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CHURCH RENEWAL AND REFORM IN THE DOCUMENTS OF VATICAN II: History, Theology, Terminology Peter De Mey* A direct quotation of the famous Protestant adagium Ecclesia semper reformanda, which most probably was used for the first time by Voetius at the Synod of Dordt in 1609, is not found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. However, the council comes very close when it states about the Church in Lumen gentium 8 that she is “at one and the same time holy and always in need of purification” (sancta simul et semper purificanda) and in Unitatis redintegratio 6 that she is called “to continual reformation” (ad hanc perennem reformationem). It is clear, however, that the council could speak about the need of a “continual reformation” only when the truly “Catholic” background of the idea of reforming the Church could be shown. The major source of inspiration for the terminology of reform in the conciliar documents therefore seems to have been the pleas for a reform of the Church during the medieval and post-Reformation councils, even if the historical period of the Reformation may have partially influenced the use of the concept in Vatican II as well.1 Individual members of the Secretariat of Christian Unity, however, may have derived their conviction of the need for renewal of the Catholic Church from a reflection on the churches of the Reformation , as appears from the following entry from the diary of Cardinal Willebrands, written after his first meeting with the president of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, Cardinal Bea, on July 18, 1960: There is a movement within Protestantism that is returning to its own orthodoxy. In this sense, it is trying to break down the doors of confessionalism. It is returning to its original confession of faith, but at the same time, entering into its meaning, its origin, The Jurist 71 (2011) 369–400 369 * Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Catholic University of Leuven 1 Michael Becht, “Ecclesia semper purificanda. Die Sündigkeit der Kirche als Thema des II. Vatikanischen Konzils,” Catholica 49 (1995) 218–237; 239–260, comes to this conclusion on p. 246: “Das Dekret nimmt in diesem Artikel [UR 6] wieder den alten katholischen und von der Reformation so geschätzten Grundsatz der ecclesia semper reformanda auf.” 370 the jurist and its sources. Hence, through these confessional writings it is returning to the source: the Holy Word, the origin, the meaning, and the reason for the Reformation (in its historical context, and in its present rejection of Rome). That is why bible studies are so important; just as important are the studies about the Reformation and the reformers. The battle of the Reform churches is really a battle of faith, at least amongst the best of them. Our attitude may and should be one of the greatest love, of reflecting together, of fighting together, and praying together. This also means that we must also begin a reflection and a prayer for renewal , for a renewed face, where we also attempt to reveal ourselves in a more trustworthy way, and to be, who we are.2 In this contribution, after introducing the most important conciliar texts which reflect on the necessity continuously to renew, purify, and reform the Church (I), and after reflecting on the terminology used by the council fathers in their oral and written interventions (II), I will highlight the background ideas which may have particularly influenced the council fathers (III). Specific attention will be paid to the connection between the ideas of (1) the reform of the Church, (2) aggiornamento and (3) holiness and sinfulness in/of the Church. It can indeed be argued that, during the Second Vatican Council, the reflection on church renewal and aggiornamento often included a reflection on the theme of the sinfulness of the Church.3 The final section briefly describes how these themes have been treated in a number of ecumenical dialogues in which the Roman Catholic Church officially takes part. (IV) 2 “You Will Be Called Repairer of the Breach.” The Diary of J.G.M. Willebrands, 1958–1961. Instrumenta Theologica, 32, ed. Theo Salemink (Leuven: Peeters, 2009). 3 Cf. Peter Neuner, “Das Konzil und die Ökumene...


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