Bishop Christopher Butler OSB – His Role in Dei Verbum
By Arthur Wells
... continued from Previous Page
English and Welsh Scholarship
We have already referred to Archbishop Heenan’s recognition of Abbot Butler as the only theologian among the British, and this might equally have applied to Scripture scholarship. The relative lack of theological depth of his British colleagues was a constant vexation to Butler, perhaps because doctrinally, he was himself so unimpeachably orthodox. For near inevitable historical reasons, the English and Welsh Bishops at the Council were mainly administrators. This situation had its origin in the sixteenth century Reformation after which Catholics suffered persecution and many penalties. These penal times did not officially end until the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament in 1829, so that when the Roman Catholic hierarchy was formally re-inaugurated in 1850, the major task was to set up fresh structures to serve the "faithful". In consequence of this, and for other reasons also, theology and scholarship were not of prime concern. However, Pope Pius XII had played an important role in giving a fresh impetus to scholarship in the Catholic Church generally, thus making some preparation for Vatican II [xxiv] but this had not impacted in the British Isles. Very aware of this, Butler had written earlier in the light of Pius’s Divino Afflante Spiritu:
What contribution is English Catholicism making, what contribution has it made in our century to the general progress of [biblical] studies? The answer must be: practically none ... It would be pleasant if we could contrast with our poverty in the field of Scripture a large and challenging output in that of dogmatic theology. But it is not so ... why are we so poverty stricken? [xxv]
Abbot Butler’s concern over the lack of scholarship was expressed early, so that his head was already well above the parapet on theology and Scripture when John XXIII was elected. He also spoke directly when necessary in Rome and it is certain from his correspondence that Butler’s anxiety over the final form of the Constitution on Revelation remained until its promulgation in the final days of the Council; he had assessed the influence of certain Roman authorities and wrote: ‘I hope the Pope will not see fit to make any last minute changes’ [xxvi] More of that correspondence will come later; to quote it now will get ahead of the debate and we must move to consider more of the ‘Roman ambience’.
The conservatism of the generality of the Roman Curia was a byword. It is well known that until the Council Fathers became really involved, the Preparatory Commission largely mirrored the Roman Curia. Abbot Butler’s concern about the Pope and ‘last minute changes’ was heightened by an element of unpredictability on the part of Pope Paul; this is commented on by many historians and Butler’s letters occasionally refer to it. A widespread concern was the ready access to the Pope for particular members of the Roman Curia. While in the end Butler was largely satisfied with Dei Verbum, he had early foreseen the many issues at stake, issues which could be summarized as a correct expression of the relation between Scripture and tradition. But the correct relationship was absent from the original schema. De fontibus Revelationis, prepared by Cardinal Ottaviani’s commission, spoke of Scripture and tradition as two separate and distinct ‘sources’ of revelation. Its tone was negative and full of condemnations and warnings, with little positive guidance or encouragement. It tended to be scholastic and apologetic and incorporated little of the positive findings of modern scholarship. Among many scholars and theologians previously silenced was Fr Yves Congar op. He was a peritus, and after the First Session he expressed the view of most modern scholars: ‘There is not a single dogma which the Church holds by Scripture alone, not a single dogma which it holds by tradition alone.’ [xxvii]
Freedom of Scholarship.
