A copy of the Constitution with which John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council back in December 1961 has been presented in the Vatican.
It’s no “mystery”, it’s probably just an act of carelessness.
Either way, the fact is that the reference to the “fideles laicos” (the lay members of Christ’s faithful people), in the Latin text of the Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, with which Pope John announced the Second Vatican Council on 25 December 1961, is missing.
The man supposedly responsible for the oversight is the calligrapher Arrigo Bravi who was 32 at the time and worked as a miniaturist and for the Secretariat of Briefs to Princes.
This was one of the things that were discussions held today in the Synod Hall, in the Vatican, during the presentation of the fifth volume in the series Exemplaria praetiosa, the valuable edition of the Humanae Salutis bull Limited edition, put together by Scrinium for the Secret Vatican Archive. The proceeds from these publications – the limited edition versions are intended for collectors while the plainer version is intended for a wider audience of connoisseurs – will fund restoration work on some of the most rare documents that make up the 84 linear kilometres of preserved documents.
Fabio Zavattaro, Vatican correspondent for Italian public television channel RAI’s TG1 news channel was the moderator during the presentation. Other attendants at the presentation included Mgr. Jean-Luis Bruguès, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, Mgr. Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Secret Archive (and author of the commentary and the philological and comparative study that looks into the various versions of the document) and historian Alberto Melloni, Director of the city of Bologna’s Foundation for Religious Studies.
During the presentation, Prefect Pagano spoke about the mystery of the words in the parchment manuscript of the bull. “By some fortuitous circumstance – he said – we still possess all the drafts and corrections, so we were able to reconstruct every single phase of the bull’s preparation.” The text has always been referred to as an “apostolic constitution” because that is its heading, but in actual fact, as Pagano explains in his text, it should be seen more as a papal bull. “The evening before the Pope signed on 25 December 1961, the final version of the text was sent to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and the Apostolic Chancery. The words “fideles laicos” appear in the version published by the newspaper, but are nowhere to be seen in the original bull manuscript, which simply mentions the term “christefideles”.
The Prefect of the Vatican’s Secret Archives explained that as far as the corrections go, even John XXIII’s personal secretary, Mgr. Loris Capovilla suggested pencil corrections and was careful “to use terms that would not bruise the sensitivity of atheists, non-believers and Christians brothers of other denominations.” Meanwhile, the corrections made by Mgr. Pericle Felici, the Council’s secretary, showed his concern “for the internal ecclesial implications and the relationship with the Roman Curia.”
Melloni explained that the Humanae Salutis contains an idea of the council that John XXIII expected: “The January 1959 speech in which Papa Roncalli announced his intention to convene a Council to the cardinals gathered in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the bull and the Gaudet Mater Ecclesia allocution of 11 October 1962, the fist day of the Second Vatican Council, show a consistent development. The bull shows the following: a renewed climate of trust and ecumenical horizon.” Melloni thanked Paul VI for giving scholars access to the Council documents straight away.
When answering a question on the scope of enforcement of the Second Vatican Council and how current it was, Mgr. Pagano mentioned liturgical reform and the “strange and conflicting voices,” saying: “When I see those seven bronze candelabras that hang above the cross at some basilica altars, I think to myself how little was understood of the constitution of the Sacrosanctum Concilium liturgy. This was in reference to some of the decisions taken during Benedict XVI’s pontificate, regarding altar preparation.