top ad banner top ad banner top ad banner

Page 4, 8th June 1963

8th June 1963
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7
Page 4, 8th June 1963 — ECCE SACERDOS MAGNUS

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.



Related articles

A Tale Of Two Popes

Page 3 from 19th June 1993

New Vision Of The Papacy

Page 6 from 5th November 1983

Tributes To Pope John

Page 23 from 15th June 1963

Tributes To Pope John

Page 23 from 8th June 1963

"the Chief Pastors Of The Church In England."

Page 20 from 4th June 1910


WORLD-WIDE acclamation has eclipsed the mourn ing for the death of Pope John XXIII. Five years ago there was no Pope John. Only a few scholars knew of the short lived mistaken anti-Pope who had called himself John XXIII. But less than five years proved fully time enough for the new Pope of 1958 to impress himself upon the world, and to win its heart. His pontificate was a triumph of goodness and of human warmth, of the visible presence of a charity that shone from him with his faith and his hope. The note of joy which the Church always looks for as a mark of sanctity was unmistakeably present all the time in a man who loved his fellowmen, was at ease with them, and in his intercourse with them easily stepped over the little hurdles which protocol and tradition have raised round the person of the Sovereign Pontiff, the holder of the most exalted of offices.

Today we mourn the man, not the Pope. Another will soon be found, who will change his name and devote himself for the rest of his life to the great charge which his fellow Cardinals will have laid upon him. From the immense human riches of the Church, we can be confident that a man will be found to rise by grace of state to the unparalleled responsibilities. Nearly always when a Pope comes to die he has a much greater and more impressive personality than could have been predicted before the supreme charge had been laid upon him. It was so with his predecessors, with their long and fruitful pontificates. It was strikingly true of Pope John in his brief but momentous tenure of the Chair of Peter.

There is so much history and tradition in the papal office, so many tried and proved ways of proceeding, that the office could easily overwhelm the man, and a humble man might walk in the paths marked out for him, acquitting himself edifyingly by just being "the Pope." But John XXIII was always himself, conscientious and devoted, respectful of the traditions that had accumulated round the Holy See, but still, at the end of it all, very much himself. The world recognised that here was a very good self, a man who wished his fellow men profoundly well from the bottom of a generous heart, and could wish them nothing better than that they too should have their lives irradiated as was his by the constant sense of the presence of God.

A Brief Reign \ His was the shortest pontificate since Pius VIII reigned for a bare twenty months from 1828 to 1830. It now requires an effort to recall how general was the feeling in November 1958 that the elderly Cardin& Roncalli had been elected by the Sacred College as a quiet benign old man who would give the Church, and the Holy See, a rest after the two long and busy pontificates, so full of innovation and change, of Pius XI and Pius XII. It was an expectation that was soon falsified. Within a few months of his election the new Pope let it be known that he intended to call a General Council. He had been so long in the East, longer than any Pope in all the history of the Apostolic See, though St. Gregory the Great had also spent years in Constantinople, that commentators jumped at the conclusion that his main interest was to try to heal the schism : they did not give enough attention to the years he spent in post-war France, an unrivalled centre of observation from which to appraise the relations between the Church and contemporary society. It was much more the Nuncio of Paris than the Apostolic Delegate to Constantinople who summoned a General Council, to throw open the windows of the Vatican and let in some fresh air. It was a metaphor which recalled the Pope's origin as a countryman, a farmer's son, one whose ancestors had earned their living out of doors on the land, with a traceable pedigree for five hundred years.

He combined with a massive native commonsense a great sense of proportion. He had never neglected the courtesies of diplomatic intercourse : he was punctilious but he always gave the impression of keeping things in due proportion. The Papal Court which had been progressively diminished by his predecessor was restored. Pope Pius XII had thought that the paraphernalia of a court was increasingly out of touch with modern sentiment, not least in Italy itself after the proclamation of a Republic. Pope John saw no objection at all to the continuation of age-old offices and functions, only he was gently insistent that the means should never be mistaken for the ends, that these things were right in their very modest place, but that they must not be allowed to get in the way of the direct communication between the Pope as a shepherd of souls and those who came to meet him. He possessed in a pre-eminent degree the gift of communication, of making occasions that might easily have been formal and empty, rich and memorable. He always had something to say and what he had to say was spontaneous, very likely humorous, always expressing a joy of living, a pleasure in the encounter.

