Two documents, both episcopal but both quite different, have captured my attention these last few weeks. The first was the motu proprio of Pope Francis, Magnum principium, devolving primary responsibility for the liturgical translations to bishops’ conferences. It has already been dealt with on this site here and here and here, but one thing from it lingers in the mind: that “great principle” of the title, which is really something of a great misrepresentation:
The great principle, established by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer be accommodated to the comprehension of the people so that it might be understood, required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy and of preparing and approving the versions of the liturgical books, a charge that was entrusted to the Bishops.
One searches in vain through the conciliar decree on the liturgy for anything that adequately justifies this bold assertion. Whoever drafted this for the pope got away with quite the deception. Continue reading “Vale Vatican II: Moving On”→
It had not been in mind to comment on the latest chapter of papagate, in which Pope Francis has declared, we are told, that the liturgical reform is irreversible. Many commentators have weighed on the papal address, not least Frs Z and Hunwicke, Christopher Altieri at Catholic World Report and Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture. Though they share the same general interpretation of the papal speech they are not identical in their approach to liturgy; so reading them together makes for a balanced orthodox approach to the situation. (Feel free to add others you have found in the comments’ section below.)
However I followed one link to the infamous Pray Tell blog, and a commentary by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB of that monastic bastion of modernism modernity, Collegeville. He approached the papal address in a rather canny way, by examining its sources. He gives a running score of the sources cited in both the text proper and its footnotes. His tally is tabulated thus: Continue reading “The Magisterium and Nostalgia: Pope Francis on Liturgy”→
A brief thought on the ongoing, and troubling, impasse over Amoris Laetitia, and the dubia submitted by i quattro cardinali seeking clarification of controverted formulations in and implications of the papal exhortation.
Sandro Magister today wrote of what he described as “the calculated ambiguity of the text, which has opened the way to a multiplicity of interpretations and applications, some of them decidedly new with respect to the age-old teaching of the Church.” This was part of his introduction to an essay by Claudio Pierantoni which finds a parallel to the current crisis of confusion in the early Church.
However it strikes me that we can find not merely a parallel with but also the origin of the present situation. Magister is almost certainly right in detecting a deliberate ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia (AL). However, it is probably not so very surprising that this is so. AL seems to embody a hermeneutic of ambiguity that can find its roots in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. One does not need to be a scholar to recall the many ways in which ambiguity has been read into conciliar texts, or extracted form them, in order to justify innovations in liturgy, theology and ecclesial life that the majority of the Council fathers would not have countenanced if they had been presented to them at the Council itself.
This conclusion is easily reached even without recourse to the new historiography and hermeneutics which are upsetting the deeply entrenched status quo when it comes to interpreting the Council. One need only read the 1966 classic, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by the Divine Word missionary, Fr Ralph Wiltgen SVD. Released while the dust of the Council was still settling, and written from a liberal perspective, it is disarmingly frank in its innocent-faced revelations about the machinations of the northern European faction at the Council, including “compromises” in drafting the texts of the conciliar documents. The ambiguity of these documents was clearly planned by their theologian drafters, it not by their episcopal promulgators.
This “calculated ambiguity” in the conciliar documents begat the ambiguity today in AL. This time, however, lessons have been learned and it seems that some are prepared to confront the ambiguity in order to nip its deleterious effects in the bud. No one of sound mind wants to revisit the chaos and trauma of the post-conciliar confusion.
More often than not, magisterial formulations allow room for future doctrinal reflection and elaboration (not change) by stating the barest minimum necessary to counter error and safeguard truth. The Magisterium never tries to say more than is necessary. It has a most un-German terseness and economy of language. Words are carefully chosen, having often been fought over, precisely in order to avoid ambiguity and the chaos that would almost certainly arise from it in the future.
If the Council fathers can be said to have failed, or made a mistake, at all it is certainly in this, if not elsewhere: that they failed to do the work of thrashing out the formulations to the extent they should have. In order to prevent an ever-lengthening Council, and the atrophy that might arise from this, they accepted all too readily the compromise texts placed before them by the periti, in which, as is now often admitted, “time bombs” of ambiguity had been carefully hidden. Desperate to keep up with the swinging sixties, they raced ahead of God.
The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth have been set on edge. Or what they sowed we have been painfully reaping ever since. AL is part of this conciliar harvest. It seems prudent at the very least that some pastors of the Church have learned the bitter but prophetic lesson afforded by Cardinal Ottaviani and are politely but firmly working to ensure that the teeth of the next generation will not also be set on edge, that they will a richer and more abundant harvest to reap than that sown with studied ambiguity, however good its intention. We all know that adage will tells us which road it is that is paved with good intentions. And would that Pope Francis might note the bitter lesson afforded by Pope Paul VI.
On the tube back from a lively supper after Cardinal Sarah’s important speech last night, it struck me that perhaps the conference had peaked already. Certainly in terms of an immediate and practical legacy, last night’s speech is unlikely to be bested.
However, the proceedings today were a salutary reminder that Cardinal Sarah’s vigorous and specific exhortation—for a return to the centuries-old tradition of priest and people sharing a common orientation to the east and to the Lord during the Liturgy of the Eucharist—is itself the fruit of recent scholarship and pastoral reflection on the reforms implemented in the wake of Vatican II and which claim the Council as their warrant and justification. It was just such scholarship and reflection that we were treated to today.
