This past Sunday the Catholic Church formally canonized Pope John XXIII. In some respects his canonization pales in comparison to the other Pope canonized on the same day: John Paul II. The latter has received far more attention than the former. Just last week we received two new books from Zondervan by Justin Holcomb: Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils. I read with interest the following about John XXIII from Know the Creeds and Councils.
“In 1958, John XXIII was elected pope. He was not the first choice to replace Pius XII; no candidate was able to gain the majority. The cardinals agreed to a compromise candidate who they assumed would be in office only for a few years. He was elected pope on the twelfth ballot, and chose the name, John, that had not been used by a pope since the fifteenth century.”
“In spite of the fact that he was seen as merely a caretaker pope, John made it clear that he would be no such thing. Just three months into his pontificate, John announced that he planned to call a churchwide council. This announcement was surprising for several reasons. For the first time in history, a council was being called where there were no major doctrinal issues or crises that needed to be solved. He told no one of his plans, not even his advisors, who were as shocked as everyone else. His announcement took place on January 25, which is the close of the traditional week of prayer for Christian unity. In his announcement he made it clear that other Christian denominations would be welcomed to come to the council as observers in a way that had never been done before. There were schemata for Vatican II. It was not entirely an open agenda, making it possible for John to invite the bishops to submit their opinions on what the council should discuss. Nearly two thousand bishops responded with suggestions.”
“The goals that John XXIII expressed in calling for the council were symbolized in three ideas: aggiornamento (updating), ressourcement (return to sources), and development of doctrine. The concept of aggiornamento was not about updating doctrine but about communicating these doctrines to the modern world. ‘The church’s teaching remained, but its understanding and formulation had to be changed, as John XXIII would often say.'” (143-44)
Know the Creeds and Councils is a paperback with 192 pages and sells for $12.99.
Justin Holcomb (Ph.D., Emory University) is an Episcopal priest and a professor of theology and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He has authored, co-authored, and edited several books, including On the Grace of God.