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30 JUNE 1968. THE CREED OF...
from issue no. 04 - 2008

Paul VI, Maritain and the faith of the Apostles


On 30 June 1968, with the solemn profession of faith proclaimed in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Montini indicated a simple way of safeguarding the treasure bestowed by the Lord on His Church. Forty years later, Cardinal Georges Cottier tells 30Days how much the drafting of that precious document was influenced by the disinterested friendship that linked the Pontiff, the French philosopher and Cardinal Charles Journet. An interview


Interview with Cardinal Georges Cottier by Gianni Valente


Paul VI kissing the rock where Jesus entrusted the primacy to Peter

Paul VI kissing the rock where Jesus entrusted the primacy to Peter

“Our office is the same as Peter’s, to whom Christ entrusted the mandate of confirming the brethren”. Only a few weeks of life remained to Paul VI. It was his last public celebration, the 29 of June 1978, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In his homily, the old Pope, wounded to the heart by the death of his friend Aldo Moro looked back over the whole period “during which the Lord has entrusted His Church to us”, while “the natural course of our life approaches sunset”. Also in that sometimes heartbreaking rendering of account of his vicissitudes as Bishop of Rome, drawn up on that dizzying threshold, Giovanni Battista Montini mentioned as an “important act” of his pontificate the profession of faith that ten years before, on 30 June 1968, he had solemnly proclaimed “in the name and on the behalf of the whole Church as ‘Creed of the People of God’”: the “ summary profession of faith” that he wished to repropose as a “return to the sources”, in a moment at which “facile doctrinal experimentalism seemed to be shaking the certainty of many priests and faithful”.
The Creed of the People of God is one of the most limpid prophetic gestures among those performed by all the successors of Peter in the last century. It often happens, above all when the popes restrict themselves to doing their job. But one knows little of the circumstances and factors that prompted the Pope of Ecclesiam Suam and Populorum progressio to repeat in all simplicity “the chief points of the faith of the Church, proclaimed by the most important ecumenical councils”.
What were the concrete dynamics whereby that precious text took shape? At a distance of forty years various archival documents enable us to reconstruct in detail how things went. And they show us how much the disinterested friendship that linked Pope Montini, the Swiss Cardinal Charles Journet and the French philosopher Jacques Maritain influenced the genesis and drafting of that professio fidei.
The story emerges in details from the dense correspondence that the Genevan theologian, made cardinal in 1965, engaged in with the author of Humanisme intégral and Le paysan de la Garonne. Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian emeritus of the Papal Household, has agreed to reconstruct it for 30Days on the basis of the letters collected in volume VI of the Journet-Maritain Correspondance, that gathers together the 303 letters the two exchanged between 1965 to 1973, to be published in 2008. Cottier, also born near Geneva, was a disciple of Journet (who took him with him as “expert” to the Vatican Council II) and is a member of the Fondation du Cardinal Journet, which is publishing, in conjunction with Èditions Saint Augustin the very rich Correspondance between the cardinal-theologian who died in 1975 and Maritain.