Partly perhaps because of his passion for truth, partly from his Anglican background, Abbot Butler had long advocated reasonable freedom for Catholic scholars — by legitimate means — to contribute to their own theology and thereby to ecumenism. The limitation of human language was always an issue in Scripture scholarship and, of course, Butler subscribed to Pope John’s emphasis about building on the past: ‘ ... the Church should never depart from the sacred treasure of truth inherited from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present.’[xxviii] Nevertheless, Butler was invariably insistent on the balance between freedom and authority, the latter having been a major reason for his conversion: ‘But my desire for authority did not spring from a rejection of criticism. On the contrary, it was just because I believed in criticism that I looked for the counterpoise.’[xxix] However, the repressions of the Modernist period were in force at the time when he joined the Catholic Church and were among the accommodations he had to make:
By the end of the nineteenth century the relatively new ‘science’ of historical scholarship and criticism had become an established feature ... Biblical studies, as well as the study of Church history were bound to be affected by the new methods of scholarship ... Within a few years Rome moved from detailed harassment to a general condemnation of ‘Modernism’. There ensued something like a reign of terror, stained by private ‘delations’ of alleged Modernists. My own predecessor, Abbot Cuthbert Butler of Downside, redirected his scholarly attentions into the safe back-ways of monastic and mystical history.[xxx]
One of the features of De fontibus was the inclusion of the ‘traditional’ phrase once used regularly: the inerrancy of Scripture. But in the final stages of debate, ‘inerrancy’ was dropped in Dei Verbum in favour of the ‘truth’ of scripture. While scholarly freedom was the occasion of one of Abbot Butler’s earliest interventions in the aula, it was also the point at which he made a noticeable mark on the rest of the fathers engaged in the debate — as a unifier — in what was described as ‘The First Doctrinal Clash’: ‘This call for unanimity found strong expression especially in the intervention of Abbot Butler’.[xxxi]
We have already anticipated much of what led to the clash and perhaps at this point we may say that a most valuable end result of Vatican II’s Dei Verbum was to link Scripture and tradition much more closely together. It is possible, but mistaken, to overemphasize the separation of Scripture from tradition at the Council of Trent:
The decree on authority in the Church, ‘Acceptance of the Sacred books and apostolic traditions’ ... has been criticized for making tradition too independent of Scripture: Vatican II in its decree on Revelation sought to link the two together more closely. There is some truth in the criticism, but it should not be accepted too easily, for the [Tridentine] decree emphasises that the two sources are joined by their common origin, the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ.[xxxii]
Why was there such a heated debate at Vatican II? The tendency to polarization seems endemic in human nature and was apparent at the Council. During and following the Reformation, there was perhaps a need to gain distance from the concept of sola scriptura, and perhaps that accounted for the exaggerated position encountered by those of us who were brought up before World War II. But during the Council the polarization was within the Church. Today, polarizations remain within the Church, but happily, it seems, not in Scripture – one reason why Revelation was chosen as the subject of this article.
The rejection of sola scriptura – entire – was damaging to Catholic life because it led to a neglect of Scripture and perhaps to an over-emphasis on some aspects of tradition; it was this which Vatican II had to correct. The final result in Dei Verbum was fittingly gentle, despite the effort of reaching it. Bishop Butler wrote in his great work, The Theology of Vatican II:
The subject of Revelation ... spanned practically the whole course of the Council, and there is a respectable theological view that, outstanding as is the importance of the much larger Constitution on the Church, the Constitution on Divine Revelation may prove to be the supreme achievement of this Council. It deals with an issue which is at the heart of the Christian religion, and does so in a way which makes possible dialogue on this basic subject between Catholic and other Churches.[xxxiii]
That last sentence underlines — if underlining were needed — that without Revelation, neither Christianity, nor its elder brother Judaism has any foundation. Butler was joined in his judgement — and not for the first time in many a theological field — by a learned Jesuit. In this particular case it was the Very Revd R.A.F. MacKenzie sj, Rector of the Biblical Institute in Rome, one of the highest ranking biblical scholars in the world, and successor at the Biblicum to Augustin Cardinal Bea sj:
Important as the Constitution on the Church is generally agreed to be, it is equalled in stature by the Constitution on Divine Revelation; the two are the most fundamental documents produced by the Second Vatican Council. ... [However much other decrees may have practical effects for people in the Church] ... all the documents depend on the faith in God’s word to men, which the Council has spelled out in this Constitution.[xxxiv]
In a related context and almost a year before Dei Verbum was promulgated on 18 November 1965, Abbot Butler wrote from Downside in a foreword to a book on the Church:
Most of us had grown up in an almost exclusively Latin Catholic environment, and under the sway and practise of a theology which, while reinforced by the outcome of Vatican Council I, had their roots far back in the Counter-Reformation, in medieval struggles between Church and Empire ... The Council brought us new insights. We found ourselves face to face, in liturgy and debate, with the oriental Catholicism of the Uniate Churches so remote from the scholastic theology and sober Latin Worship of the Western Church ... And perhaps above all we were confronted with the representatives of a great theological rebirth which goes back to the pre-war years but has grown in scope, depth and purpose in the countries of Northern Europe (excluding the British Isles) largely as the result of the devastations of the war itself.[xxxv]
Quite apart from his natural reserve, Butler would not have considered himself as a pioneer, able to take his place alongside the great men of the continent, but that was surely his position. To mention only: he was voted by all the fathers to the influential Theology Commission and he was certainly the Anglophone member at Vatican II. The other significant Anglophone was the American John Courtney Murray sj, who was a peritus, not a member. Murray was behind the powerful American group instrumental in achieving the important document on Religious Freedom.
