“At the conclusion of one of the most important recent books on the Second Vatican Council, What Happened at Vatican II (2008), John O’Malley SJ states that the most important ‘issue under the issues’ at the council called by John XXIII was language. The Jesuit historian argues that Vatican II was ‘a language event’ and that ‘the style of discourse was the medium that conveyed the message’.”
Due to the vast amount of material I attempt to cover in this post, I will not spend very much time on exposition or analysis. As I was writing this post, documentary evidence swelled to more than I had ever anticipated, so I decided to break the original post into numerous (ahem) “shorter” posts, not only so it is easier for me to edit, but also so it is easier for readers to (in)digest and discuss.
In many cases I think the citations speak for themselves, but I will add emphases throughout to support my thesis, which, in light of recent discussions at this blog is the following:
Vatican II included foundational premises and doctrinal features which were qualitatively different from those of prior councils.
First of all, by refusing to include canons and decrees in its official teachings, Vatican II of its very nature created room for dissent and ambiguity in a way that no other council had ever done before.
Second, by intentionally adopting a novel rhetorical and ideological strategy for addressing error and articulating truth, Vatican II differed from prior councils in a way that the sensus catholicus is still attempting to digest, and, to be frank, may never succeed in wholly assimilating. The conflicts arising after Vatican II are, therefore, rooted in the conciliar intentions and documents themselves, and not, as in prior councils, in the extrinsic reactions to them. It is, therefore, a red herring to argue that, since previous councils were also followed by conflict and resistance, and were also met with unforeseeable challenges many years or even decades later, therefore the post-Conciliar crisis is just a typical function of ecclesial councils.
For example, even if the council of Chalcedon was accused by various “mia-” and “monophysite” dissenters as dangerously ambiguous, at least Chalcedon decreed blunt, sic-et-non canons and decrees which could either be accepted or rejected. In contrast, Vatican II generated such a tsunami of doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical “considerations” that it’s impossible for anyone to know precisely which horn of the many ambiguities one is required to affirm. After all, if an ecumenical council has enshrined the ambiguities, who are we to dissolve them?
The difference is this simple:
To reject X in the canons and decrees of Chalcedon, or any other pre-Conciliar council, is eo ipso to excise oneself from the Church; whereas, to reject Z in the teachings of Vatican II teaches–unless of course Z was already explicitly canonized or decreed by prior councils!–is not necessarily to excommunicate oneself, but simply to express one’s freedom of conscience by emphasizing one facet of what is by now the pluralistic, big-tent world of “post-conciliar Catholicism”.
The analogy I have recently come to use is this:
Prior councils were very concrete grammar books, intended to correct a discrete set of linguistic errors and promote an equally discrete set of proper linguistic abilities. What Vatican II offered the faithful and the world, by contrast, was more like a dictionary of the entire language. Granted, it lacked nothing, did not formally contradict any prior “grammars,” and was remarkably well organized (golf clap for The Experts™, everyone!), but it assumes so advanced a grasp of the language to begin with that it’s not only gravely ineffective as a concrete teaching tool for the average learner, but also a boundless field of semantic over- and under-emphasis, depending on the user’s ideological predilections. As such, as we shall see ad nauseam, Vatican II was, by the admission of its own most zealous advocates, unlike all prior councils, and in ways which are endemic to the endless struggles which characterize its “reception” and “implementation.”
But now to the first phase of the documentary evidence.
+ + +
Pope John XXIII expressly convened the Second Vatican Council so that the Church could take up a course of action towards heresy and schism that was different (in certain key respects) from what previous Church councils had intended and achieved. This is not to say that Vatican II shared none of the aims of prior councils, as John XXIII rightly notes; it is simply to say that the very notes which led John XXIII to convene his council in the first, were those which render it a sui generis event in the life of the Church. As such, these idiosyncrasies go not a little way in explaining why it remains such a contentious “series of unfortunate events” in the seemingly endless quest for a seemingly seamless hermeneutic of continuity.
As Amerio Romano explains in Iota Unum**….
I will now cite various passages from John XXIII’s 11 October 1962 opening address to the Council. I am aware of only two English versions of this address available online. The first version is available at the blog, “Vatican II: Fifty Years Ago Today”, a fascinating and immensely useful resource which provides official statements and news reports from the Council, fifty years later to the day in each case. The second version is available at Catholic Culture, and is apparently drawn from The Encyclicals and Other Messages of John XXIII (TPS Press, 1964), pp. 423-435. As it happens, I was so struck by the disparity of the translations that I am posting exceprts from both of them, in tandem.
