Vatican II: Glimpses into Six Centuries of Its Prehistory
Aloysius Pieris, SJ
Introduction: An Exercise in Retrospection
Vatican II is a new concept in the history of councils. Its novelty is partly responsible for the mixed reaction it generated in the subsequent decades. Those perceptive Christians among bishops and theologians who were sensitive enough to recognize that the Church was pregnant with a council prepared themselves for the new arrival, assisted at its birth, and strove to foster its postnatal growth. Their names are well-known. Equally noted are the names of a minority who were shocked at the news of the impending council, tried to abort it even before its birth, but in failing to do so, tried to eliminate the newborn as a monstrous mongrel. The council’s postnatal growth is stunted by these lethal attempts on its life.
It was way back in the 14th century that the Spirit of Christ overshadowed the church and impregnated her with a new seed of renewal, which matured within her for six centuries until a prophet by the name of “Angelo” (“divine messenger”) surnamed Roncalli appeared on the scene and announced to the Church that what she had conceived was of the Spirit and that she would call it “Vatican II.” Hence the centuries preceding the birth of this great council provide glimpses into events that foreshadowed and even anticipated its major achievements. They explain and vindicate the historical necessity as well as the theological legitimacy of this first-ever World Council.
This hypothesis is a modest conclusion that I have derived from the combined evidence collated from the following sources (whose authors, however, are not to be implicated in it):
G. Alberigo and J. A. Komonchak, History of Vatican II, Orbis, Maryknoll/Peeters, Leuven, Vol. I (1995), II (1997), III (2000), IV (2003); Enzo Bianchi, “The Centrality of the Word of God”, in G. Alberigo et al., The Reception of Vatican II,Washington, D. C., 1987, 115-136; W. J. Bouwsma, “Humanism: The Spirituality of Renaissance Humanism,” in Jill Raitt,Christian Spirituality, Vol. II, High Middle Ages and Reformation, E. Cousins, gen. ed., World Spirituality, SCM Press, London (1988), 236-251; Otto Gruendler, “Devotio Moderna,” in Christian Spirituality, Vol. II (supra cit.), 176-193; Jean Leclerq, OSB, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, Fordham University Press, New York (1961); Jean Leclerq, OSB, Monks and Love in the Twelfth Century France, Oxford (1979); D. M. Lunn, “Benedictine Reforms Movements in the Late Middle Ages,” Downside Review (October 1973), 275-289; John. W. O’Malley, SJ, “The Jesuits, St Ignatius and the Counter-Reformation: Some Recent Studies and Their Implications for Today,” Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits, St Louis, XIV/1 (January 1982), 1-28; Giancarlo Pani, “Le modificazione dell’identità Christiana tra medioevo ed età moderna in rapporto all’epistolario paolino,” Annali di storia dell’esegesi, 23/1 (Jan-Jun 2006), 257-282; Aloysius Pieris, SJ, Mysticism of Service: A Short Treatise on Spirituality with a Pauline-Ignatian Focus on the Prayer-Life of Christian Activists, Kelaniya (2000), specially Parts Three and Four; Aloysius Pieris, SJ, “El Vaticano II. Un concilio ‘generatore de crisis’ con una agenda non escrita,” Revista Latino-Americana de Teología,XXIII/67 (Enero-Abril 2006), 31-48; James D. Tracy, “Ad Fontes: The Humanist Understanding of Scripture as Nourishment of the Soul,” Christian Spirituality, Vol. II (supra cit.), 252-267; Paul Shore, SJ, “The Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony and its Influence on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola,” Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits, St. Louis, XXX/1 (January 1998), 1-16.
a “Return to the Sources”
Monks, Priests, and the Laity
The need for a renewal of the Church has always been felt by perceptive individuals and groups at different epochs. But by the late middle ages, the atmosphere had been so charged with discontent that there was a spontaneous irruption of several initiatives to bring about the desired renewal in Christian life. Some of these movements seemed to have either originated or terminated in monasticism.
Thus the Benedictines, who played a very influential role in the occidental church from the 4th century onwards, realized that they themselves needed reforms. The changes they introduced during the 14th and 15th centuries were counterproductive. Therefore, a return to their own originating charism was sought. The new mendicant orders, the Franciscan and the Dominicans, were the response of Providence, inter alia, to the pastoral needs created by the emergence of urban capitalism in Europe. The laity might not have been participants, but certainly were beneficiaries, of these changes. The origin of the Cistercian Order (“white monks”) is associated with the social change brought about by romantic urban youth steeped in the pagan humanism of ancient Latin poets such as Ovid, Horace, and others who had by then been resurrected from the literary graves that lay hidden for centuries beneath the Church’s own Roman culture.
