Message to Humanity from the Council Fathers

Note on the text:

The translation of this message can be found in The Documents of Vatican II by Water Abbott, SJ., p. 3-7, The America Press, 1966. Some of the footnotes were preserved in this online edition. The editors and authors of the book added several comments in footnotes that seemed distracting from the document itself and so most were not reproduced here. 

 

Message to Humanity

 

Issued at the Beginning of the Second Vatican Council[1] by its Fathers, with the Endorsement of the Supreme Pontiff

 

The Fathers of the Council to All Men[2]

 

We take great pleasure in sending to all men and nations a message concerning that well-being,[3] love, and peace which were brought into the world by Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God, and entrusted to the Church.

 

For this reason why, at the direction of the most blessed Pope John XXIII, we successors of the apostles have gathered here, joined in singlehearted prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and forming one apostolic body headed by the successor of Peter.

 

May the Face of Christ Jesus Shine Out

 

In this assembly, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we wish to inquire how we ought to renew ourselves, so that we may be found increasingly faithful to the gospel of Christ. We shall take pains so to present to the men of this age God’s truth in its integrity and purity that they may understand it and gladly assent to it.

 

Since we are shepherds, we desire that all those may have their longing satisfied who seek God[4] “if perhaps they might find Him as they grope after Him; though indeed He is not far from each of us.”[5]

           

Hence, obeying the will of Christ, who delivered Himself to death “that He might present Himself to the Church, not having spot or wrinkle… but that she might be holy and without blemish,”[6] we as pastors devote all our energies and thoughts to the renewal of ourselves and the flocks committed to us, so that there may radiate before all men the lovable features of Jesus Christ, who shines in our hearts “that God’s splendor may be revealed.”[7]

 

God So Love the World…

 

We believe that the Father so loved the world that He gave His own Son to save it. Indeed, through this same Son of His He freed us from bondage to sin, reconciling all things unto Himself through Him, “making peace through the blood of his cross,”[8] so that “we might be called sons of God, and truly be such.”

 

The Spirit too has been bestowed on us by the Father, so that living the life of God, we might love God  and the brethren, who are all of us one in Christ.

 

It is far from true that because we cling to Christ we are diverted from earthly duties and toils. On the contrary, faith, hope, and the love of Christ impel us to serve our brothers, thereby patterning ourselves after the example of the Divine Teacher, who “came not to be served but to serve.”[9] Hence, the Church too was not born to dominate but to serve. He laid down His life for us, and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.[10]

 

Accordingly, while we hope that the light of faith will shine more clearly and more vigorously as a result of this Council’s efforts, we look forward to a spiritual renewal from which will also flow a happy impulse on behalf of human values such as scientific discoveries, technological advances, and a wider diffusion of knowledge.

 

The Love of Christ Impels Us

 

Coming together in unity from every nation under the sun, we carry in our hearts the hardships, the bodily and mental distress, the sorrows, longings, and hopes of all the peoples entrusted to us. We urgently turn our thoughts to all the anxieties by which modern man is afflicted. Hence, let our concern swiftly focus first of all on those who are especially lowly, poor, and weak. Like Christ, we would have pity on the multitude weighed down with hunger, misery, and lack of knowledge. We want to fix a steady gaze on those who still lack the opportune help to achieve a way of life worthy of human beings.

 

As we undertake our work, therefore, we would emphasize whatever concerns the dignity of man, whatever contributes to a genuine community of peoples. “Christ’s love impels us,”[11] for “he who sees his brother in needs and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”[12]

 

Two Issues of Special Urgency Confront Us

           

The Supreme Pontiff, John XXIII, in a radio address delivered on September 11, 1962, stressed two points especially.

           

The first dealt with peace between peoples. There is no one who does not hate war, no one who does not strive for peace with burning desire. But the Church desires it most of all, because she is the Mother of all. Through the voice of the Roman Pontiffs, she never ceases to make an open declaration of her love for peace, her desire for peace. She is always ready to lend aid with her whole heart to any sincere effort on behalf of peace. She strives with all her might to bring peoples together and to develop among them a mutual respect for interests and feelings. This very conciliar congress of ours, so impressive in the diversity of the races, nations, and languages it represents, does it not bear witness to a community of brotherly love, and shine as a visible sign of it? We are giving witness that all men are brothers, whatever their race or nation.

 

The Supreme Pontiff also pleads for social justice. The teaching expounded in his encyclical Mater et Magistra clearly shows that the Church is supremely necessary for the modern world if injustices and unworthy inequalities are to be denounced, and if the true order of affairs and of values is to be restored, so that man’s life can become more human according to the standards of the gospel.

 

The Power of the Holy Spirit

 

To be sure, we are lacking in human resources and earthly power. Yet we lodge our trust in the power of God’s Spirit, who was promised to the Church by the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence we humbly and ardently call for all men to work along with us in building up a more just and brotherly city in this world. We call not only upon our brothers whom we serve as shepherds, but also upon all our brother Christians, and the rest of men of good will, who God “wills that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,”[13]. For this is the divine plan, that through love God’s kingdom may already shine out on earth in some fashion as a preview of God’s eternal kingdom.

 

The world is still far from the desired peace because of threats arising from the very progress of science, marvelous though it be, but not always responsive to the higher law of morality. Our prayer is that in the midst of this world there may radiation the light of our great hope in Jesus Christ, our only Savior.

 

Endnotes

[1] This message was approved and released by the Council on Saturday, Oct. 20, 1962, nine days after the Council opened (and two days before the crisis over Sovit missiles in Cuba became public).

[2] For the first time in the history of Ecumenical Councils, a Council addresses itself to all men, not just members of the Catholic Church. In the following year, Pope John XXIII added, for the first time, the salutation “and to all men of good will” as the opening of a papal encyclical (Pacem in Terris, Apr. 11, 1963).

[3] Salutis, often translated “salvation.”

[4] Pope Paul VI, in his Christmas message for 1965, would write: “This dominant mood of the Council was inspired by the gospel image of the shepherd setting out in pursuit of the lost sheep, allowing himself no peace until he has found it. The awareness that mankind, represented with touching simplicity by the straying sheep, belongs to the Church was the guiding principle of the COuncil. For mankind, by a universally valid decree, does belong to the Church…. Mankind belongs to her by right of love, since the Church, no matter how distant or uncooperative or hostile mankind may be, can never be excused from loving the human race for which Christ shed His blood.”

[5] Acts 17:27.

[6] Cf. Eph 5:27.

[7] Cf. 2 Cor. 4:6.

[8] Cf. Col 1:20.

[9] Mt. 20:28.

[10] Cf. 1 Jn. 3:16.

[11] 2. Cor. 5:14.

[12] 1 Jn. 3:17.

[13] Cf. 1 Tim. 2:4.

Baptism of Christ by Giovanni Bellini
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