Views of the Papacy Of no institution is it truer than of the Holy See that it is understood according to the mood of the recipient understanding it ; if men have little sense of the spiritual or the life of the Church, they will see the Papacy in terms which mean something to them themselves, which, as often as not in England, means in political terms. They translate the realities of an office which is primarily spiritual, to see it only for what is but one facet of its activity. This is much more glaringly obvious in the histories of Europe that are written in English, where it is almost wholly forgotten that the main preoccupations of the Popes century by century have not been political but spiritual. To the eyes regarding them they have been seen not in the fullness of their nature but through the limitations of the observers and of all his many great services both to the Church and humanity none has been more important than the way he succeeded in projecting the idea of the Pope as the universal Pastor, and of the Church as created for the spiritual well-being of all men, and every man.

It is rare that one is able to pin down some decisive change in human history, to say that in such and such a space of time something happened which is both irreversible and which affects, to a greater or lesser degree, the subsequent political, social and intellectual development of mankind. Yet even in the foreshortened perspective imposed upon us by the nearness of the events, it would seem that the pontificate which has just closed is one of these decisive turning-points.

Over the years the heirs of the Reformation have tended to drift further and further away from their predecessors' doctrine, and thus have automatically become ready to approach Catholic doctrine from a less prejudiced standpoint. During the nineteenth century, the Church slowly began to leave the defensive positions it had adopted and to go out once more into the world, as evidenced in the enormous spread of the missions and in the growing awareness of the Church's social teaching : modern pastoral experience began to lead priests to conclusions not so very different to some of those reached by the Reformers.

Aggiornamento ' In other words, the need has been increasingly realised of bringing the Church up to date, of looking closely at all the inessential things that have clung to the Church through the ages with a view to scrapping any that impede her further progress. The Pope called an ecumenical Council at a time when opponents of the Church thought that ecumenical Councils were for ever ruled out by the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, and went on to describe the aim of this Council as aggiornamento—bringing the Church up to date—and as letting a breath of fresh air into the Church. On the other hand, Pope John cannot be thought of as an out-and-out reformer with no regard for tradition : indeed, one of the characteristics of his reign has been his ability to be all things to all men without in any way compromising the integrity of his own position or failing to respect the attitudes of those in disagreement, while his high regard for the traditions of the Roman Church was shown by his Veterum Sapientia, the apostolic constitution issued in February 1962 reaffirming the pre-eminent position of Latin as the language of the Latin-rite Church.

His Own Contribution During the conclave from which Cardinal Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, emerged as Bishop of Rome, attention was largely focused both on the possibility of the first non-Italian Pope being elected since the Dutchman Adrian VI in 1522 and on the claims of others among the Italian papabiti ; and, perhaps as a result of this, one immediate reaction was to regard Pope John as a caretaker Pope, as one elected to tide over an intermediate period during which, as it were, the Church would make up its mind in which direction it wished to travel after the long pontificate of Pius XII. But even in the very name he chose on his election there was an indication that here was a Pope with his own very definite contribution to make to the Church's history and development, for the last Pope to take the name of John had been one of the Avignon Popes in the early fourteenth century, John XXII, while the title of John XXIII had also been taken by an anti-pope, Baldassare Cossa, in 1410. His first consistory showed an equal freedom with regard to the traditions of the immediate past, for his first creation of Cardinals increased the numbers of the Sacred College to seventy-five from the seventy at which they had been fixed by Sixtus V in 1586, while future creations raised the total higher still—to seventy-nine in December 1959, eighty-five in March 1960, eightyseven in March 1962.