Charles Journet and Jacques Maritain

Charles Journet and Jacques Maritain

“I have had an idea”
In early 1967, the Council had ended a little more than a year earlier, but – as the theologian Joseph Ratzinger had already recorded in his resonant address at Bamberg in the previous July – “a certain uneasiness reigns, an atmosphere of coldness and also of disappointment, such as usually follows moments of joy and festivity”. In that situation, with the apostolic exhortation Petrum et Paulum, published on 22 February 1967, Paul VI decreed the Year of the Faith: from 29 June 1967 to 29 June 1968, the whole Church was called upon to celebrate the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul, “first teachers of the faith”.
In the intentions of the Pope the Year of the Faith centered wholly on the Creed. In the exhortation Petrum et Paulum bishops were asked to make a solemn proclamation of The Creed several times during that special year: “with the priests and the faithful, according to one or other of the formulas in use in the Catholic Church”. In his catechesis and sermons of those months, Pope Montini several times suggested to the whole Church the need to repeat the act of faith. “Do not believe you have the faith if you do not adhere to the Creed, to the symbol of the faith, that is to the schematic synthesis of the truths of faith”, he stated at the general audience of 31 May 1967. Nevertheless, at the beginning, no idea for closing the Year of the Faith with the proclamation of a new professio fidei had appeared on the horizon. Only to an old friend of the Pope did an embryonic intuition of what was to happen come to mind.
At the time Jacques Maritain was 85 years old. Since 1961, after the death of his beloved wife Raïssa, he had been living in the community of the Petits frères de Charles de Foucauld, in Toulouse. The great intellectual, linked by a decades-long friendship with Montini – who had publicly defended him against those who wanted to condemn him for “wholesale naturalism” – had recently poured into the book Le paysan de la Garonne all his criticism of the doctrinal distortions and cultural novelties that he saw spreading among laity and clergy under the pretext of openness to the world. The epigraph to the volume was a Chinese proverb: “Never take stupidity too seriously”. Writing to his other friend and confidante Journet, he hoped that Rome (“which will certainly end by seeing the immense gravity of the crisis”) would not react only by relying on disciplinary measures that would not be understood and only risk increasing the revolt, “because it is the light of freedom that is needed”. Cardinal Cottier tells us today: “Paul VI looked to him like a man on his own. Maritain prayed for him, and told everybody to do the same”. In a letter of December 1966 he wrote to Journet: ‘I think often of the Pope and his terrible solitude. It seems to me that contemplative spirits should pray for him a great deal’”.
Some days later, on 12 January 1967, Journet tells Maritain in a postscript that he has been summoned to Rome by Paul VI. The circumstance seemed providential to Maritain. He immediately replied to his cardinal friend: “I’ve had an idea in my head for several days, of such intensity and clarity that I don’t believe I can ignore it. It was like a beam of light while I was praying for the Pope and considering the tremendous crisis the Church is going through”. In the face of such crisis – Maritain explains in the letter – “only one thing is capable of touching spirits universally, and of safeguarding the absolutely essential good, that is the integrity of the FAITH”: not “a disciplinary act, nor exhortations, nor directives, but a DOGMATIC ACT, on the level of the faith itself”; a “sovereign act of the supreme AUTHORITY that is that of the Vicar of Jesus Christ”. “Maritain”, Cardinal Cottier emphasizes, “stressed his key concepts by using capital letters: according to him, what the present moment required was ‘that the Sovereign Pontiff draft a complete and detailed PROFESSION OF FAITH, in which everything that is really contained in the Symbol of Nicea be set out – this will be, in the history of the Church, the profession of faith of Paul VI’” .

Paul VI in prayer before the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens

Paul VI in prayer before the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens

