Pope Benedict's last great master class: Vatican II, as I saw it [full text]
(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has met parish priests and clergy of the Diocese
of Rome in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Led by Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini
and auxiliary bishops, they greeted Benedict XVI with great affection and prolonged
applause. Emer McCarthy reports:
of the liturgy, the question of ecclesiology left wide open since Vatican I, Revelation
and how we communicate it to the modern word, ecumenism and our relations with other
religions but most importantly what it was really like being at the heart of the Second
Despite beginning with an apology for his age and how he was
unable to prepare a ‘great’ discourse, Pope Benedict held the priests of Rome captive
for 46 minutes on Thursday in an unscripted speech – or chat as he termed it - on
the Great Ecumenical council which he attended first as a special advisor to Cardinal
Frings of Cologne, and then in his own right as a theological expert.
a sort of master class by a renowned professor and perhaps one of the last great witnesses
of the Council. Pope Benedict’s voice was clear and strong as spoke of the great
Constitutions that emerged from years of work by the Council Fathers.
of the hope and enthusiasm of those attending that the Vatican Council, that it would
lead to a reform and renewal in the Church. He spoke of the many heated discussions
over the liturgy, Paul VI’s intervention in the debate over Revelation and the hermeneutic
of Scriptural tradition of how he gave Council father’s 14 formulas from which to
choose to complete their document.
Benedict XVI spoke of how the horrors of
the holocaust prompted wider reflection on the Catholic Churches relations with other
Christian traditions and the ancient people of Israel and of the input of Council
fathers from the Americas and Asia in discussions on religious liberty and interfaith
dialogue. But little of this he said, filtered through at the time: “The world
interpreted the Council through the eyes of the media instead of seeing the true Council
of the Fathers and their key vision of faith”. “The journalists’ interpretation of
the Council was political”, he continued, and as a result Council was often trivialised
with disastrous consequences for the Church: “Seminaries were closed, convents were
closed…the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council”. However concluded
Pope Benedict, with a smile of hope for his priests “50 years later, the strength
of the real Council has been revealed. Our task for the Year of Faith is to bring
the real Second Vatican Council to life.” Below a Vatican Radio translation
of the transcription of Pope Benedict's address
"It is a special and
providential gift - began the Pope - that, before leaving the Petrine ministry, I
can once again meet my clergy, the clergy of Rome. It' s always a great joy to see
how the Church lives, and how in Rome, the Church is alive: there are pastors who
in the spirit of the supreme Shepherd, guide the flock of Christ". "It is a truly
Catholic and universal clergy, - he added - and is part of the essence of the Church
of Rome itself, to reflect the universality, the catholicity of all nations, of all
races, of all cultures”.
“At the same time I am very grateful to the Cardinal
Vicar who is helping to reawaken, to rediscover the vocations in Rome itself, because
if on the one hand Rome is the city of universality, it must be also a city with its
own strong, robust faith, from which vocations are also born. And I am convinced that
with the help of the Lord we can find the vocations He Himself gifts us, guide them,
help them to develop and thus help the work in the vineyard of the Lord. "
- continued the Pope - you have confessed the Creed before the Tomb of St. Peter:
in the Year of the Faith, I see this as a very appropriate, perhaps even necessary,
act, that the clergy of Rome meet at the Tomb of the Apostle of which the Lord said,
'to you I entrust my Church. Upon you I build my Church’. Before the Lord, together
with Peter, you have confessed: 'you are Christ, the Son of the living God.' Thus
the Church grows: together with Peter, confessing Christ, following Christ. And we
do this always. I am very grateful for your prayers that I have felt - as I said Wednesday
- almost physically. Though I am now retiring to a life of prayer, I will always be
close to all you and I am sure all of you will be close to me, even though I remain
hidden to the world. "
"For today, given the conditions of my age - he said
- I could not prepare a great, real address, as one might expect, but rather I thought
of chatting about the Second Vatican Council, as I saw it".
The Pope began
with an anecdote: "In 1959 I was appointed professor at the University of Bonn, which
is attended by students, seminarians of the diocese of Cologne and other surrounding
dioceses. So, I came into contact with the Cardinal of Cologne, Cardinal Frings. Cardinal
Siri of Genoa, - I think it was in 1961 - had organized a series of conferences with
several cardinals in Europe, and the Council had invited the archbishop of Cologne
to hold a conference, entitled: "The Council and the world of modern thought." The
Cardinal invited me - the youngest of the professors - to write a project; he liked
the project and proposed this text, as I had written it to the public, in Genoa".
after - he continued - Pope John invited him to come [to Rome –ed] and he was afraid
he had perhaps said maybe something incorrect, false and that he had been asked to
come for a reprimand, perhaps even to deprive him of his red hat ... (priests laughing)
Yes ... when his secretary dressed him for the audience, he said: 'Perhaps now I will
be wearing this stuff for the last time... (the priests laugh). Then he went in.
