ROME – A 91-year-old Jesuit who served as an expert at the Second Vatican Council said, "I'm just beginning to understand the depth and breadth of the council" and its teachings.
Jesuit Father Ladislas Orsy, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, told an audience in Rome that while every ecumenical council in Church history led to debate - and sometimes even schism - it always has taken more than 50 years for a council's teachings and reforms to take root in the Christian community.
"Granted we may see a great deal of confusion today; granted we may even see a denial of the council or we may even hear a way of explaining away the council," Orsy said.
His Jan. 24 speech was part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity celebrations at Rome's Centro Pro Unione.
Theologians can use a variety of scholarly tools to propose different interpretations of Vatican II's teachings, but one thing Catholics cannot deny is the Church's teaching that the Holy Spirit is active in its ecumenical councils, he said.
Orsy asked his audience, "Are you surprised that there is a bit of disarray today in the Roman Catholic Church when this happened in the case of Nicea, dealing with the very foundation of our faith?"
The Council of Nicea in 325 affirmed the divinity of Christ.
Nicea's deliberations led to debate and division, he said, but over the centuries "this wave of energy" of the Holy Spirit "quietly took possession of the Church and the confusion sorted itself out."
Today, he said, mainline Christians, while divided on a variety of issues, profess the basic tenets of their faith using the Nicean creed.
"Just looking at what happened after Nicea," he said, "it is not farfetched" to think that the work the Holy Spirit began at the Second Vatican Council continues in the Church and "maybe, shall we say, 100 years from now," people will recognize how deeply it impacted the Church.
In his talk, Orsy looked particularly at Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom.
The document reaffirmed traditional Church teaching that all human beings have an obligation to seek the truth and to strive for perfection, but it insisted truth could be imposed on no one, he said.
The document insists on "respect for the truth, but asserts that charity has its own priority, sometimes even above truth," he said.