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Memories of Vatican II.

When I was invited to talk about personal memories of Vatican II, a question arose: Am I the sole surviving guest at Vatican II from North America?

As a rule, Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions appointed senior persons to the role of delegated observers at the council. My case was different. In 1959 1 was appointed director of the Faith and Order Studies of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. In my recent book, Faith and Order in the U.S.A., I wrote that, after the first period of Vatican II, Cardinal Augustin Bea met in New York with Franklin Clark Fry, President of the United Lutheran Church and then-chair of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee, together with other American leaders. The director of Faith and Order was invited. Soon a letter came from Bea in the name of Pope John XXIII, inviting me to attend the second period of the council as a "guest of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity ... because of your own continuing contribution to the promotion of Christian Unity." It explained that, although guests "come in an individual capacity, they enjoy the same rights and facilities as do the delegated observers." In light of this letter, we supposed that some role in interpretation and follow-up of the council was foreseen on the part of the National Council of Churches, and so it was.

What were "rights and facilities" of the observers? The Vatican Rules and Regulations defined the purpose: "that Christians who are separated from the Apostolic See may be better informed on the work of the Second Vatican Council." They "are entitled to be present at the public Solemn Sessions and at the closed General Assemblies where the schemata of the Council are presented for open discussion. They are not entitled to observe, generally, the Work-Sessions of the Commissions, unless special circumstances warrant this." They
   are not entitled to speak or to vote at the discussions and
   sessions of the Council. It is the task of the Secretariat for
   Promoting Christian Unity to mediate between the organs of the
   Council and the observers whatever information is necessary for
   following more easily and competently the work of the Council. For
   this, the Secretariat can hold special sessions for the observers,
   in order to discuss with them the deliberations of the Council. To
   such sessions competent people, including Fathers of the Council,
   can be invited, in order that the observers are exactly informed on
   the themes discussed in the Council.

Such sessions convened each Tuesday afternoon. In modern times communication is a major task of the council. Information must immediately be given to Christian people in other churches and, of course, to the public at large. A large body of journalists attended for this purpose. The Rules and Regulations say:
   The Secretariat receives and will receive many requests for Council
   information from journalists. We make a strict distinction between
   the role of journalist at the Council and that of a delegated
   observer and guest. Journalists, with Council press credentials, are
   entitled to attend the numerous official and unofficial press
   conferences, and to obtain the press releases and background
   material through the Official Press Office of the Council. The
   delegated observers and guests are entitled to the same, but they
   have access also to much confidential information and documentation;
   for the most part this material is the same which the voting Fathers
   and theologians of the Council receive.

One can see that a council in modern times will produce paper in vast quantities, to say nothing of what the media produce. You can also understand that tensions and dilemmas inevitably arise when the Fathers of a council debate great matters, many of which have to be interpreted. John XXIII made it a requirement that all tendencies in the Church must be heard in the council. These included those somewhat imprecisely described as progressive and conservative.

I was asked to speak about memories of Vatican II, but after some forty-seven years I found memories had grown dim. I pulled out a folder of documents, journals, reports, and photographs from the second, third, and fourth periods of the council. I could not be present in Rome for every day of each period, running from October to December. Few observers could, except for the retired Douglas Horton, whom we considered our unofficial dean. Nevertheless, presence at most sessions was necessary if an observer were really to understand and interpret the council and its themes, particularly those of particular concern to the separated churches. We were advised of the many advantages to the Secretariat and to the observers of arranging accommodations at the same hotel. Most of us lived on the three floors of the nearby Pensione Castello, which featured striking views of Castel San Angelo and good Italian food. As we had a dining room to ourselves, discussions were constant, not only about the themes but also about the events and personalities behind them.

