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A Good Question and a Bad Answer

July 25, 2014

Russell Shaw has an article at the Catholic World Report on Vatican II with the title  Did We Really Need Vatican II?  I think the question is a good one, and I wish I had time to ruminate on it at length.  Unfortunately, I am on a research trip, and all I have time for at the moment is to post it and lament how lame and stereotyped his answer is.    Contrary to many conservative Catholics, his answer is yes—for the opposite opinion, just read the comments on his article.  His reason, however, is the evils of modernism and he summons four bogeymen to make his case:

The Church faced a grave problem then—indeed, it still does—and an ecumenical council was required to address it. What problem? No less than the crisis of modernity itself, especially the comprehensive undermining of humankind’s self-understanding and its disastrous consequences for faith, underway in the West for at least a century or more before the council.

This process had many sources, but three especially stand out: Darwinism—popularized evolutionary theory reducing the human person to no more than a higher animal; Marxism, whose deterministic account of history eliminated free choice; and Freudianism, no less deterministic, which explained human behavior as the acting out of sublimated impulses from libidinous realms of the psyche.

Capping it off was Friedrich Nietzsche, who boldly announced the death of God—the bourgeois deity of 19th century Christianity, that is—and predicted that a new morality of power vested in a superman (ubermensch) would soon emerge. Hitler apparently took that to heart.

Ordinary people were understandably slow in absorbing all this, but it was gospel for the Western cultural elites of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In due course it filtered down to the masses—a process speeded by the horrors of two world wars. Here, then, was the crisis of modernity that Vatican II needed to confront.

I have read three of the four (for some reason I have never gotten around to reading Nietzsche) and have found a great deal of value in Marx and Freud, even when I disagreed with them.  And Darwin laid the foundation for the modern theory of biology with a theory as encompassing as General Relativity was to modern physics.   So I simply  reject out of hand any simplistic reading of history that lays all the manifold problems of the world at their collective feet.

But moving on from this, I want to start a discussion on the original question:  did the Church need an ecumenical council in the early 1960’s?  If so, why?  If not, what was the problem?  I will tip my hand and say I think the Council was timely and important, but that is in many ways a visceral reaction:  I know this is the case, but am having a hard time articulating why.  So I am very anxious to read your thoughts.

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51 Comments
  1. Mark permalink
    July 25, 2014 6:51 pm

    We needed a council to confront modernity…we got one that surrendered to it. That’s the basic summary. Instead of fighting for enchantment and embeddedness, they created a “brand” (ie, an ethos or aesthetic in liturgy and in “the way Catholics speak,” the lexicon or cant) that was disembedded, disenchanted, and just so hoakey (CCD coloring books from the 80s and 90s come to mind, not to mention Marty Haugen hymns).

    The pre-Vatican-II church had all the wonder and enchantment of the medieval. Corrupt, decadent, ossified? Sure. But there’s a magic or drama in that; whispered latin, superstition, a dangerous reverence for weird old men in capes. There’s mystery to it, and hence it was sorta “cool” even for being the “equal opposite” of the revolutionaries.

    Post-Vatican-II Catholicism is, to borrow from slang…lame. It’s pathetic. Mass feels like an elementary school sing-along written at a third grade reading level. We meet with other faiths like it’s the chamber of commerce and not an urgent question of the saving of souls. We cozy up with liberal democracy and the enlightenment framework of “rights.” The flowery language of piety has been replaced by the “polite” doublespeak of humanism and phenomenology.

    Nietzsche declares the bourgeois God dead…and our reaction was to declare God bourgeois?? I don’t really understand the strategy there!

    • Agellius permalink
      July 29, 2014 12:20 pm

      I once came across this quote from a non-Catholic writer who had attend Mass for the first time since he was a kid:

      “If you’ve never been to a Catholic ceremony, you probably wrongly assume (as I used to), that there’s scary hushed chanting in Latin, ominous hooded figures, incense and peppermints and statues of Jesus crying real blood.

      “But sadly, no. There’s merely unenthusiastic and unintelligible mumbling, scary sweater-clad figures, acoustic guitars and churchgoers crying real tears of boredom. Catholicism is now like an exaggerated stereotype of the blandest version of Protestantism.”

    • Roger permalink
      July 29, 2014 12:37 pm

      Mark,

      Brilliantly written. The Marty Haugen hymn reference is awesome (but also sad because its true).

    • Ronald King permalink
      July 29, 2014 5:45 pm

      Mark, I disagree with your comment. I respectfully think that your comment is influenced by childhood feelings of a positive attachment and being enchanted. My experience was one of disenchantment and an instinctive aversion to an absence of love and an unwanted intrusion of anger and fear used as an interpersonal style of relating to the sheep. Indoctrination was the goal.

      • July 30, 2014 7:38 am

        Everyone wants enchantment, that’s one of the main points of religion.

        The problems you admit exist, but there are two paths to take. One is the path of the revolutionary or iconoclast who, disillusioned, decides to overturn it all in a grossly literalistic sense. The other is the path of finding the hidden paradoxical sweet core within the hard and bitter shell.

        It’s like the difference between Reform Judaism and the kabballah of the Hasidim in both of their stances towards the Law and tradition.

        You can guess which I consider the more mature synthesis (even if both are much more mature than fundamentalist conservatism).

        • Ronald King permalink
          July 31, 2014 5:38 pm

          The path is and has always been love. Enchantment is a compensation for a lack of love.

  2. Mark VA permalink
    July 26, 2014 5:42 am

    “By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

    I think that to properly answer this question, a person would need to have a decent grasp of (at least) post-Elightenment world history, the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms of the Mass and the cultures they inspire, plus should have read the salient Vatican Two Council documents. Then, the intent of the Vatican Two Council, as understood thru our contemporary eyes, would have to be analysed separately from its application.

    In my view, this Council did do some necessary updates: Nostra Aetate, and minor streamlining of the (Extraordinary) Mass come to mind – for example, eliminating some repetitions, and judiciously allowing for small uses of the vernacular.

