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The Pope and the interpretation of the Council

I thought it might be worthwhile to devote a separate theme to Pope Benedict and the interpretation of Vatican II. I had not read until this afternoon the remarks the Pope made to the group of priests who had asked his opinion about the Council. From what had been described in other posts I I expected to find it giving aid and comfort to anti-conciliarists and restorationists and to promote continuity over discontinuity in the interpretation of the Council. Instead, I find that this dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity is absent from his remarks and that he distinguishes two extremes that he thinks once predominated with reference to the Council: a progressive mentality that thought everything can and ought to change in the Church and an absolute anti-conciliarism, between which, he says, a third and more valid interpretation had difficulty making its way.

The idea that Pope Benedict wants to return us to "those thrilling days of yesteryear", that is, before the Council, should be discredited, I think, by two quotes, one at the beginning and one near the end. The first is the one to which Bob Imbelli drew attention: "We had such great hopes, but in reality things proved to be more difficult. Nonetheless, it is still true that the great legacy of the Council, which opened a new road, is a "magna carta" of the Churchs path, very essential and fundamental." The other quote describes all the good the Council has brought:

"It seems very important to me that we can now see with open eyes how much that was positive also grew following the Council: in the renewal of the liturgy, in the synods Roman synods, universal synods, diocesan synods in the parish structures, in collaboration, in the new responsibility of laypeople, in intercultural and intercontinental shared responsibility, in a new experience of the Churchs catholicity, of the unanimity that grows in humility, and nonetheless is the true hope of the world.

"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."

And then the Pope recommends a re-reading, a re-reception of the conciliar texts in the light of what has happened in the Church and in the world since the Council.

I do not know what could possibly be considered restorationist about these remarks.

The Popes speech to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, contained in its final section, comments on the interpretation of the Council. The text can be found at:

Here the Pope did describe two hermeneutics of the Council, a hermeneutics of discontinuity or rupture and a hermeneutics of reform. The names he gave to the two trends are odd, I think: to discontinuity one would expect to see continuity counterposed, but that is not what the Pope did and I think that the reason for this is that in his explanation of reform, his stress falls on all that had to be rethought and restated when it came to the Church's relationship to the world. In other words, the very notion of "reform" involves some degree of discontinuity.

Sandro Magister and others expected that in this address the Pope would confirm the criticisms of the five-volume History of Vatican II, edited by Giuseppe Alberigo, of which I am the editor of the English version. This project was criticized for placing the two popes of Vatican II, John XXIII and Paul VI, in tension or even opposition to one another; for relying too much on unofficial sources; and for neglecting the conciliar texts in favor of "the spirit of Vatican II" and of the event-character of the Council, that is, its discontinuity with previous moments of Church history.

Pope Benedict had surprisingly little to say about the hermeneutics of discontinuity. He simply warns against thinking that there are "breaks" in the Churchs history, as if it were possible to give the Church a new constitution, and against attempting to identify a "spirit of the Council" apart from the conciliar texts. That is all. After two rather brief paragraphs, he turns to what is clearly his main purpose: to set out what a hermeneutics of reform might mean. His attention focuses on the conciliar texts that deal with the Churchs relationship to the world. He stresses several times how necessary it was for the Council to rethink, reconceive, these relationships, a rethinking that was long delayed by the estrangement of the Church from the modern world that Pope Paul VI had deplored in his closing speech at the Council. I will add here a few paragraphs from a forthcoming article:

The Pope offers a rapid historical survey of the difficulties the Church had experienced over the previous four centuries, beginning with the trial of Galileo (described with some understatement as a "very problematic beginning"), moving on to Kants reductive religion and to the "radical phase" of the French Revolution, which left no room for the Church and faith, and ending with the "radical liberalism" of the nineteenth century and with natural sciences that claimed they had no need of the "God-hypothesis." Under Pope Pius IX the Church had responded with such "harsh and radical condemnations of such a spirit of the modern age" that it appeared "that there were no longer any grounds for a positive and fruitful understanding," given also the equally drastic refusals of those who considered themselves "representatives of the modern era." This impasse, and the implied criticism of Pius IX, provides the background against which Benedict sets out the novelty of Vatican II.

It was prepared, he says, by certain developments. In a statement that would have pleased John Courtney Murray, the Pope points to the recognition that the American political experiment offers "a model of the modern state different from that theorized by the radical tendencies that had emerged in the second phase of the French Revolution." Meanwhile, the natural sciences were learning more modesty about their range and limits. Developments were also taking place in the Church. Between the two world wars and especially after the second, "Catholic statesmen had shown that a modern lay state can exist that, nonetheless, is not neutral with respect to values but lives by reaching back to the great ethical sources opened by Christianity." (Perhaps a reference to Konrad Adenauer?) Finally, Catholic social teaching was developing and offering a "third way" between radical liberalism and Marxist theory of the state.

As a result of all this, as the Council opened, three circles of questions, defining a single general problem, awaited responses, required new ways of defining the Churchs attitude to them:(1) the relation between faith and the modern sciences, including also modern history, here presented by the Pope as if it were as reductive as the natural sciences had been; (2) the relation between the Church and the modern State, the latter described as one "that was making room for citizens of various religions and ideologies, acting impartially towards these religions and simply assuming responsibility for the orderly and tolerant co-existence among citizens and for their freedom to exercise their own religion" (this limited role also a description that Murray would have welcomed); (3) the relation between Christian faith and the world religions, especially Judaism. The adjective "new" occurs four times in this section, and the Pope admits that in these areas a certain degree of discontinuity did in fact emerge

In the Popes remarks about the developments that led to this situation, one can hear echoes of the position he set out thirty years earlier when he said that Gaudium et spes, Dignitatis humanae, and Nostra aetate, represent "a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of counter-syllabus." Then he had spoken of twentieth-century developments, beginning with Pius XI, as a result of which

.".. the one-sidedness of the position adopted by the Church under Pius IX and Pius X in response to the situation created by the new phase of history inaugurated by the French Revolution was to a large extent corrected via facti, especially in Central Europe, but there was still no basic new statement of the relationship that should exist between the Church and the world that had come into existence after 1789. In fact, an attitude that was largely pre-revolutionary continued to exist in countries with strong Catholic majorities. Hardly anyone today will deny that the Spanish and Italian Concordats strove to preserve too much of a view of the world that no longer corresponded to the facts. Hardly anyone today will deny that in the field of education and with respect to the historical-critical method in modern science, anachronisms existed that corresponded closely to this adherence to an obsolete Church-state relationship."

Against this background, Gaudium et spes can be interpreted as "an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789."

Properly to understand and evaluate the discontinuity that this rethinking of the relation between the Church and the modern world entailed, the Pope told the Roman Curia, requires one to make certain distinctions. The first distinguishes "between concrete historical situations and their demands," on the one hand, and "principles," on the other. This was, of course, the distinction in the matter of Church and State that was urged by people like Jacques Maritain and Murray and was rejected by their Roman and American critics for whom the Catholic confessional state was an ideal theologically, even dogmatically, required..For Pope Benedict, however, it is a valid and important distinction. Affirming continuity on the level of principles and discontinuity on the level of concrete applications--"this process of novelty in continuity"-- reveals "the nature of true reform" and grounds the hermeneutics of reform. An affirmation of discontinuity in relation to Vatican II, then, is common to the two hermeneutics that the Pope has counterposed. The clash between the Popes rival hermeneutics does not revolve around the issue of continuity vs. discontinuity.

