Getting over Vatican II

What the Church desperately needs with regard to the Second Vatican Council is to embrace the Hermeneutic of Forgetfulness.  But how to get there?  Attitude will be crucial.  Let us take one of the bromides of the conciliar era, “pastoral”, and turn it to our use.  Vatican II was a pastoral council.  Everyone says so.  But what does “pastoral” mean?  Or, rather, what meaning do we wish to give it?

1) pastoral = “popularized”.  Pastoral means effectively reaching people, which means being accessible, which means (so we shall imply) being dumbed down.  Vatican II theology is for people who can’t cut it with “manual” Thomism.  It’s like popular science books for nonscientists.  Scientists will all say that it’s good that such books exist, but they definitely have less authority than the technical work they are meant to distill.  If somebody read in a popular science article about spacetime being like a rubber sheet and thought we was then qualified to critique actual general relativity textbooks, we would laugh at him.  Similarly, Vatican II, as popularized Catholicism, has no authority to critique the real pre-conciliar theology.

Sly implication:  People who talk up VII and quote its texts are stupid.

2) pastoral = “sanitized”.  Real Catholicism is shocking and intense, and it can be too much for some people at first.  Vatican II is like those edited-for-TV movies where they take out the gore and swearing and nudity.  Usually this doesn’t affect the movie much, unless one makes a big point of the lack of such offensive material.  So, a theologian claiming that there’s no inconsistency between Catholicism and liberalism based just on Vatican II is like somebody seeing the edited-for-TV version of Die Hard and then writing a term paper about John McClane being a hero who doesn’t swear.

Sly implication:  People who talk up VII and quote its texts are sissies.  And stupid.

Of course, the trick is to insinuate these things rather than say them outright.  It’s more effective that way.

30 Responses

  1. The thing is, there were some real problems with manual Thomism, starting with the fact that the actual study of Thomas was often neglected. There were also some flat out incorrect readings of Thomas, as pointed out by people like de Lubac. Of course, the reaction against the manualists also happened to come at the same time as radicals were trying to obliterate any form of Thomism, so the “new theology” contained a grab bag of both legitimate and illegitimate criticisms of the theology immediately preceding it.

  2. […] Source: Throne and Altar […]

  3. As I have said before, Roman Catholicism can either repent and repudiate Vatican II or continue to go down the tubes.

    But as Thu. says the old style ultramontaine Catholicism (as I know it in the British Isles, which is essentially Irish Catholicism) did have problems – which remain un-addressed or exacerbated. In particular there was a drab, miserable, minimalist, negative, rationing-and-school-dinners feel to the whole thing.

    (This was, in real life, alleviated by a tradition of ‘partying’ and drunkenness among (Irish, and Irish-descended) Catholics – which seemed to provide the only colour and balance to life – but this was, of course, outside the church and the religion and worked against it. As soon as they were allowed, the Irish kept the alcohol, singing, dancing and sex – and rejected the church.)

    What was really needed was, I think, the opposite of what VII offered – which was more Latin, more richness, ritual, formality, ceremony in the Catholic religious life itself – aimed at making the church and its services an oasis of meaning and depth and grandeur in the shallow meaninglessness of modernity.

    In other words, Roman Catholicism in the early 1960s needed to become more like Orthodoxy at its best, rather than Protestantism at its worst.

  4. For me, the main problem with Thomist texts, old and new, is that I just don’t buy some of their key arguments. Returning to pre-VII theology is also largely a matter of a positive attitude to the tradition.

    The main problem with the Irish is that they nurse a victim mentality, meaning that sooner or later they were bound to become obnoxious Leftists.

  5. Bonald, please tell us about a Thomistic argument you don’t agree with, my friend. He advocates a partly monarchic, partly aristocratic, and partly democratic mixed constitution. I prefer hereditary monarchy because political parties form factions and elections attract dishonest politicians. Now, after St. Pius X has said that there’s no way to reject Thomistic metaphysics without grave disadvantage, I’m even gladder I’m a Thomist. Besides, about 62 popes have endorsed Thomism, the dogma about Transubstantiation. And the dogma about Transubstantiation seemingly assumes the Thomistic difference between substances and their accidents. Despite its popularity, the New Theology is not an option for me now when I know that Pius XII has condemned it in Humani Generis.

    St. Thomas was mistaken about several thing, I’m sure. So far, his belief about a monarchic mixed constitution is the only one on which I disagree with him.

  6. Here’s a link to Fr. David Greenstock’s article called “Thomism and the New Theology,” where the writer agrees that Pius XII did condemn the New Theology.