    The application of this Council (for example, the post-Council construction of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and the attempted suppression of its predecessor) is a diffierent question.

  3. George permalink
    July 26, 2014 6:07 am

    To say that there is a great deal of value in the “masters of suspicion” is unquestionably correct. But that is beside the point regarding their role in bringing the secular culture to its culmination, a culture that Charles Taylor describes as “immanent frame”.

    yes, we needed a council. We needed it not so much to “confront” modernity as Mark says. Church confronted it and condemned it before coming to the realization that we need to relate our faith to the modern, secular culture. It is this need to re-evangelize a culture that had gone away from faith that led to Vatican II.

    But Mark is right in saying that the post Vatican Church (not so much the Council itself) surrendered to the prevalent culture than evangelize it. This surrender itself was perhaps an over-reaction to the earlier confrontation and condemnations, with the result that when Vatican Ii sang a different tune, it became easy to provide it a “hermeneutics of rupture” than a “hermeneutics of tradition”.

  4. dismasdolben permalink
    July 26, 2014 8:33 am

    I basically agree with George, and, to some degree, with MarkVA. However, I think that the Council was generally a failure because it did not go far enough in constructing an alternative to both modernism and what John Paul II labeled “the anthropology of the Enlightenment.”

    For myself, I don’t care so much for quarrels about liturgy, and I’ve actually seen and heard some modern liturgies that ARE stirring and solemn. People who condemn masses in the vernacular need to hear a mass in Africa or Asia, where, it would seem, the locals are able to put together a liturgy just splendid and moving as the old Latin mass, high or low.

    What the Council failed at was to create true collegiality of bishops, to enhance the role of women in the Church, to address new concepts of “natural law” that better describe human sexuality–and, probably most importantly–to construct a Catholic counter-cultural political and economic doctrine providing an alternative to both consumer-capitalism AND Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat.” “Distributism” actually is the economic system that is most in conformity with Catholic social justice teachings, and it should be officially embraced by the Church, in my opinion, so that there is no doubt that Catholic bishops and hierarchs ARE actually contributing to the intellectual debates regarding economic justice in the world, as well as protection of environments and indigenous peoples.

    Also, in light of scientific advances in the understanding of human sexuality, the celibate male priesthood of the Latin Rite needs reconsidering, probably in the direction of the Eastern Churches’ more plural definition of the “sacerdotal role.” Also, considering the parody of “traditional, sacramental marriage” that has been erected in Protestant societies, leading to “serial monogamy” as the REAL model of what Americans and Brits falsely label as “traditional;marriage,” there should be no reason for Catholic bishops to be so adamantly defending this perversion of what was the original Christian sacrament; they should accept “civil unions” for homosexual couples with equanimity, as Pope Francis once quietly suggested, to his bishops in private, when he was primate of Argentina.

    The Council did good work, however, in renouncing the “blood-guilt” of the Jews, as well as “supercessionism,” and in promoting so-called “ecumenism,” although I personally think that the peritas (sp?) of the Council should have done a better job of explaining why certain Protestant doctrines, i.e. solo fides and “predestination,” must always be considered heretical by orthodox Christianity.

    • July 28, 2014 6:28 pm

      I agree with your point about the role of women in the Church but I’m going to expand it and say that the council needed to enhance the role of the laity in the Church.

      I’ll agree on natural law theories because I think the Church did draw far too indiscriminately on the thought of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks were right on many things but they were wrong on many important things as well.

      The economic issues don’t get me all that excited. I do care about them; I just think that religion should be more than an economic program.

      • July 30, 2014 7:50 am

        Expanding the “role of the laity” is a paradox I’ve written about before.

        In the old days (the days of the minor orders and such)…an “involved layman” WAS a cleric, because a cleric was BY DEFINITION someone commissioned (through ordination to at least a minor order) to some public ministerial function in the church/liturgy.

        Yes, women complicate the question. But I see it as no particular triumph (nor even terribly logical) that a small percent of the congregation now gets to do the readings at Mass, or some notion like that.

        By the very fact of certain members of the congregation taking on a role like that (and it’s always a small percent of the total)…all you’ve done is create, by definition, a new rank of pseudo-cleric. They don’t “represent the laity” any better than a priest or deacon as if there is some sort of class-dialectic that needs to play out in the sanctuary.

        The priest and deacon are ALREADY supposed to just be essentially “members of the faithful commissioned for a public role.” That’s all the clerical state ultimately means (considered as a class separate from the question of sacramental ordination; the minor orders and subdiaconate were clerical but not a Sacrament, for example).

        The real sensible solution would have been to simply open up the expanse of the [at least minor] clergy in such a way that many men from the parish (yes, husbands and fathers with weekday jobs)…were actually ordained as lectors or acolytes or subdeacons etc

        But, note, at that point they’d no longer techinically be “lay” under the old definitions.

        Having “lay ministers” is an oxymoron. If you’re commissioned for a public ministerial role in the Church…you’re already pseudo-clerical.

        • July 31, 2014 9:15 am

          As soon as I mentioned the role of the laity in the Church, you immediately assumed that I was talking about the role of laity in the Mass. I am not surprised. Most Catholics, when they think of being active in the Church, think exclusively of the Mass and of the Sacraments. In a similar vein, most Catholics, when they think of holy people doing holy deeds, think exclusively of priests and nuns.

          I have more to say on the topic but I will need more room to type, so I may comment more extensively below. I just wanted to point out that my comment said nothing about the laity’s involvement in the Mass.

        • July 31, 2014 12:10 pm

          While liturgical involvement is the number one thing I tend to think of when I hear about “lay participate”…you will note I didn’t limit it to that. I said “public ministerial role.”

          In truth, the two things are very intertwined. The liturgy is, in many ways, the central thing the Church “does,” and the icon of all the other activities.