The Pope goes on to explain and illustrate his distinction. Church decisions with regard to certain forms of liberalism or to liberal interpretations of the Bible had themselves to be contingent because they referred to concrete and changeable realities. He is, I believe, here referring to condemnations of religious freedom in the last two centuries and to decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Commission at the beginning of the last century. In the remarks with which he presented his Congregations "Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian" (Donum veritatis), Ratzinger had already pointed to such texts as examples of magisterial decisions that "cannot be the last word on a subject as such"; "provisional dispositions," they are valid at their core, but may need "further rectification" with respect to "individual details influenced by the circumstances at the time."

In his remarks to the Roman Curia, Benedict XVI makes a perhaps more valid distinction when he says that only the principles express the lasting element; "the concrete forms" instead are dependent on the historical situation and are therefore changeable. "Thus the basic decisions can remain valid while the forms of their application to new contexts can change." The Pope then offers an illustration: "if religious freedom is associated with agnosticism and relativism, it is only natural that it be rejected by those who believe us capable of knowing the truth about God. Quite different is a view of religious freedom that links it to the need of social co-existence and derives it from the fact that "the truth can never be imposed from without but must be appropriated by a person only through a process of being convinced." Religious freedom in the first sense, therefore, the Church can only condemn; religious freedom in the second sense the Church can embrace.

In the final paragraphs the Pope summarizes what the Council did as "a basic Yes to the modern era," and as "the step taken by the Council toward the modern era." He is at pains to point out that this was not and could not be an indiscriminate Yes and that there are important respects in which the Church must remain "a sign of contradiction." Repeating something he has said often in other places, he says that the Council did away with "mistaken or superfluous contradictions in order to present to this world of ours the demands of the Gospel in all their greatness and purity."

In the end one is left with the impression that the sharp disjunction between rival hermeneutical orientations with which the Pope began his remarks on the Council has become much less sharp in the course of his argument. The "reform" which Benedict sees as the heart of the Councils achievement is itself a matter of "novelty in continuity," of "fidelity and dynamism," indeed it involves important elements of "discontinuity." It is, of course, possible to contrast two approaches by saying of one: "You stress only continuity!" and of the other: "You stress only discontinuity!" But these positions are abstractions, and it would be difficult to find anyone who maintains either position. Perhaps the Popes counterposed hermeneutics represent what sociologists call "ideal-types," possibly useful tools for setting out the important questions, but not to be taken as literal descriptions of positions actually held by anyone. A hermeneutics of discontinuity need not see rupture everywhere; and a hermeneutics of reform, it turns out, acknowledges some important discontinuities.

So far from the Popes remarks being aimed at the Alberigo-led historical project, I wonder whether they are not more precisely aimed at the Lefebvrist interpretation of the Council as a radical break with the past. His choice of the topic of religious freedom to illustrate "continuity in novelty," "fidelity and dynamism," may indicate that it was the anticonciliarists that he had principally in mind.

In any case, I see no reason to fear that he is about to go back on the great conciliar texts on the Churchs relationship to the modern world, and no reason to doubt that he continues to consider them a necessary "counter-Syllabus."

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Meaningful comment on this as a whole is probably beyond my capacity (although it is extremely interesting), but in addition to Adenauer I would have thought he might also be thinking of de Gasperi and Don Sturzo. The DC has been a joke in the US for a long time, but I think that is somewhat unfair and the leaders of the immediate post-World War II period were pretty impressive guys.I am curious as to just who is described in that bit.

Fascinating.It's as though he never really left Tuebingen.

Thanks so much, Fr. Komonchak, for your remarks. They are wonderfully illuminating. I do hope that they help others as much as they have helped me. Trusting that I won't re-muddy the waters, let me add that Vatican II self-consciously declared that there is but one source of revelation. It encompasses both Tradition and Scripture. On this view, there is but the one Tradition with a capital T. It is not wholly to be identified with any or all of the multiple traditions (lower case t) of both thought and practice that are to be found in the history of the Church's life. In the capital T sense of Tradition we are all to live in accordance with It. But, "lower case" traditions come and go. Perhaps all, or nearly all, have had some good consequences, but they are not all binding on all of us. It is the role of the Magisterium to guide us to make the proper distinctions between the one Tradition that is part and parcel of our faith and the many traditions that do not constitute any essential part of our faith.If my comment is not clear, please ignore it and re-read Fr. Komonchak's.

Thank you for this very helpful commentary.

Hello Fr Komonchak,Thank you for an insightful analysis.One point, if I may:"Pope Benedict had surprisingly little to say about the hermeneutics of discontinuity."While I agree the understanding that Joseph Ratzinger says nothing in public that is not carefully considered, I do wonder if you're in danger here of reading too much into what was, after all, an informal question and answer sessions with some local priests. He may simply not have felt he had the time to dissect the difficulties (as he sees them) of the Bologna School for the umpteenth time. This is NOT to say that you are not correct in predicating a real distinction between the Pope's understanding of the Council and that of the SSPX, or most of it at any rate. However much he has shifted in reaction to the excesses of 1968, Joseph Ratzinger remains ever a ressourcement man, not an Ottaviani disciple. Certainly some of the comments in the covering letter seem more aimed at the SSPX than they do at liturgical progressives. What he seems to be doing here seems only a continuation of that. Real tensions do remain in his thought, and they are apparent here. Is the novus ordo fundamentally a rupture in the liturgical tradition and in fact really a new rite, as he seemed to suggest in his comments at Fontgambault or the forewords to Gamber's and Reid's books (which themselves leave little doubt of their belief in the latter)? Or is it fundamentally the same rite and in firm continuity, as he states in the Motu Proprio and covering letter? I think that debate is just getting started, not ending, and it will go on long past the end of this pontificate. The Motu Proprio, as one observer has noted, resolves the debate juridically, but not theologically. And at some level, I think the holy Father knows it.

R.M.: My comment about how little attention the Pope gives to the hermeneutics of discontinuity referred, not to his remarks to the priests while on vacation, but to his much more formal and considered speech to the Roman Curia in December 2005. As far as his being critical of the Bologna school, it is worth noting that it was announced a couple of months ago that he is donating his conciliar papers to the Bologna Institute directed by Giuseppe Alberigo, whom he also received in audience some six weeks before Alberigo suffered the stroke that took his life.

Fr. Komonchak, this really is fascinating. Thank you.I do wonder, though, whether there has been any public criticism made of the Bologna school by Cardinal Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict. A quick google shows that "everyone knows" he is at odds with the point of view of the History of Vatican II series, and although I don't immediately find anything from him on point, this is certainly not an exhaustive process. I wonder if he has ever expressed directly (publicly) his thoughts about the series?

