Vatican II the final documents summarised

A summary of documents passed during the final session of Vatican II

Vatican II the final documents summarised Archdiocese of Wellington On the pastoral office of bishops

In its earlier stages, the decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops reflected the pre-conciliar theology of church which tended to make bishops entirely subordinate to the Pope and the Curia and to make the office of bishop more a jurisdictional than a sacramental reality. However, with the passing of Chapter 3 in the ‘church’ document of collegiality, much more advanced thinking can be added.

So, bishops exercise their episcopal office ‘received through episcopal consecration’ (note 3).

They exercise this office at three levels:
• over their own dioceses,
• in collaboration with other bishops on a regional or national level (episcopal conferences),
• as a worldwide body in union with the pope (college of bishops).

Thus bishops are not simply delegates or vicars of the pope in a diocese, as an exceedingly hierarchical model of church once proposed (note11). That pastoral office, which includes preaching the gospel, presiding at worship and ministering to those in need, must always be exercised in the mode of a servant (note16).

The bishop must carry out his episcopal or supervisory duties so as to encourage communication and integration among the various apostolates (note 17). Indeed the decree in notes 11-21 contains a kind of job description.

On training priests

Seminarians, as such, came in only four centuries ago – until the Reformation priests were often ordained with little training although those who could afford it went to university.

Whereas earlier training was monastic, the council called for training to combine theological, spiritual and pastoral training adapted to each country or region (n 1) and pastoral reality (n 4).

Theological studies should be biblical, ecumenical, historical and personally formative (n 16-17).
Special attention should be given to the relationship between theory and practice (n 21). Continuing education programmes for the clergy are also of great importance (n 22).

On non-Christian religions

The decree on non-Christian religions covers the last two chapters of the Decree on Ecumenism, discussion on which was interrupted to deal with other Christian ecclesial bodies.

It was intended to suggest improved Christian dealings with Jews. Its vision, however, became broader. It acknowledges that the whole human community comes from the creative hand of the one God, and that variations in religious faith and expression are a reflection of the diversity that characterises humankind itself. ‘The Catholic church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions… They often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all persons.’ (n 2). Dialogue and collaboration are to be encouraged.

Christians and Jews have so many basic elements in common, we must seek mutual understanding and respect. Specifically, we must reject the idea that the Jewish race can be blamed for the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the Jews are not repudiated or accursed by God (n 4). Every form of persecution is to be condemned and so, too, every kind of discrimination on race, colour, condition of life or religion (n 5).

Religious life renewal

Religious Life refers to a corporate form of Christian existence in which members of the church gather together in common pursuit of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Renewal of such life depends on two principles: 1) a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration behind a given community, and 2) an adjustment of the community to the changed conditions of the times.

Indeed a cloistered lifestyle is incompatible with full dedication to apostolic work (n 8). This, of course, does not denigrate contemplative life but means religious life dedicated to fully active work (n 16).

There is a call to a corporate witness to their own poverty with their contributing something from their own resources to the other needs of the church and to the support of the poor ( n 13). They ‘should avoid every appearance of luxury, of excessive wealth and accumulation of possessions, abolish all class distinctions among their members (n 5) and involve all members in the renewal process’ (n 4). It does not repeat the teaching of the Council of Trent that the religious state is superior to marriage and it encourages the work of conferences of major superiors to liaise with conferences in other countries and episcopal conferences (n 23).

On Christian education

The declaration on Christian education is different from most of the other council documents in that it deals with only a few basic principles and leaves further development to the post-conciliar process, particularly in the various conferences of bishops.

The focus is on the education of the young as it occurs in the home, the school and the church. It insists education must be broadly humane, in keeping with advances in all of the sciences, and with a concern for nurturing personal maturity and social responsibility (n 1-2).

The final two documents

On November 18, 1965, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council passed and promulgated two more documents.

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation

The church is commissioned to preach the gospel to the whole of creation. It draws on scripture and tradition … the church constantly moves towards the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfilment (n 8).
The teaching office of the church interprets the word of God as it is communicated in scripture and in the successive interpretations of scripture (tradition). ‘This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it.’ Therefore, the sacred scripture, sacred tradition and the teaching authority of the church are so linked that one cannot stand without the others and, in turn, ‘under the action of the Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls’ (n 10).

Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People

Many of the documents already passed foreshadow this one. This decree makes clear, as the document on the church teaches, that the laity are full members of the People of God and, as such, share directly in the mission of the church, not simply by leave of the hierarchy, but ‘from their union with Christ their head. Incorporated into Christ’s mystical body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself’ (note 3).

The apostolate is located principally, but not exclusively, in the temporal order − the world of family, culture, economic affairs, the arts and professions, political institutions and so forth (n 6).