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As the Church prepares for the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, I ask: what did Pope John hope for?; also, ‘what unites Hans Küng and Daphne McLeod’?

The answer makes gloomy reading

By on Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Pope John XXIII signs the bull convoking the Second Vatican Council (Photo: CNS)

Pope John XXIII signs the bull convoking the Second Vatican Council (Photo: CNS)

When Pope John XXIII opened the second Vatican Council on October 11 1962 he read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the Council Fathers. This spelled out his intentions for the Council. “In calling this vast assembly of bishops,” he said, he intended “to assert once again the Magisterium [the teaching authority of the Church] which is unfailing and endures until the end of time, in order that this Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world.”

The ecumenical councils of the Church, he declared, were the means of establishing the content of this Magisterium; but this teaching now needed to be restated in terms the modern world would understand: it was expected by the “Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world” that “the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and [the] First Vatican Council”, should take “a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness 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.”

As the Church prepares to celebrate the Council’s 50th anniversary, we have to ask the question: were Pope John’s aspirations fulfilled by what happened in the name of the council itself? As Pope John ended his opening declaration, he did so, it is clear, with huge optimism about its mission and its anticipated achievements: “The Council now beginning,” he said, “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.”

Pope John’s aspirations for the council were enunciated clearly enough. How faithful were those who came after him to what should have its spirit? He stressed, it will be noted, the importance of the great councils of the Church, and mentioned as being particularly important the Council of Trent and the first Vatican Council. Unfortunately, as we now know only too well, a considerable number of theologians took it into their heads that Pope John’s call for faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church (and especially to those two councils) should be sidestepped: theologians like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx declared that they and their own writings constituted a kind of alternative magisterium. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner compared Vatican II with the Council of Jerusalem: the implication was that the council established an entirely new Church, which superseded everything that had come before. The Pope’s call for the study of doctrine “through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought” was taken to justify an actual replacement of the Church’s doctrine by modern thought, wherever these clashed: this was done, it was often declared, in the name of the spirit of Vatican II (rather than of the declarations the Council Fathers actually enunciated).

The results of this attitude, which the present Pope has called a “hermeneutic [ie a method of interpretation] of discontinuity and rupture”, can everywhere be seen. They were spelled out in The Flock recently by Daphne McLeod, who takes a gloomy view of what she believes were the results of the Council itself (rather than of prevailing distortions and misinterpretations of it):

Before Vatican II,” she writes, “we had many priests and religious and plenty of priestly and religious vocations, but now we are very short of both. It is difficult for younger Catholics to realise just how strong the Church was pre-Vatican II. For instance we were blessed to have many Religious Houses offering up constant prayer and doing much good in schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Likewise, no Catholic of the forties and fifties could have envisaged the plight of the Church today. It would have seemed to them an unimaginable catastrophe. Before this Council we had, according to Cardinal Spellman of New York, speaking in 1964, ‘the best informed laity the Church has ever had’, but now, as the Holy Father remarked in 2002 when announcing the committee who would compile the Compendium, ‘there is widespread religious ignorance’.

“Before the Council only 10-15% of Catholic school leavers lapsed – often to return later, so we kept their children when they married. Now over 90% of Catholic school leavers lapse never to return. Thus we also, inevitably, lose their children and their grandchildren.

“In pre-Vatican II days we were constantly building new churches and schools to accommodate our ever-growing Catholic population. Now we are closing many of our beautiful Catholic churches, and Catholic schools have to complete their numbers by taking in children of other faiths or none.”

But there are real questions here. They have often been asked, but are still worth asking again: how much of all this was the result of the Council itself? How much was the result of the way in which Pope John’s intentions were so cynically overridden? And how much, faced by the awesome power of modern secular culture, would have happened anyway? I have no easy answers. Some of it, however, was undoubtedly due to the cynical hijacking of the Council by theologians who were intent on reconstructing Christian belief to conform with modern thought. As a means of renewing the Church “if you can’t beat them, join them” was always doomed to failure; and it caused massive damage, damage which, I firmly believe — thanks to the last two popes — is now being undone. But there is a long way to go.

