Monday, September 29, 2008

Light of Nations (Part Two)

II. Aggiornamento + Ressourcement = Second Vatican Council

In my last posting, we discussed how the anonymous Turretinfan had misused the "plainest and best sense" of the Lumen Gentium 16 in support of his claim that the Catholic Church teaches it is God's plan that a Muslim could be saved from eternal punishment through a zealous adherence to his faith. I will now undertake to offer my proofs for my contention that Turretinfan has misrepresented what the Catholic Church teaches in this regard.

In 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his intentions to call another ecumenical council. On October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with an opening address in St. Peter’s Basilica. Relevant to the issues being discussed here, the Holy Father said:

“The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has been repeatedly taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.
“For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teachings of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of the faith is one thing, and the way which it is presented is another. And it is the later that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”

How to Repress Errors

At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun."

[. . .]

“That being so, the Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her. To mankind, oppressed by so many difficulties, the Church says, as Peter said to the poor who begged alms from him: "I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk" (Acts 3:6). In other words, the Church does not offer to the men of today riches that pass, nor does she promise them merely earthly happiness. But she distributes to them the goods of divine grace which, raising men to the dignity of sons of God, are the most efficacious safeguards and aids toward a more human life. She opens the fountain of her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and their purpose are, and, finally, through her children, she spreads everywhere the fullness of Christian charity, than which nothing is more effective in eradicating the seeds of discord, nothing more efficacious in promoting concord, just peace, and the brotherly unity of all.”

“The Church's solicitude to promote and defend truth derives from the fact that, according to the plan of God, who wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (l Tim. 2:4), men without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine cannot reach a complete and firm unity of minds, with which are associated true peace and eternal salvation.”

Unfortunately, the entire Christian family has not yet fully attained this visible unity in truth.

The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice. She rejoices in peace, knowing well that she is intimately associated with that prayer, and then exults greatly at seeing that invocation extend its efficacy with salutary fruit, even among those who are outside her fold.

Indeed, if one considers well this same unity which Christ implored for His Church, it seems to shine, as it were, with a triple ray of beneficent supernal light: namely, the unity of Catholics among themselves, which must always be kept exemplary and most firm; the unity of prayers and ardent desires with which those Christians separated from this Apostolic See aspire to be united with us; and the unity in esteem and respect for the Catholic Church which animates those who follow non-Christian religions.

In this regard, it is a source of considerable sorrow to see that the greater part of the human race–although all men who are born were redeemed by the blood of Christ–does not yet participate in those sources of divine grace which exist in the Catholic Church. Hence the Church, whose light illumines all, whose strength of supernatural unity redounds to the advantage of all humanity, is rightly described in these beautiful words of St. Cyprian:

"The Church, surrounded by divine light, spreads her rays over the entire earth. This light, however, is one and unique and shines everywhere without causing any separation in the unity of the body. She extends her branches over the whole world. By her fruitfulness she sends ever farther afield he rivulets. Nevertheless, the head is always one, the origin one for she is the one mother, abundantly fruitful. We are born of her, are nourished by her milk, we live of her spirit' (De Catholicae Eccles. Unitate, 5).

Venerable brothers, such is the aim of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which, while bringing together the Church's best energies and striving to have men welcome more favourably the good tidings of salvation, prepares, as it were and consolidates the path toward that unity of mankind which is required as a necessary foundation, in order that the earthly city may be brought to the resemblance of that heavenly city where truth reigns, charity is the law, and whose extent is eternity (Cf. St. Augustine, Epistle 138, 3). (Emphasis Mine)

Abbot, Walter. The Documents of the Vatican II: With Notes and Comments by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Authorities. New York: Guild Press (1966), pgs. 715-718.

