This 25th January we mark the 30th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges by which Blessed John Paul II promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici, CIC). In this Year of Faith, when we mark also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we might helpfully reflect on how these two documents can be seen as fruits of the second Vatican Council.
Although it was Blessed John XXIII who called for the revision of the CIC in 1959, it was in fact a direct result of the 1967 Synod of Bishops that certain principles for the revision of the 1917 Code were approved. Likewise, the Catechism is a direct result of the 1985 Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convened by Pope John Paul II to mark the 20th anniversary of the close of the Council.
The Synod of Bishops itself was, of course, first established by Pope Paul VI in September 1965 at the end of the Council, as the Holy Father sought to make greater use of the collaborative (and emphatically not collegial governance) aspect of the episcopal college, both for counsel and in order for a greater weight of authority to be given to certain decrees and decisions.
Both documents, then, are not only fruits of the conciliar reform, but also of the specific collegial and collaborative nature of the entire episcopal college.
Why is this of interest? Put simply, it is because a clear and authoritative body of doctrinal teaching (Catechism) and a renewed legislative text (Code) are not often thought to be the likely fruits of the second Vatican Council, at least as it has often been interpreted in the years following its’ closure. But they are, and that is something which is worth reflecting on as we consider the nature of the Council in this anniversary year, this Year of Faith.
What is particularly interesting is that a renewed acknowledgement of episcopal collaboration has not seen a decrease in legislation and doctrinal clarity, but the opposite: a renewal and increase of it. This is, perhaps, a moment to reflect also, then, on the true nature of that collaboration, and the intentions of both the Council and Pope Paul VI in the renewed approached they offer. Far from being a limiting of the authority of the papacy or a watering-down of dogmatic clarity, both documents in fact embody – and in a clear way – the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, by which we can properly understand what the second Vatican Council sought to achieve. Unlikely fruits? Perhaps not.