That anomalous moment: America in the counter-revolution and Vatican II

“The Fifties” (really 1945-1964) are remembered as a conservative time.  They weren’t, but there is something to the impression.  For most of its history, the United States has understood itself to be a liberal nation, a beacon of enlightenment and freedom surrounded by the “Old World” of ancient tyranny and superstition.  In 1945, America found her faced with a rival that was much more obviously revolutionary, one that had made an even more thorough repudiation of Europe’s Christian, monarchical past.  Quite against her preferences, America came to occupy what was effectively the counter-revolutionary position.  All the world’s progressive forces looked to the Soviet Union as their natural leader, while the remnants of hierarchy and religion had no choice but to embrace American protection, or at least American-allied Christian Democratic parties.

Such a novel situation required a rethinking of American identity, and “the Fifties” were, in terms of America’s self-conceptualization, the most intellectually creative time of the twentieth century.  From this era, we see many foundational works of the New Left, according to which the capitalist, America-led West was conceived as reactionary and oppressive, and also of what was then called the New Right, which re-imagined the Anglo-American world as heirs of Edmund Burke and the European counter-revolution.

America’s reactionary moment was an anomaly.  By the Reagan administration, the Republican half of America had chosen to present the country as the true revolutionary power, fighting for liberalism against Soviet tyranny.  The Democratic half of America didn’t buy this, of course, but now, deep into the Obama administration, they have largely reconciled themselves to seeing America as a force for good in a world of villainous European nativists and Russian homophobes.  Like in the Soviet Union before us, there no doubt remain reactionary elements that will have to be terrorized into submission, but it would take fantastic mental contortions to deny that the regime is pushing along the revolution.

Times have returned to the post-French Revolutionary normal.  Stuff written in 1850 seems more sensible to us than stuff written in 1950.  Only one institution has failed to return to type:  the Catholic Church.  At the Second Vatican Council, she locked itself into mid-century illusions about a pro-Christian version of liberalism, and she now finds herself controlled by a cadre of men who built their careers off of promoting those illusions and marginalizing those who weren’t taken in.

The more I think about it, the stronger the case seems for the hypothesis that Vatican II caused “the Sixties” (1964-1975).  Apologists continue to make excuses for the Council’s manifest failures, saying that everything would have worked out fine but for a hostile cultural upheaval that by complete coincidence overtook the Western world right as the Council began to be implemented.  Is it true that the Left mutated around 1965 into a much more virulent form?  I don’t see any evidence of that.  “The Fifties” were, I think, a more innovative time for the Left.  No doubt some of these innovations would take time to affect the masses, but most of them I’d say tended to make the Left’s appeal to normal people weaker.  Anti-Americanism and loss of interest in the working class especially were hardly winning moves.  No, what was really different about “the Sixties”, if you think about it, was that the Left was no longer getting any resistance.  By 1950, a large part of the resistance to the Left in the West was coming from the Catholic Church and Catholic lay groups.  I don’t think my Protestant readers will be offended if I say that it had to have been at least around half.  What happens when two armies are equally matched and half of the troops from one side desert is not a slight shift of power, but a rout.  The Left might have been weaker than in the Truman years, but the Right was far weaker than in the Pius XII years, because Catholics had now been told that they should be open to the world rather than loyal to the Truth.

Explanations of the Vatican II collapse often fail by denying what they are trying to explain.  They assume that any institution that collapsed so quickly couldn’t really have been strong before.  However, the evidence for Catholic strength–in Mass attendance, vocations, lay associations, missionary work, and a crop of martyrs that bear comparison to ancient Rome–is overwhelming.  Thus, criticisms of the pre-conciliar Church focus on unmeasurable assertions about peoples’ interior states.  For example, people were just “going through the motions”.  But how can the conciliar debacle be explained without at least a modernist conspiracy comprising the majority of the Council Fathers?  If we think our way back into that anomalous time, the mystery disappears.  American anti-communism.  Christian democracy.  Catholics, Protestants, and classical liberals as brothers in arms fighting the Red Menace.  In those days, liberal slogans like “democracy” sounded good to Catholic ears, because when we heard them, we registered them as “not communism”.  Surely, a bit of theological flexibility is warranted to cement such a beneficial alliance?  I know the Council documents don’t directly even mention communism, but it clearly framed the way those who voted on it understood all the things it does mention.