Our translators were theologically trained priests who also came to the pensione. Since the language of the council was Latin, we observers were the envy of more than a few Fathers whose Latin was not up to speed and who were supplied no translators. During the closed General Assemblies, we gathered in small groups around a translator to hear in our own languages. They were able to explain the significance of points of discussion that might otherwise have escaped us. Even so, it was often difficult to take in the full meaning of the compact interventions, limited as they were to ten minutes. Further conversation with our excellent translators or the staff of the Secretariat (and others) was a necessity. Fathers of the council were sometimes entertained by the observers. I remember several of us inviting Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the newly appointed General of the Jesuits, to lunch. People from our own churches also came to see what we were up to. The long periods in Rome made possible an immense range of contacts with even the busiest of the Fathers and their theological advisors. We could know each other as persons rather than simply from books or reports, and we discovered many shared concerns.

One will understand that someone like me--coming from a multidenominational national council of churches (as well as being a separated Anglican brother)--approached the portals of St. Peters and, indeed, all of Rome with some trepidation. I had much to learn. My teachers would be both Catholics and the other observers. As the council agenda unfolded, the functioning of the observers also unfolded in unexpected ways. We had not only to understand but also to respond to the themes. We had to listen to other observers from own communion or confession from around the world as well as to observers from other communions or confessions. Historic differences between them as well as between them and the Roman Catholic Church all played a role. Early on, a few observers tried to promote a common response to certain council themes, but the other observers soon put a stop to it. In fact, each observer had carefully to reflect and then sometimes to offer views or suggestions to the Secretariat, which could pass them to Work-Sessions of the Commissions. Among the guest observers were Oscar Cullmann, Alexander Schmemann, Roger Schutz, Marc Boegner, and others who were able to offer valuable suggestions and clarifications.

Coming from the National Council of Churches, my role was not to respond as an Anglican (sometimes I could not help it) but to reflect on the themes and the reflections of other observers and to evaluate the situation. We were confronted with an assembly dealing with immense historical, theological, pastoral, ecclesiastical, philosophical, sociological, and political questions, called to articulate positions and actions affecting the future of the Catholic Church and presumably also the separated churches and communities. It is impossible to evaluate the work of individual observers, but one can certainly say that the council authorities were to a notable degree open to their contributions and, whenever possible, sought to receive them. It was their choice exclusively, because the observers had no authority to represent or to speak for their communions or confessions. These circumstances expose something of the ecumenical genius of Vatican II.

This brings me to the symbolic--or, better, the iconic--role of observers at Vatican II. Even if they had said nothing, the presence of a large number of persons drawn from separated churches around the world, positioned close to the council altar and in many other locations and occasions in Rome, was and remains a powerful testimony to the bonds of love in the church of Jesus Christ and the vital movement toward fuller manifestation of the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church." We must never underestimate the impact theologically, pastorally, and mystically of the council, which has led to a new Christian friendship, the antechamber to fellowship.

Let me underline the iconic role by describing a little of the public Solemn Session opening the second period of the council. The body of observers moved in procession from the Columbus Hotel up the Via della Conciliazione across the Piazza San Pietro to the main entrance of the Vatican. At 8 a.m. the crowd was relatively small, but our procession in our vestments put us on parade. We went up the Scala Regia as far as the portico of the basilica, past television cameras, and between files of soldiers. Bishops in their vestments were moving in every direction. We entered through the central bronze doors, moved up the nave between ascending rows of seats erected for the Fathers with galleries above, and occupied two rows before the high altar with the diplomatic boxes behind. Few bishops were seated, but many laity, clergy, and religious had taken up positions in the apse, transepts, galleries, and boxes. The council altar, erected in front of the high altar was just in front of us.

We waited a long time, but there was much to observe. The lay nobility gather on great occasions such as this. To see what otherwise was a twentieth-century man sit down in a full suit of armor was entertaining (only in films or plays is this usually possible)--but also disconcerting. In the glare of television something seemed amiss in a church. Many plumes, swords, ruffs, pantaloons, and buskins complete the picture. It was reassuring when most of this disappeared during the third period of the council. Singing began outside, and the procession, led by twelve macebearers and the cardinals, began at 9:45. Pope Paul VI took me unawares, passing by on foot, accompanied by the cardinal deacons Alfredo Ottaviani and Alberto di Jorio. After silent prayer, he began the Veni Creator. Mass was sung by Cardinal Eugrne Tisserant, dean of the college. (At the third session the opening mass was a concelebration led by the pope.) It was a powerful moment when bishops and the whole assembly sang the Nicene Creed in that massive church. After mass came the obedience of cardinals and patriarchs and two representatives each of the archbishops, bishops, and the generals of religious orders.

