>>> Moving towards Vatican III 

Personal Note Theology Today Pastoral Implications Forty Years in the Desert Digesting Vatican II Preparing for Vatican III Eucharistic Starvation


"Can the church become more people friendly?"

Ignatius Desmond Sullivan (Oxford, England)


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Digesting Vatican II

Happy signs of the future and sadness of the wicked world sit side by side within the text of the documents of Vatican II. For example, the words which introduce the Decree of the Church begin in language of ordinary people: Christ the light of the world to all nations. The Decree Gaudium Et Spes speaks of the excellence of human liberty, and the dignity of the human person: language far from the solid deadliness of the theology manuals of the seminaries. The ancient truth are often expressed in new languages without changing the content of revelation.

Theologically speaking Decrees of a Council carry more weight then regulations from Curia officials: and even Papal encyclicals, in themselves are below such Decrees. In the wider perspective, therefore, Council Decrees are a "gold standard" against which subsequent Vatican utterances should be measured and assessed. For example, Humanae Vitae needs to be understood in the light of Vatican II and to be so assessed.

Lumen Gentium speaks of the "mystery of the Church", it has a unique relationship with Christ as a kind of sacrament or sign of union with God, and of the unity of mankind.

Its origins are in the wisdom and goodness of God the Father, through the redemption of the Son, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This Holy Church of Christ is described in biblical terms - a description fully acceptable to every Christian body in the world and held in admiration by many others.

A very significant event during the Council illustrates the reasoning behind the above statements. One of the Cardinals (dressed in the black robes of a monk - instead of the scarlet robes of a Cardinal), he spoke in French (the language of the Council was Latin) he said: I am a Catholic - but not a Roman Catholic: I recognise the Bishop of Rome as the Pope of all Catholics. But I am a Greek Catholic - the Patriarch of the Greek Catholic Church of Antioch.

It was an awareness of the various churches established from apostolic times that the Council proclaimed the diversity in unity as the true meaning of catholicity. It also recognised that these groups, organically united preserve the unique divine constitution of the universal church and enjoy their own discipline, liturgical usage, theological elaboration and spiritual heritage.

Two other insights show similar ways to the future.

On Missions.
The Council calls on the new churches to share the cultural and social life and so be inculturalised, for it is from such an incarnation of the message of Jesus that new insights and theological and spiritual elaborations can arise to benefit the whole church and humanity.

On the laity.
The Council with an eye on 1870 explained the prophetic office of the laity in these words: "The body of the faithful, as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.

After nearly forty years, trying to implement the teaching of Vatican II in parishes in Africa, and teaching pastoral theology in Oxford, the findings of Vatican II seem to have given the church unique tools with which to implement the renewal of the church as envisioned by Pope John. It is as if new ways of looking at the church have suddenly come into view. We have been given a new insight into the beauty and critical eyes the imperfections of the present structures and the past failures of the current Church and of how far short the present church is from the shining face of Christ. We can see how the history of the church calls into question some of its current rules, traditions and practises. Scripture and especially the gospels stand over against the church and reveal, the challenge of our age in Europe and needs of the Church today.

Giant hostility opposes these new "green shots" growing in the church and are to be seem peeping through the Decrees of the Council. Three roots of this hostility are discernable: the creeping infallibility common in the Roman School of theology, an intellectual arrogance that Scholastic philosophy and theology are the only basis for fidelity to tradition and a cultural superiority complex that sees European sophistication as spiritually superior to all non-European cultures, even of the new culture growing in the society of modern Europe.

Much of the current ceremonial is meaningless to non-Europeans and equally to the new generations taking over the culture of the world. Teaching enshrined in words and language of scholastic philosophical terminology seems meaningless in a scientific age. Canon Law, which made fun of the Pharisees with 602 laws about the Sabbath, carries no conviction when we make over 2000 laws to protect Jesus? The church must cast aside its ideals and ideology and its preoccupation with organisations, buildings, structures and control and come round to helping ordinary people to grow into maturity as Christ centred believers.