Away we go.
|“In calling this vast assembly of bishops, … [I, John XXIII,] intended to assert once again the Church’s magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time….” (Vatican II at Fifty)||“…the Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails…. For that was the reason for calling this most authoritative assembly….” (CatholicCulture.org)|
|“Ecumenical councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth, to the proper guidance of individuals in domestic and social life, to the strengthening of spiritual energies for a perennial uplift toward real and everlasting goodness.” (V2F)||“…the function of every ecumenical council has always been to make a solemn proclamation of the union that exists between Christ and His Church; to diffuse the light of truth; to give right guidance to men both as individuals and as members of a family and a society; to evoke and strengthen their spiritual resources; and to set their minds continually on those higher values which are genuine and unfailing.” (CC.org)|
|“As regards the initiative for the great event, … it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, ‘ecumenical council.’ We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable Jan. 25, 1959, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the council.”||“The decision to hold an ecumenical council came to Us in the first instance in a sudden flash of inspiration. We communicated this decision, without elaboration, to the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of St. Paul’s Conversion, in his patriarchal basilica in the Ostien Way. The response was immediate. It was as though some ray of supernatural light had entered the minds of all present: it was reflected in their faces; it shone from their eyes. At once the world was swept by a wave of enthusiasm, and men everywhere began to wait eagerly for the celebration of this Council.”|
[NB: The Latin for “It was…the/this council” reads: “Statim adstantium animi subito tacti sunt, quasi supernae lucis radio coruscante, et suaviter omnes affecti in vultu oculisque. Simul vero vehemens studium toto terrarum orbe exarsit, cunctique homines Concilii celebrationem studiose exspectare coeperunt.”]
Here I must pause to address a few matters both curious and irksome.
In 1996, Desmond O’Grady, a leading Vatican correspondent for The Washington Post, reported that in 1944 Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (who later became John XXIII) “gave a sermon on a council to be held in the postwar period.” Was that sermon also a mystical epiphany? Likewise, as Louie Verrecchio has noted, citing Roberto de Mattei’s opus on the Second Vatican Council, there are at least three other pieces of evidence that show Roncalli had it in mind to convene a council before his reported mystical insight. Indeed, the idea had been in the air as long ago as the 1830s (cf. Graber , p. 12), and Pius XI referred to the gravity of such a proposal in his inaugural encyclical, Ubi arcano, #51 (1922). “We,” Pius XI conceded, “as the leader of the chosen people must wait and pray for an unmistakable sign from the God of mercy and of love of His holy will in this regard.” Is that what John XXIII felt he had with his burning in the bosom? I suppose so, though I can’t help but wonder if the Montanists and Quakers would not be more equipped to analyze such “epiphanies of reform” than this lowly blogger.
In addition, I must admit that I find it quite presumptuous of the good pope to wait to declare his intention to renew the Church on the memorial, and in the topos, of Saul’s conversion to Christ, sending as it does a none too subtle message that the Church herself was in need of conversion. Indeed, the reference to a sweet ray of celestial light befalling those in his presence suggests a sort of foil to the epochal (though perhaps apocryphal) sign shown to Constantine, the semiotic implication once again being that the New Council of Sweetness and Light would usher in a sort of anti-Constantinian liberation for the Church, a return to her humbler roots after centuries of, well–traditional, dogmatic, monarchial Catholicism. I admit that I am reading many things into the anecdote, but only because John XXIII himself clearly and repeatedly emphaszied his epiphany, and it behooves us to consider why he felt his wave of “enthusiasm” entailed a full-scale renovation of the Church.
But back to his opening address:
|“These years [of preparation] have seemed to us a first sign, an initial gift of celestial grace. Illuminated by the light of this council, the Church — we confidently trust — will become greater in spiritual riches and, gaining the strength of new energies there from, she will look to the future without fear.”||“We are convinced that the time spent in preparing for this Ecumenical Council was in itself an initial token of grace, a gift from heaven. For We have every confidence that the Church, in the light of this Council, will gain in spiritual riches. New sources of energy will be opened to her, enabling her to face the future without fear.”|
As encouraging as those initial years of preparation may have seemed, it turned out that every single schema drafted during that heavenly time was rejected and completely reformulated–cannibalized, you might say–in the slapdash frenzy of the conciliar debates once the Council was convened. If the work of the preparatory years amounted to a great signal of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, then how might we characterize the volte-face which occurred once the Council was set in motion?