          For example, many people nowadays focus on the role of the deacon as about the ministry of charity. And yet this is exactly mirrored in the deacon’s liturgical role of reading the Gospel, preaching, and ministering to the chalice.

          But you can take this to other roles too. For example, the church janitor or groundskeeper, even, was a minor order in the form of the Porter (which might also include ushers and bell-ringers). You might think of catechists, but really I’d think catechists should at least be ordained to the order of lector or minor exorcist given their role with the catechumens.

          All Catholics, of course, can participate in works of mercy and in doing charitable works. But if we’re talking about the actual institutional church, the institution with its bureaucracy and various official office-holders etc…these roles are really clerical or pseudo-clerical by definition; the bishop’s secretary, for example, was the archdeacon.

          So the idea of a lay Catholic actually holding a position within the institutional church…just seems oxymoronic to me. It’s a contradiction in terms. If you are part of the institutional structure you are a pseudo-cleric at that point, even if the current canon law doesn’t give you the full status of cleric…because “cleric” traditionally just meant that you were an “officer” in the Church.

          Don’t get me started about this notion of “lay pastoral associate” as a position in the Church! Lay people can certainly teach and evangelize and give advice and stuff as “foot soldiers.” But to have people seen as “lay” and yet part of the actual administrative structure of the institution just doesn’t make sense.

          They might be secular (like secular priests)…but they are most certainly not really “lay.” They are at the very least pseudo-clerical, because the concept of “cleric” means “publicly commissioned officer of the church.” If you have an official institutional “position” in the church (salaried or not, full-time or not)…you’re a pseudo-cleric.

          So why not admit this and actually bring these people into the minor orders? It would really integrate some of the institutional schizophrenia going on over just what “lay” versus “clergy” means. Because there’s been a very troubling blurring going on.

        • July 31, 2014 12:16 pm

          In other words, traditionally the lay/cleric distinction was like the military/civilian distinction.

          Well, you couldn’t hold a position in the army and be a civilian. Even, like, army lawyers and doctors are commissioned as captains.

          So the idea that “canon lawyer” or something like that is a role that is neutral to the lay/clerical distinction…is absurd to me. If army lawyers are not civilians, it makes no sense to think that canon lawyers would be lay.

    • July 30, 2014 2:29 pm

      emmasrandomthoughts, I’d nuance that. I think the Church, from about the High Middle Ages onwards, drew on the wrong strands of Greek thought, and in many cases misunderstood what they took. For example, the Aristotelian thought of Aquinas and his successors on natural law seems significantly different from what Aristotle taught. Remember, Aquinas was getting his Aristotle second and third-hand (translated from Greek, and interpreted in Arabic by Averroes). Before about the 12th Century, though, the emphasis in the West was on Platonism, with the dominant mode of thought in Christian philosophy and theology being Neoplatonic. That wasn’t perfect, either, but I think it worked out much better than Scholasticism ended up doing. I’m certainly not impressed with most modern Thomists (and I should say here that I think St. Thomas Aquinas himself had a subtlety, flexibility, and relative lack of dogmatism quite unlike way too many of his followers).

      So, IMO, it wasn’t that the Church drew on Greek thought; it’s that it did so, as you said, indiscriminately, and then developed them in a very wooden and mechanistic way later on.

  5. July 27, 2014 12:33 pm

    I think that the most important thing to come out of Vatican II was renouncing the deicide charge against the Jews. That alone was momentous. However, I wish it hadn’t taken almost 2,000 years for this to occur, and I don’t think it would have happened if the Holocaust hadn’t been hanging over the bishop’s heads.

    This illustrates the larger point of the fact that the Church has been increasingly sidelined in the modern world. This process began in the twelfth century, as urban interests and secular rulers began to assert their independent from ecclesiastical authorities and has only been increasing since then. The Church’s insistence on retaining its traditional powers and privileges (often at the expense of rank and file Catholics) has caused it to get in bed with some very unsavory characters, damaging its credibility as a moral voice. At some point, the Church just needs to accept the fact that the days of “throne and altar” politics are gone forever and move on. The Church is never going to be the dynamo of Western culture the way it was in the middle ages; now it’s simply one group among many who has to fight for a space in the crowded public square. All of this talk of waging war on “modernism” ignores the fact that the battle has already been won by the opposite side. The attributes of modernism that the nineteenth century popes railed against — liberal democracy, rationalism, separation of church and states, religious freedom — are the norm in the West today, not the exception.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      July 27, 2014 1:02 pm

      “The attributes of modernism that the nineteenth century popes railed against — liberal democracy, rationalism, separation of church and states, religious freedom — are the norm in the West today, not the exception.”

      I would say that they are not just the norm in the West but in many ways have been embraced by the Church.

    • Mark VA permalink
      July 27, 2014 3:22 pm

      L.M.:

      In my view, the predominant attributes of “Modernism”, as understood thru the lens of the Catholic faith, are:

      (a) There is no God;
      (b) Human beings have no souls;
      (c) There is no afterlife, and
      (d) The universe (or multiverse) is all there ever was, is, and will be.

      I believe the issues such as the relation between the Church and this or that state, the amount of freedom a religion (or state) can demand for itself, rationalism vs. rational thinking, ect. are just some of the secondary issues, but not the core dogmas of Modernism.

      • July 28, 2014 10:01 pm

        @Mark VA

        Fear of liberal democracy was an important part of the anti-modernist platform. It started with the French Revolution destroyed the ancien regime and stripped the Church of its traditional priviledges and reached a head when Pius IX was routed from the Papal States. The controversy of the “Prisoner of the Vatican” and the “Roman Question” was a major problem throughout the 19th and 20th century, and was only solved when Mussolini created Vatican City. The vehemence in which the 19th century popes (Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X) condemned liberal democracy in encyclicals like “Quanta Cura,” “Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae,” and everyone’s favorite “The Syllabus of Errors” is why Catholics were traditionally viewed with the same suspicion now accorded Muslims in the United States, as they were considered fifth columns for a politicized religion whose aim was to create a global theocracy.

