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The Church's "Long War"?

Sandro Magister has the text of Benedict's Q&A with priests at his vacation home in northern Italy. (This is the pope's preferred way of communicating in a more casual manner; it is effective, and enlightening, as he seems comfortable in this setting.) The excerpt Magister has posted is Benedict's response to the final question, regarding the hopes and disappointments of Vatican II. It is a very comprehensive response by the pope, and I think sums up well his thinking about the Council (and the modern world) and the long struggle in which he--and we, if recent threads are any indicator--are all engaged to "define" Vatican II, and modern Catholicism. The pope reveals his typically binary, or I daresay Manichean, view of the conflicts, and his view of himself as occupying the proper center, which he says will hold as long as it has to. The prospect of such a long struggle, as in the early years of the church, as Benedict says, could be dispiriting. But this also seems to point toward a question Peggy Steinfels posted recently about why the Commonweal bloggers and commenters, in particular, seem more concerned with things ecclesial while the magazine itself has traditionally taken a wider view. I suspect that for the first decades of Commonweal's existence most of the Catholic things we fight about today were taken for granted. Now it is as if we have to settle those ad intra debates before we can constructively engage the wider culture more than we do now. Just an idea for thoughtul (I hope) feedback, or correction.

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An interesting point that the Pope made has to do with the indirectness of the most effective response: the evangelical response.How do we interpret the Council? By doing something! Start a homeless shelter. Begin forming a community of prayer. Put the Gospel at work in your life:"I saw that almost every day in Brazil a new religious community is born, a new movement is born, and it is not only the sects that are growing. The Church is growing with new realities full of vitality, which do not show up in the statistics this is a false hope; statistics are not our divinity but they grow within souls and create the joy of faith, they create the presence of the Gospel, and thus also create true development in the world and society. "

David,I take the following to be your assessment of the Pope's words:"The pope reveals his typically binary, or I daresay Manichean, view of the conflicts, and his view of himself as occupying the proper center, which he says will hold as long as it has to."Could you elaborate: what is "Manichean" in his view? What is "the proper center" you see him claiming to occupy?Thanks.

An interesting response, but profoundly European. The end of African colonialism is as important as 1968.If that is how he is going to analyze, I would be more interested in his assessment of Vatican I. Would "1917" mean Soviet communism or Fatima? Would "1945" mean the destruction at Hiroshima or the liberation in Europe?

Bob--I thought the pope was fairly clear, ceratinly as regards his view of contemporary life, describing it, for example, as "nihilistic" and plagued by a "blind pseudo-rationalistic skepticism that ends in drugs, that ends in all these problems that we know..." Also he says of the post-conciliar era:"One side was of the opinion that this cultural revolution was what the Council had wanted. It identified this new Marxist cultural revolution with the will of the Council. It said: This is the Council; in the letter the texts are still a bit antiquated, but behind the written words is this spirit, this is the will of the Council, this is what we must do. And on the other side, naturally, was the reaction: you are destroying the Church. The let us say absolute reaction against the Council, anticonciliarity, and let us say the timid, humble search to realize the true spirit of the Council. And as a proverb says: If a tree falls it makes a lot of noise, but if a forest grows no one hears a thing, during these great noises of mistaken progressivism and absolute anticonciliarism, there grew very quietly, with much suffering and with many losses in its construction, a new cultural passageway, the way of the Church."Again, these seem to be straw men, Marxists versus Traditionalists, 1968 v. 1870, that kind of thing. The reality is more complex. And Benedict has certainly identified with one party, in his actions--such as going to great lengths to reach out to the Lefebvrists with the Latin Mass restoration and the like, without being so sedulous as regards the "other side". And he tends to ID with one camp in his words: "And thus it seems to me that we must rediscover the great heritage of the Council, which is not a spirit reconstructed behind the texts, but the great conciliar texts themselves, reread today with the experiences that we have had and that have born fruit in so many movements, in so many new religious communities."I don't particularly agree with Benedict and his apparent critique of the Bologna School and the like. But again this is not so much about agreeing, as clarifying where Benedict stands, and how he arrays the post-conciliar battlefield. He wants to "go back to the texts," which are curently being re-translated to his liking and which will be held up as the "official" translations to restrict dangerous exegesis. So he claims the center, but that is not really the case.