Of the three tasks which the Pope set himself in the speech he made at the close of the unity octave in 1959, only one, the Rome synod, has been completed. This showed his deep concern for the pastoral effectiveness of the clergy and for the need for priests to be learned and holy men. One other—the revision of Canon Law— was only begun on in April this year with Pope John's appointment of a commission of thirty Cardinals for this purpose. But it is the third of these tasks which has most caught the imagination of the public both inside and outside the Church, the summoning of the Second Vatican Council. For one thing, many people had inferred from the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council that the age of Councils was now over, that with the definition of where exactly the Church's divinely guaranteed freedom from error resided General Councils as had been known in the past were now rendered superfluous. For another, many were misled by the term " ecumenical " into thinking that this was a Council of reunion on the lines of those of Lyons or Florence, an attempt/ by a Pope who was known for his great veneration and respect for the traditions of Eastern Christendom to heal the schism between East and West that had dragged on so disastrously for so many hundred years. But as the Pope himself made abundantly clear the purpose of the Council was internal, rather than external : it was to be a renewal of the Church, an aggiornamento, so that she could more easily be seen by other Christians to be in fact the one Church of Christ. Nevertheless the gradual improvement in relations between different Christian confessions was both recognised and encouraged by Pope John's actions, in particular by his setting up as one of the preparatory bodies for the Council of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This Secretariat, headed by a German Jesuit Biblical scholar, Cardinal Augustin Bea, S.J., has for the first time provided an official means of communication between the see of Peter and the various Christian bodies which do not recognise that see's authority, and it was through this secretariat that such historic visits as that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher (as he then was), in December 1960, were arranged. Indeed, although " dialogue " between Christians of different confessions, and notably between Catholics and Protestants, had existed before, in particular in Germany as the result of common experience of persecution under the Nazis, and had indeed been encouraged by the Holy Office in its Instruction on the ecumenical movement of December 1949, this movement towards greater mutual understanding received as it were official sanction by being given administrative expression in the government of the Church—for the Secretariat has always given the impression of not being " of " the Council, while being " in " the Council, and it was long considered likely that it would continue in existence, as a permanent link with the separated brethren, after the Council's business had been finished.

Unity and Uniformity Although the Council during its first session did not, in one sense, do very much—it seems that only the schema on the liturgy was covered at all thoroughly—in another sense it achieved a great deal. It made the position of the bishops as successors of the Apostles much clearer, in particular in their refusal to vote on the membership of the all-important Council commissions without due time for reflection, and in their rejection of the original draft of the schema on the sources of revelation—in the latter case their stand being supported by the Pope, whose intervention chose to favour the clear sense of the Council rather than follow the strict letter of that body's standing orders. Above all it demonstrated that unity need not and must not be confused with uniformity, that within the one Church united on essential matters of faith and morals, confessing belief in the same creeds, there is room for divergence on questions concerning the changing accidental dress of this unchanging essential body, concerning the means to be adopted to achieve universally agreed ends. In addition the freedom of discussion inside the Council chamber—a freedom which made a very favourable impression upon the observers from other communions —became reflected in far greater freedom of speech within the Church generally. Indeed, in a significant passage in his address formally opening the Council on October 11th, 1962, Pope John indicated a gentler approach to the Church's task of combating error : "Nowadays, however, the spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations : not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions and dangerous concepts to be guarded against and dissipated, but they are so evidently in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits, that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them . . ." And earlier he had drawn a distinction between the "substance of the ancient doctrine of the depositum fidei" and "the way in which it is presented."

Teilhard de Chardin Another indication that the Church under John XXIII was now prepared to assume a greater ability in her children to discern good and evil for themselves was in the method adopted in June 1962 by the Holy Office to warn Catholics about the work of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit palaeontologist whose efforts to reconcile the theory of evolution with Christian revelation brought him posthumous fame. The Holy Office limited itself to issuing a rnonitum which referred to "ambiguities and even grave errors in philosophical and theological matters which offend Catholic doctrine" and which warned those in positions of authority to defend those in their charge from the dangers inherent in this writer's works. In L'Osservatore Romano the monitum was followed by an article which criticised certain aspects of Teilhard's thought in considerable detail. In several quarters it was thought that this method of drawing attention to heterodoxical opinions voiced by Catholic authors, whereby an official warning was accompanied by an unofficial list detailing the aspects objected to, was more in keeping with the role of the Church in the twentieth century than the old method of putting a book or an author on the Index.

