Different responses to Vatican II

My post quoting Bruce on Tolkien and VII generated lots of interesting comments.

Here’s Bill:

VII provides its own escape mechanism, one clearly expressed by John XXIII and Paul VI and referred to by the current Holy Father. The two conciliar Popes both said quite clearly and explicitly that VII was about re-expressing the same Catholic Faith in modern language….Thus, the Church can back away from this experiment by saying “hey, that re-expression led to a lot of misunderstandings, let’s go back to the way we used to talk.”

The documents of VII and the subsequent Magisterium are such a tangled mess that they could be taken to mean almost anything at all. They provide no constraint at all on the future development of the Church, especially if they are subjected to the sort of willfully hostile re-interpretation which the reformers have subjected the rest of Church teaching to. If the Syllabus can have a counter-Syllabus, then the counter-Syllabus can have a counter-counter-Syllabus. Or, the council can just quietly be dropped.

This is pretty much my position.  I don’t see how the progressives could criticize me for it either.  They’re always saying that the Church is “learning” so what’s true today may be false tomorrow.  That’s nonsense, of course, but how can they know that we won’t one day learn our way out of Dignitatis Humanae the way we supposedly have learned our way out of the Syllabus of Errors?

Trent13 disagrees:

Were the Ordinary Magisterium not infallible, I would agree with you. But that is where your thesis fails. I refer you to John Daly’s article on the subject here: http://www.thefourmarks.com/Daly.htm#crisis

Daly believes that we currently have no valid pope.  I would not accept such a dangerous statement unless I was absolutely compelled to, and I don’t think Daly’s case is so strong that we’re at that point.  Many of the sins he cites against the post-conciliar Church are sins of omission:  failure to preach on hell, failure to pray for the conversion of Jews, etc.  We are promised no protection from those.  The other sins are abuses, rather than actions of the ordinary magisterium, a major example being the annulment factory that is the American Church.  The American Church is neck-deep in complicity with adultery, no doubt, but no worse than how some Churches were riven with simony in the Dark Ages.  The right laws are on the books; it’s just that no one follows them because it would mean offending women who want to ditch their husbands, something no Westerner would dare do.  What we have here is cowardice.  Daly’s application of Church infallibility is so extreme, he could probably use it to show that the Throne of Saint Peter has been empty since shortly after its first occupant went to his reward.  By his own description, an act of the ordinary magisterium is a strong criterion, requiring the universal consent of the Church at all levels.  We haven’t had anything like that since VII cursed us with its “spirit”.

Justin also thinks we reactionary Catholics are in an untenable position:

I would disagree with the idea that everyone goes along eventually. We are called, and JUDGED, as individuals. If our church leaders schism from Truth, are we required to follow them? Let me put the question to you: what line would have to be crossed for you to leave the Roman Catholic Church? Is there one? Or would you support it, NO MATTER WHAT?

I would say that no amount of treachery by the lower clergy against the Catholic Church would make me think that I myself should betray her.  I suppose two infallible statements in unambiguous contradiction would be enough to disprove Catholicism.  Even setting aside faith in the Holy Spirit, I think it’s pretty unlikely that we reactionary Catholics will ever be faced with that.  Our enemy doesn’t believe in infallibility, so even if they captured the Papacy itself, they couldn’t force a disproof of this sort.  They couldn’t speak their heresy ex cathedra and seriously mean it to be taken that way.  The Catholic Church is a traditionalist organization, meaning it derives its authority from its connection to the past (all the way to the Apostles, we believe).  This locks it into its past positions pretty effectively and limits the amount of doctrinal creativity the magisterium can exercise without throwing away its legitimacy.

Finally, bgc clarifies his position:

My point may be clarified in my current blog post – I wished to imply that Vatican II was *not* well-motivated. To say this is partly merely to assume that almost all human-derived motivations are bad in this fallen world; but also that the explicit motivations for Vatican II are not good – they were worldly motivations – motivations of expediency, the opposite of good motivations.

 

19 Responses

  1. The Catholic Church is a traditionalist organization, meaning it derives its authority from its connection to the past (all the way to the Apostles, we believe)

    Wrong.

    The Catholic Church derives its authority from the fact that it both speaks the truth and has the power to administer the sacraments. Repeat after me: old does not equal true.

    The Church would not have survived without Vatican 2, and has barely survived because of it.

  2. Without apostolic succession, we would have no valid sacraments. Jesus gave these powers to the Apostles and their successors, not to any old person who has true beliefs. The historical connection cannot be disregarded without turning Catholicism from a Church into a philosophy.

  3. God is diachronic, each one of us has just as equal access to him as the saints. Tradition is the recorded experience of man’s interaction with the truth. Someone like Aquinas should not be seen as a historical figure, rather someone like us, who was trying to get a grasp on the reality of things. It helps to think of him as a contemporary. That’s why doctrinal developments can occur: it’s because we’re finding solutions to old misconceptions through our interaction with God and the operation of reason. The “old guys” got a lot of things right, but some things wrong. That’s why tradition is not infallible and the Pope is.