We followed the written text of the pope's address, consisting of declarations and aspirations for the coming work. Speaking rapidly, his voice slowed and rose at the unity of Christians. The address went beyond earlier statements to recognize the venerability and gifts of other churches and the incompleteness of the ecumenical council in their absence. The observers were deeply moved. The ceremony closed with the blessing and retirement of the pope and his entourage. The crush at 1 p.m. on the way out was not unlike the close of a football game, except it was mostly cardinals and bishops.

During the closed General Assemblies or Congregations, the observers occupied a diplomatic box near the presidents and moderators of the council. Many observers attended the mass before each Assembly. Various rites of the Catholic Church were used. The business began at 9:30 a.m. The first completed work of the council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This had a certain priority and had been prepared for by the work of the liturgical movement over many years. The second period focused on a schema or draft text of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. The background here was the First Vatican Council, where a preparatory commission had drawn up a lengthy draft declaration on the church, but deliberations were cut short by the Franco-Prussian War and the invasion of the Papal States by the Piedmontese armies. Vatican I enacted only four chapters on the papacy and nothing on the bishops or members. Later encyclicals took up other aspects, but many questions regarding the church's nature and organization clamored for attention. Debate was long and sometimes sharp. John XXIII's rule that all tendencies in the church be heard was observed. One day, Ottaviani exploded furiously:
   I protest as strongly as I can against everything that has been
   said against the Holy Office and the Pope, who is its Prefect. It
   is said from ignorance. Most of the consultors (of the office) are
   foreign (not Italian) and fully informed on the causes put before
   them. I ask myself how the college of bishops came about. Some
   fathers brought out their ideas in speeches as if it were already
   defined ... I have one or two things to say. The commission on
   doctrine elected by you is going to decide, not I.... There is a
   vicious circle in the argument of the succession of one college to
   another. When did you have them acting collegially except in
   councils? When did the bishops otherwise ever act in such a way?
   There are no arguments to deduce this from Scripture. They are
   reducing not the theory but the practice and application of the
   authority of the Pope. Quoting Peter: "Those of you who are elders,
   I beg of you take care of the flock of God. The sheep aren't to
   direct Peter but Peter the sheep."

Cardinal Michael Browne was calmer: "If the bishops as such have a right to govern with the Pope, the Pope has a duty to govern with the bishops. In this sense it reduces his authority. You are contradicting the Constitution from Vatican I."

I wrote in my journal that "there was blood on the floor today." There was also a sound proposal from Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro for dealing with the impasse. Cardinal Josef Frings said that it was inconceivable that the theological commission should go against the mind of the Fathers. Then came the angry protest against criticisms of the Holy Office from Ottaviani. His identification of the pope with the Holy Office and interpreting criticism of the office as criticism of the pope was revealing. The claim that the commission knew better what was competent theology seemed to denigrate the Fathers.

I should explain the voting. The Fathers had three choices when voting on sections or questions about the text. The first was yes, the second was yes with reservations, and the third was no. Reservations were given to the commission in writing, and it replied with its reasons for acceptance or rejection. The result of this procedure was virtual unanimity: 2,151 Fathers in favor and five against the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

