The Place and View of Vatican II

I held off from mentioning my own reaction to one key passage in the pope’s letter of this past week. Here are the Holy Father’s words:

The Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962 — this must be quite clear to the Society. But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

I think Pope Benedict misreads the mainstream of Catholicism on this point. As he does at a few other points in his letter, whether from personal inexperience or an awkward avoidance of relativism, he fails to grasp the nuances of the position of those who embrace Vatican II.

I would suggest that post-conciliar enthusiasts are operating in many spheres, not just pro- and anti-tradition. The Holy Father has a dangerously faulty discernment of what’s happening on the ground, away from the academic circles. For most ordinary lay people who have embraced the Council, they count their improved and more fruitful experience as believers as the prime witness to the fruits of the council. An intelligible liturgy, participation enhanced, the Bible, ecumenism, and a sense of optimism about the faith. This is one reason why there was so much consternation over the SSPX incident. It’s the main reason why I dread the implementation of the new English translation: the laity in the pew will perceive tinkering with something that has worked well, at the expense of overlooking things that haven’t.

Politically, Vatican II was a repudiation of the curia. Bishops and others acted in haste largely because they didn’t want to see the curia reconsolidate under a new pope and gather new power. If anything the incompetence of some curial figures has been permitted to continue under the long watch of the last two popes. Pope Benedict says as much in other places in this letter. Annibale Bugnini is painted as a liturgical antichrist by his detractors. But like those Roman elements he struggled against, he was operating, in part, as a political person in a political setting.

My theological take is that Vatican II was less a repudiation of 1545-1563 (Trent) than 1564-1962 (the Tridentine period of calcification). True, there was much good happening in the years between Trent and Vatican II. But how much of that was due to the fact that lay people in religious orders and out were responding to God’s call? Or that many heroic priests, sometimes with the disdain of their superiors, pushed the Church into acts of charity, mission work, and compassion? I don’t know what the pope is reading when he suggests Catholic progressives want to sever the roots. All we want is for the post-Tridentine growth to be examined for its fruits and be pruned accordingly.

I also think that Pope Benedict really needs to expand his mindset from the one-dimensional approach of two contrasting hermeneutics: continuity or rupture. The fact is that every major Church council has had its detractors, sore losers who went off moping and setting obstacles in the way of just and proper reform. Among other American figures, Cardinal Krol said as much after the council, that he was going to sandbag and stonewall efforts in the Phiadelphia archdiocese to the possible limit. The pope needs to have his eyes opened to the Hermeneutic of Obstruction and see just how much it has weaseled its way into the proclamation of tradition.

One commentator on NPR thought the pope showed weakness in this letter. I can’t disagree. He really has failed to grasp Vatican II not as a council, but as a spiritual event that enlivened and deepened the faith of hundreds of millions of Catholics. Why wouldn’t the grace of God be working more clearly through a modern event than from any particular council of the past twenty centuries? And if Vatican II can be misinterpreted as some suggest, why shouldn’t appropriate criticism be brought to bear on the post-conciliar implementations of centuries past?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Church News, Commentary, Vatican II. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Place and View of Vatican II

  1. “The Holy Father has a dangerously faulty discernment of what’s happening on the ground, away from the academic circles. For most ordinary lay people who have embraced the Council, they count their improved and more fruitful experience as believers as the prime witness to the fruits of the council.”

    I don’t believe I’ve ever read more ill-considered commentary which reflects just as much a contrived scenario of the “state” of catholicism as you have ascribed to the pope’s perspective, from your pen, Todd.
    I thoroughly believe you’ve missed the mark on this call by galaxies, my friend.

  2. Todd says:

    Charles, so you’re suggesting the pope and curia have a handle on the pastoral situation pretty much everywhere? I’m not sure what you’re saying here, other than you just disagree with me.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Why do you think this is a critique of “the mainstream of Catholicism”? The Pope supports and encourages the defense of Vatican II, criticizing only “some”, not all. So why apply the criticism to so many?

    I am sure Benedict endorses the description from the GIRM of the enthusiastic acceptance of the post conciliar liturgical reform. His criticism is not directed toward the mainstream of Catholicism, but towards “some” who have forgotten what preceded the Council.

    Also, the curia was substantially reformed when John XXIII turned it into a group of bishops rather than a bunch of priests who had lived and worked in Rome their whole lives. While some have still managed to avoid pastoral ministry, the majority have been responsible for dioceses, usually very large ones, throughout the world.

  4. gb says:

    Charles, so you’re suggesting the pope and curia have a handle on the pastoral situation pretty much everywhere?

