Forgetting Vatican II

3 12 2008

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From Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex

We may, indeed, as a Church, need to turn again to this ancient council: and to the other Christological, Trinitarian, doctrinal councils of the early Church. We have, as Biffi suggests, lost our way. I would add that the archaizing tendency of many twentieth century Catholic theologians, including some of the heroes of John Paul II and Benedict XVI (Balthasar, Congar, de Lubac, etc.), following in the train of Protestant thought, has left us unsure of our heritage as Christians. The theological archaizers have, quite unintentionally, revived the doctrinal uncertainty of the early Church.

The Body of Christ today, in many minds, seems to be as malleable as it is presumed to have been, perhaps falsely, in the first four centuries. The old, bedrock certainties of modern scholastic theology, which in fact continued the patristic tradition quite faithfully, were cast aside by the post-war, conciliar theologians and popes, and we have been left trying to rebuild the edifice of the Church.

The texts of the Second Vatican Council provide little help in this regard. They do not speak directly and strongly enough to a Church that has become comfortable and accepting of heresy. They oftentimes seem to betray a misreading of modern culture. The task in our day is less one of showing how Vatican II exists in a spirit of continuity with earlier councils than of turning to the earlier councils themselves. We need to be reminded, as a Church, of how the heroes of the faith upheld the truth of Christ in the days of the first councils: at much personal cost and in the face of ostracism, banishment, and even imprisonment and death from within the precincts of the Church itself.


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11 responses

4 12 2008
Leah

I believe that one of the initial purposes of Vatican II was to figure out how to make the Church more relevant in the world. Not relevant in a “Church of the Now” sort of way, but how to communicate the capital-T truths of Catholicism to modern man in a way that would make sense. Remember that the world had gone through two world wars in thirty years and the words of the Church had been powerless to stop the carnage. I think that this underlying question of how do you get people to take the Church’s teachings seriously is still relevant today, given the controversies over birth control and abortion. In the past, you could appeal to an individual’s desire for truth. Now, most people don’t even think truth exists.

4 12 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I was discussing the following point last night with AG:

Speaking with people in the previous generation, I have never encountered anyone who said: “yeah, back when the Mass was in Latin, I never used to go. I didn’t like church. But now that the Mass is in English/Spanish/etc., I like going to church and it’s great.” Sure, I have heard people argue such things on the Internet, and I am sure the liturgy director at my progressive parish growing up felt that way, but I have always gotten the feeling from most people who were alive back then that if the Mass were to go back into Latin tomorrow, they would still go. On the other hand, I have encountered people in some pretty random places who have told me that they stopped going to Mass when they put it in the vernacular, and not just “trads”.

I guess my point is that those who still go to Mass would have continued going to Mass anyway. Anti-Staretz once told me the story of his return to his predominately Irish rural parish in Australia. He said that if you were just looking at the pews, nothing had really changed. The same people who were there in his childhood were still there, in the exact same pews, with the exact same expressions on their face. While the liturgy and ethos of the religion changed much in many places, not much seems to have changed on the ground, except quantitatively. That is proved by some pretty obvious statistics.

I am beginning to think that the most Christian way of approaching ecclesiastical shenanigans is the same way that bad government is addressed in the Scriptures: it’s something to be endured, and not necessarily improved. Sure, in an ideal world, we would all have our cake and eat it too. But I have never gotten a sense as a Catholic that the laity feels that the Church “belongs to them”. Those who come closest to this are the traditionalists I know who go off and found their own congregations with their own liturgy, priest, etc, and I have commented how incredibly unnatural this is. I guess now, as a layman, I go to church and just feel, “okay, what are they going to subject me to now? I’ll offer it up for the souls in Purgatory, even though most people sitting next to me in the pews no longer believe in Purgatory.” I think it has been the case for the longest time in the West that what belongs to us as laity, (rosaries, home altars, scapulars) has always been small and insignificant, but still very, very important, at least to us. If I don’t like Vatican II that much, it is because it took many of those things away, or at least denigrated them.

4 12 2008
Arturo Vasquez

My point in citing the Orthodox is not to say that they are better off, but rather that they are no worse off, and their ways are “unreformed”. That’s basically it.

4 12 2008
Leah

I think it will be at least 150 years until we can get an accurate assessment of the effects of Vatican II. Maybe longer, actually. Given that Vatican II happened during the same time as the 1960s, it’s difficult to tease out causation from correlation with regard to the excesses that happened during that time. Based on what I’ve read, many places in Europe were already functionally atheist by the nineteenth century. It wasn’t a universal phenomenon and was highly dependent on the region and class of the people in question, but secularism didn’t just show up in the 1960s as some would have us believe. The horrible conditions caused by the Industrial Revolution and the seeming indifference of many clergymen led many workers to join the secular religions of socialism and communism. Hence, by the late nineteenth century, the church-going rate in many industrial cities in Europe was about 10 percent (For more information about this, see “Earthly Powers” by Michael Burleigh). I would also agree with Mr. Davis when he says that the Orthodox countries are about as nominally Christian as the West. More than 70 years of communism seems to have sucked them dry. Unless I’ve missed something, I don’t see a big Orthodox revival occurring in the former Soviet bloc. Although religion is coming back in China on a grassroots level, the same thing didn’t and isn’t happening in Russia. Perhaps the strong throne and altar connection of the Russian Orthodox Church prevented it from being a stronger subversive force under communism.

