By Archbishop Dwyer
CONNOISSEURS of the Council commentaries always await with interest the work of the sprightly Xavier Rynne. But who is this elusive Pimpernel? The flyleaf of the present volume, The Fourth Session (Faber and Faber, 42s.) speaks of "the authors" in the plural.
Maybe there are several redactors, but one inspirer? At any rate most people at the Council thought they knew the Holy Ghost of these particular scriptures; a very popular, cheerful, well-read cleric bustling about the city like an ecclesiastical Figaro.
This fourth volume completes his work on the Council. It is not so lively as the others because a certain weariness overlaid the fourth session. Most of the discussion was in any case completed before this final session opened.
However, there was still something to be said about Religious Liberty, considerable debate on Schema 13 "The Church in the Modern World", final touches to be put to the decrees on revelation and the Church's attitude towards other religions. There were, too, the debates on "Missionary Activity" and the "Priestly Life and Ministry". On all these things Xavier Rynne gives an acute, well-informed— and frankly partisan judgment.
Is he objective? It must be said one will usually find the opinions of both sides of a debate well stated. (In this volume he has managed even to give something on the debates in some of the Commissions. These are extremely interesting since in previous years no information was ever released about them.)
He also very plainly declares an interest, in that he is an avowed supporter of what came to be called the progressive wing. He is too good a theologian simply to dismiss arguments of the opposite side.
He evidently desires to state their case with courtesy. But he cannot avoid a whiff of brimstone when he mentions a conservative, and the distant strains of a Hollywood celestial choir whenever one of the progressive fathers graces his pages.
He is also guilty of a little sleight of hand. For example he invariably refers to the conservative and progressive sections as the "minority" and "majority". In fact there were two very evident minorities in the Council, each one representing the extreme of the two wings above.
This is common enough in human assemblies. No progress is made unless an active minority is prepared to push. In the middle was the vast majority of the fathers who had come to the Council mainly to learn.
They thought they would be wasting their time if they simply repeated the ancient truth without even an attempt U., find new language for them. They found the only kind of new light among the progressive section. But at the same time they were uneasy at some of the bolder flights. So each debate swayed backwards and forwards.
Modifications and amendments were made, and the final version of the decrees were invariably passed with an overwhelming majority. But no wing of opinion could fairly be called a "majority" until this balanced statement had been achieved.
The one who did most to reconcile and conciliate opinions was Pope Paul. Xavier Rynne does not conceal his admiration for this conciliatory work of the Holy Father, though at times a little irritation shows when he thinks the Pope was being too kind.
Read with the necessary reservations and an eye for what lies between the lines this volume gives a shrewd and generally accurate account of the final session and of the overall direction which the Council has given to Catholic thinking.
Light on loneliness
"WE are all lonely, but some are more lonely than others . . ." The degree to which loneliness is experienced by a reader will presumably dictate how he reacts to Loneliness by Ethel Mannin (Hutchinson, 30s.).
Miss M an nin is always worth reading for the grace, clarity and directness of her writing. In this book she has something new to say in the first and last chapters, but everything that is written between is no more than an attempt to trirow light on a problem to which she believes there is today no universally acceptable solution.
The first chapter is a brief but good commentary on St. Augustine's famous dictum: "Every man is a stranger in this life . . ." Chapter 10 is an apologia for "acceptance" as a satisfactory posture for believer and agnostic alike.
It is hard to believe that Miss Mannin has done a service to the world she lives in by bending over backwards to explain it to itself in its own terms. The business of life is to live, and that is a lonely business. In varying degrees men of every generation have been aware of "that inner ineradicable loneliness".