Sunday, November 25, 2012

This Week at Vatican II  
          – Fifty Years Later

             December 1962



               In the 19th century, during the months leading up to the First Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Pius IX wrote to all the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church; they were informed that, if they “ended their separation” from the Roman Catholic Church, they would be welcomed at Vatican I – as full, validly ordained and consecrated Bishops.  During the same days in 1868, Pius IX issued a call to Protestant leaders and their people “to return to the Catholic Church,” ending their visible separation from Catholic unity.   Both the Orthodox and the Protestants were offended by the wording of the appeals. Neither group participated in the First Vatican Council.

               Nearly a century later, before Vatican II convened, Blessed Pope John XXIII –  with talents he had honed from years in diplomacy --- invited Orthodox and Protestant “observers” to the Council.  He joyfully welcomed them to the First Session -- the first time a Pope had ever met collectively with a group with non-Catholic representatives, including:

(Among the Orthodox:)

Patriarchate of Moscow

Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria 
Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch      

Ethiopian Church                             

Armenian Catholicate of Cilicia     

Russian Church in exile                   

(Among the Protestants:)

Anglican Union

Lutheran Federation

Presbyterian Alliance

German Evangelical Church

Disciples of Christ       

World Methodist Council

            Pope John had appointed the German Jesuit, Augustine Cardinal Bea, to be president of a new “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.”  Cardinal Bea, although seventy-nine years old, was a professor and Biblical scholar – and the “Biblical Movement” of the 20th century had often been a “meeting point” for Catholics and Protestants. Cardinal Bea welcomed the observers  with the words: “Instead of a long listing of your titles, which I certainly do respect, please allow me to address you with these simple but so profound words:

            ‘My Brothers in Christ.’”

            In a moving response, Dr. Edmund Schlink, a Lutheran professor from Heidelburg University, said that Pope John “by the initiative of his heart has created a new atmosphere of openness in regard to the non-Roman churches.”

            After six weeks, the distinguished professor Oscar Cullmann of the Universities of Basel and Paris explained to the press that the invited Observers had received all the Council texts, attended all General Congregations, could make their views known at weekly meetings of the Secretariat, and had personal contact with the Bishops and their periti --  “daily reveal(ing) to us how truly we are drawn closer together.”

            However, in “The Rhine flows into the Tiber”, historian R. M. Wiltgen recalls: “Professor Cullman also pointed out that mistaken conclusions were being drawn from the presence of the Observers … among both Catholics and Protestants who appeared to think that the purpose of the Council was to bring about union between the Catholic and other Christian churches.  That was not the immediate purpose of the Council, he said, and he feared that many such people would be disillusioned when, after the end of the Council, they found that the Churches remained distinct.”
Next Week: The End of the First Session
- Monsignor John T. Myler

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