Friday, November 30, 2012

Not a Museum, but a Garden: Massimo Faggioli Lectures on the Meaning of Vatican II

By Hilary Sherratt ’12

It was Massimo Faggioli's provocative lecture title, “Vatican II: Then and Now,” that likely drew many local Catholic parishioners, as well as Gordon faculty and students, to the Ken Olsen Science Center MacDonald Auditorium for the final talk of the Fall 2012 Faith Seeking Understanding Lecture Series at Gordon College. Faggioli explored in his lecture the history, theology and broad cultural impact of the Second Vatican Council. Professor Faggioli, assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, is an Italian scholar who has taught at the University of Bologna, the University of Modena-Reggio Emilia, and the Free University of Bolzen-Bolzano; he brought his passion and enthusiasm for church history to his listeners.

Beginning in 1962 and concluding in 1965, the Second Vatican Council represented a major effort on the part of the Catholic Church to address issues of modernity in a way understood by many (Faggioli included) to be more open and culturally engaged than the Church's approach through "the long 19th century."


“The question is, is Vatican II Council in continuity or in discontinuity with the rest of the church tradition?” Faggioli asked. Then, with a small smile, he proceeded to elaborate: “As a theologian and church historian, I can tell you that it is in continuity AND in discontinuity with the tradition. I challenge everyone,” he went on, “to show me a place in church teaching before the Second Vatican Council where religious freedom was talked about in a positive way. It’s not there. This was a discontinuity. I also point out that the law of the Church is the Scripture—that was true in the Second Vatican Council as well—it is in continuity. So there are both.”

For Faggioli, the Council is far from a curious object of the past. He explained, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “The Church is not a museum—it is a garden.” That is, the Catholic Church is a living thing, a communion of people that experiences real change and transformation over time. In fact, Professor Faggioli’s lecture itself felt more like wandering through a garden—noticing different plants, exploring hidden corners of meaning and implication—than it did a museum. The Council and its outcomes were as powerful and immediate after fifty years as they must have been after only five. At the end of the lecture, the audience was eager to ask questions and to deepen their understanding of this monumental event.

Professor Faggioli offered eight major outcomes of the Council, which included a more engaged laity and lay movements in the church, the recognition of the Church as global (there were 2,500 bishops in attendance at the Council from all over the world), and the realization of ecumenism as the destiny of Christianity. Before the Council, he suggested, ecumenism was not pursued by the Catholic Church, and there was no real recognition of Protestants and Orthodox Christians as part of the faith. Now, fifty years later, the Catholic Church has active dialogues with many different Orthodox Christians and with Protestant traditions.


In some ways, then, the Second Vatican Council’s recognition of ecumenism is, in part, what brought Professor Faggioli to Gordon College: to dialogue with our community of faith, to share about his tradition, and to work together towards our deeper understanding of one another. His lecture sparked new exploration and conversation—a ramble through the garden of the Catholic tradition. 

Photo: Massimo Faggioli

Hilary Sherratt ’12 is a grant writer in the Office of the Provost at Gordon College and a guest blogger for Notes Along the Way.

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