Who was Who at Vatican II -
The Voices of Council Fathers
To complement the Voice of the Popes there follows a brief selection of the views of some important Fathers on the need for Vatican II and its importance:
Cardinal Augustin Bea SJ (1881 – 1968)
Cardinal Bea was indeed one of the giants of Vatican II, a scripture scholar, but best known for his presidency of the Secretariat for Christian Unity during the Council. His own preface to a book of 1967 referred to an earlier work that concluded with a description of the unity of the human family in Christ:
“Now it is this last theme which is the subject of the present study. ...... since it is like a thread linking together all the documents of the Second Vatican Council; ....”
(The Church and Mankind, Augustin Bea; Geoffrey Chapman, 1967)
Cardinal Franz König (1905- 2004)
Vatican II: The Highlight of my Life:
“I have often been asked which I think are the Council’s most important achievements. To my mind Vatican II set in motion four really trailblazing, creative and lasting stimuli. First it established the Church’s universality.” .... [Particularly evident in the debates in the Council hall] “This multitude of different nationalities languages and cultures changed the awareness of the Council. The Church laid aside its European attire, ... “The second breakthrough which opened the walls was the Council’s support for ecumenism. It was Pope John himself who courageously took up the delicate issue of ecumenism.” .... “The third important breakthrough, which in my eyes which was of particular momentum for the future of the Church, is the Council’s emphasis on the importance of the lay apostolate. Before Vatican II the Church was often perceived as a kind of two class system with the hierarchy on one side and the laity on the other..... But that was hardly the Gospel view. Vatican II states quite clearly that the Church is one communion.”...... For many, however, both inside and outside the Church, the renewal of the liturgy was the Council’s most striking reform. Misunderstandings arose because the change was too abrupt and the faithful were not prepared gently enough.”
(Open to God, Open to the World ; Ed Christa Pongratz-Lippit; Continuum 2005).
This posthumous book contains serious material, but it moves easily and is a must-read for any Christian caring about the Church and to many others too, because of the chapters devoted to the Jewish and Muslim faiths and König’s concerns - both “official”, as well as personal - with non-believers.
Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens (1904 - 1996)
Another giant of the Council, Suenens wrote within a few years of the close of the Council:
“The Second Vatican Council marked the end of an epoch. ....... to look back even further, it marked the end of a series of epochs. ....... We could say that in a certain way it closed the age of Constantine. [König makes the identical point in The Pull of God.]....... On the other hand, in the context of its more immediate past, that is the first half of our [twentieth] century, it appears not so much as a terminal point as a synthesis. Vatican II was the heir and beneficiary of those great movements of renewal which were, and are, stirring in the heart of the modern Church; we mean the biblical, liturgical, patristic, theological and pastoral renewals.” (Co-responsibility in the Church; Leon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens; Burns and Oates, 1968)
Archbishop Denis E Hurley OMI (1915-2004)
Vatican II, keeping the Dream Alive is the title of another posthumous book from yet another great man recently published, and another must-read. Edited by a fellow South African also with Irish origins, Paddy Kearney, the core of the book is Archbishop Hurley’s own memories of Vatican II, but it also contains contributions from other distinguished labourers in the South African vineyard. They write in tribute to Hurley, but also about the Church since Vatican II. The book contains informed assessments about Hurley’s contributions both to the Council and to the anti-apartheid struggle. While recommending Keeping the Dream Alive and another recent book about this remarkable man, Denis Hurley: A Portrait by Friends, ed. A.M. Gamley (2001, Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg, S.A.), for present purposes it is enough to quote the opening sentence of his own introduction to Memories of Vatican II :
“The first half of the decade of the ‘60’s presented me with the greatest experience of my episcopal life, indeed, the greatest experience of my whole life: the Second Vatican Council.”
Abbot BC (Christopher) Butler OSB (1902-1986)
Butler has been described by some as a successor to Newman. Whether history will support the comparisons or not, Butler was one of the most exceptional English Churchman of the 20th century and had the privilege of influencing a general Council of the Church in his own life-time. Much of this website is concerned with the Council experience and its teachings as seen by and recorded by Butler. A short quotation from his last book (alongside the illustration of its cover) is given in “The Need for Vatican II”. Therefore, only one brief comment from him is recorded here, it is from a private letter to his sister Mary:
“To me, the Council is potentially one of the biggest things that have happened in the Church since 1054. [the date of the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches]......... But so many people even if they have been members of the Council don’t seem to see it. It is rather like appreciating the real significance of the New Testament: some people see nothing but a host of critical questions, while for others, it is the splendour of a tremendous revelation.” (Letter to Miss Mary Butler, Oct 1965).
Butler’s private letters contain comments on fellow members of the Council, and in particular, the work of the much younger Canadian Bishop R J De Roo.
During the Council in Rome, many like-minded men met and formed lasting friendships. Private family letters from Bishop BC Butler record:
“At Durban, I hope I shall be staying with Archbishop Hurley, a friend of mine whom I greatly admire.”..... “..... from the Days of Vatican II, and [he] has been kindness itself. He is a powerful man, aged about 54 or 55, and a very outspoken opponent of apartheid - too outspoken for many of his fellow bishops in the Republic.” (Letters to Miss Mary Butler, 1970.)
Butler had been invited to South Africa to give a series of lectures in Hurley‘s regular "Winter School". The mutual regard remained evident thirty years later in Hurley’s contribution to 2002 Vatican II Symposium.
Similarly, Cardinal Suenens rarely visited England without calling on Bishop Christopher Butler.
Remi J De Roo, Bishop Emeritus of Victoria BC (1924 - )
Bishop De Roo must be one of, if not the only English speaking Council Father still pastorally active. Such living memory of the Council is precious and we rejoice that he is still with us. His experience of the Council and his ecclesiology can be found here and here, and on his own website www.remideroo.com and in his (co-authored) book entitled Even Greater Things - Hope and Challenge after Vatican II” (Novalis, 1999). The title derives from John 14. His orientation and pastoral attitude, frequently reflected in his preaching, is based on: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is not only the messenger he is the message.”
Men Who Made The Council
Towards the end of the Council, Notre Dame University Press commissioned Michael Novak to edit a series of 24 pen-portraits under the above title, each in booklet form and by a different author. Included were those Fathers who were judged to be principal players. Inclusion in the series conveyed considerable distinction, but it was an arbitrary selection: the list included on the one hand notable ‘conservatives’ and on the other, ‘progressives’. Abbot Butler, the only non-bishop in the series, disliked those crude labels and preferred the broader terms of “backward-looking’ and ‘forward-looking’. He regarded himself as conservative in some matters and progressive in others.
All the Fathers mentioned above, except the then very young De Roo, were in the Notre Dame series.