The Year of Faith-Vatican II and the Future
- Some Thoughts and Perspectives
What I offer here are some thoughts about the realities in the Catholic Church today, albeit mainly subjective ones. This piece builds on and expands on the shorter article last weekend. Some parts remain more or less the same but I have attempted more comment and indicate links and resources which might provide greater context. I want to highlight some of the current policies being put in place which I believe point to a dangerous programme to interpret Vat II in such a way that its integrity, power and legacy may be fundamentally compromised. This, I believe, is happening right now. There is growing evidence of a serious, concerted programme in operation and directed by regressive special interest groups. In exercises of disordered power and manipulation these Restorationists are so radically reinterpreting Vat II at the moment that they might be dangerously approaching Schism.
What’s going on? Some Background.
On October 17, 2011 Pope Benedict published an apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, in which he announced a the Year of Faith. It will begin on October 11, 2012 and it will mark two important milestones in recent Church history: the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vat II and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Earlier this month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith. This document was the work of a committee made up of male senior clerics, mainly Cardinals, and chaired by CDF Prefect, William Levada. There were no laity, religious or non-episcopal priests in the group. This delivers a powerful message in its own right but what these men have produced signals even more emphatically the unilaterally predetermined direction in which the Church will be taken in coming years.
Realistically, groups like our own have two years to work for Church wide discussion about what is going on and to press for a return to the wisdom and common ecclesial sense embedded in Vat II.
The CDF plan demands urgent close scrutiny, evaluation and response. It is crucial that Catholics understand clearly what is going on at the highest levels of Church leadership and to evaluate the quality and wisdom of its proposed vision for the future. Defenders of Vat II and its legacy must be prepared for a great deal of vigorous conversation over the next two years. The only antidote to apathy and disengagement is a strong commitment to question and to debate from a position of shared faith. This alone provides clear evidence of the active, responsible engagement of a living Church. This is the stuff of a mature Community. It is not for the easily led and compliant.
The Plan for the Year of Faith is packed with rhetoric of the Benedict’s Reform of the Reform which has been so vigorously promoted since his pontificate began. Surprisingly, the release of the document has not gained wide or immediate attention. www.v2catholic.com and La Stampa were, however, prompt to run the story and to offer some initial commentary. The latter published Jean-Marie Guenois' original Figaro article.
Guenois identifies the publication of the CDF Nota as marking a critical mandated course change for the Church and it is definitely in the direction of a former age with its attendant nostalgia.
The Nota affirms, as one would expect, that Vat II stands in continuity with the past Councils. What it also asserts is that the ‘correct interpretation’ of its documents and vision subsist particularly in the teaching of JP II and Benedict XVI. Both of these Popes have deconstructed teaching authorities such as national Episcopal conferences so as to limit subsidiarity and reduce the possibility of dissonance in teaching. Increasingly they made it very clear indeed that the Council and its documents would be ‘correctly’ interpreted by the Vatican and made available to the Church in an ‘officially approved’ form. Not surprisingly, the principal architect of this ‘definitive’ interpretation was, all along, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger now Benedict XVI.
Most of John Paul’s pontificate was away from Rome as he performed on the world stage. This suited him as he had little time for paper bureaucracy. Card. Ratzinger of the CDF actually ran the Church for over twenty years. The Curial managers were his more than willing assistants given that they had lost considerable power and influence under John XXIII and Paul VI. Many of these harboured long and fond memories of the noted Vat II resister Card. Ottaviani and were eager to seize the opportunity to complete his unfinished business.
Both Wojtyla and Ratzinger, both enthusiastic about Vat II in its early days, soon grew nervous and suspicious of the forward looking, decentralised Church envisioned by Gaudium et Spes with its principles of subsidiarity and co-responsibility. When the opportunity presented itself both men, now in high office, set in motion systems of control and interpretative methodologies which effectively imposed a very narrow and restrictive papal Magisterium on the higher Magisterium of an Ecumenical Council.
The CDF Year of Faith plan provides valuable insights into both Vatican thinking about and intentions for the Catholic Church. It is unmistakeably clear that Benedict had a strong influence on its composition, validation and apologue,
After the Council the Church – under the guidance of the Magisterium and in continuity with the whole Tradition – set about ensuring the reception and application of the teaching of the Council in all its richness…. From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has worked decisively for a correct understanding of the Council, rejecting as erroneous the so-called “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and promoting what he himself has termed the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject - Church - which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
While it is made clear from the outset that the Year of Faith will be one dedicated to special study of Vat II and its Documents, curiously, both are mentioned only around four or five times. The Plan’s real focus of attention is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It and its Compendium are given hermeneutical prominence and are mentioned around fifteen times!