  7. Here’s one thing I’ve already written about, where a seemingly arbitrary principle leads to counter-intuitive conclusions:

    Also, I think Thomism has trouble coherently accounting for the afterlife, as I explain here:

  8. Also, see the comments here for my critiques of the 3rd and 4th “Ways”:

  9. If I had a nickel for every time my RCIA instructors said, “Oh we believe that anymore because Vatican II,” I could buy myself a fancy steak dinner.

    I volunteer with Catholic youts, and I can testify that they respond well to old school theology that makes demands of the faithful and promises dire consequences for those who flout those demands. More than one has noticed the discrepancy between what they hear from LifeTeen and what they hear in school.

  10. It’s so odd.

    So far as I can make out, the idea seems to be that the decision to have a pastoral council, given the general sense that the Council was a new Pentecost, was a decision to make the pastoral prevail over the dogmatic. Otherwise the Council couldn’t have been as important as everyone felt it was. The Council as an event therefore meant implicit acceptance of something a bit like Marx on Feuerbach: mysteries find their solution in human practice.

    So from that point of view pastoral = the view that pastors can make the Faith, as a practical human matter, whatever seems good to them under the circumstances. That’s why all Vatican II popes are being made saints. It’s a symbol of the implicit hyperclericalism of the whole enterprise.

  11. If I understand St. Thomas’s hylomorphism, my body and my soul are proper parts of me, and a proper part is a part that’s not identical with the whole of which it’s a part. I stop existing when I die, but my soul survives forever. My body will survive forever, too, after Christ “rebuilds” me on resurrection day, when He’ll reunite my body with my soul.

    Thomas believes that the relationship between the body and the soul is as close as the one between a statue and its marble. You destroy the statue when you grind it into marble dust. After the grinding, the dust has replaced the statue, since the marble lost the substantial form that caused it to be a statue rather than an object of any other kind. The moment I die, my body will become a corpse that won’t have my substantial form. In the grave, the corpse will lose its substantial form, too, when it decays. Someday the only remains of my body may be molecules that composed it. But if my body is any body that my soul in-forms, Our Lord probably put me back together by uniting my soul with matter that belonged to with matter it had never in-formed before,

    I doubt that any orthodox Catholic can be a Cartesian mind-body dualist. Descartes believes that he’s an immaterial, nonphysical thinking thing who lives in his body in much the same way that a camper lives in a tent. Just as the camper can live in his tent or outside, Descartes can live in his body or separate from it. But if Descartes is right, each aborted baby survives his abortion, since it only removes him from that body.

  12. Normally, one reads that the pre-Vatican II Church was in need of reform. Yet, what kind of historical scholarship has been done to substantiate this claim? Just posing the questions seems like a rhetorical move. Why, surely someone has investigated the question. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that the answer is mostly lost to history.

    What was Catholicism like for tens of millions of people across continents and across decades? What picture of Catholicism would have to emerge for us to conclude that, yes, in fact, the Church did need reform? Perhaps some intrepid historians are or already have collected libraries full of diaries and other primary source documents to irrefutably demonstrate the widespread decrepitude of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Even if true, how will it compare to our own times?

    So it goes.

  13. That’s easy, there were too many Catholics in places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Boston. There was too much solidarity among their respective ethnic groups and the potential for pan-Catholic solidarity to come via the triple-melting pot. They were actively challenging the Jewish media via the Legion of Decency and boycotts and the WASP establishment via parochial schools, alternative newspapers, the labor movement. Clearly Catholic Power was incompatible with American Freedom (aka manipulation by the psycholigical warfare establishment, aka Huxley’s “final revolution”) and thus they were in need of reform.

  14. Aegis, I’ve read that, before Vatican II, when John XXIII still ruled the Catholic Church, it thrived. That may be why Michael Davies makes an important point in his book “Pope John’s Council,” I believe. Some will tell you that integralists commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc, “After this, therefore because of this,” fallacy when they blame that council(?) for part or all of the Church’s current crisis. But as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, Vatican II’s results were nearly the opposites of the expected ones. So we haven’t committed that fallacy when we’ve blamed Vatican II.

    The word “renewal” can mislead people when theologically progressive Catholics use it, since it implies improvement. What the Church needs is restoration, not renewal.

  15. I don’t expect Pope Francis to do it. But I want to abolish the rite of Mass that came out in about 1969, to end the religiously indifferent ecumenism, and to reject Vatican II’s “teaching” about religious liberty along with collegiality of the Catholic bishops. A pope should be what he has always been, an absolute monarch.

  16. > Thomas believes that the relationship between the body and the soul is as close as the one between a statue and its marble.

    And we usually don’t say that the form of a statue survives separation from its matter.

