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Even for those who have minimum truck with Roman Catholicism, the major religious event of 1965 was the culmination of the Second Vatican Council. Accompanying it were widely expressed hopes that the world’s oldest and largest church body had lurched forward.
Catholicism is on the move. But evangelicals are unsure whether that move is toward ultimate truth. Most would agree with Billy Graham that the conciliar bishops went “much further than I expected” in policy-changing. At least one special question remains, however: Did the council, in failing to alter traditional Roman reliance on individual works, perpetuate implicit denial of Christ’s finished work?
If so, the evangelicals are partly to blame. They stayed largely aloof from council proceedings, forfeiting initiative to Protestant liberals, Jews, Muslims, even Communists, all of whom seized numerous public and private opportunities to pressure the council in the direction of non-biblical presuppositions, with some success.
The conciliar years 1962–1965 showed the world that the Roman Catholic Church is not a monolith; indeed, that it tolerates a measure of doctrinal dissent within its clergy ranks. When liberal and other periti (theological experts) got a translation of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei, which affirms that transubstantiation is to be taken literally, they reportedly shrugged “irreverently and publicly.”
Non-Catholics also learned that conservative prelates constitute a minority bloc within the hierarchy, but that their influence far surpasses their numerical strength.
Of the sixteen documents produced by the council in four annual sessions, the most disappointing probably was 1964’s decree on mass communications, which sanctions censorship ...1
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