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Does Vatican II offer a blueprint for political healing?

  • 15 May 2024
  Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. To the extent that the end of the formal meetings of bishops marked a conclusion. I am currently studying a unit on the history of the Council, as part of some theology studies. In class this week, another student mused on the ways the Church might mark this anniversary. Much, it seems to me, depends on what occurs at the second session of the Synod on Synodality. This gathering, set for October, is another step in receiving, interpreting, and enacting the Council’s vision of the Church.

It's been fascinating studying the history, and proximate pre-history, of the Council. My lecturer, Rev Dr Max Vodola has a particular historical interest in Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII. Considering his history, motivations, and expectations in calling the Council alongside the various preceding movements of renewal and reform occurring in liturgy, ecumenism and appreciation of scripture has been fascinating. The threads, each of different origin, led to the Council having the particular concerns that animated it. Just as various viewpoints at the Council led to documents that often hold together tensions, and at times strain with apparent contradictions.

There have been various points of view on how the Council is to be understood. Such discourse often asks whether a hermeneutic of continuity or discontinuity should be used. In other words, did the Second Vatican Council give rise to new expressions of the long-standing traditions of the Church, or was there something more radical at play?

Whatever the case, the undeniable reality is that the process and documents of the Council amount to an expectation that the Council would be ‘received’ by the ‘entire people of God’, not just by figures of hierarchical authority. The ways each person in the Church community will receive, and so interpret and seek to enact the Council, varies. But there is a shared enterprise in drawing the individual engagements into a communal one. Pope Francis’ synodal process seems an obvious attempt to give time to this shared reception.

This is all very intra-Church. But the grappling with reception and so communal interpretation might have some parallels for democratic political communities. Receiving Church Councils is different to receiving election or referendum results, and the Church is no democratic institution even as it seeks to notice the movements of the Holy Spirit through the sentiments of the faithful (for a creative interpretation