Shall we unite with Rome? (2)
Fifty years after Vatican II, the late W. J. Grier’s analysis (see March ET also) remains as incisive as ever. Far from the Council being a triumph for Reformation principles, the pope affirmed that ‘nothing in traditional doctrine is really changed’.
The Vatican Council ended, as it began, with the exaltation of Mary. The Church Times of 19 October 1962 stated, ‘The curtain-raiser for the Council was the pope’s visit to Assisi and [the house of Mary at] Loreto’.
In his speech at the opening of the Council, Pope John referred to the church’s joy that the longed-for day had finally dawned when, ‘under the auspices of the Virgin Mother of God, the Second Vatican Council is being opened here beside St Peter’s tomb’.
Toward the end of his speech he invoked the help of Mary: ‘O Mary, help of Christians, help of bishops, of whose love we have recently had particular proof in thy temple of Loreto … dispose all things for a happy and propitious outcome and, with thy spouse St Joseph … intercede for us to God’.
Pope Paul VI in his speech at the close of the Third Session, 21 November 1964, devoted ‘fully half of his address’ to the exaltation of Mary (to ‘Marian theology’, as Xavier Rynne puts it, Letters from Vatican City, p. 268). He bestowed upon her the title ‘Mother of the Church’.
‘We proclaim the Most Blessed Mary Mother of the Church, that is to say, of all the people of God’. His lengthy prayer at the close of this address fits in with the gross Mary worship which has often marked Roman books of devotion issued with papal approval in days past.
In his address at the close of the Council on 8 December 1965, Pope Paul, according to The Times, concluded by suggesting that ‘the post-conciliar work might begin by taking “the beauty of Mary Immaculate” as an inspiring model’.
According to a fuller report in the Irish Times, Pope Paul concluded his address to the huge gathering in St Peter’s Square by saying that the post-Council work could begin ‘in directing our gaze on Mary … our heavenly mother and queen … in whom the image of God is reflected with absolute clarity’.
At the Third Session on 23 September 1964, mass was celebrated by Cardinal Marella, and this was preceded by a procession in which the pope carried the head of St Andrew (Xavier Rynne, p. 53).
John Calvin, in his day, reported that on a certain great altar of the Roman Church lay part of what was claimed to be the brain of St Peter, but, when an opportunity arose to take it out of its case and examine it, it turned out to be a piece of pumice stone.
Calvin affirmed that, if catalogues could be made of supposed relics, ‘it would be made manifest that every apostle has more than four bodies’ (Calvin’s Tracts and treatises, Vol. 1, pp. 293-4)!
At the opening of the Fourth Session, there was a procession in which the pope took part, carrying supposed relics of the cross. The Catholic herald reported that these relics were venerated as ‘fragments of the true cross on which our Lord died, a large portion of the inscription which was placed over the cross on Calvary, and a nail and two of the thorns from the crown the Roman soldiers placed on Christ’s head’.
According to the Catholic herald, Pope Paul also ordered that the ‘blessed sacrament’ remain exposed in the Pauline Chapel throughout the whole of the fourth Council Session, so that it could be venerated by all taking part in the Council and by all who work in the Vatican.
This veneration of supposed relics and the ‘blessed sacrament’ bears witness that Rome still clings to her superstitions and fables. Worse still, when the Protestant observers were invited to take part in the procession with the relics, some did so.
Vatican II’s Decree on religious liberty, promulgated by the pope on 7 December 1965, has been hailed by many as if it were all that could be desired. It states, however, that ‘all men are bound by sacred duty to profess and embrace the Catholic faith, in so far as they are able to know it’.
It still has a reference to the ‘traditional’ belief of the Roman Catholic Church that she is the one true church. It is this belief which lay behind the tyranny of Rome for centuries. It lay behind Pope Gregory XVI’s view of religious liberty as a ‘delirium’ and Pius IX’s view of it as ‘supremely fatal for the salvation of souls’.
It is significant that even a prominent official of the World Council of Churches is not satisfied with the wording of this decree. The Ecumenical press service of 9 December 1965 reported Dr Carrillo de Albornoz, secretary of the WCC Secretariat on Religious Liberty, as saying, ‘Some statements on principle included in the Declaration concerning, for example, the “uniqueness” of the Roman Catholic Church and the only truth being the Roman Catholic one, will cause uneasiness and bewilderment among many Christians’.
When Vatican II came to frame its view of sources of revelation, it struck what the Daily Telegraph called a ‘neat balance’ between Scripture and tradition. The more exact description would be a ‘compromise’ rather than a ‘neat balance’.
By a last-minute change the following statement was added: ‘And thus it is that the Church does not derive its certainty about all the objects of revelation from sacred Scripture alone’. No reformed believer could be content with this wording.
Herder correspondence, a monthly Roman Catholic journal, comments as follows on the Declaration on non-Christian religions: ‘Compromises proved to be unavoidable and left their mark in almost every sentence of the final declaration’ (January 1966).
It was characteristic of Church councils in the past — in the early centuries and in the days of the Protestant Reformation — that they sought to make their pronouncements with absolute clarity and loyalty to Holy Scripture, but at Vatican II compromise was the order of the day.
It was clear from the very outset that there could be little hope of a real scriptural reform of doctrine. Pope John in his opening address to the Council in 1962 stated that ‘the substance of ancient doctrine’ is one thing and ‘the way in which it is presented’ is another.
The ‘substance must remain untouched’. In other words, the wrapping on the parcel may be changed, but not the contents of the parcel. In his address at the close of the Third Session on 21 November 1964, Pope Paul affirmed that ‘nothing in traditional doctrine is really changed’.
On the eve of the Fourth Session, Pope Paul in his encyclical Mysterium fidei committed the Council afresh to the rigid Romanism of the Council of Trent — on masses, transubstantiation, the reservation of the sacrament and the veneration of the host.
On 11 October 1965, the pope rejected suggestions that the celibacy of the clergy be discussed. Rome’s doctrine on this point must stand unchanged.
Nevertheless, winds of change are blowing in the Roman Church. Canon Bernard Pawley of Ely Cathedral was the first representative in Rome of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and also an Anglican observer at the Second Vatican Council.
In an address delivered at Swanwick, in September 1965, to the Annual Conference of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council of the Church Assembly, Canon Pawley says of Vatican II, ‘It has immediately showed up the ferment that there is in fact in the Roman Catholic Church’ (The Furrow, January 1966).
There is a ‘ferment’, without doubt. There are signs of a change in their attitude to the reading of the Scriptures, though this is far from penetrating to the people, especially in Roman Catholic lands.
There is also a more open attitude to attending services in ‘non-Catholic’ churches. But the greatest change of all in the Roman Church passes almost unobserved even by many Protestant controversialists. It is the attitude to the full inspiration of the Scriptures.
W. J. Grier
To be continued
By permission of Affinity