23 May 2015

Criticizing Vatican Two

Drew Christiansen at America Magazine has a post up titled, "What Critics Get Wrong About the Significance of Vatican II."


He quotes Georgetown University church historian John O’Malley, S.J., “If, indeed, we look at the number and importance of Vatican II’s teachings [. . .] Vatican II is not Council Lite but the very opposite.” 


Though some in the Church criticize the Council as "merely pastoral," implying that its teachings are somehow less binding on Catholics for being so, my sense is that most criticisms of the Council aren't actually criticisms of the Council's teachings per se. That is, what seems to be most troubling about the Council is the way in which its teachings were interpreted and presented to the People of God. 


Fr. O'Malley lists what he sees as the significant teachings of the Council:


-- what God has revealed is not a set of propositions but (Christ’s) very person;


True. However, because we understand and communicate truth in propositional form, it is incumbent upon the Church to make sure that not-just-any-old statement about the person of Christ is taught as true. The sentence, "God revealed the person of Christ not a set of propositions" is itself a proposition.    


-- Sacred Scriptures is inerrant only in what “serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith”; 


True. However, post-Conciliar interpreters often begin with human experience and then go to Scripture looking for support for predetermined conclusions, thus elevating shifting cultural norms over the eternal truths we need to grow in holiness and increase our faith. 


-- the purpose of church is to promote the holiness of its members; 


True. However, what counts as "holiness" post-VC2 is often framed in purely political/social justice terms and fails to give proper place to: the reality of personal sin, the necessity of personal repentance, and the possibly of excluding oneself from heaven. . .all of which are given attention in the documents of VC2.


-- the "people of God" is a valid, crucially important and, moreover, traditional expression of the reality of the church; 


True. However, post-VC2 many interpreters chose to understand this title in purely liberal-democratic terms, framing what is clearly "family language" as a sort of ecclesial democracy that undermines the intrinsic hierarchical nature of the Church. . .which VC2 teaches is essential to understanding our mission.


-- the church has “the responsibility of exerting itself for the well-being of the world”; 


True. However, again, many post-VC2 interpreters understood "well-being" in purely material or political terms, framing the Church's social responsibilities as a partisan political agenda without reference to the Kingdom, or collapsing the Kingdom into an obtainable material utopia brought about through socio-political revolution. . .a possibility that VC2 explicitly rejects.


-- “the dignity and excellence of political freedom”; 


True. However, "political freedom" came to mean something like "no political position taken by a Catholic can be criticized as unfaithful to the Church b/c Vatican Two said we are free to be political." This is a tragic and far-reaching mistake in understanding the true nature of our freedom in Christ. . .which VC2 teaches is essential to our human flourishing and eternal life. 


-- freedom to follow conscience in choice of religion;


True. However, some post-VC2 interpreters used the natural human right to choose one's religious beliefs as a bludgeon against Catholic doctrines that they found objectionable, thus turning an observation on the natural law into a device for dissent against their own faith. 


-- the dignity of conscience, ‘that most secret core and the sanctuary of the human person."


Again, true. However, conscience was re-defined post-VC2 to eliminate any natural connection to revealed truth, leaving it to mean little more than "this is what I want to believe is true." Conscience is now understood by many Catholics to be an absolute defense against any and all objections to believing a falsehood. Conscience discovers The Truth; it cannot create My Truth.


So, we must be vigilant in distinguishing between the actual teachings of VC2 in its documents and what came to be thought of as its teachings. Both those who misinterpret Vatican Two and those who unjustly criticize the Council regularly fail to make this crucial distinction. 


Read the whole thing.


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  1. Dear Fr. FNP, I have heard this argument before. But on reading the documents I find them to be written in a vague way which could be interpreted variously. If one approaches them expecting them to conform to the writings produced by previous Councils that will be the case. If one approaches them expecting a license to destruction that is also the case. They are written like patents, which claim the world because a patent is a license to sue and they are written as vaguely as possible to allow more room for expanding the claims in court.

    I don't think our problem is with Vatican II, it is within the evil hearts of men who will take any advantage to turn the world away from God and the true Church.

    1. BPG, you're right. VC2 is the first council where the post-conciliar interpreters consciously chose not to read the council in the light of previous councils, seeing it -- VC2 -- as a radical break from tradition. This was a conscious hermeneutical choice that has harmed the Church.

    2. I focus on the writing itself, it appears to have been deliberately made interpretable in that way. I have not delved into the who and why and how because I am not that interested in it but in reading the documents themselves I see that the documents themselves are problematic. They were not written in the same manner is the decrees of the Council of Trent, for example.

    3. There was a lot of horse-trading and backroom dealing at the Council. . .like every other Council. The language is often a compromise btw opposing camps. Much of it is ambiguous. However, when read in light of the previous Councils. . .that ambiguity more or less disappears.

    4. Oh, I see. I didn't know that. A lot of traditionalists say otherwise. I should stop believing other lay people I guess, especially those who set themselves up at experts and especially those with an axe to grind.

    5. Traditionalists don't like the effects of the Council, so they blame the Council itself. Almost nothing that happened post-VC2 can be found in the documents. For example, vernacular only liturgies, disappearance of devotionals, disappearance of religious garb, non-use of chant, Mass facing the people, ugly vestments, modernist churches, clericalization of the laity. . .none of these can be found in the actual texts that Council fathers approved and the Pope sign-off on. All of these resulted in post-Conciliar interpretations of the texts.

  2. I spent years indulging in anti-conciliar views until I understood what has happened to us in the light of the cultural revolution which took hold after the war. Whilst the revolution began aggressively from 1965 onwards in the USA and had already begun in earnest in the UK in 1963 as the poet Philip Larkin famously noted:- http://www.wussu.com/poems/plam.htm, Americans have generally failed to grasp the impact of the occupation on Western European culture after 1944. An example of the period’s confusion would be how a group of Liverpool lapsed Catholics, singing in American accents for the delectation of German audiences, would later be repackaged and sold back to America from 1964 onwards. All of us seemingly oblivious to the inherent absurdity of the phenomenon.