        • Mark VA permalink
          July 29, 2014 10:38 pm

          L.M.:

          I think you tend to accept, rather uncritically, the umbrella term “liberal democracy”, which seems to quickly lead to a “good guys” vs. “bad guys” narrative.

          However, if you study this issue from the point of view of both of these perspectives, I believe you may notice that the core of the discussion is about secularism and Christianity.

          As far as Catholics being viewed with suspicion in some circles (Pope ruling the world?), well, that’s been around for some time now. Perhaps a measure of good will and some education about the actual teachings of the Church, would help resolve such fears.

        • George permalink
          July 31, 2014 12:33 pm

          I think Mark VA has hit the nail on the head. the point is about secularism (that is a word with many meanings; i mean it in its anti-religious sense) versus Christianity (and religious outlook in general)

    • Melody permalink
      July 27, 2014 6:07 pm

      I second LM’s mention of the renunciation of the charges against the Jews. And I would add the document Dignitatis Humanae, on religious freedom, as being very necessary and long overdue. The beginning of the restoration of the use of the vernacular was, I feel, also overdue. So yes, for these and a lot of other reasons we did really need Vatican II.

    • George permalink
      July 27, 2014 6:33 pm

      While fully agreeing with LM that the days of “throne and altar” politics is gone, I think the overall thrust of LM’s comment misses the larger picture, and misses the woods for the trees.

      Some specific points:
      I wonder what historical facts prompt LM to say that the sidelining of the Church began in the 12th century. The Church did face a challenge at that time but it seems to have been ably met. The greatest flourishing of the Church occurred with the coming of the Franciscans and the Dominicans around that time.

      I also wonder what makes LM to identify the Church’s attitude to the Jews as the sole achievement of Vatican II.

      To think of liberal democracy etc. as the crux of the matter in the Church’s opposition to modernity takes the cake in confusing the symptoms for the disease. The heart modernity is the replacing of the divine with the human, God-man with Man-god! St. Irenaeus came to the heart of Christian faith when he proclaimed that the glory of God is wo/man fully alive. But that glory is premised on rootedness in the divine. It is this rootedness that was undermined by modernity when it dethroned God from the heart of Western culture and enthroned human beings to take that place, which eventually undid the value of human existence itself as nothing more than a struggle for power and money as represented by colonialism and capitalism.

      Any effective CHRISTIAN response (even a broadly RELIGIOUS response) to modernity will only be hampered by mistaking symptoms for the disease. This is exactly what happened with many secular readings of Vatican II. A church that has lost its sense of the divine has no place to go other than to its grave. Is it any wonder that the West has turned more and more to the East to satisfy its religious longings? Fortunately the Church of Vatican II has not lost the sense of the divine. It is struggling to communicate its message, yes, but seems very much alive to the promptings of the Spirit.

      • July 28, 2014 10:45 pm

        @George

        1. I said that the sidelining of the Church began in the twelfth century, because that was when the secular powers and the urban classes began to develop cultures that were independent of religious influence. The seeds of the future insurrection were planted in the twelfth century (this period was also very fruitful in terms of creating heretic sects), but they would not come to fruition until the Reformation, where the disputes over religion often had political and class overtones.

        2. The rehabilitation of the Jews was very important, given how deeply antisemitism had bored its way into the Catholic and broader European consciousness. Nothing illustrates how deeply antisemitism was in Catholic cultures than the phenomenon of the Judensrau, many of which graced some of the most famous cathedrals in Germany:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judensau

        That and blood libel saints like St. Simon of Trent:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_of_Trent

        I suspect that the Holocaust forced the Church’s hand, but at least they did it.

        3. I think that Vatican II was kind of an attempt to have things both way, to try to communicate the Church’s message to a modern world while also trying to retain its traditional privileges. The end result was a somewhat muddled mess, with contradictory messages being given out, depending where you were and what kind of priest your parish had. Being Catholic in Francoist Spain circa 1970 would be a very different experience than being a Catholic in New York City or even Buenos Aires.

        4. Modernity is about more than just the role of religion in society. It’s about industrialization, the development of the nation state, mechanization, and the growth of individualism. The Church fought against modernity, because the growth of urban culture was related to a decrease in respect for its authority, something that started in the twelfth century and really became an issue during the Industrial Revolution. As the Church sought to greedily protect its privlidges, it ended up lionizing the ancien regime as the best of all popular worlds, which made it unable to face the new problems caused by modernity. The Church tried to find remedies to the problem of modernity that didn’t involve parlimentary politics, and all of their solutions (e.g., military dictatorship, fascism, monarchy) have been thoroughly discarded. The Church simply doesn’t have all the answers anymore, and hasn’t for a long time.

        Colonialism, capitalism, and struggles over power and money are as much a part of Catholic Latin America as they were in Protestant North America. The development of Latin America may have taken a different trajectory than they did here, but that region hasn’t been immune to the challenge of modernity. In fact, Protestantism has been spreading rapidly in Latin America, forcing the bishops there to deal with a previously unknown challenge to their authority.