Joe, thank you! You're the expert on all this. But I'm not as sanguine as you are. I don't seee the question as beiing about whether Benedict sees some big puffy goods coming out of the Council. I see the question as a technical one, as being about how to read questions of theological doctrine, or teaching more broadly, not whether he thinks broader lay particpation in the world or the church is a good thing. And here, theological-juridical actions speak louder than informal conversations. The best test of a theological method seems to be a case study--not a case study of something long settled, but a case study of something going on now. That's why the MP is so interesting. It makes strong theological claims, and in doing so it instantiates a way of emphasising continuity over discontinuity. And God knows he fussed over it.Art. 1. Missale Romanum a Paulo VI promulgatum ordinaria expressio Legis orandi Ecclesiae catholicae ritus latini est. Missale autem Romanum a S. Pio V promulgatum et a B. Ioanne XXIII denuo editum habeatur uti extraordinaria expressio eiusdem Legis orandi Ecclesiae et ob venerabilem et antiquum eius usum debito gaudeat honore. Hae duae expressiones legis orandi Ecclesiae, minime vero inducent in divisionem legis credendi Ecclesiae; sunt enim duo usus unici ritus romani."Letter to biships: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Churchs faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."Given the relationship between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, this is an emormous theological claim for a hermeneutics of continuity. It's true he acknowledges "growth and progress" but those elements do no work in the letter. What does the work in the letter is the emphasis on "riches," on "no contradiction." What does the work in the MP is the emphasis on the sameness of the rite--which instantiate two expressions of the same lex orandi, and will not cause division with respect to the lex credendi. More generally, no systematic consideration is given in the MP or the letter to whether the "growth and progress" is on anything important--anything we need to take into account now. It's a strong claim --and an implausible claim -- to say that growth and progress are "optional" for people--it is fair, I think, to raise the question whether the thinks the developments on the liturgy were growth and progress. Functionally, in the context of the letter, he explicitly associates the V2 liturgy with its abuses.There is also no attempt to situate the tridintine mass within the ongoing historical context which generated it and preserved it. I'm no social historian here, but would it matter --should it matter if the mass reflected and strengthened assumptions about hierarchy, government, and the relationship between the temporal and spiritual that reflected and enforced a late medieval vision of social hierarchy and church state relations. Is the mass to be viewed in a totally ahistorical context? Is there any correlation between social/political views and religious views, and is this to be taken into account in deciding whether to give freer reign to a past rite?The MP and the Letter give no sense that the Church--and its liturgies--are embedded in history, church history, and the wider history of the world. That is a a methodological decision in and of itself.Not one I associate primarily ith the methodology of V2.You are right, of course, that there is always continuity and discontinuity in doctrine. But it isn't just continuity and discontinuity. There's also a question of vantage point, and the Pope's choice here is equally significant. It's not merely that he stresses continuity, it's that he reads continuity from the vantage point of the past, rather than the present (It would been logically possible for the Pope to say there is continuity with the tridintine rite in the V2 rite, so why bother with the tridinitine rite--but he didn't! )Now I believe the MP embodies theological and methodological decisions, which are rooted in broad claims about the relationship between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, and their continuity over time. I don't think these claims re, in principle, confinable to one topic. It may be that the pope doesn't want to get rid, say , of religious liberty. Great. But what's the theological ground, other than like and dislike? The criteria you develop don't help me answer that.All of this has great application in the field of ethics. The old usury debate is an example. Any lending money at interest was conceived as morally wrong. After hunderds of years, and a very stubborn hierarchy, which treated this act as an absolute moral wrong for centuries (precipitating the development, as Noonan details, of the triple contract), we recast this in terms of principle --the Church quietly let the prohibition erode. We now reinterpret the change as a matter of principle: underlying it all was the prohibition of unjust interest charges, not all interest charges. Fine now, clear, now--not so clear at the time of the big debates. It's not hard to find an example of a hermeneutic of continuity v. hermeneutic of discontinuity. John Noonan has written many books, with great historical detail, on development of doctrine on particular topics. Avery Dulles thinks he overstates the changes in the past, which would have an effect on changes now and in the fture. I'ld like to see a discussion between Dulles and Noonan and the Pope--where does the pope come down.Moderated by Stephen Colbert, of course.

Cathy:My long post was about interpreting Vatican II, not about the motu proprio. But more later.

Father Komanchak's comments are quite interesting .... but I do wonder if anyone can bring this discussion of Vatican II, Latin Masses, etc., down to the level of the basic lay Catholic ... what will it all mean to the person in the pew? Because once you start using phrases such as "the hermeneutics of discontinuity" you've lost probably 90 percent or more of the parish ...

Kathy:I don't know of any place where Ratzinger/Benedict has publicly criticized the five-volume "History of Vatican II." That he is willing to give his conciliar papers to the Bologna Institute implies at least that he's not willing to cast them out into the darkness for weeping and gnashing of teeth. If someone knows of any texts in which the "History" is a target of the Pope, I'd be interested in seeing them.

John XXIII said so much in his opening speech to the council:"In fact, it suffices to leaf even cursorily through the pages of ecclesiastical history to note clearly how the Ecumenical Councils themselves, while constituting a series of true glories for the Catholic Church, were often held to the accompaniment of most serious difficulties and sufferings because of the undue interference of civil authorities. The princes of this world, indeed, sometimes in all sincerity, intended thus to protect the Church. But more frequently this occurred not without spiritual damage and danger, since their interest therein was guided by the views of a selfish and perilous policy."This clearly describes both continuity and discontinuity. Out times are distinct in that never before was the church as independent of the state as it is today. This has brought innumerable opportunities for clarity while a stumbling block for those who remain stuck on continuity alone, which is an impossible task.

I am preparing a motu proprio which will forbid the use of the word hermeneutics unless authorized by three successive ecumenical councils meeting over a minimum of three centuries. The ruling applies to all theologians, philosophers and popes.

Fr. Komonchak, I'm glad your books have not been excommunicated. And it is definitely impressive that the Pope cooperated with the History.If I might press this just a bit more. Although I haven't really studied the History and have only used the first two or three volumes, and though it has been some time, I do remember having the distinct impression that a criticism that they stress spirit over letter would not be completely out of line.

I second Patrick's motion and proposed to amend it to include - epistomological and ontological.

First, I think it would be excellent if Fr. Joe's post (with some of his additional comments here) could become a hard copy article and he could receive some fruit for his obvious labors/How much of what he writes will be appreciated by the guy in the pews is difficult to say - the perception question again. Vatican actions wil be appreciated as seen in the prism of the locality and i think Cathy has a real point to make.Some friends, over the past five or six years, see the Church in the US in a "slow motion implosion" driven by all the diviseness therein.The perception of whether leadership both local and in Rome is healing that breach - not just widening it - remains a critical question

Cathy:I started this independent thread because I did not want to get into yet another discussion of the motu proprio and what it portends. I incline to think we should follow the wisdom of Gamaliel on the matter (Acts 5:38-39).Put shortly, in answer also to Mr. Reid's comment, the difference between the two types of hermeneutics of the Council is whether in interpreting Vatican II one places more emphasis on continuity or on discontinuity, and, with regard to the latter, where the discontinuity is to be located. Already, in a little booklet published right after the Council closed, Joseph Ratzinger was regretting that the antitheses which Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount were being adapted to apply to the life of the Church before and after the Council: "You have heard that it was said of old [that is, before Vatican II], but now I say to you....] So that over-emphasis on discontinuity and novelty has long been an object of his concern.Now I happen to think that Ratzinger himself underplays the degree of discontinuity that can be found in the course of the Church's history. And I have criticized in print his tendency to identify the Council with the intentions of its protagonists and to the letter of the final texts, as if the "spirit" of the latter could be discerned without some knowledge of their redactional history. That is why, in my own typology of interpretations of the Council, I speak of his as "reformist," an effort to set out a middle-ground between what I call the "progressive" and the "traditionalist" interpretations.But when I saw something that seemed to be approaching apocalyptic dread being introduced into the discussion of the motu proprio and then anticipations of something like a withdrawal of "Dignitatis humanae" being feared, I thought it might be useful to see what the Pope actually had to say in the measured paragraphs of his speech to the Curia. (It was this, and not his comments to the priests on vacation, that was the main subject of my post, and that speech was not a matter of "informal conversations".)