Pope John came towards him and hugged him, saying, 'Thank you, Your Eminence, you
said things I have wanted to say, but I had not found the words to say' ... (the priests
laugh, applaud) Thus, the Cardinal knew he was on the right track, and I was invited
to accompany him to the Council, first as his personal advisor, then - in the first
period, perhaps in November '62 – I was also appointed as an official perito [expert-ed]
for the Council”.
Benedict XVI continued: "So, we went to the Council not only
with joy, but with enthusiasm. The expectation was incredible. We hoped that everything
would be renewed, that a new Pentecost really would come, a new era of the Church,
because the Church was not robust enough at that time: the Sunday practice was still
good, even vocations to the priesthood and religious life were already somewhat fewer,
but still sufficient. But nevertheless, there was the feeling that the Church was
going on, but getting smaller, that somehow it seemed like a reality of the past and
not the bearer of the future. And now, we hoped that this relationship would be renewed,
changed, that the Church would once again source of strength for today and tomorrow.
The Pope then recalled how they saw "that the relationship between the Church
and the modern period was one of some ‘contrasts’ from the outset, starting with the
error in the Galileo case, "and the idea was to correct this wrong start "and to find
a new relationship between the Church and the best forces in the world, "to open up
the future of humanity, to open up to real progress."
The Pope recalled:
"We were full of hope, enthusiasm and also of good will." "I remember - he said -
the Roman Synod was considered as a negative model" - where - it is said - they read
prepared texts, and the members of the Synod simply approved them, and that was how
the Synod was held. The bishops agreed not to do so because they themselves were
the subject of the Council. So - he continued - even Cardinal Frings, who was famous
for his absolute, almost meticulous, fidelity to the Holy Father said that the Pope
has summoned the bishops in an ecumenical council as a subject to renew the Church.
XVI recalled that "the first time this attitude became clear, was immediately on the
first day." On the first day, the Commissions were to be elected and the lists and
nominations were impartially prepared. And these lists were to be voted on. But soon
the Fathers said, "No, are not simply going to vote on already made lists. We are
the subject. "They had to move the elections - he added - because the Fathers themselves
wanted to get to know each other a little ', they wanted to make their own lists.
So it was done. "It was not a revolutionary act - he said - but an act of conscience,
of responsibility on the part of the Council Fathers."
So - the Pope said
- a strong activity of mutual understanding began. And this - he said - was customary
for the entire period of the Council: "small transversal meetings." In this way he
became familiar with the great figures like Father de Lubac, Danielou, Congar, and
so on. And this – he said "was an experience of the universality of the Church and
of the reality of the Church, that does not merely receive imperatives from above,
but grows and advances together, under the leadership - of course – of the Successor
of Peter" .
He then reiterated that everyone “arrived with great expectations"
because "there had never been a Council of this size," but not everyone knew how to
make it work. The French, German, Belgian, Dutch episcopates, the so-called " Rhineland
Alliance”, had the most clearly defined intentions." And in the first part of the
Council - he said - it was they who suggested the road ahead, then it’s activities
rapidly expanded and soon all participated in the "creativity of the Council."
French and the Germans - he observed - had many interests in common, even with quite
different nuances. Their initial intention - seemingly simple - "was the reform of
the liturgy, which had begun with Pius XII," which had already reformed Holy Week;
their second intention was ecclesiology; their third the Word of God, Revelation,
and then also ecumenism. The French, much more than the Germans - he noted - still
had the problem of dealing with the situation of the relationship between the Church
and the world.
Referring to the reform of the liturgy, the Pope recalled that
"after the First World War, a liturgical movement had grown in Western Central Europe,"
as "the rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy," which hitherto was
almost locked within the priest’s Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their
prayer books "that were made according to the heart of the people", so that "the task
was to translate the high content, the language of the classical liturgy, into more
moving words, that were closer to the heart of the people. But they were almost two
parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar servers, who celebrated the Mass according
to the Missal and the lay people who prayed the Mass with their prayer books”. "
Now - he continued - "The beauty, the depth, the Missal’s wealth of human and spiritual
history " was rediscovered as well as the need more than one representative of the
people, a small altar boy, to respond "Et cum spiritu your" etc. , to allow for "a
real dialogue between priest and people," so that the liturgy of the altar and the
liturgy of the people really were "one single liturgy, one active participation":
"and so it was that the liturgy was rediscovered, renewed."