I would call this Benedict at his best, but I agree that his view of history, of significant points in time, is Eurocentric , perhaps even eccentric. Postmodernism, in literary critical circles at least, was alread a phenomenon in the 1970s. Today I would venture to say that it is moribund. !989 seems to me primarily significant as marking, if one has to pick a year, the failure of state socialism as a path to the future. It led to despair only those who had placed their faith in Marxism, especially Soviet Marxism. I do think Benedict has caught well the difficulty of real change in the church. It is particular difficult to understand for those who have little sense of history--the example of Nicaea is well taken, but he follows Newman and others in pointing this out--and who believe that the Church at the first Pentecost is quite simply and precisely the one and only Church that has alway been since then and alway will be till the parousia.The Church is among other things a human organization. Nothing human is without confusion, misdirection and misunderstanding, not to say sin and idol worship. The guidance of the Spirit is there, but it effects should not be overstated. The human limitations of the those guided remain.

An observation I'd agree with, Joseph Gannon. One of the human limitations, I think, is our understandable aptitude for believing ourselves to be standing at the "sensible center" of any debate. (Those who pride themselves on always being on one fringe or another are of another type altogether.) I think that is a self-awareness we always need to cultivate, or at least I do. I read a comment somewhere--heck, I bet it was in Commonweal--from Rahner, I think near the end of his life, in which he asked both sides, but especially "progressives" with whom he would understandably be identified, if we hadn't sought to make the Council something that would satisfy our own desires, to make us more comfrotable in church, rather than pursuing its Spirit where it will. Something to that effect. Perhaps someone here can hunt it down. I'll try.

David, I'd be interested in hearing more about what you mean by Manicheanism.All dualities are not the same. Distinguishing between a good social trend and a bad social trend is hardly the same as saying matter is bad.

Take a look at John Allen's on-line piece today and it's emphasis on the environment and Benedict's take on care for it being a means of recovering natural law.I think David is right though about Benedict being too deeply tied to a European view in a rapidly eveolving world.

Kathy, I was using Manichean in a metaphoric rather than literal sense, of dividing the world between the Forces of Darkness and the Forces of Light. It wasn't intended as a neo-Gnostic analysis about the relative values of matter and spirit. It was meant, imperfectly no doubt, to characterize the tendency to see our foes as completely and wholly wrong and even evil, and ourselves as on the side of the angels.

I don't even know if eurocentric is the right word because it bypasses quite a bit of modern Europe. My impression of Benedict, as well as JPII, is that they thrived so well in the pre-war culture that they grew up in that they never stopped (or have stopped) seeing it in idealistic terms and everything else is viewed in comparison as inferior and inadequate. I lived through 1968 and even as a child I knew it was a bad year: assassinations in the U.S.; the invasion of Czechoslovakia; the massacre of Mexican students; and compared to all of these student uprisings in college towns across Europe don't seem all that momentous. And to see them solely in terms of Marxian underpinnings is a little bizarre. I just don't consider his answer to be an answer at all. It's just a manifestation of the ongoing battle he has apparently been fighting in his head with a bunch of students in 1968 when a generation flexed its muscles. Joschka Fischer, for instance, came to terms with German mainstream society from his leftward perch. Why can't Benedict begin to see 1968 and for that matter modernity in general through greater perspective? Why does he always seem be pining for that pre-war farming village idyll?

Okay, that helps.It is a rather strong term, especially when referring to an Augustinian.I was wondering, though, is it impossible that he is right? That he is actually holding the center?

There was something else that happene in 1968, the repercussions of which are still dividing the Church. An encyclical, I think.

Kathy, it's not at all impossible that he is right. I would see him more as part of a reaction than a correction (necessary, I think) after the council. But hey, it's all straw...I do agree with Barbara's comments on his character--again, the descritption of Benedict as old-fashioned as much as conservative is apt. And personality is at play here as much as theology, in my view. And "old-fashioned" can seem cute and quaint. But the decisions such a view spawns have real import, esp if you were not a Catholic raised in early twentieth-century Bavarian Catholicism.

I'm not sure when I've seen the Pope act quaintly.