Was this a mistake?  Certainly.  We can now see plainly that America carries the same core of godlessness as the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, we needn’t impute ill will to the majority of the Fathers.  Remember, if it weren’t for the United States’ nuclear arsenal, there wouldn’t be any Christians in the world today.

35 Responses

  1. […] That anomalous moment: America in the counter-revolution and Vatican II […]

  2. I think virulent anticommunism of the “I’ll take anything over Communists” variety is a large part of the cause of the present situation. Even today, many an otherwise decent conservative is deluded into blathering anti-Putinism because he used to be a KGB agent, regardless of the fact the reason the Leftie media wants us to oppose him is because of what an evil homophobe he is. Heck, he even imprisons girl bands for cases of obvious blasphemy! How dare he! That’s not to say Putin will save the right and restore normalcy, but he certainly isn’t our enemy on the international scene.

    Communism’s greatest contribution to the left is the ability for the left to point to them as the real enemy and get heart-conservatives to immediately vote for the most liberal of causes because they aren’t communists.

    Christianity would have survived Communism. In fact, it might have emerged stronger. It will survive Leftism too. Whatever the enemy, we should never feel the need to sacrifice the Truth on the altar of defeating that enemy. That’s never a winning bargain, at least for the side of the King of Kings, that is. That’s the real common thread of conservative compromise: The attempt to prevent greater loss by giving up one aspect of the Truth. It hasn’t worked for 200+ years, and I don’t think it will start working anytime soon.

  3. The antidote to liberalism is Catholicism. So I agree that the total collapse that was the Sixties was a result of V2.
    I doubt that the documents of the Council have been read by more than a few thousand people, if that many. I’ve been told that they are orthodox.
    But the practical “teaching” of V2 is that Catholicism is tiresome and irrelevant, and must be gradually phased out and replaced by Modernism, or maybe by nothing at all.
    You say V2 caused the Sixties.
    I like to say that it was convened to refute Chesterton.

  4. Here again I have to plug Roberto de Mattei’s excellent history of the Second Vatican Council. I would have written a post about it on the Orthosphere months ago, but life circumstances had kept me from blogging, and at this point I’d need to reread it to do it justice (and I still just don’t have time). One walks away with the impression that the majority of Council fathers were men of good faith who were exploited in their naivety by a small cabal of jerks (promoted by Pius XII), whose opposition was so blindsided by what was happening that they organized too slowly to counter it. Some of the procedural hijinks employed were just laughable and very reminiscent of the silliness of the Synod. Paul VI in particular comes out looking bad here. Much of what we’re told was the product of “postconciliar abuses” made by “bad bishops” were not only authorized but vigorously promoted by Paul, who ruthlessly persecuted the few clerics who tried to apply the brakes.

    “Was this a mistake? Certainly.” Yeah. I’ve said before we (as in the Church universal, not just reactionaries) need to get over Vatican II. It has outlived whatever utility it once had. By all accounts, we’re almost overdue for another Council: when you correct for the outliers, I think the average time between Councils is around 55 years, and plenty happened in fewer than 30 years. We have new crises to deal with.

  5. Bonald
    Is there not a paradox in the simultaneous assertion that, on the one hand, “criticisms of the pre-conciliar Church focus on unmeasurable assertions about peoples’ interior states’” and, on the other, the assertion of “a modernist conspiracy comprising the majority of the Council Fathers”?

    Even if we accept the old maxim, « le poisson pourrit par la tête » how can a “strong” Church have produced a hierarchy dominated by Modernists? And why were its decrees universally received?