Also, are we to believe that prior to Pope John’s Council, the Church was lacking in all the “spiritual riches” necessary for her mission? Or that the pre-Conciliar Church was beset with fear towards the future?
But to return to the papal address:
|“In the present order of things, Divine Providence [is] leading us to a new order of human relations….”||“Present indications are that the human family is on the threshold of a new era.”|
And therefore, presumably, in need of a new kind of council….
|“…the world of today … is so busy with politics and controversies in the economic order that it does not find time to attend to the care of spiritual reality, with which the Church’s magisterium is concerned. Such a way of acting is certainly not right, and must justly be disapproved. It cannot be denied, however, that these new conditions of modem life have at least the advantage of having eliminated those innumerable obstacles by which at one time the sons of this world impeded the free action of the Church…. [T]he Church, finally freed from so many obstacles of a profane nature such as trammeled her in the past, can from this Vatican basilica, as if from a second apostolic cenacle, and through your intermediary, raise her voice resonant with majesty and greatness.”||“Men are so worried by these [economic and political] things that they give scant thought to those religious concerns, which are the province of the Church’s teaching authority. All this is evil, and we are right to condemn it. But this new state of affairs has at least one undeniable advantage: it has eliminated the innumerable obstacles erected by worldly men to impede the Church’s freedom of action. … [T]he Church, freed at last from the worldly fetters that trammelled her in past ages, can through you raise her majestic and solemn voice from this Vatican Basilica, as from a second Apostolic Cenacle.”|
As far as I know, the above contains the first reference to the idea that Vatican II amounted to a “Second Pentecost,” an idea that I find just as presumptuous as the Church needing a Damascus road conversion as it may be incoherent (viz., if the First Pentecost grounds the sacrament of Confirmation, then does not a Second Pentecost suggest an entirely sacramental order? Why, again, did Vatican II require the revision of every single sacramental form?).
Be that as it may, just over one hundred years before John XXIII made the above claims, Pope Pius IX, in his 1859 encyclical Qui Nuper, said in no uncertain terms that “temporal power is necessary to this Holy See, so that for the good of religion it can exercise spiritual power without any hindrance. These most cunning enemies of the Church seek to wrest away its temporal sovereignty.” In other words, the same “worldly/profane” powers and obligations which John XXIII seems to suggest–and I admit, sheepishly, that I find his words on this point quite inscrutable–undermine the Church’s “freedom of action,” are those very powers which Pius IX says are essential to it! Indeed, as Pope Benedict XV wrote in Ad beatissimi Apostolorum (1914), with reference to the same loss of the papal-political states as was lamented by Pius IX in Qui nuper:
For a long time past the Church has not enjoyed that full freedom which it needs–never since the Sovereign Pontiff, its Head, was deprived of that protection which by divine Providence had in the course of ages been set up to defend that freedom. Once that safeguard was removed, there followed, as was inevitable, considerable trouble amongst Catholics: all, from far and near, who profess themselves sons of the Roman Pontiff, rightly demand a guarantee that the common Father of all should be, and should be seen to be, perfectly free from all human power in the administration of his apostolic office. And so while earnestly desiring that peace should soon be concluded amongst the nations, it is also Our desire that there should be an end to the abnormal [i.e., stateless?] position of the Head of the Church, a position in many ways very harmful to the very peace of nations. We hereby renew, and for the same reasons, the many protests Our Predecessors have made against such a state of things, moved thereto not by human interest, but by the sacredness of our office, in order to defend the rights and dignity of the Apostolic See.
As I say, I am unclear on the context behind John XXIII’s remarks on the Church being unfettered by worldly concerns, but it seems to fly in the face of the idea that the Church needs and enjoys rights to political sovereignty, and precisely for the good of the faithful and the nations in league with the Holy See.
