09 April 2011

Vatican Two: True and False Reform

Questions in the Creed class led me to do a little research on the history of the reforms/renewals initiated by the Second Vatican Council.  Keeping in mind the principle that "the winners write the histories of battles,"  there is a big battle going on to get the history of VC2 right.  The "winner" for the last thirty years or so has been the work of Giuseppe Alberigo of the so-called "Bologna School." Alberigo and his followers argue that the Fathers of VC2 initiated a rupture with previous councils and started "something new."  Recent work by historians and theologians challenge the dominance of the "hermeneutic of rupture" and argue, along with BXVI, that VC2 must be interpreted through a "hermeneutic of continuity."

In a 2003 First Things article, Avery Cardinal Dulles reviews a book written in 1950 by Fr. Yves Congar, OP.  Cardinal Dulles gives us a handy summary of the principles of ecclesial reform.

Here are a few excerpts of the lengthy article:

More than a decade before Vatican II the French Dominican Yves Congar wrote a book with the title True and False Reform in the Church. The work was considered controversial in its day, but has, I think, been vindicated as thoroughly orthodox. It is still in my opinion the most searching theological treatise on our subject. Drawing to some degree on Congar’s fine exploratory work, I should like to suggest a number of principles by which reform proposals in our day might be assessed.

1) According to Congar, “the great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism.” Vatican II, echoing his words, taught that “every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR 6). . .

2) Any reform conducted in the Catholic spirit will respect the Church’s styles of worship and pastoral life. . .A truly Catholic reform will not fanatically insist on the sheer logic of an intellectual system but will take account of concrete possibilities of the situation, seeking to work within the framework of the given.

3) A genuinely Catholic reform will adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine, including not only the dogmatic definitions of popes and councils, but doctrines constantly and universally held as matters pertaining to the faith. In this connection cognizance will be taken of the distinction made by Vatican II between the deposit of faith and the formulations of doctrine. . .

4) True reform will respect the divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences of states of life and vocations. Not all are equipped by training and office to pronounce on the compatibility of new theories and opinions with the Church’s faith. This function is, in fact, reserved to the hierarchical magisterium, though the advice of theologians and others will normally be sought.

5) A reform that is Catholic in spirit will seek to maintain communion with the whole body of the Church, and will avoid anything savoring of schism or factionalism. St. Paul speaks of anger, dissension, and party spirit as contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20). To be Catholic is precisely to see oneself as part of a larger whole, to be inserted in the Church universal.

6) Reformers will have to exercise the virtue of patience, often accepting delays. Congar finds Luther especially lacking in this virtue. . .As Newman reminded his readers, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. Depending on the circumstances, Church authorities may wisely delay its acceptance until people’s imaginations become accustomed to the innovation.

7) As a negative criterion, I would suggest that a valid reform must not yield to the tendencies of our fallen nature, but must rather resist them. Under color of reform, we are sometimes tempted to promote what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest, even though the gospel counsels humility and renunciation. . .

8) For similar reasons we must be on guard against purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society. . .In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.

False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.

You can read the entire article here.  It is well worth your time!

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1 comment:

  1. It sounds like the School of Baloney draws from the School of Arius. ☺