October 11, 1962, will be remembered as one of the great days of modern church history. For on this day the “Second Vatican Ecumenical Council,” which, in the terminology of Pope John XXIII (“Discourse on Pentecost,” 1960), has already been at work for years in its “antepreparatory” and “preparatory” phases, enters its third phase, “the celebration of general assembly, the council in its solemnity.” How long this phase, which is to be followed by the fourth stage, “the promulgation of the acts of the council,” may last, no one can predict. Its first period will last until December 8. Since the vast subject matter that has been prepared by the preparatory commissions and handed on to the bishops in a number of volumes cannot be properly dealt with in eight weeks, the council may be called again and again for shorter meetings. Thus it could be that the Second Vatican Council will last as long as those of Basel (1431–49) and Trent (1545–63). All depends on the decisions of future popes—the death of the pope interrupts automatically the ecumenical council—and on the world situation, which may or may not allow the assembling of more than 2,000 bishops in one place.

The council will be an “ecumenical council” in the sense of the Canon Law (CIC can. 222–9) and according to the Roman understanding of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But will it be really ecumenical? This question is being asked even by theologians who should know that none of the meanings which the word “ecumenical” has accepted in the course of history can claim normative validity. Today “ecumenical” is used in the sense of “interdenominational,” “comprising all or many churches,” “tending towards or promoting the union of all Christians.” This usage ...

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