Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins says that 50 years later, Vatican II remains relevant on today’s post-secondary campus. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Vatican II remains relevant on campus, Collins says

  • February 22, 2013

TORONTO - The teachings of the Second Vatican Council may be more than 50 years old but they shouldn’t be regarded as irrelevant on today’s post-secondary campuses, said Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“Vatican II is very important for all of us and certainly it is important on Catholic university campuses,” said Collins, the archbishop of Toronto. “It is important to study the texts of the documents because that is where we really find Vatican II; that’s really where the Holy Spirit speaks to us through what was actually written.”

Collins recently discussed Vatican II with students at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College. He told students that one of the major misconceptions is that everything pre-Vatican II was thrown out and that everything post-Vatican II is new, a concept he referred to as the lens of rupture.

“That is an absolutely wrong-headed approach,” and can steer students away from reading the documents of the council, said Collins.
How Vatican II should be perceived is through “the lens of continuity,” he said. That means understanding that Vatican II built upon the concepts developed over almost 2,000 years of the Church.

“The idea that somehow the Catholic Church sort of pitched what it had been doing for 1,965 years and suddenly put in something that is better is just false,” said the cardinal. “A very important thing is to have an understanding of that.”

Alexander Zappone, who’s enrolled in St. Michael’s Christianity and Culture concurrent teacher education program, grasps this.

“It is a collection of documents which contain the beauty of a rich intellectual tradition being passed on to a new generation,” said the member of the religious and community affairs commission, a branch of the campus’ student union. The commission organized the cardinal’s talk. “On the campus of a Catholic college at the University of Toronto, Vatican II is many things but it is definitely relevant. It is a text book, it is a point of discussion, it is a new interpretation — an update — of an old way of doing things.”

But it isn’t just inside the classroom on a Catholic campus where the 22-year-old student thinks young followers of the faith should be reading Vatican II. Even students of other faiths should read the documents.

“Vatican II is relevant to Catholics and non-Catholics not just on campus but everywhere,” said Zappone. “As a document by leaders of a 2,000-year-old developing tradition it at the very least is worth a read.”

Collins agrees.

“We make a mistake if we only concentrate, for example, on Catholic university campuses or in publicly funded schools,” said the cardinal. “One thing we face in the world is that the people who have more degrees than a thermometer, PhDs and this or that, often have a very minimal knowledge of the great intellectual knowledge of the Church. Everybody should be challenged and nourished with the richness of the Catholic faith.”

He believes it’s all for the common good.

“The Second Vatican Council has some wise words about the idea of the common good, which is a fundamental concept in Catholic social teaching,” said Collins. “In all our decisions, great and small, we need to scan the implications for others and consider the effect on the common good, on the social environment in which we all live. Attention to the common good is a basic consideration in decision making but it is not as obvious or as easy as it might seem.”

And that’s where reading the pages of the council come in, said Collins. Reading Vatican II documents should result in a deeper understanding of the motives behind the actions of Christ which in turn should help readers live a similar way regardless of their faith.

The cardinal does sympathize with students who are already required to read hundreds of pages a week. Understanding the time constraints placed on students, Collins recommends indulging in “the four great constitutions” of Vatican II: Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy) and Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the World Today).

“If you are going to pick anything, pick one of the four big ones and then take time, we’ve got a lot of time, just go through it slowly,” said Collins.

“All of those provide a norm and a standard for us which we will be able to constantly understand more and more effectively as the years go by and I think that speaks to what needs to be found on campuses.”


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