“Ressourcement,” “Aggiornamento,” and Vatican II in Ecumenical Perspective | Eduardo Echeverria | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Some interpreters of Vatican II wrongly took renewal to be merely a matter of the Church’s adaptation or accommodation to the standards of the modern world
Ressourcement, Aggiornamento: Perhaps no two words were used more frequently by the Second Vatican Council to define the question regarding the nature and extent of the Church’s aim of renewal. What does each of these words mean and how do they stand in relation to each other? Ressourcement involves a “return to the authoritative sources” of Christian faith, for the purpose of rediscovering their truth and meaning in order to meet the critical challenges of our time. If ressourcement is about revitalization, renewal, then the oft-mentioned, but often misunderstood concept, aggiornamento is essentially a question of a new and wider contextualization, with the aim of finding new ways to rethink and reformulate the fundamental affirmations of the Christian faith in order to more effectively communicate the Gospel.
Catholic theologians can learn something from Dutch Reformed theologian and master of dogmatic and ecumenical theology, G.C. Berkouwer (1903-1996), about how properly to interpret the relationship between ressourcement and aggiornamento. He wrote two books on Vatican II: The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (ET: 1965) and Retrospective of the Council (1968). Berkouwer, then holder of the Chair in Dogmatics at the Free University of Amsterdam, was a personal guest of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, now the Pontifical Council, at the Second Vatican Council. Regarding the meaning of aggiornamento, Berkouwer rightly senses, “the questions involving ‘aggiornamento,’ renewal, are the ones that confront us big as life. As expected, after the call for accommodation was sounded, the question arose with increasing urgency of what the ideals of this ‘renewal’ could possibly mean concretely.” What, then, as Berkouwer understood it, are the goals of aggiornamento?
Unfortunately, some interpreters of Vatican II took renewal to be merely a matter of the Church’s adaptation or accommodation to the standards of the modern world—in short, “catching up” with the times. In other words, as Swiss biblical theologian, Oscar Cullman, rightly noted, they took aggiornamento as an “isolated motive for renewal.” When taken as such, aggiornamento means, on the accommodationist interpretation, simply adapting to the culture of modernity. The impulse for this misinterpretation indirectly derives, says Berkouwer, from Pope John XXIII’s understanding that the council’s “deepest intent did not lie in a sharp ‘anti’ but in a clear ‘pro’”—“God loves the world and calls the church to serve the world.” Of course, John XXIII did not share the accommodationist interpretation of his words that the primary stance of the Church to the world was not “apriori-antithetical.”
Rather, John XXIII states the primary aim of the council: