Pope Paul VI. (Giovanni Battista Montini)

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Scholars to Look at What Vatican II Archives Tell Us About Council Fathers' Experiences

Will consider how majority opinions changed, looking to avoid ‘trap’ of conspiracy theories

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Next week, a study conference will be held in the Vatican to consider the Second Vatican Council in light of the archives.

This morning in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the event, which has the theme “Vatican Council II and its protagonists in the light of the archives.” It will be held Dec. 9-11 and is organised by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. The speakers at today’s press conference were Fr. Bernard Ardura, O. Praem., and Professor Philippe Chenaux, respectively president and member of the Committee.

Fr. Ardura explained that the event is a follow-up to the Convention held in 2012, with the collaboration of the Centre for Research and Study on the Council, on the theme “Vatican Council II: starting again from the archives”, which offered the exceptional opportunity to bring together archivists and university teachers to present the very diverse situations of conservation, cataloguing and use of the legacy of the conciliar Fathers. This second event is dedicated instead to the protagonists of the Council, “casting light on the various networks of opinions that had a not insignificant role in forming the convictions of many Council Fathers, both at the level of the episcopal conferences, and at the level of communities of thought. Indeed, the personal notes of many of the Council Fathers enable us at times to follow the evolution of their thought and their opinions gradually over the passage of time, highlighting the guiding themes that were consolidated in the sixteen documents drawn up by the Council”.

“In the programme of this Convention, we have also tried to take into account not only the diversity, but also the divergences which emerged during the Council. The unanimity Paul VI strongly desired for the approval of the conciliar documents left in the shade the opinions of a minority that was however well-organised; therefore we wanted some of the protagonists of this current to be presented in these days”.

Philippe Chenaux reiterated that the most arduous task for the historian in the interpretation of this event is the change of majority between the beginning and the end of the council. “To explain this ‘inversion of tendency’, without falling into the trap of conspiratorial hypotheses, reference to the concept of the ‘conciliar experience’ would appear fundamental. As St. John Paul II said a number of times, the council had an unique and unrepeatable meaning for those who took part. This represented, for many bishops, not only an extraordinary experience of fraternal communion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but also a school of theological renewal”.

“How did the Council Fathers experience the Council? What was their personal experience of the event? In what way did the conciliar experience condition their way of understanding the Church and their way of being bishops? Should we speak about a simple ‘evolution’, or a full ‘conversion’?” are some of the questions that this Convention endeavours to answer. “Solving the great ‘interpretative enigma’ – ‘what happened during Vatican Council II? – means the precise and meticulous reconstruction of the activity of its protagonists”, comments Chenaux.

The first session on 10 December is entitled “The protagonists revealed in the archives”. The second session on the same day will be dedicated to “Networks of contacts and opinions”, and will evaluate the consistency of the networks for contact and the exchange of opinions established between the participants. The third session, on 11 December, is entitled “Evolutions during the Council”, and will explore the theme of the evolution of thought among participants. There will be two further working sessions, the inauguration and introduction, and the conclusion, appraising the three sessions mentioned above.

In the inaugural session on 9 December, after Fr. Ardura’s introduction, five reports of a general nature will be presented: by Cardinal Laurent Monsegwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, who will speak on Cardinal Malula and his “African vision” of the Council; Bishop Filaret of Lviv and Galicia, of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, will speak about Vatican Council II and the Russian Orthodox Church; and three historians, Professors John O’Malley of Georgetown University (United States of America) Michael Quisinsky of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), and Philippe Chenaux.

The final session on 11 December will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Council. There will be a round table discussion chaired by Fr. Ardura, with interventions by Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P., theologian emeritus of the Papal Household, and representatives of various Christian churches: Bishop Filaret, Fr. Alexei Dikarev, delegate of the Department for External Ecclesiastical Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow; His Grace Archbishop David Moxon, representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome; and Philippe Chenaux. A message from the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, will also be read.

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