    Todd, Let me try to clarify: YES.
    Yes, the Holy Father does have a ‘handle’ on the pastoral situation in the Church. That ‘handle’ is a Person & his name is the Holy Spirit. He’s the Handle that Jesus gave to us after his Resurrection. If you’re going to write a blog entitled Catholic Sensibility, please do your readers the courtesy of understanding your topic.
    That you could read an open letter which is so honest, humble and well-reasoned as this and have only this post as the take-away says much more about you than it does about B16.

  5. Todd says:

    Well, I disagree on all count, gb.

    The pope is a human being, not a god. While the One True God is able to write straight with his errors, it does not excuse these errors from criticism.

    The SSPX incident resulted in a scramble to improve Catholic-Jewish relations. That is a great good. But it doesn’t address the initial clumsiness, nor the plunge in morale among believers. The SSPX is a source of grave scandal to many of the faithful. The pope doesn’t seem to realize this.

    While I appreciate the honesty and some of the reasoning of this letter, I find it less than humble and not picture perfect in its logic.

    My catholicity is not dependent on my public fawning over the pope, bishops, or other Catholics. My criticism of the pope is certainly more loyal to the man and the office that those who advise him so weakly and faultily.

    And for today, that’s all I h ave to say on the matter. Let the readers take over, please.

  6. Todd, you wrote:

    “I would suggest that post-conciliar enthusiasts are operating in many spheres, not just pro- and anti-tradition.”

    I certainly am. I would definitely consider myself a post-conciliar enthusiast in that I love and trust what the Holy Spirit led the Church to articulate in and through the Second Vatican Council.

    But I am also a pre-conciliar enthusiast because I love, value, and trust what the Holy Spirit revealed before the Second Vatican council. The idea that one ecumenical council could ultimately be seen as the repudiation of another ecumenical council seems to be repudiation of one of the foundations of the Catholic faith (and it doesn’t matter whether you see VII as a repudiation of Trent or the recognition of Trent as requiring a repudiation of VII.)

    (Todd, I know that is not what you are saying – but the very fact that one has to deny that is what one means – says everything about the current state of the conversation.)

    Todd, you wrote:

    My theological take is that Vatican II was less a repudiation of 1545-1563 (Trent) than 1564-1962 (the Tridentine period of calcification). True, there was much good happening in the years between Trent and Vatican II. But how much of that was due to the fact that lay people in religious orders and out were responding to God’s call? Or that many heroic priests, sometimes with the disdain of their superiors, pushed the Church into acts of charity, mission work, and compassion?

    Sherry’s response:
    I think this is one place where our tendency to compress the entire 400 year post-Tridentine era into Catholic life as Americans experienced it in the 50’s and early 60’s is seriously misleading us. The late 16th and most of the 17th century could hardly be considered a period of calcification. It was, in fact, of the most creative and amazingly innovative periods of the Church’s life.

    I’ve posted on this numerous times over on my blog. But in late 16th century Italy, in Spain, and supremely in 17th century France, there was a torrent of profoundly orthodox, pastorally and evangelical innovations that became the Church that 20th century Americans took for granted. And the major players came from from all over the spectrum. The best known are

    A Cardinal, a Bishop, three priests including one who had grown up a peasant, two young widows with children, a Parisian housewife, a single woman, a soldier. Today, the same group is recognized for including four canonized saints, one blessed, one Doctor of the Church, and six founders of religious congregations.

    Among the many fruits of their collaboration:

    1) Re-evangelized large areas of France, especially the countryside, parts of which were being evangelized for the first time in history
    2) Fostered a distinctly lay spirituality for the first time and inventions like the “retreat” and “retreat house” to nourish the personal spiritual lives of lay and ordained>
    3) Renewal of the diocesan priesthood
    4) Successful establishment of the “new” seminary system for forming priests
    5) New, more systematic and effective methods of compassion for the poor
    6) New, more systematic and effective methods of educating children, especially the poor.
    6) Establishment of a whole new kind of leadership: many “active” non-enclosed women’s religious communities and institutes who became the face (and hands) of the Church’s vast institutional expansion in the areas healthcare, education, and service of the poor
    7) A vibrant new missionary outreach around the world that laid the foundation of the amazing expansion of Catholicism in places like Africa and Asia today.
    8) Four new religious communities
    8) The founding of one of the world’s great cities: Montreal.

    There was a lot of real trauma as well in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Decades of mutual slaughter in the name of faith does change things. But it is also true that the response of those who did not actually live through the wars, sieges, or persecution (like Francis de Sales, for instance) also had a huge influence.

