The Council's last document

2012-03-23 L’Osservatore Romano

The Pope considered that the Second Vatican Council bore “traces of Pentecost” and was a great gift to the Church since it represented a  reliable compass by which to be guided on the journey through the century that was about to begin. In his book Sources of Renewal: the Implementation of the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II emphasized with regard to ecumenism that  the ecumenical position that we see taking shape and its continuation in accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council are among the most important signs and at the same time one of the tests for the renewal of the Church.

John Paul II signs the Constitution 'Sacrae disciplinae Leges' for the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law (25 January 1983)In the light of these considerations we recognize that between the documents of the Second Vatican Council and  the post-conciliar renewal of Canon Law implemented by John Paul II – also and precisely in an ecumenical sense –  a fundamental and indissoluble connection should be noted.

This report began with a historical fact event: on 25 January 1959 in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls  Pope John XXIII did not announce a reform of Canon Law solely for the Catholic Church; he also expressed on that occasion his intention of promulgating a Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches. Describing the connection between the Council and the renewal of the two universal codes with the verbs to accompany and to crown, Pope John expressed his conviction that the Codes would follow the work of the Council, expressing the viewpoints that resulted from it for the life, guidance and discipline of the Church.

The task which at the end of the Vatican Council Paul VI allocated to the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law also aimed to adjust the Code to bring it into line with the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

The bulls of Promulgation of the two universal Codes of Canon Law also recall this fundamental connection. In his Apostolic Constitution for the Promulgation of the new Code of Canon  Law in 1983, Pope John Paul II explicitly stressed that the Council – and in a special way its teaching on the Church – was not only the main motive but also the criterion for the renewal of the Code of Canon Law. In the same document the Pope recognizes the Code as a “great effort... to translate” the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and that is, in particular, “the conciliar ecclesiology into canonical language”.

The Pope knows well that it is impossible to translate in an exhaustive manner the theological image of the Church into canonical language. At the same time  Canon Law must refer to the ecclesial concept of the Council as just as a copy mirrors the original image. In his report during the introduction to the new Code of Canon Law in 1983, he emphasized to the bishops that the Code was part of the Council and that in this sense it was the Council's last document.. Here the term “translate” does not only mean the faithful transcription into legal language of the conciliar texts on the Church. It is also and above all a matter of putting the Council's  doctrinal prescriptions practice in the daily life of the Church.

Kurt Koch