In any case, what are we to make of the obiter dictum that the Church’s magisterium is concerned (only?) with “religious/spiritual” matters? The Social Reign of Christ the King means precisely that the Church’s authority does not extend to “religious matters” alone, but also subsumes the supposedly ‘neutral’ domain of social, economic, and political conduct. Any review of the major social teachings of the Church (e.g. Rerum Novarum, Libertas, E Supremi, Notre Charge Apostolique, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, Ubi Arcano, Quas Primas, Quadregesimo Anno, etc.)
Now back to John XXIII’s address:
|“The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”||“The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy.”|
|“…[this] 21st ecumenical council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout 20 centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men.”||“This twenty-first Ecumenical Council can draw upon the most effective and valued assistance of experts in every branch of sacred science, in the practical sphere of the apostolate, and in administration. Its intention is to give to the world the whole of that doctrine which, notwithstanding every difficulty and contradiction, has become the common heritage of mankind—to transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted.”|
Yet, as I have mentioned, what actually happened is that the Conciliar documents were rife with diluted, ambiguous, pragmatically motivated compromise clauses [–all of which, amazingly enough, Paul VI went on to ratify and solemnly promulgate.
Back onto the merry-go-round!
|“The salient point of this council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.
For this a council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness as it still shines forth in the acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit of the whole world [?] expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciences 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.
And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”
|“Nor are we here primarily to discuss certain fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, or to restate in greater detail the traditional teaching of the Fathers and of early and more recent theologians. We presume that these things are sufficiently well known and familiar to you all.
There was no need to call a council merely to hold discussions of that nature. What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith [?], without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.
“This, then, is what will require our careful, and perhaps too our patient, consideration. We must work out ways and means of expounding these truths in a manner more consistent with a predominantly pastoral view of the Church’s teaching office.”
Did someone say “serene theology”? Did someone say a step “forward”? Did John XXIII mean to say that “the whole world” craves a deeper penetration of Catholic truth? Also, when was the Church’s magisterium never cognizant of its pastoral character? Consult your Conciliar Decoder Rings, O great and powerful augurs of The Council, and please tell us simple sheep, what does it all mean?
And again, what of the idea that the substance of the faith is one thing while the expresison of it is another?
[In Latin: “Est enim aliud ipsum depositum Fidei, seu veritates, quae veneranda doctrina nostra continentur, aliud modus, quo eaedem enuntiantur, eodem tamen sensu eademque sententia.”]
Here are a few pertinent points to consider before sending the substance of anything down the blind chutes and the up the befogged ladders of linguistic expression without some very hard and fast rules in place.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII warned about this slippery dichotomy in Humani Generis:
“In theology [of late] some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents.
“Moreover they assert that when Catholic doctrine has been reduced to this condition, a way will be found to satisfy modern needs, that will permit of dogma being expressed also by the concepts of modern philosophy, whether of immanentism or idealism or existentialism or any other system. Some more audacious affirm that this can and must be done, because they hold that the mysteries of faith are never expressed by truly adequate concepts but only by approximate and ever changeable notions, in which the truth is to some extent expressed, but is necessarily distorted. Wherefore they do not consider it absurd, but altogether necessary, that theology should substitute new concepts in place of the old ones in keeping with the various philosophies which in the course of time it uses as its instruments, so that it should give human expression to divine truths in various ways which are even somewhat opposed, but still equivalent, as they say. They add that the history of dogmas consists in the reporting of the various forms in which revealed truth has been clothed, forms that have succeeded one another in accordance with the different teachings and opinions that have arisen over the course of the centuries.
“It is evident from what We have already said, that such tentatives not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism, but that they actually contain it. The contempt of doctrine commonly taught and of the terms in which it is expressed strongly favor it. Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Oecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them.
“Hence to neglect, or to reject, or to devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected so often by the age-old work of men endowed with no common talent and holiness, working under the vigilant supervision of the holy magisterium and with the light and leadership of the Holy Ghost in order to state the truths of the faith ever more accurately, to do this so that these things may be replaced by conjectural notions and by some formless and unstable tenets of a new philosophy, tenets which, like the flowers of the field, are in existence today and die tomorrow; this is supreme imprudence and something that would make dogma itself a reed shaken by the wind. The contempt for terms and notions habitually used by scholastic theologians leads of itself to the weakening of what they call speculative theology, a discipline which these men consider devoid of true certitude because it is based on theological reasoning.