  6. Proph wrote, “I think the average time between Councils is around 55 years, and plenty happened in fewer than 30 years”

    There have been 21 general councils, held at very irregular intervals. There were four held within a century, Lateran IV (1215), Lyons I (1245), Lyons II (1274) and Vienne (1311). There were none between Constantinople IV (869), whose decrees were rejected by all the Eastern Churches and Lateran I (1123) – 254 years n or between Trent (1345-1563) and Vatican I (1870) – 307 years.

  7. Proph wrote: “I’ve said before we (as in the Church universal, not just reactionaries) need to get over Vatican II.”

    You mean, like, the preservation of Latin in the liturgy, Gregorian chant getting pride of place in the liturgy, and “especially boys” being well-trained in liturgical functions? I realize a reactionary is supposed to roll his eyes when one says that what happened after the Council was not what the Council called for, but Sacrosanctum Concilium vs. what is the common liturgical experience (at least) in the Western Hemisphere (my only experience) is a very fat, juicy piece of tangible evidence that the Council was not properly implemented.

  8. Yes, the Council’s recommendations on liturgy were not respected. They were not respected by Paul VI, who personally insisted on the abandonment of liturgical Latin, the discontinuation of chant and polyphonic arrangements, and the turning around of the altars, who personally inaugurated the bitter polemics against these things into the more-or-less official discourse of the postconciliar Church, and who personally led the pitiless campaign to extirpate the traditional practice of the faith.

    Such was his prerogative, of course, boneheaded as these moves may or may not have been — a Council can’t bind a Pope on matters of disciplines. Sacrosanctum Concilium was a dead letter within five years of the Council’s completion; if even the Pope who promulgated it (and every Pope since) didn’t care, why should I?

    The Church just needs to get over Vatican II. Whether it was or wasn’t properly implemented and, if not, who hijacked it, is irrelevant, because the pressing issues Vatican II was called to address (such as they were) are not the pressing issues we indisputably have to face today, and we’re not going to find solutions to those pressing issues by dwelling forever on the facile optimism of 50 years ago.

  9. The Church just needs to get over Vatican II.

    I guess it depends on what you mean by Vatican II. I would put Paul VI’s abandonment of SC in the category of “after the Council” and the document itself as “what the Council called for.” I don’t know why he abandoned it, does anyone? Maybe he was simply tuckered out and embittered on top of it and felt vindictive for some reason. It could be he was simply confused and mentally fatigued by everything that was going on around him. But is it possible his abandonment of it was the sudden realization that the optimistic utopian ecumenism we’re supposed to suspect he and “the Council”really wanted would be thwarted by the beautiful liturgies that would result from taking SC seriously, therefore he had to do everything in his power to ensure banal liturgies post facto? This seems too fantastic.

    Aside from the liturgy, and I hesitate to bring this up because the applicability of it may not go beyond the end of my nose (and perhaps not even that far), I frequently wonder whether I would be in the Church today were it not for the change of emphasis resulting from the Council. Growing up in a Protestant home that took its faith (and its extreme blinding Americanism) seriously, which faith included an unexamined (because it wasn’t worth the time to examine something so obviously unbiblical) assumption that the Catholic Church was perhaps just a notch above occultism in its ability to lead souls to heaven, I was not impressed about the peril to my soul as it was informed by the extra ecclesiam doctrine of the Catholic Church. I now accept and hold to this doctrine, but I wonder whether I ever would have gotten there had it not been for the Church’s reaching down to me (in the gutter, I see now, as to the poverty of belief), and saying, “What you hold to be true, we hold to be true also; we are not nearly so far off from each other as you have assumed to be the case. Now that I’ve got your attention, here is the entirety of what you have wanted to believe in all its richness, held in constant faith from the beginning by the Apostles, Confessors, and Martyrs up until now.”

    I love the image often portrayed in photos or paintings of the elevation of the Host at a Latin Mass; but I vaguely remember seeing such images growing up and being repulsed by what I thought to be semi-conscious worship of the evil one. I was not to be won simply by being fed more of those images without something I needed more at that moment. There are few things I fear in myself more than ingratitude, and I do fear it could be ingratitude for me to attack that dynamic of the Church which may very well have been my salvation.