In the latest issue of The Tablet (22 August) there is a letter from the composer and former director of music for Portsmouth diocese. Here it is:
Melanie had suggested that children be taught more traditional Eucharistic hymns because of their (undeniably) fuller theological content and catechetical utility. Mr Inwood is clearly not impressed, perhaps because if all parishes switched to traditional hymns there would be little work for him to do.
It is pretty much a commonplace today that at the time of the Council Fr Josef Ratzinger was to be counted among the conciliar young turks, channeling the Rhine into the Tiber, a progressive, if not so radical as his colleague Küng. In the wake of the student unrest and riots of 1968, the narrative continues, Ratzinger changed, seeing the dangers of radical progressivism and turned back to safer waters. His growing conservatism combined with his conciliar pedigree and obvious theological gifts led him first to be elected Archbishop of Munich and then appointed to head the Holy Office, God’s rottweiler as he was labeled by his detractors.
There is little doubt that 1968 seems to have been something of a watershed year for Ratzinger. So it was something of a surprise to come across the text of a lecture Ratzinger gave at Bamberg’s Katholikentag in 1966. Here is a conflicted Ratzinger. The Council is barely a year over, and the student unrest of 1968 is still to come. Yet Ratzinger already senses danger, and senses too that the implementation of the Council’s decrees is more and more losing touch with the Council itself.
Though it was printed in English in The Furrow of January 1967 as “Catholicism After the Council”, the German focus of Ratzinger’s paper may have caused anglophone students to put it to one side as being of more local-historical interest. Yet anyone who reads it would be struck by its prophetic nature, and the challenges he poses both to traditionalists and progressives alike. Maybe this too has made it inconvenient for most.
Since I am unsure of its copyright status, the paper will not be reproduced or made available in full here. Still it is such a remarkable piece of Ratzinger, accessible to non-theologians, and with abiding relevance as we come to 50 years since the Council, that it seems reasonable to examine it to some degree. His talk will be dealt with in three parts. Herewith, the first.
Ratzinger begins by defining his terms, focusing on the term ‘Catholicism’. He notes that at this period Catholicism had been reduced by many to yet another -ism, an ideology that blends “the ideal and the real in the life and society of our time… [while also] blurring the boundaries between them” (p.3). In this reorientation of the concept of Catholicism he finds that the Church “has yielded to the insistence of our age on arranging everything according to ideologies” (ibid.). As a result Catholicism has become no less constrained and constricted by worldliness than it was in the mediæval period, and is in fact “a continuation in a slightly altered form of the fusion, much criticised nowadays, between Church and society in the imperium Christianum of the Middle Ages”.
That Ratzinger starts his paper in this way suggests not only that he has discerned in the contemporary Church a turn to the world that is at the same time becoming an accommodation to it. In light of what will follow, he seems to be warning the post-conciliar Church that its new engagement with the world risks not so much its influencing the world but the world influencing it.
Even so soon after the Council, this new trajectory in the life of the Church was having unintended effects.
Let me start off by admitting quite frankly that there prevails amongst us today a certain air of dissatisfaction, an atmosphere of depression and even of disappointment, such as often follows on festive moments of great joy and exaltation… The world seemed to stop in its tracks to give the Council a joyful welcome and to listen to it with an astonished and respectful attention but now it seems to have simply gone off about its own affairs again, and after all the clamour and the shouting the Church remains the Church and the faith has become, if anything, more burthensome (sic) than ever because more exposed and defenceless. (p.4)
But a year after the Council closed Ratzinger discerns that the Council might not have been concluded in the same spirit it was begun, and that the motives of many of its more vigorous proponents might not be without subtle self-interest:
It could be that the applause of 1962 reflected a secret longing for that something higher and eternal… now about to become nearer and more easily grasped…; or it could be that many people were hoping that the Church was about to come to terms with the world and thereby give them carte blanche to continue in their own worldly ways. (ibid.)
To simplify things rather crudely, and to read between the lines, it is as if Ratzinger identified with the former tendency, a spirit in which the Council was convoked, and has found that the latter tendency has replaced it by the end of the Council. He intuits that the implementation of the conciliar decrees will be far more important than the Council itself.
It seems that as early as 1966 the implementation of the Council was already proving problematic from Ratzinger’s perspective. “However that may be, the Council has left yet another trail of disagreement and divided opinions in its wake to add to the many other differences of opinion among the faithful” (pp.4-5). So among the faithful there was already a conflict of opinion on many issues, and far from reconciling them the Council has caused the situation to worsen. Ratzinger then goes on to sketch in broad strokes the outlines of the two major camps at loggerheads:
For some the Council has done much too little, it got bogged down at the very start and bequeathed to us nothing but a series of clever compromises… For others again the Council was a scandal, a delivering up of the Church to the evil spirit of our time, which has turned its back on God with its mad preoccupation with the world and with material things. They are aghast to see the undermining of all that they held most sacred and turn away from a reform which seems only to offer a cheapened watered-down Christianity where they expected stiffer demands in regard to faith, hope and love. (p.5)
This summary sketch of the two opposing poles of post-conciliar opinion serves as well today as it did for Ratzinger in 1966. It is the latter opinion that Ratzinger seems more interested in, and to some degree more sympathetic towards. Those who view with alarm the post-conciliar reforms, as enacted, “compare this reform… with the reforms of past times, as for instance with that reform which is linked with the name of the great St Teresa.” (ibid.) Ratzinger is applying here what he later, as Pope Benedict XVI, would call the hermeneutic of continuity, which is the interpretation of developments in Church teaching and practice in the light of previous teaching and practice, since they should all share one organic and discernible unity.