Nicea is a prodigiously overrated council. As if declaring the nature of God led Christians to lead better lives. From this point on dogma became more important than living the faith. Orthodoxy became favored over orthopraxy. Then Matthew 16:18 began to be trumpted and they really forgot all about Matthew I8 which is the essence of the faith. How dogma makes one better is beyond me.In point of fact the Nicean crowd was the most corrupt in the Church's history up to that point. And I am not sure what the point is to compare councils. Triumphalism was ushered in with Nicea, along with religious orders as an attempt to reproduce what was lost by the emperor's capturing Christianity. Vatican 2 did not have the strong arm of adeluded emperor commanding things. The bishops voted freely. Huge difference.Benedict coyly notes that the renewal group that emerged from V2 was a sort of triumphalism. That is true in the sense that some attempted to make renewal and anarchy the same. And noting that many church rules were counter productive did not mean that one turns to a laissez faire church.I don't really object to allowing the Tridentine Mass to be allowed in more places as long as it does not demand that this is superior worship and that the others rites are invalid.Benedict is too concerned about having everyone recite the same dogma. We had that already pre-Vat 2 which was led by a domineering and haughty clergy. The renewal has been fantastic despite glitches. Let God sift the wheat from the chaff.Rome can be an equalled sign and center of unity with more humility and hard work less the glitter and the triumphalism.

What can one say about Pope Benedict's answer to the "10th question"? His little bit of history is without nuance, is simplistic, and proves nothing. It is hardly conducive to serious thought.So he wants continuity. With what? Surely with the fundamental truths of our faith. No argument there. But recall the leadup to Vatican II. The curia prepared a set of documents for the Council that the bishops roundly rejected. Are we to go back to the vision of the Church represented in those rejected proposals? And during the Council there was a constant struggle between the "old guard" led by such Cardinals as Ottaviani and Ruffini. Shall we now seek continuity with their vision? To see how the old guard fought, often with disreputable means, against any revision of the status quo, see the diaries that Yves Congar kept during the Council and has now published. To go back to that old guard is to say that Pope John XXIII simply bungled in calling the Council. Say that if you will. That's o.k. by me, but don't then say that to question what sense there is in Pope Benedict's call for "continuity" is somehow lacking in deference and piety.Frankly, if I were the priest who asked the 10th question and got the answer he got, I would have been intellectually insulted.

Let me point to a different Benedikt from the diocese of Regensburg who showed up in the German press the past few days. This link to the Passauer Neuer Presse may be a link to the geographically closest newspaper to the Pope's native region. Link:http://www.pnp.de/nachrichten/artikel.php?cid=29-16741108&Ressort=pol&BN... short, the bishop of the diocese of Regensburg has acted like some American bishops. He has given a pedophile parish work, and the victims named Benedickt and Daniel, and their parents are angry. Is this the sole holy and apostolic Church at work? I wonder whether the bishop who reappointed the convicted pedophile is Gerhard Mueller, who a year or two ago made headlines by dismissing his lay financial advisory board. Joe McMahon

As I said Joe McMahon, Matthew's chapter 16 is more important than chapter 18, in the eyes of those whose power is more important than children.Abuse of children is the scandal worse than the jailing of priests. As per Christum Dominum Nostrum.

Well. The transcript sounds a little Delphic Oracley to me.I don't think the pope answered the question. Perhaps he doesnt know how. And we shouldn't expect him to! And sorry David, I don't think it answers my question about why this blog is quasi-obsessed.

I wonder what common ground I can possibly find with someone who calls Nicea a prodigiously overrated Council.But regarding the answer to the 10th question, the Pope said something real. He said that insofar as we are putting our hopes in economic or intellectual schemes of human progress, we will cause our own destruction. But insofar as we cling to the Cross and seek to grow in knowledge and love of God, we will become capable of making true and lasting change for the good of the world. Because, the first thing that will change is ourselves.

David,I am far from thinking that Benedict is anywhere near the centre on liturgy, to take but one example. The Motu Proprio will, in my opinion, do nothing to make the practice of the Novus Ordo any better, any more dignified or ceremonious. Rather it will encourage division and give hope to those who believe that a return to the missal of Pius V can be achieved. Benedict's decision is no way to go about seriously reforming the reform.An interesting and perhaps telling item in todays NYT. Benedict's Secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, at the Vatican, is quoted as warning against "the Islamization of Europe". Msgr. Ganswein--nomen omen?-- is also said to have defended "a speech Benedict gave last year linking Islam and violence". I assume this is the Regensburg Address. This is from an AP despatch. One is tempted to ask, "Back from Turkey so soon?"

