Andrew Pierce on Learning from Vatican II

andrew-pierceYesterday’s Irish News featured commentary from Dr Andrew Pierce, lecturer in Intercutural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD, with the headline ‘Other Traditions have much to learn from Vatican II.’

Pierce, a Church of Ireland member and consultant to the International Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order, acknowledges the dramatic change in the Catholic Church since Vatican II, and in particular the impact this has had on ecumenism.

I commend to you the full article, but include here some relevant excerpts:

[The Pre-Vatican II Church] was anti-modern, anti-liberal, and anti-Protestant; it worshipped in Latin, it opposed ecumenism, it insisted that error had no rights and it had ex-communicated or silenced some of its leading scholars as heretical ‘modernists.’

… During the council, and in its immediate aftermath, the image of the Catholic Church underwent dramatic change.

… Its dogmatic constitution embraced the modern world; far from claiming that error had no rights, the Church had affirmed human rights including the rights of error; ecumenism was now a core value of the Catholic Church; scholars who had been silenced before the Council had been employed as experts by the council Fathers in drafting the most authoritative statements that the Church can make; worship now took place in the vernacular, and had been considerably simplified.

… For those of us in other Christian traditions, Vatican II was no less revolutionary.

Two aspects of the Council’s workings ensured its ecumenical impact.

The first of these was Pope John’s determination that this council would be ecumenical in more than name. … the post-Trent Church sometimes appeared to confuse hostility to Protestantism with its affirmation of Catholicism.

Pope John insisted that Vatican II would not make the same mistake – there would be no anathemas from this council.

The second and no-less important ecumenical initiative of Pope John was to include non-Roman Catholic theologians as official observers at the council, whose presence made an incalculable impact on the conciliar debates.

… But in Ireland, the structured realities of historical, political, and cultural intra-Christian separatism means that it has taken a long time to adjust to the altered self-understanding of the Roman Catholic Church; indeed this task of adjustment still remains a live item on our agenda.

… This new relationship will take time to bed down into the lives of the Churches in Ireland; many of our existing structures continue to massage our internalised separatisms and there will also be times of stress and difficulty as we learn to acknowledge the harm that we have done to one another over centuries.

But, as we learn to grow together out of our separatist comfort zones, this relationship of communion with one another will confront us with the prospect of a different, less self-interested future together, in which both our unity and diversity will be occasions for joy and celebration not only for ourselves but for the whole world created and redeemed by God in Christ.  

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