  10. […] then there’s this: That anomalous moment: America in the counter-revolution and Vatican II—a brilliant bit of analysis I think and one of the very best things I’ve read all week. […]

  11. “Remember, if it weren’t for the United States’ nuclear arsenal, there wouldn’t be any Christians in the world today.”

    Hardly. Whole Communism is in itself more evil than liberalism, it’s less of a threat, because it’ll naturally kill itself off, like a virus that destroys it’s host community. As I’ve said before, the reason liberalism keeps going is because of right-liberal stooges supporting it. There can be however, no right-Communism. Thus it’s more of a temporary nuisance, it’s liberalism that is more difficult to eradicate.

  12. “Whole” should be “while”.

  13. ““The Fifties” (really 1945-1964) are remembered as a conservative time. “
    In the United States, perhaps, but certainly not in Europe. After the Liberation, the leaders of the right were either in prison, in a few cases shot, or had fled abroad. It was only in the late 1970s, with the generation of Edouard Balladur and Raymond Barre, that the word ‘right’ could be uttered again without a blush, and ‘right-wing values’ publicly evoked.
    It was a remarkably turbulent period. The defeat of European arms at Diên Biên Phu and the retreat from Indo-China; the humiliation of Britain and France by the United States during Suez Crisis; the Algerian War and the support of the Communist Party for that colonial dirty war – the party of the Resistance, of the 75,000 fusillés ! – the fall of the 4th Republic; the plastiqueurs of the OAS setting off bombs in the streets of Paris and the police butchering peace demonstrators in the Charonne Metro Station Massacre, with the same enthusiasm as their commander, Maurice Pappon, had deported the Jews of Bordeaux to the death camps twenty years earlier; national life dominated by an older generation, including not a few of the hierarchy, compromised by collaboration and tainted by colonial guilt.
    Those were the events that produced the unrest of the Sixties.

  14. “As I’ve said before, the reason liberalism keeps going is because of right-liberal stooges supporting it.”

    That, and cold economics I think. Communism’s economic system is just so antithetical to human nature that there is no way to have long term economic success. When it really boils down to it, people usually demand change of a revolutionary (or reactionary, for that matter) variety when they’re hungry. Liberalism can feed people for a lot longer than Communism can because it isn’t quite as delusional about human nature. The economic system of liberalism is running out of steam, though. Systematic usury and cooking the books can’t go on forever.

  15. I think the economic point goes in with what I’m saying, people disgruntled with Stalin can only turn outside Communism, but no matter how disgruntled people become with liberalism, there’s always a slew of right-liberals ready to direct their opposition to support liberalism (and the same goes in reverse when pseudoconservative solutions like laizze faire capitalism cause problems, left-liberals come to the rescue).

  16. Quite against her preferences, America came to occupy what was effectively the counter-revolutionary position

    In many ways the US fought the Soviets by out-flanking them on the left. One example of this was the US government’s financing of modern art. Sure, much of that operation was simply meant to buy the loyalty of the arbiters of what is chic who may have otherwise agitated against American policy but the subtle aspects are also illustrative. Modern Art’s complete rejection of tradition and form was rightly showcased as the true “genius” of the West- anti-authoritarianism and limitless individual autonomy. Even in the 1950s American Protestants and liberals (rightly) saw Communism and Catholicism as the greatest threats to American freedom.

    Post-WW2 the US fought communism in Europe by flooding the continent with American consumer goods and Hollywood pop-culture. The Church was really the only obstacle to this and hence the necessity of Vatican II to making the Church amendable to America, and what John Rao calls the “moderate enlightenment.”

    I find it strange too that certain post-Vatican II Churchmen were relatively diligent and effective in crushing liberation theology. Why weren’t such efforts turned to the liberal-Americanists here in the US and Europe? Since WW2 the Church saw the Soviet-East as the greatest threat when it ought to have been looking at some of its “friends” in the West. I will even go so far to say that an Integralist has much more in common with liberation theology than it does with the Calvinist infused Americanism of Catholics like Novak and Weigel. Whatever its other problems, liberation theology at least rejects the idea that Catholicism is merely a private devotion, and agree that Catholicism needs to inform political policy. Liberation theology was also an understandable, though inadequate reaction to American imperialism, which has unfortunately triumphed in Latin America.

