The contribution of Pope John XXIII has been profound, as many of his initiatives and actions are still resonating today. His acceptance of Jesus’ words “I came to save all nations. ” Represented his motivation to do well and bring peace upon the world. He was an advocate of Christian unity, social justice, human rights and the promotion of world peace. It is through his development of the Second Vatican Council, his contribution to ecumenism and his empathy for humanity that Pope John XXIII made a significant impact upon the development and expression of Christianity.
The essence of the contribution made by Pope John XXIII was his calling together of the Second Vatican Council that aimed to address modernisation of the Catholic Church, ecumenism and to bring a social reformation system, “it was to be a new Pentecost, a means of regeneration for the church…a way towards the reunion of the separated brethren of the east and west” – Pope John XXIII.
This regeneration was known as “Aggiornamento”, meaning renewal.
This reformed Christian church worked to develop and renew the expression of Christianity. Through the Vatican II the church established a definition for itself; a church for all people. The Vatican II was responsible for sixteen significant documents that developed and reformed the expression of Christian beliefs. The document ‘Dei Verbum’ (Constitution on Divine Revelation) encourages the laity to study the Bible as the Word of God – hence the Scriptures became a significant and relevant part of worship again. Sacrosanctum Concilium’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) amplifies that everyone is encouraged to participate fully in the Eucharist and other sacraments, changing the liturgy so that it responded to the needs of the people. Pre Vatican II there was an emphasis on sacredness of liturgy as a means of salvation, a care in keeping liturgy uniform, Latin was used in church services throughout the world and the priests performed while the laity observed. Vatican II made the liturgy as a celebration, there were vernacular languages and all were to participate in the services.
The roles of people in the church were redefined, as the Pope established himself clearly as a man of action, and not unreachable ‘God like’ figure. He did not submit to his power and instead worked together and worked for the people to make worshipping Christ more meaningful. The sacraments were developed to involve the congregation and improve the expression of Christian beliefs as the church was modernized and clericalism was removed. Pope John made a strong contribution to ecumenism.
In his pursuit of ecumenism john embraced a church that was united in diversity. This was the movement to better relationships between Catholics and non-Catholics, Eastern and Western Orthodox churches as well as between different religious faiths and Christianity, “I am Joseph, your brother”. In dialogue between Eastern and Western Orthodox churches, there are now many positive relationships maintained between varying denominations throughout the Christian faith; creating a more supportive and secure atmosphere for Christian adherents.
Pre-Vatican II Catholics were barred from reading works written by Protestant Reformers, other Christian denominations were schismatic and it was a sin to go to a non-Catholic service. The changes to the development and expression of Christian beliefs through Vatican II were there was freedom of inquiry, joint prayer services, common edition of the Bibles and heightened respect and dignity for others. The notion of ecumenism developed the expression of Christian beliefs by bringing the church back to the core ideals of the apostles and early church, which they had learnt, from Jesus.
An interfaith dialogue worked to allow Christians to express their beliefs more openly without oppression, “he demonstrated that the walls that divide Christianity do not reach as high as heaven, and made a start toward that distant and elusive goal, Christian unity” – Time magazine 1962. Further evidence of his impact on interfaith dialogue is the Declaration of Religious Freedom, coming from the Vatican II conference where he recognised the rights of all religions. The encyclicals of Pope John XXIII heighten the importance of human life and values.
His support for the oppressed, matters of social justice and measure of social transformation were directly addressed in two of his encyclicals. Mater et Magistra advocated social justice, assistance to underdeveloped countries and support for all socialist measures that had benefit to society. He reiterates the importance of world leaders acting as mothers when he says in his encyclical Mater et Magistra “we are aware of our responsibility to take up this torch which our predecessors lighted, and hand it on with undiminished flame. His infamous encyclical speech on peace, Pacem in Terris, was the first to address not just Catholics but “to all men of good will”. It projected a vision based on the rights and respects of every human. These documents altered the way the Catholic Church approached social issues. He underpinned the universal significance of world peace – developing Christian beliefs and traditions to reflect a unity among human kind. This expanded and extended the development and hence expression of Christian beliefs. Pope John XXIII, being born into a lower-class family, was able to emphasise with humanity.
His humane nature allowed him to shape the beliefs of Christianity in a way that kept up with the modern times. The modernizing of the liturgy was achieved by saying the mass of the congregation’s language, the priest facing the people, not with his back to them, normal people were allowed to do readings and give communion and modernizing any hymns that were no longer relevant. The personal discipline and humanitarian character is evident in his ‘Daily Decalogue’, “Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it”.
By his work, people could relate to him. He was a person, not an authority figure that could never be reached and never really gave a hope or inspiration for the future. He was an inspirational man that faced many hardships through his life. One of his first acts as Pope was to improve the wages and social position of his Vatican employees. He observed social standing and the universal health whilst initiating ideas and developing the expression of Christian beliefs.
John was somewhat of a security nightmare in that he enjoyed visiting hospitals and prisons and would often not tell anyone where or when he was going, emphasising his traits of sympathy and forgiveness and his will to help the less fortunate. He was a part of making the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He won peace prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Through his contribution to the social aspect of his personality he constantly made an excellent example of Catholicism, the ideal representation of what God intended for this world.
His actions were indicative of his plight for social justice, and unity within multiple faiths. Hence Chritian beliefs were developed in order to satisfy these changes he instilled. “Born poor, but of honoured and humble people. I am proud to die poor. ” – Pope John XXIII. A humble man at heart with a kind sense of compassion toward the Church and humankind, Pope John XXIII will forever be remembered as a Pope who brought about positive developments and expressions of Christian beliefs. “What helps human kind to grow is good. ”
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