Wednesday, January 25, 2006


The Pope's Christmas message to the Curia featured three interlocking themes:

    a)The Contingency of the Church's Pre-Conciliar approach to the Modern World (and, therefore by logical extension, that of the Post-Conciliar approach)

    b)the contrast between two "heremeutics" of the Council --- that of "Reform," and that of "Change"

    c) a certain number of historical references intended to bolster His Holiness' arguement

In this second section, then, we will look at Benedict's second theme. Before we do this, however, I must share with my brother internauts art of an e-mail I received regarding the reaction of Bishop Fellay of the SSPX to the document we are studying. It is a fragment of "a translation of the interview(French)which the Superior-General of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, granted at Radio-France to the [French] Association of Religious Information Journalists." We will look only at the two questions asked the Bishop about the Curia message, rather than his comments on possible reconciliation with Rome. These are interesting, but not germain to the current discussion. Here are the questions posed by Jean-Claude Noyé, Apic journalist in Paris, and Bishop Fellay's answers.

Q.: Differently from you, Benedict XVI defended, on his speech to the Curia of December 22, 2005, that the Church has been constant in this question... [of religious liberty]

B.F.: Not at all, for he introduces a distinction between a rupture in the action and a continuity in principle. In any case, the pope has the will to re-read the Council, to present it otherwise.

Q.: Has this papal speech pleased you?

B.F.: Yes, because of its clarity, its precision, and the will to propose true questions. Though, in my opinion, it does not go today far enough.

Regardless of how critical one may be of Benedict XVI's approach, it cannot be denied that His Holiness is actually willing to enter into discussion about the Council, rather than simply praise it and demand submission.

Now then, on to the Pope's description of the "two hermenuetics" or interpretations.

"The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things: "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call 'a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture;' it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It 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. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it 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 and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself."

I have quoted this section at length simply because it so masterfully captures the nature of the changes imposed after Vatican II. Never have we seen a post-conciliar Pope describe so well the intellectual current that flowed from the Council. Yet, here, although I cannot endorse all that Bishop Fellay says or does, I must agree with his opinion that "it does not go today far enough."

The problem is that one would get the notion (if one were only reading this message, and had not lived the reality of the past several decades)that this "hermeneutic of discontinuity" was a purely intellectual concept, perhaps restricted to a few scholars, rather than the standard way in which the conciliar decrees were applies in most dioceses, by the Curia, and in many cases by Paul VI himself. What Benedict describes was simply the modus operandi of the greater part of the Church's organisation --- and, indeed, what the nuns and priests who taught me actually said during the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. The veteran of those times, and indeed, of our own, is left with the feeling that while the Pope has accurately diagnosed the disease, he has not noticed the symptoms. To be fair, of course, no doubt many in the crowd he was addressing were adherents of these ideas themselves. In keeping with his whole approach, he may well have felt that it was better to teach than to condemn.

But what of the "hermeneutic of reform?" Benedict XVI goes on to describe it thusly:

"The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.

Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes 'to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion.' And he continues: 'Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us....' It is necessary that 'adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness...' be presented in 'faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...,' retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the programme that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.

However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing."

His description of said heremeutic is inspiring.But the Pontiff's last paragraph is puzzling. To put it simply, I know of few places where "this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council." There are a few favoured spots --- the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota, comes to mind, for example, or the Brompton Oratory in London. Yet such areas are few and far between, and often resemble cities under siege by their local bishops, rather than models for their dioceses. It is certainly true that younger priests tend to be more orthodox than their elders, and this presages a hopeful future. Moreover, many new orders and communities are being formed, a large number of which are filled with just the sort of spirit that the Pope indicates he favours. Yet a large number of these (though by no means all) are products of the Tridentine Indult. Like the new generation of priests, they would appear, at least superficially, to have grown up despite the Council's actions, not because of them. And here too, they are all often besieged.

That having been said, no one could argue with Bendict XVI's hopes for what the Council may one day produce; but one could take exception to the idea that such good fruit is actually here in abundance. At any rate, much of His Holiness' views on the Council's project of "reconciloiation" between the Church and what was "modernity" in the 1960s depends upon his historical analysis, and it is to that we will turn our attention in the third and last instalment of this post.


Blogger Éstiel said...

The first encyclical (God is Love)is out and "surprising," according to reports, on its uncontroversial content. I've read just the preface and rejoice. It shows Benedict as I hoped he would be in my comment on your first edition of "Forty Years After." And it confirms for me that he is "surprising" everyone, as I thought.

The priest in San Mateo who announced his homosexuality to his congregation and received a standing ovation is so exemplary of those who engage in political warfare and in doing so, utterly destroy the entire meaning of our faith while they assert the opposite. His comments were entirely an insinuation that the Church condemns homosexuals--which is false, of course, but an insinuation that furthered his own political agenda.

Our Holy Father does not engage in politics--as your excerpt from the interview reveals, and as his preface to his first encyclical shows. He is indeed "in no one's pocket except the Holy Spirit's."

My hope is that your quoted comments and the preface reveal a foundation for right interpretation of VII, which will be forthcoming--perhaps very slowly. If it is indeed forthcoming, the foundation is an excellent one. In other words, no, he doesn't "go far enough," but the groundwork for going further is perfect.

In response to his remarks about evidence of right interpretation being "abundant," I share your hesitation. However, don't just look at certain parishes in the U.S. "under siege" as you so correctly described them; look also at the totally orthodox spirituality that is emerging from the young people you mention--particularly in France, of all places! It is that spirit (Spirit)that will triumph, not merely a few priests or parishes "winning out" in a political struggle (the naval battle in the storm). In other words, I hope you will broaden your view to include "evidence" other than the few churches show.

As for me, I have had no choice but to broaden my view, for Hope demands that I do. (Our Holy Father will transcend politics because my faith does. He will certainly not do less!)

6:12 AM  
Blogger Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

This message is now accessible on short url

9:35 AM  

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