Ah, well. One amusing little fruit of these gloomy animadversions has been my discovery of something at least that firmly unites Daphne McLeod and Hans Küng: neither of them sees much to celebrate in the Council’s 50th anniversary. “Fifty ‘glorious’ years?” asks Mrs McLeod (clearly what Latin Grammars call “a question inviting a negative answer”). As for Fr Küng, who is not amused by the present Pope’s increasingly successful efforts to undo the distortions of theologians of his ilk, and who never thought that Vatican II went far enough anyway, he isn’t joining in the festivities either.

“I was honoured,” he wrote dyspeptically in May, “to receive the invitation [to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council at the German Katholikentag at Mannheim] but is one really in the mood to celebrate at a time when the Church is in such sore distress?”. “In my opinion,” says Fr Küng in his four-page reply, “here is no reason for a festive Council Gala but rather for an honest service of penance or a funeral service”. Penance, well certainly; we can all do with that. But what would Fr Küng confess, with Vatican II especially in mind? If he would like my guidance, I have one or two suggestions…

  • JabbaPapa

    MORE Socialism !!!

    How “wonderful” !!!

  • Sweetjae

    Hans Kung is a heretic like most modernist catholic politicians. Though one can be sidetracked by both Left and Right ditch of the road.

  • JabbaPapa

    I stand by my word, Jabba

    Then you place yourself out of full Communion with the Church in doing so.

    The very foundation of Catholicism is acceptance of the legitimacy of views unlike one’s own ; where they are licit views that is.

  • Alan

    What a strange statement.  I’m merely pointing out the self-evident truth that most people, Catholics or otherwise, like to be given some explanation for things they are asked to believe.  What’s Soviet about that?

  • JabbaPapa

    “Let no innovator dare to write against the use of Latin in the Sacred
    Rites … nor let them in their folly attempt to minimise the will of
    the Apostolic See in this matter”.

    To be fair, the Second Vatican Council did no such thing — notwithstanding that a great many abusive bishops worldwide exactly did.

  • Sweetjae

    Parasum is a closet Sedevacantist.

  • JabbaPapa

    This is a modern heresy promulgated by Bishop Lefebvre

    Nope !!!!

    Monseigneur Lefebvre rebelled against the attempt to kill off the Latin Mass.

    Which was not a “work” of the Council, but the work of various wreckers later on, moved as they were by the so-called “spirit” of Vatican II.

    Monseigneur Lefebvre committed no heresy — he committed a deliberate act of rebellion.

  • Sweetjae

    No i didnt place myself oitside the Church because i believed in EVERY single teaching of the Catholic Church and the legit Pope Benedict XVI…who were constanrly being attacked by bothe left and right. I dont pay any attention to your opinion, you are NOT the judge.

    Licit views? Are you serious? The guy said he DUMPED (toto) the Council of VII and are parroting me as outside? How about you?

  • Sweetjae

    Whatever, heresy (error) is the root cause of rebellion and disobedience, meaning believed in themselves, ask Lucifer and Luther to clear your mind.

  • Sweetjae

    This is not about disagreement, its about acceptance DEMANDED by the constant teaching of the Church and Magisterium which SSPX is obviously STILL outside of the Church. Do you get it Jabba?

  • theroadmaster

    Indeed, the point is arguable.  The main problems which issued from Vatican 11, has been the skewed interpretation of the Council documents and pronouncements.  As indicated in my earlier comments, there was nothing in them which mandated the radical and destructive liturgical changes which were implemented by modernist priests and bishops across Europe and the US, in the years which followed Vatican 11.  Some even argue that artificial contraception, women priests, re-entry of divorcees to the sacraments and other heterodox beliefs are acceptable in the “spirit” of Vatican 11.  Again there is nothing explicit or implicit in the documents which favors any of  these positions. Possibly the ambiguity of some of the Vatican 11 text has led to liberal clergy and lay people twisting the true intentions of the documents to suit their own ends

    ,Your depiction of the pope as a follower of “Conservative Modernism” is so far of the mark that it is pitiable.  Have you read any of the pope’s books or read any of his sermons/talks on the sacred liturgy and tradition?  It seems that you have not, otherwise you wouldn’t be describing his position so inaccurately.  His recent granting of the right of priests to say mass in the traditional Latin form of the Roman rite according to the 1962 missal, through his Apostolic Letter “Summorum Pontificum” which conveyed the Motu Proprio, is a supreme example of his leanings in terms of liturgical practice and doctrine.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your opinions are replete with the notion that we, as a society, are more “advanced” than our forebears.