“Unfortunately these advocates of novelty easily pass from despising scholastic theology to the neglect of and even contempt for the Teaching Authority of the Church itself, which gives such authoritative approval to scholastic theology. This Teaching Authority is represented by them as a hindrance to progress and an obstacle in the way of science. Some non-Catholics consider it as an unjust restraint preventing some more qualified theologians from reforming their subject. And although this sacred Office of Teacher in matters of faith and morals must be the proximate and universal criterion of truth for all theologians, since to it has been entrusted by Christ Our Lord the whole deposit of faith — Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition — to be preserved, guarded and interpreted, still the duty that is incumbent on the faithful to flee also those errors which more or less approach heresy, and accordingly ‘to keep also the constitutions and decrees by which such evil opinions are proscribed and forbidden by the Holy See,’ is sometimes as little known as if it did not exist. What is expounded in the Encyclical Letters of the Roman Pontiffs concerning the nature and constitution of the Church, is deliberately and habitually neglected by some with the idea of giving force to a certain vague notion which they profess to have found in the ancient Fathers, especially the Greeks. The Popes, they assert, do not wish to pass judgment on what is a matter of dispute among theologians, so recourse must be had to the early sources, and the recent constitutions and decrees of the Teaching Church must be explained from the writings of the ancients.”
Ironically, less than nine months before he convened the Second Vatican Council, whereby, as we have just seen, he also called for a renovation of the “manner in which” the Church “expressed” the depositum fidei, John XXIII himself had warned against straying too far from the traditional “modus, quo [doctrinam] enuntiatur [est]“. In his 1962 Veterum Sapientia he wrote the following:
“Since ‘every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,‘ … it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be [both geographically and temporally] uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite. …
“Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are [in expression], would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.
“But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. It has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established. …
“Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular [i.e. not adapted to endless temporal and geographical changes].
Likewise, perhaps sensing how dangerously Pope John’s Council had severed the sacrosanct link between sacral language and spiritual reality, in 1965, less than three years after John XXIII’s opening address to the Council to end all councils, Pope Paul VI gave the following blunt warning in Mysterium Fidei:
“[We must] guard the proper way of expressing [modus loquendi], lest our careless use of words [ne indisciplinatis verbis utentibus nobis] give rise, God forbid, to false opinions regarding faith in the most sublime things. St. Augustine gives a stern warning about this when he takes up the matter of the different ways of speaking [diversum loquendi modum] that are employed by the philosophers on the one hand and that ought to be used by Christians on the other. ‘The philosophers,’ he says, ‘use words freely, and they have no fear of offending religious listeners in dealing with subjects that are difficult to understand. But we have to speak in accordance with a fixed rule [ad certam regulam loqui], so that a lack of restraint in speech [verborum licentia] on our part may not give rise to some irreverent opinion about the things represented by the words.’
“‘And so the rule of language [Regula … loquendi],which the Church has established [quam Ecclesia … firmavit] … is to be religiously preserved [sancte servetur], and no one may presume to change it at his own pleasure or under the pretext of new knowledge [vel sub praetextu novae scientiae].'”
Call me cheeky–“Cheeky!”–but the phrase that comes to mind is, “Too little, too late,” Signore Montini.
|“The Church has always opposed these [the world’s] errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.
Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions and dangerous concepts to be guarded against and dissipated. But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits, that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life. They are ever more deeply convinced of the paramount dignity of the human person and of his perfectioning, as well as of the duties, which that implies.”
|“The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.
Not that the need to repudiate and guard against erroneous teaching and dangerous ideologies is less today than formerly. But all such error is so manifestly contrary to rightness and goodness, and produces such fatal results, that our contemporaries show every inclination to condemn it of their own accord—especially that way of life which repudiates God and His law, and which places excessive confidence in technical progress and an exclusively material prosperity. It is more and more widely understood that personal dignity and true self-realization are of vital importance and worth every effort to achieve.”