We have already mentioned the non-Catholic observers present during the first session of the Council: these came from every major Protestant confession (except the Baptists), from the Anglicans, from the World Council of Churches, but there were notable absentees from among the Churches of the East. Although observers were sent by the Ethiopian, Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Churches, there were at first no observers from among the Orthodox : it was apparently felt to be essential that unanimous agreement should be reached among the various Orthodox Churches before any observers were sent, and certain sections of the Greek Orthodox Church, in particular, retained a long tradition of hostility towards Rome dating back to the Fourth Crusade and beyond. However, at the last minute, to the annoyance of the rest of Orthodoxy, the Moscow Patriarchate agreed to send two observers, following Mgr. Willebrands' last-minute visit.

Relations with East Europe Their presence at the Council was significant, symbolising as it did a new relationship between Rome and Moscow, the Third Rome that had frequently since the Russian Revolution been regarded in the guise of an anti-Rome, the seat of an anti-Church. Equally if not more significant was the presence of a considerable number of bishops from countries behind the Iron Curtain where the Church was, if not actively persecuted in the sense that its ministers and members were liable to be shot on sight, then at least deprived of her proper liberty. The arrival of comparatively large contingents from East Germany and Poland occasioned no surprise, for the position of the Church in these two countries in which it was respectively the weakest and the strongest of all the satellite countries had always been more favourable than elsewhere. What was surprising was the arrival of three bishops from Czechoslovakia and two from Hungary, both countries where the head of the hierarchy was prevented from exercising his functions and where many of the bishops were similarly impeded, and also two Bulgarian bishops and three priests from Lithuania. It seems to have been these contacts which provided the immediate starting-point for the negotiations towards better relations between Church and State that occupied the last months of Pope John's life. The first indication of this new concern came in February, with the release from imprisonment by the Soviet authorities of Mgr. Slipyi, the sole survivor of the eastern-rite Ukrainian hierarchy, and his arrival in Rome : nothing was known about negotiations for his release until after he had arrived in Rome, when it was learned that everything went back to a talk during the first session between the two Russian observers and Mgr. Willebrands and Cardinal Testa, secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Church.

Another contact made during the first session was to bear fruit later : this was the invitation extended by Bishop Hamvas of Csanad to Cardinal Konig, who as Archbishop of Vienna occupied a position particularly suited to making contact with the Church in eastern Europe. Austria had, for one thing, been partially under Russian occupation after the end of the war, and had since emerged to an independence dependent upon a carefully maintained neutrality : though " in " the west she was to a certain extent not " of " it, being outside both the Common Market and NATO. It was this invitation that Cardinal Konig used as the ostensible reason for his first visit to Hungary, when he confined himself to a four-and-a-half hour talk with Cardinal Mindszenty in the US Legation in Budapest : later developments, as our readers are aware, included the visit of an official of the Secretariat of State for what appeared to be some genuine hard bargaining with the Hungarian regime about the future of the Church in that country. Cardinal Konig is also expected to visit Czechoslovakia, where Archbishop Beran of Prague has been held prisoner for fourteen years ; while Poland, which he was allowed to visit at the beginning of May after having been refused a visa last year, also seems to be the scene of renewed attempts to ensure a more lasting agreement between Church and State.

This concern of Pope John to reach whatever agreement was possible with rulers who, from one point of view, can be regarded as the implacable enemies of the Church, found expression in his encyclical Pacem In Terris, published in Holy Week this year. This encyclical was, we believe, unique in being addressed not merely to Catholics but to all men of good-will ; and, as it turned out, it provided a fitting conclusion to a pontificate full of achievement.