As to the ‘theological rebirth’ to which Butler refers, we remain a long way, even now, from a natural recognition that Christianity was founded as an eastern religion. Our Lord in His humanity expressed himself in Jewish thought forms; the Word of God was made man in the form of a Palestinian Jew born at a particular time in history. The books of the New Testament were written — as is generally accepted — within seventy years of the crucifixion. All emerging scientific factual implications are important to religious understanding in a pluralistic society and must inform aggiornamento.
We should recall that Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu began the liberation of Biblical scholarship and took us to the eve of the debate on Revelation. In a sense, the next section is written reluctantly, because it may reawaken a sense of discord in a field which seems settled and fruitful. However, our purpose is to draw attention to Abbot Butler’s contribution.
The Debate: De Fontibus Revelationis
‘Tomorrow the discussion of the schema De fontibus Revelationis begins. The battles will be bitter.’ That note was made on 13 November 1962 by a peritus, Fr Otto Semmelroth. Some indication of the severity of the initial problems with this schema has already been suggested and it is also necessary to keep in mind Pope John’s opening speech, ‘Gaudet Mater Ecclesia’, its openness and implicit aversion to anathemas and condemnations – almost habitual to the Roman Curial mindset. The ‘Grand Inquisitor’, then properly titled the Prefect of the Holy Office, was Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. He was also the Cardinal President of the Conciliar Commission for Theology (Faith and Morals). As noted, the initial Conciliar structure closely mirrored the corresponding Roman Congregations. As the Curia was mostly inimical to the Council from the outset, it was always likely that its preparation would reflect Roman Curial attitudes. On the other hand, Pope John had little option — until he knew the mind of the Council — but to use as best he might the existing formidable machinery of the Vatican ‘engine room’. When it came to the point, Pope John eventually had no need to interfere, because powerful figures emerged and the Council began evolving its own independent mindset. It was in this climate that the powerful Ottaviani introduced De fontibus on 14 November. Entitled: ‘The two sources of Revelation’, it was not well received, first by the principal scholars among the Cardinals and then by an increasing number of Fathers. Most records indicate how fraught was the debate between 14 and 21 November 1962. Contemporary reports, for example from Xavier Rynne, or Robert Kaiser,[xxxvi] concur in essentials with the later, magisterial History of Vatican II of Giuseppe Alberigo.[xxxvii] All three accounts mention Butler in one way or another as one of the leaders in the debate – in fact, if not in ecclesiastical rank.
