Pope John XXIII signs the bull convoking the council Dec. 25, 1961. He presided at only the first of the council's four sessions. (CNS)
VATICANII-PAULVI Oct-12-2005 (1,050 words) With photos. xxxn
Pope Paul VI directed, implemented Vatican II
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Pope John XXIII died in June 1963, the Second Vatican Council had barely begun. The 80 cardinals who gathered to elect his successor could have chosen a man who would suspend or dissolve it.
Instead they elected Pope Paul VI, who immediately declared his intent to see the council through and reaffirmed Pope John's goal of making it an instrument of church renewal.
The council's first session, Oct. 11-Dec. 8, 1962, had produced no major documents. The day before it ended the bishops voted on the first part of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, overwhelmingly approving principles of liturgical reform that included the possibility of liturgical worship in local languages and adaptation of liturgical rites to local cultures.
Meeting the next three autumns under Pope Paul, the council issued 16 constitutions, decrees or declarations, many of them carrying far-reaching implications for the church.
"He brought a better sense of organization to the task than John XXIII had," said Father Joseph A. Komonchak, a theologian at The Catholic University of America and English-language editor of the five-volume "History of Vatican II," a definitive study by an international team of scholars.
In an interview, Father Komonchak said that after the council's first session Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who would soon become Pope Paul, gave a talk in which he said the council needed a unifying focus.
Father Komonchak added, "In his opening speech at the second session, which was the first that he presided over, he made the church the central theme of the council: What is the church's self-awareness, what does it think of itself, what does it think of its relationship to the world?"
The priest said "Ecclesiam Suam," Pope Paul's first encyclical, "was a pretty strong promotion of the idea of dialogue. That was one of the main characteristics of the council documents on dialogue with non-Catholics, with other believers, with the modern world. ... People old enough to remember know there was very little dialogue going on between Catholics and non-Catholics in this country. Ecumenism was actually kept under very tight control by Rome. As for dialogue with the modern world, the dominant attitude was far more one of suspicion and even condemnation."
Pope Paul also "gradually began to take more of a leading role, so that when a persistent minority was expressing reservations about the doctrine of collegiality in Chapter 3 of 'Lumen Gentium,' he ordered that a ... preparatory note be included and made the basis on which the bishops were to vote on that chapter," he said. "He also intervened toward the end with regard to the Decree on Ecumenism."
Those actions helped mollify a small but powerful minority, led by some top officials of the Roman Curia, who thought the council was going too far on some issues.
"I think he was determined that the council not be followed by a schism," Father Komonchak said, "and he did not want the minority, in this case the conservative minority, to be able to complain about the way they were treated at Vatican II in the way in which the liberal minority at Vatican I complained. So he did whatever he could to win as large a consensus on controversial issues as he could."
Father Komonchak said Pope Paul also intervened in the drafting phases of the council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
"He insisted that they come up with a text on the relationship of Scripture and tradition and another one on historicity (of Scripture) where he felt the earlier texts were ambiguous," the theologian said. "He wanted a formulation that would leave the question -- whether tradition contains truths that Scripture doesn't -- unsettled, which the final text did.
"The other question was with regard to inspiration," Father Komonchak said. "He wanted it said in such a way that you would maintain that the whole of the Bible is inspired, but that it is to be read in terms of a document that God has brought into being for the sake of our salvation -- in other words, so that when you're reading it, you're reading it for what it has to say about our salvation, not for what it has to say about the ancient Near East and botany."
In implementing the council in the 13 years from its end to his death in 1978, Pope Paul "was severely criticized by left and right, which for me means he must have been doing something right," Father Komonchak said.
"Certainly he was not entirely happy with everything that happened after the council -- who could have been?" he added. "I think that he was very distressed by the signs of a kind of rebellion and even revolution. But I think he did a good job. He went ahead with the liturgical constitution and, in fact, he authorized that the reforms go far beyond what the council text itself proposed. I think he tried to carry out the dialogue (with other Christians), and he established a secretariat for dialogue with non-Christians and nonbelievers, and he wrote a couple of important social documents. He presided over the Synod of Bishops in a way that was far more open then than it became under his successor."
Father Komonchak said that the 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae" -- in which Pope Paul reaffirmed traditional church teaching that use of artificial contraception in conjugal relations was intrinsically wrong -- "was a great cross for the pope."
"One part of the problem," he said, "was that less than three years after the council ended, the highly visible collegial exercise of the church's magisterium (teaching authority) that the council was, had suddenly been replaced by the single exercise of it by the pope -- and I think that really distressed a great number of people. And the reaction to it upset the pope enough that he never wrote another encyclical."
On the ecumenical front, Pope Paul made "magnificent gestures," such as his embrace of Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople on his 1964 trip to the Holy Land. Pope Paul inaugurated the modern papal practice of world travels and made ecumenical meetings a regular feature of those trips, he said. He added that Pope Paul inaugurated many of the bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogues that continue today.
Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250