    The denunciation of the Magisterium of the Church, with the underlying rejection of the Tradition, are purely Soviet in origin, as is the notion of “social progress” that informs your acts of open rebellion.

  • JabbaPapa

    SSPX is not in fact outside the Church in the precise manner that you are suggesting.

    The Society is in a state of partial communion with the Church, not in a state of actual schism.

  • JabbaPapa

    The guy said he DUMPED (toto) the Council of VII

    No, in fact he said : “Vatican II is rotten to the core

    This is, whether you or I like it or not (I personally don’t), a licit opinion on the works of the Council.

    I am not slow to point out that all Catholics MUST accept the works of Vatican II — but no Catholic is required in any way to be positively-minded towards its teachings.

    (although we must all denounce any false teachings propagated in the name of the so-called “spirit” of Vatican II).

  • JabbaPapa

    Heresy and Error are two different things — well, that is heresy is a particular kind of Error only.

  • Cafteria R.C.

    Alan, your comment is correct but their must be a bunch of close mine buddies that live in the past that comment on a regular base here with their dark age views.

  • JabbaPapa

    Not everyone gets their theology from the price list at Starbucks …

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    I have nearly all his books and read most of what he says as Pope with interest.

    Bishop Fellay got it right: B XVI doesn’t want to hurt anyone along the way.

    Well, that’s the Pope’s call, not mine. But the gravity of the crisis is so great I want to urge him onwards with “More speed” More speed!”

    Time will tell. 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Forget your “partial communions”. 

    The precise status of the SSPX is that they are Catholics in an irregular canonical position.

  • JabbaPapa

    Like I said.

  • James

    It’s not like a council which promulgated dogma …

    The DOGMATIC Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium)
    The DOGMATIC Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum)

  • Sdlukac

    Pope John XXIII was knocking on the pearly gates.   St. Peter looked out and asked “Who are you?”.   “I am Pope John XXIII”.   “We already have him here”.   “No, no, I am truly the Pope, I called the Second Vatican Council, ask the Holy Ghost”.   Angel Gabriel goes to find the Holy Ghost and comes back with his answer:  “Yes, I received the invitation, but I didn’t think it worth attending”. 

  • James

    What a distortion of the writings of distinguished men! Rahner’s comparison of Vatican II with the Council of Jerusalem was making the point that the Church today was able to become historically and fully what it had always been in principle – a fully gobal, Catholic, World Church. Just the opposite of “an entirely new Church, which superseded everything that had come before”. It really is intolerable that a Catholic journalist should peddle such misinformation.

  • Alan

    I repeat – whether it is a sign of being more “advanced” or not, most people today will not simply accept things on trust without question.  That is a fact of life.  This is surely the opposite of being “Soviet”, where people were expected to accept the tenets of Communism without question.  To blindly accept things without question is surely to deny our humanity as thinking beings.  And what are these “acts of open rebellion” you talk of?

  • Cassandra

    Yawn! There has not been an ecumenical council since the 7th. The So call  Ecumenical councils are examples of the Western European Naval gazing and robber councils!

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    ” …  the Church today was able to become historically and fully what it had always been in principle – a fully gobal, Catholic, World Church”.

    And it wasn’t before? St. Francis Xavier reached Japan and China when exactly? The Dominicans and Franciscans were in Africa and the Americas from .. umm .. when?

    Rahner wrote bilge, to snuff out the intervening years between Jerusalem and Vatican “Got any dope, man?” II. 

    Rather a lot of years. 

    Rahner is responsible at least in part for the veil of forgetfulness that has fallen over so many Catholics in this benighted age.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Very silly. You don’t understand the meaning of the Latin use of titles and its differences with pronounced dogma.

  • JabbaPapa

    most people today will not simply accept things on trust without question

    You are VERY foolish if you imagine that people have ever done so, at any point in recorded History.

    (one cannot, obviously, know anything of the mental attitudes of Prehistoric, nor especially pre-homo-sapiens Man)

    This is surely the opposite of being “Soviet”, where people were expected to accept the tenets of Communism without question.