Margaret,Frankly I for one find the nattering of politicians and their lackeys rather less important than the blathering of religious leaders. I have already decided, with reasonable confidence, where to cast my vote in 2008. I seriously worry about the behavior of Church leaders. I do not pretend to know how best to provide universal health care. I have some fairly well founded opinions abou the liturgy. Few will long accept folly from a President or a governor. All too many will hang with unhappy credulity upon every utterance of His Holiness.

kathy writes:"I wonder what common ground I can possibly find with someone who calls Nicea a prodigiously overrated Council."Well the first thing you can do is address me by name and perhaps tell us why you do not give your last name. Others have shared that they do not use their last name for employment reasons.Secondly, maybe we have this "common ground" thing mixed up. Perhaps we can meet at feeding the hungry, the sick, the old and prisoners. Other than that if you feel Constantine left the bishops to just follow their consciences at Nicea then I have a bridge I want to sell you. Note also that Athanasius was still begging the emperor Constantius, years later, to repossess his Sea. Very spiritual indeed.And for those who think voting for bishops is a sinful idea, you might recall that it was an early practice. Athanasius, is reported to have short circuited this process by having his cronies take possession for him before the legal elections. Somehow he succeeded. And he was the great Nicea savior?The dangers of ascribing sanctity and wisdom to an office ipso facto. Still goes on does it not as many will defend anything Benedict says regardless of content?

Bill, I happen to agree with Pope Benedict's argument. Although I concede that he might have dated postmodernism a little late.Bill, if you do not think that the Church's baseline agreement about Jesus' relationship to the Father and his relationship to us is important, then how can I talk to you about the meaning of anything regarding the Church? Yes, we can feed the people together. But can we teach them together? I really don't think so--and that is part of our calling.I have linked to my blog before, and from it one can glean many things about me. Feel free: www.hymnographyunbound.blogspot.comI don't think that voting for bishops is sinful. When did I say that? What I think is that we are all fallen and prone to malfeasance of many kinds. I don't think that you, for example, would make a better authority in the Church than the current bishops. Especially if you think Nicea is prodigiously overrated. And I really don't like people taking advantage of a real problem to "restructure" God's people according to their own image and likeness.Blake, as usual, said it best:But vain the Sword and vain the Bow,They never can work War's overthrow.The Hermit's prayer and the Widow's tearAlone can free the World from fear.For a Tear is an intellectual thing,And a Sigh is the sword of an Angel King,And the bitter groan of the Martyr's woeIs an arrow from the Almighty's bow.The hand of Vengeance found the bedTo which the Purple Tyrant fled;The iron hand crush'd the Tyrant's headAnd became a Tyrant in his stead.

About the blog site:I find much political and political values discussion to be quite difficult due to the duplicity and secrecy of our executive, the heavily partisan nature of the legislative and judiciary branch, the difficulty in obtaining objective media reports in world and national events, and in thrse spaces, the frequent repetition of talkin gpoints by posters.I became interested far more in matters Church when the sex abuse scandal broke and saw it as an opportunity for folk to wake up the complexity of Church problems. A number of folk I know correspond on these matters still, hoping that some real change in accountability will occur,I must say (as I have elsewhere) that the discussion here - often informative thanks to folks like Jean, David, William Collier and others too, is often greeted with repetitious argument by defenders of the status quo as well,Why the Church part of this blog is important is the underscoring of progress being posible only if real dial;ogue proceeds.Finally, one last thought: we need to keep examining the extent our politics control our belief as well as vice versa.

If B16 wants continuity with the pre-V2 church described by David Lodge in "Souls & Bodies" ... a book I recommended to those of you who weren't part of THAT wonderful experience .... then his smaller church will come even sooner than he imagines possible.

Kathy,The matter of Jesus' relationship to the Father is not that simple. The matter was in confusion at least until the 7th century. Secondly, the emphasis on the divinity of Jesus was so excessive during the centuries that V2 had to emphasize the full humanity of Jesus. So "baseline agreement" is a fantasy and a concoction of theologians.That "baseline agreement" is the reason the "church" is thrown back on its heels so many times when leaders feel compelled to defend "beliefs" that are not central to the Christian methods. A baseline that took 17 centuries to remove the hatred of Jews out of the liturgy cannot be taken seriously. Today there are people who insist that everything in the Catechism is true.But one can understand staunch conservatives when they buy this rigid belief insistence and then find out there are nuances. The Vatican should stop that kind of playing.More to the point Chapter 18 of Matthew is unquestionably baseline. Here is where one can say if someone rejects," then how can I talk to you about the meaning of anything regarding the Church?"BTW, found "many things about" you interesting. Why would you hesitate to use your real name since it is easily found?

