Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: Observing Vatican II: The Confidential Reports of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative, Bernard Pawley, 1961-1964

Andrew Chandler & Charlotte Hansen (eds.), Observing Vatican II: The Confidential Reports of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative, Bernard Pawley, 1961-1964 (Camden Fifth Series, 43; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Hardcover, 426 pp., cover price £45.00/$80.00, ISBN 9781107052949.

This volume in the Royal Historical Society’s well-respected Camden Series publishes, for the first time, the confidential reports about the Second Vatican Council made by the Anglican Canon Bernard Pawley to the Church of England’s Council on Inter-Church Relations. It takes its place alongside other recent English-language publications of diaries, journals and memoirs that cover Vatican II in whole or in part, such as Henri de Lubac’s Vatican Council Notebooks: Volume 1 (Ignatius Press, 2015), Yves Congar’s My Journal of the Council (Liturgical Press, 2012), and The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer (Angelico Press, 2015).

The main body of Observing Vatican II reproduces large sections of the 167 reports Pawley wrote from April 1961 until the end of the Council’s third session in November 1964 (Canon John Findlow wrote the reports for the fourth session). As the editors admit, extensive cutting has been necessary to produce a book that fits within the scope of the Camden Series — Pawley’s reports encompass around 240,000 words, which would require a book at least twice the size (and probably the cost!) of this one. But even given these limitations, we still have 400 pages of exceptionally interesting material. Not only did Pawley write notes and summaries of the speeches given by the Council Fathers (in a similar manner to de Lubac’s Notebooks), but he also recorded the meetings of the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox observers. The first section of reports (pp. 33-132) also has particular interest for its recording of the period immediately before the Council, from April 1961 to October 1962, in which Pawley details his various interactions with, among others, the then Mgr Johannes Willebrands of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, as well as members of the British Catholic hierarchy and the Roman Curia.

Here are some quotes to give a flavour of the material:

For the most part, the suggestions in the ‘Schemata’ for bringing up-to-date the Liturgy of the Roman Church are eminently reasonable and acceptable by us. As the Bishop of Ripon [John Moorman] remarked, ‘If they go on like this, they’ll find they’ve invented the Church of England.’ We often comment that the general principles are similar to those of the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer.
(p. 40: Report n. 50, 29th Oct 1962)

The [observers’] meeting was then electrified by the principal Russian observer [Vitali] Borovoj, who, with many dramatic gestures, then got up and said that for the Orthodox the relations between Scripture and Tradition presented no problem. They had always had an ‘orthodox’ doctrine.

Then, with accelerating gestures and with great force of declamation, he turned towards where [Oscar] Cullmann and [Bernhard] Schlink were sitting and said: ‘I wish you Protestant theologians would realise the harm you are doing in picking the Bible to pieces, with your Formgeschichte, without giving people positive doctrines to put in its place. You make mistakes in publishing your immature conclusions. The atheists among whom we have to live use your confusions to demonstrate that all Bible teaching is discredited. You manufacture a weapon with which they can beat our backs. Have you no more sense?’

At this point the meeting broke up.
(p. 172: Report no. 59, 24th Nov 1962)

In discussion about [the schema De oecumenismo] with responsible members of the Secretariat, we get the impression that the text of the Schema as it stands is the result of a long struggle with conservative elements on the Theological Commission, etc. and represents an optimum of what we can expect. We should therefore prepare ourselves and our public not to be disappointed if certain positions at present occupied are heavily attacked and even lost. Some of the texts (e.g. that on permission for corporate prayer) are deliberately vague, in the hope that they will be able to be given a favourable context later.
(p. 258: Report n. 101, 14th Nov 1963)

One slight downside is that the book’s introduction unfortunately relies too much on the Bologna school’s view of Vatican II and the historical period leading up to it — better known as the ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ or ‘Vatican II as event’. However, this only takes up the first twenty pages, and thus is not much of an issue.

We are fortunate enough to be living in a time when these sorts of confidential reports, diaries, memoirs and other such personal recollections of the Council are being published, and with increasing frequency. However, unlike most of these recent publications, Observing Vatican II is written from the viewpoint of a Protestant (Anglican) observer. For those who have an interest in the history of Vatican II, this book comes highly recommended, and at the time of writing can be found for substantially less than the cover price online from various outlets.

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