  17. @buckyinky

    I frequently wonder whether I would be in the Church today were it not for the change of emphasis resulting from the Council.

    Maybe, but you would not want to develop that into an argument in favor of the Council. Adult conversions to the Faith dropped hugely and abruptly right after 1965 in the US. So, maybe you were saved from a fiery fate, but millions were condemned.

    I’m pretty sure I would have converted much earlier to the old Church. The new one reeks of people who don’t believe their own bullshit.

    @ISE

    I find it strange too that certain post-Vatican II Churchmen were relatively diligent and effective in crushing liberation theology.

    Indeed. And, as you have pointed out repeatedly, this strange phenomenon has not gone away. Even among the non-rad trads, Pope Francis is criticized most vociferously not for contradicting the dogmas of the Catholic Church but for contradicting the dogmas of the GOP.

    There is something really spooky about it, actually. “I love Latin; therefore, accept my odd obsession with GOP talking points” It does point to the fact, obvious yet oddly unspoken, that affection for the old Mass has no necessary relationship to orthodoxy. That it’s just an accident that these two things are glued together. Happily, the liberals seem altogether too dim to seize their opportunity. They just have to completely reverse themselves on liturgy, and traditionalism would crumble.

    Are they, in fact, dim, or is there something beneath the surface?

  18. I wouldn’t call the association between traditionalism and orthodoxy accidental, I’m pretty sure a greater percentage of people who attend the Latin Mass would agree with Catholic social teaching than people who attend the NO.

  19. @AR

    Even amongst Protestants, traditional worship forms tend to be associated with greater doctrinal orthodoxy. If you go to a Church that sings hymns from some old hymnbook, then it’s most likely populated by very conservative people. On the other hand, we all know of the nonsense that comes from the megachurches that practice “contemporary worship.” That isn’t always the case, as many liberal Churches keep somewhat traditional forms because the only reason for their existence is because some old people feel nostalgia when they go to them, and they can’t do that if there’s someone with an electric guitar “leading worship.”

  20. DrBill wrote, “affection for the old Mass has no necessary relationship to orthodoxy. That it’s just an accident that these two things are glued together.”

    Indeed. One recalls that, In the Anglican Church, most, if not all of the early Modernists were also Ritualists. After all, if one separates “truths of fact” from “truths of value,” one values whatever elicits or fosters that “religious sense,” which, for the Modernist, is the “a priori principle” or “universal form” of religion.

    There is, however, a connection between the sort of liturgical traditionalism one sees in the SSPX and schism. Speaking of the Orthodox of his day, Bl John Henry Newman noted that they possessed “the proper disposition towards heresy and schism; I mean, that they rely on things more than on persons, and go through a round of duties in one and the same way, because they are used to them, and because in consequence they are attached to them, not as having any intelligent faith in a divine oracle which has ordered them; and that in consequence they would start in irritation, as they have started, from such indications of that Oracle’s existence as is necessarily implied in the promulgation of a new definition of faith.” One wonders if his analysis of the Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet crowd would be very different.

  21. Maybe, but you would not want to develop that into an argument in favor of the Council. Adult conversions to the Faith dropped hugely and abruptly right after 1965 in the US. So, maybe you were saved from a fiery fate, but millions were condemned.

    This was my fault for bringing in so personal an observation. I certainly didn’t mean to imply, nor was I obtusely unaware of the conclusion that could follow, that “I got mine, and to hell with everyone else.”

  22. I think the SSPX are very, very conscious of the theological problems they have with the conciliar church. The real issue is how the rest of the church can be so indifferent to the Oracle’s previous 19 centuries of definitive teaching.

  23. “One recalls that, In the Anglican Church, most, if not all of the early Modernists were also Ritualists.”