    We see our faith “through a glass darkly” and philosophy helps with the acuity. However knowing the truth does not help us with the reality of our sins, so philosophy alone is not that much good to us. It needs to be remembered that the Devil is a bad Catholic, and not a Protestant, Hindu or Sikh.

    Apostolic succession is the protocol for the transferal of sacramental power and it’s independent of an understanding of the truth. A priest may be a fool but his administration of the sacraments are still valid. Apostolic succession is a weak argument with regard to the truth of things. You’re are smart man. Because Bill was born before Jim, does that make Bil’s beliefs more valid than Jim’s? I know you can see the logical faults in that line of reasoning.

  4. Because Bill was born before Jim, does that make Bil’s beliefs more valid than Jim’s? I know you can see the logical faults in that line of reasoning.

    But Bonald is clearly not saying something so simplistic as this. Does he assert that St. Augustine’s thought is superior to St. Anselm’s simply because he preceded him? How do we know the Catholic Church has the power to administer the sacraments, and that it speaks the truth? Simply by independent observation? If that were the case, I should not have ever been convinced to become a Catholic, for I have not found the Catholic Church in our modern day to be much in the habit of speaking the truth, at least not particularly so, and when I observe the Blessed Sacrament, my senses tell me that it is no different than a flour tortilla.

  5. Hello slumlord,

    Okay, I think our positions are closer that I originally thought. Apostolic succession, which is a historical claim, has to do above all with sacramental power. It’s indirectly associated with the Church’s doctrinal reliability only in that it assures that the Catholic Church is numerically identical to the Church that has received the promise of indefectibility.

    On the other hand, I don’t think any of this affects my claim that if two infallible papal statements were to contradict each other, that would disprove the Catholic faith. So if a pope likes his job, he’ll have an incentive to avoid directly contradicting his predecessors.

  6. @Bonald.

    The problem lays in determining what is infallible. Partisans of any particular stripe tend to see their own preferred statements as infallible and those of their opponents up for “doctrinal innovation”.
    Fortunately, there only appear to be a few infallible statements. (That’s not to say that everything that true needs to be declared infallible)

    @Buckyinky

    Faith is a perceptive sense, not a rational one. The flour tortilla is a flour tortilla to man without faith, just a an apple is a round palpable ball to a blind person. A man can only tell if an apple is green by the faculty of sight. A man senses that the tortilla is the blessed sacrament by the faculty of faith. It’s an empirical thing. Truth is not only explicitly declared by the church by also something experienced by the faithful.

  7. Nice post, bonald. Thanks for clarifying.

  8. @slumlord: “Someone like Aquinas should not be seen as a historical figure, rather someone like us, who was trying to get a grasp on the reality of things. It helps to think of him as a contemporary. ”

    Surely you don’t really mean that?

    I think it is pretty standard Catholic (East and West) belief that the understandings and insights of an Apostle, a Holy Father, a Saint, an advanced religious (a monk or nun) – especially those living in eras of greater Holiness than the present – are superior (vastly superior) to that of ‘contemporaries’?

    When we imagine we disagree with the writings of or about Saints and Holy Elders (especially from ages of faith) the first assumption is either that we are wrong or do not properly understand what they mean.

    Feebly Christian individuals inhabiting in an anti-Christian secular materialist society should be very wary of assuming that they are right and the tradition of Saints and Elders is wrong. This is likely to be ignorance or spiritual pride.

  9. @When we imagine we disagree with the writings of or about Saints and Holy Elders (especially from ages of faith) the first assumption is either that we are wrong or do not properly understand what they mean.

    Whilst I do give the holy ones the presumption of being right, they’re not necessarily infallible. Take Aquinas ( and the Church fathers) for instance. He seemed to be quite OK with slavery; Something I’m not. Now, is it my spiritual pride which leads me to this conclusion or a perception of the dignity of man, even in this Godless age? Should I defer to him on this matter because I’m a plebe and he was quite holy?

    Benedict himself, who by all accounts seems to be a quite Holy and intelligent man has stated that people can have quite legitimate differences of opinion to himself on some moral matters. Take capital punishment. He is against it and I (and the previous church fathers) am for it. Is the Pope’s disagreement with the previous fathers of the Church an example of spiritual pride?

    The problem is that what’s on the other side of that dark glass is difficult to see, and holiness in no guarantee of acuity. The Devil sees God perfectly yet still remains evil.

  10. @slumlord – who said anything about infallible?

    You are against slavery, but are you correct in this view? – is it a considered view? Is slavery (for an individual, or as a system) *always* worse than every single alternative to slavery?