As a reference point in this hermeneutic he choose the 16th century reforms of St Teresa of Avila. He describes things in forthright terms, unsettling for monks and religious:
Before her conversion the convent in which she lived was a perfectly modern place in which the old-fashioned idea of the enclosure with its petty annoying restrictions had given way to more generous ‘modern’ ideas… the gloomy asceticism of the old rule had been replaced by a more ‘reasonable’ manner of life more suited to the tastes of people of the new era which was just then beginning… [and offering] an open-minded attitude to the world. (ibid.)
Dare it be said, but this could be a description of many monasteries of today, declining as they are, forces for reform though they were. Ratzinger is casting doubt upon the validity of two predominant yardsticks of reform in his day as well as our own: modernity and the ‘world’, following the example of St Teresa.
But one day she was touched to the quick by the Presence of Christ and her soul came face to face with the inexorable truth of the Gospel message, untrammeled by all the petty phrases of excuse and extenuation which had been used to obscure it, and then she realised that all that had gone before had been an unpardonable flight from the great mission to which she had been called and a shirking of the conversion of heart which was being asked of her, whereupon she rose up and was ‘converted’. And what that meant was that she rejected the aggiornamento and created a reform which had nothing of concession in it but was a challenge to all… (ibid.)
Even allowing that he might be using some rhetorical flourish in his description of St Teresa’s situation, it is remarkable that he uses the totemic conciliar word, aggiornamento. Until recently, in anglophone Catholicism especially, it has been a de facto dogma that aggiornamento, or updating, was both necessary and wonderful. It is effectively the conciliar motto for the progressive element. That Ratzinger, a progressive himself, so early is casting a shadow of doubt on the principle gives one pause for thought. For him, as for St Teresa, the demands and challenges of the Gospel cannot be updated, only diluted and discarded. Any ecclesial reform that weakens the Gospel call in such a way is no reform, but deformation.
Shifting our gaze back to the present day, we see how right and how prescient was his concern. That within the Church, among her pastors and teachers, can be found those who explicitly contradict magisterial and biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage, the sacredness of human life, the priestly office, et al., can be traced precisely to the influence of the two sources for the call to change that Ratzinger warns against, namely modernity and the world. These people seek “carte blanche to continue in their worldly ways”. They seek, indeed, for the Church to accommodate and to validate their pursuit of self as their highest good, and their consequent avoidance of the Cross. In place of Christian freedom, they want liberty without responsibility. In place of the demands of love, they want only the approbation of lust and the avoidance of its consequences.
So, back to Raztinger. He acknowledges the question as to whether “the Council has not, in fact, taken the opposite direction to Saint Teresa, going away from true conversion of heart and moving in the direction of a conversion to worldliness on the part of the Church.” (p.6) It is a question that some would see answered clearly enough in the reaction to Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, who was recently condemned by parents of a Catholic school for explaining the Church’s teaching on sexuality in clear and measured terms, and the meagre support offered her by the local diocese.
This is a disenchanted Ratzinger we are reading, a man grappling to comprehend that his conciliar hopes not matching post-conciliar reality. It is 1966, just four years after the Council opened, and barely a year after it closed, and he sees it increasingly becoming a tool for secularisation, reducing Catholicism to one -ism among many. In engaging with the world, it risks being swamped by the world.
His next focus is liturgical reform, examined in the next post.
In the past week, Ian Slade of London wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times. He wrote:
In the past, centuries elapsed between Pope Saints – St Pius V, died 1572, and St Pius X, died 1914. Now we are to believe that every pope since 1958 (1939 if one counts Pius XII) was of exalted sanctity. John XXIII, imminent canonisation; Paul VI, imminent beatification; John Paul I, case (sic) opened; John Paul II, imminent canonisation.
As an atheist I cannot comment on the medievalism of miracles or their holiness. However, it does seem odd to laud those under whose guidance the practice of the faith, numbers of clergy and moral authority of the Catholic Church have all but collapsed.
First, let’s get the pedantry out of the way otherwise it will only distract from the primary focus. The first sentence of his second paragraph is both casuistical and unclear (though these often go together). He avows he will make no comment on the “medievalism of miracles”, but surely this casting of miracles as medieval is itself a clear and highly prejudicial comment? And as to his use of “holiness”, syntactically he seems to use it in reference to “miracles”, but this would be an unusual usage. Normally atheists question the veracity of miracles, not their holiness. In light of his first paragraph, it seems more likely that he was using “holiness” in reference to the popes in question. It would make more sense to me; and it highlights the importance of good grammar and syntax.
However, our primary focus should be on his substantive point: why recognise with such high honour those under whom the Church has declined in such dramatic fashion? It is a question deserving of an answer. Mr Slade has a point.
