The primary order of business was to set the sequence of schemas to be discussed. Complementary to this business was the matter of choosing bishops and periti to sit on commissions for the drafting of schemas. Though the proposed schemas had already been drafted, the liberal element was able to persuade John XXIII to abandon them since they did not have the support of the majority of the Council. John XXIII overturned Council regulations (which stated that the majority must be at least two-thirds -- which it was not -- for proposed schemas to be abandoned). Lefebvre, who helped draft the initial set of schemas, illustrates the haphazard manner in which the Council was begun:
I was nominated a member of the Central Preparatory Commission by the pope and I took an assiduous and enthusiastic part in its two years of work. The central commission had the responsibility of checking and examining all the preparatory schemas which came from the specialist commissions. I was in a good position therefore to know what had been done, what was to be examined, and what was to be brought before the assembly.
This work was carried out very conscientiously and meticulously. I still possess the seventy-two preparatory schemas; in them the Church's doctrine is absolutely orthodox. They were adapted in a certain manner to our times, but with great moderation and discretion.
Everything was ready for the date announced and on 11th October, 1962, the Fathers took their places in the nave of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. But then an occurrence took place which had not been foreseen by the Holy See. From the very first days, the Council was besieged by the progressive forces. We experienced it, felt it; and when I say we, I mean the majority of the Council Fathers at that moment.
…a very powerful organization showed its hand, set up by the Cardinals from those countries bordering the Rhine, complete with a well-organized secretariat. They went to find the Pope, John XXIII, and said to him: "This is inadmissible, Most Holy Father; they want us to consider schemas which do not have the majority," and their plea was accepted. The immense work that had been accomplished was scrapped and the assembly found itself empty-handed, with nothing ready. What chairman of a board meeting, however small the company, would agree to carry on without an agenda and without documents? Yet that is how the Council commenced.
Capable of generating considerable support for the leadership qualities they demonstrated, the Rhine Fathers active in the liturgical revolution in Europe were appointed to key positions in the ten Council commissions. Pope Paul VI himself selected the most influential of these Fathers, Cardinals Dopfner and Suenens, along with their supporter Cardinal Lercaro, to act as Moderators of the Council.
In this way, papal authority consented to the deviance and produced a Council dominated not by a "world-wide theological effort" but by an alliance of European views.
The pope's earlier decision to wholeheartedly include the media in the Council's affairs helped secure the position and stance of the Rhine Fathers by granting them a much larger audience for their enterprise. As the eagerness of the press for interview sessions with Council members indicated, an audience existed, which was at once partial and accepting of information. Pope John was gladdened by the active participation of the journalists whose "contribution…to the Second Vatican Council was invaluable and even indispensable for the proper dissemination of news from the Council Hall."
The inspiring spin placed by the press on the events at the Council interested the Church laity, who, responding to the pope and prelates' enthusiasm, looked forward to the Council's outcome with anticipation.
The drive of the ecumenical Council became a steady adoption of the schemas controlled by the Rhine Fathers, who were doubly able to reign over the Council because they had come to Vatican City with an initiative. Whereas the Rhine Fathers were prepared to take advantage of Pope John's wish for a pastorally focused council, "the majority of Bishops (came) with no particular proposals of their own," believing "that the Council had been convoked simply to rubber-stamp previously prepared documents."
By the time minority groups (such as the Coetus) -- whose opinions differed from those of the liberal Rhine group -- attempted to exert a force contrary to the adopted schemas, there was little hope for much success. The Rhine group often called attention to the pope's desire that the council focus on ecumenism, and used this angle to thwart the revisions of minority-prepared constitutions....
Because the Council had not been convened in order to condemn any particular heresy, the council floor was open to any and all suggestions for possible revisions of former councils' decrees. However, unless these suggestions were in accord with the reforms of the Rhine group, all was done in the moderators and other Rhine Fathers' power to stifle them. When "the most powerful cardinal in the Roman Curia," Cardinal Ottaviani, was silenced by the presiding Cardinal Alfrink, from the Netherlands, for protesting the adoption of a schema which proposed a vernacular Mass over the Latin Mass early into the First Session, it became painfully clear to the conservative-labeled minority precisely how much control the Rhine group possessed over Council Fathers: Cardinal Ottaviani's silencing inspired "the Council Fathers (to clap) with glee."
The invitation by Rome to various Protestant and non-Christian representatives from countries around the world supported the claim of the Rhine Fathers that the Council's schemas should, in a pastoral and ecumenical spirit, refrain from explicitly defining matters that were still debated among theologians. The practice of this claim became so frequent that an Italian Bishop "maintained that certain Council Fathers had carried their ecumenical preoccupations to excess. It was no longer possible, he charged, to speak about Our Lady; no one might be called heretical…and it was no longer proper to call attention to the inherent powers of the Catholic Church."
From this point on the direction of the Council turned toward the promotion of Christian unity. As the number of representatives from Protestant and non-Christian sects increased in Vatican City with each Session, so, too, did the desire among many of the Council Fathers that these representatives should serve as consultants on the various commissions and sub-commissions.
The death of Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the hiatus between the First and Second Sessions, caused many Church members to wonder whether the Council would proceed at all. Like Vatican I, which had only convened for one year before being interrupted by the "(invading) victorious armies of the Italian Revolution in 1870,"
Vatican II was in danger of being broken up by the death of the pope who had convoked it. But with the election of Pope Paul VI in June of 1963 Church members no longer had any need to wonder; Pope Paul pledged "to continue the work of promoting Christian unity, so auspiciously begun, with such high hopes, by Pope John XXIII."
During the summer hiatus, the Rhine Fathers also met to continue their work, with two priorities in mind: 1) to study matters proposed at the First Session, and 2) to form an alliance of nationalities. Cardinals, archbishops, and bishops from Germany, Austria, France, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Belgium and other countries collected together in August at the Fulda Conference in Germany to discuss the twelve schemas approved by the late Pope John XXIII. The European alliance solidified its stance on the proposals that would be continued at the Second Session in a way unlike any other national or regional episcopal conference, which assembled in the intervening months. Because conferences held in Chicago, Argentina, and Rome lacked "the same intensity and purpose" as the Fulda Conference, Church members "found it necessary to accept the positions of the European alliance with…little questioning."
Pope Paul VI pledged to carry on the work begun by his predecessor, but his own interpretation of the work was something different from that of the Rhine group's, which was, in turn, different from that of the conservatives. The Rhine group's use of the term ecumenism inspired a host of revisions and reforms in liturgical and theological schemas in hopes of attracting Protestants to engage in a dialogue with the Church. To conservatives "the task of the Ecumenical Council (was) to teach the members of the Church, rather than those outside of it."
Pope Paul VI found himself delegating between two sides, though his sympathies tended toward the left. Thus it happened that the most hotly contested schema -- that on the Church's liturgy -- ultimately adopted by the Council and approved of by the pope, held provisions that stated "that 'the (liturgical) rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetition.'"
The Rhine Fathers' "desire to attenuate any features of the Eucharist which might give offense to Protestants,"
whose representatives had come to play a significant role in the development of the Council's schemas, was duly satisfied when Pope Paul announced that he would…
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