October 14, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

20th-century Church: Five of the Vatican II documents

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

The bishops of the Second Vatican Council approved five documents on Oct. 28, 1965. They were mainly implementing documents complementing “Lumen Gentium” (“Light of the Nations”), the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” Those documents were:

First: “Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops.” This decree spelled out the various roles of bishops in the universal Church, in their own dioceses and in their cooperation with one another. It gave special emphasis to collegiality, and encouraged bishops to form national episcopal conferences.

Second: “Decree on the Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life.” This decree sought to adapt religious life to the conditions of the modern world without changing anything essential to the consecrated life. It said that this was to be done according to five principles: 1. The Gospel must be the supreme rule; 2. Each religious institute should recover and follow the intentions of its founder; 3. All institutes should participate in the work of the universal Church according to the degree allowed by their nature; 4. All religious should have a clear understanding of contemporary problems in order to help bring people to the Church; and 5. Above all else, religious life must be understood not as activity, but as a way of life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Third: “Decree on the Training of Priests.” It made clear that the true renewal of the Church was dependent upon the training of priests so that they would be prepared for “a priestly ministry animated by the spirit of Christ.” It dealt with the fostering of vocations, the importance of seminaries, the care which should be given to the spiritual formation of seminarians, the revision of ecclesiastical studies, training for pastoral work and the continuation of studies after ordination.

Fourth: “Declaration on Christian Education.” It emphasized the inalienable right of every human being to a suitable education, and said that parents must have the right to choose the schools they wish for their children. It said, too, that the teaching of religion must be extended to those who don’t attend Catholic schools. It supported special education for the developmentally disabled. It said that children “should receive a positive and prudent education in matters related to sex,” since modern youth were being inundated with false education in matters of sex.

Fifth: “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Times”), the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” During the decades since Vatican II, this document has proved very important, particularly in improving relations with the Jews.

In the document, the bishops of the council rejected the charge that the Jews were guilty of deicide and that they were guilty of the crucifixion of Christ. The document said, “Christ underwent his passion and death because of the sins of all men so that all might attain salvation” (#4).

“Nostra Aetate” also praises Hinduism for its search for God through asceticism and meditation; commends Buddhism for its belief in the radical insufficiency of this temporal world and its search for enlightenment; and compliments Islam for its belief in God, its recognition of Christ as a prophet and its veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. †

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