Fr. Komonchak:Well done!

Father Komonchak--Very meaty post, many thanks. As for expertise and personal knowledge of the V2 players, you are unassailable. I still sense that despite Benedict's more measured comments as pope, there is still a real battle going on over who gets to interpret the council, and what that interpretation will say. Father Lombardi, Benedict's spokesman, the other day sniffed at anyone who would presume to think they could interpret the council better than Benedict. And I think Benedict is a partisan on one side of that battle, more than he lets on, especially now, as pope. His closest allies (Ruini et al) have certainly taken no prisoners when it comes to crtiquing the Bologna school and its partisans. It was good to hear that Benedict received Alberigo in audience. Perhaps they had a personal reconciliation, like he did with Kung. But perhaps they also agreed to disagree on V2? In an article in the 15 March 2007 Corriere della Sera on Benedict and his approach to modernity and the council, Alberigo said of Ratzinger: "E' come un bambino che di notte ha paura del baubau, ma non c' nessun baubau c' solo il buio... difficile riscontrare nelle parole di Benedetto XVI una coerenza con i grandi documenti e lo spirito del Concilio Vaticano II." My translation: Benedict "is like a child who in the night is afraid of the bogeyman. But there is no bogeyman. There is only the darkness...It is difficult to find in the words of Benedict XVI a coherence with the great documents and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council." Who will be Athanasuius and who Arius in all of this?

David: It was striking to me that Benedict, in his speech to the Curia, did not make his own the criticisms of Marchetto, Ruini, Magister, et al., I am sure to the great disappointment at least of Marchetto and Magister. Also, I don't think there are just two sides in this debate about the interpretation of the Council. That would be one of my main objections to the Pope's speech, that he mentions only two rival interpretations, when there are others. This division of things into two--so common also in contributions to this blog--vastly oversimplifies things in so large and diverse a Church as ours is. Such dichotomies, of course, have the great advantage of enabling us to demand that people declare whether thery're with us or against us and thus to reveal whether they stand with the forces of good (represented by us, of course) or with the forces of evil. So I don't accept that the choice is between Athanasius and Arius...

Hello Fr, Komonchak,Thank you very much for the clarification. This is what I get for skimming.I hate leaving a drive-by to what deserves a more thoughtful reply. I would have to go back and dig through just what Ratzinger/Benedict has said about the Bologna School before saying much else, but I will offer up front that out of what Magister has called the Ratzinger-Ruini neo-con school, this has been much more an issue for Ruini, at least in public. I am indeed quite struck that the Pope is donating his conciliar papers to the Bologna Institute.

P.S. "It was striking to me that Benedict, in his speech to the Curia, did not make his own the criticisms of Marchetto, Ruini, Magister, et al., I am sure to the great disappointment at least of Marchetto and Magister."Another good observation I would share.

Joe, This is of course, your thread. And you are entitled to frame it in the manner you wish. But reasons are reasons--and reasons, whether in theology or law, have a life and a force that extends beyond the particular case at hand, no matter how much people might want to limit them to that particular case. Am I wrong in thinking that the motu proprio has a certain theological weight that informal remarks of the pope don't have? Are any of the other documents or remarks that you mention of analogous theological weight?Despite the fact that you're entitled to frame the post the way you want, I think it's quite condescending of you to think it is quite to categorize attempt to explore in somewhat systematic fashion the reasons given in the motu proprio, as well as their ramifications in other cases, as "apocalyptic dread." It's a dismissive form of name calling.

Cathy:My quip did not refer to your post to this thread, but to the tone of some of the contributions to the other thread about the motu proprio. You oughtn't to take it personally. Besides, I spoke of something only "approaching" apocalyptic dread. I suppose it's New Yorkese, which tends to get thought of as sarcasmAs for your questions: The text I commented on is a formal talk given to the Roman Curia. It was not a set of 'informal remarks," but a quite precise and intentional effort officially to address the question of the interpretation of the Council. The motu proprio is in essence a legislative text. The accompanying rationale has some doctrinal weight, but not necessarily a great weight. I agree with you, as zI said in another post above, that the Pope overstresses continuity. But I should have thought that you'd be reassured by what he had to say about Dignitatis humanae in his speech to the Roman Curia. What do you make of it?

P.P.S.Fr. Komonchak,To follow up on my last comment - is any of what we're seeing here suggestive of some real daylight on this subject between the views of erstwhile allies Ruini and the Pope?I do tend to think that if Ruini (or Marchetto) had given that talk to priests, that the emphasis would hve been a little different.But maybe I'm trying to hard to read the tea leaves.

Joe k writes,"This division of things into two--so common also in contributions to this blog--vastly oversimplifies things in so large and diverse a Church as ours is. Such dichotomies, of course, have the great advantage of enabling us to demand that people declare whether thery're with us or against us and thus to reveal whether they stand with the forces of good (represented by us, of course) or with the forces of evil. So I don't accept that the choice is between Athanasius and Arius..."This is great stuff. This is a large and diverse church. The way it was before Constantine, but of course larger now. There are sharp differences of opinions within liberal and orthodox circles. When both sides accept this there will be more respect and peace. Maybe there will be more emphasis on the practice, rather than the opinion, of the faith. Then perhaps more stress will be on no war rather than a 'just" war. God knows Christians supported too many wars.

The next issue of "Cristianesimo nella Storia" is going to have several articles on the interpretation of the Council, one of them by me. One of my Bologna colleagues, Giuseppe Ruggieri, maintains in his essay that Ruini's comments were misrepresented by Sandro Magister. From the audiotape, which Ruggieri has, it appears that Ruini was not as severely critical of the "History" as Magister made him out to be. I haven't heard the tape, so I can't judge.But I have read Marchetto and Magister, and I certainly see some distance between their view and any the Pope has expressed publicly.

Well, I'm really glad to have my moving/ still paradigm smashed into a million glittering little pieces.A thousand points of light, perhaps.

Bill M:A slight quibble with your juxtaposition of "liberal" and "orthodox." The conservatives love to insist that they are orthodox and, ipso facto, the liberals are heterodox.To grant them this false positioning is not correct. They, in effect, become the definers of the parameters of what is "orthodox."

