Witness of Vatican II Speaks About What's Worked Best in 50 Years
By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal
\VATICAN CITY, 10 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
Living in a small apartment of Vatican City is one of the most experienced theologians the contemporary Church has had — experience that comes not just because of the long years he has served the Church, or because of his published works, but because he has witnessed many events, theological currents and orientations, and historic gestures in the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.
We are referring to Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier, OP, university professor for decades, former secretary of the International Theological Commission and former papal theologian, very close to the thought of the present Pope. ZENIT spoke with the 90-year-old cardinal and thus we begin a series of interviews in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council.
ZENIT: Having reached 90 years of age, what has been the most important event in your life?
Cardinal Cottier: I think that, before God, the most important event is my Baptism, my Christian education, as I come from a family of very good Christian education. Then my Dominican vocation, which is the greatest gift of my life. There I received above all knowledge of Saint Thomas.
Q: And as cardinal?
Cardinal Cottier: My being cardinal was a kindness of John Paul II, and I come from the last group named by him in 2003 — he died in 2005. And I think he named me because of his great kindness.
ZENIT: What did it mean for you to be papal theologian?
Cardinal Cottier: First of all it was a surprise. I remember that I was still teaching in Fribourg and I had already retired in Geneva. At the time I was 68 and I thought I’d end my life there. Then one day I received a message from the Nuncio who told me that Pope John Paul II had appointed me; I didn’t know anything. I only knew that it was post given to the Dominican Order. I came to Rome a few months later, and I had to learn on the spot what it was and I learned! (laughs).
ZENIT: What are you dedicated to at present? Are you, perhaps, writing something?
Cardinal Cottier: I’m writing a little. I will do something on the theology of history, and we’ll see.
ZENIT: Celebrated this year are the 50 years since the convocation of Vatican Council II. In your opinion — who have lived through moments that belong to the past and the present of the Church — what of the Council has been assimilated best?
Cardinal Cottier: I would say that much has been done. For example, the structure of Episcopal Conferences; the way some of them function now; or the dicasteries of the Church which didn’t exist before, Christian union, dialogue with non-believers — all these are new things which often function well. Also <those areas that> regard justice and peace — these things didn’t exist before the Council, as well as concern for dialogue with the world, the idea itself of the New Evangelization was born with the Council. Also the Synod of Bishops and the doctrine itself of the last Popes, which have as their No. 1 program the implementation of the Council. We can say that the Council meets with resistance, but it does not meet with a national Church that says no; it is accepted everywhere.
ZENIT: There are still people who resist. Can you explain what it is that some sectors don’t understand? Or do they not want to change?
Cardinal Cottier: I believe that, basically, there must be an act of faith in the Church. The great crisis that appeared after the Council in many Catholics, was that they did not regard the Church as a mystery of faith, as Body of Christ, people of God, Bride of Christ — all these beautiful images — but as a sociological event. So, why does this happen? Because some are mistaken in the idea.
Hence it is that the first need consists in having eyes of faith on the Church, as well as a serious study of the Council, because I don’t know if the documents have been sufficiently studied to be accepted. Having said this, it’s true that in my generation, more than in young generations, there are persons with nostalgia for what they have lived <in the past>. However, in regard to this, one must be able to give some things up.
ZENIT: In an interview you said that you were very impressed at the time with the document on religious liberty in the Council. Do you think that this has prepared the Church for these times, in which she herself suffers from a lack of liberties?
Cardinal Cottier: Of course. If this tool didn’t exist, I wonder if a representation of the Church would be possible in the principal international organizations, such as UN organisms or others specialized in human rights. And before all the States of the world it is a very strong document, because the Church can also live it in relation to minorities. History is history and it goes on, and the Church has always read in history what the Council calls the “signs of the times.” The world, and all the rest on the outside, is no longer Christian; this is an enormous change that, if you wish, refers us to the first centuries of the Church, and which enables the Church to carry out her own missionary vocation. And the New Evangelization also means this.
ZENIT: Speaking of the New Evangelization. How do you see this appeal of the Pope? What must be stressed?
Cardinal Cottier: The New Evangelization means two things: first the missionary tradition of the Church which has always existed, because she is now in a new world in which I see two phenomena: the first is globalization, which wasn’t there before, and the crisis of the West. This is the background of the New Evangelization: we must not say new things. We are faced with a Christianity in the West, especially in Europe more than in America, where people — although they know Christianity — have disconnected themselves. And why is this happening? Maybe because we use traditional structures to give the sacraments, but perhaps we haven’t continued preaching the Gospel. When it becomes something social, people let themselves be led by traditions, by customs and the content is vitiated. Thus we have a generation — including in Christian families — a youth that knows nothing about Christianity, a generation that some have called illiterate, and rightly so.
ZENIT: In your opinion, do you think Catholics know how to preach and proclaim Jesus?
Cardinal Cottier: Ah, it depends, in reality I don’t know if we know how. This depends on the grace of God. We are Dominicans and I think a great effort must be made. But Jesus must be preached and Christian education, catechesis, must also be imparted. Because there is preaching that causes an impact, let’s say that wakes one up — and this is ordinarily done by Protestant Evangelicals — with much emotion, but I don’t know if this lasts a lifetime. I would say that the subject of proclamation must never be separated from that of catechesis, because the evil is ignorance and it’s not enough to have a conversion for the moment. The faith must be lived.
[Translation by ZENIT]