Online Edition – Vol. VI, No. 4: June/July 2000
Pope warns against "biased interpretations" of Vatican II
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
"The genuine intention of
the Council Fathers must not be lost", Pope John Paul II
cautioned a meeting of bishops, scholars and experts gathered
in Rome in February. "Indeed, it must be recovered by overcoming
biased and partial interpretations which have prevented the newness
of the Council’s Magisterium (teaching) from being expressed
as well as possible", he continued.
"To interpret the Council
on the supposition that it marks a break with the past, when
in reality it stands in continuity with the faith of all times,
is a definite mistake", he told the group in his closing
The need for correct interpretation
of the meaning of the Second Vatican Council was stressed by
the pope and others who addressed an International Symposium
held February 25-28, 2000. About 250 cardinals, bishops and scholars
The Symposium was the last of
a series of meetings initiated by the pope’s 1994 Apostolic letter
Tertio Millennio Adveniente.
The focus of this session
was the correct implementation of the documents of the Second
The pope stressed that it is
important to understand that "with the Council, the Church
first had an experience of faith, as she abandoned herself to
God without reserve, as one who trusts and is certain of being
loved…. Anyone who wished to approach the Council without considering
this interpretive key would be unable to penetrate its depths".
Theology has a dual task, the
Holy Father said, quoting his encyclical
Fides et Ratio
"On the one hand, it must be increasingly committed to the
task entrusted to it by the Second Vatican Council, the task
of renewing its specific methods in order to serve evangelization
more effectively. On the other hand, theology must look to the
ultimate truth which Revelation entrusts to it".
Liturgy: belief is the object
"What the Church believes is what she makes the object of
her prayer", the pope said in his comments on the liturgy.
explained the premises of a liturgical
life that would give God the true worship owed Him by the people
called to exercise the priesthood of the New Covenant. The Liturgy
must allow every member of the faithful to enter deeply into
the mystery to grasp the beauty of praising the Triune God. The
Liturgy, in fact, is an anticipation on earth of the praise that
the hosts of the blessed give God in heaven. At every liturgical
celebration, therefore, the participants should be given the
possibility of a foretaste, albeit under the veil of faith, of
some of the sweetness that will flow from contemplating God in
paradise. For this reason, every minister, conscious of the responsibility
he has to all the people entrusted to him, must faithfully maintain
respect for the sacredness of the rite and grow in his understanding
of what he celebrates."
Ecumenism – unity and communion
is the foundation on which the Church’s
reality is based", the pope said, and its source is in "the
very mystery of the Triune God and extends to all the baptized,
who are therefore called to full unity in Christ". He said
the "movement of encounter and clarification" among
various Christian bodies "is irreversible". The Holy
Spirit, he said, "calls all believers to obedience, so that
unity may be an effective source of evangelization."
"No encounter with the world
will be fruitful if the believer ceases to fix his gaze on the
mystery of the Incarnation of God’s Son", said Pope John
"Rich in eternal truths"
The Holy Father quoted Saint Vincent of Lérins, stressing
that "the Church of Christ, the concerned and careful guardian
of the dogmas entrusted to her, never changes anything in them;
she removes nothing and adds nothing". He said that "the
‘little seed’ which John XXIII planted ‘with anxious heart and
mind’ … now spreads its majestic and mighty branches in the
Vineyard of the Lord."
The Council, the pope said, is
"rich in eternal truths", and he called for "a
time of deep reflection" on the Council’s teaching. (The
complete address is on the Vatican website:
Cardinal Ratzinger on
Among the other speakers at the Symposium was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who addressed the group on the proper understanding of "
Too often, he said, "
[literally, mutual strengthening, communion] has been interpreted
in the narrow sense of the relation between the local and the
universal Church, the latter at times identified with Rome, the
pope and the Curia alone." This ignores the sense in which
the Petrine ministry (papacy) represents the Church’s universality,
as has been recognized from the very earliest days.
From the beginning, said the
cardinal, "the Church was generated by the one Spirit for
all peoples. From the first instant it was oriented to express
itself in all cultures and to be the only people of God."