Interestingly enough, only nine years after Humani Generis was issued, and only three years before he opened Vatican II, in his inaugural papal encyclical, Ad Petri cathedram (1959), John XXIII himself “condemned with utmost severity” the errors besetting the modern world:
All the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth—and at times even more than ignorance, a contempt for truth and a reckless rejection of it. Thus arise all manner of errors, which enter the recesses of men’s hearts and the bloodstream of human society as would a plague. These errors turn everything upside down: they menace individuals and society itself. …
If we adhere to this truth, we adhere to God Himself, the author of truth, the lawgiver and ruler of our lives. But if we reject this truth, whether out of foolishness, neglect, or malice, we turn our backs on the highest good itself and on the very norm for right living. …
The weapons of truth, then, must be used in defense against these weapons of evil. We must strive zealously and relentlessly to ward off the impact of this great evil which every day insinuates itself more deeply. …
[Many in our day] act as though God had given us intellects for some purpose other than the pursuit and attainment of truth. This mistaken sort of action leads directly to that absurd proposition: one religion is just as good as another, for there is no distinction here between truth and falsehood. ‘This attitude,’ to quote Pope Leo [XIII], ‘is directed to the destruction of all religions, but particularly the Catholic faith, which cannot be placed on a level with other religions without serious injustice, since it alone is true.’ Moreover, to contend that there is nothing to choose between contradictories and among contraries [pace, cf. CCC 1886ff.] can lead only to this fatal conclusion: a reluctance to accept any religion either in theory or practice.
How can God, who is truth, approve or tolerate the indifference, neglect, and sloth of those who attach no importance to matters on which our eternal salvation depends; who attach no importance to pursuit and attainment of necessary truths, or to the offering of that proper worship which is owed to God alone?
It is such language as the above which gives one hope that John XXIII was indeed a saint, despite the cumbersome Conciliar baggage that he has taken to his grave.
|“She [the Church] opens the fountain of her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and their purpose are….”||“She unseals the fountains of her life-giving doctrine, so that men, illumined by the light of Christ, will understand their true nature and dignity and purpose.”|
Wait, was the Church’s doctrinal and missionary fountain somehow closed (sealed) prior to Vatican II? Was the Church failing to shed her grace and light upon the world until John XXIII was “inspired” to try a “new approach”?
In 1794, Pope Pius VI penned the bull Auctorem Fidei in order to suppress the errors and innovations of the (Jansenist) Synod of Pistoia. A number of his warnings and reminders still hold great value in our time, especially when reform-fever seems not only a fait accompli but also all sweetness and light. Gregory XVI begins by laying down the general principle that “when a leader of God’s holy Church … turns the very people of Christ away from the path of truth, and when this occurs in a major city, then clearly the distress is multiplied, and a great anxiety is in order.” He continues by noting how the ringleader of the Synod of Pistoia “embarked on confusing, destroying, and utterly overturning [Christian teaching] by introducing troublesome novelties under the guise of a sham reform.”
The pope goes on to denounce how that synod had sought to unite “the seeds of the vicious teachings they had scattered beforehand through numerous pamphlets; to revive errors not long since condemned; and to detract from the faith and authority of those apostolic decrees by which they stood condemned.”
Later in the bull, Gregory XVI remarks on “the capacity of innovators in the art of deception”. To wit:
In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, they sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous maneuvers by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle [if not ‘serene’] manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith which is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation. …
“Moreover, if all this is sinful, it cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it.
“It is as if the innovators pretended that they always intended to present the alternative passages, especially to those of simple faith who eventually come to know only some part of the conclusions of such discussions which are published in the common language for everyone’s use. Or again, as if the same faithful had the ability on examining such documents to judge such matters for themselves without getting confused and avoiding all risk of error. It is a most reprehensible technique for the insinuation of doctrinal errors and one condemned long ago by our predecessor Saint Celestine who found it used in the writings of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and which he exposed in order to condemn it with the greatest possible severity. Once these texts were examined carefully, the impostor was exposed and confounded, for he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed. …
“Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements which disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to Catholic truth is camouflaged…. They endeavor to entice to their side the clearly unwilling and resistant schools by a kind of distorted likeness of similar terms….
“It is not a matter of the danger of only one or another diocese: Any novelty at all assails the Universal Church. … A lengthier forbearance in such matters is not safe, because it is almost just as much of a crime to close one’s eyes … as it is to preach such offenses to religion.”
