Before the opening of the Vatican Council, Roman Catholics were heard to say that while we must not think of the council as a natural occurrence, neither ought we to view it as supernatural. One wonders, perhaps, why anyone would be tempted to think of the council as something supernatural. But then we must remember that Protestants, as do Roman Catholics, frequently offer the prayer Veni Creator Spiritus before church assemblies. Does this prayer for the coming of the Spirit not suggest an expectation of something supernatural?
When the Roman Catholic says that the council is not to be thought of supernaturally, he means to say that a council is not to be put in the category of miracle, of mystic vision, or of the purely vertical dimension. The work of the Spirit, he insists, manifests itself in and through the human, the natural. One must not, writes Roman Catholic theologian E. Schillenbeekcx, have romantic, lyrical notions about the council.
The council is part and parcel of all that is human, relative, non-absolute, and non-final. Conciliar decisions rise from a collective consciousness that is tempered by the age. The worldwide episcopate reaches out for the Word of God as the source of power and light for our thinking and doing. But the council, Schillenbeekcx insists, will not transcend the theological efforts and accomplishments of our day. It will be moving on the plane of the doctrinal work of the past 20 years. The Holy Spirit will be present, indeed, but he will be working in the context of the limited and imperfect terms of our human situation. Schillenbeekcx reflects genuine sobriety and good sense.
This leads us to the question of the Veni Creator Spiritus and its relation to what we may call the unexpected ...1
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