"In his book on the Holy Spirit, saint Basil compares the Churchs situation after the Council of Nicaea to a nighttime naval battle, in which no one recognizes another, but everyone is pitted against everyone else. It really was a situation of total chaos: this is how saint Basil paints in vivid colors the drama of the period following the Council of Nicaea."Vatican II has been followed by night because the Vatican has put the lid on it; light will come back in a new council that does for V2 what Constantinople did for Nicea, after 56 years..Liberation Theology and the other theological movements repressed by the Vatican were "total chaos" only to those who could not or would not understand them. It is the paralysis imposed by the Vatican that creates the impression of darkness. The vision of the Vatican II years as a time of darkness is one the Pope shares with liturgical restorationist Klaus Gamber: "Great is the confusion! Who can still see clearly in this darkness? Where in our church are the leaders who can show us the right path?...We can only hope and pray that the Roman Church will return to Tradition and allow once more that liturgy of the Mass which is well over 1,000 years old." Vatican II presented a lovable and credible Church, recalling the biblical vision of the People of God (Lumen Gentium 2). This has been disparaged and ridiculed by the Vatican as its bureaucrats have got to work on dismantling the Council. ."And we must note that there were two great historic upheavals in the concrete context of the postconciliar period. The first is the convulsion of 1968, the beginning or explosion, I dare say of the great cultural crisis of the West.".Students of Ratzinger, in an anthology of his writings assembled in his honor, claim that the student revolts of 1968 have issued in the worldwide terrorism of today. Such views betray a fundamental lack of insight into contemporary society.Conveniently, all the theologians fired or aborted by Ratzinger are classed under the massive straw man category of "Marxist cultural revolution" while the counter-growth activities of the Curia are given le beau role..His talk of a post-1989 relativism that dismissed truth again shows lack of insight into contemporary society. There are plenty of truths that laity, clergy, and theologians are blue in the face shouting at a deaf Vatican. There are also plenty of truths that secular society is establishing and defending along the pathways of democratic debate and consultation, which despite lip service seems to be disliked by the Pope.. "The Council had said that triumphalism must be renounced thinking of the Baroque, of all these great cultures of the Church."Was the Council thinking of the Baroque, and not rather of one-sided ultramontanism? And the new departures after the Council were inspired above all by a reading of Scripture. The efforts to restore the Tridentine rite are in part an effort to silence Scripture again."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."So the new religious communities are the interpretant of the Council! Forget about the cry of the poor, the liberated voice of the world's bishops, it is Communio e liberazione, the Focolare, the New Catechumenate, and Opus Dei, who will tell us what the Council means?

Fr. Joe et. al.:Just a few observations. I agree with Joe that Benedicts comments about the interpretation of Vatican II are more nuanced than is often realized. At the same time, I think that if we want to understand his thinking, we need to look at a broader spectrum of writings, remarks and activities. This would include, for example, not merely his remarks to the Curia last year or his observations at the close of the Council 40 years ago, but also, for example, some of the comments he made in The Ratzinger Report, the positions he took at the 1985 Extraordinary Synod, and some of the decisions he made as head of the CDF.While Im not particularly inclined to rehash the motu proprio debate again either, I think that Cathy Kavenys observations raise an important point. If we are to understand Benedicts view of the Council, we cant just look at where he stands on broad principles of hermeneutics, but also on the conclusions that the application of his principles lead him to. Joe cites Benedicts speech to the Curia that suggested that there were three central problems awaiting resolution on the eve of the Council: 1) the relationship between faith and the modern sciences; 2) the relationship between the Church and the modern state; 3) the relationship between Christian faith and the world religions. I agree that that all these problems were awaiting resolution. Its interesting, however, that all these issues are aspects of the Church "ad extra." There is no question, though, that there were a set of issues about the Church "ad intra" that also were awaiting resolution: 1) the relationship of the local church to the universal church; 2) the relationship of the Catholic Church to other Christian churches and communions; 3) the role of the laity within the Church. These latter issues dont get much play in Benedict speech to the Curia. I would say that is a piece of evidence worth looking at. Id also highlight the mid-1980s dispute over the theological status of episcopal conferences as another area where we might look to gain an insight into Benedicts thinking about the Council.I could go on, but my general point is that to understand Benedicts hermeneutics of the Council, I think we need to delve deeply into how he has dealt with particular cases as much as the broader principles he has articulated.

Peter:A cottage industry grew up devoted to showing contradictions between Ratinger junior and Ratzinger senior, and I confess to have taken part in it. I would include in the materials that would have to be taken into account also the essays he wrote at the time of the Council and the commentaries he published on some of the documents. As far as I know, it was in the 1984 book of i nterviews that he first set out the idea that Church history knows no breaks, no ruptures, no starting-over from year zero. All that you mention would also have to be taken into account. I agree with you on that. But if we are going to take into account what he has said and done as pope, then I don't think we can neglect the fullest statement he has made on the interpretation of the Council. Some, of course, may think that actions speak louder than words....

Fr. O'Leary, I think that the new movements (just like good, new, sound theology) represent an important aspect of the evangelical response to the Council. ***I am surprised that no one has protested one example Pope Benedict gives of continuity--he believes conciliar continuity includes continuity with the liturgical development of the Middle Ages, specifically regarding the adoration of the Eucharist outside of Mass. Many readings of the liturgical movement would oppose adoration and reformed liturgy, and treat adoration as an aberration and concession to the peoples' supposed sense of distance from the liturgy, because of altar rails, large cathedrals, etc. But the Pope is treating it as part of the legitimate development of the Tradition.

