At a press conference yesterday, Fr Bernard Ardura O Praem, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, explained how a global project has been organised to mark the anniversary of Vatican Council II, involving an examination of the personal archives of the Council Fathers, the aim being to produce original and academically valid research and to favour an increasingly deep understanding of an event “which has profoundly marked the life of the Church over the last half century”.
“Following the path laid down by Blessed Pope John XXIII in his opening address to the Council, all available archive material must be submitted to careful historical scrutiny, in order to ensure that people do not, as the Pope himself said, ‘act as if they had nothing to learn from history, which is a teacher of life’. The consultation and publication of diaries, memories and correspondence of important figures who participated in Vatican Council II has already contributed to the development of an hermeneutic of the Council; … that ‘hermeneutic of reform in continuity’ identified by Benedict XVI as the way to ensure
authentic ecclesial interpretation.
“In this light”, Fr Ardura added, “we have begun researching the private archives of the Council Fathers, in order to identify and catalogue the documents they produced: diaries, notes on the various meetings of commission, … and all the documents that may help us to understand how the Council Fathers experienced the great event, how they viewed it and how they reacted to the various opinions expressed”.
The current conference is to be the first of two events on Vatican Council II. It aims to “present the current state of research and to highlight, for example, the difficulties encountered in searching the archives”. Of the Council Fathers, 2,090 were from Europe and the Americas, while 408 were from Asia, 351 from Africa and 74 from Oceania.
A large number of the latter came from mission lands and belonged to missionary institutions, for which reason much of their documentation is held in convents. Moreover the ‘cult of the archive’ which is habitual in Europe and America is not equally widespread in Asia and Africa, although the archives of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples do, to some extent, make up for these shortcomings”.
Fr Ardura explained that “the intention of the Pontifical Committee is to promote, in the light of the Holy Father’s Magisterium and following a strict historical-critical methodology divorced from any ideology, a pondered and academically grounded historiographical re-reading of what was undeniably ‘the great event’ of Vatican Council II”.
Speaking at the press conference yesterday, Professor Philippe Chenaux, director of the ‘Vatican Council II’ Centre for Research and Study of the Pontifical Lateran University explained that “the attempt to write a history of Vatican Council II involves not only research into the sources, … but also interpretation, the so-called conciliar ‘hermeneutic’. In other words, the historians who devised this project of the history of Vatican II have ‘excogitated’ the Council, whence have emerged two interpretative criteria which guided their work: the Council as ‘event’ and the Council as ‘rupture'”.
“The fundamental challenge for historians of the Council is, then, how to reconcile these two opposing readings of Vatican II and its decisions. This does not mean writing a ‘counter history’ of Vatican Council II. Rather, more modestly, it means resuming historical research on the basis of the widest possible documentation and with no
ideological bias. It means avoiding the manipulation of conciliar history for ends other than the history itself, in order to achieve a more balanced and shared understanding of the event and its decisions. ‘Starting again from the archives’, that is the challenge underlying the great research project of into the archives of the Council Fathers”, he
The conference is beginning with a documentary prepared by the Vatican film library, and an opening address by two speakers. The first of these will be Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Italy, who will focus on the months between the announcement and the opening of the Council because, Fr Ardura said, “the preparatory period offers many keys to understanding the subsequent development of the Council”.
The other opening speaker will be Professor Chenaux, who will discuss historiography with relation to Vatican Council II. In order to recall the ecumenical dimension, “strongly underlined” by Blessed John XXIII, one representative from the Patriarchate of Moscow and one from the Protestant churches will also attend the conference.
The results of the research of recent years, and of the conference, “will be a preliminary inventory of the Council Fathers’ archives. This will be fed into an online database which may be consulted free of charge on the website of the Pontifical Council”.