        • George permalink
          July 29, 2014 6:31 pm

          LM,
          Thanks for your response. Let me say at the outset that I did not and do not challenge any of the facts you point out. I have only challenged your interpretation of it.
          1. Yes, the Church did face a major crisis in the 12th century. It was the first time that it faced the challenge to its religious reading of the universe. Much of it had to do with the re-discovery of Aristotle that gave an autonomy to the secular realm. It is one thing to be challenged, and quite another not to be able to respond adequately to it. Every cultural change poses a challenge to the Church to re-state the Good News it discovered in the God-man. This challenge of 12th century was met ably at the intellectual level by the Thomistic synthesis that re-thought the relationship between secular and sacred by distinguishing between philosophy and theology making each autonomous but not separate. The challenge was met at the spiritual and pastoral level by the great Francis of Assisi and Dominic and their followers. As for the age creating heretic sects, that is an inevitable byproduct of attempting to respond to a major cultural change. It is a sign of creative probing than carrying on what is received. As Thomas Kuhn has taught us, a paradigm change is never an easy and smooth transition. The Church faced for the first time in its encounter with the Greek culture. That period is also known for its heresies. Of the various creative probings the Church pronounces some of them as in keeping with its faith and others as heretical. But heresies are good signs as attempting to creatively respond to a challenge.
          2. Regarding the other points, again I do not deny any of the facts. I only plea is to not to see it purely in secular terms, but to see it in terms that are most important to the Church which is its religious and spiritual mission. Modernity is complex. It is about a lot of overlapping developments. But as far as the Church is concerned, nothing genuinely human is alien to her. that is the tradition of Irenaeus. It becomes alien only when it takes us away from God. Faced with this feature of modernity, the Church did make a spiritual and pastoral response to it with the Council of Trent and with saintly stalwarts like St. Ignantius of Loyola and the contemplative mystics. But unlike in the 12th century, the Church failed to face the intellectual challenge. There was no new Aquinas. It kept defending the old until the thinking sections of the Church could no longer see the relevance of the Church in terms of the Christian message.
          Vatican II, if nothing else, proclaimed loudly that we need to have another way of looking at the world around us. It was muddled, yes. It was as muddled as anything could be during a creative period. But it gave an orientation for carrying the Christian message to the modern world. Some took it as license to surrender to modernity, but that is never where the Church as or is. It seeking to effectively bring the message of Jesus alive for our times. This was the thrust of the saintly Pope John 23rd at the opening of the Council. I am afraid, any reading of the Council without this thrust would misread it.
          As for the other facts you have mentioned, each of them will gain its significance when seen in the context the Church’s mission, and how it hampered or promoted it.
          Thank you LM, again for your response. I plead again to to place facts in the context of the Church’s mission; or else they would remain secular readings.

        • Mark VA permalink
          July 29, 2014 11:15 pm

          L.M.:

          The punch line to your point no. 4 would come as a dissonant surprise to those who struggled for freedom and democracy under the idea of “Solidarity”.

          Here the situation is exactly opposite: the Church promoted peaceful political and democratic solutions, to help dissolve a hard leftist dictatorship. And these solutions worked.

    • July 28, 2014 4:45 pm

      I agree completely about Nostra Aetate and the repudiation of the charge of deicide. Better late than never. If the council had accomplished nothing else, that alone would have been a reason to rejoice and praise God for His mercy.

      • July 30, 2014 7:57 am

        People speak of a “repudiation of the charge of deicide” but I can’t find anything like a “dogma of deicide” in Catholic documents before Vatican II either.

        Indeed, Aquinas’s article in the Summa seems pretty balanced:
        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4047.htm#article5

        He makes a distinction between the scheming members of the sanhedrin and the “common folk” who acted only according to ignorance, and there is certainly no sense of a personal guilt accruing to anyone who wasn’t directly involved.

        At the same time, I’d point out that the “charge of deicide” is very much alive symbolically in the Scriptures. If the Crucifixion represents the outcome of sin (literally, we “kill God” in our souls when we sin) and if the Jews in Scripture represent something like a microcosm of all humanity chosen by God…the drama of God’s people (represented by the Jews in Scripture, but really all humanity) rejecting and killing him…is still VERY much part of the whole symbolism of the Scriptural story.

        It’s just that “deicide by the jews” needs to be understood in a mythological sense rather than some grossly literalistic sense that actually singles out the actual jews for contempt. Really, the Jews in scripture just represent everyone.

        • July 31, 2014 7:50 am

          “People speak of a “repudiation of the charge of deicide” but I can’t find anything like a “dogma of deicide” in Catholic documents before Vatican II either.”

          I never said that it was a “dogma.” However, at Vatican II, the Church made it clear that a Catholic cannot hold an individual Jew living today to be culpable for the death of Christ. The Church made it clear that to use Christianity to justify antisemitism is to distort Christianity and to distort Catholic teachings.

          It is true that many Catholics accepted a more nuanced view of Jewish culpability in the crucifixion. By the same token, Catholics accepted the Assumption of the Virgin Mary before 1950. Does this mean it was a waste of time for Pius XII to formally define the teaching?

          At Vatican II, the Church decided to explain a part of Scripture and Catholic teaching that had been misunderstood and misused and to condemn the heretical understanding of the teaching. I fail to see the downside to this course of action.

        • July 31, 2014 12:30 pm

          “However, at Vatican II, the Church made it clear that a Catholic cannot hold an individual Jew living today to be culpable for the death of Christ.”

          Well, except inasmuch as EVERY human being is culpable for it!

          “The Church made it clear that to use Christianity to justify antisemitism is to distort Christianity and to distort Catholic teachings.”

          Fair enough.

          However, I think that traditional Catholic pessimism about the continued existence of a line of Jews (the bulk of them, in fact) that did not accept the Messiah…is similar to our pessimism about fallen humanity in general.

          After all, a little baby didn’t eat the forbidden fruit…and yet we are all born with original sin. So Catholicism seems to admit of a sort of “group inherited guilt” in at least one case. Not that it’s the same as personal culpability.

          But nevertheless, there is an feeling that is traditional and not entirely illegitimate whereby the post-Christ Jew is sort of a tragic figure, a tragic sign of humanity-in-general’s rejection of grace and God and salvation. There’s simply no way around this symbolic resonance given the arrangement of the mythos. It doesn’t justify any sort of actual personal contempt for actual Jewish individuals or communities, of course. Heaven forbid! But, symbolically, the ambivalence is there and can’t not be. And I think too much of post-Vatican-II attitudes, in rejecting negativity towards the Jews…have gone to a sort of naïve and unqualified optimism on the other hand. But the truth is their reality is supposed to be colored as ambivalent for us.