  17. Aegis,

    From everything we can measure (Mass attendence, religious vocations, divorce rates, lay associations), it appears that the pre-VII Church had a vitality that would be unimaginable to us today. The only argument made that this Church was actually decrepit is the very rottenness of what followed.

    VII pulverized the Church. Therefore, the Church wasn’t as healthy as she looked. Therefore, she was in need of reform. Therefore, VII was a good idea. That’s seriously how people think.

  18. No, Bonald, we usually don’t say that a statue’s form survives when it separates from the statue’s matter. But its form still organizes that matter when it in-forms it. I was just doing a “variation on a theme,” since Edward Feser made the same point about the close relationship between matter and form with the picnic table example in his book Aquinas for Beginners. But for St. Thomas, matter is anything that can get a form, an essence. He even says that each angel is composed of both an essence and his existence.

    I felt a little confused when you said that maybe you would survive your body and your soul. Are you implying that your body and your soul aren’t parts of you? If your soul will die physically when you do, will you be in Heaven before your corpse resurrects? If my soul won’t survive my body’s death, it’s hard to see why the Church teaches that some holy souls go to Purgatory.

  19. I’m aware that we have evidence of vitality in the pre-Vatican II Church, but in conversations about the Council, one hears about problems in need of reform. So I am trying to figure out: what is the historical evidence for suchclaims?

    Here’s a generality I’ve heard: the pre-Vatican II Church was insular. I think that’s supposed to mean that there were ethnic ghettos. But was there no missionary work or attempts at spreading the Gospel? And to what degree is the charge of insularity restricted to certain geographic places? A Catholic island, such as Ireland was, cannot but be insular in many respects, but were not missionaries trained there and sent abroad? And right now the Church’s banner program in the West is targeted at fallen away Catholics (the New Evangelization). Couldn’t that be described as insular after a fashion, insofar as it is targeted at Catholics of a sort?

    Or another charge I’ve heard was that Catholic doctrine made no sense to the people of the modern world. But what does that mean? Were atheists walking around the streets of Europe scratching their heads, muttering, “This whole Trinity concept, hmm, it’s all Greek to me.” Or do we mean, well, moderns simply reject Christian revelation as such? How would a historian demonstrate such a thing as true?

    Another thing I heard (I think it might have been Fr. Barron), was that the Church was trying to become more biblical with Vatican II (as seen by the document Dei Verbum). But didn’t Catholics put more faith in the Bible before the Council rather than afterword? How do we know that Catholics weren’t biblical in their daily lives aside from giving blind faith to old prejudices (“Catholics don’t read the Bible”). Shouldn’t we be able to prove, with historical scholarship, how important the Bible was to Catholics before the Council? And if we can’t, then isn’t such talk about the Church needing to become more biblical simply conjecture without factual foundation?

    Apologies for the length, ladies and gentlemen.

  20. Aegis, I too have long wondered about the supposed problems that plagued the pre-Vatican II Church. What were they? And why did they require the extraordinary solution of an ecumenical council?

    I’ve noticed that many descriptions of those problems involve unverifiable speculations about people’s interior states. For example, one thing I hear a lot is, “Nobody understood what the heck was going on in the old Mass, they just went through the motions.” Even if that were true, the people still went to Mass. Today it’s more likely they neither understand the Mass nor bother going.

  21. Aegis, maybe the New Evangelism is insular. Even if it’s not that way, I doubt that many Catholic ecumenists try to help Catholic converts to other religions to return to the Church. Now that Francis tells Protestants that he’s not trying to get them to join it, what happens to Catholic evangelistic zeal. It plummets the way it did soon after Vatican II. Pagans don’t feel any need to become Catholic when a pope invites, say, Hindus to pray Hindu prayers in Assisi.

    Today’s ecumenism reminds me of Sillonism that St. Pius X condemns in his Encyclical “Our Apostolic Mandate.” The Sillon was a Catholic group that hoped to create a utopian, religiously indifferent society where everyone would cooperate for the common good, a place something like John Paul II’s civilization of love.

    In Catholic Family News, my favorite newspaper, John Vennari wrote about a papal Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated in Brazil. one with about 350,000 people in the congregation. The same day, about 1.2 million Protestants marched for Jesus in that Catholic country, where the Protestant population is still growing.

    What’s my point? It’s that with today’s religiously indifferent ecumenism, Catholic ecumenists are implying that even pagans don’t need to hear the Gospel. Today’s Catholic ecumenists act as though so-called religiously liberty is more important that Catholic truth.

