When the spirit of a council dictates, almost from day one, how the documents of a council are to be read and applied, then that spirit is the true fruit of the council, regardless what the documents may say. Luckily, the Church has never fallen into this trap, so keep calm and party on, right?
This is the conservative paradox: the same people who are blamed for “hijacking The Council” are those to whom pious submission must be given in the implementation of The Council. Conspiracy theories are generally taboo among conservatives, but The Tale of Those Nasty Liberals Who Hijacked Poor Ol’ Vatican Two is one conspiracy theory still very much in vogue. The documents have borne the fruits we see (and will probably keep seeing, for a long time to come) because the seeds of said fruit are embedded in the documents themselves. This is why, as Bp. Schneider reminds us, the documents must be subjected to a thorough magisterial pruning, so that the vigor of the Pastoral Mandate can be matched by the tradition of doctrinal security.
Meanwhile, the unrelenting cry for MOAR COUNCIL has a bizarre way of leading to the very abuses which The Council is supposed to have saved us. The Council cannot be a final harbor. It was a milestone, but the Church keeps moving, and I think the Church needs to either enforce the documents with a zeal that any “rad trad” would admire, or needs to admit that The V2 Experiment has failed. The Church will–and must–go on, but, pragmatically speaking, The Spirit of The Council is the clear winner these days. It is heroic of laymen to hold the magisterial line, but it is properly the duty of the episcopal college to get the led out and get our house in order. No “pastoral” strategy is guaranteed infallible immunity.
At the same time, I’m floored that unflinching defenders of Vatican II at least admit that the V2 documents shouldn’t but in fact can be read in a discontinuous, heterodox way. Can the same be said of any prior council? And even if it could be, it was the purpose of a later council authoritatively to rectify such problems. No one in the hierarchy is seriously calling for such a correction. Everything Is Awesome. Except, darn it, this time we need to really implement The Council. There’s that creeping conspiracy theory again.
I don’t see how we can have it both ways. If V2 is to be judged not as a dogmatic intervention but as a pastoral endeavor, and should therefore not be held to such rigorous intellectual standards as prior councils, then the manifest deterioration and disorientation of the Church in certain ways should suffice to show how the pastoral endeavor has been derailed on its own terms. Rather than being read in an orthodox sense, the conciliar ambiguity in question reverses the entire hermeneutic by subjecting past teaching to endless debate and doubt in the superdogma event horizon that V2 has, despite its intended “humility”, become. To cite prior councils is to be labeled a rad trad, which is pretty astounding a charge. As Brunero Gherardini had persuasively argued, what is need is not a declamation of continuity, but a demonstration of it, and the only possible resources for such a demonstration reside in the very things that get one labeled a rad trad. V2 is the most self-referential council in the Church’s history, which is why, like any spiraling mass, it sucks everything else into its gravitational pull, and contorts it all into a shape of its own making.
The documents were not presented as platforms of change. How could a merely pastoral council aim to extend or settle dogmatic issues? The entire premise of the council, at least officially, is that the Church was simply restating long-standing doctrine. Yet, there followed a torrent of adaptation and compromise which the documents had not explicitly decreed. By avoiding the pastoral latitude that it did, the council left the door open for “the spirit of Vatican II”, which is, predictably enough, the impulse which has prevailed for decades. This is why the Church is in the tumult of a collective swing back to the center, and I am baffled why it’s so scandalous for Catholics to point out this disorientation and put V2 in its place, as it were. No one is meant to live at the peripheries of doctrinal coherence. The world has always been crazy. Human nature has not changed. It was the historical chauvinism of the V2 Fathers which led them to presume that the Church was in a new world. Blinded by a naive progressivism, the Fathers gave us a shining example of an old trick: orthodoxy can be defeated by a direct refutation or by being marginalized as optional. The latter strategy has been highly effective for decades now. Dogma doesn’t have to be changed in order to permit a revolution. It can simply be marginalized as irrelevant compared to more pressing Pastoral Needs of The People. Why deny objective truth when you can make it irrelevant?