Struggles With Vatican II

In the old days here, occasionally, we’d get a comment that I’d pull out for its own post. Most traditionalist-leaning Catholics have given up on this site. But every so often someone new stumbles in and finds something objectionable.

On one of the Vatican II commentaries, a guest muses about error in modern church documents:

By error I mean that it it’s not compatible with the catholicism that came before it.

Regular readers and friends know I don’t place much stock in the whole rupture thing. Even for lifelong Catholics, people progress through life stages incompatible with what came before. Young adults no longer have parents making choices on church involvement. Married persons do not practice celibacy or serial dating. People in religious life honor vows that have changed their lives in various ways. Some believers progress in the mystical life in significant ways. Sinners, even if they falter, aspire to leave behind serious sin that has dogged them.

I would charge that rupture, not continuity, is the hallmark of a faithful believer. At the very least, moments of rupture invite serious discernment. When the world’s bishops go into council, one must presume discernment is part of the deliberation.

Speaking to a part of Gaudium et Spes, our friend Joe writes:

I actually don’t think that the intent in the first sentence was to be blasphemous, but it is written so sloppily that it can easily be taken as blasphemy by someone who takes a “textual” reading at face value without trying to discern meaning between the lines.

A few things here. The official “writing” of this document was done in Latin. Precision is a hallmark of scholarly Latin. Translations are most often careful. For the most part, they are authoritative and trustworthy.

The problem here is when the modern mindset of investigation is applied without discrimination to church documents. We expect skepticism when it comes to science. A researcher might bring a bias. A paleontologist, for example, might be intrigued by the image of a dinosaur with feathers. She might probe fossils, seeking impressions of plumage in sedimentary rock, looking deeply where others dismiss.

But when it comes to matters of theology, relationships, and faith, this oft-cited section from the Catechism:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. and if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. (#2478)

We can no longer visit or write to a council bishop and ask directly: what do you mean? Church documents no longer belong to the ones who composed them.

Our friend zeroes in on a non-theological pronouncement:

The Church in its councils should not be ambiguous. This writing would earn a D in any university class. Take the first sentence… “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike”… really? Did they survey believers and non-believers? What does almost unanimous mean? 80% agree, 90%, 99%? Do 99% of people hold the opinion that all of nature was created for man (if that’s what the sentence is taken to mean)?

I don’t know that this premise is a problem. Maybe it’s a cultural notion whose time comes and goes, like head coverings for women. For Christians, there is the notion from Genesis 1:28, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.* Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.”

One side question:

And why are we concerned with non-believers anyways in a Church council?

Because non-believers are our mission.

It’s good to have discussions like this, regardless of how tedious they seem to one side, another, or those who observe. More thoughts or comments?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Struggles With Vatican II

  1. Joe says:

    Hi Todd, sorry I missed what you meant when you said the thread.
    I perhaps wrote my post too quickly. I’ll (try to) clarify. I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether the Novus Ordo is valid. Anyone who is reading this who wants to learn more about that debate can google it or search for an abundance of talks on youtube. And after that, use your discernment to form your own opinion. I personally attend the Tridentine mass. It is “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven”. Personally I want the mass of Padre Pio and St. Therese Liseux, Brother Andre, and the other saints I feel closest to. It’s part of my personal spiritual experience in Catholicism. I do also however know some very good and holy Novus Ordo priests and I personally view the NO as valid.
    To form a proper learned view on the NO would require a lifetime of study. I don’t have the time for it I’m afraid, though I wish I did. A family member of mine had occasion to attend a Lutheran church service and remarked to me how similar it was to a Catholic service and how comfortable she felt… perhaps that was part of the point of the NO.
    I maintain that GeS 12 is ambiguously worded, difficult to understand, and that this has a lot to do with why so many people (probably mistakenly) view it as heretical.
    As for the first sentence, I can only take it to mean that humans should “subdue” the earth and its creatures as Todd says, because I must read it in a scriptural context or in context of a prior Church document. Surely it does not mean that creation is ordained towards man rather than towards God, or that man is the centre and crown (i.e. suggesting worship) of humanity rather than God, though a simple textual reading could give someone this impression.
    As for our mission, I won’t comment here on evangelizing, holding snakes, drinking poison, etc (it’s all been debated before by more learned men than I).
    What I mean was that I did not think the scribe who wrote the sentence was aware of the hindu, buddhist, sikh, shinto, aboriginal and taoist views of the relationship between man and nature when writing the words “Almost unanimous”… The view that man should subdue the Earth is not, so far as I’m aware, nearly unanimous amongst non-believers.
    It simply propose it may have been better if more specific wording was chosen.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for commenting, Joe.

    First, I have no doubt people take Vatican II as heretical. Or not so worse. If they consider themselves Catholics, the onus is really on them. Many traditionalists go their own way, within the official Church or not. I don’t have a problem with persons who may be troubled exploring their own way with Christ.

    I would also agree that Church documents can often be deucedly difficult to understand. I’m not sure that study always works. For documents or for many religious things. I favor the cultivation of that personal relationship with Christ, and that the mystical side of Catholicism often holds more insight than the intellectual.

    Given Genesis 1:28, I would say that God has given humankind all of creation in a sense of a graced stewardship. We are indeed masters of nearly all of what we survey. God has created us as intellect that has led us to a technological advancement that enables us to control things like climate. We have the power to wipe out life on the planet. Or be selective in how we use, abuse, or enslave others. Even animals of our own species. Many Christians–people like vegans, animal activists, environmentalists, scientists, etc.–agree we should not abuse nature. But they acknowledge we do. There’s a distinction between admitting an uncomfortable truth and agreeing with it.

    Human beings are indeed the crown of what God has made. Since humanity rather excludes the Father God who created everything in Genesis.

    Blessed Christmas to you and yours, Joe.

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