The Pope said he
saw the fact that the Council started with the liturgy as a very positive sign, because
in this way "the primacy of God” was self evident”. Some – he noted - criticized the
Council because it spoke about many things, but not about God: instead, it spoke of
God and its first act was to speak of God and open to the entire holy people the possibility
of worshiping God, in the common celebration of the liturgy of the Body and Blood
of Christ. In this sense - he observed - beyond the practical factors that advised
against immediately starting with controversial issues, it was actually "an act of
Providence" that the Council began with the liturgy, God, Adoration.
Father then recalled the essential ideas of the Council: especially the paschal mystery
as a centre of Christian existence, and therefore of Christian life, as expressed
in Easter and Sunday, which is always the day of the Resurrection, "over and over
again we begin our time with the Resurrection, with an encounter with the Risen One.
" In this sense - he observed - it is unfortunate that today, Sunday has been transformed
into the end of the week, while it is the first day, it is the beginning: "inwardly
we must bear in mind this is the beginning, the beginning of Creation, the beginning
of the re-creation of the Church, our encounter with the Creator and with the Risen
Christ. " The Pope stressed the importance of this dual content of Sunday: it is the
first day, that is the feast of the Creation, as we believe in God the Creator, and
encounter with the Risen One who renews Creation: "its real purpose is to create a
world which is a response to God's love. "
The Council also pondered the principals
of the intelligibility of the Liturgy - instead of being locked up in an unknown language,
which was no longer spoken - and active participation. "Unfortunately – he said -
these principles were also poorly understood." In fact, intelligibility does not mean
"banalizing" because the great texts of the liturgy - even in the spoken languages
- are not easily intelligible, "they require an ongoing formation of the Christian,
so that he may grow and enter deeper into the depths of the mystery, and thus comprehend".
And also concerning the Word of God - he asked - who can honestly say they understand
the texts of Scripture, simply because they are in their own language? "Only a permanent
formation of the heart and mind can actually create intelligibility and participation
which is more than one external activity, which is an entering of the person, of his
or her being into communion with the Church and thus in fellowship with Christ."
Pope then addressed the second issue: the Church. He recalled that the First Vatican
Council was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and so had emphasized only the
doctrine on primacy, which was described as "thanks to God at that historical moment",
and "it was very much needed for the Church in the time that followed”. But - he said
- "it was just one element in a broader ecclesiology", already in preparation. So
a a fragment remained from the Council. So from the beginning - he said – the intention
was to realise a more complete ecclesiology at a later. Here, too, - he said - the
conditions seemed very good, because after the First World War, the sense of Church
was reborn in a new way. A sense of the Church began to reawaken in people’s souls
and the Protestant bishop spoke of the "century of the Church." What was especially
rediscovered from Vatican I, was the concept of the mystical body of Christ, the aim
was to speak about and understand the Church not as an organization, something structural,
legal, institutional, which it also is, but as an organism, a vital reality that enters
my soul, so that I myself, with my own soul as a believer, am a constructive element
of the Church as such. In this sense, Pius XII wrote the encyclical Mistici Corporis
Christi, as a step towards a completion of the ecclesiology of Vatican I.
would say the theological discussion of the 30s-40s, even 20s, was completely under
the sign of the word " Mitici Corporis." It was a discovery that created so much joy
in this time and in this context the formula arose "We are the Church, the Church
is not a structure, something ... we Christians, together, we are all the living body
of the Church" . And of course this is true in the sense that we, the true ‘we’ of
believers, along with the ‘I’ of Christ, the Church. Eachone of us, not we, a group
that claims to be the Church. No: this "we are Church" requires my inclusion in the
great "we" of believers of all times and places.
So, the first idea: complete
the ecclesiology in theological way, but progressing in a structural manner, that
is alongside the succession of Peter, his unique function, to even better define the
function of the bishops of the Episcopal body. To do this, the word "collegiality"
was found, which provoked great, intense and even – I would say – exaggerated discussions.
But it was the word, it might have been another one, but this was needed to express
that the bishops, together, are the continuation of the twelve, the body of the Apostles.
We said: only one bishop, that of Rome, is the successor of one particular apostle
Peter. All others become successors of the apostles entering the body that continues
the body of the apostles. And just so the body of bishops, the college, is the continuation
of the body of the twelve, so it is necessary, it has its function, its rights and
"It appeared to many - the Pope said - as a struggle for power, and
maybe someone did think about power, but basically it was not about power, but the
complementarity of the factors and the completeness of the body of the Church with
the bishops, the successors the apostles as bearers, and each of them is a pillar
of the Church together with this great body”.
