Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Battle for the Hermeneutic of Vatican II

[So the battle between the hermeneutic of rupture/discontinuity and the hermeneutic of reform in continuity takes its next step: the rupturist school has now taken to responding to Benedict XVI. I have spoken before of "barometers" and I believe this might also be seen as one. A response is particularly merited when one feels their position is threatened or in need of defense, and the evident momentum -- slow but steady -- back toward continuity can surely not escape this school of thought. It is also beneficial that these ideas are now laid out more explicitly on the table, particularly in the context of this Benedictine era, as it will offer many opportunties for both critique and even the possibility of a more official response of some sort.]

In a daring move, the promoters of the "discontinuity" of Vatican II with respect to the Church of the past claim that Benedict XVI is on their side. Ruggieri, Komonchak, and others explain this in their magazine. But is this truly the case?

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, December 11, 2007 – For almost two years, the memorable discourse in which Benedict XVI had criticized and rejected the interpretation of Vatican II as a "discontinuity and rupture" had gone without any response. None of the historians and theologians who were its apparent targets had replied to the pope's arguments.

But now the response has finally come, in quasi-official form, with four essays by four highly representative scholars, published in the latest issue of "Cristianesimo nella storia," the magazine of the Institute for Religious Studies in Bologna.

The Bologna institute, founded by Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti and professor Giuseppe Alberigo, is the one that produced the "History of Vatican II," the history of the council most widely read in the world, in five volumes completed in 2001 and published in seven languages. [NLM: This point, following, is important] It is a "History" that interprets the Council more as an "event" than in terms of its documents, more in the "spirit" than in the "letter," more as a "new beginning" than in continuity with the existing Church.

The authors of the four articles in reply to the pope are Giuseppe Ruggieri, from Italy, the director of "Cristianesimo nella storia"; Joseph A. Komonchak, an American; France's Christoph Theobald; and Peter Hünermann of Germany.

The last of these – in addition to having collaborated on the Bolognese "History" – also edited, together with Bernd J. Hilberath, a five-volume commentary on the conciliar documents, published only in German so far: "Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum II Vatikanische Konzil," Freiburg-Basel-Wien, 2005-2006.

In this commentary, as also in his essay in "Cristianesimo nella storia," Hünermann maintains the resemblance among the documents of Vatican II and "the constitutional texts elaborated by the representative constituent assemblies."

Benedict XVI had criticized such ideas in his address on December 22, 2005:

"In this way, the Council is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord."

In reality, Hünermann had maintained – and restates now – that there are also differences between the conciliar texts and the constitutions, the first of which is that the authority of the "constituent" bishops derives from Christ. Because of this, he believes that he is exempt from the pope's criticism. And thanks to this, Komonchak closes the dispute this way:

"There is something curious about this comment of the Pope, since I do not know of anyone who has compared the Second Vatican Council to a constituent assembly; and certainly this was never in [our] minds."

* * *

But there's more. The four scholars who speak out in "Cristianesimo nella storia" do not limit themselves to maintaining that the pope's criticisms do not affect them.

They also bring Benedict XVI over to their side. They place him as well among the supporters of the "discontinuity" of the Church before and after Vatican II.

This is how Komonchak concludes his article:

"This was 'la svolta epocale' which Giuseppe Alberigo proposed as the historic significance of the Second Vatican Council, and so far from being repudiated, it seems to me that it was affirmed and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI."

* * *

The most audacious in recruiting Joseph Ratzinger among their ranks are Komonchak and Ruggieri.

Komonchak dismisses as lacking any real target the pope's criticisms against the theoreticians of the Council as a "rupture." And he instead draws upon passages from the discourse of December 22, 2005, in which Benedict XVI said that behind the "apparent discontinuity" of certain conciliar affirmations – in particular the one on religious freedom – there was, instead "full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself, as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time."

In Komonchak's judgment, the discontinuity exemplified by the pope is not at all "apparent," but real. On this and other questions, separation from the previous centuries is all too clear. In substance, therefore, the pope also agrees with those who see in Vatican Council II the most tremendous transformation of the Church in recent centuries.

Ruggieri is more subtle. If the pope, in the discourse on December 22, 2005, defended the continuity of the Council with the previous tradition of the Catholic magisterium, it is because from the point of view "typical of the theologian," which was his, "he could do nothing but subscribe to this conception."

But from the historical point of view, Ruggieri objects, everything changes. The "novelty" of Vatican II is an undeniable fact. And Ratzinger himself contributed to this, when he was German cardinal Josef Frings' expert consultant at the Council. According to Ruggieri, it was the young Ratzinger who wrote the explosive address that Frings read in the assembly hall during the first session, an address that broke completely from the ecclesiastical magisterium of the last two centuries. From this, Ruggieri deduces:

"What the 'History' directed by Alberigo affirms about the novelty of Vatican II is summarized well in this address by Frings." Read: by Ratzinger.

* * *

If, then, even Benedict XVI is counted among the good guys, who is still left among the bad guys?

Komonchak and Ruggieri identify them by both first and last name: the hopeless cases are archbishop Agostino Marchetto and cardinal Camillo Ruini.

The first, a diplomat of the Roman curia, is the author of many pointed attacks on the "History" directed by Alberigo, which have been collected in a volume published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 2005, a few months before Benedict XVI's address on the interpretations of the Council.

The second, the pope's vicar for the diocese of Rome, said while presenting Marchetto's book to the public:

"The interpretation of the council as a rupture and a new beginning is coming to an end. This interpretation is very feeble today, and has no real foothold within the body of the Church. It is time for historiography to produce a new reconstruction of Vatican II which will also be, finally, a true story."

This, anyway, is what www.chiesa reported in an article on June 22, 2005. But Ruggieri, on the basis of an electronic recording, transcribes the cardinal's final words as follows:

"A different story, honestly, is still to be written. We need another great and constructive history of Vatican Council II."

But even with this philological scruple resolved, Ruggieri still gives Ruini the thumbs-down: because in him, in Marchetto and in "those who polemicize against the 'History' directed by Alberigo there is objectively manifested a fear of the memory of the event." They reject the "History" not because it enumerates the many novelties of Vatican II – novelties that they are able to "drown" in the sea of continuity – but precisely because it recounts the Council "as an event that opened a new season of the church."

* * *

The Council as event. This foundational thesis reappears in many pages of the latest issue of "Cristianesimo nella storia."

Theobald emphasizes this sentence from Alberigo: "The Council as such, as an event of communion, of encounter and exchange, is the fundamental message that constitutes the context and kernel of its reception."

Ruggieri writes: "The Council transmitted itself. In this sense, the new 'doctrine of the church' is not the fruit of Lumen Gentium and of the other ecclesiological fragments present in the various conciliar documents, but of the conciliar celebration as such. [...] The problem of the reception of Vatican II is primarily that of the collegiality of the whole church."

But isn't this vision the very same one that Benedict XVI had criticized under the heading of the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"?

Here is how the pope described it at that time:

"The hermeneutic of discontinuity [...] asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts. These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague. In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit."

Komonchak, Ruggieri, and others have their work cut out for them in denying that they have never written this way, in just such terms. Because their "History" is also an event that goes beyond the text, it has a reception and produces thought and practice.

Benedict XVI has simply put all of this in black and white. He has described and criticized the "spirit" of the school of Bologna.

The paradox of "Cristianesimo nella storia" is that, in order to respond to him, they cling to the "letter."

Source: Focus - Dettaglio articolo Chiesa

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