Sunday, February 14, 2010

More Vatican II Dialogue

More conversation I've had over Vatican II. After assuring them that I didn't believe Vatican II taught any heresy, that it was infallible, they asked, "If Vatican II didn’t teach error, then what’s the problem?"

Well, it was vague, it spoke in an unhelpful verbose new style, it called for disciplinary things that were not prudent, it advanced pastoral stances about ecumenism and religious liberty that are untraditional and confusing, etc.

I’ll admit none of these things touched on doctrine strictly so called, that they are prudential questions that Catholics are free to disagree about and which the hierarchy is free to change their approach towards.

But let’s admit that. Rather than trying to tortuously “interpret” some of these things “in the light of tradition” to try to pretend that we've never really changed...let’s just admit that there was a change, exactly because these were always non-dogmatic changeable sorts of thing (like how the hierarchy deals with other churches, etc).

Rather than trying to hide the change with “hermeneutics” (read: spin)...let’s just admit there was a change and discontinuity, but one in non-dogmatic administrative and pastoral questions. Which the hierarchy has every right to change its approach towards; the Church's policy approach to such issues has often changed throughout history to adapt to current circumstances. But then let's also admit that Catholics are free to debate or disagree about the prudence of such changes, and to dislike the new emphases or values/motives behind such disciplinary/administrative changes on the part of the hierarchy (to disagree, though not to disobey as long as those policies remain in place).

The question of "teaching error" is different than the question of whether something is prudent decisions Vatican II didn’t teach any heresy. But that didn’t mean that what it did say was positively valuable, that the plans it laid for disciplines and administrative actions were good plans, that its pastoral approach was a prudent or effective one.

Really, Vatican II’s vision was short-sighted and incoherent, untraditional, and reflected new emphases on values that are not the emphases that I think would have been/would be best. THAT’S what I think is wrong with these continued attempts to “implement Vatican II” and to refer all Papal and episcopal action since back to the Council. The fact that it didn’t teach heresy has nothing to do with it.

It didn’t teach any heresy (though, talk about damning with faint praise). But it sure made a lot of imprudent and untraditional suggestions on non-dogmatic policy matters. It was infallible, but that doesn’t necessarily make its non-dogmatic policies a good idea pastorally, aesthetically, etc. Just because something is non-heretical, doesn’t make it prudent.

And the mere vehicle of “the Council” doesn’t make it any more so just because it was a Council. The Pope would enjoy any of the same prerogatives that a Council had, so you can’t so starkly separate “the Council” from “the implementation” as if the the former could not make a bad decision on such questions but the latter could (ala the liturgical Consilium conservatives are so keen to portray as having "hijacked the Council" even though there work was carried out under the aegis of the Pope and fully approved by him).

The whole question is further obscured by the fact that the Liturgy is not universally promulgated, but rather to the Latin Patriarchate only, but that's another issue for another day.

I'll simply share a wonderful quote I was directed to by Charles Coulombe:
“So, you might ask your author whether or no Vatican II was really an Ecumenical Council. Well, all the Catholic bishops were gathered to solemnly deliberate; the fact that it was all for naught in terms of dogma is beside the point. Those who demand that the Holy See one day openly disavow it ignore history. What is more likely to happen is that, after the present crisis is surmounted, it will be flushed down the memory hole with Constantinope II, Constance, and Basel. Present on the lists forever as: '21st Ecumenical Council: Vatican II, 1962-65, Dealt with pastoral problems.' There safely filed, scholars in 2567 will breeze over it to look at more impressive and important Councils, just as we breeze by Lateran V to look at Trent."
Personally, I think that, “in the last analysis” the documents “Orientalum Ecclesiarum” and “Unitatis Redintegratio” will be seen as very important, once reunion with the Orthodox is achieved (something, admittedly, unthinkable without Vatican II’s [good] policy paradigm-shift on the topic on the topic of ecumenical dialogue).

I think “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” “Nostra Aetate,” and “Dignitatis Humanae” will be regarded as disastrous and infected with modernist attitudes.

