Twentieth Century Theology

Renewal at its source, by John Paul II

The Renewal in its Sources (1972) is a book by St. John Paul II, written when he was Archbishop of Krakow. It reflects his reading of the texts of the Council and his mind on how they should be applied. 

Juan Luis Lorda-May 10, 2020-Reading time: 7 minutes

If Karol Wojtyła had not become pope, this book would be completely unknown. It could be said that it belongs to a minor genre. It is neither an essay nor a set of meditations. It is an outline or guide for the working groups of a diocesan Synod to implement the Second Vatican Council in Krakow. But it is not a simple outline, but a long text, full of quotations from the Council and occasionally, long and not easy comments. 

It may seem that all this detracts from its interest. And more "negative" things could be said. For example, it is likely that it was not written in its entirety by Karol Wojtyła himself, but with his collaborators, who prepared the Synod. The archbishop was too busy to write such a long and prolix document (although he knew a lot about the Council and had worked on it). 

The context of the book

The year was 1971. Six years had already passed since the closing of the Second Vatican Council, many interpretations had appeared and not all the efforts to apply it had been fruitful. The Church in Poland did not want to suffer either the attrition it observed in the Churches of Western Europe, or the asphyxiation of other sister Churches in the East, due to the tricks of the communist governments. It was vital to stay alive and grow as a Church from the roots and, ultimately, from the faith. The Cardinal Primate, Stefan Wyszynski, had launched a novena of years, from 1957 to 1966, for the preparation of the millennium of the Church in Poland, relying mainly on traditional piety. And he had greatly strengthened Christian practice, despite insidious communist opposition.  

Archbishop Wojtyła thought of another process: it was now opportune to renew the faith by taking on the content of the Council. The diocese was preparing to celebrate the ninth centenary of the national saint, St. Stanislaus. He had been bishop of Kraków from 1072 to 1079. Wojtyła decided that a pastoral synod would be held to study the Council from 1972 to 1979 (seven years of synod!). Thousands of people in hundreds of groups participated, and it would be concluded by Karol Wojtyła himself on June 8, 1979, when he was already John Paul II. To be sure, there was no such intense meditation on the application of the Second Vatican Council anywhere else in the Catholic Church. This must be emphasized.

According to the testimony of his collaborators (mentioned by Weigel in his biography), the idea had been maturing for years. He was told that it could not be done, because there was no juridical channel for a diocesan synod. But he argued that it would be a "pastoral" synod and not a juridical one; not to decide on canonical measures, but to raise awareness and renew Christian life.

He had a very clear idea of the conciliar texts, because he had participated intensely in their elaboration. In addition, he had given many conferences and written chronicles and articles during the Council. He had a lot of prepared material, notes and ideas. Perhaps he did not write all the long series of texts and commentaries that the book contains. But it is clear that the general approach, the introductions and conclusions, and many "minds" or developments that have an unmistakably his style are his. Let's take a look at it. 

The interest of the book 

For this reason, this text, which at first glance may seem secondary, is in reality very significant. There is a providential relationship between the responsibility of the bishop who feels the duty to assume in depth the conciliar doctrine for the renewal of his Church in Krakow, and the Pope who will lead the Church after Paul VI. A Pope who, from the beginning, was unclassifiable and overcame the post-conciliar disputes between progressivism and traditionalism, because he had a clear idea of the value of the Council and of its insertion in the tradition of the Church. And all this came naturally to him, because he had lived it: he had been an active participant in the Council and a convinced "applicator" in his diocese, if the term is valid, with a clear discernment. 

And that he was so firmly centered on these fundamentals helped to center the whole Church when he was elected Pope: the majority became peacefully and joyfully centered, and the extremes became marginal. A grace of God. Everything could have been otherwise more painful. In fact, before he arrived, it was very difficult to foresee how the post-conciliar period would end; just as it was very difficult to foresee how communism would end in the countries of Eastern Europe.

The conscience of a bishop

First of all, the book manifests Bishop Wojtyła's own personal commitment to the Council as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He reflects this repeatedly in the prologue, in the conclusion and elsewhere: "The bishops [...] are especially obliged to be conscious of the debt contracted 'with the word of the Holy Spirit' since they were there to translate into human language the word of God." (Renewal in its sourcesBAC, Madrid 1982, p.4). "The bishop, authentic witness of the Council, is the one who knows its 'mystery,' which is why he bears primarily the responsibility of introducing and initiating into the reality of the Council itself." (p. 5). "In undertaking this work, the author wanted in some way to repay his debt to the Second Vatican Council. Now, paying a debt to the Council means putting it into practice." (p. 335). It is a matter of faith, and not of ecclesiastical practice or policy. 

The method

For this reason, it should be lived as an invitation to "enrich the faith" with a greater awareness. This idea permeates the book and is at the basis of the Synod's "method": to enrich the faith is to assume it fully as a response to God.

At the same time, this fully assumed faith calls for and gives rise to certain attitudes. This gives rise to the structure of the book in three parts, and manifests a feature of Karol Wojtyła's profound thought. 