First, as a point of fact, the Church did not decline under all these popes. Without resorting to statistical analysis, it would be generally accepted that the first half of the 20th century was, by most measures, a time of growth for the Church. Especially in countries in which Catholicism was something of an outsider, such as Britain, America and even Australia, Mass attendance grew steadily, as did vocations to priestly and religious life, missionary activity and charitable outreach. The revival after the Modernist crisis and the emergence of the liturgical movement revealed a vigour in the life of the Church that is often sadly discounted. Some might argue that in some of these areas of vitality were sown the seeds of later malaise, but that is another story.
Secondly, it is not quite so outré to believe that every pope since 1939 (or even earlier) has been of remarkable holiness. They were all men of remarkable gifts and character, selfless in the service of the Church and striking in their freedom from vice. They were good and devout men. They were not all necessarily free from the odd imprudent decision or strategic error; and maybe some addressed some problems without recognizing the greater gravity of others. Yet sanctity is not measured by success according to empirical measures, nor does it attempt to ascribe near perfection to a person, nor does it require that a person never make a mistake.
Holiness is the perfection of human charity (love in action, not love as a sentiment) through cooperation with the grace of Christ without which we cannot become holy. This perfection is articulated in and augmented by devotion to doing God’s will and acknowledging his glory, and by serving our neighbour (cf CCC #2013). The holy person is one whose life is entirely oriented to God, and to God through service of others; that holy person thinks of himself or herself last.
Unlike, say, some of the Renaissance popes, the popes of the last century seem indeed to have been men who clearly lived in devoted service of God and His Church. They may have made some mistakes in matters of prudential government; but they were not selfish or self-aggrandizing men. They were men of God, though with feet of clay.
That said, certainly one could say that from Paul VI’s pontificate the Church has suffered a great decline by most measures, such as Mass attendance, vocations, marriages etc. Paul VI especially reigned over a particularly disastrous period in the Church’s history. He promoted liturgical reforms that went far beyond the mandate of the Vatican Council, reforms ostensibly aimed at allowing the people to be more involved and to make the Mass more easily understood; yet the people’s response has been to abandon Mass attendance en masse. He presided over changes in the life of the Church, especially in religious and priestly life, aimed at a greater openness to the world; yet millions of Catholics, and tens of thousands of priests and religious, embraced the world and left the bosom of the Church. The pontificates of Bl John Paul II and Benedict XVI did much to stem the decline, and in latter years even begin to reverse it, but even they had their own small imprudences.
In all, despite their personal qualities, there seems little mark them out for such honour in the current context. It was a general rule that a cause for canonisation would not be introduced until 50 years has passed since the subject’s death. Yet that rule is increasingly honoured in its breach. With Mother Teresa one could see a compelling argument both for her holiness, and for the witness value her life, and her canonisation, would offer the Church and the world. But one reason for the rule was to allow an authentic cultus to emerge from possible emotive hype. So John Paul II, a man of evident holiness and whose last years were a poignant yet powerful testimony to the role of the Cross in the life of a Christian and to the value of human life in general, has found himself approved for sainthood less than 10 years after his death. With Bl John XXIII another rule has been broken, quite legally, by Pope Francis, namely the requirement for a second miracle.
In fact, all this haste for papal canonisation and beatification is centred on the popes who have presided over the conciliar Church (there is no rush to canonise Pius XII, though he is no less worthy in many ways). Given the point that Mr Slade pointed out in his letter, that these popes have presided over a Church that entered freefall from 1962, one might argue that these popes more than any others should have their causes put in the slow lane rather than the fast one. We are yet to see where the post-conciliar turmoil will finally bring us. We pray that we will finally land on tranquil and fruitful shores. At that point it would seem fitting to consider honouring the popes who brought us to such shores. Until then their reputations are too easily compromised, rightly or wrongly, by association with the general failure of the conciliar reforms. The greater the time since their deaths, the greater the chance of reasoned and reasonable assessment of their sanctity, free from the post-conciliar context that would confuse such an assessment.
However, perhaps this exactly the point. Perhaps in the push to canonise the conciliar popes there is an attempt to associate the compromised conciliar reforms with the good personal reputations of the conciliar popes. If all the conciliar popes are holy, then the conciliar reforms they allowed must be good too. Is it not possible that some might see this as an attempt to counteract the increasingly negative repute of the conciliar reforms with the positive personal repute of the conciliar popes? In other words, does this not allow the whole process to be seen as a conciliar public relations exercise? Cynical, perhaps; unrealistic, not necessarily.
For one, I think the popes of the last century and more are very fine men and Christians, worthy in life and selfless in their service of the Church. I could quite easily accept that they are all in heaven and intercede for us even now before Christ the Lord. However, this haste to canonise them, especially the conciliar popes, is almost unseemly; and the breaking of the 50-year rule, and the requirement of the second miracle in John XXIII’s case, begs the question, why is such corner-cutting haste necessary? What earthly end does it serve?
It is not unreasonable to see in this haste an attempt to bolster the standing of the post-conciliar reforms which, as Mr Slade demonstrated, are seen by so many within and without the Church as having demonstrably failed to achieve their objectives. By canonising the conciliar popes they could by implication canonise the conciliar reforms. This would be a grave disservice both to the pope, by tying their causes to the fortunes of the conciliar reforms; and to the reforms themselves by making it more difficult to assess them in the cool and calm air of dispassionate reason – to question them would be seen as questioning these popes, who after all, would be saints! If this, in fact, the case then the Church’s agony will continue longer, and needlessly. It would be such a shame.