But the target of most monastic initiatives seemed to have been the spiritual renewal of a Church dominated by a clerical order of priests and bishops. The monks, therefore, produced an alternative order of clerics who would serve rather than be served by the laity. Yet, from the point of view of the laity, there was no real renewal. The pyramidal structure of the medieval church, solidified for over a thousand years, not only remained unchanged despite these reforms but also harbored a similar pyramid in the spiritual order: ordained ministers and religious ascetics occupying the higher rungs of the scale of authority while the laity depended on the former for the ritual and on the latter for the spiritual ministrations. The clerics who claimed to possess sacramental powers to sanctify others and the monks who indulged in ascetical practices to sanctify themselves constituted the two institutional channels of holiness in the Church. The laity were the “non-professionals” in the Christian business! There was and is a recurrent need for them to affirm themselves in the Church and as the Church.
Thus the 14th century saw the first wave of Renaissance humanism spearheaded by lay reformers hailing from Italian cities. The most known among them were Francesco Petrarca, Lorenzo Valla, Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Gianozzo Manetti, and the poet Dante Alghieri. These members of the urban laity firmly believed and frankly broadcast that Christian spirituality could not and should not be reduced either to the contemplation of holy mysteries (as among the monks) or to ritual participation in these mysteries (as among the clerics). Spirituality, they insisted, was a matter of dedicating oneself to works of love and service to one’s neighbor.
What was their main complaint? The same as that which was aired just before Vatican II: that the sacramental order was hijacked by cultic clerics; that the spiritual life was monopolized by religious ascetics; that even the “God-discourse” was distorted by scholastics.
And what was their response to these deviations? The same as that which was proposed on the eve of Vatican II:reditus ad fontes, a return to the sources from which the Church had strayed. The retrieval of these sources, as the Renaissance humanists understood it, could be categorized under three headings: 1) a Christian appropriation of the humanism which the “pagan” classics were thought to profess, 2) a recovery of the affectively and aesthetically evangelical ethos of the patristic tradition, and 3) a rerooting of Christian life and thought in the Word of God heard in the Scriptures.
These three renewalist currents have always been active, sometimes as a subterranean movement ignored or suppressed by the ecclesiastical establishment, but at other times emerging as an overt demand for refounding the church on its original basis. The original basis of Christianity is the divine humanity of Christ, who is the Word revealed in theScriptures and evangelically proclaimed by the Fathers as a reality to be lived out by the Church.
We shall take up for discussion these three roots of renewal as they emerged in the first wave of Renaissance humanism in the 14th century, then in the second wave with its high point in the 16th century (carried to this day by a somewhat subdued Ignatian tradition), and finally in the pre-Vatican II decades in the 19th century.
The Pattern of Renewal in the 14th Century
In the first place, the aforementioned lay Italian humanists sought and found their cultural roots in the humanistic elements of their Roman and Latin heritage, by then completely swallowed up by weeds of Aristotelianism. In their view, the scholastic theology of the time was totally cerebralized by Greek thought and seemed to have undervalued the human dimension of the mystery of Incarnation and salvation. That is why these humanists equally abhorred their own ancient Roman Stoics, who cultivated a negative approach towards the human and social reality. Rather, it was from the ancient pagan humanists of Latin Rome that they imbibed the spirit of humanism, which was conspicuously absent in the Church that called itself Roman and Latin. The writings of Cicero and Quintillion were reread with enthusiasm. Even Ovid’s erotic poems on human love captured the imagination of these lay thinkers. Dante’s Beatrice was a humanistic creation that reflected the incarnate love of God. The resuscitation of this ancient humanism and the restoration of human love in Christian thought were also registered in the medieval devotion to the Heart of Jesus associated with St Mechtild, for whom even God palpitated with a human heart! Then why would not the Church be as human as God?
