Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“Rome’s Divided Mind”

“Both viewpoints were represented in one statement which obviously meant different things to different people...”

...Both viewpoints were represented in one statement
which obviously meant different things to
different people(click to enlarge).
The Second Vatican Council is different from the many ecumenical councils which have preceded it in at least two respects. First, it did not result from either external persecution or internal heresy. Second, for the first time in conciliar history, the documents which Vatican II developed officially embraced mutually incompatible theologies. This does not mean that councils in the past have always been unanimous in their decisions, for they have not. Nor does it mean that council decision were not sometimes compromises, for they were. And it does not mean that individuals or parties in the Church have always interpreted a council’s statement in the same way, for they have not.

What it means is that this council actually endorsed two very different theologies and sometimes the differences could not be hidden. Neither side would accept ambiguity nor allow compromise. As a result, on some points the documents speak with two voices—one conservative and one progressive. They reflect, in a fascinating and perhaps tragic way, the divided mind of modern Roman Catholicism. As a consequence, they pose a difficult problem. In attempting to analyze the mind of Rome, how are we to interpret the most important theological statement to emerge from this Church in [the twentieth] century?

The problem of interpretation will be clarified only when the unresolved confrontation between two theologies is seen clearly. The one theology was traditional, the other was not. The first was championed by the conservatives in general and the Curia in particular, while the second found its proponents among a new school of thinkers who in general represent the New Catholicism. The conservative approach largely concerned itself with representing the ideas of the Counter Reformation and the subsequent periods of high orthodoxy. By contrast, the new thinkers are considerably more flexible in their approach and, compared to draditional orthodoxy, relatively undogmatic. Their theology is rooted more in the patristic period than in the Counter Reformation, though it was mainly from the developments of the 1940s and early 1950s that they received their new direction. At issue in the Council, then, were not only matters of theology, but also questions of ideology, mentality and almost theological heritage.

When these two parties in the Council came into conflict, as they frequently did, one of three solutions was followed. Occasionally, but rarely, one of the positions emerged completely triumphant. Its ideas were written into the Council documents without modification from the other side.

A second solution was less satisfactory. When neither side would back down and both insisted on having their views adopted, the Council searched for a reconciling statement which would be ambiguous enough to accommodate both schools of thought. When the Council was successful, both viewpoints were represented in one statement which obviously meant different things to different people.

Click to enlarge.
There were times, however, when no reconciling statement could be found, and attempts to induce a surrender by one side or the other failed. In those cases, the Council would only endorse both positions with professional aplomb as if their mutual incompatibility were not longer glaringly obvious. A case in point occurred in the Constitution on the Church which … was dramatically highlighted by Pope Paul VI’s clumsy intervention.

One kind of interpretive problem, then, which an analyst of the documents faces concerns the existence of those passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interests of both parties

Vatican II is important because it gave the New Catholicism a legal base from which to operate. If this analysis is correct, the conservative, traditional position, partly endorsed in the conciliar documents, belongs to a dying world. The future is not in the hands of the conservatives….

David Wells, “Revolution in Rome”, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©1972, pgs 27-36.


  1. Hey John!

    Would you be able to provide “the case in point” that the author mentions?


    In Christ,

    1. It was his little addendum at the end of Lumen Gentium. Wells says "What the note actually explains is not the Council's teaching, but rather the conservative position in general and the contents of Pope Paul's mind in particular. In fact, it contradicts the major part of the constitution. It repudiates the progressives' doctrine of the Church at its key points". Something to look up, I'm sure. Pope contradicts conciliar document. Hmm, another "blueprint for anarchy".

    2. By the way: http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2013/reading-the-natural-signs.html

      Hadley Arkes: [Francis's comments] surely does cut against the most strenuous efforts of the faithful to teach against the currents of the culture for the past forty years.

      John Paul II's "culture of life" work, thrown under the bus.

    3. Thanks, John.

      Does he give the specific content of the note that he says “contradicts the major part of the constitution”? In other words, I’m looking for, “this or that statement of the note contradicts this or that statement of the constitution.” Up to this point I’ve only seen a claim being made without the substance to back the claim. I see him saying that “this situation creates serious problems for us as readers.” I don’t remember the note causing me any trouble. Maybe he’s not a skilled reader??? :)

      In Christ,

    4. Father Pavone with Priests for Life isn’t dismayed by the pope and what he has said or not said about abortion. I don’t know Hadley Arkes, but he indicated in that article that he has read the followings statement from the pope: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/popes-strong-words-in-defense-of-the-unborn. He sees it as being too little, but it sounds to me like Hadley just needs a little encouragement. Comfort my people!

