Vatican II sets agenda for ongoing renewal: scholars
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN) — The teachings of the Second Vatican Council remain an essential basis for the new evangelization and ongoing church renewal scholars at the Vatican II: For the Next Generation conference at Saint Paul University Sept. 27-29 said.
Boston College theologian Richard Gaillardetz compared the council to an “unfinished building site.”
In summing up the contributions of several theologians during the conference before 300 participants from across Canada, Gaillardetz recalled that St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome “was built in the 16th century while the old building was still standing.” The new edifice contemplated by the council fathers still remains unfinished.
Gaillardetz pointed to six pillars of Vatican II teaching that could form the dome that could “unify all the columns in one whole,” or to create the dome.
1. Vatican II brought a more trinitarian and personalist view of divine revelation instead of the old propositional model that equated doctrine with revelation, he said. God is inviting us into a personal relationship with the Father, through the Son, Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. While doctrine guides Catholics toward the truth, it can only point to revelation, he said.
2. The council stressed dialogical engagement, something Saint Paul University theologian Catherine Clifford said “deeply marked” the experience of the council fathers in the 1960s. “Their experience was one of deepening awareness of the church as a communion of all the baptized, whose inner vitality and outreach are contingent upon the synergetic co-operation of all as we place our gifts at the service of God’s Spirit. “Without a true dialogue the creative dynamism of that communion is at risk.” Clifford spoke of dialogue in concentric circles, within the church; with other Christians; with religious believers of other faiths; and with the world.
3. The council stressed priority of baptism as the sacrament through which all the baptized participate in the priesthood of Christ, that puts ordained ministry in the position of serving the baptismal priesthood so as to help the People of God’s gifts be released, Gaillardetz said. Through their ministry and the sacrament, the priests help the Christian faithful express their gifts in the world.
4. The council placed a new emphasis on the Holy Spirit, who gives both hierarchic and charismatic gifts, Gaillardetz said. The gifts that bring order and governance to the church and those that reside in the lay faithful come from the same source, he said. The role of the priest is to test gifts among the faithful, not to extinguish them.
5. The council stressed ecclesial collegiality while at the same time embracing papal primacy and infallibility. This was a move away from what Gaillardetz described as a monarchial model of the pope that developed during the feudal era, to an older model of primacy of the Bishop of Rome in unity with other bishops.
6. The council called the Catholic Church to “the humility of a pilgrim church.” It’s not only that individually we are pilgrim, Gaillardetz said, “the church itself is on a journey” and “will not achieve perfection until the end of history.”
Yet these new pillars are set against the old structure of the church Gaillardetz called the “Gregorian edifice.” Pope Gregory VII established a papal monarchialism to protect the church against the interference of the nobility about 1,000 years ago, making him more than a bishop, “but a quasi-imperial figure.” Prior to that the model had been collegiality and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, he said. And in the very early church, there was less focus on hierarchy and more on discipleship, he said.
The older church model also had a more static model of the church as founded by Christ in history rather than being continually renewed and re-founded by the Holy Spirit since then, he said.
The older church model took an “illuminist theory of divine revelation,” in which divine revelation came “from on high” illuminating the church leaders and a “kind of spiritual Reaganomics takes place” and divine revelation “trickles down to the rest of us,” Gaillardetz said.
“To know divine revelation is to master the truths of the faith,” he said, noting the duty of the lay people was to obey. The council stressed the sense of the Christian faithful to also be able to discern the truths of the faith.
Another aspect was the sacral nature of the priesthood that separate clergy and people on an ontological basis, he said. The debate about real presence in the eucharist “neglects how the eucharist transforms us into Christ’s body.”
“The council was trying to move beyond this form,” he said. “It’s not adequate to the needs of the church today.”
Clifford pointed out Pope John XXIII made it clear “the council must do more than simply repeat the teachings of the past,” though he carefully distinguished between the “perennial ‘substance’ of the faith” and “the way it was being presented.”
The council fathers “carried out an important balancing act” between “ressourcement,” a going back to the Gospel and Patristic sources, and “aggiornamento” or the updating of church teaching to make it more easily understood by contemporaries, Clifford said. “The church is called to mediate a timeless truth in a changing social, cultural and historical context.”
Laval University theologian Gilles Routhier stressed the new evangelization must be founded on the teachings of Vatican II. He said he worried “new evangelization” had become a “catch-all” phrase to cover any range of new programs a diocese might have. He raised concerns that some see the council as only speaking to the 1960s and ’70s, with the new evangelization replacing it with a shallow pietism.
years after Vatican II, the church must see with clarity the circumstances
she finds herself in, he said. He said there is a “profound continuity” between
the council’s teachings and the new evangelization.
Theobold said the church is conforming to a more postmodern way of creating events. There is a lack of deep formation among Catholics, who are caught up with society, he said.
The council’s teaching on the Scripture in Dei Verbum have changed church practices both liturgically and in lectio divina and Bible study groups, he said. Listening to the Word of God can’t be separated from the signs of the times, he said.
Gaillardetz noted how Theobold said the church was called
to be a “discerning
church” and that she must hear the Word of God reverently and be
a listening church before she can be a teaching church.
Dialogue is not relativistic, wishy-washy or weak, he said. “It’s
a demanding ecclesial habit” that requires “eschatological
humility” and acknowledges “we don’t have answers to
“Dialogue requires the risk of ongoing conversion, that ever-deepening
penetration into the Paschal Mystery,” he said.
The council laid bold foundations, he said, but the older
edifice is still “casting a shadow.”