No doubt, these reformers were overreacting to a highly institutionalized church and were, therefore, understandably over-optimistic in their assessment of the human and the secular reality. Their emphasis on the Incarnate God eclipsed the message of the Crucified God, thus continuing to carry, what Cardinal Alois Grillmeier, SJ, has described as “burden” left by the Christological Councils. The same mild criticism can be made on the Vatican II document on the “Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et spes), which, therefore, has to be interpreted in the light of other documents of that same Council, as I shall indicate later.
The second source which the Italian humanists consulted were the patristic writings. The Church Fathers were more affective than speculative in their works, stirring the heart to action rather than titillating the mind with philosophical abstractions. They preserved the spiritual core as well as the pastoral focus of theology, unlike the medieval scholastics—from whose company I personally exclude that medieval genius hailing from Aquinas, who had anchored his thought in biblical and patristic foundations more than in Greek philosophy, contrary to popular opinion. An authentic God-discourse, the humanists concluded, must be alive with God’s life, which is her Spirit, so that persons engaged in that exercise—both as speakers and hearers, or as writers and readers—would themselves undergo a salutary transformation, which is what “conversion” means. In short, the Fathers were deemed closer to the scriptural sources than were the scholastic theologians.
The Italian humanists’ recovery of the revealed Word in the Holy Scriptures was accompanied by their own unique contribution to hermeneutics. Being quite experienced in the critical study of ancient Latin classics, these humanists brought that expertise of theirs into biblical exegesis. The result was twofold. In the first place they were not satisfied with St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and insisted on the search for and discovery of the authentic texts of the Bible in their original language(s). Secondly, they recognized what we might today call the “oblique idiom” used in the Bible, namely, the narrative, the simile, the parable, and above all, poetry. This is the language that spoke directly to the heart of hearers and readers, eliciting from them a personal response to the revealed Word. Thus the need to respect the genre littéraire in biblical exegesis was acknowledged for the first time. These two innovations would stay with the Church for good. Finally, the humanists complained that scholastic theology, unlike the Scriptures, turned the medieval Christians into followers of Aristotle rather than disciples of Christ. The humanist agenda aimed at restoring to the Church the spirituality of imitatio Christi based on the gospels.
This threefold retrieval of a lost heritage (pagan humanism, patristic homiletics, and scriptural message) led the Renaissance humanists to appreciate the secular involvement of the laity as an authentic expression of Christian spirituality, as already mentioned earlier in this discussion.
The Renewal around the 16th Century
The second wave of Renaissance humanism, which resulted from the fall of Constantinople towards the end of the 15th century and the subsequent discovery of the Greek past, merged with the first wave that had already crossed the Alps and was moving northwards. The net result of this merger is often referred to as northern European Renaissance Humanism. The clamor for a “return to the sources” (reditus ad fontes) was heard once again and with greater urgency, not only from Protestant reformers like Luther and Melanchton but also from Catholic reformers such as Erasmus and Lefevre. What they meant by “sources” were similar to what the First Wave Humanists identified a couple of centuries earlier. Monks and clerics led the movement.
In their thirst for humanism, they turned to the Greeks—not to their philosophical speculations but to their cultural achievements. Hence a proliferation of great works of art and architecture as well as a variety of other aesthetic creations marked the second Renaissance era. The emphasis on the imagination as a tool of artistic creativity was, therefore, quite evident during this period. As will be explained below, this humanist approach to the faculty of imagination seeped into Christian spirituality and exerted a profound influence on the meditative reading of the Scriptures.
The northern humanists, like their southern predecessors, had also opted for patristic thought in stark opposition to scholastic theology, appropriating the former as “nourishment of the soul” and rejecting the latter as “mere scratching of the intellect,” to quote the exact words of Erasmus. Medieval scholasticism, which continued to be taught in the seats of learning in northern Europe, had adopted the cold analytical methods of dissecting the mystery of salvation into a series of doctrinal formulae, under the influence of Greek philosophers of the past, whereas the Greek Fathers preferred the rhetorical art of the pagan orators of Greece (whom Plato, the philosopher had attacked in his Dialogues!). The communicative skills of addressing the heart and drawing persons into a way of life that conformed to the Scriptures were encouraged more than intellectual theorizing that remained ineffective in real life. Thus, oratory, a powerful means of communication, became an important feature in their educational curriculum. Homiletics forms a significant part of patristic literature.
