This special Spring-Summer 2012 double issue of Communio is devoted to commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council. In January 2012 the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family co-sponsored with Communio a conference on the theme “Keeping the World Awake to God: The Challenge of Vatican II.” The aim of the conference was to ponder the novelty of Vatican II read through the lens of what Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed as a “hermeneutic of continuity.”
When Pope John XXIII called the council in his apostolic constitution Humanae salutis (25 December 1961), he “made a great, unrepeatable gesture in entrusting to a general council the task of understanding the word of faith today in a new way. Above all the council took up and carried out its great mission of defining in a new way the Church’s purpose as well as her relation to the modern era, and also the relation of faith to this time with its values.” Our task now, Pope Benedict XVI continues, “is first of all to bring to light God’s priority again. The important thing today is to see that God exists, that God matters to us, and that he answers us. And conversely, if he is omitted, everything else might be as clever as can be–yet man then loses his dignity and his authentic humanity and, thus, the essential thing breaks down. That is why . . . as a new emphasis we have to give priority to the question about God.” (Benedict XVI, Light of the World, 65). The Second Vatican Council provides us with a rereading and illumination of the Tradition in order to meet this task.
The letter of the conciliar documents, taken as a whole, contains a hermeneutical center radiating outwards from the doctrine contained in Dei verbum and Lumen gentium and illuminating the council’s teaching on mission, inter-religious dialogue, modernity, religious-freedom, and the life. Rightly understood, Vatican II sought to recover a sometimes unnoticed constitutive principle of the Tradition: the catholicity of God’s self-revelation in Christ. Christ is “catholic,” because he reveals God in revealing man (and creation and the order of being tout cour) and vice versa (cf. Gaudium et spes, 22 and Dives in misericordia, 1). The council is novel, then, as a rereading of the Tradition in light of its catholic form, which is not merely “formal,” but a unity of form and content: Christ as the Incarnate Word of the Trinitarian God (Dei Verbum 2).
Carl A. Anderson, in his opening remarks, reminds us that the drama of man, which compels us to understand the pastoral challenge confronting the Faith today, “can only be answered in terms of an adequate anthropology in light of the teaching of the council. This anthropology cannot simply be taught in a classroom but can only be convincing when reflected in the lives of believers—“when the ‘splendor of Christ’ truly radiates from millions of Christian families.”
In “The Significance of Vatican II,” Francis Cardinal George first speaks to the purpose Pope John XXIII articulated in calling the Second Vatican Council, tracing much of the relevant history leading up to its convocation. The Cardinal goes on to illustrate why a greater understanding of the world and her place in it leads the Church to change her own governance, “restore and strengthen in our ecclesial consciousness the centrality of the worship of God in spirit and in truth,” and bring renewal to the liturgy. Last, Cardinal George addresses the hope at the convocation of the council “for a new springtime for the faith.” This hope was not false, and he sees evidence of this new season in the papacies following John XXIII and in the generosity of spirit prevalent in the Church today.
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