Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas Message to the Curia will doubtless get many Trads further annoyed, and reassure Sedes that they are correct, after all. Sandro Magister, in his usual perceptive manner writes of this message in Chiesa
, to which I refer my readers.
In a nutshell, the Pope proposes that Vatican II corrected prior Church policy in three different areas:
a)the relationship between the Faith and "Modern Science" (or at least what passed for that notion from the 18th century to almost the present)
b)the relationship between the Church and the "modern" secular State
c)the relationship between the Church and other religions, especially, in the light of Nazi atrocities (bearing in mind that Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict himself, as well as the European Council Fathers had all suffered under them in a way Americans cannot really understand), the Jews
The Holy Father explains, as only a participant of the Council could (a sincere one, that is --- the Rahners and the Kung's had their own views). As Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness described the Council as a sort of "Counter-Syllabus" --- in reference to the Syllabus of Errors of Bl. Pius IX. This was a description that infuriated such as Archbishop Lefebvre (and myself, for what little that is worth). But loyalty to the Holy See requires that such a sincere explication as the Pope has presented be returned, not with fury, but with the same sort of sincerity.
Benedict declares that the former attitude of the Church toward the modern world, "a harsh and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age," was in itself flawed. As he writes, "It was becoming clear that the American Revolution had offered a model of the modern state that was different from that theorized by the radical tendencies that had emerged from the second phase of the French Revolution. Natural sciences began, in a more and more clear way, to reflect their own limits, imposed by their own method which, though achieving great things, was nevertheless not able to comprehend the totality of reality. Thus, both sides began to progressively open up to each other. In the period between the two world wars and even more after the second world war, Catholic statemen had shown that a modern lay state can exist, which nevertheless is not neutral with respect to values, but lives tapping into the great ethical fonts of Christianity."
Despite the apparently authoritative manner of Bl. Pius' Syllabus and similar teachings, "In this process of change through continuity we had to learn how to understand better than before that the Church’s decisions about contingent matters – for example, about actual forms of liberalism or liberal interpretations of the Bible – were necessarily themselves contingent because related to a reality itself changeable." So it was that "We had to learn how to recognise that in such decisions only principles express what is lasting, embedded in the background and determining the decision from within. The concrete forms these decisions take are not permanent but depend upon the historical situations. They can therefore change."
As an historical precedent, Pope Benedict offers this one, dear even to most who call themselves Traditionalists: "When Medieval Christianity, largely schooled in the Platonic tradition, came into contact with Aristotle’s ideas via Jewish and Arab philosophers in the 13th century, faith and reason almost became irreconcilable. But saint Thomas Aquinas was especially able to find a new synthesis between faith and Aristotelian philosophy. Faith could relate in a positive manner with the dominant notions of reason of the time."
His Holiness goes on to effectively critique what he sees as the erroneous interprestation of the Council, which sees it as a radical break with all that was taught before, although he does not mention that this is, regrettably, the dominant view in most Catholic institutions, to include diocesan chanceries and Roman Curia departments. Against this particular threat he writes, and --- I have no doubt --- intends to act.
There are, I think, two ways to react to this and similar pronouncements. One is simply to brand him as a modernist out to destroy Catholic Tradition, consciously or unconsciously, in a a far cleverer manner than his last few predecessors. Perhaps predictably, our friends in the SSPX tend to take this view. In his January 2006 "Letter from the District Superior [of Great Britain]," Fr. Paul Morgan opines, after acknowledging that the Tridentine Mass is likely to prosper under the new management in Rome, "Whilst we can expect something of a return to a more conservative situation under the new pope, at least compared to John Paul II's pontificate, we ought not to imagine that everything is resolved. As it was Napoleon who introduced a certain order in to the Revolution, and then carried the revolutionary principles across Europe with his victorious armies, so now is there a real danger of a more conservative pope propagating the revolutionary principles of Vatican II."
While I fully understand this view, I just as fully do not share it. The second possible response is of loyal discussion of the views advanced by the Pontiff,in precisely the terms in which he advances them. For either the views adavnced by Bl. Pius IX remain binding (as I believe) or they are contingent, as His Holiness declares. But if this last is true, then denial of them is just as contingent, and may be discussed, or even discounted, if it is found to be factually erroneous or the times require such discounting, even the Pope has said of the Syllabus of Errors. If, as then Cardinal Ratzinger replied to Archbishop Lefebvre's declaration that Vatican II contradicted the the Syllabus, that "we do not live in the times of the Syllabus," one must reply that neither do we live in the times of Vatican II. To those who neither lived under the Nazis and nor were old enough to have participated in the heady emotions unleashed by the Council,it may well be easier to "discern the signs of the times," even as Vatican II itself commanded.