The harmonies of sensus fidei
In the those years Maritain’s idea was not entirely new. Similar suggestions had circulated insistently before and during the Council. “The other great Dominican theologian Yves Congar”, Cottier recalls today, “was also convinced that it was in line with tradition to promulgate a new Symbol of Faith after an ecumenical Council had been held. In June 1964, given his insistence, the Pope had asked Congar to prepare a text. But the result had been unconvincing. Though appreciating the ‘Biblical tone’ of Congar’s draft, Paul VI had in fact shelved the project”.
When Maritain wrote to Journet of his idea for a new professio fidei, he did not ask his friend to transmit the suggestion to the Bishop of Rome in his name. He speaks of himself as an “old madman”: “I”, he wrote in his letter of 14 January 1967, “am not one of those enlightened laymen who allowed themselves to bestow advice on the Pope”. It was Journet who took the initiative: he made a photocopy for Paul VI of the parts of the letter in which his philosopher friend set out his ideas and delivered it to the Pope at a meeting on 18 January. On that occasion, Paul VI asked Journet for a judgment on the condition of the Church. “Tragic”, the Swiss cardinal answered. It was only then that Pope Montini confided to his theologian friend his intention of decreeing the Year of the Faith, that was to be made officially public more than a month after, with the publication of the exhortation Petrum et Paulum. On 24 February, in a comment on the announcement of the Year of the Faith by Paul VI, Maritain wrote in his diary: “Is it perhaps the preparation for a profession of faith that he himself will proclaim?”.
Cardinal Cottier notes: “Paul VI still at that moment had not planned any new profession of faith. As for Maritain, he had heard nothing of the papal intention of decreeing a Year of the Faith. He became aware of it when things had already been decided, at the moment of the official decree. But the two initiatives came together, so to speak, provoked by a similar perception of the crisis threatening the Church”.
That same year, from 29 September to 29 October, the first Synod of the Bishops gathered in Rome. The final report of the Doctrinal Commission, investigating the problems that the ecclesial system was going through in the post-Council period, proposed to submit to the Pope the votum on the drawing up of a declaration on the issues of the faith. The Archbishop of Quito, Pablo Muñoz Vega, pointed in a press conference to the possible working out of a Symbol of Faith and to the drafting of a universal Catechism proposed by various of the Synod Fathers. The bishop of Pittsburgh John Wright, who in 1969 was to become Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and a cardinal, specified that there was no enthusiasm among the bishops for such negative solutions of the crisis “as simple lists or Syllabi of errors would be”, but that there was instead widespread interest “in a ‘rule of the faith’ that could be described as a popular norm”, thanks to which the Christian people might distinguish with clarity what belongs to the Catholic faith “and, on the other hand, what is theological speculation or even simple private opinion”. Paul VI himself, in his opening speech to the Synod, denounced the attempts “to submit the doctrinal patrimony of the Church to revision so as to give Christianity new ideological dimensions”.
“What also conditioned the atmosphere”, Father Cottier recalls today, “was the case of the Dutch Catechism, introduced by Cardinal Alfrink in October 1966. Cardinal Journet was also on the commission of cardinals nominated by the Pope to examine the controversial compendium approved by the Dutch bishops. In its concluding report, Journet spoke of it as an ‘organic whole’, an instrument used ‘to replace, within the Church itself, one orthodoxy for another, a “modern orthodoxy” for the traditional orthodoxy’”.
It was his work for the commission of inquiry into the Dutch Catechism that brought Journet back to Rome. On 14 December 1967, the Swiss cardinal was again received by Paul VI, and he made use of the occasion to renew the suggestion he had received from Maritain at the beginning of the year. In Cardinal Cottier’s words: “Journet asked Paul VI whether for the end of the Year of the Faith he was minded to publish some great document, to give direction those who wanted to remain in the Church. The Pope answered that someone had already suggested something similar at the end of Council, and expressly remembered the – shelved – Congar project. Then, he turned back on Journet a surprising and difficult demand. He said to the cardinal: ‘You prepare me an outline of what you think should be done’”.
Faced with the papal request, as soon as he was back in Freeburg, Journet immediately involved Maritain. In a letter of 17 December he wrote to his philosopher friend: “So, Jacques, how was it possible not to think of asking you for help immediately? It’s the matter of the tone to find, as of the things to say, that is difficult to resolve. It’s said that a new Syllabus would not serve… Could you think a little about these things, and tell me what seems to you appropriate to illuminate minds? The more precise you are, the more that will help me”. Cardinal Cottier tells us: “In early January, during a period spent in Paris, Maritain drafted a project of professio fidei. He finished it on 11 January, and on the 20th sent the text to Journet. In the covering letter he wrote: ‘I have been glad to do it: anxious, at the same time, about what you will think of it; and mortified and confused, to have had, so as to write these pages, to put myself, in imagination, a poor devil like myself for some moment in the place of the Holy Father! No situation could be more idiotic’. Then he adds: ‘Charles, do with it what you want, throw it on the fire if you want. I am in a more wretched state than ever; and even so, the document that the Pope has asked you to prepare seems to me more and more of capital importance’”.
In his letter of reply Journet describes himself as “stunned with gratitude” at reading Maritain’s pages. The following day he send the text word for word to Paul VI: “The question”, Journet wrote to the Pope in justification of his involving of their common friend philosopher, “is so difficult, given the current state of minds, that I decided to speak of it to Jacques Maritain, who has been praying in this direction for a long time and whose experience of the world is large. I have just received an answer from him that I pass on to you word for word”. He added to the enclosed two extracts from the letter he had received from Maritain on 20 January. In one of them Maritain suggests rooting the new profession of faith “in the old Creeds, but in a simpler style”.
It emerges clearly from the letters that Maritain’s text aimed to be only a rough draft that might help his friend Journet. It was Journet who, without prior consultation, “redirected” the text sine glossa to Paul VI. And he did not do so in order “to advance” his friend Maritain in the eyes of the Pope. But because the text prepared by Maritain did indeed seem to him the overwhelming answer to the requirements of the moment. “The miracle”, Journet wrote to Maritain on 24 January, “is that all the difficult points are touched on and brought into light”. Cardinal Cottier adds: “What the essential data of the faith need to be confessed in the face of the theological confusion of the time, Journet had himself clarified in the report he sent to Rome on 21 September 1967, in which he listed the points on which the Dutch Catechism seemed to him to have moved away from the doctrine of the Church: ‘The original lapse, the meaning of the Redemption, the nature of the sacrifice of the Mass, the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the creation ex nihilo of the world and each human soul, the supremacy of Peter… The doctrine of Baptism and the sacraments of the New Law…; the role of the Virgin Mary, her virginal motherhood…, her knowledge of divine things, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption’”.

