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The signs of decay in the Church were evident well before Vatican II

The Church was just not ready to face the changes the 1960s threw at it

By on Friday, 31 August 2012

The opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 (AP)

The opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 (AP)

In the uplifting homily which Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury gave to the Latin Mass Society pilgrimage to Walsingham on 26th August, he reminded his listeners that “In October this year our Holy Father Pope Benedict invites us to celebrate a “Year of Faith”, fifty years after the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Council. The central aim of the Council was the transmission of the Church’s faith amid the new and rapidly changing conditions of our time. The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council Blessed John XXIII declared on that October day “is this, that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously”.

Bishop Davies continued, “As the Latin Mass Society, as the faithful attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, as pilgrims to Walsingham, we accept together with enthusiasm the call of the Second Vatican Council in all its authentic teaching and the invitation to this “Year of Faith” to which the Holy Father calls the whole Church.”

Bishop Davies is right to show his loyalty support for the Council of 1962-1965 – even though he, as well as his listeners, knows full well that an almighty turmoil within the Church actually followed in the wake of the Council. This turmoil, especially in the field of catechetics, has been documented for years in The Flock, the newsletter of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, edited by the redoubtable Mrs Daphne McLeod. The latest edition is on my desk with the ironic headline, “Fifty ‘Glorious’ Years?”

Daphne writes that before the Council “the Catholic Church grew and thrived… Missionary work grew too… Many excellent spiritual books were written [which] show how well the teachings of the Church were known and loved by Catholic before 1970, in sharp contrast to what Pope Benedict calls the ‘widespread religious ignorance’ found among most Catholics today…”

The newsletter continues in the same vein, with all the statistics of a thriving Church before the Council, and with sub-titles such as “How Vatican II was hijacked”, “The fruits of Vatican Two”, “How we got “Modern Catechetics” and so on. I don’t doubt that much of this analysis is correct and I don’t want to challenge her account. But there is just one question that niggles me: if the Church was so strong before the Council, with its “crowded churches for Sunday Mass and for the non-obligatory Rosary, sermon and Benediction, plenty at weekday Masses, packed seminaries and noviciates, as well as a steady stream of converts” etc, how did it collapse so quickly when the Council ended?

I know it is considered very bad form to bring Germany between 1933 and 1945 into an argument, but I’ll do it anyway. I have been reading a fascinating book by the well-known German historian, Joachim Fest, entitled Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood. Fest’s father, Johannes, a principled, Catholic headmaster of a Berlin secondary school and a political supporter of the Weimar Republic, loathed the National Socialists, refused to join the Party and thus lost his teaching post in 1933. His son reflected in these memoirs, that although he and his milieu had been brought up with “middle class and civic virtues” in a cultured and Christian European country, nonetheless “inwardly this stratum of society had decayed long before, so that I was brought up in accordance with the principles of an outmoded order.”

His own family might have held onto civilised and Christian values, but as a whole the German middle class – the class that traditionally, in any society, tends to run the institutions of local and national power – had “decayed”. Thus, he writes, it was “hopelessly unprepared” for the dictatorship that followed in 1933.

All right, it is a far-fetched analogy – but a Jesuit priest friend who has recently died aged 95, Fr Hugh Thwaites, answered my niggling question in much the same way that Joachim Fest did when he looked at his father’s generation; Father told me he could see the signs of decay in the Church in the 1950s, well before the Council got going.

Unlike Daphne McLeod, he felt Catholics in general did not really know their faith and were going through the motions of religious practice out of habit and unthinking conformity; it was not a living faith. That saintly man, Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary and given the honour of being a lay observer at the Council, was more damning in his judgment of the complacency of Catholic Ireland in the decades before the Council was called.

On might ask: was the Church prepared for the “new and rapidly changing conditions” of the 1960s and beyond?

We all hope a purified Church will now rise from the ashes of the past. Bishop Davies mentions the coming “Year of Faith”. The CTS, certainly one of the hopeful signs of a renewed Catholic apostolate today, compared with its faded booklets in the porches of parish churches in the past, has produced a “Year of Faith Prayer Book”. It includes prayers to the Trinity, Our Lady, the saints and for the Church and the world. Our country, which has lost its moral compass, needs many prayers as we know. Action has to begin in prayer. Using the “Year of Faith Prayer Book” would be a start.

  • Parasum

     “The documents stemming from Vatican II are atrocious – verbose,
    ambiguous, disingenous, self-contradictory and downright silly at BEST.”

