"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Petition to Review the Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Pastoral Council.

Rorate Caeli carries a report picked up from several European sites and with the full text now in English at DICI about a petition to the Holy Father "that he might be willing to promote a more in-depth examination of the pastoral council, Vatican II."
It's interesting that there are more and more voices calling for a way of placing the Second Vatican Council in some sort of historical, traditional and theological context instead of seeing it as the only foundation document / event of the modern Church. This overarching way of seeing Vatican II as the prism through which everything else must be judged was certainly the dominant zeitgeist when I was at seminary. The Holy Father himself, in calling for a hermeneutic of continuity, is very much part of this movement - not to disown the Council but to reclaim it for the mainstream Church from the aggressive liberal mindset that has been dominant in misinterpreting it for the past fifty years.

As a friend of mine was saying recently, when priests quote Pope Benedict and documents from Rome from the last ten years, they are often criticised as being "old-fashioned" and out of touch. "After all, we've had Vatican II." But Vatican II is now a part of history to many of us. We were not even born when it began! When it speaks of the modern means of communication, they were relying on Telstar and the Home Service as the only national radio station in this country. "Z Cars" was just starting on the only TV channel we had and Sandie Shaw was winning the European Song Contest for us five years into the Council with "Puppet on a String" - not exactly what we think of when we say "modern"! However, Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum are right up to date - contemporary with the Internet and with people under 20 years of age, rather than over 60, which you would have to be to even remember the Council, so it probably is time to set it in some proper context.

There are excellent questions asked in this petition organised by Monsignor Brunero Gherardini, a priest of the Diocese of Prato and Canon of Saint Peter’s Basilica, who is well known as a former professor of Ecclesiology at the Pontifical Lateran University and dean of Italian theologians. Here are some of them:

1) What is the true nature of Vatican II?

2) What is the relation between its pastoral character (a notion that will have to be explained authoritatively) and its dogmatic character, if any? Can the pastoral character be reconciled with the dogmatic character? Does it assume the latter? Does it contradict it? Does it ignore it?

3) Is it really possible to define the Second Vatican Council as ‘dogmatic’? And therefore to refer to it as dogmatic? To use it as the basis of new theological assertions? In what sense? Within what limits?

4) Is Vatican II an “event” as the Bologna School understands it, in other words, one that cuts all ties with the past and inaugurates a new era in all respects? Or does it relive in itself the whole past eodem sensu eademque sententia [in the same sense and with the same purpose]?

“It is plain that the hermeneutic of rupture and the hermeneutic of continuity depend on the answers that one gives to these questions. But if the scientific conclusion of the examination concludes by allowing the hermeneutic of continuity as the only acceptable, only possible one, then it will be necessary to prove (beyond any declaration) that this continuity is real, that is manifested in the underlying dogmatic identity.

“If it should happen that this continuity cannot be proved scientifically, as a whole or in part, it would be necessary to say so calmly and candidly, in response to the demand for clarity that has been awaited for almost a half a century.”

In his recent, well-documented History of Vatican II, Professor de Mattei offered the public a precise, realistic picture of the tormented, dramatic unfolding of that Council, and he concluded:

“At the end of this volume, allow me to address reverently His Holiness Benedict XVI, whom I acknowledge to be the successor of Peter to whom I feel inseparably bound, expressing my deep thanks to him for having opened the doors to a serious debate about the Second Vatican Council. I repeat that I wanted to make a contribution to this debate, not as a theologian, but as an historian, joining however in the petition of those theologians who are respectfully and filially asking the Vicar of Christ on earth to promote an in-depth examination of Vatican II, in all its complexity and its full extent, to verify its continuity with the twenty preceding councils and to dispel the shadows and doubts which for almost a half a century have caused the Church to suffer, with the certainty that the gates of hell will never prevail against Her (Mt 16:18).”

5) What is the exact meaning given to the concept of “living tradition” that appeared in the Constitution Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation? In his recent study on the fundamental concept of Catholic tradition, Msgr. Gherardini maintained that during Vatican II a “Copernican revolution” took place in its way of understanding the Tradition of the Church, since the Council did not clearly define the dogmatic value of Tradition (DV 8); contrary to custom, the document reduces to one (ad unum) the two sources of Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) that have always been admitted in the Church and have been confirmed by the dogmatic Councils of Trent and Vatican I (DV 9). The document even appears to oppose the dogma of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture (DV 11.2), for why, “after declaring that everything affirmed by the inspired authors comes from the Holy Spirit, is the privilege of inerrancy attributed only to the ‘salutary’ or ‘salvific truths’, as a part of the whole (veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causae Litteris sacris consignari voluit)? If the Holy Spirit inspired everything that the biblical authors wrote, inerrancy should apply to everything, and not just to salvific truths. The text therefore appears to be illogical.”[3]

