24 August 1961
In the past few days, I have read very attentively the Theological Commission’s final texts. They contain some good things. The chapter De Laicis [on the Laity] expresses fairly closely my ideas and my own paper. It was prepared by Mgr. Philips. However, in my view, the text as a whole has three major defects:
1. It is very much in the scholastic mode, and also very scholarly. More than anything else, it is a series of chapters from a good manual. …
2. It is a summary of papal documents over the past century: a sort of syllabus of these documents, including the ADDRESSES of Pius XII. That has the disadvantage of highlighting the errors which these documents have successively denounced. At times, errors of long ago. A Modernism which is already dead is slain yet again . . . There are strong words against interrupted sexual intercourse. [In 1952, the Holy-Office had disapproved of this method of birth control, which had been defended in particular by Dr Paul Chanson, with the support of Henri Féret, OP, a close friend of Congar’s. …]
But above all the SOURCE is never the Word of God: it is the Church herself, and even the Church reduced to the pope, which is VERY serious.
3. There is NOTHING ecumenical. The only ecumenical reference is in the chapter on the Virgin Mary, in order to say that the Mother of God brings about, is an agent of, reunion between Christians. This does no more than state a very remote and theoretical truth, if it is not actually a fiction and, from the immediately concrete point of view, a counter-truth. I think that, if I were to make this remark to the people in Rome, they would reply that there will be a chapter on ecumenism. And in fact, there will be one, prepared by Fr. Witte, but I have not yet received it. . . .
Don Colombo told me that same day that it comes from Cardinal Ottaviani; that because he had so decided, the Theological Commission had so far not agreed to discuss anything with anyone, not even with the other official Commissions such as the Commission on the Liturgy. But, he added, it was not certain that this attitude would be maintained in the future. In the end, the question will be settled by the Pope.
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Shortly after the Second Vatican Council was announced by Pope John XXIII, Fr. Colman Barry, OSB, monk of St. John’s and historian, wrote a postcard to then-editor of The Christian Century, famed Lutheran theologian Martin Marty.
When Marty spoke at St. John’s University commencement a few years ago, he brought down the house by pulling the postcard from his pocket and reading the priceless P.S.: