Interest in and literature about the coming Second Vatican Council keeps growing. The council called by John XXIII will be the first since 1870. (The dogma of Mary’s assumption was a papal declaration, not a conciliar decree.) The calling of the council took the world by surprise at first. What was the Pope’s real purpose? Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger wrote a piece whose title characterized much of the questioning of that time: “The Second Vatican Council and the Expectations of Christendom.” Well, what was the church legitimately to anticipate from such a council? Can Christendom await a genuine contribution to church unity? May it expect approachment between Rome and Reformation?
Cardinal Tardini, who is playing a key role in the preparations underway for the council, has said that the council would not be predominantly theological in emphasis. We need not expect any decided changes in the teaching and pretensions of the Catholic church. The approaching council will not be a pendent of the unity councils of Lyon (1274) and Florence (1439). The great traditions of Catholicism will be maintained. When this was made clear, many observers expressed disappointment. The council, they said, would be an ecumenical council without an ecumenical spirit, without that is, an eye to the reunion of the churches.
Still, there was an air of expectation abroad. Hans Küng, a Swiss Catholic known for an excellent study on Karl Barth, wrote an article on the council and its implications for reunion. Pope John himself expressed hope that the council would open for those outside the church a vision of the one united church within our divided world. He wrote in his original encyclical: “It (i.e., the council) shall ...1
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