          Of course, the good news is the nuance extends to our notion of the eschatological conversion of the Jews. That, in a sense, their “hearts have been hardened” as a sort of “suspension” on God’s part so that the Gentiles can be gathered in or grafted on. So that “where sin abounded, grace did more abound,” with the Jews playing the part of “the Law which condemns but does not save.”

          So it’s very nuanced, and I’m afraid in rushing to condemn unequivocally some of the horrors that were justified according to a very base understanding…we’ve also vastly underemphasized, recently, the whole Pauline symbolism of Old Israel/New Israel, Synagoga/Ecclesia, Old Adam/New Adam, Law/Grace, etc.

        • July 31, 2014 5:16 pm

          “I think that traditional Catholic pessimism about the continued existence of a line of Jews (the bulk of them, in fact) that did not accept the Messiah…is similar to our pessimism about fallen humanity in general.”

          Not entirely. There were theologians in early 20th century Germany who taught that even if a Jew was baptized, he would still bear the guilt and punishment of his ancestors for killing Christ. Not even baptism, they argued, could remit the sin of killing Christ. That is not quite the same thing as being born with original sin. (Unless you want to argue that baptism is incapable of removing original sin. Note I said sin, not concupiscence.)

          Did all 20th century theologians teach that baptism could not forgive the sin of decide? No, but some did. Is it possible now, given Nostra Aetate, to teach that baptized Jews are still guilty of decide and declare it orthodox Catholic teaching? No. Is this a good thing? Yes.

        • Mark permalink
          July 31, 2014 6:19 pm

          You’d have to point me to specific theologians.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if these sorts of thoughts occurred under proto-Nazism to try to give a theological veneer to racial ideology.

          But I hardly think that position would have been considered even a merely “tolerated opinion” vis a vis orthodoxy even before Vatican II.

          I guess what I’m saying is that I question the narrative that Vatican II “exonerated the Jews,” or that it somehow represented a revolutionary turn-around from previous official teaching. Not really.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          July 31, 2014 8:14 pm

          Anti-semitism was preached in churches through the 1950s in some areas. Nat Hentof talks about it in Boston in his autobiographical writings from that period. Not everywhere, but it existed and even if bishops did not really approve, they often turned a blind eye to it.

          I have to ask, why are you fighting so hard to deny this unpleasant part of our past?

        • August 1, 2014 11:04 am

          Oh come on, David. I’m not fighting to deny the unpleasant part of “our” “past.”

          I put both in quotes because A) I find the recent notion of “collective apologies for ideological ancestors” to be philosophically suspect and B) speaking of it as “in the past” implies a notion of collective “progress” that I don’t accept.

          Indeed, I find it odd that the renouncing of the notion of collective guilt for Jews…takes the form of accepting a similar notion of collective guilt for Catholics! If Catholics can be held collectively guilty and the pope constantly needs to “apologize” for pogroms that happened 800 years ago which only involved a minority of all Catholics…why can the Jews simultaneously not be held guilty for a miscarriage of justice that happened 2000 years ago among a small crowd of them and their leads?

          See the contradiction there?

          I don’t question that there has been a sad history of Christian anti-Semitism, often cloaked in religious language or justifications.

          What I am questioning is A) the notion that this was any sort of “official position,” B) the narrative that Vatican II represented a bold rupture or watershed in this regard, C) the notion that the response of post-Vatican-II Catholics has been absolutely and unqualifiedly a positive thing for theology and Catholic self-understanding.

          Rather I would posit: A) Christian anti-Semitism was largely a manifestation of the persecution that minorities of any stripe have always faced in otherwise homogenous societies during times of tension throughout history; religious language was just a cover, B) Vatican II didn’t say anything terribly groundbreaking regarding the duties of charity towards all men by singling out the Jews; rejecting personal culpability notions may be true, but what’s troubling is that in agreeing to “reject” it…it almost makes it sound like a concession that the notion was ever officially taught in the first place, which it wasn’t, and C) I think the Post-Vatican-II judeophilia fest has muddled some things in our theology regarding the mystery of Christ’s rejection by his own people and the subsequent “grafting on” of the Gentiles, the nature of sin, and the relationship of grace to law, and the relation of the two testaments (and that’s not even beginning to mention some of the massive soteriological errors, such as the “parallel covenant” idea, that have come out of attempts to “reject supercessionism.”)

          I think Catholics should be rightly annoyed when the media spouts things like “Pope Francis says we should love our neighbor!” and everyone goes “Oh my goodness, I love all the changes this Pope is making”…as if every Benedict and John Paul and the Piuses and indeed every Pope hasn’t taught that going back to the time of Jesus.

          Yet there is a similar narrative around Vatican II. “At Vatican II, the Church rejected anti-Semitism.” Well, not really. We made explicit to a specific case (that, for historical reasons, needed to be singled out apparently) what our general teachings had always implied when applied to the concrete. But by accepting this narrative framing, it is admitting the broader secular-schadenfreude-filled narrative of “Big bad persecutory Church finally forced to accept Enlightenment liberal modernity!”

  6. Stuart permalink
    July 28, 2014 12:28 am

    I became a Catholic because of the teachings of Vatican II. I wish somebody had told me they were wrong–I wouldn’t have gone to so much work to convert. :)

    Seriously, I felt that Vatican II was a beautiful way to look at faith that offered structure that was lacking in the Episcopal Church. I read Hans Kung, Richard McBrien, and the catechism Christ Among Us and thought I had found a secure home.

    I was in Rapid City when Archbishop Chaput was bishop. John Paul II was just starting in his takedown of what gains Vatican II had made. When I discussed my concerns with Bishop Chaput, and I asked where the progressive Catholicism I was promised went, he told me that what I believed wasn’t Catholic. My faith, based on an ecumenical council, wasn’t Catholic. My Christ Among Us RCIA class had duped me.

