Pope John XXIII had a heart open to the world and longed to invite all peoples to share understanding of life, love and faith with the Catholic Church. He caused excitement and bewilderment in 1959 when he made his statement but his vision was fulfilled when Vatican II opened in the autumn of 1962. The debates between conservative and liberal bishops and their theologians revealed how divided Church authorities were, but we trusted the Holy Spirit would guide them to listen to each other. The assembled bishops certainly did and the voting on the documents reveals how they came to understand as had Popes John XXIII and Paul VI.
In 1963 I came to Rome to study theology at the Lateran University. Those years were wonderfully blessed for my brethren and friends and me. We heard each day something of the debates of the previous day at the Council, the Vatican conservatives bewildered at the changes being asked for by liberal bishops and theologians. In the evenings of each day at the press conferences we had opportunity to hear what had been said and by whom in the debates. We were involved.
Vatican II for me was and is alive. I was asked if I could write an impression of those years, even dare to summarise the debates. Gladly, I thought, and a small book is my answer. If it is good it will satisfy as an outline of the documents but also offer an invitation and guide to those who would like to study the full texts.
Pope John XXIII’s original inspiration continued with Pope Paul XI, a quiet brilliant man who saw the dangers of division and held a difficult balance to the conclusion of the Vatican Council.
Historians will tell of his guiding Vatican II to that completion in 1965, also of the rejection of his encyclical on birth control, ‘Humanae Vitae’, in 1968. The encyclical was clarified on the day it was published at the press conference given by Prof. Lambruscini who taught pastoral theology at the Lateran. His first words were that Pope Paul did not intend the encyclical as an infallible statement. If not infallible, then open to debate and the pastoral advice of the bishops of the Church.
Pastoral theology starts with the person and the truth that no one is
outside God’s love. Moral theology works from principles which do not change but which people accept or reject. Pastoral and moral are two different disciplines but complement each other: without moral principles pastoral thinking might fall into situation ethics (every case different), but without pastoral awareness moral teaching might become an unbearable burden of perfection or failure, such as was loaded on the people by the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.
The mission of the Church is to bring Jesus’ love to the world expressed in two wonderful ideals: “Love one another as I have loved you” and “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The fullness of those beautiful ideals are understood anew in every age. We call this “the development of doctrine”, the teaching becoming more clear as God’s Holy Spirit guides the Church as Jesus promised. Sometimes this will seem like a change in teaching and needs to be challenged. The challenge will discover if it is true development or not.
I am grateful for wonderful years in Rome and a life for God and
teaching God’s revelation of truth, love and life in Jesus.
May God bless me to share with you,
(22nd Oct 2023)