Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vatican II and Continuity: The Opportunity that Might be Found in the Present Controversy

One of the debates -- and it is a necessary one -- that has arisen from the storm of controversy surrounding the lifting of the excommunications and the impending possibility -- pending discussions -- of the regularization of the Society of St. Pius X, is the question of how the Second Vatican Council will be approached. What will the Church require of the SSPX, and indeed, what are we, as Catholics generally, required of in its regard?

This might seem simple, and perhaps it is on one level, but it is not so simple as it might seem, because in part, there is the question of the proper interpretation and application of these documents -- that is, in the light of tradition -- which must enter into the matter. The truth of the matter, which is no great revelation, is that this has not always been found to be so in the decades following the Council.

This matter and some of the complexities associated with it were aptly summarized in this address, given in 1988 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in Santiago, Chile. There, he made the following observations:

The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

This idea is made stronger by things that are now happening. That which previously was considered most holy -- the form in which the liturgy was handed down -- suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the faith -- for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. -- nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation.


All this leads a great number of people to ask themselves if the Church of today is really the same as that of yesterday, or if they have changed it for something else without telling people. The one way in which Vatican II can be made plausible is to present it as it is; one part of the unbroken, the unique Tradition of the Church and of her faith.

(You may read the entire address here.)

This sets up some of the issues which surround the debate now occurring. In reality, this debate relates us back to a discussion that the Pope invoked in 2005 when he discussed two approaches: the hermeneutic of rupture versus the hermeneutic of reform in continuity.

It had been noted upon the NLM that this matter of the SSPX was bound to invoke this discussion as it relates to the Second Vatican Council, and that there might be some good come from that for the broader Church as well. The question was, would these discussions remain relatively private between the ecclesiastical authorities and the SSPX, or would they be more public? While we still cannot know the answer to that specific question, the public controversy which has recently erupted from those within the Church about this matter -- and their corresponding comments about the Council -- has caused this debate to come out into the public sphere -- resulting in public counter-responses now as well.

In point of fact then, this climate of controversy may well have helped to put that very important and necessary issue -- a matter which is at the heart of so many issues today -- out into the open and into the public sphere. That in turn might lend itself well to a magisterial correction of a great deal of misunderstanding and misapplication surrounding the Council in the decades following it.

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