    There were really significant generational differences. For instance, the French generation that lived through the wars of religion and the siege of Paris were drawn to repudiate the world and live lives of tremendous penance. But many of their children, influenced by the confidence and gentleness of Frances De Sales, channeled that same spiritual energy into heroic service of the poor and suffering .

    Because much of the fruits of that revival (which lasted 150 years!) was swept away in France in the late 18th century by the excesses of the enlightenment and revolution, which led to a particularly weak and uninspired Catholic life in the early 19th century, we tend to forget that so many of the institutions that came down to early 20th century Catholics were innovations from the Tridentine period.

    Characterizing the entire 400 year Tridentine period as calcification is about as accurate as saying that New York city is the whole US. The changes that Americans have witnessed since 1965 pale compared to the transformation of European Catholicism (and therefore global Catholicism) after the Council of Trent.

  7. Liam says:

    Sherry’s sense of the history is, as usual, spot on. Waaay too many people have bought into a Catholic derivative of the Whig school of history when it comes to understanding spiritual, liturgical and ecclesiastical developments of the most recent millennium.

    After Pope Benedict XIV, we enter a very enfeebled period for the Church – starting, let’s say, with the suppression of the Jesuits at the behest of so-called Enlightened monarchies (monarchies that, while they produced a lot of things we might find sympathetic today, also did things like suppress the cultivation of Native American tongues and cultures in favor of those of the central state – nasty old Felipe II’s reign was far more respecting of diversity on the ground that that of the lone highly functional Spanish-Italian Bourbon king, Carlos III, for example). The calcification of the 19th century was in no small part an utterly predictable response to the ruin of continental Europe by the Napoleonic wars. Trent is quite removed from that problem.

  8. Jimmy Mac says:

    If the actions of the curia and pope recently are any example, B16 has NO handle on the curia and the curia has NO handle on itself. I personally think that the Holy Spirit has wrung her hands in despair and has taken a long-term sabbatical when it comes to allegedly guiding in particular the temporal machinations of the church.

  9. g says:

    John Norton says this is the best commentary he’s seen on this topic & he’s right:

  10. Samuel Ferraro says:

    Most of these comments reflect the trite, misguided “spirit of the Council” ramblings that have been in circulation for decades. I think some people are having a hard time accepting the reality that the “spirit of the Council” mentality is coming to an end, and the intended meaning of the Council, put forth by the Council fathers is just beginning to be realized.

  11. Samuel Ferraro says:

    I need to correct myself. My previous entry refers to the readers comments being trite and misguided. I actually direct that assessment to the initial piece entitled “The Place and View of Vatican II” and not to the readers comments. Please accept my apology.

  12. Todd says:

    Thanks for coming by to comment, Samuel, but “spirit of the Council” is your term, not mine.

  13. InVinoVeritas says:

    I’m not exactly sure why people “split” Holy Mother Church into 2 time periods – Pre V2 and Post V2. This makes no sense to me.

    The Faith is the Faith is the Faith. The Church does not change its doctrines, but it deepen its understanding of those doctrines over time. We may come to know new ways of explaining them to different time periods, but the Faith itself does not change.

    That is why our Holy Father indicates that we need to read V2 within the framework of that Faith. Too many people in chanceries, seminaries, religious houses and parishes think that V2 was the beginning of something. Uh, no, it was the continuation of something.

    That is one thing the Pope wanted to make clear to his critics. Yes, he admitted his mistakes (isn’t that humility?), but called us all to a deeper understanding of the actual rupture that has happened since V2.

    There are many in chanceries, seminaries, parishes, and religious houses who think that the Council was a break with the past. And why wouldn’t they since there is documented evidence that this is precisely what the Consilium wanted (for those who don’t know, the Consilium was the group tasked with making the changes that the Council asked for, and they went FAR beyond their mandate).

    Since this improper thinking is in place, it is His Holiness’ job to correct it. I think that you’re wrong Todd, in stating that our Pope is not aware of the pastoral situation on the ground. Remember what he did prior to being elected to the papacy. If you hear all of the problems throughout the Church all over the world for 25+ years, don’t you think you’d develop a sense of where the deficiencies lie? I sure do.

    Just because the Pope is more of an academic than his predecessor, doesn’t mean he’s isolated from the situation. It just means that he’s got to learn how to communicate with new technologies (which is admitted) and best practices. Not an easy thing for a man in his 80s.

