Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Council of Vatican II

The second Vatican Council is probably the single most important event in the history of Christianity in the modern times. It addressed the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI on 8 December 1965. It was held in four sessions between 1962 and 1965. Some 2,500 Bishops took part and the Council produced 16 documents. The Council rapidly became a movement for the renewal of the Catholic faith for a new era.
Throughout the 1950s, theological and biblical studies of the Catholic Church had begun to sway away from the neo-scholasticism and biblical literalism. This shift could be seen in theologians like Karl Rahner. The bishops all over the world faced tremendous challenges driven by political, social, economic, and technological change. Some of these bishops sought new ways of addressing those challenges. Pope John XXIII gave notice of his intention to convene the Council in 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. In various discussions before the Council, Pope John often said that it was time to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air. He invited other Christians outside of the Catholic Church to send observers to the Council. Acceptances came from both the Protestant denominations and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Paulos Mar Gregorios, a bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church, had the opportunity to participate in the council as an observer and as an expert theologian. In a paper he read at the Hammersmith Christian Unity Conference in 1966, he presented an evaluation of the council. He said, “The two most fundamental gains of the second Vatican Council are, first, this incipient re-education of the leadership of the Church, and, second, the dramatic reversal of the negativistic, or anti-non-Catholic trend of develop­ment which has characterized Catholic theology since the Reformation.”  He also noticed a radical shift in the attitude toward dogmas. “This tentative and cautious approach to Christian doctrine is a welcome return to the Eastern patristic tradition and a healthy sign of vitality in the Western Catholic tradition. Truth cannot be captured in formulae. Words can only point to truth, warn against error, kindle a light in the mind and open it to the truth.”
Bishop Gregorios has high hopes of the future. He hopes that the ferment created by the Council will lead to genuine renewal of life, thought, and worship in the Roman Catholic Church. The process of decentralization which began with Pope John might gain momentum in the Roman Catholic Church. The laity will assume a larger role in the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church as well as in determining its general ethos. The participation of the Roman Catholic Church in the ecumenical movement will radically alter the relationships between the various Christian Churches. All Churches, led by the Holy Spirit, will become open to the possibility of taking courageous decisions in relation to each other.
A new vision of the Church emerged in the council as the whole community of the baptized Christians rather than as a divine institution which stores, guards, and dispenses at will both grace and truth. Bishop Gregorios believes that the recognition of the Church as the People of God and of the Apostolate of the Laity as God-given, rather than mandated by the hierarchy, are two aspects of this vision which have revolutionary consequences. A fresh understanding of the world and of man as invested with dignity and meaning by God, quite apart from his relation to the Church. The basic fact of his being created in the image of God is accepted as the source of his dignity and liberty. This view of man, according t the Bishop, has revolutionary consequences for the mission of the Church, for religious liberty, for relations with other religions, for the Church’s approach to international politics and to economic development, and for her own self-understanding.
Bible was restored to a central position in theology and preaching as well as in the life of the Church in general. The bishop thinks that the use of Biblical studies in a historical-critical context can bring about a significant break-through in the stalemate that characterizes Biblical scholarship on the European continent. The new understanding of the ministry of the Church as a whole and of the clergy in particular emerged in the council.  The tendency in the past has often been to conceive of all authority in the Church as being derived from Christ and the Apostles directly by the clergy. The Vatican council affirms that ‘the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.

Vatican II: Gains, Hopes and Hurdles
Lumen Gentium
Second Vatican Council


Joseph Thomas said...

Thirumeni has talked to me about the event, but I would certainly want to read it. Thank you Mr. Kunnathu for forwarding the speech to me.

Solid Rock or Sinking Sand said...

I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God bless, Lloyd