    ## That’s not fair as a judgement of all 16. There is a lot of very solid theology, as well as doctrine, in them. Lumen Gentium is an admirably balanced document, which does a very good job of combining the traditional teaching of the Church with Biblical theology. If to be faithful to what the Church has received a document needs to be good as Biblical theology, as Catholic theology & as Catholic doctrine, Lumen Gentium is outstanding. It makes good use of the teaching of the Popes, and manages to be very modern and very traditional. Its Mariology is admirably sane, and any Catholic who takes the chapter on Our Lady to heart will be very well equipped to avoid both the more grotesque exaggerations about her (which do nothing to recommend the Faith of the Church, and a lot to obscure it), and the temptation to say far too little of her.

    It’s a long document because any piece of writing that tries to set forth the faith of the Church regarding even one subject cannot avoid being long. It’s easy to give a short but lop-sided account of a subject – if the Church’s understanding of the Church is to be set out without being lop-sided, a lot of ground has to be covered. To set out its doctrine about itself in a series of propositions, has the drawback of not showing how the different propositions fit together. The essay-like form of the document has the drawback of not showing what weight is to be attached to each proposition, but the essay-form has the further advantage of not giving the impression that each proposition can be taken in isolation. The essay form synthesises a great deal of material whereas the traditional propositional form is analytic. Since the Church’s teaching is a body of doctrine, not a heap of independent unrelated affirmations, there is a lot to be said for presenting them in a coherent synthesis. 

    Lumen Gentium is not as one-sidedly Roman as some earlier documents – its theological vision is Christ-centred, influenced by the Greek Fathers, and this may go some way to account for the difference in tone between it & the documents of Lateran IV or Trent. A weakness in the Roman outlook is trying too hard to pin everything down, even when dealing with what can’t be pinned down. Lumen Gentium avoids this by giving priority to the character of the Church as a mystery, and making that the setting for its exposition of doctrine. None of this is novel – but some of it has been obscured for Latin Catholics by an over-emphasis on the  Church as a visible society shepherded by a visible earthly head.


  • Parasum

    The questions the Modernists raised about Christian origins were not answered, but suppressed. This may help discipline, but not understanding of what is believed. Unless questions solve themselves or cease to be pressing, they will need satisfying answers sooner or later. St. Pius X had the virtues of a parish priest, but he was not a theologian; and many of the issues raised by Modernism needed theological answers.   

    “Vatican II as a set of documents are now totally irrelevant”

    ## Parts of Gaudium et Spes may have been overtaken by events, parts (& only parts) of Sacrosanctum Concilium likewise. But more purely theological & doctrinal documents such as Lumen Gentium & Dei Verbum are as relevant and thought-provoking as they were when the ink was drying on them. They aren’t the last word – but neither was the teaching of Nicea I.  G&S could hardly have been written other than in the 1960s, and may turn out to be the least durable of the lot. Parts of it are very traditional – the overall tone is the problem.

    As for being a revolution, perhaps too much was done too quickly. People can take any change, if it is undertaken gradually.

  • Parasum

    “The existence of difficulties — which, I remind you, are up to the Magisterium to resolve, not you or I”

    ## Natch. But so far, the M. seems to have done very little to resolve them. The *acta* of Trent had an entire Congregation devoted to explaining their meaning – but despite a bit of this shortly after V2, very little has been done by the M. to explain precisely what the *acta* of V2 mean.  It might conceivably recommend the Rahner-Vorgrimler commentary, or the work of other theologians, and give these writings official status. But until and unless the M. acts to explain the meaning of the *acta* of V2, the theologians are going to have to try to work out what the Council meant. Since their ideas, however acute, are not acts of the authentic episcopal M.of the  Church, but the suggestions of private theologians, their ideas, however close to the truth, are not enough.  

    Since the resulting uncertainty has serious pastoral consequences, the silence of the M., at the very period when its judgement is needed, is deplorable.  

  • Parasum

     That just puts the problem back a stage :(

    “If in doubt about interpretation, fall back on Tradition.”

    ## That’s not a sufficient answer – the relation to, or coherence or continuity with, Tradition, of the V2 documents, is the problem. 

    “…these need to be clarified by the Magisterium.”

    ## Couldn’t agree more – but its disinclination to do that is a further problem :banghead sad eek depressed:

  • Parasum

     Which is the “Compendium” ?

    There is the zappily-named “YouCat” (which sounds like a LolCat); there is or was the booklet that corrected or modified the 1994 edition of the CCC; and there is the recent-ish black volume devoted to social doctrine. And the big fat door-stopper of a “Companion to the CCC”. Is there  another book too ?

  • Parasum

    But how do such scandals amount to meaning that the documents are no good ?