Paul VI and Maritain during the closing ceremony of Vatican II, 8 December 1965

Paul VI and Maritain during the closing ceremony of Vatican II, 8 December 1965

A simple confessio
In the introduction to the text prepared in response to Journet’s request, Maritain added some suggestions as to method. According to him it would be best if the Pope used a new procedure, making his profession of faith a pure and simple witness: “Witness to our faith, that is what we want to set before God and men”. According to Maritain, a pure and simple confessio fidei would better help the multitude of troubled minds, without having to present the profession of faith as mere act of authority: “If the Pope were to have the air of prescribing or imposing his profession of faith in the name of his Magisterium, either he would have to tell the whole truth, raising a storm, or would have to take precautions, avoiding dealing with the more dangerously threatened points, and that would be the worst thing of all”. The most effective and necessary thing was to confess clearly and strongly the integrity of the faith of the Church, without anathematizing anybody.
The first response from Rome came on 6 April following, in a letter sent to Journet by the Dominican Benoît Duroux, at that time collaborator of the Secretary of the former Holy Office Paul Philippe. Duroux, on behalf of Bishop Philippe also, praised Maritain’s “marvellously conceived” draft. It added some specifications – that Journet interpreted as coming from Paul VI himself – on the way in which the professio fidei was to be presented to the world. According to the Curia Dominican it was necessary to avoid its being belittled by contending groups of ecclesiastics as if it were a sort of personal profession of faith by Giovanni Battista Montini, something that would render it altogether ineffective. It was necessary that it be proclaimed “avoiding any reference to the anathematic form. But in the name of him who currently occupies the See of the apostle Peter. So that all ambiguity be excluded”. According to Duroux the clarification should be added that when the Church occupies itself with temporal issues its purpose is not to establish paradise on earth, but simply to make the present situation of mankind less inhuman. An insertion that would serve to clear the field of ambiguous interpretations with regard to the positions taken on political and social injustice by wide ecclesial sectors above all in Latin America.
In the subsequent exchange of letters with Journet, Maritain confirms his full agreement with the considerations coming from Rome. As for the judgment and action of the Church in temporal affairs, he suggested that the new Creed cite the encyclical Populorum progressio. His suggestion was not taken up, but it shows that in the mind of its principle author, the Creed of the People of God was fully in tune with the Montini encyclical of 1967 that had stirred up so much criticism by its realistic judgment on the things of this world.
On Maundy Thursday 1968, Journet and Maritain replied to Duroux to show their full consent to the specifications from Rome on the modes and tone to be employed in an eventual profession of faith by Paul VI. Montini, for his part, answered with a short note of thanks to Journet. Then, from Rome, silence.

Paul VI serving lunch to the young winners of the  “Crib Competition” on 30 January 1966

Paul VI serving lunch to the young winners of the “Crib Competition” on 30 January 1966

An “extraordinary adventure”
On 30 June, Paul VI proclaimed the Creed of the People of God in Saint Peter’s Square. It was only on 2 July, reading the newspaper like every other Christian, that Maritain found in the summaries reported ample extracts from the text he had sent to Journet at the beginning of the year.
The Creed of the People of God substantially coincides with the draft prepared by Maritain (see box p. 53). The Benedictine scholar Michel Cagin, who is about to publish a comparison of the texts, confirms in an additional note prepared for volume VI of the Correspondance that the professio fidei signed by the Pope takes “its basic conception – integrating the thread of the Symbol of Nicea-Constantinople with the homogenous developments of the dogma coming on the heels of that – and its very formulation, both literally, and condensing it a little, omitting certain expansions, certain explications, to give to the text the concise style of a Symbol”. But in that case, whose Creed is it, Paul VI’s or Maritain’s?
Father Cottier had no doubts. Every attempt to liquidate the professio fidei of Paul VI as the effort of an old philosopher friend of the Pope is out of place: “Pope Montini had already discarded other projects, such as that prepared by Father Congar. The text that he found before him was not addressed, in the intentions of the author, to him, but to Journet. Pope Montini simply recognized in the contents and the formulation of that draft what it was his duty to confess as pastor, on behalf of all priests and of all the faithful. In setting down his text what Maritain had done was almost instinctively follow the sensus fidei, the same that had been expressed in concordant fashion in the requests coming from the Synod of the Bishops and that had inspired Paul VI to proclaim the Year of the Faith. With that freedom that always accompanies the affairs of the Church, when it is the Lord who guides it. The Successor of Peter had only to recognize and to authenticate those formulas, that simply repeated the teaching received from Christ that attracts hearts by its grace”.
After reading the newspapers on 2 July, the old philosopher set down his emotion with heartfelt words in his notebook, declaring it all to be the result of the heavenly assistance of his wife: “I am confused. Thrown by the fact of having been engaged in a mystery that goes so far beyond me. Fortunately it is Raïssa who has steered everything, who has done everything, after the start of this extraordinary adventure”.


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