Friday, December 09, 2005
Address of Pope Paul VI During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council
7 December 1965
What then was the council? What has it accomplished? The answer to these questions would be the logical theme of our present meditation. But it would require too much of our attention and time: This final and stupendous hour would not perhaps give us enough tranquility of mind to make such a synthesis. We should like to devote this precious moment to one single thought which bends down our spirits in humility and at the same time raises them up to the summit of our aspirations. And that thought is this: What is the religious value of this council? We refer to it as religious because of its direct relationship with the living God, that relationship which is the raison d'être of the Church, of all that she believes, hopes and loves; of all that she is and does.
Could we speak of having given glory to God, of having sought knowledge and love of him, of having made progress in our effort of contemplating him, in our eagerness for honoring him and in the art of proclaiming him to men who look up to us as to pastors and masters of the life of God? In all sincerity we think the answer is yes. Also because from this basic purpose there developed the guiding principle which was to give direction to the future council. Still fresh in our memory are the words uttered in this basilica by our venerated predecessor, John XXIII, whom we may in truth call the originator of this great synod. In his opening address to the council he had this to say: "The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be guarded and taught more effectively. ... The Lord has said: 'Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice.' The word 'first' expresses the direction in which our thoughts and energies must move" ("Discorsi," 1962, p. 583).
His great purpose has now been achieved. To appreciate it properly it is necessary to remember the time in which it was realized: a time which everyone admits is orientated toward the conquest of the kingdom of earth rather than of that of heaven; a time in which forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly, to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in which secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society; a time, moreover, in which the soul of man has plumbed the depths of irrationality and desolation; a time, finally, which is characterized by upheavals and a hitherto unknown decline even in the great world religions.
Yes, the Church of the council has been concerned, not just with herself and with her relationship of union with God, but with man as he really is today: living man, man all wrapped up in himself, man who makes himself not only the center of his every interest but dares to claim that he is the principle and explanation of all reality. Every perceptible element in man, every one of the countless guises in which he appears, has, in a sense, been displayed in full view of the council Fathers, who, in their turn, are mere men, and yet all of them are pastors and brothers whose position accordingly fills them with solicitude and love. Among these guises we may cite man as the tragic actor of his own plays; man as the superman of yesterday and today, ever frail, unreal, selfish, and savage; man unhappy with himself as he laughs and cries; man the versatile actor ready to perform any part; man the narrow devotee of nothing but scientific reality; man as he is, a creature who thinks and loves and toils and is always waiting for something, the "growing son" (Genesis 49:22); man sacred because of the innocence of his childhood, because of the mystery of his poverty, because of the dedication of his suffering; man as an individual and man in society; man who lives in the glories of the past and dreams of those of the future; man the sinner and man the saint, and so on.
Secular humanism, revealing itself in its horrible anti-clerical reality has, in a certain sense, defied the council. The religion of the God who became man has met the religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God. And what happened? Was there a clash, a battle, a condemnation? There could have been, but there was none. The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the council. A feeling of boundless sympathy has permeated the whole of it. The attention of our council has been absorbed by the discovery of human needs (and these needs grow in proportion to the greatness which the son of the earth claims for himself). But we call upon those who term themselves modern humanists, and who have renounced the transcendent value of the highest realities, to give the council credit at least for one quality and to recognize our own new type of humanism: We, too, in fact, we more than any others, honor mankind.
Would not this council, then, which has concentrated principally on man, be destined to propose again to the world of today the ladder leading to freedom and consolation? Would it not be, in short, a simple, new and solemn teaching to love man in order to love God? To love man, we say, not as a means but as the first step toward the final and transcendent goal which is the basis and cause of every love. And so this council can be summed up in its ultimate religious meaning, which is none other than a pressing and friendly invitation to mankind of today to rediscover in fraternal love the God "to turn away from whom is to fall, to turn to whom is to rise again, to remain in whom is to be secure ... to return to whom is to be born again, in whom to dwell is to live" (St. Augustine, Solil. I, 1, 3; PL 32, 870).
# posted by Jamie : 10:58 AM