Friday, February 20, 2009

The Pastoral Nature of the Council

Rival interpretations of this opening speech of Pope John XXIII (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia) where put forward at the council. There were those who wished to see the council as a means to further codify very specific and scholastic interpretations of doctrine. There are segments of the address which appear to touch on this theme. The Pope talks of the duty "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion." Pope John XXIII admonishes that "it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers." He continues, however, with the balancing statement, "But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate." He notes,

The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter 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.

Without implying, in any way that the Church was departing from the doctrines once taught, there is a desire to find new ways of presenting these truths to the modern world. The comment about "pastoral character" refers to style. This was the second interpretation of the speech by the council and I think the one that is more accurate. Pope John XXIII remarks, "The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity." This question is especially important to the cause of healing divisions within the Church. Again there was no question of giving up truth or giving in to the lowest common denominator, or making truth into a subjective feeling. But is it possible to have dialogue without using the language of battle and controversy? Can we talk about the faith without attacking? Pope John XXIII notes, "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." I think the Pope was saying that the council should speak the truth, but do so in love and in a language that could be understood by people other than theologians.

Read it yourself, just watch out for those Cod! J

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