Teachings of the Council

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

Wednesday March 26th, the Pope delivered an address to many thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's for the General Audience. The subject of his talk was the importance of personal inner religious formation. The text is as follows:

Beloved Sons and Daughters!

After the Council, we are seeking in its teachings, the directives for the renewal of Christian life. Some of these directives, the main ones, concern the doctrine, others regard the action, the practical life, the moral and ascetic formation of the follower of Christ. It is the latter that We now wish to trace briefly in these informal talks of ours at the weekly audiences.

Now we are wondering what is the spiritual course, that is, the formative, inner course, that emerges most clearly from the conciliar documents. We could point out that the Council supposes the work of the Church regarding the formation of her members to the school of Christ to be already going on ("Lumen gentium", n. 10), as well as her work regarding the common vocation to holiness ("Lumen gentium", n. 40 and n. 41), the perfection to be practiced by the Bishops ("Christus Dominus", n. 15) and to be sought by the Religious, giving to spiritual life the primacy that is its due ("Perfectae caritatis", nn. 5, 6, 7). But it does not set forth expressly teaching on the inwardness of the Catholic religion. If we wish,in fact, to point out the characteristic aspects of the Council as a whole with regard to the spirituality it intends to promote, we could note that its attention is directed not so much to the personal and inner religious formation of the believer as rather to the formation of the social body of the Church. It does so following three guiding lines in the liturgical, community and social fields respectively.

Participation in the Liturgy

The individual soul is mainly considered in its participation in the Liturgy, which is the sacred action of the Church par excellence, her public and official action, and "no other action of the Church can match its claim to efficacy, nor equal the degree of it" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7). Hence the primacy of liturgical prayer.

The individual soul is also considered in its insertion in the People of God, in the community gathered in the same faith and in the same charity, because, the Council says, "it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness" ("Lumen gentium", n. 9; cfr. Bossuet, "Lettre IVème à une demoiselle de Metz, sur le mystère de l'unité de l'Eglise", 1662; Oeuvres, XI, 114 ss.). Hence the primacy of salvific unity (cfr. St. Cyprian, Ep. 69, 6; P.L. 3, 1142).

It is considered, finally, in its adhesion to the mission that the Church is carrying out in the midst of the society in which she lives in contact with the world in order to be a sacrament of salvation and proclaimer of the Gospel there. Hence the primacy of apostolic action (cfr. "Gaudium et spes", n. 93).

A great subject

The conciliar documents do speak of the human person and of the Christian personality (e.g. "Gaudium et spes", n. 41), of individual conscience (ib., nn. 16, 19), of freedom, etc. That is, they speak of the essence of man, of his dignity and his rights. But to anyone who does not view the conciliar doctrine as a whole, it seems that the great subject of inner life, of personal religion, of worship, of meditation, of contemplation (see however "Perfectae caritatis", nn.. 5 and 7; "Gaudium et spes", nn. 56 and 57; etc.) is left to the study and practice of traditional and private ecclesial initiative. For this reason there have been some complaints that personal piety receives less encouragement from the Council, and that a certain decay of inner religious life in the sanctuary of individual souls can be noted in some environments and at some moments.

Study Vatican II

The diffusion of some forms of pastoral activity contributes further, to this decay. These forms, though legitimate, even praiseworthy in themselves, may, if isolated from the specifically religious context of faith and grace, lead to the prevalence of the study of the statistical , sociological, cultural, and even artistic and folkloristic aspects of religious and moral life, that is, to exterior and partial aspects. They lead no less, unless doctrinal orthodoxy is vigilantly guarded, to the dangerous—to put it mildly—diffusionof certain movements of secularized thought. These movements consider and admit only a so-called "horizontal" Christianity, philanthropical and humanistic, ignoring its essential "vertical" content, which is theological, dogmatic and substantially religious.

We will have to do two things, therefore. First we must study the conciliar teachings better. Then we must integrate them in the light of that doctrinal heritage, which is essentially religious, mystical, ascetic and moral, that the Council has in no way repudiated but, on the contrary, has confirmed and extended in a vaster and more organic framework, recommending us to preserve and update it. These conciliar teachings, in fact, contain some reminders of the importance of certain religious elements, which cannot assume their authentic and operative value except in man's personal inner life. Let Us mention two of these reminders: study of the Holy Scriptures (cfr. "Dei Verbum" nn. 7, 25; 8 ss.) and the cult of the Holy Spirit. The extent to which the Holy Scriptures should interest the personal life of the Christian is known to all those who perceive the honour and the development given to the "Liturgy of the word" (cfr. Sacr. Conc. nn. 33-35). A famous quotation of St. Jerome is recalled in this connection (Dei Verbum, n. 25): "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (Commentary on Isaiah, Prol.: P.L. 24" 17).And the whole of the dogmatic Constitution "Dei Verbum" is an apologia of the Holy Scriptures, as the supreme rule of faith (n. 21),to which "easy access should be provided for all the Christian faithful" (n. 22). Nowit is known that understanding and assimilation of the Word of God, expressed in the Holy Scriptures, requires a personal religious attitude. This is made up of [sic] the seed of the Word of God remains sterile and creates for the person who hears it, without making it his own, a responsibility and not a salvation.

There would be a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit, as it is announced and exalted by the whole Council. We should not fail to rectify certain opinions some people hold regarding its charismatic action, as if each person could claim that he participates in this action in order to refuse obedience to the hierarchical authority, as if it were possible to appeal to a charismatic inner silence, meditation, acceptance of the magisterium of the Church, the secret experience of her light and spiritual force, without which [sic] Church in opposition to an institutional and juridical Church (cfr. Enc. "Mystici Corporis", 1943, n. 62, ss.),as if the charisms of the Holy Spirit, when they are genuine (cfr. I Thess. 5, 19-22; 1 Tim.1, 18), are not favours granted to be used by the ecclesial community for the edification of the mystical body of Christ (I Petr. 4, 10), andare not bestowed preferably on those who have special directive functions in the Church (cfr. I Cor. 12, 28), and subject to the authority of the hierarchy (cfr. Lumen Gentium, n. 7; and Ap. actuos. n. 3).

But there remains for those who wish to live with the Church and of the Church the great mystery of her animation by virtue of the Holy Spirit. The Council has enormously magnified this animation, which obliges us to value it where it is present and operative, in prayer, in meditation, in the consideration of the presence of Christ in us (cfr. Eph. 3, 17), in the supreme appreciation of charity, the great and first charism (I Cor 12, 31), in careful custody of the state of grace. Grace is the communion of divine life in us.

Why is there so little talk of it now? Why do so many people seem to take no notice of it, being more anxious to deceive themselves into thinking that every forbidden experience is permitted and to wipe out the sense of sin in themselves, than to defend the inner testimony of the Paraclete in their own conscience (Jn. 15, 26)?

We exhort you to this spirituality, beloved Sons. It is not a purely subjective spirituality, it does not preclude sensitivity to the needs of others, it is not a prohibition on cultural and exterior life in all its exigencies. It is the spirituality of Love, which is God, to which Christ initiated us, and which the Holy Spirit fills with his seven gifts of Christian maturity. We wish to invoke them upon you with Our Apostolic Blessing.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 April 1969, page 10

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