    This isn’t exactly a counterexample as Ritualism was against traditional Anglican forms of worship, not for them. Some of them even abandoned the prayer book altogether (especially the liberal ones). Anglicans committed to the 1662 prayer book or a reasonable facsimile thereof tend to be very conservative.

  24. @nathan

    Yes, I figured that the same was true among Protestants.

    @Bonald

    While the SSPX may make a few good points, their rejection of obedience makes them enemies of orthodoxy. It’s absolutely true that no one in the pre-modern Church would tolerate the LCWR, but the same is also true of the SSPX.

  25. Bonald wrote, “The real issue is how the rest of the church can be so indifferent to the Oracle’s previous 19 centuries of definitive teaching.”

    Not if one adopts Cardianal Manning’s answer to similar objections from the Tractarians, “If you reject history and antiquity, how can you know what was revealed before, as you say, history and antiquity existed? ‘I answer: The enunciation of the faith by the living Church of this hour is the maximum of evidence, both natural and supernatural, as to the fact and the contents of the original revelation. I know what are revealed there not by retrospect, but by listening… In truth, and at the root, is not this inverted and perverse method a secret denial of the perpetual office of the Holy Ghost? The first and final question to be asked of these controversialists is: Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world?”

    The Magisterium is its own interpreter. As the Holy Office pointed out in its condemnation of Fr Feeney (referenced in Lumen Gentium 16), “(T)his dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Saviour gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church.”

    The SSPX’s error is the belief that the teaching of the Church is something to be searched for in the records of the past, rather than something to be heard and accepted in the living present.

  26. How wide a stretch of time is comprised by the living present? Does it include that quote from Lumen Gentium, or must I wait until I know what the current pope wants me to think about it before I form any judgment on what it means?

  27. The SSPX’s error is the belief that the teaching of the Church is something to be searched for in the records of the past,

    As opposed to the modern Churchman who sees the teaching of the Church as something to be solely found in a Vatican II document?

    their rejection of obedience makes them enemies of orthodoxy

    You realize the SSPX is probably more faithful to the teachings of Vatican II than the modernists are of any stripe? How does that make them “enemies of orthodoxy”?

    It’s absolutely true that no one in the pre-modern Church would tolerate the LCWR, but the same is also true of the SSPX.

    Because there wouldn’t need to be an SSPX in the pre-modern Church!

  28. The way I saw it explained, they don’t reject obedience. They see the theological virtues, (faith, charity) as higher in the Catholic hierarchy than moral virtues such as obedience. So when the two come into conflict (like post V2), they choose the higher virtue.

  29. You realize the SSPX is probably more faithful to the teachings of Vatican II than the modernists are of any stripe? How does that make them “enemies of orthodoxy”?

    Undoubtedly. But “more faithful than the modernists” is a horrible standard for orthodoxy. They are enemies of orthodoxy because they do not obey the Vicar of Christ.

    Because there wouldn’t need to be an SSPX in the pre-modern Church!

    There is no need for disobedience today either.

    The way I saw it explained, they don’t reject obedience. They see the theological virtues, (faith, charity) as higher in the Catholic hierarchy than moral virtues such as obedience. So when the two come into conflict (like post V2), they choose the higher virtue.

    They are not being commanded to act contrary to the faith.

  30. Bonald asks, “Does it include that quote from Lumen Gentium, or must I wait until I know what the current pope wants me to think about it before I form any judgment on what it means?”

    We should apply to magisterial texts the same test that Bl John Henry Newman applied to scriptural texts: “Doubtless, a certain interpretation of a doctrinal text may be so strongly supported by the Fathers, so continuous and universal, and so cognate and connatural with the Church’s teaching, that it is virtually or practically as dogmatic as if it were a formal judgment delivered on appeal by the Holy See, and cannot be disputed except as the Church or Holy See opens its wording or its conditions.”

    Newman points out elsewhere that “instances frequently occur, when it is successfully maintained by some new writer, that the Pope’s act does not imply what it has seemed to imply, and questions which seemed to be closed, are after a course of years re-opened…”

    In that sense, our judgment is always provisional and open to revision.