However, in dealing with the third source, the scriptural, these humanists adopted an approach somewhat different from that of the Fathers. They introduced the modern science of philology into biblical exegesis and refrained from the allegorical interpretations characteristic of patristic literature. Philology, as they understood it then, was a combination of what we know today as textual criticism, literary analysis, and so on. Their critical study of Greco-Roman literature of the past had equipped them with hermeneutical tools, which they would now apply to the reading of the Scriptures. This may explain why well over seven hundred editions of St Paul’s letters were published in the 16thcentury alone. Note, therefore, that during this time, Paul’s Christocentric reading of the Hebrew Scriptures became a notable feature of New Testament studies.
Thanks perhaps to the interest in Pauline Christology, these humanists (in this case, in continuity with the practice of the Fathers) affirmed that Christ was the key to the understanding of the Scriptures. As during the first wave of humanism, here too the imitation of Christ (advocated by Catholic movements such as Devotio Moderna) or the passion for belonging to Christ (promoted by Protestant reformers as well as Erasmus) or Christiformitas or “conforming oneself to Christ” (emphasized in works of Lefevre) became both the motive and the method of the reading of the Scriptures.
It was in view of this motive that already in the 14th century, the Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony, the Carthusian, presented a method of meditation in which one’s imagination was made not only to supplement the all too laconic scriptural data but also to reconstruct the gospel scenes in such a way as to relive those episodes with the aid of the senses as well as the intellect. A century and a half later (1517), Erasmus would also suggest in hisParaphrase (of Luke) that we “pause a while before the remarkable spectacle [i.e., the scene of the paralytic lowered from the roof] and let our mind play over all its details in pious curiosity.” No spirituality which claims to be a sequela Christi (following of Christ) could ever ignore or avoid this unique method of lectio divina. Ignatius picked it up and passed it down the centuries through his Spiritual Exercises.
Perhaps one might complain that some of these humanists, particularly the Protestants, failed to recognize what Jean Leclerq has rightly identified as monastic theology, which was more scriptural and patristic than scholastic. Nor could we ignore or undervalue the great reform movements initiated by monastic orders in the high Middle Ages, especially by the Benedictines and the Cistercians as well as by the mendicant orders of Dominic and Francis as already indicated above. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, in his holistic approach, absorbed also the renewal currents initiated by the monks, even though (under the influence of humanism?) he developed a non-monastically lay spirituality.
The Catholic Reformation:
Ignatius and Vatican II
Ignatius: the Humanist and “Catholic Reformer”
Ignatius was in many ways a sympathetic and participatory witness of these renewal trends, including the last mentioned monastic movements. He had not only judiciously absorbed some of their finest elements but had also left for posterity a strong tradition that preserved the combined élan of the humanistic, the patristic, and the scriptural currents of his time. In fact, Ignatius and the early Jesuits are said to have been amicably associated with the “Catholic humanists” known as the spirituali. It is interesting that the Church leaders of the time, though discreet and vigilant about this threefold campaign for reform, did nevertheless approve the Ignatian version of that same renewal, at least indirectly, when they recognized his Order as well as its Constitution.
This Constitution of the Jesuits, entirely inspired by Ignatius, insists that its members are primarily Ministers of the Word. No wonder that a spirituality geared to such a ministry had to be based on the Scriptures. My much publicized contention that his spirituality is the first comprehensive formulation of the praxis of Pauline spirituality since Paul’s time might not be an exaggeration when one realizes that the Ignatian century (the 16th) was also a century of Pauline studies. Ignatius owes this to the Renaissance humanists.
History also forces us to conclude that his peculiar method of “contemplation” mentioned in the Spiritual Exercises (not to be confused with the infused contemplation of classical mystics) is a development of the kind of scriptural meditation already advocated by Ludolph of Saxony and Erasmus as indicated above. Here the recourse to the faculty of imagination seems to appear by another name: “the application of the senses.” Its purpose in the Spiritual Exercises is to help the Christians to be assimilated to Christ, the sole purpose of the second and third weeks of the Ignatian Exercises. This too was a characteristic goal of the scriptural spirituality of the Renaissance humanists.
Perhaps we should add that the positive assessment of imagination, a humanistic legacy which Ignatius appropriated, extended itself far beyond prayer to many areas of cultural activity. The early Jesuits were also well known for their artistic creations and scientific discoveries.