These - he continued - were the
two fundamental elements in the search for a comprehensive theological vision of ecclesiology,
meanwhile, after the '40s, in the '50s, a little 'criticism of the concept of the
Body of Christ had already been born: mystic - someone said - is too exclusive and
risk overshadowing the concept of the people of God. And the Council - he observed
- rightly, accepted this fact, which in the Fathers is considered an expression of
the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. We pagans, we are not in and of
ourselves the people of God, but we become the children of Abraham and therefore the
people of God, by entering into communion with Christ who is the only seed of Abraham.
And entering into communion with Him, being one with Him, we too are people of God.
That is, the concept of "people of God" implies continuity of the Testaments, continuity
of God's history in the world, with men, but also implies a Christological element.
Only through Christology do we become the people of God, and the two concepts are
combined. And the Council - said the Pope - decided to create a Trinitarian construction
of ecclesiology: the people of God-the-Father-Body of Christ- Temple of the Holy Spirit.
only after the Council - he continued – was an element that had been somewhat hidden,
brought to light, even as early as the Council itself, that is, the link between the
people of God, the Body of Christ, and their communion with Christ, in the Eucharistic
union. "Here we become the body of Christ, that is, the relationship between the people
of God and the Body of Christ creates a new reality, that is, the communion." And
the Council - he continued - led to the concept of communion as a central concept.
I would say philologically that it had not yet fully matured in the Council, but it
is the result of the Council that the concept of communion becomes more and more an
expression of the sense of the Church, communion in different dimensions, communion
with the Triune God, who Himself is communion between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
sacramental communion, concrete communion in the Episcopate and in the life of the
The problem of Revelation provoked even greater discussion: at
issue was the relationship between Scripture and tradition, and above all this interested
exegetes of a greater freedom, who felt somewhat – shall we say - in a situation of
negativity before Protestants, who were making great discoveries, while Catholics
felt a little '"handicapped" by the need to submit themselves to Magisterium. There
was therefore a very concrete issue at stake: how free are exegetes? How does one
read Scriptures well? What is meant by tradition? It was a pluri-dimensional battle
that I can not outline now, but certainly what is important thing is that Scripture
is the Word of God and the Church is subject to the Scriptures, obeys the Word of
God and is not above Scripture. Yet, Scripture is Scripture only because there is
the living Church, its living subject, without the living subject of the Church Scripture
is only a book, open to different interpretations but which does not give any final
Here, the battle - as I said - was difficult and the intervention
of Pope Paul VI was decisive. This intervention shows all the delicacy of the Father,
his responsibility for the outcome of the Council, but also his great respect for
the Council. The idea had emerged that Scripture is complete, everything can be found
therein, so there was no need for tradition, and that Magisterium has nothing to say
to us. Then the Pope sent the Council, I believe, 14 formulas of a sentence to be
included in the text on Revelation and gave us, gave the Fathers the freedom to choose
one of 14 (formulas), but said: "One has to be chosen to complete the text". I remember,
more or less, [Latin] that the formula spoke of the Churches’ certainty of the faith
is not based solely on a book, but needs the illuminated subject of the Church, guided
by the Holy Spirit. Only in this way can Scripture speak and bring to bear all of
its authority. We chose this phrase in the Doctrinal Commission, one of the 14 formulas,
it is crucial, I think, to show the indispensability, the necessity of the Church,
and to understand what tradition means, the living body in which the Word lives from
the beginning and from which it receives its light, in which it was born. Because
the simple fact of the Canon is an ecclesial fact: these writings are Scripture is
the result of the illumination of the Church that found this canon of Scripture within
herself, she found, she did not make, but found. Only and ever in this communion
of the living Church can one really understand, read the Scriptures as the Word of
God, as the Word that guides us in life and in death.
As I said, this was a
difficult discussion, but thanks to the Pope and thanks - let's say - to the light
of the Holy Spirit who was present at the Council, a document that is one of the most
beautiful and also innovative whole Council was created, which demands further study,
because even today the exegesis tends to read Scripture outside of the Church, outside
of faith, only in the so-called spirit of the historical-critical method, an important
method but never able to give solutions as a final certainty only if we believe that
these are not human words: they are the words of God, and only if the living subject
to which God has spoken, to which God speaks is alive, can we correctly interpret
Sacred Scripture. And there is still much to be done, as I said in the preface of
my book on Jesus, to arrive at a reading of Scripture that is really in the spirit
of the Council. Here the application of the Council is not yet complete, it has yet
to be accomplished.