    The ancients knew that it was not. Slavery to a kind and just master was better than many other possible states of human life; a system of ethically regulated/ non-arbitrary slavery was sometimes better than many human societies of which we know – where violence is frequent and starvation is at high levels and continual.

    What does it mean to be ‘not OK’ with slavery? – would you behave like the abolitionists and search out slavery through the whole world, and abolish it at any cost of money and lives, and by any effective means (mainly military coercion)?

    Or are you a modern kind of anti-slavery person – where it is simply a matter of what you say and has no serious implications for action? Indeed slavery is tolerated now in the modern world, and even in the West (so long as it is private and within ethnic enclaves), its reintroduction is widespread and protected by multiculturalist scruples.

    Have you considered why ancient Christians of supremely great holiness were *not* abolitionists?

    (Slavery is not, of course, anti-Christian (unless you assume that all Christians including the greatest were deluded until a couple of hundred years ago, then suddenly saw the light). And they knew what slavery was – to us it is merely a word. Indeed there is no mainstream political view which is truly against slavery – certainly not the political left which are very pro-slavery in practice – so abolitionism was a brief historical blip, now entirely dead.)

    *

    And where the current Pope differs with fathers of the Church, it might well be caused by spiritual pride – indeed that seems by far the most likely explanation.

    Where did Church leaders get the idea that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong? From left wing culture, of course. Whence came the pacifism which infects Christianity? Left wing culture. And this left wing culture is secular, indeed anti-Christian in its tendency and action. Intellectuals are nearly all left wing, and extremely, nearly irresistibly, prone to spiritual pride (theologians especially so). In fact leftist intellectual culture regards pride as a virtue, not as the worst sin.

    For what it is worth, my impression is that – like most holy people – Pope Benedict XVI was not naturally so; but has become so, perhaps especially since he became Pope (as would be expected). He seems to have been an arrogant modernizing intellectual in his youth, and has been working away from this since.

    *

    “The Devil sees God perfectly yet still remains evil.” –

    I think I know what you are getting at, but this is not correct. Evil cannot understand Good.

    (Sauron does not understand Galadriel or Gandalf, but they understand him).

    But perhaps you merely mean that the devil could forsee the consequences of his act of sin yet chose it anyway? To some extent, yes; but the devil certainly does not see the big picture; only God sees that.

  11. @slumlord – apologies for the above rather bad-tempered comment. Must’ve gotten out of bed on the wrong side…

  12. @bgc.

    No problem. I’m not that delicate and I don’t mind a bit of intellectual argy-bargy. I quite like a man who is “robust” in his views.

    Is slavery (for an individual, or as a system) *always* worse than every single alternative to slavery?

    It’s not a utilitarian calculation, rather a consequence which flows from the understanding of the human person in the big scheme of things.

    Have you considered why ancient Christians of supremely great holiness were *not* abolitionists?

    There could be perhaps many reasons why they were not abolitionists, just as many reasons as people today can give for the non-advocacy of slavery. Some of the ancient Christians may have thought that it was part of the Divine will. If they were right, it means that our current understanding is wrong, and therefore the Church should be advocating slavery, which it isn’t. Some may have been products of the times, and yet others pragmatists.

    And where the current Pope differs with fathers of the Church, it might well be caused by spiritual pride – indeed that seems by far the most likely explanation.

    He’s on the record saying that he didn’t want the job. He tried resigning several times and was told to stay by the previous pope. I think he is one of the true Holy “clerks” of our times. I think he finds the responsibility of his office a drain. I think your assessment of him is wrong. He is very sympathetic to the trad crowd but can also see the errors of their ways. The Devil is not only a libertine, but a puritan as well.

    I think a lot of the anti-Vatican 2 crowd fail to ask themselves a question: Why did the Church collapse so suddenly after it? Were the faith and the faithful of good health, it would have been but a blip in history. The problem is that there was something seriously wrong beforehand. Guys like De Lubac and Whittaker Chambers sensed it in the early part of the 20th Century,. Communism and Fascism were the symptoms of its disease. It’s my contention that the Church collapsed because it was nearly allhollow on the inside. It was all form and with little substance. We were worshiping God through habit rather than love. When men were given the free choice to go to Church or the Football, men, who formerly went to church through habit and convention, chose to go to the soccer instead. No one wanted to worship when they didn’t have to. Think about it.

    Evil cannot understand Good.
    Evil is not a the manifestation of deficient intelligence (Here you’re sounding like a classic lefty. Are suggesting that the Devil could be made good through “education”?) rather it is a corrupted nature. Evil= anti-caritas. Devil understands God and hates him for it.

  13. I think a lot of the anti-Vatican 2 crowd fail to ask themselves a question: Why did the Church collapse so suddenly after it?