Perhaps the simplest independent statement of the initial ‘life’ of the rejected De fontibus comes from the objective and concise pen of Professor (then Father) Adrian Hastings.[xxxviii]
After the presentation of De fontibus by Ottaviani, supported by other ‘traditionalist’ prelates, Cardinals Liénart (Paris) and Frings (Cologne) rapidly followed. They voiced opposition, which unsurprisingly distilled into the major objection that to speak of two sources was neither truly traditional nor correct. Two Italians (Ruffini and Siri), with some Spaniards, supported Ottaviani in proposing that the present schema should be discussed, even resorting to suggesting it was a duty to the pope as, technically, he had presented the schema! But Xavier Rynne notes: ‘By now the heavy artillery was ready. In quick succession, the Cardinals of Montreal, Vienna, Utrecht and Malines rose to demolish the Ottaviani thesis.’[xxxix] The Cardinals were respectively: Léger, König, Alfrink and Suenens. After multiple exchanges between other Fathers, Cardinal Bea — then, it is said, a frail looking 82-year-old — spoke of the Pope’s intention in calling the Council; as Bea put it: ‘that the faith of the Church be presented in all its integrity and purity, but in such a manner that it will be received today with benevolence ... ’ He was well known as representing the mind of John XXIII and his extended and analytical speech had a strong effect. In the debate, there was a great deal of straight talking, occasionally ad hominem. Cardinals Liénart, Döpfner, König and Alfrink were direct in registering a non placet, but perhaps Cardinal Frings was as succinct as any in summing up the core objection: ‘No-one denies that revelation comes to us through both scripture and tradition. What we are arguing about is the source of revelation, which is one and unique, namely the Word of God.’[xl]
As the debate continued it was clear that many Fathers wished to have the schema completely replaced. This included at least one Italian bishop — Mgr Gargitter — who asked for a completely new schema and added that the Church owed a great debt of gratitude to Catholic exegetes and scholars. One of these, of course, was Abbot Butler, and Xavier Rynne records:
Dom Butler, Abbot of Downside in England, closed the day’s discussion [16 November] by aligning himself squarely with the rejectors ... Although it had been said that the schema could be corrected, two days of debate had revealed that agreement was virtually impossible of attainment on the present text. There must be unanimity, or virtual unanimity, when decisions are reached by the Church on doctrinal matters. Experience had shown that there would always be some non placet, even if the present schema were corrected. Therefore, it was better to scrap it and prepare another that would have some hope of achieving this unanimity.[xli]
The debate on Saturday, 17 November (21st General Congregation) further accentuated the differences of opinion in the aula and proved the justice of Abbot Butler’s view. It was also highlighted by further personal exchanges testifying to the increasing tension on both sides and the conviction that a crisis was at hand. The debate wore on until 20 November, when the crisis point was reached. A vote was taken on a motion which was confusing because of the illogical way in which it had been framed. The result was that a substantial majority in favour of starting again fell narrowly short of the required two thirds. From that point, as Abbot Butler noted in one of his letters, bishops did not know whether they were speaking on a ‘dead’ schema. But there were yet further contributions to come:
After Bishop Temino Saiz of Spain had voiced once again what may be regarded as the Italo-Spanish view of the matter, a bishop from Central Africa, Mgr Zoa, speaking in the name of all the African bishops, said that they rallied to the opinions expressed by Cardinals Alfrink, Bea, Léger and Liénart. The schema was ‘not satisfactory at all’ (omnino non placet) and ought to be rejected. He also agreed with what Abbot Butler had said ... regarding moral unanimity. Archbishop Hurley commented that ‘The original sin of the Council lay in the defective work of the Preparatory Commission’.[xlii]
On 21 November the Secretary General announced that the Holy Father had decided that the schema on the Sources of Revelation should be withdrawn in accordance with the wishes of the majority. As Abbot Butler explained it to his brother Hilary and sister-in-law in Canada, ‘the Pope intervened here on the side of common sense.’[xliii]
He had earlier written to his sister Mary explaining the rationale for his interventions:
The subject of Scripture and Tradition has been sent back to a new committee headed by eight Cardinals – of whom at least half are the sort of men I should have chosen myself. The subject is indeed very vital. A lot of our ‘top people’ seem to be very worried about the lengths to which some of our own scholars have gone in accepting Protestant ‘liberal’ views about the NT. I think that the Church can legitimately limit scholars about the publication of alarming views; but I do hope that we shall avoid defining about the truth of some modern ways of tackling the NT. E.g., Form criticism may be a baneful thing when practised by an unbelieving rationalist; but that is not to say that, in itself, it is not a perfectly legitimate tool in the hands of a believing scholar. I also hold that as it is from the Church and her living voice that we learn the content of the faith, we can afford to be fairly ‘liberal’ about Scripture – whereas an old-fashioned Protestant, rejecting the authority of the Church, must be more sensitive about criticism ... A great step towards meeting this point was made when the late Pope published his great encyclical on Scripture [Divino Afflante Spiritu.]. But at the moment a die-hard ‘wing’ in Rome itself is on the war-path. However, God has been very good to us in this Council so far. As I may have said before, the strength of the forward-looking wing is very much greater than I had supposed it would be.[xliv]
Perhaps one of the significant factors resulting from that passionate debate was that ‘some bishops tried to find a way not to split the Council and to reach a solution acceptable to all parties ... ’[xlv] There can be no doubt that it was the right approach, and was supported by men of different orientations, but it was to leave some ambiguities. The few ambiguities in Dei Verbum seem to have produced no difficulties, but the search for moral unanimity overall — mainly by concessions to conservatives — was to give trouble later in other areas. We have noted the election of Abbot Butler to the key Doctrinal Commission and the replacement of several ‘conservatives’ by ‘progressives’, or as Abbot Butler preferred: backward-looking by forward-looking men.