    I returned unhappily and uneasily to the Episcopal Church. But I wanted to do more than leave the Roman Catholics. If Vatican II was a lie, then I was sold a bill of goods–I wanted an annulment from the Romans. I did not give my consent to the church of JPII and Pope Benedict, and I wanted my conversion back.

    I stayed Episcopalian and would still be there if it weren’t for Pope Francis. Finally, a Pope who reminded me of the Catholic Church I fell in love with. I made my confession and came back to Francis’ Rome.

    Now, I find he’s not even a valid Pope! He’s destroying the faithful! If Vatican II and Pope Francis are both lies, then where do I go now? That’s the question I’ve been pondering lately. I think traditionalist Catholicism is a greatly skewed and negative form of the Church and I could never go there. But if that’s Roman Catholicism, and Vatican II and Pope Francis are the antichrist, then what am I? And where do I go to find God?

    • Melody permalink
      July 28, 2014 6:48 am

      In spite of what you might read and hear, the Church isn’t primarily about the Pope. You need to get down to the basics; the Mass and the sacraments, the Gospel message, the Creed. The Church has survived some truly awful popes (think about the Borgias!). If it was about them, the Church would have dried up and blown away eons ago. Find a parish, and remember that it’s not about the pastor, either. They come and go all the time in most places. Get involved in service to Christ, something like St. Vincent de Paul society. God is found where He always is; where the rubber meets the road.

      • George permalink
        July 28, 2014 5:26 pm

        Well said, Melody!

  7. brian martin permalink
    July 28, 2014 8:04 am

    Well, it seems to me that whether we feel it was needed or not, the Holy Spirit did indeed feel we needed it. Of course that supports my bias that we need to move more from an institutional church toward a more incarnational/”lived faith” church.

  8. Ronald King permalink
    July 28, 2014 8:12 am

    Dismas, I so very much admire and appreciate your wealth of knowledge and your passionate expression of the same.
    Stuart, I understand your thoughts and feelings since I also think and feel in a similar way.
    My one basic thought about the Church over time has been that the Church does not correctly understand human beings even though She proclaims the dignity and sanctity of each human life. I do believe that Vatican 2 was and is an attempt to evolve from a period of an authoritarian relationship with humanity to a more interpersonally dynamic relationship built on a more open and empathic style of communication. However, change, even for the good, does create confusion and chaos with those who felt secure in an authoritarian environment with its structure and expectations clearly defined thus creating an identity built on the certainty of that authority. All one had to do was believe and act according to tradition and everything was in its proper place.
    So there is this constant struggle for the Church to become more fully human and more fully divine. In my perspective, She must first become more fully human and this can only be accomplished with discarding whatever it is which influences Her to be less human. Empathy encourages community and has no borders and I believe Vatican 2 began this process with the natural result of confusion and fear, but for me it brought about hope for a Faith which projects a compassionate understanding and a safe place for healing the pain of all human beings without borders. By doing this the Church will evolve to being more fully divine.
    “Resistance is futile.”

    • Mark VA permalink
      July 29, 2014 11:55 pm

      Mr. King:

      As a Traditionalist Catholic, I have one quibble with your post, but it can be quickly removed:

      Just change “authoritarian environment” to “authoritative environment”, and my quibble will go away.

      OK, two quibbles: don’t you think that this “authoritarian = tradition” link is somewhat clichéd? It reminds me of the poor, huddled masses (preferably Eastern European) disembarking at Ellis Island, just yearning to throw off the ecclesiastical yoke and self-actualize themselves in a few easy steps ;)

    • July 30, 2014 8:01 am

      But perhaps the Church wasn’t and isn’t there to “be evolved.” Perhaps the institutional church is exactly there to BE “the Law” and to be authoritarian so that, in negotiation with that “pole” of a tension…individuals can grow and evolve.

      This was something of the paradox that I feel Millennials are facing: it’s hard to go through the requisite period of teenage rebellion (a healthy stage, considered in the context of the whole developmental story) if your parents are already trying to be cool and refuse to set and enforce boundaries for you to experiment with breaking.

      • dismasdolben permalink
        July 31, 2014 8:51 am

        But perhaps the Church wasn’t and isn’t there to “be evolved.”

        You obviously haven’t read John Henry Newman’s The Development of Doctrine and you obviously don’t get the nuanced meaning of “The Pilgrim People of God,” but, to help you get a better grip on orthodox Catholic ecclesiology, I’d like to suggest to you that no man can own “Truth”–that it’s a prerogative of God–that God is not a Catholic, and that the function of the “Holy Spirit” is to lead “the Church” gradually, and historically TOWARD “the Truth” and through a time/space continuum, which is the only environment a human body HAS, in which to live.

        • July 31, 2014 12:43 pm

          I think this is a pipe-dream, dismas.

          Collective “progress” has always been a myth. A naïve destructive horrible myth.

          Only individuals ever evolve, when subjected to the tension of the collective.

        • dismasdolben permalink
          August 1, 2014 1:55 pm

          Yeah, but Mark, in one breath you want to commit the idolatry of worshiping the institutional Church, while in another you seem to want to forget that it has the guarantee of being “guided” by the Holy Spirit. How else is the “Holy Spirit” supposed to guide humans but through the “time/space” continuum in which we have to live–in which human reason usually fails to wholly grasp the “Truth”? I, unlike you, seem to believe that the Church IS somehow different and more “progressive” than any other human institution and that the exception that John Henry Newman establishes for it, in that work I cited, is valid.

  9. Liam permalink
    July 28, 2014 12:33 pm

    Well, the horrors of war were not themselves new. After all, the Thirty Year’s War and Louis XIV’s various invasions of Germanic lands produced civilian casualty rates far higher than those of the World Wars, terrible as they were. That said, the 20th century did have new matter to deal with:

    1. Technology: not only in weaponry (industrial scale destruction, plus nuclear weapons and the prospect of more than metaphorical annihilation). Raised existential issues significantly.