    Try and *read* what’s written, instead of responding to what hasn’t been — I said that it is a Soviet Propaganda that Mediaeval Times and Mediaeval Religious thought were dominated by “unthinkingness” and “irrationality”.

    To blindly accept things without question is surely to deny our humanity as thinking beings.

    Yes well, you carry on believing that propaganda then, blindly or otherwise, no skin off my nose…

  • JabbaPapa

    Not “very silly” — but there’s a difference between restating old dogma using new words, which is mostly what those Vatican II documents provide, and promulgating new dogma, which Vatican II has done only in a relatively minor capacity.

  • W Oddie

    What has the navy to do with it? 

  • W Oddie

    It’s not misinformation: it’s an accurate analysis of what he, and all of them, actually believed.

  • Alan

    You seem to be saying, if I understand you, that people have always questioned what they have been told to believe.  Let’s assume you’re right. Then it’s inevitable, and by implication right, that we should always question Church teaching.  I can agree with that.  All the more reason for the Magisterum to explain, in terms that people can understand and without taking for granted principles on which the teachings are based, its teachings.
    Have I got you right?  And do you agree? 

  • JabbaPapa

    The Magisterium teaches those principles rather than “taking them for granted”.

  • Cafeteria R.C.

    Alan, you will not get to first base with these with their closed minds. Don’t tell them that earth is round either because it pass their comparison but if BEN16 told them to jump, they ask how high.

  • James

    You would be on safer ground, and it would be more responsible Catholic journalism, if you stuck to what Rahner actually wrote rather than what you say he ‘actually believed’.

  • James

    You may disagree with Raher’s thesis – many do – but to misrepresent him is an injustice. He said that the effective and full establishment of the Church among all the world’s peoples and cultures, such that for the first time they were represented by their own bishops at an Ecumenical Council, marked the moment of the Church becoming fully a World Church, fully what it had ALWAYS been by virtue of its nature.

  • James

    Whether the doctrine in Lumen Gentium of the supreme authority of the College of Bishops – sub Petro et cum Petro –  is ‘major’ or ‘minor’ can be a matter of opinion, but it is certainly promulgation of new dogma.

    And it’s precisely for this reason that Lumen Gentium is a DOGMATIC Constitution – one of only two out of the sixteen Vatican II documents, the other being Dei Verbum.

  • Af

    Let me help….

    Neither Vatican II or the reform of the reform is to blame.

    Since around 300 BCE the RCC has been neutered. Read Frances MacNutt’s book: The Nearly Perfect Crime, to understand why.

    That was the time when a personal relationship with Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit was taken away from the faithful.

    Thus Jesus’ plan for his people was thwarted. It will never recover until the RCC hierarchy once again give the Holy Spirit free reign in the church and dispense with all man-made traditions that quench it.

    Return to the original design and we will see the fruit. But if you separate the body from the Spirit, it dies.

    So please stop fighting each other. The rot set in 1700 years ago. Read the book (mentioned above) for proof.

    Adrian

  • Af

    Oops! Should read 300 CE.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Nobody who uses “CE” or BCE” need be taken seriously. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Nor indeed RCC.

  • JabbaPapa

    I did not claim that Vatican II provided no new doctrines, I said that it did so in a relatively minor capacity — as compared to a dogmatic Council, for example, where the promulgation of doctrines is the primary purpose.

  • teigitur

    I think it is true that the disaster that the Church has become in the last 40 years is not totally the fault of the false reading of V11. But it most certainly did not help. Just have a look around at the Liberal CofE or Cof S , all but dead. We have not sunk so far. yet, and I think we are now on the road to recovery. But it will be a long one.

  • James

    Yes, I agree. Vatican II does not compare in that respect to, say, Trent.