**Warning – controversy alert. Read at your own risk.**
Currently during lunch in the monastic refectory we are listening to What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley. Privately I am reading The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story by Roberto de Mattei. These books represent the two predominant trends in the assessment of the Council: the one sees it as the great liberation from a rigid and stifling neo-Scholasticism that dominated the Church as a result of an over-reaction to the Modernist crisis, giving power back to the bishops from the hands of a narrow curia clinging desperately to its power exercised from with an ivory tower; the other sees something disturbing in the the forces leading to the Council, the forces that prevailed during the Council, and the forces that prevailed in the subsequent implementation of the Council.
You will recall that Benedict XVI in his last days as pope expressed his understanding of the Year of Faith as an initiative to help the Church re-discover the “real Council”, and to move beyond the “virtual Council” erected by those who knew best how to manipulate the media according to their own agenda. The Australian theologian Tracy Rowland has written a fine piece on the subject, detailing particular areas in which such a rediscovery needs to be pursued – revelation, ecclesiology, liturgy, as well as a re-assessment of the weakest yet disproportionately popular conciliar document, Gaudium et Spes.
So far Pope Francis has not seemed overly concerned with the Council. His preoccupations seem to lie in structural reform of the Church and the daily Christian living of the faithful, often at is most basic level (eg the need to avoid gossip, to recognize and resist the works of the Devil). Speculation on the Council seems so far to be a luxury he has no time to indulge.
Of course, it is not a luxury. Since the modern Church is, one way or the other, the product of the Council, the trials and failings in many parts of the Church that have attended the post-conciliar reforms require that we revisit the Council in order to assess with some degree of objectivity the legacy of the Council. To a great extent this will require us to look beyond the documents of the Council, which were so readily disregarded in practice except as unexamined talismans for the reform agenda (eg the “spirit of Vatican II”). What needs greater attention is the Council as event.
The event of the Council involves not only the documents of the Council, its official legacy, but also the context in which it occurred. Consciously or otherwise this is what more recent histories of the Council are doing. Thus we find that the Modernist crisis and the neo-scholastic reaction against it initiated by St Pius X is being re-examined, as too the unease with this reaction that informs the rise of the nouvelle théologie and which gave new impetus and direction to the liturgical movement. After the announcement of the Council, the preparations made especially by northern European theologians and liturgists – the so-called Rhine alliance – need more careful examination, as does the careful strategic planning they employed in order to push through their agenda at the Council. De Mattei especially shines a light on the sometimes almost cynical method by which the Rhine minority won over the moderate majority in the Council. This feat was only fostered by the relatively vague pretext for the calling of the Council, an un-focused, idealistic and even naive desire for breathing ‘fresh air’ into the Church rather than (as had always been the case) any pressing need to meet a doctrinal or political crisis in the life of the Church. Lastly the event of the Council continued beyond the conciliar sessions, in the process of its implementation by the very same minority that had prevailed during the conciliar sessions themselves. This process saw the conciliar documents overtaken by the “spirit” they were said to have embodied and set in motion. No less a part of the conciliar event is the global context of the 1960s, a period of fast-paced revolutionary change as man turned to himself in the wake of the horrors of the Second World War and God’s apparent failure in the face of it.
We have seen this expressed in so many ways. Liturgists focused on pleasing man rather than God. Theologians sought to write out of existence any difference between men, especially religious difference, so as to remove any pretext for future conflict – the brotherhood of man replaced the primacy of the Church as God’s chosen people. The Church was de-militarised, as it were: spiritual combat and vigorous evangelization of the world with the truth of Christ gave way to accommodation to the world, and affirming its alleged intrinsic goodness. Those who remember the 1960s American sitcom Bewitched will recognise in this process an example of baby Tabitha’s “wishcraft”: if we close our eyes and say that everyone is good and that we are all equal, then it will surely come to pass.
History, if we choose to examine it, gives the lie to this wishful thinking that lies at the heart of the event of the Council. Repression in communist countries and in nations newly freed from the “yoke” of colonialism waxed rather than waned; terrorism emerged as a new phenomenon, bringing the violence of war to the streets of nations otherwise at peace; an intolerant and repressive Islamic fundamentalism emerged as the great threat to the peace of the world, reflecting a mindset that clearly rejected the new dogma of universal equality within the brotherhood of man; and as the Church accommodated herself to the supposed desires and aspirations of the world, the world grew even less interested in her, and so too even her members who, ironically, drifted away in great numbers from a liturgy deliberately re-designed to please them.
To say all this is to open oneself up to attack from those who still see in the event of the Council their great liberation. There are still many who have pinned their colours to the standard of the Council, and for many of them there can be no going back. That would be too unsettling, too disappointing. Who, after all, likes to admit they were wrong?
