Let’s suppose you’re an orthodox Catholic surveying the last hundred years of Church history. You notice that, before the Second Vatican Council, the Church seemed to be flourishing in many places–America, Quebec, Ireland–in terms of vocations, Mass attendence, clerical discipline, lay organization, etc. Throughout the world, clergy were reliably orthodox, even to the point of martyrdom at the hands of the communists. Then came Vatican II, and immediately afterwards, the faith and discipline of the Church collapsed everywhere, among both clergy and laity. Now, you could say that this doesn’t prove anything, but it certainly suggests that calling the ecumenical council, at a time when there was no obvious pressing need for such an inherently disruptive act and at a time when the Church was under seige from hostile outside forces, was a big mistake. However, orthodox Catholics generally don’t like to admit that the pope has made a mistake, even in a matter like this unrelated to faith and morals. So they invent all sorts of reasons why, contrary to all appearances, the Church in the 1950’s was gravely sick and calling a Council was absolutely necessary.
You’ve probably heard many of these complaints about the pre-Vatican II Church yourself. It’s worth reviewing them together, though, just to be struck by how perverse they are.
- “Sure, Mass attendence and participation in lay organizations was higher then, but that was all just formal obedience. People were just going through the motions because it was expected of them. Now going to Mass is countercultural, so only the people who really want to be there go.” So, Catholics created a culture which encouraged piety, and we’re supposed to regard this as a bad thing? And we are supposed to be happy that more impressionable souls are now carried off into apostasy? The fact is that most people will always be too weak to stand against social pressure. A culture is supposed to encourage good behavior to help the weaker ones along.
- “Sure, there was less divorce, fornication, contraception, and abortion among Catholics back then, but they just thought of religion as a bunch of rules. They weren’t motivated by an interior love of God.” How the hell can any of us know what went on in their souls? Notice that the admitted evils of the post-VC II Church are matters of public record, while the alleged evils of the pre-VC II Church are unverifiable assertions about people’s spiritual states. In fact, the only evidence there is of people’s love of God is their acts. Remember, “You will live in my love if you keep my commandments…You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:10-14)
- “Sure, there were lots of priests back then, but that was just because it was socially prestigious.” How awful that back then our priests were highly esteemed, even among the Protestants! That’s one problem we’ve certainly fixed. Four decades of the “Spirt of Vatican II” have brought the priesthood into complete disgrace.
- “And they taught them Thomism using boring manuals in the seminaries.” This is such a frivolous complaint that I’m still baffled by it, even though I hear it over and over again. Introductory textbooks are not meant to be great works of art. If my parish priest were a trained Thomist, maybe he wouldn’t spend his homilies reading us children’s stories.
- “And besides, they had a Manichean view of the body, and a negative attitude towards sex. Now with Vatican II and the Theology of the Body, we recognize sex as a sacred part of God’s plan.” How does one behave towards something that one regards as sacred? Do you joke about it? Do you talk about it openly and casually? Do you manipulate it for your own pleasure or profit? Or do you shield it from profane gaze, addressing it discreetly and with due reverence for its mystery? Are you careful only to use it in its appointed way? The fact is that someone who really regarded the marriage bond and the conjugal act with reverence would behave like what we now derisively call a “prude”.
- “Sure, most Catholics reject the Church’s teachings in most matters now, but doubt is a sign of spiritual maturity, right?” No, it’s a sign of a lack of faith. Besides, there is no “doubt” among our modern Catholics–they are certain that utilitarian liberalism is right and the Church is wrong.
- “Besides, back then Catholics just accepted the faith because they believed anything they were told. Now they think for themselves.” B.S. Catholics are embracing heresy and sin today because they mindlessly accept whatever the wider culture tells them. Those growing up since the Council have never even had the orthodox Catholic point of view explained to them.
- “Back then the Church had a seige mentality.” An appropriate mentality to have, when you are actually under attack, as the Church was and is.
In conclusion, I appreciate the effort to avoid acknowledging John XXIII’s blunder, but the cost seems to be trashing the nineteen centuries of the Church that preceded him. This hardly seems the pious choice. Better to admit that the pope made a stupid and reckless decision that brought ruin to the Bride of Christ.
Filed under: The Dark and Terrible Springtime of Vatican II