The net result achieved by the Fathers’ joint efforts on Dei Verbum satisfied Abbot Butler, but he was still uneasy ten days before the final voting. Having expressed concern about last minute changes by the Pope on 10 October, a week later he explained further to his sister:
One of my main anxieties at present is about the Revelation document. As it stands, it is on the whole very good ... But there is a hard core of opposition to it, and on Saturday, I picked up a rumour that the Pope was going to prepare some changes in it before it goes before the Council for final solemn approval. There are three main danger spots. (1) I want the document to avoid committing us to a formal statement that there is anything in the deposit of faith that is in no sense in the Bible. (2) I want a very moderate statement of what we mean by the inerrancy of Scripture – actually, I think that a preoccupation with inerrancy has narrowed down our practical appreciation of the real significance of inspiration. (3) I, of course, do not want anything in the document which could prejudge legitimate critical questions. ‘Rome’ in the narrow sense of the authorities at the Vatican has a bad record on all these points ... The ‘winding up’ process is a bit tiresome, especially for me, since the De Revelatione is almost the only open issue that I am passionately concerned about.[xlvi]
That letter clearly underlines the sensitivity of the debate and the uncertainty of Pope Paul’s perceived liability to modify the Council’s intention as he had done in Lumen Gentium. The ‘Nota Praevia’, which was not voted on, adversely affected the concept of collegiality by reserving its exercise to the initiative and consent of the pope.
But it seems that the gains in Dei Verbum are permanent. Through that document, the Catholic Church at large moved from lacking a biblical theology, with the Bible playing only a secondary role in the life of the faithful, to a position where Scripture and tradition form a unity, deriving from the one source, the Word of God in Christ. Together with the gains in Lumen Gentium, the openings for a spiritual and ecclesial renewal and for ecumenism were immense.
The Significance of Abbot Butler.
The numbers of index references in the various commentaries on Vatican II — and not only to Dei Verbum, of course — tell their own story. Only the briefest further notes can be given here of Butler’s impact at the Council. Fr Leopoldo Duran, friend of Graham Greene, spoke of meetings with Bishop Butler:
... Bishop Christopher Butler, the distinguished theologian, scholar and writer ... one of the best minds in the Church ... his thinking left its mark on the Second Vatican Council ... [xlvii]
The novelist was an acute observer, but a weightier opinion comes from a theologian:
[At the Council] ... he would now increasingly come forward as the one senior English voice, at once unimpeachably loyal to Rome, yet cognizant of the full weight of contemporary theological scholarship and able to shake himself free of the simplicities of ultramontanism.[xlviii]
Abbot Butler came home from the Council having regarded it as a great blessing for the Church and for himself personally. But he saw the Council’s work as potential: its implementation with understanding was essential. The rest of his life was spent at the centre of affairs at home and abroad acting out the Council by his own teaching and example. Some scholarly studies have begun, and, as formal records become available, there will surely be more doctoral theses, for example. On the personal level, a monk of Downside summed up his former abbot:
[He was] ... heart and soul in proclaiming the teaching of the Council and in some matters open to daring theological speculation. But he was also very tenacious of the dogmatic quality of Catholic beliefs.[xlix]
Epilogue: Requiem for A ‘True Reformer’
‘True Reformer’ was the heading to a leader in the Sunday Telegraph praising the new Bishop Butler. The occasion, in late 1966, was the much-publicized departure from the Church of Charles Davis, a significant Catholic figure, and the newspaper had invited Bishop Butler to respond to Father Davis. In a lengthy article, the leader noted that Bishop Butler argued for the acceptance of authority, but in a liberal manner and that the hierarchy was not the stern guardian of a body of truth ... to be imposed when necessary by excommunication, but one party to a ‘dialogue’ which aims at an ever deeper and closer understanding of Christ’s message to the world. The leader continued:
It is a sign of how far the Church of Rome has moved that such a pronouncement can come from a member of the notoriously conservative English hierarchy ... If Father Charles Davis is remembered by posterity it may well be for having invoked from the pen of Bishop Butler the remarkable article which appears on this page : ... the Rt. Rev. Christopher Butler, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, accepts the invitation of ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ to justify an institutionalism in which Fr Davis found ‘neither concern for truth, nor concern for people’. Bishop Butler, former Abbot of Downside, is himself a theologian of world-wide influence. His recent elevation to the hierarchy was welcomed in many quarters as an earnest of that ‘reform from within’ of which he writes.