Two further points on the matter of continuity and discontinuity.The first concerns a paragraph in his speech to the Roman Curia in which Pope Benedict makes a statement similar to the one Cathy Kaveny raised from the motu proprio:"The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relation between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has revised and even corrected some historical decisions, but in spite of this apparent discontinuity it has maintained and deepened its inner nature and its true identity. The Church is, as much before as after the Council, the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic on a journey across time."After all he had said so far, it is surprising to find the Pope referring to the discontinuity as simply apparent. He had already admitted that elements of discontinuity had appeared in the conciliar texts on the Churchs relation to the modern age and that on the question of religious freedom, the Council had permitted the Church to rejoin the example of Christ and the testimony of the martyrs. It would perhaps be more consistent to say that this real discontinuity did not threaten the true nature and identity of the Church but permitted the Church to recover elements that had been compromised.It might also be worth exploring what could be meant by Church in the paragraph just cited: what is it, or better, who is it that remains the same in the midst of such new relationships? After all, it is not just the world that has changed over the last few centuries, and the whole point that the Pope has been making is that the Church has had to come up with new definitions of the relation between its faith and the modern world. If it now understands itself differently in relation to that world, and acts in accordance with the new understanding and the new relationships, then it is in that respect and to that degree not the same Church. A Church whose authorities were ready to condemn Jacques Maritain for his idea of a new Christendom and a Church that proclaims a right to religious freedom based upon human dignity is not in all respects the same Church.Ratzinger himself had made this point some years ago: ...Christianity has never existed in a purely world-less state. Because it exists in men, whose behavior is the world, it never appears concretely except in a relationship to the world. This interweaving with the world may mean that in an apparent clash between faith and world, it is not Christianity itself that is being defended against the world, but only a particular form of its relationship to the world that is being defended against another form. For example, what may seem to be a conflict between faith and world may really be a conflict between the thirteenth century and the twentieth, because the thirteenth century's polarizing of Christian existence is being identified with the faith itself, "Der Christ und die Welt von heute," in Dogma und Verkndigung, p. 187.Secondly, it might be helpful to recognize that the question of continuity can be put from a doctrinal standpoint, from a theological, standpoint, and from a sociological or historical standpoint. From a doctrinal standpoint, there is clear continuity: Vatican II did not discard any dogma of the Church and it did not promulgate any new dogma. On the other hand, the Council did recover important doctrines that had been relatively neglected in the previous centuries: e.g., the collegiality of bishops; the priesthood of all the baptized; the theology of the local Church; the importance of Scripture; etc. Reasserting such things meant placing other doctrines in broader and richer contexts than before. Finally, the Council departed from the normal language of ecumenical councils such as Trent and Vatican I and followed Pope Johns injunction that it offer a positive vision of the faith and to do in a more accessible rhetoric, particularly, as he also urged, by abstaining from the sort of anathemas that had been pronounced by previous ecumenical councils. Theologically, the Council was the fruit of movements of theological renewal in the twentieth century: in biblical, patristic and medieval studies; in liturgical theology; in ecumenical conversation; in new, more positive encounters with modern philosophy; in rethinking the Church-world relation; in rethinking the role of lay people in the Church. Most, if not all, of these movements had fallen under some degree of official suspicion or disapproval in the decades prior to the Council, an attitude reflected in the official texts prepared for Vatican II. There was real drama in the first session of the Council (1962) when those texts were severely criticized for falling short of the theological and pastoral renewal already underway. The leadership of the Council was transferred to prelates who were open to such renewal, and theologians who had been under a cloud for years were brought in as official experts. In all this there was considerable discontinuity. From the standpoints of sociology and of history, one looks at the Council against a broader backdrop and one cannot limit oneself to the intentions of the popes and bishops or to the final texts. One is now studying the impact of the Council as experienced, as observed, and as implemented. It is hard, from these standpoints, not to stress the discontinuity, the experience of an event, of a break with routine. This is the common language used by participants and by observers at the time--the young Joseph Ratzinger's reflections after each session, published in English as Theological Highlights of Vatican II, are a good example. It is from this perspective that James Hitchcock calls Vatican II the most important event within the Church in the past four hundred years, and the French historian/sociologist, Emile Poulat, points out that the Catholic Church changed more in the ten years after Vatican II than it did in the previous hundred years. Similar positions are held by people along the whole length of the ideological spectrum. Whether they regard what happened as good or as bad, they all agree that "Something happened."It would be helpful if such distinctions of standpoint were kept in mind. They could help to identify where precisely differences in the interpretation of Vatican II really lie and to assess whether they are really in conflict with one another. Pope Benedicts own performance in this speech is itself an example of a serious effort at discernment and greatly elevated the level of discussion that had preceded it.

Thank you Professor Cunningham.It is the scholarship and fairness of your contributions, as well as those of Father Komonchak and Father Imbelli, that make this site so very beneficial to those of us involved in the lifelong process of learning.

Conversely, I'm surprised that more people aren't concerned with the ecclesiological/ political ramifications of a Motu Proprio issued without (I'm guessing) a consensus on the part of the world's bishops.

" Some, of course, may think that actions speak louder than words...." These words put me in mind of a saying ascribed to Richard Nixon's Attorney General, (John?) Mitchell: "Don't listen to what we say, watch what we do." Or words to that effect.

Now Let's take Mary Magdalene on continuity and/or discontinuity. Answer the following.1. Is she and was she always the Apostle to the Apostles?2. Was she a whore or not? Why was Gregory the Great the first one to say she was in the sixth century?3. Was she a very rich woman? (the ointment was very expensive) and why was she identified by her town rather than being the mother of etc?4. Why did Mark feel it necessary, at the resurrection scene to write that seven demons were were driven out of her by Jesus? Was he trying to put her down since she seem privileged to be there?5. What is John the evangelist (or the writer of the fourth gospel)trying to say with this marvelous rendition of Mary in the garden with the Lord?6. Why is Mary Buck Naked in all her paintings until modern times?7. How did she get her five bodies as relics.8. Should she be patron of bishops instead of prostitutes?9. Why did she become the patron saint of combmakers, perfume manufacturers, glovemakers and hairdressers? Hmmm.10. Is she just a venus in sackcloth?11. Was Peter really jealous of her?12. Why is that garden scene in John so riveting?12. How amazing is this woman?Anybody can respond. But for Joe K it is compulsory.

It is with reluctance that I trail off from what was a wonderful discussion to make a few comments on the odd post about Mary Magdalene. I will resist responding to the twelve questions posted by Mazzella (some of them too banal to answer) only to observe the following:(1) While it is true that Gregory the Great conflated two accounts in the gospel that ended up depicting Mary of Magdala as a penitent prostitute, that trajectory was not followed in the Christian East where she is honored in the liturgy as one of the "Myrrh Bearing Women."(2) Mary Magdalene, pace Mazzella, was not always (or even, mostly) depicted in the nude as, to cite one famous example, the famous Donatello "Penitent Magdalene" shows. I could cite dozens of others.(3) Here is what Benedict XVI has to say about her: "Are we not like the disciples who dismissed what they presumed to be womanly prattle but who, in the stillness of their manly wisdom, suddenly were no long er sure. The Fathers depicted the Church as a Woman, and perhaps John [i.e. in his gospel] already saw an image of the Church in Mary Magdalene, who was the first to see the Risen One." ( P. 32).(3) By the bye, that garden moment often shows up in Christian art as the "Noli me tangere" theme - most beautifully, perhaps, in a fresco of Fra Angelico.(4) Continuity/Discontinuity is hardly useful when thinking about the belletristic tradition of the Church. At times, Saint Jerome is depicted as a prelate in his study while at other times as a semi-nude penitent in the desert; likewise, one can contrast the light filled Bellini "Ecstasy of Saint Francis" with the darker images of Francis in the Spanish baroque. I apologize for taking us off the subject - I hope the dialogue between Joe and his respondents continues. I hope he does not respond to Mazzella.

Well well Larry. Or should I say Et Tu Laurentie? I am not sure whether to accuse you of being "unbearably conniving" or "implausibly virtuous" as someone wrote today's paper of soap operas. Nevertheless I would love to know how the following words which i coopted (with omissions) from Cathleen's words above, do not as well apply to you?"Despite the fact that you're entitled to frame the post the way you want, I think it's quite condescending of you to think it is quite to categorize attempt to explore in somewhat systematic fashion the reasons given ..., as well as their ramifications in other cases, as ... It's a dismissive form of name calling. "It is one thing to disagree. Quite another to ridicule. I realize that I have a sharp pen. I doubt that I have been as haughty or as supercilious as your above post.If I may respond to your points which I will not dismiss apriori.1. Who is talking about the East? A.though they did tell us long ago that the pope was overrated.2. I accept the correction that she was not always nor mostly depicted nude. My point is that even the nudity was censored later on.3. You completely missed the point here. Which is that she was an independent woman which naming her from a town indicates.3. I guess by number 3 you mean #5 or #12. Did I say the garden scene did not show up in Christian art?4. And isn't belletristic what John is doing in the Garden scene? It has everything to do with continuity/discontinuity. Against those who have tried to literalize the scripture and the faith.But I understand Larry how I become Mazzella instead of Bill. Or How "reluctant' you are or how you will "resist." Dismissive form of name calling indeed!I wonder who stopped the dialogue.