Pope Francis’ failure so far to engage with the Council is, perhaps, not such a bad way to proceed. The Council as event has overtaken the Council’s own understanding of itself in its documents. So perhaps the whole thing is best left to the side. The young have very little interest in the Council, if any at all. It does not figure in their vocabulary or their conversation. They are far more interested in popes and bishops who have a message that resonates with their deepest, often unarticulated, intuition. Somehow, in the midst of all the confusion, the Church’s perennial message has got through to them and they have embraced it. Christianity is for them a way of life that makes real demands personally and socially. It informs and bolsters their identity. It gives them a cause and mission in life. Christ is seen not so much as friend as powerful saviour intimately concerned with them, yes, but also with his Church into which he calls them. Liturgy is seen less as a vehicle for self-expression and more of a privileged place in which they might lose themselves in God, who can then give power to their lives. For the younger generation, the battles and preoccupations of the conciliar generation are no longer relevant, and indeed, no longer desirable. So the Church must move on with them, not by accommodating to them as such, but by addressing their legitimate needs, needs for truth, transcendence, the experience of God and its necessary expression and validation in daily life. The Church, insofar as it offers a real alternative to the world, will attract the young from the world with relative ease.
So perhaps the Council is best left on the backburner for now, as we rediscover that there have been other, and more important, councils than the most recent one. Reclaiming the entire treasury of doctrinal, liturgical and spiritual wealth in the Church, we can get on with the inescapable duties of being Christian: loving God and neighbour in deed as well as in word; worshipping God in spirit and in truth; fighting evil with the weapons of the Gospel; making God the foundation of our lives 24/7, and not just for an hour on Sundays. The young will look to their elders above all to model this authentic way of Christian living, and not to peddle the world-conditioned obsessions of their own, long distant, youth. In doing so some of these elders have already re-discovered the splendour of the Faith.
For all that, the event of the Council will have to be dealt with, if only so that we can embrace what is good in it, discard what is defective and reorient ourselves back on to the way of salvation. Specialists will do so, and have begun that mission already. For now, Pope Francis bids us commit ourselves to Christ who ever abides with his people, the Church. If God be for us, who can be against?
Over the next few weeks and beyond we can expect to see a lot about the legacy of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Indeed much is already emerging. For example, as noted here and here, the statements issued by Orthodox and Protestant leaders suggest a pontificate that has seen a strong development in authentic ecumenism. An article released by Vatican Radio highlights what so many of us see as one of the great marks of the Benedictine pontificate, his teaching on and celebration of the liturgy. After Benedict the liturgical cat is out of the bag and there will be no putting it back. Indeed, who can forget his last Ash Wednesday Mass, hard in the wake of his stunning announcement, when having briefly indulged spontaneous and heart-felt applause from the congregation, he reminded us all of what should always inform our liturgy – a focus on God not man: “Thank you.Now let us return to prayer”.
Another aspect largely unrecognised is Pope Benedict’s cleaning up of the episcopal college. He has sacked several bishops, most spectacularly the lamentable Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, Australia. But it seems he did a lot more behind the scenes, confronting bishops who were grossly mismanaging their dioceses and convincing them to resign. By the very nature of things, it is a legacy that will not be open to the public gaze, but it may prove real enough in time.
Yet it strikes me that there are two aspects of this pontificate that need to be more carefully examined by those more competent than I.
One emerges from the course of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, the other from its end, yet even the former has a clear marker in the days following the announcement of abdication. One is positive, the other negative (though it pains me to say so).
From the outset of his pontificate Pope Benedict signalled that the Second Vatican Council needed to be re-appraised. His comments did not arise from any deep-seated dissatisfaction with the Council itself, but with its subsequent interpretation and application. For Benedict, as for anyone who knows even a little about the Church the growth of its Christian life, the Council could never have marked a point at which it could be said “Everything has changed, it is a revolution in the Church, we are leaving behind all the outdated baggage and becoming relevant to the modern world”. This attitude, which so many of us have experienced, he saw as revealing an interpretation of the Council through the lens of radical change, or the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture“. But the Pope made it clear that this was not an only an inadequate interpretation of the Council; it was to misunderstand it. Instead, the only valid way to interpret and apply the texts of the Council (as opposed to the nebulous and shape-changing “spirit” of the Council) was through the “hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in …continuity”. The Council operated within the historical faith it had received, developing it organically according to the perceived needs of the day. It did not rewrite the Church’s constitution.
At the end of his pontificate Pope Benedict returned to the theme of the Council in his address to the clergy and seminarians of Rome on 14 February, a few days after his announcement. Extempore, he gave “a few thoughts on the Second Vatican Council, as I saw it.” He spoke of the “Rhine Alliance” that came to the Council with a clear agenda to be addressed: liturgy, ecclesiology, revelation and ecumenism. The liturgy was the starting point, the first document in fact, and Pope Benedict saw this is as exactly right:
I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. “Operi Dei nihil praeponatur“: this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3 [- “prefer nothing to the work of God”]) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council.
Here is not the place to examine his speech in great detail, though it must be and will be here. But suffice it to go to his closing remarks, in which we find the words which reveal his legacy as he sees it. He spoke of there being, in practice, two Councils: the Vatican “Council of the Fathers” that debated and enacted the conciliar documents, and the Vatican “Council of the media”.
I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers – the real Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council apart, and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers.
