded by Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965. Hailed as the largest gathering of any Council in church history, a total of 2908 “Council Fathers” were summoned from all parts of the world. Representatives from both Orthodox and Protestant churches were also present to observe the proceedings which comprised 178 meetings in the autumn of each of the four successive years. The Pope(s) desired Vatican II to be pastoral and conciliatory in nature2 and issued the following four objectives:

  1. To more fully define the nature of the church and the role of the bishop
  2. To renew the church
  3. To restore unity among all Christians, including seeking pardon for Catholic contributions to separation
  4. To start a dialogue with the contemporary world 

The Council issued sixteen (16) documents, which were all approved and promulgated by the Pope, including the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio)—where it uses the term “separated brethren” to encourage engagement in dialogue with Christian communities outside of direct communion with Rome; the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium)—modernizing the mass and permission to use languages other than Latin; the Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite (Orientalium Ecclesiarum)—recognizing the right of Eastern Catholics to keep their own distinct liturgical practices and encouraging ultimate unity albeit under Rome’s governance; the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium)—where confusion over whether the Church of Christ separately “subsists” in the Catholic Church gave rise (at least for a season) to the notion that ecclesiastical legitimacy may exist elsewhere than the Catholic Church alone; the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World  (Gaudium et Spes)—where openness to modernity was explored by first delineating a theological analysis of humanity and the world, followed by addressing issues related to marriage and family, cultural development, social and economic life, the political community, war and peace, and establishing an international community.3

Other results

Vatican II also decreed that Jews were no longer solely to blame for Christ’s crucifixion (the guilt belongs to all of us); Mary was formally declared the Mother of the Church; The Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 19654 expressed regret over the Great Schism of 1054 between the East and West; the universal right of religious freedom as argued by American intellectual and Jesuit priest, John Courtney Murray (1904-1967); etc.

Concerns over Pope Benedict XVI recent clarifications of Vatican II

Recently there has been communication from the Vatican that seems to back-peddle from the ecumenism of Vatican II. Of concern is the most recent text5 called “Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church,”6 June 29, 2007. The document consists of five (5) questions–the fifth of which is below:

FIFTH QUESTION

Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

RESPONSE

According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.

Author’s Comment:

The first thing that must be observed is that Pope Benedict XVI is really NOT advocating a different theological position than Vatican II. However, the Pope IS definitely retracting the softer qualifying [the “nevertheless”] language that characterized the original documents and spirit. For instance, in both Articles 22 & 23 of the Decree of Ecumenism, the conjunction “nevertheless” is purposefully used at two critical points to soften the assertion of the initial phrase:

Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders,nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory

And again in Article 22:

While it is true that many Christians understand the moral teaching of the Gospel differently from Catholics, and do not accept the same solutions to the more difficult problems of modern society,nevertheless they share our desire to stand by the words of Christ as the source of Christian virtue, and to obey the command of the Apostle: “And whatever you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

However, in the Pope’s most recent response (#5) above, the language is not softened by any ameliorative conjunction but rather insists Protestants are deficient in three fundamental ways—things that we’ve been accused of all along, all the while hoping that there would be a change of heart and words. It’s almost like an angry parent or sibling who wants to ensure that you are aware of your past grievous behavior by virtue of repeated brow beating. And so the ancient animosity cracks the whip again:

1.   Protestants can’t directly trace their leadership to Peter—like we really need to?7

2.   Therefore, none of the Protestant clergy are properly ordained—what happened to by their fruits you will know them?

3.   As a result, Protestants can never access the mystery of the mass (the Lord’s Supper)—so now we can’t even eat in the presence of the Father because the older brother can’t find a place of compassion in his heart for the younger son whom he has judged to be a prodigal.

The Pope’s “dogmatic” re-assertion is that therefore all of the Protestant churches are disqualified by their abandonment of Catholic ideals and governance.8  Needless to say, this arrogance on the part of the Vatican, though based on a sincere misinterpretation of scriptural authority vis–à–vis Peter’s pontifical rule of the early church, is nevertheless a formidable hindrance to any notion of Christian unity. For a unity-on-our-terms-alone is no unity at all for it presupposes that there is no middle ground between us…No place where we can mutually stake a claim…A place that we deny because we’ve never been there before…A place not owned by man, but by God alone…A place called Calvary.9

It is the urgent wish of this Holy Council that the measures undertaken by the sons of the Catholic Church should develop in conjunction with those of our separated brethren so that no obstacle be put in the ways of divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father’s love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Vatican II, Decree of Ecumenism, Article 24)

The problem here is that the Catholic Church is over-reaching by supposing that reconciliation implies an organizational unity under Vatican control. Rather, the unity of the Body of Christ is spiritual and relational (in love) in nature and consists of a oneness that embraces “diversity in unity” rather than a coerced uniformity by means of a pre-modern monolithic hierarchy.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12)

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through a bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)

“…having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Phil. 2:2b)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)


1) The First Vatican Council (Vatican I, 1869) was convened to define the dogma of Papal Infallibility and to obtain confirmation of the position the Pope had taken in condemning biblical criticism and modernism (rationalism, materialism) in his Syllabus of Errors (1864). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Vatican_Council. The First Vatican Council (1869) was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and was ultimately concluded in 1960 as part of the preparations for the Second Vatican Council, Vatican II.

2) During the very first session of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI implored the Council Fathers to “use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity” in the documents they would produce. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican_II

3) See Encarta, Second Vatican Council @ http://encarta.msn.com/content_761553712/Vatican_Council_Second.html

4) The Joint Declaration was simultaneously read on December 7, 1965 at a public meeting of Vatican II in Rome and at a special ceremony in Constantinople. It withdrew the exchange of excommunications by Pope Leo XI and Patriarch Cerularius in1054 that initiated the Great Schism.

5) A previous document, Dominus Iesus, written by Cardinal Ratzinger (August 6, 2000) who was at the time the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also engages the issues of religious pluralism in the context of arguing that there is “no salvation outside of membership in the Catholic Church,” whether that membership is explicit or implicit. See http://www.religioustolerance.org/rcc_othe4.htm#dom]

6) See the official Vatican document @ http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html

7) See my article about the Rise of the Roman Papacy  @ http://www.ronwoodworth.org/archives-MajorReligions3Chistianity.aspx

8) Whenever assertions like this are made I often think of the Apostle Paul’s bold resistance to legalism and his defense of his apostolic credentials–irrespective of those who were apostles before him including Peter, whom Paul publicly confronted for hypocrisy. See Galatians 2:1-14.

9) In major relational conflicts it is helpful to remember that “the first one to the cross wins.”