Ignatius also preserved for us the conclusions of the humanists on the two kinds of theology: the “scholastic,” which they rejected and the patristic, which they embraced. But in doing so, Ignatius seemed to have been more circumspect than the humanists, given the anti-Protestant climate in which the Roman authorities of his time examined his credentials. Remember also that Ignatius was imprisoned four times on charges of heresy! Using an understandably cautious language, both in the Jesuit Constitutions as well as in his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius emphasized the importance of positive theology attributed to the Fathers because it stirs our affections, but recommends scholastic theology merely as an intellectual tool for the defense of the Catholic faith. Thus, even for Ignatius, scholastic theology was not spiritually helpful, playing only an apologetical role! In fact, he openly admitted that his study of that theology in Paris had dried up his heart spiritually! The humanists were right!
The humanists’ predilection for oratorical arts is also reflected in Ignatius’ educational method (ratio studiorum), which included a program for producing persuasive communicators of the faith, able to reach both the hearts and the minds of people. Great emphasis was laid on acquisition of rhetorical skills. All media of communication available at the time, including drama, were employed in their Ministry of the Word.
Finally, the spirituality he bequeathed to the Church was a non-monastically lay apostolic spirituality which he had developed already when he was yet a layman with absolutely no idea of seeking priestly ordination. By saying his spirituality was “non-monastically lay,” I imply that even monastic spirituality originated in its earliest institutional form as a lay contestation of a clericalized Christianity. Renaissance humanism, on the other hand, wished to find a legitimate space for a non-monastic version of lay spirituality. This is what Ignatius evolved and imparted to his first companions who, barring one, were laymen. Even after opting for a clerical order, Ignatian spirituality has remained true to its original spirit.
But alas! It is also regrettably true that a decade after his death, the Jesuits adopted measures that contradicted the founder’s norms and allowed their spirituality to be gradually monasticized. They remained in that ambiguous state until 1965 when, thanks to the 31st General Congregation (GC 31), there was a restoration of the non-monastically lay apostolic spirituality of the Founder, though regrettably many Jesuits did not succeed in making the paradigm shift required by GC 31.
My own hindsight is that, had the Jesuits remained stubbornly and scrupulously faithful to the original and originating charism of Ignatius all these centuries, the path to Vatican II would have been smoother and its reception easier. For there would have been a strong contagious tradition of spirituality, fed by the three sources of renewal and thus securing the laity their place within the Church.
Nevertheless, Jesuit spirituality, in its original Ignatian format, still remains totally accessible to the laity as their own Scriptures-based, action-oriented, and worldly-wise way of being Christian and human. Today, many laymen and laywomen, married or otherwise, and saturated with Ignatian spirituality, but refusing to be monasticized through religious vows, have joined the Jesuits as lay associates in their work and mission. This is a natural outcome of the recent retrieval of the original and originating charism of Ignatius.
Vatican II and the Three Sources of Renewal
The Second Vatican Council was heralded by a strong Catholic movement, almost an agitation, subsumed under the same old slogan as that of the Renaissance humanists: reditus ad fontes. The three main features of the two tides of Renaissance reforms—humanism, patristics, and the Scriptures—which the official Church resisted or at least ignored for centuries, were now dashing on its doors with an insistence that even the strong-willed and strong-handed Pius XII had to reckon with. He issued three relatively progressive encyclicals that sent small ripples of hope. Divino afflante Spiritu (on biblical studies) was the most progressive; Mystici corporis (on the Church) and Mediator Dei (on the liturgy) were less progressive but paved the way for further development. Thus the water-tight ecclesiastical compartments which had been impervious to the humanistic waves dashing against their walls became somewhat porous, thanks to Pius XII’s mild reforms. All we needed was a John XXIII to open the Church doors to the currents of change. The result was Vatican II, which saved the Church from isolation and irrelevance, by allowing it to reach back to its roots.
With Vatican II, the three-fold stream of renewal entered the Church and swept away the bastions of clerical and religious elitism, defining the church primarily as the People of God (co-priests with Christ), with a universal call to holiness that left no room for a “holier class.” In fact in the decades immediately after Vatican II many priests and religious went through a crisis of identity and returned to lay-life. On the other hand, the number of laypersons taking over their jobs, including teaching of theology, has begun to increase. Many women too have started taking up responsibilities in areas hitherto forbidden to them. The lay character and the lay foundation of Christianity has at last been acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, even by the Catholic Church! These positive gains must be taken into account when assessing the aftermath of the Council.