    2. Globalisation: A much vaster swath of the world was involved, simultaneously.

    Technological and globalisation advances in communications meant that Catholics could no longer rest as easily in a cherry-picked view of the world than was formerly the case. The world got to see results of the Holocaust, on movie screens. The world got to see that Christians did not act as Christian as non-Christians when they saw colonized peoples fight back colonial oppressors. In other words, Christendom could no longer sooth itself by affirming how much better it was than the rest of this world.

    The effects of this on Christian self-image have been devastating.

    • Liam permalink
      July 28, 2014 12:35 pm

      PS: To clarify in more “Catholic”-specific terms: entire structures of theological argument premised on the self-concept of the Church as Perfect Society became much less self-evident and therefore less credible.

      • Cojuanco permalink
        July 28, 2014 6:13 pm

        Which goes to show that popular culture often misunderstands the concept of a perfect society. The other type of perfect society is the State, and no one has claimed with a straight face the impeccability of the state. What is meant IIRC is that the Church and the State are the best means by which man can achieve something close to perfection in society (for no man is an island). At their best, they provide the order required for human flourishing.

        • July 30, 2014 8:22 am

          You seem to be arguing that perfection is not the same thing as impeccability Perhaps you could explain how you are using the word perfect?

        • July 31, 2014 8:02 am

          Well, actually, “perfect society” as applied to Church and State in Catholic lingo just meant that both Church and State were “complete” society’s inasmuch as they had everything they needed to exist, self-contained, and carry out their function without needing any outside input.

          The Family, for example, while also a natural institution…doesn’t exist by itself. It can only exist as part of a larger community. That larger community, however, might exist on some island in relative isolation and every everything it needs to self-sustain.

          This is all “perfect society” ever meant, as evidenced by the Catholic Encyclopedia which explains: “The Church and the State are both perfect societies, that is to say, each essentially aiming at a common good commensurate with the need of mankind at large and ultimate in a generic kind of life, and each juridically competent to provide all the necessary and sufficient means thereto” and “The meaning of this expression, “a perfect society”, should be clearly understood, for this characteristic justifies, even on grounds of pure reason, that independence of secular control which the Church has always claimed. A society may be defined as a number of men who unite in a manner more or less permanent in order, by their combined efforts, to attain a common good. Association of this kind is a necessary condition of civilization. An isolated individual can achieve but little. He can scarcely provide himself with necessary sustenance; much less can he find the means of developing his higher mental and moral gifts. As civilization progresses, men enter into various societies for the attainment of various ends. These organizations are perfect or imperfect societies. For a society to be perfect, two conditions are necessary:

          The end which it proposes to itself must not be purely subordinate to the end of some other society. For example, the cavalry of an army is an organized association of men; but the end for which this association exists is entirely subordinate to the good of the whole army. Apart from the success of the whole army, there can properly speaking be no such thing as the success of the lesser association. Similarly, the good of the whole army is subordinate to the welfare of the State.
          The society in question must be independent of other societies in regard to the attainment of its end. Mercantile societies, no matter how great their wealth and power, are imperfect; for they depend on the authority of the State for permission to exist. So, too, a single family is an imperfect society. It cannot attain its end — the well-being of its members — in isolation from other families. Civilized life requires that many families should cooperate to form a State.

          There are two societies which are perfect — the Church and the State. The end of the State is the temporal welfare of the community. It seeks to realize the conditions which are requisite in order that its members may be able to attain temporal felicity. It protects the rights, and furthers the interests of the individuals and the groups of individuals which belong to it. All other societies which aim in any manner at temporal good are necessarily imperfect. Either they exist ultimately for the good of the State itself; or, if their aim is the private advantage of some of its members, the State must grant them authorization, and protect them in the exercise of their various functions. Should they prove dangerous to it, it justly dissolves them. The Church also possesses the conditions requisite for a perfect society. That its end is not subordinate to that of any other society is manifest: for it aims at the spiritual welfare, the eternal felicity, of man. This is the highest end a society can have; it is certainly not an end subordinate to the temporal felicity aimed at by the State. Moreover, the Church is not dependent on the permission of the State in the attaining of its end. Its right to exist is derived not from the permission of the State, but from the command of God. Its right to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments, to exercise jurisdiction over its subjects, is not conditional on the authorization of the civil Government. It has received from Christ Himself the great commission to teach all nations. To the command of the civil Government that they should desist from preaching, the Apostles replied simply that they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Some measure of temporal goods is, indeed, necessary to the Church to enable it to carry out the work entrusted to it. The State cannot justly prohibit it from receiving this from the benefactions of the faithful. Those whose duty it is to achieve a certain end have a right to possess the means necessary to accomplish their task.”

          A perfect society means it is “whole in itself” and needs no reference to another greater society to achieve its ends. The Church’s goal, for example, is not subordinate to the goals of the State (though, in the temporal sphere, the State’s scope is itself “perfect” for its end of temporal happiness).

  10. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
    July 30, 2014 12:46 am

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I am very surprised that two of the most important encyclicals of Vatican II have not been mentioned by name: Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium.

    • July 30, 2014 8:06 am

      I’m not sure why they would be (they’re Constitutions, btw, not “encyclicals”).

      The “real” earthshaking documents of Vatican II were Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae, and the comments here make it clear that this is true for both the liberals and the traditionalist minded.

      GS and LG…said nothing. They repeated old teachings in very new fluffy feel-good Carl Rogers/Von Balthasar humanistic language that has become dated already. It was a marked change in the official Vaticanese dialect or register (which used to be the flowery language of piety found on holy cards and such)…and while that change in lexicon has stuck with us, it is generally seen as wishy washy fluff that they for some reason thought would convince the modern world of old truths (“hey my hep dudes, let’s rap about God”) when in reality it just made us seem lamer than ever.

      GS and LG aren’t heretical or anything. They’re just windbaggy and “soft” and like the way you’d imagine some emasculated man from the 70s speaking in a mustard colored sweater trying to be “relevant.”

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