July 11, 2013

Vatican II, the Council on Faith: reflecting on Lumen Fidei

By Fr. Gilfredo Marengo *

In his first encyclical, Pope Francis does not fail to offer a quick, but no less interesting, reference to Vatican II.

Two fundamental elements: the definition of Council on faith and the dialogical profile which underlines contemporary man, the concreteness of his life experience: “The Year of Faith was inaugurated on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This is itself a clear indication that Vatican II was a Council on faith, inasmuch as it asked us to restore the primacy of God in Christ to the center of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals. The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions.” (Lumen Fidei, 6)

Leaving aside the excess and a little cloying to search phrases written by Benedict XVI and those by the current Pontiff, it is worth it to put these statements of Lumen Fidei in their natural context: the path of the reception of the Council, especially in the speeches of the Papal Magisterium.

In fact, the text of the Encyclical calls an intervention of Paul VI (General audience, March 8, 1967) that anticipates the possibility of using the foundation of faith as synthetic key to reading the whole conciliar Magisterium.

Certainly it is a theme that Benedict XVI has felt especially close to his sensitivity and on which he repeatedly intervened, known as horizon needed to take a drive around the Conciliar teaching: “The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man.” (Homily, Oct. 11, 2012)

The recall, favored by the context of the beginning of the Year of the Faith, offers to the Pope the opportunity to introduce in some special accents. On the one hand, it faces a strong insistence on the primacy of God in life and act believer as it stresses the heart of conciliar experience described as “an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man.” (Ibid.)

From here comes the recovery of particular physiognomy of Vatican II, all marked by the intention of a renewed approach to the contemporary world, the “real expecta of the Council.”

In this wide arc that goes from the primacy of God, principal interlocutor of man’s faith and the pastoral perspective of Vatican II, Benedict XVI has proposed earlier in this Year of Faith an intense and fruitful comparison with the event of the Council.

One of the most stimulating is the meditation proposed to members of the Synod of Bishops Assembly on the first day of their work, Oct. 8, 2012. In the context of a strong insistence on the primacy of action of God in history – “only God can begin, we can only cooperate, but the beginning must come from God. So it is not a mere formality if we start our sessions each day with prayer: this corresponds to reality itself. Only God’s precedence makes our journey possible, our cooperation, which is always cooperation, and not entirely our own decision” – Pope Benedict introduces a clear indication of a methodological character: “we cannot make the Church, we can only announce what she has done. The Church does not begin with our ‘making’, but with the ‘making’and ‘speaking’ of God. In the same way, the Apostles did not say, after a few meetings: now we want to make a Church, and that by means of a constituent assembly they were going to draft a constitution. No, they prayed and in prayer they waited, because they knew that only God himself can create his Church, that God is the first agent: if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient; only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken.”

It is an interesting suggestion to keep in mind that, in that event sparked and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Council cannot come to a full reception if it relies solely on the human idea that it is “ours to make.” Here is a concern with respect to an approach to the problems of the reception of the Council which may be depleted while you need threads of historical, theological and pastoral care: they can take the risk of putting parentheses around its first architect, the Holy Spirit, thus reducing the reception on the horizon of human capacity to understand and draw operational outcomes. The Pope's reflection continues with the logic of the confessio and the caritas as verification of the Act of Christian, intending to follow the primacy of Divine Initiative. This choice contributes to highlight a specific aspect of the presence of the Church in the world and underlines the profile “martyrological”: “it is in the martyrological aspect of the word ‘confessio’ that the truth appears: it comes into being only for a reality for which it is worth suffering, which is stronger than even death, and it demonstrates that I hold the truth in my hand, that I am more than certain that I am ‘bearing’ my life because I find life in this confession.”

The impetus that comes (caritas) establishes the form with which the Christian testimony manifests and communicates effectively: the image of the “flame of love”, by which the Pope refers to this reality, you grant directly to the event of Pentecost, underlining again the primacy of Divine Initiative, since “The fire of God is transforming fire, a fire of passion — of course — that also destroys much in us, that leads to God, but fire, above all, that transforms, renews and creates a new man, who becomes light in God.”

The choice to look at Vatican II as a Council “on faith” helps to better understand the meaning of his pastoral dimension: it seeks to hold together the concern to renew awareness of Christians of the novelty of the advent of Jesus Christ, the only Savior and to regenerate the impetus to witness and present Him in the world of our time.

It is not difficult to discover a strong consonance with the way that John Paul II, already during the years in which he led his diocese of Krakow to assimilate the new Council, proposed an original reading of the pastoral Council. In fact, he concentrated his attention on the notion of enrichment of the faith, focusing on the fact that the Council “preserving the character of pastoral focus – indeed, precisely because of its pastoral end – has developed widely the doctrine of the faith and as a result has created the foundations of its enrichment [...] the pastors of the Church is aimed not so much and not only to give an answer to the question: in what we believe, which is the genuine sense of this or that truth of faith, or the like, but rather sought to answer the more complex question: what does it mean to be a believer, be Catholic, be a member of the Church?” (Sources of Renewal: TheImplementation of Vatican II).

In trying to focus on the precise meaning of the pastoral Council pitch, the Archbishop of Krakow introduces an important element of a method that belongs to his most intimate strings: pastoral as voltage say enriching faith means, in fact, to put the spotlight on the consciousness that the believer has of his faith in the sense “subjective, existential human”, enough to support that “the ‘pastoral’ Council has opened a new chapter in the Church's pastoral, pastoral, understood in its broadest sense.” (Ibid.)

Here is an item of great importance, which belongs to how Wojtyla lives the work of Council and shall endeavor to implement it. Speak to the question of what does it mean to be a believer, to reach an enrichment of the faith in the human sense subjective, existential, and puts man in the foreground, in the concreteness of his living, as a first and essential interlocutor of teaching and Church action.

It is well known that John Paul II has lived his entire pontificate in the light of Vatican II, especially enhancing the novelty it was pastoral, even according to the vision expressed in his Polish years. Despite the rapidity of these calls to any text of recent popes, we think it can be said that recognition of the Second Vatican Council as “Council on faith”, is a new provocation to rediscover its novelty, its specific pastoral profile and its willingness to revive the life of Christians on the adventure of missionary witness in the world.

Fr. Gilfredo Marengo was ordained a priest for the Diocese of La Spezia, Sarzana and Brugnato, Italy in 1979. He earned his doctorate in Sacred Theology under the direction of Cardinal Angelo Scola. He has served as a visiting professor at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, UK and Seat of Wisdom Catholic University in Lima, Peru and is a member of the Center for the Studies on the Second Vatican Council of the Pontifical Lateran University. He has published and edited several books, including his most recent, "John Paul II and the Council – A challenge and a task."  Currently, he is a Professor of Theological Anthropology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in Rome.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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