On October 20, 1962, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council issued a Message to Humanity directed to all the people of the world. This document was significant because it was the first time that an Ecumenical Council addressed itself to all men, not just members of the Catholic Church. This document serves to set forth the purpose of the Second Vatican Council and defines what it means when it talks of a “plan of salvation”:
"In this assembly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we wish to inquire how we ought to renew ourselves, so that we may be found increasingly faithful to the gospel of Christ. We shall take pains so to present to the men of this age God's truth in its integrity and purity that they may understand it and gladly assent to it.

Since we are shepherds, we desire that all those may have their longing satisfied who seek God "if perhaps they might find Him as they grope after Him; though indeed He is not far from each of us"
(Acts 17:27). Hence, obeying the will of Christ, who delivered Himself to death "that He might present to Himself the Church, not having spot or wrinkle...but that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27), we as pastors devote all our energies and thoughts to the renewal of ourselves and the flocks committed to us, so that there may radiate before all men the lovable features of Jesus Christ, who shines in our hearts "that God's splendor may be revealed" (2 Cor. 4:6).

God so Loved the World

We believe that the Father so loved the world that He gave His own Son to save it. Indeed, Through this same Son of His He freed us from bondage to sin, reconciling all things unto himself through Him, "making peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20), so that "we might be called sons of God, and truly be such." The Spirit too has been bestowed on us by the Father, that living the life of God, and the brethren, who are all of us one in Christ. It is far from true that because we cling to Christ we are diverted from earthly duties and toils. On the contrary, faith, hope, and the love of Christ impel us to serve our brothers, thereby, patterning ourselves after the example of the Divine Teacher, who "came not to be served but to serve" (Mt. 20:28). Hence, the Church too was not born to dominate but to serve. He laid down His life for us, and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 Jn. 3:16).

Accordingly, while we hope that the light of faith will shine more clearly and more vigorously as a result of this Council's efforts, we look forward to a spiritual renewal from which will also flow a happy impulse on behalf of human values such as scientific discoveries, technological advances, and a wider diffusion of knowledge.

The Love of Christ Impels Us

Coming together in unity from every nation under the sun, we carry in our hearts the hardships, the bodily and mental distress, the sorrows, longings, and hopes of all the peoples entrusted to us. We urgently turn our thoughts to all the anxieties by which modern man is afflicted. Hence, let our concern swiftly focus first of all on those who are especially lowly, poor, and weak. Like Christ, we would have pity on the multitude weighed down with hunger, misery, and lack of knowledge. We want to fix a steady gaze on those who still lack the opportune help to achieve a way of life worthy of human beings.

As we undertake our work, therefore, we would emphasize whatever concerns the dignity of man, whatever contributes to a genuine community of peoples. "Christ's love impels us," (2 Cor. 5:14) for "he who sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?" (1 Jn. 3:17)

[. . .]

The Power of the Holy Spirit

To be sure, we are lacking in human resources and earthly power. Yet we lodge our trust in the power of God's Spirit, who was promised to the Church by the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence we humbly and ardently call for all men to work along with us in building up a more just and brotherly city in this world. We call not only upon our brothers whom we serve as shepherds, but also upon all our brother Christians, and the rest of men of good will, whom God "wills that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). For this is the divine plan, that through love God's kingdom may already shine out on earth in some fashion as a preview of God's eternal kingdom. The world is still far from the desired peace because of threats arising from the very progress of science, marvelous though it be, but not always responsive to the higher law of morality. Our prayer is that in the midst of this world there may radiate the light of our great hope in Jesus Christ, our only Savior." (Emphasis Mine)

Abbot, Walter. Ibid. at pgs 3-7.

These two preliminary documents make it plain what God’s divine plan is: God wishes for all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4). Both documents make it plain that Jesus Christ as the light to the world is the sole source of man’s salvation. Finally, both documents make it plain that the light of Christ radiates from the Catholic Church whose mission is to bring men to the truth of Christ as the sole source of salvation. As we will see in my next posting, these themes repeat themselves in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.


Mike Burgess said...

Very nice series of posts recently. This one in particular was striking. Thanks for your labors.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Paul - Ditto what Mike said. Thank you.

-- RdP