    IMO what is much worse is that the bishops as a body have not yet got round to condemning Marxism. An omission is one thing – not to retrieve it, is worse.  Divini Redemptoris is no more out of date than Mit Brennender Sorge. If Marxism was a “satanic plague” in 1937, then it still is:

    58. See to it, Venerable Brethren, that the Faithful do not allow themselves
    to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save
    Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.
    Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the
    triumph of Communism in their own country, will be the first to fall victims of
    their error. And the greater the antiquity and grandeur of the Christian
    civilization in the regions where Communism successfully penetrates, so much
    more devastating will be the hatred displayed by the godless.

    ## In the Latin, the word translated “wrong” is “pravus”, so “intrinsically depraved” might be more accurate. If Freemasonry is objectionable, surely Communism is far worse. Yet the Church is very strict in its opposition to Freemasonry.

  • Parasum

    Should Catholics tell other Catholics to become Episcopalians :( ?

  • Parasum

     “What ever happened to all the souls of people since the human beings came?”

    ## The priest who received me pointed out that, for Catholics, this issue is not a problem.  It can be a problem only if one leaves out basic stuff such as:

    1. Divine Providence extends over the whole of creation – so if there are multiverses, they are no objection to Catholic belief at all.

    2. The saving purpose of God did not begin at Pentecost; the Descent of the Spirit was a new stage in the life of the People of God – but God has always had a People.

    3. The Church is universal in time as well as in space; as the Fathers point out: they speak of “the Church from Adam”.  The Roman Martyrology includes, or included, Adam, Eve & Abel among the Saints. So if Socrates, Plato, the Buddha, or Hammurabi are saved, they are as truly members of Christ as we are.

    4. As St. Paul says in Romans 2, those who do not have the Law of Moses are judged by the law in their hearts. So people will be judged, not by knowledge of God they have not been granted, but by the knowledge of Him that He has given them.

    5. There is nothing to prevent Christ granting His grace to anyone He wishes – He is faithful to the Church, & it is the ordinary means of salvation; but He is not limited by the means He gives men for their salvation; we are.

    6. “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole earth” – not just the bits we know.

    7. If anyone is saved, it is only through Christ & his grace. This holds as much for those who lived BC as for those who live AD. Whatever is good at all, is God’s gift, so if the ancient nations like the Babylonians or Egyptians had any knowledge or wisdom, it was God’s gift, regardless of whether He was recognised as God. Christ is the Universal Saviour, of all who are saved, from Adam to the very last of the elect.  

    8. If anyone is lost, it is through their fault alone.

    Any use to you ?

  • Parasum

     “Are you happy totally with todays RCC?”

    ## No. But that is not important. Only one POV counts, and that is Christ’s.

    Happiness in the Church is not unimportant, but, it is not as important some other things. “It’s not about us”.

    Questioning can be – should be – a means of growth. Job asked a lot of questions.

    Faith is not based on education. It is a gift of God. Socrates was called the wisest of men because he confessed that he knew nothing; a very good example for Christians. Education  is not to be despised, but neither is it a replacement for faith. The Tree Of Knowledge is not the Tree of Life.

    “As you go through the history of the RCC , you can find wrong as well as right.”

    ## Of course. The Church is entirely Divine – not purely Divine; it has its human side as well. And to sin is human; we are damaged by original sin, and act accordingly. But whether the sin in the Church is or is not greater than the holiness in the Church, is the wrong question. The Holiness of the Church is inexhaustible, because it is not human, but the Holiness of Christ. No other Holiness is available than His. And because His Holiness is Infinite, & because He is God & man, the Holiness of Christ that is given to the Church is Divine Holiness, & will always have the last word. The Resurrection guarantees this. For sin to overcome  the Church, sin would need to be greater than God.

    Besides, Christ is the Eternal Shepherd King of the Church. He has overcome sin and death and hell, so how can sin in His Church overcome Him ?

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    The person I was responding too is not even close to being Catholic.

    Saying you are a “Catholic” without believing in the Church is like saying you are a “Muslim” without believing in the Koran. It simply does not make sense.

  • teigitur

    I think in some cases, yes. It is very clear that some belong there, where they can think ,say, and do as they please. Though its not working all that well for that Church, to put it mildly.

  • teigitur

    It involves people on a far deeper level, than the NO. Which is valid of course, but sub-opimal to put it mildly. I love the peppering of psalmody and the silence of the Old Rite. It is far closer to our Jewish roots.

  • JabbaPapa

    Hell is likely to be filled with people who hate God.

  • Ben

    Obviously there was severe decay in the culture held by the Church’s spiritual shepherds, since countless of their number covered for pedophile priests to save face for the hierarchical church. They caused substantial harm to the Church of God, which is the faithful.

    May we all find healing.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    The Church of God includes the Hierarchy, which is a legitimate authority. Please read the Bible.