The prophets of doom cried “foul” when this allegedly Protestant theory of the common priesthood of the laos became the Council’s teaching. The fact, however, is that the Council gave due recognition to the ministerial character of that same priesthood when exercised by presbyters and bishops and further it employed the word “lay” often in an imprecise manner, merely to contrast with ordained ministry. Being a “compromise council” its teachings alternate between the traditional sacerdotalism and the more scriptural understanding of the one priesthood of Christ and his members. Yet the adversaries of renewal have continued to protest against the alleged underestimation of religious and monastic life rather than appreciate and welcome the long overdue recognition of the laity.
The most difficult task for the Council Fathers was to install the Word of God at the center of the Church. They placed the Table of the Word almost on a par with the Table of the Bread, amidst accusations within and without the Council that the Lutheran heresy of sola scriptura was infecting the pure Catholic teachings! But on the day that Verbum Dei, the document about the Holy Scriptures, was finally passed in the Council, the French Jesuit journal Etudes celebrated the event as the end of the Counter-Reformation! With the return of the Scriptures to the center of theology and spirituality as well as in the liturgy, many accretions accumulated over centuries from various ideological and philosophical influences began to crumble down. The scholastic and neo-scholastic trends in theology suffered a severe blow. It is noteworthy that monastic theology (basically a non-clerical lay theology) reemerged from the ecclesiastical limbo. Liberation theology, falsely and unfairly condemned as a crypto-Marxist version of Christianity, was actually the fruit of a lectio divina, “a prayerful Scripture-reading” undertaken by Christian communities of the poor, who, thanks to Vatican II, had come to recognize the Bible as their own manual of spirituality gifted to them by their Divine Covenant-Partner. Karl Rahner, an expert (peritus) at Vatican II, congratulated Gustavo Gutiérrez on writing that epoch-making work, A Theology of Liberation.
Many of those who prepared the Church for Vatican II and worked in it as periti (such as Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and so on) were also experts in the traditional spirituality of the Fathers. The conciliar documents were somewhat closer to the patristic writings in both content and style than to what was wont to emanate from the Vatican for centuries. The rediscovery of the recurrent patristic theme, “justice to the poor” (though the misogyny of the Fathers did not allow them to see women among the oppressed!) was heard in the Council loud and clear. John XXIII had already educated the participants of the Council in this area by issuing Mater et magistra and Pacem in terris, not only by what he said about the issues of justice but also the way he said it—avoiding the heavy scholastic and juridical idiom of previous Church documents and resorting to a pastorally homiletic mode of communication reminiscent of the writings of the Fathers. It is, therefore, ironical that those who blame Vatican II for promoting sola scriptura at the cost of Church tradition fail to appreciate this Council’s recovery of the best and the earliest of the Christian tradition.
Finally, we come to humanism. As we mentioned earlier, Gaudium et spes (the only document that was conceived and born within the Council itself, not without prolonged labor pains) has taught us, with certain amount of quasi-Teilhardian optimism, that we should be judiciously open to the secular humanism of the “modern world”. Of course the “modern world” meant by the writers of this document was the “20th century West.” In the subsequent years, with global capitalism spreading from the West, this optimism was somewhat toned down, especially after the Synod of 1971.
But if we combine this approach of Gaudium et spes with the emphasis placed by Vatican II on the local church (ecclesia particularis), we see that any church anywhere in the world becomes a readable sign (“sacrament”) of salvation only to the degree that it proclaims and lives out its salvific message in the humanistic idiom of its cultural environment. Leaving the Western Patriarchate to discover and dialogue with its own secular humanism, we Asians will have to incarnate ourselves in the religious humanism of our non-Christian cultures. Unlike the Renaissance reformers of Europe who had to dig back into their remote past to recover their humanistic roots, the Asians meet their ancient humanism at their doorstep, thanks to the great world-religions as well as the cosmic spirituality of tribal and clannic traditions.
Vatican II, in continuity with past efforts of the Church, did not aim at mere institutional reforms that leave the structures of the Church untouched, but launched a program of permanent and on-going renewal whose momentum has to be maintained at all cost if we want to be a self-evangelizing Church that could become Good News to the world. Therefore, the enthusiasm for renewal through a return to the three sources—an enthusiasm which the Renaissance reformers sparked off in the Church, which the Jesuits have preserved as smoldering embers for four centuries, and which Vatican II has rekindled into a blazing fire—must never be allowed to be smothered by prophets of doom.