    It’s become oddly common to take our own depravity as evidence of our ancestors’ inadequacies. Let me explain VII with a parable.

    Imagine the most strongly fortified and best defended city in the world.

    Now imagine this city is besieged by the most powerful army in the world.

    At a key moment, as small minority of the city’s defenders turn traitor and open the city gates to the enemy. The city will be quickly overrun.

    Does this mean that the city wasn’t really very powerful or that the vast majority of its defenders weren’t really loyal? Certainly not! Take away the invading army, and the treasonous few would be nothing compared to the loyal majority.

    Take away the anti-Catholic Leftist media, academia, and governments, and the heretical theologians could have been easily crushed. But in a life-and-death struggle, even a small fifth column has immense effect.

  14. @bonald
    “””Does this mean that the city wasn’t really very powerful or that the vast majority of its defenders weren’t really loyal? Certainly not! “””

    I was a young (german) altar boy when V2 was held and saw the reception of its results in the practical catholic life in western germany.

    We youngsters were all for the liturgical experiments of the day and most of the parent generation followed suit in a very short time. It was indeed very simple to ‘modernize’ the church, there was some resistance by old pastors but the younger ones were very eager to change everything.

    At the time we ascribed the fast success to the validity of our ideas – if we thought about it at all. Looking from today I conclude that indeed the fortress was not powerful and the defenders were not loyal. At least not in the sixties in germany.

    To be catholic was at the time already more a matter of culture and taste than of truth and doctrine. The modern world looked wonderful and the material future bright. This worldly optimism is gone (and this is a major fact in itself).

  15. More and more I’ve come to see that blaming intellectuals, blaming the media, blaming Vatican II etc. is all pretty useless. The real problem is prosperity. We have become a victim of our own success. When people are rich, comfortable and secure they quite spontaneously and naturally lose almost all reverence for religion, hierarchy and traditional virtue.

  16. I don’t doubt that prosperity made life too comfortable and easy; it seems that people only turn to God when they are brought to their knees by hardship, as an immediate cause for the laity’s reception of the changes to Church doctrine it makes sense. But reverence for religion, hierarchy and traditional should be for the right reasons, not for their own sake, because it’s just what you do – or you end with the very problem that you spoke of above, prosperity undercuts its importance. But had the Novus Ordo not come about, we wouldn’t have a crisis in the Church – we can only blame the laity for that in so far as they passively accepted it, not reverencing religion, hierarchy, and tradition for the right reasons and with a proper understanding of the Catholic Faith.

  17. I suppose two infallible statements in unambiguous contradiction would be enough to disprove Catholicism.

    I hear this a lot from non-sedevacantist traditionalists, and I don’t really understand it. From my perspective, when such a statement is made, it makes me call into question your faith in God in the first place. We know that Christ said His Church would be free from error, but that He never said His popes wouldn’t fall into heresy, so why, when given the hypothetical of the pope (who theoretically can fall into heresy according to the hypothesis of many saints) making seemingly infallible contradictory statements, would you choose to say that Christ therefore would be a liar in that event? In effect that is what is said, if we claim the Catholic Church is not the true Church. You know without doubt that Christ is not a liar, that He is Truth, or else your faith is weak now. Why would you choose that Christ is false over the pope is false?

    I think that is probably the biggest thing that sedevacantists don’t understand about non-sedevacantist traditionalists – it seems like a cart before the horse thing, e.g. we aren’t going to recognize heresy as heresy because this would prove that the Church itself is defectible, when in fact it proves no such thing. We believe now in Christ’s word that the Church is indefectible, and that indefectibility is not contingent upon whether or not the pope can be a heretic. Heresy is heresy, no matter who peddles it. It’s like calling a potato (heresy) a pear (Catholic) because one is allergic to potatoes, but pears are good. Um, yeah, it’s still a potato and he is still allergic, and yes, pears are good. In the event of anything “infallible” contradicting Church doctrine, that would not disprove the Church, but disprove the legitimacy of the pope.

  18. Hi trent13,

    The doctrine is not that a pope can’t be a heretic, but that he can’t teach heresy infallibly; perhaps you would argue that we’ve even past that point, but I don’t see it. The more interesting issue you raise is whether a person can believe X while at the same time acknowledging a hypothetical event that would disprove X. It seems to me that one can. As an example, I truly believe that my wife is faithful to me, but that doesn’t mean that if I caught her in bed with another man tomorrow, I would assume I must be hallucinating. I acknowledge that that would be proof of her adultery. My faith in her means that I’m sure this observation won’t actually take place, not that I don’t think it would prove what it plainly would prove.

  19. The doctrine is not that a pope can’t be a heretic, but that he can’t teach heresy infallibly; perhaps you would argue that we’ve even past that point, but I don’t see it.

    Does this include allowing heresies to be taught? Many Catholic churches currently teach heresy as a result of Vatican II.

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