Category Archives: Vatican II

Gaudium et Spes – The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World by Peter Avvento


(This was to have posted a few weeks back… I entered it, posted it, but it seems to have disappeared. Here it is in its entirety! Apologies to Peter Avvento and to all of you.)

This was one of the most bitterly debated documents of the council. The original plan had called for one document on the church – “De Ecclesia”- but this changed largely due through the efforts of Leo Cardinal Suenens (Belgium) and his fellow bishops from Germany and the Netherlands. The pivotal point was the need to make a distinction between the church ad intra (the basic nature and structure of the Church) and the church ad extra (the church understood from the perspective of its mission to the world). Thus Vatican II produced two documents – “Lumen Gentium” (on the nature of the church) and “Gaudium et Spes” (on the mission of the church). One of the key speeches was that given by Dom Helder Camara of Brazil that bears repeating and should be emphasized to church leadership today, Are we to spend our whole time discussing internal church problems while two-thirds of humankind is dying of hunger?”


Part I of “Gaudium et Spes” establishes the theological framework for the church’s engagement in the world. It creates a theological anthropology that is grounded in the biblical notion of the human person as the “image of God”. Part II deals with the practical questions of moral application and addresses such topics as marriage and family, economic and social life and the fostering of peace.

Throughout the document there is an over-riding spirit of respectful dialogue with the world. On one hand, the church admits that it has much to learn from the world. On the other hand, the church offers to the world the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. The Church maintains that it is the guardian of the deposit of God’s Word and it draws religious and moral principles from it but it does not always have a ready answer to every question. While this may be frustrating to some it is part and parcel of the fact that life is filled with more “gray” than “black and white”, especially in moral matters.

One of the basic themes is an understanding of the Church (“all Christian faithful” as being called to a mission in the world. The Church believes that through each of us and all of us as a whole, we can make the human family even more human. Your actions and my actions have a social and a political impact. The metaphor of “leaven” (yeast) is most appropriate because it suggests that we are sent into the world to transform it from within. As a result, this document repudiates any attempt to define the church as being over and against the world as if it were so sort of autonomous entity (“a perfect society”) unaffected by the issues and concerns for humanity. The Church is NOT of ultimate importance – the Kingdom of God is. The Church exists as a UNIVERSAL SACRAMENT of SALVATION. As Christians we must be willing to “get our hands dirty” for the sake of the Kingdom.



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Lumen Gentium – by Peter Avvento

Once again, Peter Avvento offers some thoughts after another Adult Faith Enrichment evening at St. Edward the Confessor. If you are in the area, come by on any Monday night that the programs are offered – all are welcome. A free will offering will gladly be accepted, but no entry fee is required.

“Since the Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument that is of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race…” (LG n.1)

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is, above all, an attempt to express in very broad strokes the doctrinal self understanding of the Catholic Church. It begins by speaking about the “mystery” of the Church. St. Paul uses this very same word (“mysterion”) to refer to the self revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This term carried with it the connotation of something that cannot be entirely explained or understood. And yet, St. Paul insists that the very mystery of God and of the divine love for humanity has been revealed in Jesus Christ.

It was a short step from Paul’s use of the term “mystery” with reference to God’s plan of salvation in Christ to its application by early Christian writers to the sacramental life of the Church. The mystery that we celebrate in the liturgy is nothing other than our participation in the paschal mystery of our redemption in Christ. Latin authors translated the word “mysterion” as “sacramentum”. By the 4th century, Christian authors began to use this language to speak about the ritual celebrations of the church (the sacraments with which we are very familiar).

The Mystical Body of Christ

During the Middle Ages, Catholic theology began to apply the category of mystery that was long understood to refer to the Mystical Body of Christ in the Eucharist to the Mystical Body that is the Church. The authors understood that the fruit of participation in the Eucharist is unity, the communion with God and with one another that constitutes the very foundation of Church.

During the period of the Reformation and Counter Reformation we see a further development. For the Protestant Reformers, the true church of Christ was no longer visible due to the corruption that had eroded its visible institution. It was hidden from view and should be known only as a spiritual reality. Catholic theology, led by the illustrious Jesuit, St. Robert Bellarmine (to whom this author has a personal devotion although I disagree with much of his theology) placed a strong emphasis on the continuity between the visible reality of the institutional church and the true church established by Christ.

