Has the Council Come Too Soon?
ONE OF THE most noteworthy of the sayings that have become proverbial amongst the Roman Curia is the phrase pensiamo in secoli: "We think in centuries!" Sudden reorientations are rare in the Curia. They are not well thought of. Hence it is no matter for surprise that Pope John XXIII's announcement of an ecumenical council to prepare the way for the reunion of separated Christians, while hailed with joy throughout the world on account of its ecumenical objective, aroused no little astonishment in Rome itself. In several circles there, people were at pains to minimize as far as possible the epoch-making significance of this event. If the Pope had sent the question round his "ministerial offices" first, the verdict might well have been more or less unanimous: "A council? Too soon!" But the Pope, who "thinks in centuries" in another sense, made no such enquiry.
But there was no need to go to Rome to hear sceptical things said of the plan for a council. On my side of the Alps, where, rightly or wrongly, people pride themselves on being better able to read the signs of the times, and where it is not the custom to answer questions of extreme urgency with Rome's "Patienza! Patienza!" the reaction in well-informed theological circles was distinctly noncommittal. The immediate spontaneous response, heard by me, of one competent and ecumenically-minded Catholic theologian to that sensational broadcast of 25 January 1959 was: "A council? Too soon!"