The CCC, the Plan insists, is both an authentic fruit of Vatican Council II and a tool for aiding in its reception. A close reading of the role description for the CCC reveals that it more than a mere tool; it is the actual instrument of ‘authentic interpretation’ of Vat II’s Documents and gatekeeper of its vision and legacy. The CCC provides both the conceptual framework and the methodology of Benedict’s Hermeneutics of Reform and Continuity.
The CDF Nota envisions the CCC as an instrument of Apologetics and modelled in it structure and themes on the Counter Reformation Catechism of Pius V. It was driven by relentlessly aggressive, adapted and highly structured Scholastic reason and logic; it also widely and disturbingly employs fundamentalist a-contextual biblical proof texting and relies heavily on the sense of the oppositional ‘other.’ Some stunning examples of this new apologetical Catholic evangelism can be found in high profile Bishops such as Archbishops Dolan of NYC, Chaput of Philadelphia, the host of lay apostles of this high-powered neoconservatism . One might also take note of the relatively new phenomenon of this Catholic Evangelism and Apologetics in the rise of the ‘orthodox’ leaning Universities such as the Opus Dei institutions mainly in Europe, Steubenville, OH and Notre Dame in Australia.
It might well be asked to what extent there is in fact a living theology being done in these places or is it simply a rehash of the old Scholastic formulae with little imagination or inquiry.
The authoritative prominence and interpretative role give to the CCC should be extremely worrying. The CCC is seriously wanting and defective in a number of important areas. Brendan Byrne SJ is rather critical about both its provenance and its theological relationship with Vat II. A matter of major concern about the CCC is that its treatment of Original Sin is regressively antiquarian and textually fundamentalist. This has major ramifications for the understanding of the core beliefs enshrined in the Nicene Creed. At some stage the Church will have to trust radically its level of nerve, courage, theological skill and imagination in reformulating the entire centre of Christian faith. It is understood by some theologians that JP II some years ago ordered some commissioned studies on this issue but it was assigned to the ‘too hard’ basket. Prof Jack Mahoney SJ has re-examined the issue with some theological boundary stressing in his 2011 book, Christianity in Evolution – An Exploration, Georgetown Press. (See some relevant articles and comments on Scripture, Vat II and the status of freeze-frame Curial regression inwww.v2catholic.com.)
The weight of authority given the CCC might well be disturbing for many Catholics and lead them to question how genuine is the Church’s professed commitment to being, in truth and by calling, the People of God forever restless, questioning, unsatisfied and searching. What has been happening over the last two pontificates is a systematic domestication of key values embodied in the pastoral vision of Vat II.
Some important historical perspectives embedded in Vat II and post-Vat II Ecclesiologies and Observations on Ecclesiastical regression 1978-2012.
* the reclamation of the Gospel image of the irritating and invasive Mustard Weed as a primary parabolic and ‘semantically impertinent symbol of the Reign/Kingdom of God preached by the wandering Jesus of Nazareth. This Kingdom began to be stripped of its subversive power and was compromised when the wandering charismatics of the Jesus Movement became spiritually, culturally and politically absorbed and urbanised. The voice of prophetic disquiet and protest became somewhat muted.
Vat II reclaimed ownership of that voice in more ways than one and enthusiastically reintroduced the Mustard Weed into John XXIII’s garden.
It is clear from the Nota that a great deal of redactional and revisionist gloss is being introduced into the historical record. Without apportioning malice, it is obvious, I think, that Card. Levada and his Committee vigorously promote a vision of Church which is flawed by a selective use of the convenient biblical and re-engineered conciliar imagery. This comes with a definite weighted bias in favour of structured, settled and hierarchically ecclesiastical typology at the expense of the prophetic, evangelically dis-at-eased, charismatic and searching pilgrim People of God. The Reform of the Reform sets up a dialectic between the Hermeneutic of Reform and Continuity with the Hermeneutic of Discontinuity and Rupture. This is both very Teutonic and highly contrived. It gets it oxygen from Ratzinger/Benedict’s favoured Augustinian oppositional construct of reality, the City of God in conflict with the City of Man.