What was Bellarmine’s vision? He understood the Church as a “visible” and “perfect” society, equipped with everything necessary for the salvation of its members. This vision dominated the Catholic theology manuals and textbooks down through the early 20th century. The teaching of Vatican II is an effort to restore a balance between understanding the inner, spiritual dimensions of the church and its concrete, historical reality.

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“Dei Verbum” – Vatican II Declaration on Divine Revelation by Peter Avvento

(This is an excerpt from the Monday night Adult Faith Enrichment series on Vatican II, written by Peter Avvento)

In the centuries after the Council of Trent the Church assumed a defensive posture and created a “fortress mentality”. This posture was understandable in that the Church had been under attack by the Reformers, the rise of modern science and the Age of Enlightenment. The theological texts of these times were theological “manuals” which gave the impression that divine revelation was little more than a collection of truth statements. During the 19th century and early 20th century the dominant theological method in Catholic theology was “neo-scholasticism” whose approach to theology was the use of the “dogmatic manual”. Seminary texts were prepared to offer students the necessary defensive “weapons” to defend the truths of the Catholic faith.

Let’s look briefly at this model, usually referred to as the “Propositional Model”. Although the truth statements contained in these books had their remote origin in Scripture and tradition, their immediate source of authority was the magesterium (teaching function of the church). The magesterium became the immediate rule of faith for ordinary Catholics. Hence the phrase – “What does the official Church have to say about this or that?” So Scripture became the remote rule of faith, a rule that needed the magesterium for guidance. In this model, faith was conceived as an intellectual assent to truths that were contained in propositions – very mathematical to be sure but not very theological!

In the preparatory stages of Vatican II the theological commission, comprised mostly of Roman scholastic theologians, presented a draft document on revelation which was simply a rehash of the dogmatic manuals with little emphasis on scripture which had been receiving new energy through the biblical renewal movement ushered in by the 1943 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, “Divino Afflante Spiritu”. This commission expected a rubber stamp approval and was stunned when good and wise Pope John XXIII intervened and rejected their document. He created a new commission who would eventually come up with the document that we have today – “Dei Verbum” (“Word of God”).
The key to this document lies in its “personalist viewpoint” evident most especially in paragraph 2 which shows a theological shift away from the old propositional model. Now we read that God does not reveal to us a collection of information; rather, God shares his very self with us. God comes to us as a person, Jesus Christ, who is both “mediator and the sum total of revelation”.

The document refers to the character of divine revelation as the “most intimate truth” communicated by God. This is a radical departure from the traditional emphasis on “truths” or “mysteries of faith”. Revelation is not a collection of statements, theses, propositions, axioms or teachings but is the “single intimate truth” of God’s love for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In order for God to communicate with us He must communicate in a manner that is appropriate to our status as finite creatures. This is an old axiom that was held by St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics, “quidquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis” (“that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver”). Sarcastically, it can be translated as “we only hear what we want to hear”. The truth of that statement lies in the fact that we must be “open” to hear God’s loving Word in order to “believe” it and “act” upon it.

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“Vatican II: Pearls of Wisdom” Legacy and Challenge – by Peter Avvento

(Peter Avvento offered a talk on Vatican II and it’s legacy on Monday night; this is a recap. Please see the Adult Faith Enrichment Schedule on the parish website for future offerings!)

Whether we like it or not, Vatican II has irreversibly penetrated our Catholic DNA. Now with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, stops and starts, ups and downs, we may only now be ready to determine what that legacy is and what must be done to move forward to the completion of this vision of “aggiornamento.”

It is probably safe to say, now from this benefit of hindsight that we are experience that Vatican II should serve as a compass for the future of the Church and not as a final destination or port or terminal. After fifty years we can see it and come to appreciate it as an unprecedented event in the history of our faith. Why? How can we say this?

According to the famous Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner SJ, one of the key figures at the council, Vatican II represents a significant “horizon shift” in the history of the Church. It can be likened to the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15) a gathering that represented the first “horizon shift” for this early Jewish movement that was beginning to preach to the Gentile world through the efforts of Paul. Must Gentiles become Jews in order to follow Jesus? The answer of “No” paved the way for the worldwide development of Christianity. For Vatican II a critical element in this “horizon shift” was the role attributed to the Holy Spirit – that divine dynamic that pushed, moved and guided the council. But, we contend, this divine dynamic did not end with the council. It continues today through the study, reception and implementation of the decrees and spirit of the council.

