An evangelical layman well known to successive generations of students in an ancient English university went to conduct the service in a local church. Glancing at the list which had been handed to him, he announced: “We will sing Hymn Then, reaching the place in the hymnary, he startled the congregation by bellowing: “Oh no, we won’t! Oh no, we won’t!” He had discovered the hymnwriter was a Roman Catholic, whose co-religionists (he was convinced) had lied, tricked, tortured, and sold his Master all down the centuries. At Vatican Council I, on the other hand, Bishop Strossmayer stirred angry reaction when he reported having seen the love of Christ in many Protestants.

If we deplore the ecclesiastical varnish which conveniently covers up our divisions, we ought to deplore also the misguided loyalty in each party which makes it a touchstone of orthodoxy to echo Macbeth’s words: “I could not say ‘Amen’ when they did say ‘God bless us.’ ” We cannot do full justice to Protestantism if we do injustice to Roman Catholicism. However painful the process, many of us need at this point to reclaim a whole lost area in our thinking. When we have run out of black paint in dealing faithfully with the Borgia popes, and been thoroughly illogical in the conclusions we draw therefrom (forgetting that God can write straight with crooked lines), it is disconcerting to discover that the whole story has not been told. To the pre-Reformation Church we owe a very real debt, as a glance at the history of previous councils will demonstrate. Vatican Council II, as we are constantly reminded, did not begin with a tabula rasa: it took up the story where Vatican Council I left off, which council in turn was built on the nineteen earlier councils regarded ...

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