Because of his personal history, Bishop Wojtyła had a vivid idea of the role truth plays in human psychology, and his knowledge of phenomenology had helped him to express it. The philosophical essay Person and actionThe 1969 book, published three years earlier, is a profound meditation on how the human conscience builds the person when it follows the truth. To all kinds of truth: to the theoretical truth, with which we know the world; to the practical truth, about how we should act in each case; and also to the truth of faith, which is a guide for our life. Phenomenology had taught him (above all, Von Hildebrand) that any truth consciously assumed produces attitudes, that is, a way of situating oneself. If I believe that God is Father, this will spontaneously produce in me an attitude of filial trust towards him. If it does not produce it, it means that this truth has not been fully assumed as such truth. If I really believe and assume that the purpose of the human being is to love his neighbor, it will produce in me a way of situating myself. If it does not produce it, it is that I have only accepted it superficially, as a convention or a cliché.

This is the method of the book and of the Synod. Bishop Wojtyła is convinced that it is necessary to renew the faith by relying on the teaching of the Council and integrating it into the whole tradition of the Church. Thus will unfold, almost spontaneously, the Christian attitudes that Spirit wants today in his Church: changes in the way of situating oneself and facing personal life and history. This is the initiation that he wants to achieve in his diocese. 

The three parts of the book

Consequently, the book has three parts. A kind of presentation, where he explains that it is about responding to God, that this is to enrich the faith, and that this faith is lived with an awareness of the Church that, among other things, assumes the Council as an act of the Holy Spirit. And of evangelizing dialogue with the world. This presentation is called "Fundamental significance of conciliar initiation"..

This is followed by an ordered reflection on the great mysteries of the faith, illustrated with texts from the Council. And the flame "formation of consciousness".. It is an awareness of creation and of the saving revelation of the Holy Trinity, and of redemption in Christ, with Mary. And of "participation" (an important term) in the life of the Church as the people of God. 

The third part is called "Creating attitudes.": "The enrichment of faith is expressed in each person and community through the awareness of attitude. For this reason [...] we now hasten to go further, looking at the aspect of attitudes through which the 'conciliar' enrichment of the faith must be expressed." (p. 163).

Concludes: "We have devoted this study to the analysis of the teachings of Vatican II from the point of view of the formation of the conscience and attitudes of the contemporary Christian [...]. This is the process of 'initiation' through which the conciliar conscience of the Church must be shared by all." (p. 337)

The Creed and the formation of conscience 

It is interesting to note that the second part is not an orderly review of the documents of the Council, but a review of the mysteries of the faith, taking advantage of the lights of the Council (which is the only thing he cites). Bishop Wojtyła explains that the Council was above all ecclesiological, and is centered on the last part of the Creed: on the Church: "Church, who are you?" e "Church, what do you have to say to the world?". But to renew the faith it is necessary to contemplate it in its entirety, and this is also the natural way to insert the Council's doctrine into the tradition of the Church. For this reason, he goes over the great mysteries: Creation, Trinity, Redemption....

"It is necessary to submit what Vatican II proclaimed to the principle of the integration of the faith [...]. In fact, the Second Vatican Council, which was particularly concerned with the truth about the Church [...] came after many other councils which were especially concerned with those truths of the faith which we profess in the Creed before the truth about the Church". (p. 30). "It is not a mechanical addition of the texts of the Magisterium [...] it is about an organic cohesion; [...] we reread the magisterium of the last Council in all the preceding magisterium of the Church." (p. 31). "The whole Creed is reflected in the conscience of the Church and at the same time the conscience of the Church extends to the whole Creed." (p. 32).

 Faith and attitudes

The third part also has its own outline. It deals with the attitudes generated by faith. Already in the first part, he gave a rich and profound vision of faith as a response to God, noting that Christian faith is testimonial (apostolic) and ecclesial: it is lived by "participating" in the life and mission of the Church. 

Now, in a natural and profound way, the emphasis is on "mission". Christian revelation and salvation proceed from the "missions" of the divine Persons, a classic and beautiful theme of the treatise on the Trinity: the Father manifests himself, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are sent as a work of revelation and redemption. This mission is expressed and prolonged in the mission of the Church and also in that of each Christian. To assume the faith is to enter into this historical and Trinitarian mission of revelation and salvation.

To articulate it, and in a rather original way, he chooses the three munusThe Christian is inserted in Christ. The Christian is inserted in Christ, therefore, the attitudes that are developed with faith have to do with his triple munusThe priestly office, the prophetic (witnessing) office and the royal office, which, as Wojtyła explains, is the "foundation of Christian morality"How to live as a Christian in the world.

This is completed by three other attitudes that are already implied in all that has been said: an ecumenical, apostolic attitude and the building of the Church as a community or communion. The ecumenical development is particularly profound. And the conclusion on the life of the Church, although it does not mention it, cannot forget that in Poland it is a question of survival. Only an authentic and united Church can survive. It is not a conjunctural question, evidently. The Church is like that. But in difficult times its life depends even more on its authenticity. It is not a question of surviving by cheating or in a bad way.

All this "he will wear" when he is elected Pope on October 16, 1978, after six years of the Diocesan Synod of Krakow, assuming the spirit and the letter of the Second Vatican Council.

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