Thus, it seems to me (albeit this is a personal judgement --- which kind of judgement it appears the Holy Father himself has legitimated in his Christmas Curia message)that we must evaluate the Conciliar project on the basis of the assumptions under which it was formed.
Vatican II occurred before a number of key events which shed a great deal of light on the veracity or otherwise of those assumptions. Genetic research and such things as the discovery of invertebrate fossils have demolished both the Darwinian theory of evolution and the dating system upon which it was based; the "New Physics" have not only blown Newtonian scientism to smithereens, they have indicated existence of an "information universe," redolent of the much feared "intelligent design;" the discovery of frag,emts of the Gospel of St. Mark among the Dead Sea scrolls has voided the formerly "new" Biblical criticism; the onward motion of government and society in destroying marriage, family, and all things decent in an increasingly totalitarian manner has demolished the hopes of the 20th century Catholic politicians the Pope rightly praises, as well as calling into question the supposed uniqueness of the American Revolution, a uniqueness much beloved of conservatives and liberals alike; and the continuing hatred of the vatious non-Catholic religions for the Church surely must bring doubt upon the wisdom of the post-Vatican II ecumenical project (save, of course, toward the Orthodox and certain Anglican and Lutheran conservatives).
In a word, the contingent world view upon which the Vatican II generation's assumptions were built have been broken. That World View is like a gigantic dinosaur that does not yet realize that it is dead. But what Pope Benedict XVI has done, even while espousing this world-view to a greater or lesser degree,is to legitimise debate on it. As the generations that are emotionally wedded to it die off, such debate, will, in the end, kill it. Even now, such works as Fr. Aidan Nichols' "Christendom Awake
" indicate that this process is under way. Let be noted that Fr. Nichols and his ilk could hardly be called "Traditionalists."
What must be determined, and the Pontiff's methodology urges us to so determine, is which approach is more appropriate to the new world in which we live --- that of the Council, or that of the Syllabus. It is my own view that, in time, the latter will emerge as the victor. But it will require the passing from the scene of those who were brutally abused by the Nazis and/or Communists, and those who felt to the bottom of their hearts that a New World dawned in the 1960s, before all these things can be evaluated calmly on their own merits. As Fr. Morgan charitably admits, "due to [Benedict XVI's]perspective of things it seems impossible for him to renounce or to reject the Council." Unhappily, it may also be neccessary for those of us who were brutalised by post-Conciliar developments also to be gathered to our ancestors before this process can be completed.
In the meantime, it is necessary for those of who do not share the world-view of the Council Fathers to show love and loyalty to our Pope, even as the Scotist school, who upheld the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception against the Thomists, showed toward Pontiffs like St. Pius V, who forbade them to call their opponents (proved at last, after several centuries to be wrong)heretical. Moreover, it is essential that we know our facts. We must know and internalise documents like Bl. Pius IX's Syllabus
and Gregory XVI's "Mirari Vos
" and "Singulari Nos
" which so many who call themselves Traditionalists defend without ever reading. We must also keep abreats of the latest developments in science, politics, culture, and all the rest, sifting them, even as the Pope has called upon us to do. How many of us, for example, are familiar with the work of Fr. Jose O' Callaghan
? For that matterm it would help to throw ourselves into the Church Fathers, and the traditional liturgies of all rites, East and West. We cannot defend Catholic Tradition if we do not really know it ourselves.
But there is more. We must avoid any arbitrary division of Catholics into "Traditional" and "Conciliar." All of us, (save those clerics and theologians who deny the basic tenets of the Faith) are Catholics. We may be ignorant, willful, deluded, or anything else you please. But anyone who can recite the four creeds, meaning every word of them in the light of St. Pius X's anti-Modernist oath, are Catholics. As such, we must both give and expect a certain amount of decency to and from our brother catholics. We must seek to convert, to reconcile, to assuage, to unify, on the basis of both Truth and Charity. This is important not merely for the Salvation of other souls, but for our own. It is notable that the salvation of individual souls, that is to say, of engineering their escape from the jaws of the Hell that lies in wait for each and every one of us, is almost completely absent from virtually all these sorts of debates.
The reason for this, I believe, can be found in the historical precedent for the changes of Vatican II cited by the Holy Father in his Christmas message --- the discarding of Patristic and Medieval neo-Platonism for Aristotelianism of various schools. I have written of this elsewhere in more detail, and doubtless will do so again. But here too, it is my belief that the two sides in that long-ago struggle also must be reevaluated in the light of what has happened in the centuries since.
But regardless of whether I am right or wrong in that, I happily reaffirm my loyalty and submission to Pope Benedict XVI, and wish him and all of us a happy and blessed 2006.