6) What is the exact meaning to be given to the new definition of the Catholic Church contained in the Dogmatic Constitution (which nevertheless does not define any dogma) Lumen gentium on the Church? If it coincides with the perennial definition, namely that only the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ because it is the only one to have maintained over the centuries the deposit of faith handed down by Our Lord and the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, then why did they try to change it, by writing in a way that is not easily understood by a simple believer and is never clearly explained (we must say), that the “one” Church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity” [LG 8]? In this formulation, does it not seem that the Church appears to be merely a part of the Church of Christ? A mere part because the Church of Christ is said to include also—besides the Catholic Church—“many elements of sanctification and of truth” located “outside” the Catholic Church? It would follow that the “one true religion [that] continues to exist in the Catholic Church” (Declaration Dignitatis humanae on religious liberty, 1.2) was the religion of a “Church of Christ” that possesses “elements” outside of the Catholic Church. Which can also be understood, if you want, as “the one true religion” that subsists, according to the Council, likewise in the non-Catholic “elements” of “the Church of Christ”?

7) What is the true significance to be given to the notion of the Church understood in its totality as “People of God” (Lumen gentium 9-17), a notion which in the past referred only to a part of the whole, whereas the whole constituted the “Mystical Body of Christ”?

8) What significance is to be given to the omission of the terms “supernatural” and “transubstantiation” from the Council documents? Does this omission also modify the substance of these concepts, as come claim?

9) By establishing a sort of collective responsibility, doesn’t collegiality cause the individual bishops to lose authority?

What is the exact significance of the new notion of collegiality? In light of the constant teaching of the Church, what are we to think of the interpretation in the Nota explicativa praevia, the “preliminary explanatory note” placed at the start of Lumen gentium (a note that was put there to nullify the debate among the Council Fathers)? We cite the doubts clearly presented by Romano Amerio:

“The ‘preliminary note’ (Nota praevia) rejects the classic interpretation of collegiality, according to which the subject of supreme power in the Church is the Pope alone, who shares it when he wants with the totality of the bishops convened in council by him. The supreme power becomes collegial only when communicated by the Pope, at his pleasure (ad nutum). The ‘preliminary note’ likewise rejects the opinion of the innovators, according to which the subject of supreme power in the Church is the episcopal college united to the Pope and not without the Pope, who is the head of it, but in such fashion that when the Pope exercises the supreme power, even by himself, he does so precisely as the head of said college, and therefore as a representative of this college, which he is obliged to consult so as to express their judgment. This is a theory modeled on the one that claims that all authority owes its power to the multitude: a theory that is difficult to reconcile with the divine constitution of the Church (which is hierarchical and of divine, not popular, origin). In refuting these two theories, the Nota praevia insists that the supreme power belongs to the college of bishops united to their head, but that the head can exercise it independently of the college, whereas the college cannot exercise it independently of the head (and this is supposedly a concession to Tradition).”[4]

Is it accurate to maintain that assigning juridical powers—those of a real college, properly speaking—to the institution of Bishops’ Conferences has in fact depreciated and distorted the role of the bishop? Indeed, in the Church today the bishops, taken individually, seem not to matter at all, practically speaking (Your Holiness will forgive our frankness). On this point, here is Amerio again:

“The novelty that has stood out most in the post-conciliar Church is the opportunity now for participation [in decision-making] by all Church authorities that are juridically defined organs, such as diocesan and national Synods, parish and presbyteral Councils, etc…. The establishment of Episcopal Conferences has produced two effects: it has deformed the organic structure of the Church, and it has resulted in the loss of authority by the [individual] bishops. According to the canon law in force before the Council, the bishops are successors of the Apostles, and each one governs in his diocese with ordinary power in spiritual and temporal matters, exercising there a legislative, judiciary and executive power (canons 329 and 335). This authority was precise, individual, and except for the institution of the vicar general, not capable of being delegated (whereas the vicar general depended on the willingness of the bishop—ad nutum)…. The Decree Christus Dominus attributes collegiality to the body of bishops in virtue of its “supreme, full power over the universal Church”, which would be in all respects equal to that of the Pope if it could be exercised without his consent. This supreme power has always been acknowledged in the case of the assembly of bishops convened in an ecumenical council by the Pope. But the question arises, whether an authority that can be put into effect only by a superior authority can be considered supreme and does not amount to a purely virtual object, a thing existing only in the mind (ens rationis). Now according to the spirit of Vatican II, the exercise of episcopal authority in which collegiality is actualized is that of the Bishops’ Conferences.