    Liberal Catholics and Modernist heretics in St. Pius X’s sense of the word “Modernists” believe that the Church needs to change to stay up to date. Supposedly, fans of the New Theology, von Bathasar and de Lubac, for example, thought the Church needed to use modern philosophical jargon because today’s Catholics wouldn’t understand St. Thomas Aquinas’s jargon. So Vatican II’s Fathers wrote that council’s documents in pastoral language that would be supposedly clear enough for even for ordinary laypeople to comprehend. Now, more than 50 years after the council, even popes seem not to know what the council documents mean, and Benedict has coined the phrase “hermeneutic of continuity,” since continuity between Vatican II and other councils is doubtful. And ambiguity in the rite of Mass, even some Protestants use that rite at their liturgies.

    My bother Michael made an astoundingly revealing comment years ago when he attended Episcopalian liturgies. “Mom,” he exclaimed, “they’re just like ours.” And the New Mass is the only kind of Mass he’s ever been to.

    You could interpret his point from either of two perspectives. You might think, “Wow! Isn’t it great that a Protestant liturgy is much like a Catholic one. Or you could ask yourself, “Gee, isn’t strange, maybe even lamentable, that a Catholic liturgy is much like a non-Catholic one?”

    In a few minutes, I’ll post links to a few of my sources, including a YouTube video, where John Salza quote’s Benedict’s 1966 book “Theological Highlights of Vatican II” to show that even Ratzinger knew that Vatican II’s teaching about religious liberty conflicted with Bl. Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, where Pius condemns the belief that we have a God-given right to practice any religion we choose.

  22. Everybody, here’s the list of sources I’ve promised to post. I’m only suggesting the sources. If if you want or need to ignore them, I’ll understand.

    Mortalium Animos, Pius XI’s Encyclical about how to promote Christian unity. For him, to do that, Catholics need to help non-Catholics become Catholics.

    “Our Apostolic Mandate” by St. Pius X.

    Salza’s video

    Fr. David Greenstock’s article “Thomism and the New Theology,” where the writer says that Pius XII condemned the New Theology and writes about theologians who want to update the Church’s jargon

    Bl. Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. See errors 15-18

    “The Ottaviani Intervention,” a critiqueof the New Mass. Please read at least the summary.

  23. Possibly of interest, a couple of book reviews I found at A review of Paul Blanshard on Vatican II (if you don’t know who Paul Blanshard is, look it up) by a Catholic integrationist.

    Another review remarks that Paul BLanshard now (1966) “dines with Bishops and is treated as something of a celebrity at Rome”.

    In any case, the problems of the pre-council Church appear to amount to the fact that Paul Blanshard, John Dewey and the psychological warfare establishment hated it with a passion that made was embarrassing to Irish social climbers.

  24. I’m not sure what the supposed problems were that necessitated Vatican II; I never get a straight answer from anyone, and rarely ever get the same answer from any two people.

    What is telling was the priorities of the Council fathers as revealed by the vota prior to the inauguration of the Council. They largely wanted two things: the proclamation of a new Marian dogma and stricter adherence to the disciplines of the Church, especially as concerned liturgy (abuse of which was already pretty common by that point — the 10-minute low Mass, unauthorized use of the vernacular, etc.). John XXIII wanted to end the Council after its first session.

    I have to chuckle when I hear talk about the preconciliar Church being “insular.” Today’s church and today’s liturgy are so sickeningly, tediously self-referential and navel-gazing that it is hard to take it seriously. Just today I heard a priest friend, a young fellow, a part of the later “JPII generation,” say that the old Mass had a nice contemplative feel to it but that he wasn’t sure Mass was the time/place for contemplative worship. Get it? Because basically everyone basically everywhere, not only for the entire history of the Church but in generations of Jewish temple sacrifice before then, got it all wrong until Paul VI came along and set us all straight, thanks be to God.

  25. Ecumenical councils were usually called to address whatever the popular heresy of the day might be. According to Michael Davies, several Vatican II fathers wanted to formally condemn communism. But Pope John was desperate to have some Orthodox bishops present, and the price the Soviets demanded was that there would be no condemnation of communism.

  26. Seems to me that Vatican II did consider defining a Marian dogma.

  27. The Balamand Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox one supports what I’ve been saying about Catholic evangelistic zeal. See paragraph 15.

  28. They certainly did consider it, before the Marian minimalist minority convinced J23 to give them everything they wanted.

  29. You’re right, I’m sure, Proph. The good news is that, on his deathbed, J23 said, “Stop the council.” Tragically, it still did its harm.

  30. The best thing about this is that it turns the weapons and arguments of the liberalizers on their head, at least from what I’ve seen. Not that it will make a difference–the arguments were only meant instrumentally in the first place. Best of luck, though; there is a crying need for self-confident, functional, and genuinely Christian institutions. Literally a crying need.

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