Rorate Caeli

Religious "fervor" and the outcome of
the First Session of the Second Vatican Council

The First Session (1962) of the last Council was the only one in which no documents were approved - and the only one held during the papacy of the man who had planned and called the assembly, Pope John XXIII. Was it also the most important of the sessions? Roberto de Mattei thinks so. From his book "Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta" (Turin, Lindau, 2010, pages 278-280), on the never before told history of the Council [Contributor: Francesca Romana; note: we have been authorized by Edizioni Lindau s.d.l, Turin, to make these and other excerpts of this book available to our readers in this blog]:

The first session was by far the most important one of the Council, because it marked the direction that it would maintain until the conclusion of the works. “During the first tumultuous weeks – Melissa Wilde  notes – through a combination of “protest-events” and of votes obtained with great difficulty, the progressives were able to change the course of the Council and to establish an organizational structure which would serve them in the following years.”418 

The work report which Cardinal Siri drew up from the first period was disquieting: 

The Council has revealed that a vague direction in the Church is being outlined; this is represented by a group  of the German language and the like.  It is organized aliquatenus [to a certain degree]. This is a partial attempt that one cannot affirm with certainty, but one sees it in the  facts, that someone has a clear and deliberate plan in mind; there is rage against reason, theology and the law.  One sees the end of kerygmalism, that is, often that of eliminating Tradition, Ecclesia etc., this is more unconscious than conscious, but it is helped along by the lack of intuition of those who want absolutely to adapt as much as possible to the Protestants, to the Orthodox etc.,in very many cases, literature prevails on theology.  Many beautiful and also true dissertations pertain to literary considerations on dogma, not dogma itself; there is talk of a Theologia nova and the concept of this, let alone the aim, appear to be very dark and perhaps dangerous. The term Theologia nova was coined by a Belgian bishop at the Council.”419  

The climate that characterized this first phase of the debate was defined by Melissa Wilde as one of “collective effervescence”. 420   The sociologist Durkheim defines this term: “the state in which men find themselves  when…they believe that they have been transported into a  world completely different to that which they have actually before them.” 421   Such an inner state, from a sociological perspective, is the fruit of the interpersonal relationships of a vast group of people who find themselves together for the first time, and, in an atmosphere of euphoria, attribute a meaning to their “being together”.  “It is a euphoric state- again Wilde explains-, the result of individuals who gather together, in this case, to venerate, to discuss and to engage themselves in the changing of an  ancient institution which all of them fervently believe in.”422         

This phenomenon is well known to historians.  Ronald A. Knox traced it out in an incisive history of “religious enthusiasm” 423  showing that the model of “charismatic enthusiasm” has been a recurring one since the times of the Montanist heresy. Bishop Helder Camara's [an auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro and one of the leader of the Progressists] letters seem to offer a typical example of this atmosphere of self-exaltation and of very little spiritual discernment, [an atmosphere that] was attributed to the intervention of “the Holy Spirit”. It is not surprising that many bishops, interviewed by Padre Rocco Caporale during the Council, credited their personal experience at the first session to “the Holy Spirit”. It was during this session that “the spirit of the Council” started to become a “theological mindset.” 


418 Melissa Wilde, Vatican II: a sociological analysis of religious change, Princeton University Press, Oxford 2007. p.17

419 Sir, Diary, p.383.  The worrying elements revealed by Card. Siri in a letter to Mons. Alberto Castelli, Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference, were the following:
1: Antipathy if not even hate against Theology.  2. The proposal of a new theology. 3. The proposal of a new method in theology. 4. The prevalence of oratory and literary dissertations comparable to musical variations of the theme, above serious and rational theological affirmations and deductions. 5.The ecstatic falling in love with new words and new paradigms of words very old and common, with the assumption of revealing something which was considered “new” and “better”. 6. “Collegiality” in the Church: suspicion-aimed at reducing the primate and slipping a democratic principle into the constitution of the hierarchic Church.7. The co-government in the Church.  9.The One solemn teaching authority . 9. The charismatic action of the Holy Spirit. 10. Divine Tradition fading.11. The subordination of biblical exegesis to the information and the postulations of rationalistic criticism. 12. Everything has to be subordinated to “the pastoral”. 13. Everything has to be subordinated to “ecumenical” ends. 14. You need to respond to the expectations of the world. (Siri to Castelli, 1 January 196(3), cit. in N. BUONAPARTE. Siri, Tradition and the 20th Century, cit., p. 291). 
420 WILDE,pp22-26; J.A. Coleman, Vatican II as a social movement, cit.,pp.12-19                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                422WILDE .423RONALD A: KNOX, Illuminati and Charismatics. A history of religious enthusiasm.424 See also MATTHEW P: LAWSON; The Holy Spirit as Conscience Collective, in “Sociology of Religion,” n.4(1999), pp341-361.425 As an example, Bishop Miguel Miranda y Gomez, representative of Bishop. Camara’s group for Mexico, confided to Padre Caporale of being convinced that he was not the only one to sense the profound presence of the Holy Spirit.