  14. Todd, let me try to clarify my statement as succinctly as possible.
    I have great difficulty with, to my ears, a flippant characterization of the pope’s presumed disability to discern anything, whether its the curial grapeline, an academic seminar, or the drumbeat of the laity as “dangerously faulty.” You drew the line, probably aided by all the blog commentariat, connecting his frank, humble and eloquent (and this ain’t fawning!) admission about 21st century PR and the web to curial dysfunction and its perennial spawn, the Blame Game vis a vis SSPX/Williamson.
    But that wasn’t the extent of your presumption. Apparently, your empirical and intuitive experience and expertise enabled you to speak for untold numbers of post-conciliar RC’s (who’ve embraced the council….what does that mean, exactly?) and declare that it’s all good in Catholicland. Todd, it very well may be so. But God only knows, is my point. So, if the Pope’s discernment abilities can be deemed “dangerously faulty,” cannot others’ as well?
    This whole drama has yet to play out, but I can’t forecast that the endgame of this letter is “bad fruit.” So, my lot is with Christ, Peter and the Church still.

  15. Todd says:

    First, let’s be clear that the Consilium was a liturgy group, not covering the whole breadth of the post-conciliar implementation. While cheerleaders for the “spirit of the council” may have their faults, but I’d be cautious about attributing much to the usual bogeyman suspects.

    I stand by my statement, not at all a flippant one, that the pope was poorly advised on the SSPX affair. The thing about leadership: you surround yourself with capable, competent people. In some areas, the pope doesn’t have them. He was gracious enough to admit errors, and that is laudable. But his letter in places comes across as just a bit whiny.

    We will never know exactly what went on with all this. All I’m engaging in is speculation, never to be proved or disproved. But I do see repeated misdiagnoses from the curia. I see an aversion to competence, stated in print, no less.

    However, I don’t think the pope is being advised by people who are a menace to the faith. That seems to be the reserve for those who are hypercritical of the council. And I’m afraid that those who light into progressives and reformers as being unfaithful, not-Catholic, heretics, or otherwise are showing their bad fruit.

    As a Roman Catholic, my lot is also with Christ, the Church and Peter. And while I may be tart sometimes in my criticism of the latter two, my loyalty to them may well be stronger than those who are satisfied to nod yes, smile serenely, bow deeply, and let fiasco take its course.

    “So, if the Pope’s discernment abilities can be deemed “dangerously faulty,” cannot others’ as well?”

    Sure they can. We’re all human. That’s why there’s a certain strength in numbers. It’s why we have spiritual directors and supportive communities of faith.

    I’m sure Benedict apologists are stung from my criticism. I don’t know to say anything than you’ll all get over it. In the curial housecleaning to come, it wouldn’t surprise me that a man of his wisdom gathered more loyal and skilled people around him.

    But if you think I’m the worst example of criticism on this affair, you need to get out and read his real critics–the ones who spare no mercy.

  16. Okay, presuming I’m in the room marked “Arguments” instead of “Contradiction.”

    I was struck this morning by some fairly innocuous remarks of our vicar’s homily, “If we are Christian, the no one has to ‘earn’ our respect.” I won’t elaborate.
    Todd, I realize you’re addressing in the immediate above combox many others’ thoughts as well as mine. But, obviously, my reflections are among those upon which you comment. I want to stress that this third posting is exclusively concerned with what I raised in my first commentary.
    Can you defend your knowledge and conclusion that the Pope’s discernment of “what’s happening on the ground” is “dangerously faulty?” If you will, try to confine your response to that to the contents of his letter, not to other perspectives and opinions found elsewhere. Do you think, regardless of your answer and defense, that making such a declaration is fundamentally disrespectful of either the person or the office of the pope? Do you feel comfortable disrespecting either? (That is the context inwhich I pondered whether your remark was flippant.)
    You might be discerning that my concerns are not about the content of your criticism of the pope, but about your need to do so. And yes, I have read many more stinging critcisms than yours; but your citing them doesn’t address my concerns. How sensible is it for someone to disrespect another for that other’s attempt to reconcile himself and his enterprise with others? Now add the Christian factor et al.
    I also am compelled to wonder whether your permutation of my quote “So, my lot is with Christ, Peter and the Church still” with the subtlely altered “As a Roman Catholic, my lot is also with Christ, the Church and Peter.” You have your chronology, and thus heirarchy significantly altered there, Todd. I give you the benefit of the doubt, and say that in any case I understand why you could have confessed your faith in that order. But, as neither an apologist nor propagandist for any Holy Father, but as an adherent to all that is implicit in “Tu es Petrus” I have to keep my eye and trust upon the shepherd appointed by the Good Shepherd.
    Todd, I don’t think you’ve, by any stretch, proved “the worst example of criticism on this affair.” I just simply didn’t think that the sentiments in the paragraph I originally quoted were made sensibly.

  17. Addinatrign says:

    Hello Sir!
    Thanks for the infolrmation. Any other posts or blgos you can recommend read?

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