Bishop Butler had concluded his article, balanced as ever:
There will always be tension in the Church between authority and freedom, law and liberty. The way to make this tension creative is the way of ‘dialogue’. The urgent need in the Church today is that authority should welcome and encourage this dialogue.
The whole article was almost a summary of Butler’s own ecclesiology, which had effectively been that of Vatican II and which he — far more than any other English bishop — had espoused. He had been ordained bishop (21 December 1966) and took up residence in St Edmund’s College, Ware, at that time both a seminary and a school. Cardinal Heenan’s initiative in asking for Butler in the hierarchy and Butler’s acceptance were providential: he added theological weight to a hierarchy burdened mainly by administration. Of course, as both men knew at that time, either of them could have been Archbishop of Westminster. But becoming an auxiliary rather than a diocesan bishop freed Butler from some routine duties, and thus made him available as a sort of ecclesiastical trouble-shooter – invaluable after the Council.
Bishop Butler filled innumerable important roles, and soon returned to national prominence over the Humanae Vitae crisis which, to say the least, has had the effect of producing a culture of double standards in the Catholic Church. It was Butler’s article in The Sunday Times which earned him the most praise, or blame, depending on the reader’s point of view. It was the best that an honest man could do without causing greater damage. In essence he did nothing but emphasize the role of conscience, but even that drew criticism from some brother bishops. Butler wryly reports: ‘One whose language is not always episcopal, however, said: “Of course Butler is bloody right, but he ought not to have said it.” ’[l]
When Heenan died in November 1975, Butler — having been in the frame in 1963 — was the natural choice as Vicar Capitular pending the new appointment. Butler lived half the week in Westminster:
I don’t relish living in London and I don’t like Archbishop’s house – more like an institution than a home ... But I am well, and waiting with amusement for Heenan’s successor; ... there is no obvious candidate. As you know, my name has been mentioned, but I feel sure that there are persons, if not documents at Rome purporting to show that I am a dangerous ‘liberal’ or what you will ... anyway, I am very old.[li]
He was but 73 and a puckish humour is evident when writing to his brother Hilary:
While we await a successor to Cardinal Heenan I am running this diocese. I divide my time between St Edmund’s and Westminster. In the latter place I find myself surrounded by a sort of obsequious court; they cannot be ABSOLUTELY certain that I shall not be their new Archbishop. [lii]
His functions on the national and international stage will, I am sure, occupy chapters in the overdue biography, but his time in Hertfordshire itself was important when he was a neighbour of the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Robert Runcie. Had Runcie, later Archbishop of Canterbury, teamed with Butler as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, an ecumenical tide from Thames might have flooded up the Tiber. One of the longest and warmest tributes to Bishop Butler after his death in 1986 came from Dr Runcie. In a long address he included: ‘ ... We all build up our private portrait gallery of saints, ... Christopher is securely in mine.’ He spoke of the blessings of his time at St Albans alongside Butler; then:
‘I remember too how before my departure for Canterbury, he gave a little farewell party for myself and my wife ... and she, who is ... slightly wary of ecclesiastical people, adored Christopher.’ [liii]
From another tribute by his colleague Bishop Alan Clark, the Catholic co-chairman of ARCIC - I (Anglican-Roman Catholic Inter-national Commission): ‘A giant mind, a massive intelligence, a formidable opponent in debate, a deeply respected theologian – a most loveable man.’ A fitting epitaph for Butler also came from Bishop Clark: ‘His love – a real passion for truth ... ’ Movingly, Bishop Clark concluded: ‘It is not given to many to sit for so long at the feet of a Master in Israel.’