  31. In that sense, our judgment is always provisional and open to revision.

    Exactly so. It’s fun to try to explain this to Protestants, well until it stops being fun. What do I have to believe to be Catholic? Whatever the Church teaches. Well, what’s that? No, no, that’s the answer. A Catholic is required to believe whatever the Church teaches, whatever that might turn out to be. The key act of the will is the decision to believe whatever the Church teaches, whatever that might turn out to be.

    It absolutely has to be this way. How else do morons get to be Catholic?

    There is an associated epistemic question of course. How am I supposed to figure out what the Church teaches? Once upon a time, the answer was “Ask your parish priest.”

    But that isn’t the answer any more. The Church now recommends that we do stuff like reading the Bible and the Magisterium. So, Bonald’s point is apposite. “Yeah, I heard you, but that was ten seconds ago. I think you changed your mind since. Or, of course I heard you and what you said means X” doesn’t contain any immediate logical problems.

    As with so much that happened in the Conciliar period, it is a pretty interesting coincidence that the Church started encouraging the faithful to read on their own at almost the exact moment that it, the Church, started talking in bafflegab. Almost like a nudge.

    People who emphasize the living Magisterium schtick have a basically asymmetric view of things, or want their listeners to. When interpreting texts from the past, especially ones they don’t like, it’s all “Words: what do they mean, really?” When interpreting HH’s latest eruption, it’s all “You know what he means, now move!” They want the power that goes with legal realism and also the power that goes with legal positivism or natural law. You can only have that during the transition period when you are destroying the law’s legitimacy and the good guys haven’t given up on stopping you yet. Once they give up, it’s just liars lying to each other.

    If the Magisterium is alive enough, then it doesn’t exist at all. The whole point of the thing is to explain the Faith. If you can’t learn about the Faith by reading it, then what’s the point? “The Faith doesn’t change, it’s just that our interpretation of it changes by 180 degrees every now and then.” If you can go from a Council saying de fide that heretics go to Hell unless they convert before death to the current prattling about how the Protestant and Orthodox heretics are fine where they are, then Magisterial texts aren’t worth bothering over. Why would I read them? Yahoo news has the current, up-to-date Catholic faith. Or, just make up your own personal religion.

    Economists think about human behavior as being about constrained choice. When someone chooses something, that choice is a mixed expression of what they want and what constraints they are under. If you waive away the constraints, then your choice is a pure expression of your preferences (a common refrain of realists). This explains why the Germans hated Benedict so much. Being a bunch of Modernists, they interpreted Benedict’s opposition to parts of their program as simple expressions of hatred. Of his rejection of them and their ideas. Of betrayal most foul.

  32. DrBill

    We need to draw an important distinction between revelation or the deposit of faith and reflection on it.

    Thus, Bl John Henry Newman observed, “Theological dogmas are propositions expressive of the judgments, which the mind forms, or the impressions which it receives, of Revealed Truth. Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences.”

    The revelation is summarised in the Apostles’ Creed. Like the Apostles preaching in Acts, its articles are categorical, not argumentative; concrete, not abstract; concerned with facts and actions and, above all, with a Person; not with ideas or notions or reflections.

    It is easy to see how the deposit of faith is closed, whilst the reflections on it are inexhaustible.

  33. OK. At the high level of summary at which you are operating, there’s nothing to disagree with in what you said. However, it isn’t just the Creeds and the Bible which are part of the deposit of the Faith. Every de fide pronouncement of the Church is there as well. And heretics burn in Hell is pretty concrete.

  34. “it isn’t just the Creeds and the Bible which are part of the deposit of the Faith. Every de fide pronouncement of the Church is there as well”

    It is there implicitly, of course and its explicit formulation is part of the process of “draw[ing] it forth in successive and distinct sentences.” Such formulations are, themselves subjct to further explanation and harmonization. As Newman points out, ” instances frequently occur, when it is successfully maintained by some new writer, that the Pope’s act does not imply what it has seemed to imply, and questions which seemed to be closed, are after a course of years re-opened…”

    The controlling principle is recourse to the original revelation, “the supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles”

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