I, like others, am grateful to JAK for bringing substance and nuance to the discussion concerning the Pope's reading of the Council.I would like to call further attention to the paragraph from the Address to the Curia that Joe cites in his latest "comment."Joe, to make his point, quoted a portion of the last sentence, but I think it important to see the whole."The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues "her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8)."The principle of continuity that abides amidst the changes is that the Church lives from the paschal mystery of its Lord. Hence, what I have elsewhere called "the Trinitarian and Christological depth grammar" of Catholicism governs whatever poetry and prose we speak, whether liturgical, conciliar, or magisterial.Is this why the Pope insists that the "two forms" of the one Roman rite are to be honored? Both celebrate and allow participation in the one paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. There is fundamental continuity between them, whatever the evident differences.

I don't see the event-character of the Council in striking terms. Centuries from now no one will be saying "Bea" the way they say Athanasius and Arius. Certainly not as they say "Jan Hus" and "safe conduct." Things did not go according to the plan of the previous owners of power. Everything shifted in terms of emphasis, but the earth, I think, did not move.But I say this as someone who was born the year the Council ended, not as someone who witnessed its opening ceremony. Every bishop had a say. There were no condemnations. The documents are not brand-new. They are open to the world, but Catholicism as such asserts its identity throughout. What I do think was remarkable is that we went from a Church of obedience and structure, and intellectual defensiveness, to a Church of dialogue and conscience in a very short time. I don't think the capacity for discernment and dialogue--skills that take a lifetime to develop--were developed by 1965 by clergy or laity, and certainly not by 1968, when they were really called for in the crisis caused brought about by the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, in the Summer of Love.I think the reception of the Council was thrown off course in 1968 and cannot be recovered without addressing that problem, as it relates to Catholic identity, the responsibities of being a Catholic person, and the meaning of the expression "well-formed conscience." I think that reception of the Church's consistent teaching on sexual ethics is the key to a unified reception of the teaching of Vatican II.

Kathy:To some degree, this is a matter of generational differences in perception. Those of us of a certain age will remember the event-character of Vatican II. The first session in particular was a drama, with a great deal at stake, and it was not at all clear when it began how it would turn out--in other words it was a lived drama, and you could ask both Ottaviani and Bea whether it had that character, and I think both would say Yes, but with different appreciations of how it turned out.Events, as Paul Veyne points out in his excellent book on "Writing History," mean rupture, break, the end of one routine and the initiation of another. Now what the rupture was, where the break occurred, are the object of considerable discussion and debate, but that something out of the ordinary and routine happened.I don't think can be denied--even before 1968.

Fr. Komonchak, thank you for the reference to Veyne's book. I have a lot to learn about history and as others have expressed I'm also really thankful for your expositions here. It's not as though I have finished thinking about what you have said.However, while I agree with you that the Council has an event-character for those who lived through it, my question is whether it has an event-character in the institutional memory, in the life of the Church. I do think it does to the extent that in the long run, the world is a safer place for the charisms to flourish. Fear is gone, replaced by freedom. Conformity is replaced by responsiveness. I can see that on all sorts of levels, including the new conciliarism, intellectual freedom in the many legitimate schools of theology, and once again the flourishing of the new movements. People who cannot appreciate these things, well, they are missing out on some wonderful benefits of being Christian.But the intellectual and moral license that seems to be very widespread, as though error is an inherent right of the baptized, I don't believe that these are due to genuine interpretations of the Council. I believe that they have their source in the non-reception of Humanae Vitae.

Just to be clear, by "People who cannot appreciate these things" I mean those who are hyper-nostalgic for the pre-conciliar years, who think that going backwards is a good idea.

Fr. Komonchak,Your pieces here have been very helpful. I don't think there is any doubt that the Church is the same Church that existed when Pius XII was Pope and in fact we could not have a history of the Church if there was not one Church to have a history, just as one cannot have a biography without a subject who is the same person throughout her life. At the same time, just as there is no human life without change--no change, no story--the Church in the world, as it is, has necessarily also changed. This is what it means to have a history. This seems to me less a paradox than a truism. Intellectually I think Benedict would agree. At the same time I suspect that he is not quite comfortable with too much adversion to the fact of change, perhaps because he believes that once change is admitted, and especially change that seems to remedy a previous defect, some people will want more changes, thanges that he thinks would undo the Church or at least lead it astray.

"...The Church can anchor the dignity of human nature against all tides of opinion, for example those which undervalue the human body or idolize it. By no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of man be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin.(cf. Rom. 8:14-17); it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God's service and men's, and, finally, commends all to the charity of all (cf. Matt. 22:39).(9)This agrees with the basic law of the Christian dispensation. For though the same God is Savior and Creator, Lord of human history as well as of salvation history, in the divine arrangement itself, the rightful autonomy of the creature, and particularly of man is not withdrawn, but is rather re-established in its own dignity and strengthened in it.The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of man; she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation." (GS 41)

Kathy:Of course, intellectual and moral license don't derive from a genuine interpretation of the Council; but who is saying it does? Ten years separate the death of Pope Pius XII and the issuance of "Humanae vitae" and the widespread dissent it encountered. A historian will want to know what could account for this sea-change, and I think the only thing one could point to is the event of the Second Vatican Council. This is not to say that Vatican II legitimates the dissent, but it is to say that in and at and around the Council something occurred that made possible the reaction to the Encyclical (inconceivable under Pius XII), as well as the relatively tepid response to it on the part of Paul VI himself (this also inconceivable).

Dear Kathy,The Council has an "event character", a seeming discontinuity, because of the defensive static character of "the Church" ib the centuries preceding it. "Throwing open the windows" would not have meant much if the Pope had not been "prisoner of the Vatican" for so long. The Council was called in the wake of WWII, when freedom had defeated a centralized dictator and totalitatrian allies of freedom were antichristian. It was inevitable thattraditionally Catholic freedoms would be endorsed, and that those freedoms would be dismissed as "licence" when the Church's totalitarian tendencies raised their head again with HV.

Fr. Komonchak, "Inconceivable"--that's a bioethical pun? (Smiley face)Maybe no one thinks that intellectual and moral license result from Vatican II. Except that I've met young cohabitating Catholics who are quite sure that they are doing nothing wrong, and their Catholic families are proud of them that they have "found the right person" and the priests who are going to perform the marriage next summer either know and don't care that they are living together, or are careful not to ask too many questions.I'm not suggesting that this is being advocated, but there is some general sense in the air that Vatican II has freed us from all that. This (admittedly colloquial) example has parallels in doctrine as well.During those ten years the Pill became widely available. It seemed safe and did not seem to violate the natural law in quite the same way as barrier methods. Who knew what the morality was? HV was promulgated after a long delay, by a battle-weary Paul VI, who disagreed on this matter with almost all of his advisors (except a young Krakow moral theologian), including a clergy-lay panel convened to study the question. I would suggest that the long delay was a large part of the problem, particularly if during that time the laity were not given any instruction except to be governed by their consciences until there was a disciplinary instruction. A year of contracepted sex--that is a long habit for something so important, and so convenient. In some places I would think it was more like 5 years. Some people say that the reasoning in HV is not convincing. I can't say. But was that really the problem? There were currents of revolution at play in every sphere, including the moral-sexual-marital. I think that a certain distinct relativization of the Church's moral and teaching authority occurred at the time, and this was encouraged by pastors. But, I don't think it was envisioned or encouraged by the Council.

