Renewal in Rome?…

Vatican II is again in session in the venerable city of Rome. From all over the earth the princes of the church have assembled to undertake the business assigned to them earlier. No longer is the gentle hand of John XXIII at the helm. The question repeatedly raised in the minds and even on the lips of many ecclesiastical leaders, both within as well as outside of the Roman church, is: “Will Pope Paul steer the church in the course set by his predecessor or in the direction of the desires of the papal Curia?”

Initially the council was convened. to review the place of the church in the modern world and reassess her traditional response. Out of this, it was hoped, would develop a more positive approach to other Christian communions and the multitudes who are estranged from the gospel.

Criticism from within has not been lacking. One stands amazed at times, when reading how openly some of both laity and clergy speak about the church to which they belong.

The editor of World View, James Finn, asks in the light of new developments, “Have the progressives realized. and used their strength, or have they fragmented on the rock of conservative tradition? Will the church continue to open to the world—or are the windows already beginning to close once more? Can the Council under Pope Paul VI follow upon, or does it diverge from the exciting course charted by John? Will it make a clear statement on religious liberty that is so eagerly awaited? Will it publicly confess its fault to the Jews and clarify its hue relation to them?”

The strength of the traditionalists lies in the Roman Curia, the administrative ann of the papacy. And within this body especially the Holy Office, the congregation charged with matters of faith and morals, is notorious for resisting any real change. This fact, long recognized but seldom admitted in public, seems to be freely discussed. No one less than Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany, speaks of this agency of the church as one “whose methods and behavior do not conform at all to the modern era, and are a cause of scandal to the world.”


Meanwhile the work continues.

The Catholic Hour broadcast, exceptionally adept at presenting the church in its most favorable light, is currently running a series of interviews with high-ranking clergy from all over the world. Recently three archbishops presented their views on what was taking place. Cardinal Koenig of Vienna discussed in great detail the subject of “collegiality.” It was evident that although the bishops are apparently to take a larger place in discussions on church affairs, doctrinal and moral as well as administrative, the supremacy of the pope will be upheld. Noteworthy is Rome’s concern about the “laity,'” too long occupying a purely passive role. The Belgian cardinal in discussing his position insisted that for the health and influence of the church much greater attention would have to be paid to the “apostolate” of all the faithful than had been done heretofore. This in addition to having mass in the vernacular and to encouraging the members to read the Bible makes evangelicals wonder whether Rome has been more influenced by Protestantism than she has been willing to recognize.

What all this will mean for the individual Roman Catholic is difficult to determine. We believe that the Holy Spirit, who works savingly with the word of the living God, is the powerful and prevailing “wind” of Cod and “bloweth where it (he) listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) What all this will mean for the church at large is even more difficult to determine. The struggle between the traditional and the liberal factions of the Roman church is much more in the open than ever before. Yet there is no indication that Rome is at this time ready to reform herself radically in obedience to the Word of God which abides forever.


In the October 1964 issue Eternity introduces a series of articles written by Donald F. Tweedie Jr., director of the Counseling Center of Fuller Theological Seminary.

Under the general theme “Faith and your Feelings” he will discuss such emotions as guilt, anxiety, anger, fear and joy. At a later date these articles will be combined and made available in book form.

The first article deals with “guilt.” Here our attention is directed to some striking changes which are taking place among psychologists and psychiatrists. The situation is briefly but informatively stated. “It is universally accepted that guilt states have a debilitating and deteriorating effect on your personality development. Almost no one affiliated with persons having mental and emotional disorders could fail to see how central guilt states are in psychopathological disorders. There has been considerable difference of opinion, however, as to how to understand and interpret these guilt states. Generally they have been divided into two different categories: real guilt and neurotic guilt…”

After discussing the position of Ernest White, a Christian psychiatrist from England, Tweedie makes mention of the challenge presented by an outstanding American psychologist, Hobart Mowrer. His position constitutes a rather radical break with what we have been hearing heretofore.

Mowrer in an article “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils” urges contemporary psychologists not only to repudiate what be considers to be an arbitrary and misleading distinction between guilt as real and guilt as neurotic; he also insists that the prior act which gives rise to such feelings be labeled “sin.”

This is a healthy and hopeful reaction against what has long prevailed in this field.

Against this background we can understand the position taken by Tweedie. “So that when I am dealing with a person who feels guilty, I presume that this person has really violated God’s law and stands in need of repentance. I presume also that his feeling state is a ministry of the Holy Spirit in his life which would stimulate him to repentance. That this person (speaking by way of example of a young lady who has guilt feelings because of wearing lipstick!) also needs help in haVing his ‘conscience cleansed’ to lead him from the devious path of pharisaic tradition is undoubtedly true. But just because he may be in a state of spiritual ignorance or immaturity docs not mean that actions which offend his conscience are not real offenses with moral significance. It seems to me to be a defensible thesis that all guilt is a consequence of real sin.”

In our day, when so many consciences are seared with a hot iron, something like this needs constant emphasis. Ours is time of increased mental and spiritual disorders, also among those who name the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Meanwhile the power of sin as rebellion against God and his holy ordinances for the welfare of man’s life has been soft-pedaled in many churches which claim to be Bible-believing. Sin is so often regarded as something which exists “out there” among harlots and publicans, not in the hearts and lives of those who fill the pews Sunday after Sunday.

No wonder much preaching, while expatiating on all the social and political problems of an increasingly complex world in an attempt to be relevant, is about the most irrelevant influence in the lives of countless church people. It no longer strikes home. It so seldom speaks about man’s personal relation and responsibility to God. It only skims the surface of people’s lives. It misses the depth-dimension of the Bible. And what could possibly be more irrelevant than that?