4 12 2008
Kevin Davis

The Eastern Orthodox countries are just about as nominalist (in faith and praxis) as any Western country, especially Russia. Besides, the spread of free markets and free thought (=individualism, liberalism) has obviously been mitigated in the East.

I can’t really say much in regard to your comments on the Ressourcement scholars, since I tend to think that folk Catholicism is too superstitious and in need of reform. So, there’s not really much reason for me to argue why the approach of the Nouvelle Theologie was a good balance.

4 12 2008
Sam Urfer

Well, the “Spirit of Nicea I” would be Semi-Arians who insisted that they were in line with the Nicene Creed when they weren’t. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

3 12 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Davis:

I still find the explanation of secularism rolling over the last vestiges of Christendom to be a bit specious. Mutatis mutandis, the Orthodox Churches have not been emptied because they did not alter their liturgies, manipulate their devotions, or update their theological formulae. True, Orthodox countries are by no means models of a Christian society, but compared to the West where such “reforms” were pushed through, they are no better or worse. The sky didn’t fall, and they still got to keep their traditional patrimony. We forfeited much of it and got nothing.

Your citing of de Lubac’s work with allegory is also telling. True, I have only read his work on Origen, but even there, his defense of allegory in Scriptural exegesis is far from uncritical and can even be discerned to be a bit lukewarm. At least in that work, he basically says that he does not think it viable for modern man to return to such methods of interpretation, though it is edifying to know about them. I have always found that to be the resourcement approach to the early Church: it’s good to know about, but little of it can be applied to how we live now. What is used is usually used as a iconoclastic battering ram; i.e. they didn’t have the Infant of Prague in fourth century Antioch, therefore the Infant of Prague should be gotten rid of. Or, this was not done in the Mass in 9th century Rome, therefore it is not traditional. Yet in doing this, they also introduced a bunch of things that they pulled out of thin air, i.e. what you hear and see in many modern Catholic Churches.

In the end, they are good scholars, but all of their analyses seem loaded with agendas where they have something up their sleeve, and that thing was Vatican II. Their approach to the past in many ways was selective and archeological, i.e. Protestant.

3 12 2008
Kevin Davis

If Vatican II had never occurred, I’m pretty sure that France, Holland, Italy, etc. would be just as secular (or close to) as they are now. It was the spread of free markets and free thought that secured the collapse of the Church’s influence. The middle class material security was not really achieved until after WWII — add to the mix, egalitarian movements, the technology boom, the information age, historical criticism, etc. and the Church’s influence inevitably fell.

By the way, a committed Protestant who reads de Lubac, von B., Ratzinger, etc. is in a different world from that of Barth, Brunner, Berkouwer, etc. Of course, the Ressourcement folks were doing some historical criticism, which is what Protestants were long doing with the Church fathers, but they (Danielou, etc.) were assuming a supernatural work at work in the fathers and bringing this out for the present Church. E.g., read de Lubac’s work defending the extensive allegorical reading of scripture — totally not very Protestant.

3 12 2008
The young fogey

Well done.

3 12 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I find it ironic that a committed Protestant is defending de Lubac, Congar, and Co. I have a good Calvinist drinking buddy who told me, “I like the Patristic Resourcement because it’s Protestant”. This is not an ad hominem attack. I just really enjoy irony.

A lot of the “razing the bastions” (a von Balthasar phrase) in order to protect and re-build the old Catholic edifice has always seemed very unconvincing to me. The whole “personalist”, critical approach to the Catholic patrimony has always seemed to me to be “existentialism lite” (pun intended): some Sartre and Heidegger with some God thrown in, along with some questionable concessions to the modern sensibility (“of course, that old woman over there praying the St. Jude novena is doing something crypto-pagan and should be reading her Bible instead.”)

I also find the whole idea that Vatican II and the ideology behind it somehow saved the Church from disaster very far from the reality on the ground. If this is salvation, one should tremble at what damnation would have been like! Most parts of the old stomping grounds of these theologians have become the Episcopal Church in all but name: Germany, France, Holland, etc. The idea that somehow it all was going to fall apart anyway, that the “edifice fell”, seems to me to be some questionable Monday morning quarterbacking, especially because of some of the radical changes that these times instituted in the name of reform. It is like saying, “we had to start breaking things in order to save them”.

I actually like de Lubac a lot, and some Von Balthasar is useful. But I wouldn’t build my Faith on these people. They seem to have been constructing castles in the clouds, and what they say often has little relation to the religion as it was practiced on the ground. Then again, perhaps that had been the case for centuries. That was probably the problem.

In the end, I also agree that the “let’s go back” rallying cry is naive and simply cannot be done. However, I find it a bit ironic that people can speak of a “spirit of Vatican II” and not a “spirit of Lateran II” or “spirit of Nicea II”. If we cannot put the genie back in the bottle, we can at least smirk at those who would have us believe that it was some sort of super-council through which we have to view the rest of Christian history.

3 12 2008
Kevin Davis

The last sentence is good, but the rest is rubbish. The scholastic edifice fell because it could no longer support what it claimed to support (God’s revelation). It was inevitable, and Catholics can thank de Lubac, von B., etc. for continuing authentic Catholic dogmatic thinking, against those who would capitulate to Kantian and liberal Protestant thought forms (e.g., Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Kung, and so on). No one is saying that Vatican II was perfect (certainly not Ratzinger on Gaudium et Spes), but a “let’s go back” rallying cry is certainly not an adequate constructive proposal.

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