The Times similarly described Butler as an ‘intellectual giant’, and we must contemplate more than an echo of The Times Literary Supplement in 1927 on Friedrich von Hügel, who died in 1925:
Were we asked to name the Roman Catholic thinkers who have in modern times left an enduring mark on the religious mind of England, we should mention Newman and we should mention von Hügel, but no third without doubts and reservations.
If the third in succession is not Basil Christopher Butler, then the matter rests as in 1927. Too much must not be made of coincidences, but Butler’s path was not dissimilar to Newman’s: both were Oxford men and converts from the Anglican communion. Both Newman and von Hügel influenced Butler in their different ways. Butler was a Scripture scholar, classicist and historian, and became a theologian later. Perhaps his theology or his writing did not match Newman’s. Neither did his writing on prayer at all match the Baron’s, but it was given to Butler to achieve what neither of the other two had done: he influenced the course of a an Ecumenical Council of the Church in his lifetime. Comparisons can be unhelpful, but it is suggested that in the course of time a more than favourable judgment will be made. An experienced biographer with the necessary theological insights may well add a corollary to the Times Literary Supplement's assessment of 1927 and give Butler his due. With as yet unpublished material available he would enable new generations also to sit at the feet of a ‘Master in Israel’. In the process, as well as learning of the man, they would be made aware of the importance of Vatican II. Surely, like John Henry Newman’s belated recognition, Basil Christopher Butler’s is yet to come.
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Footnotes to the Second Page
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[xxiv] The Theology of Vatican II, p.13.
[xxv] Dublin Review, no. 476 (Summer, 1958), pp.117-8.
[xxvi] Letter to Miss Mary Butler, 10 October 1965.
[xxvii] Informations Catholiques Internationales, 1 December 1962, p.2.
[xxviii] ‘Gaudet Mater Ecclesia’ 1 (1 October 1962).
[xxix] A Time To Speak, p.139.
[xxx] The Theology of Vatican II, p. vii.
G. Alberigo/J.A. Komonchak, eds., History of Vatican II
(Maryknoll & Leuven, 1995 [vol. I], 1997 [vol.II]), vol. II, p.253, n.52.
Norman P. Tanner SJ, The Councils of the Church - A Short History,
(New York, 2001), pp.79,80.
[xxxiii] The Theology of Vatican II, p.25.
[xxxiv] Walter M. Abbott, SJ, The Documents of Vatican II (London & Dublin, 1966), p.107.
[xxxv] Foreword by Abbot Butler to De Ecclesia, (London, 1964).
Xavier Rynne, Letters from Vatican City (New York, 1963),
and Robert Kaiser, Inside the Council.
[xxxvii] See n.31.
[xxxviii] A. Hastings, A Concise Guide to the
Documents of Vatican II
(London, 1969), vol.I, pp.149-50.
[xxxix] Letters from Vatican City, p.145.
[xl] Ibid., p.158.
[xli] Ibid., pp.154-5.
[xlii] Ibid., pp.158-9.
[xliii] Letter of 13 December 1962.
[xliv] Letter to Miss Mary Butler, 29 November 1962.
[xlv] Alberigo/Komonchak, History of Vatican II, Vol. II, p.253; Bishop Butler’s particular role has already been mentioned; see p.145 above and n.31.
[xlvi] Letter to Miss Mary Butler, 18 October 1965.
[xlvii] Graham Greene, Friend and Brother (London, 1994).
[xlviii] Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity, p.565.
[xlix] Recent letter to the author from Dom Daniel Rees, OSB.
[l] Letter to his brother Hilary, October 1968; another letter commented that generally he was in favour of dialogue and against 'Moscow style repression. It simply won’t work.’
[li] Letter to Miss Mary Butler, 9 November 1975.
[lii] Air-letter, 31 December 1975.
[liii] Memorial Booklet, ‘Bishop Christopher Butler’, St Edmund’s College, Ware, 1987.