New Sherwood

L’Osservatore Romano Editorial

“There are many accounts of it [the Second Vatican Council] which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of super-dogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), July 1988

The Vatican’s daily newspaper ran an unfortunate editorial today, apparently calculated to impose a maximalist interpretation of the Second Vatican Council in the face of a likely reconciliation with the SSPX. According to a summary provided by Catholic News Agency, the editorial makes Vatican-II into precisely the kind of “super dogma” condemned by Cardinal Ratzinger 20 years ago:

“The gesture of lifting the excommunication must be seen in light of the ‘conviction of the Council, an event inspired from on high,’ the editorial stated.  ‘The reform of the Council has not been completely implemented, but it is consolidated in such a way in the Catholic Church that it cannot enter into crisis over a magnanimous gesture of mercy, very much inspired in the new style of the Church desired by the Council that prefers the medicine of mercy to condemnation.’”

“Inspired from on high”? The Second Vatican Council, like every legitimate council of the Church, was protected from teaching heresy by the Holy Ghost. That does not mean it was “inspired from on high” in the sense of being an unqualified blessing to the Church. It may well have been a chastisement “from on high”. Its pastoral decisions could have been prudential mistakes. Its truths could have been poorly or ambiguously communicated.

The editorial states that the Vatican-II reform “is consolidated in such a way in the Catholic Church that it cannot enter into crisis” over the lifting of the excommunications. Those are words of fear. There is fear that the return of the SSPX will trigger a crisis of the “reform”. That fear is not unfounded. The growing presence of traditional Catholicism within the Church could make the folly and instability of the “reform” increasingly difficult to ignore.

“‘While it is true that the Catholic Church was not born at the Council, it is also true that the Church renewed by the Council is not another Church, but is the same Church of Christ, founded upon the Apostles, guaranteed by the successor of Peter and therefore a living part of the tradition.  With the announcement of Pope John, tradition certainly did not disappear, but rather it continues today in the forms characteristic of a ministry and a Magisterium that have been updated by the great Council.’”

The extent to which tradition “continues today” as a result of the conciliar reforms is certainly debatable. There is no question that much of Catholic tradition has been forgotten, neglected, or distorted beyond recognition since the “great Council”. The question is whether this catastrophe is the direct result of the Council or mere historical coincidence. In any case, insisting that “tradition continues today” without any need of revival or restoration is sheer blindness.

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January 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. Didn’t Blessed John XXIII say something that could be construed as him saying the council was “inspired from on high” in his opening speech at the council? He said:

    We might say that heaven and earth are united in the holding of the Council — the saints of heaven to protect our work, the faithful of the earth continuing in prayer to the Lord, and you seconding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order that the work of all may correspond to the modern expectations and needs of the various peoples of the world.

    Comment by Brian Crane | January 28, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’m sure you’re right, Brian. However, if “we might say” is an accurate translation, he didn’t propose this as an article of faith. In any case I must respectfully disagree with Blessed John XXIII on this point, at least insofar as the effects of the Council are tangible 46 years later. Doctrinally speaking councils are deemed infallible rather than divinely inspired, the latter being reserved to Sacred Scripture.

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | January 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. Brian, here is Bl. John XXIII’s opening speech to the SVC which I believe contains the quote you referenced. And here is a good essay on the authority of the SVC and ecumenical councils in general.

    It has to be admitted that, before the SVC, the decisions of ecumenical councils were sometimes spoken of as being on the level of divine inspiration. This article from the Catholic Encyclopedia states the following:

    “For conciliary decisions are the ripe fruit of the total life-energy of the teaching Church actuated and directed by the Holy Ghost.”

    Fair enough! But wasn’t this always in the context of doctrinal definitions? The SVC did not propose any doctrinal definitions. So the SVC is really uncharted territory in that regard.

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | January 28, 2009 | Reply

  4. I don’t recall the council documents going into detail about seminary reform–there were documents issued afterwards going into detail about institutes of education. While bishopsp can do much to make things better, still I agree with Fr. Rutler in that the crisis is primarily a crisis of saints, or the lack of them.

    As for the medicine of mercy vs. condemnation — if there are errors that the SSPX teaches, then those errors should be condemned. The people themselves are not condemned, though they may be excommunicated, etc. Condemnation of error can be an act of mercy.

    Comment by T. Chan | January 29, 2009 | Reply


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