Kathy,I agree with you in accepting the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed--not the Nicene, as Benedict has it, a common eror. But rather than Blake I think A. Pope said it best: "'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none / Go just alike, yet each believes his own."

Joseph, Quel bon mot!But, there are better and worse watches. And we may be dealing with something more concrete than time. If God is the object of our study, and nothing is as concrete as God, then there must be an exactitude about our conclusions--at least theoretically and potentially.Thus Aristotle:"Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs."N. Ethics,1.3

My my!! Even Augustine said we know more about what God is not than what s/he is. If you think that a council controlled by an emperor who was not even a Christian, is infallible then there is a problem. Certainly, Aristotle did not believe in infallibility.The confusion after Nicea occurred because the emperor dictated what people could believe and bishops were afraid to truly express themselves.Before Nicea the focus of the leadership in the church was more sincere and true. Nicea had a lot of people who became Christian because of the approval and largesse of the emperor.To say it usque ad nauseum, Jesus and Paul stressed behavior over dogma. Certainly there was theology but the emphasis was always on action which needed the grace and help of God.

Kathy,We followers of Aristotle also make a distinction betwees what is knowable in itself and what is knowable to us. God is supremely knowable in himself but not to us because of the incapacity of our intellects.As for God being "concrete" I do not know if I would use that word. Individuals or perhaps better, individual substances, are concrete as contrasted with concepts which are abstract. However I would hesitate to say that God is an individual substance, and so I would hesitate to say that God is concrete.As for exactitude, I would say that the classic Trintarian doctrine of the early Councils is exact, e.g., that it is exactly true to say that Jesus is God, but that is not to say that we can comprehend or explain how it can be true that a man is God.As for watches, some are better than others, but they all have their limitations as do our intellects. Watches have perhaps improved since Pope's day; I am not confident that our intellects have.

Joseph, I don't have a lot of insight into how our knowledge of God is meant to increase. But I believe deeply that it must."This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her." (Dei Verbum 8)

In reply to Bill Mazzella's comments on the Council of Nicaea, I suspect that a case could be made that Rowan Williams is an apologist for an imperial papacy, but I think there is wisdom in his comments on the situation after Nicaea:"What the Church discovered in the painful years after Nicaea was thta its own inner tensions could not after all be solved by a deus ex machina on the imperial throne; and that its relationship with the empire intensified rather than solved the question of its own distinctive identity and mission. It was unabe to avoid reflection on its defining conditions, unable to avoid a conscious and critical reworking of its heritage, unable, in short, to avoid theology."I think is ironic that at a time when Protestant scholars are rethinking the whole notion of the Constantinian/Nicean fall of the church (as in the essay by Daniel Williams on Constantine and the Fall of the Church from which I pinched the Williams quote) it seems to have become the intellectual bedrock of no small part of the Catholic Church.And to get myself in a little deeper, it strikes me that if there is a council that is overrated it is Vatican II. Not that I don't admire the fathers and periti of the council (I suspect I'd trade Bea and Suenens for the whole 120 great electors we currently have) but that both putative proponents of the spirit of the council and the reform of the reform set seem to place entirely too much emphasis on implementation or non-implementation of the reforms and truth to the spirit or truth to the letter of the council. In reality a great many changes have occurred (mostly with parallels in other churches that didn't have a council; to reference the Archbishop of Canterbury again, his piece on John A T Robinson has instructive remarks on the fate of the Anglican church that seemed to be riding high and handsome in the fifties) which are basically unconnected (like the changing roles of women, and the decline in catechesis) or less connected than we like to think (like the liturgy, or the discrediting of large segments of the European right that had historically been connected with the church in the aftermath of the overthrow of Fascism) with what went on at the council, and I strongly believe we would all be better off tackling these issues on their own without blaming the council or the failure to implement the council -- in fact we would all be better off explaining and understanding rather than blaming, hence my repugnance at the whole notion of the Church's Long War.

Gene: Is part of the issue and the pursuant debate and agita about the implementation of V2 due to the fact that, as I understand it, Vatican II was more of a pastoral council whereas most others (I guess Nicaea most emblematically) were dogmatic councils concerned with clarifying teachings rather than practices? Pastoral life is inherently messy.

Mr. Gibson,You may have a point (I'm not completely sure if I accept the distinction), but I suspect the real issue is the degree of emotional commitment, not necessarily connected to the issues of the council, that all of us who were alive at the time, and some who weren't, bring to the discussion. Rather as I, as a 1968 student, bring a certain emotional gravamen to some of Benedict's obiter dicta. May I say, by the way, that the poor guy should have figured out that Marxist theology students weren't exactly serious figures, and haven't actually had much influence on the last forty years.