The others were largely without-major-effect (A “decree on social communications”?!? Where was the condemnation of Communism?!) Most of these others will simply be forgotten, though the “big ones” like Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes…may be remembered as long, trite, rather unoriginal mere re-statements of what was already believed, but they were instrumental in the linguistic shift the hierarchy made from speaking (previously) in precise, compact, scholastic formulations…to verbose, fluffed-up, windbaggish, vaguely ambiguous “nice-talk”. From an attitude perhaps (admittedly) over legalistic and medieval…to one over-optimistic and potentially indifferentist.

Now, they're allowed to make such a shift. Let's not act as if a specific way of talking is of the deposit of faith. But let's admit that rather abrupt and extreme change and discontinuity in the area of non-essential policy happened, so that it's merit can be openly debated, rather than trying to explain it away with sleight-of-hand "hermeneutics" and interpretations using the nebulous "light of tradition".

There doesnt have to be (and, frankly, can’t be) some synthesis or reconciliation of the two approaches through some exegetical magic, because the later Vatican II approach (to issues like ecumenism, etc) was very consciously a rejection of the older, sterner approach. There was a change, as the hierarchy is free to make such changes in the area of disciplinary policy (and has throughout history to adapt to changing circumstances). But, at the same time, we are free to disagree with such non-essential changeable policy decisions.

So, trying to pretend like Vatican II didn't change the pastoral approach to speaking about these things, is disingenuous. If we'd just admit there was this change, then we would be free to debate the relative merits of the two respective emphases. But some Catholics are apparently under this "in the light of tradition" hermeneutic that would have us believe that Vatican II changed nothing, not even the [changeable] pastoral approach to the topic. But if that's true, than why would there have even been a council and what would be the point of simply restating things in the exact same way??

Take religious liberty, for example. At one point the hierarchy's diplomatic stance toward other religions was quite stern and hostile. At Vatican II, they decided to change policy and approach other religions tolerantly, cooperatively, and with a cautious optimism. The problems, I think, started with calling this mere diplomatic/pastoral question a "teaching"...because then you get all these people trying to tortuuously reconcile texts that are not reconcilable, because the later position very consciously rejected the other policy.

But still, in the name of "interpretation in the light of tradition" get Neoconservatives who try to argue (tortuously) that Vatican II's stance on religious liberty is the one the Church has always held (definitely not true; just consider the Inquisition or the Syllabus of Errors), Trads who try to argue that the old stance is somehow dogma or somehow still the official diplomatic policy of the hierarchy (obviously not true; just look at Assisi and the Popes' synagogue visits), and liberals (and even some papalatrous neocons) who will try to argue that the old stance was absolutely "wrong" and that the new stance ("because a Council said it") trumps the old stance in a way that binds Catholics to support the new as if it were dogma (hence statements to the SSPX that certain Vatican II "teachings" about the Jews and other religions are "non-negotiable" when, frankly, such prudential questions ARE negotiable, absolutely speaking; the Vatican doesnt have to change its current approach, but at the same time the SSPX is free to advocate for the idea that they should change back).

The question of how the hierarchy pastorally and diplomatically deals with other a prudential question, not a matter of dogma. There are certain doctrinal principles behind it (including, on the one hand, that error has no rights and, on the other, the freedom of human conscience) and the different policies are different exactly inasmuch as they choose to emphasize these various informing principles more or less. Neither is definitively "right" or "wrong"...but one policy may be better for one time or place, and the other for a different time and place. And the hierarchy is free to change its pastoral approach to the question according to the times, but this is a human decision, not some sort of divine mandate, and is subject to human error or imprudence. So we are free to debate the relative merits of the various possible policies, to disagree with the current and like the old, to support the new, to wish we returned to the old, or to imagine some other policy that is a mean between the two, or which goes even further in either direction, etc. These are debatable questions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to see what your thoughts are, then, on the New Theology. Was it really, in most cases, a 'resourcement' - or was it mostly modernist, and quite antithetical to the faith? Continuity or rupture?