Pope Benedict XVI today reiterated that the Second Vatican Council did not break with Tradition but rather was an expression of Tradition’s continued vitality.

Reflecting on Pope John XXIII’s controversial use of the word ‘aggiornamento’ (updating) to describe the Council, the Pope said he was convinced that the word “was and remains correct” because Christianity “must not be considered as ‘something that has passed’, nor must we live with our gaze always turned back, because Jesus Christ is yesterday, today and forever. “

"For this reason", the Holy Father went on, "Christianity is always new” and he warned against seeing it as “a fully mature tree” sprung from the mustard seed of the Gospel, or a tree which has “grown, given its fruits, and one day grows old as the suns sets on its life energy.”

Rather, he said, Christianity is like a tree “that is ever young” and this “constantly updated vitality, this 'aggiornamento', does not mean breaking with Tradition; rather, it is an expression of that Tradition's continued vitality.”

Addressing a group of Council Fathers of Vatican II and presidents of bishops’ conferences in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican, the Holy Father added that this ‘aggiornamento’ also “does not mean reducing the faith, debasing it to the fashion of the times using the yardstick of what we like and what appeals to public opinion.”

Quite the contrary, the Pope argued, “just as the Council Fathers did, we must mould the 'today' in which we live to the measure of Christianity. We must bring the 'today' of our times into line with the 'today' of God.”

The Holy Father stressed that the Council, which he remembered as an period “so lively, so rich and so fruitful”, was a “time of grace” in which the Holy Spirit taught the Church that she “must always speak to contemporary man.” But he added this can only come from the strength of people who have “deep roots in God” and who “live their faith with purity”. It could not come, he said, from those “who adapt themselves to the passing moment, from those who chose the easiest path.”

He said the Council understood this well when, in the Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen Gentium' it noted that everyone in the Church is called to sanctity. “Sanctity reveals the true face of the Church,” he said.

"The memory of the past is precious", the Pope concluded, "but it is never an end unto itself. The Year of Faith we began yesterday shows us the best way to remember and commemorate the Council: by concentrating on its core message which is, in fact, nothing other than the message of faith in Christ, the one Saviour of the world, proclaimed to mankind in our time.”

He also said that what is “important and essential” today is to take the “ray of God's love into the heart and life of each man and woman, and to bring the men and women of all places and times to God".

The Pope’s comments are a reiteration of his belief that the Council represented a “hermeneutic of continuity” with Tradition. This is opposed to viewing the Council as a “hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity” – a perception held by both those who saw the Council as a radical new beginning for the Church in its engagement with the modern world, and members of the Society of St. Pius X who see the it as a distinct break with Tradition and some core teachings of the Church.

At the end of his audience, the Holy Father hosted a large lunch in the Paul VI Hall for about 500 guests including Synod Fathers who are currently participating in the synodal assembly on new evangelisation, the Council Fathers of Vatican II and presidents of the world's episcopal conferences. Also present were the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury.

The lunch is traditionally held at the end of a Synod, but was brought forward to include prelates and Synod participants who yesterday attended the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of Vatican II, and the inauguration of the Year of Faith.