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The Drafting of 'Lumen Gentium'

11/4/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

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Interview With Father Peter Gumpel

ROME, NOV. 4, 2004 (Zenit) - Nov. 21 will mark 40 years since the promulgation by Pope Paul VI of the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution, "Lumen Gentium."

To better understand the way in which this document was written, we interviewed Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, who collaborated day by day in the drafting of the document.

Q: How did you become involved in the writing of the document?

Father Gumpel: Pope Paul VI asked me to form part of the council's highest commission, but working in close collaboration with Father Paolo Molinari who had already been appointed.

I rejected the offer, explaining that there were other works to be done in the curia of the Society of Jesus and that it was not possible for both of us to participate in the sessions, which took place every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays.

Moreover, it was obvious that Father Molinari was in need of help, so we divided the work. He participated in the council, while I studied in depth the documents to which the Pontiff had given me access.

I spent many days studying in libraries to examine further those points of the debate that were more delicate, and to furnish documentary material to Father Molinari.

Q: Of what importance was "Lumen Gentium" in Vatican II and what issues does it address?

Father Gumpel: "Lumen Gentium" is a dogmatic constitution, a document of the highest level of the ordinary magisterium and of the council, although in the end it added no new dogmatic definition.

There were discussions on each one of the chapters of the dogmatic constitution. The first two chapters are very profound, presenting the nature of the Church from an eschatological perspective and also as the pilgrim People of God. The problem was that Pope Pius XII, who had prepared a possible council, had planned to emphasize the aspect of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ.

In the discussion, according to the official commentary of these two first chapters, it was said that when considering the intrinsic nature of the Church, there is no affirmation that is more valid than that of the Church in eschatological pilgrimage toward heaven.

Later, some said that this definition was not in agreement with Pius XII's doctrine on the Mystical Body. But there is no reason for concern, because in regard to the internal structure of the Church, there is no concept that is more valid than the Mystical Body of the Church.

Q: According to some, the most intense discussions took place on the collegiality of bishops and the role of the pontiff.

Father Gumpel: Indeed, it was the third chapter of "Lumen Gentium," regarding the collegiality of bishops and the role of the pontiff in the governance of the Church.

Q: Surely the bishops must have responsibility not only before their own dioceses, but also before the whole Church. But how is this responsibility exercised?

Father Gumpel: The formula is clear: "with and under Peter" -- "cum et sub Petro." But the formulas initially presented were not sufficiently clear, to the point that 18 cardinals and general superiors of several religious orders wrote to the Pontiff so that those ambiguities would be avoided.

They complained to the Pope, saying that it was necessary to add clarifications, as the text was vague and prone to two different interpretations.

Initially, Paul VI did not attach much importance to these criticisms. But later, precisely before the vote on the writing of the third chapter, the Pope realized that certain ambiguities would give rise to confusions on the role of the Pontiff and for this reason, introduced the "Nota Previa."

Q: What is it about?

Father Gumpel: The Pope realized that it was very dangerous to promulgate a document of such importance where the role of the pontiff in relation to the other bishops was not very clear. From this concern stemmed the idea of the "Nota Previa" with which, though taking into account the council's discussion, confirmed the magisterial teachings on the matter.

Q: There were also discussions on the chapters relating to holiness and to the religious life.

Father Gumpel: Indeed, there was a great debate.

Chapter 5 addresses the call to holiness. What is holiness? Is holiness the same for all or are there differences, even essential ones, in the call to holiness? There is no doubt that there is a general call to holiness, but there was a risk of trivializing the commitment of the priestly and religious life.

It is obvious that all are called to holiness, which means union with Christ, but there are differences according to the state of life of the call.

Another issue that caused great debate was the ...

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