In the same spirit, Pope Gregory XVI taught in 1833 in Qui graviora:
As more serious ills threaten the Catholic Church from the heinous contrivances of its enemies, the popes who have been placed in the See of St. Peter should be so much the quicker in taking action to repel them. … [My predecessor, Pius VIII] urged you [priests] to protect the rights of the Church with every zeal, to watch over sound doctrine, and to show those who must act how to oppose with reason and justice those ideas harmful to the Church, ideas which you should zealously strive to have revoked. …
[Under liberal regimes that deprive her of rightful terrestrial power, the] Church is thus subjected to an unworthy slavery, having been violently deprived of the liberty which Christ gave it. … Moreover, now and again, they [i.e., Rhineland reformers] produced a pamphlet with many additions and dared to print it under the bold title: “Are reforms necessary in the Catholic Church?” …
You know, venerable brothers, on what erroneous principles the above-mentioned men and their followers depend and where that desire which moves them to begin effecting a revolution in the Church has its origin. …
This idea is spread by an impious and absurd system of indifference toward religious matters which claims that the Christian religion can become perfect in time. While the patrons of such a false idea are afraid to adapt the shaky possibility of perfection to the truths of faith, they establish it in the external administration and discipline of the Church. Moreover, in order to bring about faith in their error, they wrongfully and deceitfully usurp the authority of Catholic theologians. These theologians propound here and there a distinction between the teaching and the discipline of the Church which underlies this change, that it will always stand firm and never be harmed by any alteration. Once this is established, they state categorically that there are many things in the discipline of the Church in the present day, in its government, and in the form of its external worship which are not suited to the character of our time. These things, they say, should be changed, as they are harmful for the growth and prosperity of the Catholic religion, before the teaching of faith ant morals suffers any harm from it. Therefore, showing a zeal for religion and showing themselves as an example of piety, they force reforms, conceive of changes, and pretend to renew the Church. …
While they contend that the entire exterior form of the Church can be changed indiscriminately, do they not subject to change even those items of discipline which have their basis in divine law and which are linked with the doctrine of faith in a close bond? Does not the law of the believer thus produce the law of the doer? Moreover, do they not try to make the Church human by taking away from the infallible and divine authority, by which divine will it is governed? And does it not produce the same effect to think that the present discipline of the Church rests on failures, obscurities, and other inconveniences of this kind? And to feign that this discipline contains many things which are not useless but which are against the safety of the Catholic religion? …
They add rashness to error with the usual verbal license of such men, since they attack this Holy See as if it were too persistent in outdated customs and did not look deeply inside the character of our time. They accuse this See of becoming blind amid the light of new knowledge, and of hardly distinguishing those things which deal with the substance of religion from those which regard only the external form. They say that it feeds superstition, fosters abuses, and finally behaves as if it never looks after the interests of the Catholic Church in changing times. …
Denounce, beseech, rebuke in all patience and teaching. Nothing should deter you from throwing yourselves into every conflict for the glory of God, for the protection of the Church, and for the salvation of the souls entrusted to your care.
On that note, let us return to the dawn of Reformistan:
|“Unfortunately, the entire Christian family has not yet fully attained to this visible unity in truth. The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His Heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice.”||“Unhappily, however, the entire Christian family has not as yet fully and perfectly attained to this visible unity in the truth. But the Catholic Church considers it her duty to work actively for the fulfillment of that great mystery of unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly to His heavenly Father on the eve of His great sacrifice.”|
I shall refer you to Mirari vos, Quartus supra, Etsi multa, Praeclara gratulationis, Satis cognitum, and Mystici Corporis for sustained readings on why the above is a silly Protestant myth, and shall simply cite a passage from Denzinger and Pius XI’s Mortalium Animos as the combined, immediate antidote.
In 1864 the Sacred Office wrote to the English bishops as such:
It has been made known to the Apostolic See that some Catholic laymen and ecclesiastics have enrolled in a society to “procure” as they say, the unity of Christianity…. [F]ormed and directed by Protestants, [this endeavor] is animated by that spirit which expressly avows for example, that the three Christian communions, Roman Catholic, Greek-schismatic, and Anglican, however separated and divided from one another, nevertheless with equal right claim for themselves the name Catholic [Christian]. … [As such,] no one is permitted to raise a question about the various forms of doctrine in which they disagree, and that it is right for each individual to follow with tranquil soul what is acceptable to his own religious creed. Indeed, the society itself indicates to all its members the prayers to be recited, and to the priests the sacrifices to be celebrated according to its own intention: namely, that the said three Christian communions, inasmuch as they, as it is alleged, together now constitute the Catholic Church, may at some time or other unite to form one body….