  • Gildaswiseman

    t is clear to any intelligent person that the disagreements between the Holy See and the FSSPX are doctrinal in nature. The FSSPX consider that only four teachings of the Second Vatican Council contradict pronouncements of the previous traditional; Magisterium. They accept all the other teachings of the Council, as stated by Bishop Fellay, which is more than you can say of the modernists and liberals who enjoy ‘good standing in the Church’Religious Liberty as taught in Dignitatis Humanae is a contradiction of the teachings of Pope Gregory XVI in his encyclical Mirari vos, Pope Pius IX in Quanta Cura. Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei and Pope Pius XI in Quas Primas.
    Lumen Gentium , The doctrine on the Church contradicts Pope Pius XII Mystici corporis and Humani generis.
    The doctrine on Ecumenism in Lumen gentium no. 8 and Unitatis redintegratio no. 3 contradicts the teachings of Pope Pius IX in the propositions 16 and 17 of the Syllabus and also Leo XIII Satis cognitum and Pope Pius XI in Mortalium animos.
    The teaching on Collegiality in Lumen gentium no 22 and no 3 Nota praevia which is the explanatory note, contradicts the teaching of the 1st Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus.This is without doubt a most unusual state of affairs in the Church, The fact that the FSSPX accept the authority of the Vatican II but insist that former magisterial teachings have a greater authority should not be a valid reason for declaring them outside of the Church. .An article in the Christian Order publication by the theologian, John R.T. Lamont provides a fuller understanding of the nature of the rift between the Holy See and the FSSPX.I am convinced that history will reveal that the FSSPX militancy was simply about upholding the authoritative teaching of the Council of Trent, the 1st Vatican Council and the teachings of the Magisterium prior to Vatican II.

  • http://twitter.com/morani58 Michael Moran

    What matters is that Blessed Pope John XX111 is a rep of Jesus Son Of God and he still of course kept his humour,you can certainly ask for his intervention. I like him in the things that he done in his mortal life,as well as what he is doing now,in the super life.

  • Parasum

    “Partial communion” is a perfectly good concept. It does much better justice to the notion of the Church than the notion of communion as something like being pregnant, that one is or is not. 

    Communion is more like a rope with several strands – some may have frayed away, others may be weak, but a rope, even a weakening  one, can still hold two objects together. 

    By the very fact of the imposition of the sacramental character, a baptised Christian is never in this life entirely out of communion with the Church; for Christ Whose Body the Church is has placed His mark of ownership on him. And it is indelible. To be out of communion can deprive us of a great many “advantages of membership” – but not of all membership, in all ways, in the society that is the Church.

  • Parasum

    “I think you slightly misunderstand. I am not advocating formally revoking it, or anything like that. The controversy would be appalling.”

    ##  You had me going there for a moment LOL TY v.much for clarifying. 

  • Parasum

    There seems to be a difference in *scale* between “unsaying” an entire Council, and ruling that some Ecumenical Councils contain non-Ecumenical sessions. 

    There’s also the problem that the longer a Council is accepted  as Catholic in doctrine, the more it is embedded into the Tradition, and the more difficult it can be to stop thinking of it as a fully valid Ecumenical Council. 

    Hieria in 754 was meant by the Iconoclasts to be Ecumenical. Nicea II in 787 rejected it, and the West had never received it as orthodox. V2 OTOH has been treated as ecumenical by the CC, and has embedded itself into the life of the Church very thoroughly – in the form not of the dodgy results alone, but also in the form of the 16 Council texts; they have had an immense effect on the Church’s mind. 

    Maybe the “best bits” will survive, while the more dated stuff, and the stuff that doesn’t bear good fruit, will not. Lateran V was Ecumenical, but it’s of little interest except to historians; it has not continued to live, as Nicea I or Chalcedon or Trent have. Parts of it may lend themselves to doctrinal development more than others. 

  • Parasum

    “It’s not dogmatic. It purported to be merely pastoral.”
    ## Definition of dogma is a pastoral act. 

    OTOH, if you mean that it pronounced only pastoral measures, and that the pastoral measures did not include dogmas or matter flowing from dogma – I don’t that is quite true either. It made no new definitions – but it did re-iterate dogmas already defined, and elaborated some of them, though not by new definitions. It drew on dogmas, so it is dogmatic in that respect. Even revolutionary stuff such as Dignitatis Humanae has a foundation in dogma.  

    V2′s teaching is  - in varying degrees – authentic; and is the teaching of an Ecumenical Council; it therefore, IIRC, has a high claim to our sincere acceptance. It’s not free-standing; but neither are we entitled to bin it.