Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Council

I've written in this vein often before. But a reader sent me a post that I think is spot-on when it comes to the place of the Council in the life of the Church today. I especially loved this:
Aging prelates still litter their discourses with the obligatory reverential references to Vatican II, delusionally convinced that the mere mention of "The Council" has a magical quality. It's all so wearisome. One sometimes has the impression that there is little else in their libraries, that there was nothing before "The Council," and that they have read nothing since.
That post goes on to mainly just quote from this one, and I will do the same:
Vatican II was a validly convoked Ecumenical Council, a Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Whole Church. If it had chosen to do so, it could have defined dogmas de fide to which any and every Catholic would have been obliged to give the complete assent of Divine Faith. Laws, canons, which it enacted ... if it did ... bind the faithful for a long as they remain unrepealed by lawful authority or, through desuetude, cease to bind. [I will add, however, that "lawful authority" includes the Pope himself; his hands aren't bound by the Council, as much as he sometimes speaks like they are, he could repeal whatever he wanted]. Its pronouncements command respect, religiosum obsequium, just as those enacted by the Council of Vienne in 1311 did in 1361 and, for that matter ... I presume ... still do.

All this is compatible with certain other propositions. For example: that it would have been better unconvoked; that it did no good; that it encouraged, unwittingly, heterodox tendencies which have had a baleful effect upon the Church ever since. I do not wish, in this piece, to advance, attack, or defend, any of those propositions. The proposition which I now have in mind is a little different: that Vatican II is History; that its relevance is Not For Our Time, fifty years later, any more than its relevance was for fifty years previously. Vatican II itself claimed to speak to the World of its own time: fair enough; that time was not our time, is not our time.

Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete or, at the very least, obsolescent. It did not foresee the major problems of our age and, therefore, did not give us guidance for getting through them. Its silly optimisms are no more relevant to our very different, much harsher, age than is the preoccupation of medieval councils with just-one-more-crusade. The notion that it was some sort of super-council which displaced and replaced the councils which preceded it is, in my view, a heresy: because it disregards councils which did, dogmatically, bind, in favour of a council which did not even claim to bind. Worse even than heresy, it is historical twaddle.

Emphasis on Vatican II has a number of unfortunate side-effects. It means that other, worthier, councils are ignored [...] And the fetichising of Vatican II distracts attention from the real and significant and valuable actions of the Roman Magisterium, which deserve so very much better than the sneers directed at them by illiterate fools. Humanae vitae and Ordinatio sacerdotalis, slender volumes, are worth more than all the paper wasted at Vatican II. Documents of the CDF, keeping up with the errors proposed in areas of ethics by the World's agenda, represent the locus to which perplexed modern Catholics should turn for teaching and guidance.

Byzantine Christians have an elegant custom of keeping, a few days after a major festival, a Leave Taking of that feast. I rather think that 2012 would be a good year for an official Leave Taking of Vatican II.
Now, I'm not quite so down on the Council as Fr Hunwicke seems to be. I actually tend to agree with some of its "liberalizing" stances in terms of the hierarchy not being so closed and inquisitorial and authoritarian anymore (though I often suspect that they still want to be, and have merely realized that they can't in our modern world anymore). But I agree that it is has slipped into obsolescence and that it's peachy-keen optimism, though perhaps necessary to balance the rigidity of the siege mentality of Trent and Vatican I, ultimately showed itself naive. The problems of its time, 50 years ago, are not really the problems of our time, and the way they all fawn over the Council as if it is the Last Word on everything or overturned the past...really annoys me.

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