Thursday, October 11, 2012

50 years ago: Second Vatican Council opens

On October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council at St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican II, the first ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican I in 1870, concluded on December 8, 1965 under Pope Paul VI, who succeeded John XXIII in 1963. The council addressed the church's relations with the modern world and other churches and religions, and is widely believed to have led to a liberalization in Roman Catholic doctrine.

It may come as a surprise--as it did to this blogger some years ago--to discover that Vatican II resulted in no major doctrinal changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican II upheld the decrees of preceding ecumenical councils, including the Council of Trent, which contained many anathemas against Protestants. As promulgated by Pope Paul VI in Lumen Gentium on November 21, 1964:

51. This Sacred Council accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who having died are still being purified; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent.
According to George Weigel in the Denver Catholic Register, October 10, 2012:

Vatican II was like no other ecumenical Council in history, in that it did not provide authoritative keys for its own interpretation: the Council Fathers wrote no creed, condemned no heresy, legislated no new canons, defined no dogmas...Vatican II did not displace the Church’s tradition. Vatican II did not create do-it-yourself-Catholicism.
For example, who think that the Roman Catholic Church had abandoned the practice of indulgences after the battle with Martin Luther in the 16th century may be surprised to read this excerpt from the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI titled Indulgentiarum Doctrina, proumulgated January 1, 1967:

In an indulgence in fact, the Church, making use of its power as minister of the Redemption of Christ, not only prays but by an authoritative intervention dispenses to the faithful suitably disposed the treasury of satisfaction which Christ and the saints won for the remission of temporal punishment.

The aim pursued by ecclesiastical authority in granting indulgences is not only that of helping the faithful to expiate the punishment due sin but also that of urging them to perform works of piety, penitence and charity—particularly those which lead to growth in faith and which favor the common good.

And if the faithful offer indulgences in suffrage for the dead, they cultivate charity in an excellent way and while raising their minds to heaven, they bring a wiser order into the things of this world.

The Magisterium of the Church has defended and illustrated this doctrine in various documents. Unfortunately, the practice of indulgences has at times been improperly used either through "untimely and superfluous indulgences" by which the power of the keys was humiliated and penitential satisfaction weakened, or through the collection of "illicit profits" by which indulgences were blasphemously defamed. But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses "teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them."

9. The Church also in our days then invites all its sons to ponder and meditate well on how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and indeed all Christian society.

To recall briefly the most important considerations, this salutary practice teaches us in the first place how it is "sad and bitter to have abandoned ... the Lord God." Indeed the faithful when they acquire indulgences understand that by their own powers they could not remedy the harm they have done to themselves and to the entire community by their sin, and they are therefore stirred to a salutary humility.

Furthermore, the use of indulgences shows us how closely we are united to each other in Christ, and how the supernatural life of each can benefit others so that these also may be more easily and more closely united with the Father. Therefore the use of indulgences effectively influences charity in us and demonstrates that charity in an outstanding manner when we offer indulgences as assistance to our brothers who rest in Christ.

10. Likewise, the religious practice of indulgences reawakens trust and hope in a full reconciliation with God the Father, but in such a way as will not justify any negligence nor in any way diminish the effort to acquire the dispositions required for full communion with God. Although indulgences are in fact free gifts, nevertheless they are granted for the living as well as for the dead only on determined conditions. To acquire them, it is indeed required on the one hand that prescribed works be performed, and on the other that the faithful have the necessary dispositions, that is to say, that they love God, detest sin, place their trust in the merits of Christ and believe firmly in the great assistance they derive from the Communion of Saints.

In addition, it should not be forgotten that by acquiring indulgences the faithful submit docilely to the legitimate pastors of the Church and above all to the successor of Blessed Peter, the keybearer of heaven, to whom the Savior himself entrusted the task of feeding his flock and governing his Church.

The salutary institution of indulgences therefore contributes in its own way to bringing it about that the Church appear before Christ without blemish or defect, but holy and immaculate, admirably united with Christ in the supernatural bond of charity. Since in fact by means of indulgences members of the Church who are undergoing purification are united more speedily to those of the Church in heaven, the kingdom of Christ is through these same indulgences established more extensively and more speedily "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ."
While Vatican II made no significant doctrinal changes, the council was significant in how it approached ecumenism and relations with non-Christian religions. For example, four decades before A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You'--in which the "Christian" signatories and endorsers acknowledge that their god is the same as that of the Muslims to whom they're responding--came along, there was this statement from Pope Paul VI's declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions titled Nostra Aetate, proclaimed October 28, 1965:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

25 years ago: Jerry Falwell resigns as PTL chairman

On October 8, 1987, Rev. Jerry Falwell resigned as chairman of the PTL television “ministry” and the entire board of directors also resigned, more than six months after Rev. Falwell had taken the reins at the request of the “ministry’s” founder, Jim Bakker, when Mr. Bakker had become entangled in a sex scandal. The resignations of Rev. Falwell and the board came the day after a U.S. federal bankruptcy court rejected a reorganization plan submitted by Rev. Falwell, and ordered creditors of PTL to submit their own plan.

Sam Johnson, a member of the "ministry" team, took over from Mr. Falwell and incorporated a new entity called Heritage Ministries to run the PTL Club television program and other functions while the assets of the "ministry" and Heritage USA theme park were tied up in bankruptcy reorganization. Mr. Falwell, a Baptist, would have been wiser to led the "ministry" collapse under the "management" of Mr. Bakker, whose credentials were held by the Assemblies of God. When I think of Jerry Falwell's time as chairman of PTL, the main thing that comes to mind is the photo of him in his business suit going down the water slide at Heritage USA. A downhill slide was indeed an appropriate image for Heritage USA and televangelism in general.