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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