      With love in Christ,

    5. Pete -- R.R. Reno of First Things has also put out a negative assessment. The question isn't whether this person or that priest "isn't dismayed" by what Bergoglio has said or not said. The point is that you are all in a disarray (see James Swan's recent post for some very conflicted views and comments, including some VERY negative comments from some conservative RCs).

      The thing to notice about this is that you are all in a disarray from "the papacy", a thing which is supposed to bring you epistemological certainty. Sure, it's easy to say "he hasn't changed any doctrines". But just wait until divorced RCs show up for communion, and things like that. And this pope isn't the end of that -- he was elected by all the "conservative" cardinals that JPII and BVI had put into place. So this trend seems likely to continue.

    6. But just wait until divorced RCs show up for communion, and things like that.

      They're already showing up, as are the supporters of homosexual unions and those that support the ordination of women and those that doubt the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Heck, a plurality of RC's voted for Obama even after the HHS mandate. My brother-in-law, who is Catholic, was telling me last summer before the election that the HHS mandate was a tempest in a teapot, that it didn't amount to much, and he's a principal at a Catholic High School. Another extended family member teaches at a Catholic school has told me that abortion is a dead issue (i.e. a waste of time).So, yes, the liberals are in control of the institutional Roman Catholic Church.

    7. EA: the liberals are in control of the institutional Roman Catholic Church.

      Isn't this funny, given that the JPII/BXVI appointments go all the way back to 1978 -- when the agenda became to appoint only staunch conservatives?

  2. The SVs (sedevacantists) have some scathing critiques on V2 (though they share in Rome's errors) :

    Vatican Two was described by Cardinal Suenens as "the French Revolution in the Church" and Y. Congar likened it to the October (1917) Revolution in Russia.[5]...

    As to the documents themselves, there are sixteen of these, and all sixteen are consider to be "established synodally" - that is to say, agreed upon by the majority of the Fathers present at the council. These sixteen documents are entitled "Constitutions", "Decrees", and "Declarations", distinctions which in the practical order are meaningless. Despite the "pastoral" nature of the Council, two of these are labeled "dogmatic". In total then number some 739 pages of fine print and reading through them requires, as Father Houghton has remarked, "a sufficient supply of anti-soporifics". (Vatican I runs to 42 pages of large print, and the Council of Trent to 179 pages).[17] Their tone is "prolix in the extreme" and as Michael Davies states, "much of their content consists of little more than long series of the most banal truisms imaginable."[18]..

    Yet the council is important, for it introduced into the bosom of the church a whole host of "new directions" that are bearing fruit in our days. As Father Avery Dulles said:
    "Vatican II adopted a number of positions which had been enunciated by the Reformation Churches, e.g., the primacy of Scripture, the supernatural efficacy of the preached word, the priesthood of the laity, and the vernacular liturgy."[19]

    Cardinal Willebrands, Paul VI's legate to the World Lutheran Assembly at Evian stated in July of 1970 that:

    Has not the Second Vatican council itself welcomed certain demands which, among others, were expressed by Luther, and through which many aspects of the Christian faith are better expressed today than formerly? Luther gave his age a quite extraordinary lead in theology and the Christian life."

    Let us not forget that almost all the changes in the post-Conciliar Church are either "blamed" on the Council, or said to derive from it as a "mandate from the Holy Spirit". Conservative Novus Ordo Catholics who object to the drastic changes call them "abuses" that result from the "misinterpretation" of Conciliar teachings. They point to many fine and orthodox statements in support of their contention. Those on the other hand who are on the forefront of the Revolution - the Liberal post-Conciliar Catholic - can justify almost anything they wish by recourse to the same documents.

    The much debated issue as to whether the Council is only an "excuse" or in fact the "source" of the "autodemolition" of the Church is entirely beside the point. Whatever the case may be, as the Abbe of Nantes has pointed out, "there is not a heresiarch today, not a single apostate who does not now appeal to the Council in carrying out his action in broad daylight with full impunity as recognized pastor and master" (CRC May 1980).

    Even the Council's apologist Michael Davies tells us that "no rational person can deny that up to the present Vatican II has produced no good fruit."[22]

    "The definitive texts are for the most part compromise texts. On far too many occasions they juxtapose opposing viewpoints without establishing any genuine internal link between them. Thus every affirmation of the power of bishops is accompanied in a manner which is almost tedious by the insistence upon the authority of the Pope...

    Cardinal Suenens has said,.."The spirit behind the texts was stronger than the words themselves."[38] 
    Rama Coomaraswamy, M.D. http://www.the-pope.com/wvat2tec.html