(Bishop Martin Amos shares his reflection about the Second Vatican Council, which includes information from Commonweal magazine about the council proceedings.)
Father Chuck (Adam) had some “suggestions” for me about what to talk about: my own experience of Vatican II, the pastoral role of a bishop, collegiality, the three-fold sacrament of Holy Orders and national episcopal (bishops’) conferences. And he said I had five minutes, so here goes!
I was born in 1941 (the day after Pearl Harbor), entered seminary in 1959, was ordained a priest in 1968 and then a bishop in 2001. That means my years in the seminary were before Vatican II, during Vatican II and after Vatican II.
We read and studied the documents as they came out in stages. Today, the younger generation is used to constant change — just look at technology — but in the early 1960s these changes were very dramatic. It was an awe-inspiring time and very confusing at the same time. Some people accepted the changes and wanted much more; some were appalled at the changes and wanted them slowed down. For those of us who lived through it, it was a defining moment in the Church that is still unfolding 50 years later.
In 1962, some 2,500 bishops rejected the first drafts of council documents prepared by the Roman Curia. They asserted their right in an ecumenical council that they, with the pope, were to exercise supreme power over the entire Church.
On Nov. 21, 1964, Lumen Gentium, “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” was issued. The bishops set upon describing the Church: in chapter 1, the mystery of the Church; in chapter 2, the people of God; the episcopacy in chapter 3; the laity in chapter 4 and so on. There were eight chapters in all.
I would like to use my time to look at chapter 3, titled: “On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate,” and concentrate on paragraph 22 on collegiality. Ten ballots were taken during the first series of votes on all the chapters except chapter 3. Chapter 3 had 41 separate votes — obviously an area of concern.
Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium began with a more biblical and patristic approach to describe the Church. It was patterned from Scripture with the 12 apostles around their leader, Peter. The Church was described more as a circle — a communion with the hierarchy at the center and at the service of the rest — rather than a pyramid with the pope at the top and the laity as the foundation.
The first straw vote on Oct. 30, 1963, showed a large majority of the bishops in favor of the collegial principle, but a determined minority raised concerns. In Roman law, a college is an association of equals and this seemed to infringe on the primacy of the pope defined in Vatican I.
At that time, (Father) Joseph Ratzinger, who was a pertius, argued for collegiality and said it would bring a richness to the Church. Some bishops stormed the papal apartments to plead with the pope (Paul VI) to do something. Somehow, there needed to be a balance between primacy and collegiality.
Some theologians felt the pope could be both: the Vicar of Christ exercising primacy and owed obedience. Or at other times, the head of the college of bishops acting collegially. Pope Paul VI had this appended to Lumen Gentium as the interpretation of collegiality — which, incidentally, was done without any consultation, discussion or vote.
Chapter 3, article 22 states: “Just as, in accordance with the Lord’s decree, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together.” This is also known as collegiality.
But, “the college or body of bishops has no authority other than the authority which it is acknowledged to have in union with the Roman Pontiff” … In virtue of his office … “the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church.” This is also known as primacy.
While some were clearly not happy and thought the pope should draw his authority as head of the college, the document was passed with only five dissenting votes. There was a feeling at least that collegiality was in the document.
John Paul II, for all his wonderful attributes, led by asserting a central control. He moved Vatican II along in many areas in social justice, ecumenism, religious freedom — but not collegiality. Cardinal Ratzinger, who had supported collegiality in the beginning, was affected by the links between this and the political and social unrest of 1968.
A year later in the document Christus Dominus, the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, was issued. When it was issued, I have to admit, I didn’t spend much time studying it because I thought I would never have to deal with it. It talks about the nature of the episcopacy, role and tasks of bishops and their relationship with other members of the Church and among themselves.
Chapter 3 on the Dogmatic Constitution and the subsequent exhortation, Pastores Gregis, of John Paul II are among documents that spell out a rich theology of bishops, their place in the theology of the Church and in a sense, our marching orders.
I do believe that a spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility has come into the Church since these documents were approved. Bishops from around the world, the majority elected, some appointed, do form Synods of Bishops and meet with the pope to discuss issues critical to the Church. There is one going on right now on Evangelization. Synods are called by the pope, who sets the agenda, presides over the synod and issues the results. Some see this as collegiality, others do not.
We also have our national conference of bishops (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). We make some decisions of our own; others need ratification from Rome. On a more local level, we have a Diocesan Pastoral Council and a Priests’ Council. Parishes have parish pastoral councils and finance councils.
Today, just as 50 years ago, we find people on both sides of the fence concerning the issue of collegiality. There are bishops, priests and laity who think “Roma locuta est, causa finita est (Rome has spoken, the case is finished). And there are those who think there needs to be more democracy and collegiality in the Church. Some want “Father” to do it and others don’t want “Father” to do it. And since virtue stands in the middle, so do I (Bishop Amos said with a smile).
I end with words from St. Augustine: “For you, I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a grace received … I am happier by far to be redeemed by you, than I am to be over you, I shall, as the Lord commanded, to be more completely your servant.”