On putting the genie back in the bottle

20 08 2009


The Holy Office presides over the entire church and curbs everyone with its interventions: this supreme, inflexible Gestapo whose decisions cannot be questioned.

-Yves Cardinal Congar

This was written in the personal journal of the wayward theologian before the great awakening and “new Pentecost” known as Vatican II. He also said regarding his superiors “not getting” him: “I am not a man of the tragic, but it is painful to be the victim of stupidity.” A professor in seminary, also a Frenchman, once read me a line from Congar’s memoires about how the Dominican saw it fit to express his displeasure at the Holy Office by relieving himself on the side of its building in Rome. A great start for the “New Evangelization”, I must say.

He was far from being the only one who was in trouble with the law in those days. Hans Urs von Balthasar used to get through his classes in seminary by putting wax in his ears, sitting in the back of the class, and reading St. Augustine instead of listening to the lectures. Dom Beauduin had one of his monasteries suppressed for playing too much ecumenical footsy with some questionable people. Chenu was removed from his school of hip theology, Le Salchoir, and so on. And we need not say much about even our present Pontiff and his youthful, theological indiscretions.

The problem with revolutionaries is that they make notoriously bad governors, as students of Third World history can no doubt tell you. For Papa Roncalli, at one time accused of having questionable affinities to some bad books, waltzed into the Holy Office soon after his election and wrote large on his file, “I am not a heretic”. Indeed, la tradizione sono io. But what is to stop all of those “progressive Catholics”, those who believe that artificial contraception is okay, that women should be elevated to the rank of priest, and so on, from aspiring to do the exact same thing as Congar, and get a new, shiny red hat out of it? Indeed, even the “conservatives” of the Church are children of revolution, sticking their finger in the crack that they themselves pounded into the dyke. If Congar, von Balthasar, Chenu, and Co. didn’t give a hoot about ecclesiastical authority prior to the Council, why should “enlightened” Catholic theologians give a hoot about it now? Revolutionary snowballs are very difficult to stop. As I cited on one of the first on-line essays I ever posted:

In articles about Pope Benedict XVI, much has been made of his experience of student unrest at the University of Tübingen in 1968. Many see that experience as the best explanation of the apparent intellectual about-face that turned the young progressive theologian of the Second Vatican Council into the poster-child of conservative reaction in theology and in church politics. There is something to this, and Joseph Ratzinger was not the only European intellectual to have been deeply affected by the excesses of the fascists of the left at the time. (We all know the definition of a neoconservative: a liberal who’s been mugged.)

Scramble as they may, but these intellectuals, having bought into the revolutionary paradigms of development and progress, will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. They have let the genie out of the bottle, and I doubt their ability to put it back in.