David, I think you're talking about "the moving and the still."That's a paradigm a good friend (a Bostonian Democrat) and I have worked out over the years. Our theory is that some people think that reality is basically, fundamentally still, and others think that reality is in motion.Without getting into particular positions on many things, the first type prefer to think of things according to their natures, the second type, according to their stories.Nicea is still. It defines, brings things to a certain conclusion. (Or intended to.)Vatican II is moving. It responds, discusses.Something like that.Or as is much talked about, there were no anathemas at Vatican II.

Gene, thanks for the reference to Daniel Williams. I have not read him that much so it is precarious to comment on him. Further, I am not sure I get your point. In the first part you seem to arguing for dogma while in the latter part of your post you advocate working things out in a dialogue. I believe you are right that the spirit of the council is more important to concentrate on rather than the documents, especially when there are huge gaps in interpreting them. Perhaps more importantly, most of the council documents were compromises as the participants gave in to allowing things as long as their ideas were kept in the document/s.So both councils can be considered overrated as can certain declarations in the history of dogma.The church's long war started before the council, through it and therafter. It is a natural process. As human nature will have it leaders of the renewal became obnoxious along with those who wanted to invalidate the council. One of the problems was the small part that wanted to invalidate the council were in the Roman Curia. Paul VI had his hands full controlling them during his years.With John Paul II the bureacrats got their person. John Paul too quickly concluded that we had to stop the renewal. Ratzinger came to agree and the conflict intensified. Both men saw the conflict as a result of the renewal rather than the necessary result of renewal.Nicea, should not be the bedrock. The early church and the New Testament should. Further those who compose this insistence on the bedrock, more readily abandon it when there is disagreement. Like the Iraqi war, for example.Theology is precarious because of the axiom; as many minds so there are opinions. It should not be that the person now getting the approval of the pope should be seen as having the truth.On the other hand there can be no doubt as to who one's neighbor is. Yet as Auschwitz, the world wars and the inclusion of the condemnation of the Jews in the Tridentine Mass shows, we have not figured out who our neighbor is. So Nicea and Vatican II can be quite beside the point if one cannot answer that question.

Kathy,Have you read the works of Alfred North Whitehead, who built a metaphysic around the insight that the final real things are units of process? He can be a tough slog, but it's worth the effort.

Yes, Grant, that's the kind of thing I mean. Whitehead is a "motion" kind of person.By the way, I don't think Vatican II can be characterized as a non-teaching Council. The documents define and clarify and restate. But I think the reception of Vatican II has been affected by this fairly basic difference among minds.

To kiss off the Council of Nicaea as a Diktat from Constantine is a travesty. The council adopted an earlier creed (probably from Jerusalem and inthe form of a a Q/A form). The idea of a "Regula Fidei" goes all the way back into the short creedal formulations of the New Testament as Jaroslav Pelikan has magisterailly shown. As I have often told my students, to get matters wrong has long consequences. Athanasius got it right and Arius did not. The subsequent councils drew on those early affirmations of faith. They form part of what it means to be a Catholic. Benedict, in the end of of sees - correctly - that the Christian faith is to be found in a symbiotic relationship between relationship of proclamation and witness/worship, and service. With respect to David Gibson's first post: it is probably better not to use loaded vocabulary invoking the vocabulary of the Manichees. Such language is too redolent of the old (tiresome) disjunctions that afflicts so much of contemporry discourse on these matters.Finally, to Kathy: Vatican II is singulare in that it alone did not use the "canons" so characteristic of early councils. John O'Malley has written perceptively on the rhetorical style of Vatican II.

Actually the contrast of light and dark is very Johannine and the Gospel according to John has a special place according to Benedict.

"Vatican II is singulare in that it alone did not use the "canons" so characteristic of early councils."Yes, I believe I mentioned this above.

I agree that Nicea cannot be written off. Martin Luther expressed detestation of the word homoousios in 1520, but later recognized its necessity. In any case the Nicene affirmation of the true divinity of the eternal Logos/Son is the basic Christian dogma, repeated at subsequent Councils. Constantine reneged on Nicea -- just as the Vatican seems to have backtracked in large part on Vatican II -- and it was saintly Christians who upheld the core insight of Nicea.

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.