This kind of apocalyptic is common to the political environments of many eastern and western eras. A common element is the sense that the patron deity of the righteous will defeat the oppressor. In the modern situation, the oppositional ‘other’ is the pagan pantheon of relativism and secularism. Vagueness is often a decided advantage in the propaganda campaign but when it comes to the esprit de corps of the combatants, unity, obedience, docility, compliance, strict regimentation and discipline become paramount virtues. This is the ‘boot camp’ spirituality of the End time warriors.
The apocalyptic mentality requires the dialectical opposition in order to define identity and to establish a reason to exist. Without ‘isms’ the community of the just has no reason to be and no justification to fight. It is all very dangerous and indicates that this particular ecclesiastical world that has lost its nerve in this age of anxiety.
In any conversation this Coalition of the Concerned and Committed needs, I think, to be aware that its views must avoid at all costs being perceived as representing a kind of aggressive, oppositional ‘ism.’ It makes it all too easy and convenient for the architects of the Reform of the Reform to dismiss the questioner as just another ideological splinter group.
The members of the Church are not numbers in a Corporation. Unfortunately, I think, the corporate mentality is strongly ‘in possession’ at the moment. What is causing grief to many in the Church today is that the highest ranks of Curial managers are looking more and more like corporate raiders. I don’t think it overly hyperbolic to say that instead of being the guardians of the Tradition embedded in Vat II they have become its liquidators.
* the highest values of life in this Reign/Kingdom of God are discipleship and service. From the early 2nd C ‘ordination’ and ‘priesthood’ began to develop into sacralised forms of Church leadership and liturgical life. Community sacred meals in the House Churches came to be led increasingly by sacerdotal episkopoi and presbyteroi who replaced the normal hosts. Understandings of baptismal dignity and authority began to shift as sacral leadership continued to evolve.
Vat II rightly maintained the distinction between ordained priesthood and the common priesthood of all while at the same time acknowledged and encouraged ‘full and active participation’ for all in the sacred liturgy. Sacramental integrity was in no way diminished or compromised.
An area of what should be of major concern to us is the subtle regression that is happening in Liturgy on the level of theology and praxis. Some years ago, Joseph S O’Leary published a 2003 letter of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the CDF to a very traditionalist follower of the SSPX and devotee of the Tridentine Mass. Prof Heinz-Lothar Barth had asked Ratzinger questions about the relationship between the Rite of Pius V and the Novus Ordo. Ratzinger’s reply is expresses a Cardinal’s dream for a Single Rite within the Latin Church which a Pope is now making a reality.
Late last year Cd Raymond Burke of the Signatura hoisted the flag in an interview. As far as I can foresee Benedict’s ‘new liturgical movement’ will reduce to a pasteurisation and homogenisation of the Eucharist by way of what Burke so coyly terms mutual enrichment. It is not necessary to own the Enigma machine to crack that code.
In addition to this signal, we have seen evidence of other moves, predominantly in the US, to exclude laity, especially females from the sanctuary, to restrict dual species communion, to promote the Tridentine Mass as the ideal of the good, the beautiful, sublime and ineffable, to further the ad orientem in Liturgy. In effect, the theology of Eucharist which is being repopularised at the moment reduces the Source and Summit to an elaborate form of Benediction and personal adoration. A bizarre and suspicious insistence on belief in a static notion of Real Presence (Who’s denying it, but this at the expense of the many real Presences) has now become a key litmus test of orthodoxy and orthopraxis.
The Vatican administration has now effectively closed the book on the investigation of an essentially pastoral Ecumenical Council just fifty years after it was convened. Vatican II will henceforth be officially interpreted not in and through the dynamics of an ongoing conversation and discernment of this annoying, questioning People of God with its inspired and challenging Sensus Fidelium. This will now be governed by a ‘safe’, institutionally controlled and regressive understanding of the Sensus Fidei. This is ideologically packaged and programmed into a Catechism written for the many by a doctrinally obsessed, self-interested few with their fixed, static definitions and answers.
The CDF Plan for the Year of Faith is a very directive and prescriptive document. It is all about Catholics being told in definitive terms just exactly what Vat II signified and said and exactly how they should consequently express their faith! It relies heavily on obligation, obedience and docility and appears to be developed for those who are happy to remain adolescents. It certainly does not appeal to that culture of trust and confidence which would otherwise be the native virtues of a community of intelligent, responsible and mature adults.
David Timbs blogs from Melbourne, Australia.
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