“Here is an oddity: the Decree (in section 37) finds the reason for the existence of this new institution in the need for the bishops of a country to take concerted action; it does not see this new tie of cooperation, which henceforth has a juridical configuration, as a change in the structure of the Church that would replace a bishop with a body of bishops and personal responsibility with a collective responsibility that is therefore fragmented…. By the institution of Bishops’ Conferences the Church has become a multi-centered body…. The first consequence of this new organization is therefore the loosening of the tie of unity [with the Pope]; this has been manifested by enormous dissensions on the most serious points [for example on the teaching of the Encyclical Humanae vitae dated July 25, 1968, which prohibited the use of contraceptives]. The second consequence of the new organization is the loss of the authority of each bishop considered separately as such. They are no longer responsible to their own people nor to the Holy See, because their personal responsibility has been replaced by a collegial responsibility which, belonging to the whole body, can no longer be imputed to the different elements making up that body.”[5]

Is the priest today reduced to the role of an organizer and presider over the assembly of the People of God?

10) What exact significance is to be given today to the priesthood, an authentic institution of the Church? Is it true that since the Council the priest has been demoted from “sacerdos Dei” [“a priest of God”] to being “sacerdos populi Dei” [“a priest of the people of God”] and has been reduced mainly to the role of “organizer” and “presider over the assembly” of the “People of God” and to the role of a “social worker”? In this regard the following should be critiqued: Lumen gentium 10.2, which seems to try to put at the same level the “ministerial” or “hierarchical” priesthood and the so-called “common priesthood of the faithful”—which formerly was considered as a mere honorific title—by its statement that the two “are none the less ordered one to another, ad invicem tamen ordinantur” (see also LG 62.2); LG 13.3, which seems to describe the priesthood as a simple “duty” or office of the “People of God”; the fact that preaching the Gospel is listed as the first priestly “duty” (Decree Presbytorum Ordinis on the ministry and life of priests, 4: “it is the first task of priests as co-workers of the bishops to preach the Gospel of God”), whereas on the contrary the Council of Trent recalled that what characterizes the priest’s mission is in the first place “the power to consecrate, offer, and administer the Body of Blood of the Lord” and in second place the power “of forgiving or retaining sins” (DS 957/1764). Is it true that Vatican II devalues the fact of ecclesiastical celibacy by stating that “Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven was recommended by Christ… and has always been highly esteemed in a special way by the Church as a feature of priestly life [even though] it is not demanded of the priesthood by its nature” (PO 16); might this last statement be justified by a false interpretation of 1 Tim 3:2-5 and Tit 1:6?

11) What is the exact significance of the principle of “creativity” in the Liturgy, which without any doubt results from the fact of having granted to the Bishops’ Conference a broad competence in this matter, including the option of experimenting with new forms of worship so as to adapt them to the characters and the traditions of the people and so as to simplify them as much as possible? All this is proposed in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the liturgy: art. 22.2 on the new competencies of the Bishops’ Conferences; 37, 39 and 40 on adaptation to the characters and traditions of the peoples and on the criteria for liturgical adaptation in general; articles 21 and 34 on liturgical simplification. Were not similar options for innovating in liturgical matters condemned in all ages by the Magisterium of the Church? It is true that the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium still calls for the supervision of the Holy See over the liturgy and innovations in it (SC 22.1, 40.1-2), but this supervision has proved incapable of preventing the widespread devastation of the liturgy, which has driven the faithful out of the churches, and this devastation continues to be unleashed even today, despite disciplinary action and the intention of Your Holiness to eliminate abuses. Could not competent studies bring to light the reasons for this failure?

What difference is there between conciliar religious liberty and secular freedom of conscience?

Obviously we cannot formulate all the questions that the documents of the Council raise and that are related to the present situation of the Church. On this subject we venture to add only the following:

12) The principle of religious freedom, proclaimed by the Council for the first time in the history of the Church as a “natural” or “human right” of the person, whatever his religion, and thus a right superior to the right of the one Revealed Truth (our Catholic religion) to be professed as the true religion, in preference to the others that are not revealed and therefore do not come from God; this principle of religious liberty is based on the presupposition that all religions are equal, and consequently its application promotes indifferentism, agnosticism and eventually atheism; as it is understood by the Council, how is this principle distinguished really from the secular freedom of conscience that is honored among “the rights of man” that were professed by the anti-Christian French Revolution?

13) Doesn’t present-day ecumenism also seem to lead to a similar result (indifferentism and the loss of faith), given that its principal aim seems to be not so much the conversion (as much as possible) of the human race to Christ as its unity and even its unification in a sort of new world Church or religion that is capable of ushering in a messianic era of peace and fraternity among all peoples? If those are the aims of present-day ecumenism—and they are already found in part in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes on the Church and the modern world—then doesn’t this ecumenical dialogue seem to drift dangerously toward a certain “agreement between Christ and Belial” [cf. 2 Cor 6:15]?[6] Shouldn’t the whole dialogue of the post-conciliar Church with the contemporary world be reconsidered?

And here is Sandie Shaw, reminding us just how "modern" things were at the time of the Council!

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