Obviously, the Decree on Ecumenism concerned the observers. John XXIII had called all Christians to the grace of unity and understood that the approach of the Catholic Church must be aggiornamento or renovation, which called for the removal of difficulties when possible. From the discussion on ecumenism, I have chosen to quote in full an intervention by Bishop Hermann Volk of Mainz:
   Ecumenism has two meanings: universal (which is the traditional
   meaning) and activities which tend to unity. We know the separation
   of Christians was against the will of Christ and therefore the
   effectiveness of unity is linked with credibility of the divinity
   of Christ. In the Catholic Church is contained essentially all that
   Christ promised. We must think not only of separated brethren but
   of the Church herself. Therefore the Church must express and
   develop her universality in every direction. Whatever truly
   Christian things are found anywhere are to be favored by the
   Church. In the Church herself all things are possible, but it
   doesn't follow that all are realized. In history the potentialities
   of the Church have more and more been brought into actuality by
   Christ. Many Christians do not acknowledge the Church of Rome or
   that it is the one Church. It is therefore very important that we
   should show forth our complete universality. If we are universal,
   let it be seen. You can only understand the part as a part when you
   have seen the whole. Unless the Church shows its universality now,
   I fear the parts will not be seen as parts. Each thing has to be
   seen in relation to the whole deposit. This universal thing must be
   shown at once to all separated brethren. Then they will see. With
   the Orthodox there is a doctrine of the first councils. Trent made
   it clear that the earlier councils were inspired by God. We must
   show in a concrete manner this universality which we are asserting
   in this schema. 1) Always talk about the whole doctrine and whole
   practice, and not just for the sake of the separated but ourselves
   too. It is the renovation. 2) This catholicity of the Church must
   be expressed in a formula of variety in unity. We don't want
   uniformity. The unity is in Christ and the unity of Christ is not
   opposed to these expressions. Don't be denying any form of
   Christian life as long as it is Christian. Changeable things are
   not to be considered as essential. Therefore every possible way
   must be open to include our separated brethren in the Church's

In the end there was strong support for the Decree on Ecumenism. Only eleven negative votes were cast in the third period.

On Saturdays the Secretariat organized occasional outings. One of these was a trip to Assisi arranged by the Italian Tourist Office and the Secretariat. We were met at the entrance to the Basilica of San Francesco by the Superior General and many friars, as well as by many cameras. Gathered in the lower church on the steps of the altar tomb of Saint Francis with the Superior in our midst, we were told of the saint's presence and shown a reliquary holding the blessing of Francis. Venerable Russian Orthodox Bishop Cassian (Bezobrazov) venerated the relic. A choir sang something composed for the occasion. We were very still. Only the sound of cameras was heard. I was overwhelmed in the silence by the presence of Francis and God's boundless love.

We were guided through the church and the monastery to sign the register and be fed. The refectory was long, with tables on raised platforms around the walls and serving tables in the midst. Squads of friars bearing platters made me think, incongruously, of a feast in the time of Henry VIII. Observer bishops Cassian, John Moorman, Kevorkian, and Legge occupied the center table with the Superior and Roman bishops traveling with us. Rich courses followed one another with wines and brandy. A welcoming speech from the Superior, an American, was in English. The tourist representative spoke in Italian. Bishop Jan Willebrands, responding for the observers and Secretariat, was seconded by Moorman, an Anglican expert on St. Francis, who expressed deep appreciation for the "un-Franciscan" lunch. Afterwards we looked out over the beautiful valley. This was my third trip to Assisi, but all seemed new, as though I had never been before. Was it because Francis, whom many who are not Catholic have gladly claimed, was newly offered? I do not know, but my heart was full.

We went on to the Church of San Damiano, the Monastery of St. Clare, and finally to Don Rossi's Civitate Christiana. Its modern buildings are on a hill, housing meeting rooms, a contemporary Christian art gallery, theater, library, offices, and bedrooms for a staff of ninety-five. The staff is unmarried men and women who give conferences and retreats and conduct missions in Italian towns. We stood on the terrace overlooking the valley and watched day turn to night. Thoughts went to Francis and companions who once restored the Church and to the women and men at the Civitate. Fr. Alexander Schmemann seemed to speak for all of us when he said, "If it could all be like this."

Each year the observers had an audience with the pope. In the first period John XXIII met them in the Consistory Hall. In the second period, Paul VI met us in his private library. He grasped each hand, speaking with those he had known before. We sat in a circle. Bea spoke to the pope in French. Professor Kirsten Skydsgaard, speaking in French for the observers, mentioned the need for biblical and theological study of ecumenical issues. The pope's eyes never left the professor's face. At points, he nodded his head or raised his hands. The pope addressed us at length in French. At the end, all relaxed and moved in a way that implied satisfaction with all that had been said. Bea suggested we pray the Our Father, and the pope suggested we do it each in our own tongue. Then he moved wound the circle handing each a medal showing Christ and the apostles with John XXIII kneeling, the papal taira before him on the ground. His Holiness suggested a picture. On the way out some spoke with him, including Moorman and Canon Bernard Pawley, whose dinner guest he had been during the first period at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul Inside the Walls.