So while the Fathers concentrated on issues for a particular, ecclesial reason, using the hermeneutic of reform and continuity, this was largely lost in the reporting of the media, which presented its own version of the Council according to a “political hermeneutic”:
… the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today’s media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of those who seemed to them more closely allied with their world… We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy … and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council.
This is sit-up-and-take-note stuff! Such is the power of the media, and was even then – perhaps more so given there were no Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc – that even ordinary Catholics only heard of the Council through the distorted and highly politicized lens of the media. What the media said was happening is what people thought was happening. So, while the Church is making great strides in getting its voice heard through the modern media, it is still crude in some of its attempts, naive and often ineffectual. If the Church is to get its true message to the world, and to its own members, then it needs to embrace and master the modern media and wield them effectively in the New Evangelization. But underpinning this is the need to reclaim the Council for what it was, not what it has been made out to be. Its nebulous, politicized “spirit” must give way to the reality of what it actually taught. The “virtual council” must yield to the real Council. This Pope Benedict finally declared to be the mission of the Year of Faith which initiates the New Evangelization:
It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith, on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed.
This is Benedict’s legacy as he sees it: reclaiming Vatican II in its integrity, according to a valid interpretation that accords with the continuity and tradition of the Church and not the fads of a particular time. All his acts regarding liturgy, episcopacy, ecumenism and the like were expressions of his desire, announced at the beginning and at the end of his pontificate, to prosper the real Council, and silence the the media’s virtual one.
Alas, there is perhaps another legacy, arising from his abdication that perhaps he has not foreseen, or at least not in all its potential force.
Surely he must have thought of it. My first reaction on hearing of his impending abdication, after the shock and the horror, was to worry for the future of the papacy itself: if one pope can retire so easily, what pressures might be brought to bear on future popes who are unpopular with the media or the curia. How might they be coerced into retiring “for the good of the Church”. One of the great strengths of the papacy was its enduring till death. One had to deal with a pope as he was, because one was stuck with him. Of course, some popes were too annoying to various factions in time past and so were murdered or illegally deposed or exiled. But that itself is sobering for the Church, emboldening true reformers; and of course, it is a sin of such gravity that the perpetrators were revealed for what they were.
But to retire seems to set a precedent inviting the removal of inconvenient popes. And now it seems I am not so silly in my fears. Cardinal Pell has given voice to exactly these worries himself in an interview. And he is right to worry. Now that no leader is immune from the immense pressure that can be brought to be by a vociferous media (however small the minority it represents), can we really expect a pope to remain psychologically immune from those same pressures?
Sadly Cardinal Pell seems to have turned on Benedict, damning him with faint praise for his theology and clear disdain at his abilities in government. Cardinal Pell, not without some justification perhaps, prefers a pope who is a master politician and power player… much like himself. He could have at least waited till after Benedict’s pontificate had officially ended.
It is not only Cardinal Pell expressing such worries. In fact a Google search will show that many are expressing fears for future popes and the pressures that might be brought to bear on them when they become ill, unpopular or inconvenient. We can only pray that Pope Benedict – no fool and no vacillating servant of God, a fine theologian with a spirituality and personal integrity beyond reproach – has done what was right for him and that it will be possible for future popes to serve until death. Let his retirement not become a precedent, and not be a part of his otherwise rich legacy to the Church. Pope Benedict has surprised us before, and wonderfully. Maybe his decision is a vehicle for another wonderful surprise, from God himself.
Whatever happens, we have so much to give thanks for in Pope Benedict XVI. But I am still dreading tomorrow night.
A bad cold has knocked me out these last 5 days, but now some clear-headedness is returning. Two issues have been in the Catholic press (and beyond) lately have caught my attention. One is the continuing momentum of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham for Anglicans who wish to enter collectively into full communion with the Catholic Church; the other is a call by a Catholic bishop for a new syllabus of errors focused on erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council.
The Ordinariate has been picking up pace, and all over England Ordinariate groups are forming in which Anglicans can discuss the implications and desirability of taking up the Holy Father’s offer to return to the Church by means of the Ordinariate. Also there has been coverage of Professor Tina Beattie’s negative remarks about the Ordinariate on Radio 4 (and her blog). Of particular interest to me were her comments on Radio 4 regarding the Ordinariate. The first were that “many of us are perplexed about what this means in terms of the Catholic Communion, and indeed obviously for relations between our two Churches” (and here she seems to make the Anglican communion into a “Church” of equal validity with the Catholic Church).
The second comments were in answer to the question “And is your objection partly to do with the fact that you don’t like what they stand for? Particularly on the question of women’s role in the Church?” Her answer is revealing:
I’m not happy about that, no. And I think actually, dare I say it, it’s a peculiarly Protestant thing to join a church because of what one doesn’t like, as a gesture of protest – that’s where the word comes from. It would be wonderful if they were coming in for the positives, and the joy, and the wonders of being part of this worldwide Communion.
To be honest, with regard to the first comments, I do not understand her perplexity. It seems quite simple: it means that a goodly number of Anglicans and their clergy will be entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Moreover, surely their arrival will only enrich the diversity of the Catholic Church, as they bring their own traditions, or “patrimony”, of liturgical worthiness, pastoral sensitivity and biblical engagement. They will speak an idiom clearly understood by Anglicans, who may then, we pray, feel moved to explore further the path to full communion by means of this familiar idiom.
