Religious “fervor” and the outcome of the First Session of the Second Vatican Council


The First Session (1962) of the last Council was the only one in which no documents were approved – and the only one held during the papacy of the man who had planned and called the assembly, Pope John XXIII. Was it also the most important of the sessions? Roberto de Mattei thinks so.

From his book Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta” (Turin, Lindau, 2010, pages 278-280), on the never before told history of the Council [Contributor: Francesca Romana; note: we have been authorized by Edizioni Lindau s.d.l, Turin, to make these and other excerpts of this book available to our readers in this blog]:

The Second Vatican Council – Roberto de Mattei – The Outcome of the First Session (1962) pages 278-280

The first session was by far the most important of the Council, because it marked the direction that it would  maintain till the conclusion of the work. “During the first tumultuous weeks – Melissa Wilde  notes – through a combination of “protest- events” and of votes obtained with great difficulty, the progressives were able to change the course of the Council and to establish an organizational structure which would have served them in the subsequent years.”418

The report of the work ,which Cardinal Siri drew up from the first period, was disquieting:

The Council has revealed:

that a vague direction in the Church is being outlined, this is represented by a group  of the German language and the like.  It is organized aliquatenus (to a certain degree). This is a partial  attempt that you cannot  affirm with certainty, but you see it in the  facts, that someone has a clear and deliberate plan in mind;

there is rage against reason, theology and the law.  One sees the end of kerygmalism, which is often that of eliminating Tradition, Ecclesia etc., 

this is more unconscious than conscious, but it is helped along by the lack of intuition of those who want absolutely to adapt as much as possible to the protestants, to the orthodox etc.,

in very many cases, literature prevails on theology.  Many beautiful and also true dissertations  pertain to literary considerations on dogma, not dogma itself;

there is talk of a Theologia nova and the concept of this, let alone the aim, appear to be very dark and perhaps dangerous.  The term Theologia nova was coined by a Belgian bishop at the Council.”419

The climate that characterized this first phase of the debate was defined by Melissa Wilde as “collective effervescence” 420   The sociologist Durkheim defines this term: “the state in which men find themselves  when…they believe that they have been transported into a  world completely different to that which they have actually before them.” 421   Such an inner state, from a sociological prospect , is the fruit of the interpersonal relationships of a vast group of people who find themselves together for the first time, and, in an atmosphere of euphoria, attribute  a meaning, to their “being together.”  “It is a euphoric state- again Wilde explains– the result of individuals who gather together, in this case, to venerate, to discuss and to engage themselves in the changing of an  ancient institution which all of them fervently believe in.”422       

This phenomenon is well known to historians.  Ronald A. Knox  traced it out in an incisive history of “religious enthusiasm” 423  showing that the model of “charismatic enthusiasm” has been a recurring one since the times of the  Montanist heresy.  Mons. Helder-Camara’s letters seem to offer a typical example of this atmosphere  of self –exaltation and with very little spiritual discernment,  it was attributed to the intervention of “The Holy Spirit”.  It is not surprising that many bishops, interviewed by Padre Rocco Caporale during the Council, credited  their personal experience at the first session to “The Holy Spirit”. It was during this session  “the spirit of the Council” started to  become a “theological place.”