Making the rounds in the Catholic blogosphere--the recently published pastor letter by the Most Rev. R Walker Nickless, bishop of Sioux City, "Ecclesia semper reformanda."
The Money Paragraph:
My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.
Like people, texts are conceived and born; however, they do not interpret themselves. Readers do. This is how the meaning and application of a text grows into the fullness of its potential. Every text has a compositional history, a record of its conception and birth. How readers come to a text as interpreters is the science and art of hermeneutics.
Pope Benedict XVI has argued that some interpreters of the documents of Vatican Two have used a "hermeneutics of rupture" to read and implement the teachings of the council fathers. Specifically, these interpreters have come to the documents with the pre-conceived notion that the fathers imperfectly inscribed in their texts a spirit of ecclesial revolution, a spirit of radical change and discontinuity with the sacred tradition handed on in all previous ecumenical councils. With these unusual reading glasses perched on their nose, the revolutionaries read the documents and see only the upheaval of tradition, the overthrow of authority, and the tilling of the fertile ground of "starting over again."
Since their hermeneutic is disruptive, any text that appears to affirm or reinforce tradition is read as a failure to inscribe adequately the spirit of revolution that gave birth to the idea of the Council in the later '50's. Since they cannot dismiss these affirmations outright, mentions of tradition or continuity are placed under suspicion and interpreted as merely necessary political concessions to conservative reactionaries and curial stalwarts. Renewal then becomes a matter of reading and implementing the intentions of the Council fathers in light of a vaguely defined, endlessly malleable "spirit of reform." We've tasted the fruits of this hermeneutic and the resulting indigestion still plagues us.
Our Holy Father, Benedict, has called upon all Catholics, especially theologians, to read and interpret the documents of the Council within a "hermeneutic of continuity;" that is, to approach the documents as developments, elaborations, and extensions of the sacred tradition secured in all previously promulgated conciliar documents. This stalls two extremes in the interpretative process: 1) textual fundamentalism and 2) unchecked interpretative license.
Supporters of the "Spirit of Vatican Two" hermeneutic of rupture fear that recent efforts to rehabilitate the documents themselves as the only authoritative source for the council's teachings frequently point to the dangers of textual fundamentalism. They are not wrong. There is a very real danger that relying on the texts themselves will produce a narrow, unwarranted legalism, a kind of juridical straitjacket that suffocates legitimate renewal. However, attempts to move beyond the texts almost always betray the intentions of the Council fathers as expressed in those same texts. Too often appeals to the "Spirit of Vatican Two" are little more than efforts to supplant the Holy Spirit with the zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age.
As always, the balance is found in the Church. As the magister of the tradition, the Church, especially in the teaching offices of the bishops and the Holy Father, mediates and decides what is and is not consistent with the tradition as we have it. Without the magisterium to set the standards and evaluate both the processes and the products of theological reflection, anything goes and then everything goes. . .straight to Hell. Every reader becomes his/her own private authority, every interpretation takes on the shine of truth. We need only glance at the recent history of the Anglican Communion to witness the disaster such a surrender to ecclesial egalitarianism causes.
Recent efforts by the Holy Father and others to re-establish the authority of the original texts is not about removing the Council from its immediate historical context in order to foster a textual fundamentalism. Rather, the Holy Father and his theological allies are attempting to ensure that the Council documents are read, interpreted, and implemented in the much broader context found in the long history of conciliar teaching. While the "Spirit of Vatican Two" readers would have us limit the interpretative context to the history, philosophy, and theology of the middle-late 20th century, the hermeneutic of continuity demands that we start at the beginning of salvation history and place every document in its proper magisterial context. Sacrosanctum concilium, Lumen Gentium, etc. do not reveal anything new about God or His Church. Nor do they require the Church to radically alter anything about the Truths we know. What they do is elaborate on and develop our understanding of God's Self-revelation found in scripture, creation, and Christ Jesus himself.