In the next period the pope wished to give the occasion more of the character of prayer, so the audience was in the Sistine Chapel against the background of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment." We recited the Gloria in Excelsis, Bea spoke, and Archimandrite Panteleimon Rodopoulos spoke in the name of the observers. The pope replied in a short address, followed by the Lord's Prayer. His Holiness talked with each observer and gave us copies of the New Testament in Greek and Latin printed for the occasion. Rodopoulos said that the decisions of the council will have a deep effect both on the Church of Rome and beyond its limit. He expected that there will be rapprochement in the Christian world in our time, but he added that, from the observers' study of the documents of this council, the essential questions that separate us will probably not be solved in the near future. These difficulties do not lead to discouragement or abandonment of the effort for ultimate unity, for we hope for and believe in help from above.

The pope said that
   the fact that our mutual satisfaction over these repeated meetings
   shows no signs of fatigue or disappointment, but is now more lively
   and trusting than ever, seems to Us to be already an excellent
   result; this is an historic fact ... an abyss, of diffidence and
   skepticism has been mostly bridged over; this our physical nearness
   manifests and favors a spiritual drawing-together which was
   formerly unknown to us. A new method has been affirmed. A
   friendship has been born. A hope has been enkindled. A movement is
   under way.

On the future dialogue, he said the Church "is not in haste, but desires only to begin it, leaving it to divine goodness to bring it to a conclusion, in the manner and time God pleases. We still cherish the memory of the proposal you made to us last year ... that of founding an institute of studies on the history of salvation, to be carried on in a common collaboration ... We are now studying the possibility of this." He asked us to "bring to your communities and to your institutions Our thanks, Our greetings, Our wishes of every good and perfect gift in the Lord."

In the concluding fourth period, a solemn service of common prayer took place in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Present with the pope were council Fathers, the observers, and the Secretariat. Scripture lessons, prayers, and intercessions were read by Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic clergy. The pope addressed us all. No one presided, for all participated as equals in the service. This was a unity that did not have to be created by the council but that existed and needed to be declared in this way: All expressed the existing unity and confessed the divisions. It was unforgettable. A Rerward the observers went with the pope to the nearby place where John XXIII had first announced his intention to call a council (the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, on January 25, 1959, the last day of the Church Unity Octave). Paul VI gave each of us a bronze bell, bearing the Chi Rho at the top and the four evangelists around the base.

Turning to a less solemn event, I remember a dinner at a Trastevere restaurant to which I was invited by a group of American bishops. I was late because of a traffic holdup and feeling sheepish. The bishops were waiting, and all rose when I came to the large table. I was startled, but I understood that they rose not alone for me but for the observers at the council. Conversation was anything but formal at the good dinner. We had to shout our stories and jokes because the lively restaurant was noisy. That evening I discovered Archbishop John Krol of Philadelphia to be a delightful person.

Countless private conversations with bishops, theologians, and others, not only in the coffee bars in St. Peter's but also in the streets, at meals, and in cafes were part of the life and work of the observer. There was a seemingly endless stream of formal receptions and other events that clustered around the council. Invitations came fi'om seminaries, embassies, concerts, religious orders, individuals and so forth. Greetings were exchanged, speeches made, and conversation exchanged. Bea, President of the Secretariat, was with us regularly. When this gentle old priest spoke, his eyes and face were animated. The observers felt a great love for him. All this helped to drive back the days of mutual fear, rigid exclusiveness, and arrogant self-sufficiency on all sides and to bring forward the days of friendship. These few memories of Vatican II cannot end better than with the words of Paul VI: "There begins once again love for each other."
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Author:Norgren, William A.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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