Finally, ecumenism. I do not want to enter into these problems,
but it was obvious - especially after the passions of Christians in the time of national
socialism - that Christians could find unity, at least seek unity, but also that only
God can give unity. We are still on this journey.
Now, with these issues, the
Rhine alliance - so to speak - had done its work: the second part of the Council is
much broader. Now the themes of "the world today", "the modern era" and the Church
emerged with greater urgency, and with them, the themes of responsibility for building
of this world, society’s responsibility for the future of this world and eschatological
hope, the ethical responsibility of Christians, where they find their guides and then
religious freedom, progress and all that, and relations with other religions.
all the players in the Council really entered into discussions, not only the Americas-United
States with a strong interest in religious freedom. In the third period they told
the Pope: "We can not go home without bringing with us a declaration on religious
freedom passed by the Council." The Pope, however, had firmness and decision, the
patience to delay the text until the fourth period to reach a maturation and a fairly
complete consensus among the Fathers of the Council. I say, not only the Americans
had now entered with great force into the Council arena but also Latin America, knowing
full well the misery of their people, a Catholic continent and their responsibility
for the situation of the faith of these people. And Africa, Asia, also saw the need
for interreligious dialogue: increased problems that we Germans - I must say - at
the beginning had not seen. I cannot go into greater depth on this now. The great
document "Gaudium et Spes" describes very well the problem analyzed between Christian
eschatology and worldly progress, between our responsibility for the society of tomorrow
and the responsibility of the Christian before eternity, and so it also renewed Christian
ethics, the foundations. But unexpectedly, a document that responded in a more synthetic
and concrete manner to the great challenges of the time, took shape outside of this
great document, namely "Nostra Aetate". From the beginning there were our Jewish friends,
who said to us Germans especially, but not only to us, that after the sad events of
this century, this decade of Nazism, the Catholic Church has to say a word on the
Old Testament , the Jewish people. They also said "it was clear that the Church is
not responsible for the Shoah. those who have committed these crimes were Christians,
for the most part, we must deepen and renew the Christian conscience, even if we know
that the true believers always resisted these things”. And so, it was clear that
we had to reflect on our relationship with the world of the ancient people of God.
We also understood that the Arab countries - the bishops of the Arab countries - were
not happy with this. They feared a glorification of the State of Israel, which they
did not want to, of course. They said, "Well, a truly theological indication on the
Jewish people is good, it is necessary, but if you are to speak about this, you must
also speak of Islam. Only in this way can we be balanced. Islam is also a great challenge
and the Church should clarify its relationship with Islam". This is something that
we didn’t really understand at the time, a little, but not much. Today we know how
necessary it was.
And when we started to work also on Islam, they said: "But
there are also other religions of the world: all of Asia! Think about Buddhism, Hinduism
... ". And so, instead of an initial declaration originally meant only for the ancient
people of God, a text on interreligious dialogue was created anticipating by thirty
years what would later reveal itself in all of its intensity and importance. I can
not enter into it now, but if you read the text, you see that it is very dense and
prepared by people who really knew the truth and it briefly indicates, in a few words,
what is essential. Thus also the foundations of a dialogue in diversity, in faith
to the uniqueness of Christ, who is One. It is not possible for a believer to think
that religions are all variations on a theme of "no". There is a reality of the living
God who has spoken, and is a God, a God incarnate, therefore the Word of God is really
the Word of God. But there is religious experience, with a certain human light of
creation and therefore it is necessary and possible to enter into dialogue and thus
open up to each other and open all peoples up to the peace of God, of all his children,
and his entire family.
Thus, these two documents, religious freedom and "Nostra
Aetate" associated with "Gaudium et Spes" are a very important trilogy, the importance
of which has only been revealed over the decades, and we are still working to understand
this uniqueness of the revelation of God, uniqueness of God incarnate in Christ and
the multiplicity of religions with which we seek peace and also an open heart to the
light of the Holy Spirit who enlightens and guides to Christ.
I would now like
to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council
- but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself,
and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately
efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that
of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it
was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand
and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge
of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole
council - as I said - moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council
of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within
the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different
hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political
struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was
obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.
There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops
and then, through the Word for the "people of God", the power of the people, the laity.
There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power
of the bishops and then the power of all ... popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw
this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the
liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something
to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And
we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: "Sacredness
is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only
important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is,
in the secular world". Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is
not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus
participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of the
Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born
in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so,
also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically
and nothing else, and so on.
And we know that this Council of the media was
accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities,
so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy
trivialized ... and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized:
the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the
Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which
is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after
the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the
true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength. And it is our task, in this
Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council
with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope
that the Lord will help us. I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together
we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you.