March 4, 2012    David Timbs  (Melbourne)  David's previous articles   

Talking to Trent


Over recent months the Roman Curia and the schismatic SSPX have been holding rather intense discussions on several issues arising from contested interpretations of the Second Vatican Council. The disputes between the two bodies goes back a long way even into relatively recent history. But some perspective, even myth busting, needs to be provided on the provenance of Vatican II and the intention of its convenor, Pope John XXIII.

In a recent interview with Vatican Insider (02/01/12) Archbishop Loris Capovilla, the former private secretary of Pope John provided Giacomo Galeazzi with some very interesting information which counters and corrects the received folklore about the circumstances surrounding John XXIII’s decision to hold an Ecumenical Council.  Of particular note is the fact that right from the very beginning, the key people, especially Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office, were completely aware of the Pope’s decision and intentions. No one at the top was blind-sided.

The real shock for Ottaviani and the Roman Curia was that, from the very start of the Council, an insistent group of mostly European bishops made it perfectly clear that Vat II would not be governed and controlled by the Schemata (working documents) prepared in advance by the Curia. Much to the Curia’s disgust, the invitation of Pope John to open the windows of a stuffy Church was taken seriously.

Ottaviani and his Curial bureaucrats did not envisage Vatican II to be much more than an administrative gathering, to confirm the status and direction of a changeless Church. They were thinking Trent while John XXIII was thinking of a modern pastoral Council, probably the first truly Ecumenical one in Church History. The Schemata reflect the intention of the Curial agenda and its claimed traditional, centralised authority to enforce compliance. Cardinal Bea SJ summed up their misplaced presumptions and delusional mentality,

“Two weeks before its opening, Cardinal Bea declared, We must help the Holy Father achieve his goals for the Council, the ones he expresses in his radio messages and exhortations. These are not the same ones as those of the schemas, either because the Theological Commission, which directs them, is closed to the world and to ideas of peace, justice and unity, or because of the division of the work and the lack of coordination. They have made room for everything except the Holy Spirit. –Fouilloux (Louvain, 1993) Vatican II Commences, 72, n. 56.

Ottaviani’s baton was taken up in the mid 1970’s by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who later died in schism, and since then by his arch traditionalist confreres, the Priestly Society of Pius X, the SSPX. They have mow become the new face of extreme Restorationism and ludicrously exaggerated late ecclesiastical antiquarianism.

While the SSPX resented the blasphemous liturgical aberration of the vernacular Mass of Paul VI, it is clear that this is no longer the major pressing issue they once had. Benedict XVI has reinstated the Mass of Pius V, the Immemorial (400 years makes it immemorial!), and appears to be establishing it as the standard by which future liturgical reforms will be measured. The current linguistic code for this is mutual enrichment. We will hear much more of this expression in the months and years ahead. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the CDF made it all quite clear back in 1993 in his famous letter to German Dr Heinz-Lothat Barth, disciple of the SSPX in Bonn.

Now, however, the Lefebvrians are pressing the Catholic Church on a much broader front, namely the very legitimacy of Vatican II and the initiatives which flowed from it. The major issues the SSPX are currently flagging deal with teachings which were central to the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral and doctrinal thinking and work:

-its pastoral status as measured by the dogmatic status of Trent. The SSPX argues that Vatican II is discontinuous with Trent and therefore represents rupture within the Tradition.

-its Conciliarism – bishops gathered with the Pope in forming a Magisterium of the Council. They see this as an encroachment on and threat to the unique and absolute authority of the Pope over Councils, the Church and over the college of bishops whether gathered in Council or not.

-its teaching on Ecumenism as undermining the dogmatic assertion that the Church enjoys the fullness of Revelation, can find or learn little or nothing of the truth outside of itself and that outside the Church there is no Salvation. Vatican II taught that an overly zealous application of this kind of dogmatism is both arrogant and leaves no room to move ecumenically with other Christians. The Council Fathers decided that it was best to stop playing God. The Council speaks of something more conciliatory such as a more correct theology of Baptism, outside of Christ there is no salvation. The Holy Spirit has room to move there.

-its teaching on the Jews. The SSPX has a long history of cultural and religious anti-semitism; culturally they have that sort of inherited French disdain for the Jews which spiked in modern times during the Dreyfus affair; their religious antipathy is rooted in the ancient charge against the Jewish people, the burden of eternal guilt for Deicide.

It is clear that bringing back the leadership of the SSPX and reincorporating its followers has become a priority of Benedict’s pontificate. He has lifted the excommunication on them which came into effect under the watch of JPII and he has committed key members of the Curia and expert advisors to enter negotiations with the Lefebvrians. To their dismay and frustration, the SSPX are not rolling over in compliance. They are digging in and insisting on a definitive judgment from the Holy See on what is the actual bottom line for negotiations on their issues with Vatican II.

The SSPX, with the support of those in the Church who would not describe themselves as radical Traditionalists, are engaging in tactics the Government of Nth Vietnam perfected during the closing stages of the American War, namely, negotiate while still fighting

While the SSPX present themselves as moderate and reasonable, there remains a strong element of total rejectionism of Vatican II and this extreme view might well be very close to the surface even among the mainliners. The SSPX position on the Schemas is informative,

The conclusion is inescapable. Vatican II, from October 13, 1962, onward, was already ’revolutionary.’ To get back to the “spirit” of the Council, then, would mean giving up the consequences of the revolution in order to return to the origin of the revolution. No, the only solution in the current crisis is a return, not to Vatican II, but to what it “disintegrated” – to the spirit that especially inspired the preliminary doctrinal schemas, authentic guardians of faith, witnesses of Tradition.

There is also a small but very entrenched corps of sedevacantists – those who do not accept the legitimacy of popes after Pius XII. They patiently await union with the next reliable Pope. There have been a number of pretenders including a disgruntled Fr Lucian Pulvermacher OFM.cap, who was elected by his own ‘Conclavists’ taking the name, Pius XIII. His pontificate was not the success he expected.

For those Catholics not schismatically minded but rather those intent on seeing the full and legitimate implementation of Vatican II there are other responses. Many, if not most of these Catholics, experience something close to despondency and deep seated disappointment with a Church leadership since JP II that has been and is systematically deconstructing the initiatives of Vatican II, all in the name of corrective and reform of the reform in continuity. Ottaviani might see vindication in all of this and the SSPX may feel a certain comfort at an intentional program to eradicate the cancers of dissent and heterodoxy but these, in the end, will not prove to be the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Irish theologian Joseph S. O’Leary challenges the legitimacy of the current officially sanctioned regressive agenda when he observes,

There is no way of divorcing the authentic sense of Vatican II from that authentic sense as enacted by Paul VI and the Council Fathers in the years following immediately following the Council. What is much easier to do is to see the inconsistency between the work of the Council and its dismantling in recent decades. – Pray Tell blog comment, 29/11/2011.

David Timbs writes from Albion, Melbourne, Australia.

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