Here, one suspects, is her problem. The Ordinariate reveals clearly that for the Catholic Church ecumenism is not about ongoing “dialogue” for its own sake. It is about encouraging and convincing Christians to enter into full communion with the Church, from which they are estranged due to actions centuries ago. If it means anything regarding the relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church it is that the Church has only one goal, ultimately, for ecumenical dialogue with Anglicans: that they return to the Church. This may disturb many Anglicans, for sure, but that is no reason to stop the progress of ecumenism.
Her second comments raised the eyebrows as she describes the actions of Ordinariate Catholics as “Protestant”. How it can be Protestant to enter into Communion with the Catholic Church is beyond me! Perhaps it has something to do with her description of the Catholic Church as “a church”, as if it were equivalent to one of the multitude of Protestant denominations. That she sees the Ordinariate as merely a group of refugees protesting against women’s ordination is an unfortunate refusal to engage with these people beyond her own narrowly-defined limits. These are people who have long considered the Roman option, and baulked at its consequences. For them, women’s ordination is not the only issue, but it is something of a litmus test for the validity of the claims of the Anglican communion. The Ordinariate has removed some of the sting of leaving their long-time spiritual home. And why should they not join the Church which they know will not ordain women, not because of prejudice, but because it has no power to do so? Perhaps here is the real problem for Professor Beattie: the Ordinariate increases the majority of Catholics who do not countenance women’s ordination.
The second issue in recent weeks has been the call by Bishop Athanasius Schneider for a new syllabus of errors focused on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. It is arguable whether a “syllabus of errors” in the style of Pope Bl. Pius IX’s original would speak to the people of today. But this is really the latest development in the ongoing debate about the Council, and whether it should be interpreted as creating a whole new vision for the Church (the “hermeneutic of rupture” with the past), or whether it is to be interpreted within the tradition of the Church (the “hermeneutic of continuity” with the past). The term “hermeneutic of continuity” became an established part of ecclesial vocabulary in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia in December, 2005, when he quite clearly stated the Council, like all councils, stands within the tradition of the Church and only within that tradition can it be validly interpreted.
So it was a curious thing when I stumbled upon an address made by Pope John Paul II to a conference of bishops, theologians, historians and catechists held in Rome in 2000 on the implementation of the Council. Here we find the hermeneutic of continuity presented in everything but that exact phrase; and we also find some reflections on the Council’s teaching on the Church as communion. It is a wonderful blast from the past.
Regarding the interpretation of the Council Pope John Paul II says:
The Church has always known the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. These rules are set within the fabric of faith and not outside it. To interpret the Council on the supposition that it marks a break with the past, when in reality it stands in continuity with the faith of all times, is a definite mistake.
When Pope Benedict addressed the Curia in 2005, he was not re-orienting the Church according to an approach peculiar to himself. He was picking up on the teaching set forth by his predecessor. It is itself an act that exemplifies the hermeneutic of continuity, in this case particular continuity with the pope who preceded him. It is this principle of continuity that in part explains why the ordination of women is not possible – it would be a rupture in the theology of both the eastern and western Churches.
Regarding communion Pope John Paul, in the same speech, says:
Communio is the foundation on which the Church’s reality is based. It is a koinonia that has its source in the very mystery of the Triune God and extends to all the baptized, who are therefore called to full unity in Christ. This communion becomes evident in the various institutional forms in which the ecclesial ministry is carried out and in the role of the Successor of Peter as the visible sign of the unity of all believers. Everyone knows that the Second Vatican Council enthusiastically made the “ecumenical” yearning its own. The movement of encounter and clarification, which has been carried out with all the baptized brethren, is irreversible. It is the power of the Spirit who calls all believers to obedience, so that unity may be an effective source of evangelization.
This is a rich text. Pope John Paul holds communion – communio in Latin or koinonia in Greek – to be not only the foundation of the Church’s identity but also the goal of the ecumenical “movement of encounter and clarification” that has been part of the Church’s mission in especially strong terms since the Council, and which is “irreversible”. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the true “spirit of Vatican II”. Pope John Paul shows that since the visible sign of the Church’s communion is the Pope himself, as successor to St Peter, then communion with the Church gathered around the Pope is the end-game of ecumenism. He further teaches that only when that unity, that full communion, is realised will the Church be able to complete her mission of evangelising the world.
Pope John Paul’s speech led me to see that the Ordinariate is itself only able to be understood within the hermeneutic of continuity. It is a logical fruit of the renewed ecumenical endeavour inspired by the Council. This ecumenical endeavour is not something new, and itself must be seen in the context of the history and teaching of the Church, the hermeneutic of continuity. The Ordinariate is the fruit of this endeavour because it brings many more into full communion with the Church centred on Peter’s successor. It is the fruit of the irreversible work of the Holy Spirit. And it brings closer the day when the Church will be able to fulfill its mission from Christ himself, to proclaim the good news to all the world – a mission that is an essential part of the continuity of the Church. Until then, its evangelisation of the world is impeded by the divisions among Christians. In a world of increasing militant secularism and an even more militant Islam, the Church’s mission is ever more urgent, and thus so too is the ecumenism which will fully enable this mission.
Come back to the Church, and save the world. It is not so silly as it might sound.