The foundation on which this society rests is of such a nature that it makes the divine establishment of the Church of no consequence. … [For it] supposes the true Church of Jesus Christ to be composed partly of [i.e., subsisting of?] the Roman Church scattered and propagated throughout the whole world, partly, indeed, of the schism of Photius, and of the Anglican heresy, to which, as well as to the Roman Church, “there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism” [cf. Eph. 4:5]. [ECUMENISM OF BLOOD!] Surely nothing should be preferable to a Catholic man than that schisms and dissensions among Christians be torn out by the roots and that all Christians be “careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [Eph. 4:3]…. But, that the faithful of Christ and the clergy should pray for Christian unity under the leadership of heretics, and, what is worse, according to an intention, polluted and infected as much as possible with heresy, can in no way be tolerated.
In the same groove, in 1928 Pius XI thwarted the illusions of “achieving unity” with the following:
And here it seems opportune to expound and to refute a certain false opinion, on which this whole question, as well as that complex movement by which non-Catholics seek to bring about the union of the Christian churches depends. For authors who favor this view are accustomed, times almost without number, to bring forward these words of Christ: “That they all may be one…. And there shall be one fold and one shepherd,” with this signification however: that Christ Jesus merely expressed a desire and prayer, which still lacks its fulfillment. For they are of the opinion that the unity of faith and government, which is a note of the one true Church of Christ, has hardly up to the present time existed, and does not to-day exist. They consider that this unity may indeed be desired and that it may even be one day attained through the instrumentality of wills directed to a common end, but that meanwhile it can only be regarded as mere ideal. They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities, which still remain separate, and although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder; that these all enjoy the same rights; and that the Church was one and unique [that ‘subsisted’?] from, at the most, the apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Controversies therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion which keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian family, must be entirely put aside, and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers. The manifold churches or communities, if united in some kind of universal federation, would then be in a position to oppose strongly and with success the progress of irreligion.
This, Venerable Brethren, is what is commonly said. There are some, indeed, who recognize and affirm that Protestantism, as they call it, has rejected, with a great lack of consideration, certain articles of faith and some external ceremonies, which are, in fact, pleasing and useful, and which the Roman Church still retains. They soon, however, go on to say that that Church also has erred, and corrupted the original religion by adding and proposing for belief certain doctrines which are not only alien to the Gospel, but even repugnant to it. Among the chief of these they number that which concerns the primacy of jurisdiction, which was granted to Peter and to his successors in the See of Rome. Among them there indeed are some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor or even a certain jurisdiction or power, but this, however, they consider not to arise from the divine law but from the consent of the faithful. Others again, even go so far as to wish the Pontiff Himself to preside over their motley, so to say, assemblies. But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor.
Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act, it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.
This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise?
|“… [this council] prepares, as it were, and consolidates the path toward that unity of mankind”||“…[The Second Vatican Council] blazes a trail that leads toward that unity of the human race…”|
Nothing to see here, folks, just more of the same conciliar trailblazing (promissory though it may be).
|“Behold we are gathered together in this Vatican basilica, upon which hinges the history of the Church where heaven and earth are closely joined, here near the tomb of Peter and near so many of the tombs of our holy predecessors, whose ashes in this solemn hour seem to thrill in mystic exultation. The council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light. It is now only dawn. And already, at this first announcement of the rising day, how much sweetness fills our heart. Everything here breathes sanctity and arouses great joy.”||“Here we are assembled in this Vatican Basilica at a turning-point in the history of the Church; here at this meeting-place of earth and heaven, by St. Peter’s tomb and the tomb of so many of Our predecessors, whose ashes in this solemn hour seem to thrill in mystic exultation. For with the opening of this Council a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendor. It is yet the dawn, but the sun in its rising has already set our hearts aglow. All around is the fragrance of holiness and joy.”|
Shucks. If only God had given such a bonanza of grace and “enthusiasm” to the Church before the 1960s. Lucky us, I guess.
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Enough for part 1. In part 2 we will continue to examine other claims Pope John XXIII made about his Council, and how those claims were adopted and, perhaps, deepened by his successor, Paul VI.