Because of all that we have said above we cannot and must not go back to a pre Vatican II period – although some pine for the certainty of the good old days, which, from this writer’s standpoint, were not that good! The future of our Church is an unfinished symphony, a portrait still being painted.

Does this mean a permanent revolution? No! It does not! But…..It does mean that we cannot and must not go back to an era that no longer holds meaning. It means that we must remain true to our calling to be “hearers of the Word” and constantly open to the Spirit who speaks to us in our own language – a language of compassion, concern, inclusiveness, forgiveness and mercy.

This is a time for joy. Despite all the upheavals in the world and issues within our own Church, this is not a time for timidity, not a time to return to the presumed safety of the Upper Room. It is a time for boldness, for discipleship and joyous optimism. Now is a time when we can all join with good and saintly Pope John XXIII who proclaimed with joy as he opened the council, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia!” (“Mother Church rejoices!”). Mother Church indeed rejoices whenever we baptize and bless, whenever we feed the hungry, forgive and heal, comfort and console, join together and commit ourselves, bring peace to the poor, the needy, the depressed, the disabled and the marginalized. This is the legacy and challenge of Vatican II.


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Vatican II

(Beginning at the end of October, Peter Avvento will be presenting a Monday night series on Vatican II. All are welcome at what promises to be great.)

The 50th anniversary of Vatican II is upon us. I am always mystified by the extreme reactions to this event in our church, a monumental time in history. Talk is cheap, so it is easy to reflect back and either romanticize the entire event beyond any reality, or to make it into a huge “error.”

In virtus media stat,” which I believe means truth stands in the middle. The results of Vatican II have not entirely ruined our church, unless perhaps you are a follower of the Society of St. Pius X, who remain in schism with our church to this day. The results of Vatican II, were not perfect. Nothing is perfect and our journey to the perfection is what we all seek through the transformation of the Eucharist.

This essay by Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C., published in America Magazine really caught my eye, and I present it here today for us to all muse upon today. There is no shortage of good reading material on this topic and I will try to post more about it. The website Conciliaria is a tremendous resource, so have a look at that.

Here is the link to the Vatican website resources for Vatican II documents. A quick look at that reminds me that one of the true gems of the Council was Dei Verbum. If you are Catholic and you read any Scripture today, thank this Dogmatic Constitution! No matter what you think of everything else about Vatican II, where would we be without this? (Which, by the way, make Fr. Pat Butler’s Monday night courses so enriching!)

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Adult Faith Enrichment Tuesday -“Dignitatis Humanae” – Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom, “Context and Perspective” from Peter Avvento

Dignitatis Humanae
Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedon
“Context and Perspective”

The history of the council’s Declaration on religious freedom is extremely complex. Much of the controversy associated with the document was due to the widely perceived view (especially held by European and Latin American bishops) that the council was being asked to consider a genuine change in church doctrine, a movement away from what had been taught by both Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius X in their battle against Modernism. In fact, according to John Courtney Murray, S.J., the prime architect of this document, the question of the development of doctrine was the “issue under all issues” at the council.

The Declaration on Religious Freedom reflects the council’s effort to interface the rich doctrinal heritage of the church with the realities of a new and different world. The Catholic Church in the 1960s was coming to grips with a new self-consciousness as a world church and could no longer envision itself under the old model of Christendom under the rule of a single, unified empire.

Dignitatis Humanae begins with the recognition of the increasing awareness of the dignity of the human person, and the aspiration of people to exercise fully their own judgment in matters of faith, free of coercion and excessive restrictions on their actions. Therefore, the right to religious freedom is understood not only as a moral principle that can be known through human reason and ought to be protected in the constitutional ordering of society but also that this right is seen as belonging to the truth about human dignity revealed by the word of God.

Accordingly, at the end of our searching is a personal God who endows us with the gift of freedom to discover and grow in relationship with others, to mature in our relationship with God and to assume our responsibilities in the world. But this freedom is not unlimited nor is it reckless. It is “responsible freedom”, a freedom that helps us to inform our conscience.

Ultimately, the conciliar document ties together the mystery of conscience with the freedom of faith:

“The individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters. The reason is because the practice of religion, of its very nature, consists primarily of those voluntary and free internal acts by which human beings direct themselves to God. Acts of this kind cannot be commanded or forbidden by any mere human authority…” (“Dignitatis Humanae” n.3)

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