ON Sunday, September 29. the Bishops of the World toiled up the steps to St. Peter's in brilliant sunshine. Under scarlet canopies.
erected above the special entrance to the Basilica. they walked into their seats in the Council chamber. The second
session of Vatican 11 was about to begin.
Half an hour later, there was a cheer at the main door and the slight figure of Pope Paul VI was borne in. As they watched him stride quickly up the aisle, the Bishops were deep in thought.
How would this new Pope measure up to the great responsibilities which had been thrust upon him? In what direction, at what pace and with what means would he direct the work of the great Council which had been started by his predecessOr?
Since they had last sat in their green and red leather seats. the Bishops had thought much about the Council. The first session had been largely experimental. They were getting to know one another, reading into each other's minds, seeing where each other stood.
Very early on, a basic division of outlook emerged. Newspapermen. more accustomed to reporting political developments than ecumenical councils, labelled them as progressive and conservative.
The labels were inaccurate and unfair, but no better could he discovered, and they stuck.
Most of the first session was taken up in deciding how strong each side was. Early on. it seemed as if the conservatives would have their way.
The) w ere largely Curia members, the Italian Bishops and those who thought like them. They had a long experience in handling Church affairs. They had been trained in a long tradition. They were suspicious of change.
The progressives seemed to be in a minority. They were mainly the I.rench and German Bishops, men who had studied the vast changes which had come over the social scene in their countries and their effects on religion. The old answers were no longer sufficient. They wanted to try new ones.
The big result of the first session was that the progressives found their strength. They realised that their outlook was shared in essentials. by a great majority of the world's Bishops,
And they learned one great lesson--if they did not want the Council to agree to something, the conservatives could not push it through.
Back now for the second session, the Bishops sat in their seats and waited for the first indications of how it would gb.
To many Bishops, the key schema of the Council was the one they were due to take up next day, on the nature of the Church.
They felt that if the Church was to meet the challenge of the modern world, she had first to learn about herself. If Pope John's idea of reform leading to renewal was to succeed. the first step was self-examination.
In many minds. one big issue stood out—collegiality. Vatican 1 had defined the primacy of the Pope. Since then. the steady decentralisation of power in Rome had continued.
But the Curia. the instrument of the Pope in ruling the C'hurch, seemed to he superior to the Bishops, who were the successors of the Apostles.
The question the Bishops had to decide was this: were they the successors of the college of the Apostles, and did they. as a college with Peter at its head, share by divine right the full and
supreme power in the Church.
This would he a key decision. For it would provide the basis for the whole decentralisation of power in the Church, bringing life and vigour to the periphery, creating a new image of the Church as concentric circles with the Pope at the centre, rather than as a pyramid with the Pope at the lop, the Curia next, then the Bishops, and finally the mass of the faithful.
The collegial concept would also provide the basis for the establishment of an apostolic college or "senate" of Bishops, meeting frequently in Rome to make decisions with the Pope.
When this came to be discussed in the aula, Bishop Holland, Coadjutor Bishop of Portsmouth, was to quote one of the most significant remarks of the Council.
An English saying. he told the Fathers, was that it was not sufficient that justice should be done; it was also necessary that it be seen to be done. This thought
they had been promised? Had the Curia been able to halt the improvement in press relations?
The journalists protested. Their complaint was immediately taken to the top by Bishops who sympathised with their problems and understood their difficulties. Next day there was a dramatic improvement.
A numbered list of the day's speakers was given and numbered paragraphs gave the gist of their interventions. A few days later the official language spokesmen Were openly attributing the statements to the speaker. The Council had at last been thrown open to the world.
The first three speeches on De Ecclesia were deeply conservative and took a line which others were to follow. Cardinal Spellman of New York spoke against the re-establishment of the diaconate as a permanent and stable order in the Church.
importance emerge. For the progressive bishops regarded it as more than a vague, comfortable generalisation. For them it was the means of putting teeth into their plan to break the stranglehold of the Curia and decentralise the Government of the Church.
The conservatives took fright. They had let the idea of collegiality get into the schema without realising its significance. Now they rounded on it. criticising it as art attack on the Vatican
doctrine of the primacy of the Pope.
It was the Melchite Rite patriarch, Maximos IV, one of the leading figures of the Council, who put the progressive side in the most telling way, when he directly challenged the "abusive interpretations" of the papal infallibility doctrine.
The diaconate, too, became a crucial issue. And against all expectations is was not a clearcut one. To many observers, the progressive European, American