Jim,Back in the days when I had to pay Fr. Komonchak to teach me theology, I wrote papers under his advice about the Nouvelle Theologians, who were severely persecuted before Vatican II by their own religious communities for theology that was often threatening precisely because it was drawn from the deepest wells of Tradition.Then they became the Council's theological experts.As I said before, Vatican II made the world safer for the charisms to flourish. That is a wonderful thing. But, as Vatican II said, freedom is found by following the spirit of the Gospel, not in false autonomy.

Kathy:The point is not whether relativizing of Church authority was "envisioned or encouraged by the Council." It certainly wasn't. But what does that have to do with the question of whether the Council had the character of an "event", in the historians' sense of that word? History is not theology.

Kathy,The Council will be remembered as an event because it enabled the charisms of freedom in the Church to flourish, as you say.HV, and the reaction to it, will be remembered within that broader context. I am not as willing as you to judge that reaction, primarily because of my ignorance on the matter, but I simply doubt that history will look back and see the disontinuity you are claiming.

Fr. Komonchak,I think that the current task of receiving the Council is largely a matter of distinguishing between the event of the Council and the events immediately following the Council.I would suggest that the non-reception of HV was more disruptive than the Council was. It was close in time, and, I admit, would not have happened without the Council. The pastoral advice to follow one's conscience before HV was consonant with the Council and would not have happened without it, i.e., before the Council the benefit of the doubt would have been given to the restricted norm. But the non-reception itself of HV was not "of" the Council. It was of the Pill. Obviously people have ignored Church teaching before. But has there been, since the Reformation preaching against indulgences, such widespread confusion in which the pastors of the Church actively urge the laity to ignore the Pope?

Kathy, I cannot speak to the theology of the matter, but as for sociology -- one could say that the non-acceptance of HV was disruptive. One could also say that HV was itself disruptive -- disruptive to the hopes of many Catholics that their intimate marital life would cease being the domain of prelates just as it was rapidly ceasing being the domain of princes (i.e., government). I don't want to argue whether it was correct or not, but it is a fair point that it is a morally abstract principle that purports to govern the most concrete of relationships. HV was a watershed moment in that it bespoke continuity of a type that many people couldn't bear. My father stopped going to church altogether after HV. He was an outlier. Many (and now possibly most) just compartmentalized and stopped taking the Church to bed with them.

Barbara, Not to question your interpretation of these experiences, but if I were in your father's position I might have been disappointed on an even deeper level, of "I thought the Church gave a damn."That was the public message of the Council: the Church is listening to everyone. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."All those dispatches from Rome about what was going on at the Council--meetings with Lutherans and rabbis--everything said that the Church was in the business of listening and caring. Every day some bishop from someplace no one has ever heard of would stand up and say, "These are my concerns. These are the needs of my people." So the struggles of a family man, working hard for his family--the Pope really cares about him, right? No, the Pope cares more about his abstract principles in his ivory tower. That's how I might have taken it.

And that is more or less how he did take it. I guess it was more like, the council had given him confidence that the Church was looking outward and forging a place in the world that was more interested in justice than power, but HV reaffirmed that older inward looking institution that was more interested in controlling than enabling people. I'm not denying the tensions faced by the church in preserving its principles without stifling its people, but this is clearly how he saw it. He was more honest than most people in that he made his views clear by his actions -- he stopped supporting the church. We along with our Jewish neighbors were viewed as forging a direct path to hell. But people were nice about it.

Thanks, Joe.I hope the Commonweal blog is stored stored in a safe web place--you have given us a tremendous set of resources, which will be of great benefit as a reference for future use and thought.Cathy

Nice about the path to hell...Barbara, what I don't understand is why HV came across as the Church being self-protective.

This particular thread is such a perfect example of my learning a lot through good and responsible dialogue. In that vein, I would suggest a separate thread on the apparent change in the reception, yes even the meaning, of "conscience" before and immediateafter Vat II - from "guilty" conscience, "informed" conscience, and acting as you "should"

(continued) - immediately(?) after Vat II - from "guilty" conscience, "informed" conscience, and acting as you "should" to acting as you deem best, both, of course, after the same period of intense soul-searching. This seems to be another possible discussion along the lines of continuity vs. discontinuity.

Controlling the behavior of others is a form of self-protection -- protection of one's power over them. I think everyone was confused about the role of conscience versus doctrine in the wake of VII. I think people are still confused, or if they are not confused, there is still alot of conflict over what it should be. I can't add much more than that. I would certainly enjoy reading better informed views on this subject than mine.

Since this thread has wandered into matters relating to Humanae Vitae, I have a question that perhaps one of you can answer.It is evident that as relates to the subject of artificial contraception as decreed by HV that there is near universal yet silent rejection of it by the laity. This is evident, not only from the statistics, but from our own observation. Very rarely does one see at Sunday Mass families with more than four children. Families of eight, nine or ten children are never seen. The norm appears to be about two or three. And unless human reproductive capacity has undergone a radical change, that even when allowing for later marriage ages, I think it is fair to assume that artificial contraception is practised by almost all regular church going Catholics of child bearing years.So my question is whether there is precedent in the long history of our Church for the laity to have a belief or follow a specific practice not approved by the hierrarchy which in time is accepted by the entire Church, including the hierarchy. Said differently,has the Holy Spirit ever spoken through the laity ? I hope that this question does not constitute too great a departure from this thread.

I agree with many here who suggest that the question of conscience might be served better in a separate thread. Such a thread should consider these items, as I see it.1. Most Catholics do not consider contraception a sin.2. The church's teaching on sexuality is very problematic.3. Pedophilia among clerics is centuries old.4. Humanae Vitae is not infallible.5. Love as a primary end of marriage is a new concept.6. Since most of the conscience questions involve sex, is there an obsession about sex within the church?7. Private confession was not made mandatory until the Lateran Council in the 12th century.

Contraception is also an unusual conscience issue because it involves 2 people in the same act, each of whom might have different intentions regarding the contracepted/ uncontracepted character of the act.

So freedom of conscience is involved in two ways: the individual couple's conscience in relation to Church teaching, and the spouse's consciences in relationship to one another.

I'm sorry to have taken this thread so far afield, when there is a lot more to say about the Council. But I'm thankful for this part of the dialogue and would also, as others have expressed, be interested in a new discussion regarding conscience.I have a question about the Council. Fr. Komonchak, you mentioned that people disagree about what the rupture was, and when. I keep trying to place it after the Council--in HV in matters of conscience, and in the enormous number of post-conciliar liturgical documents. But I take it that you see the rupture as interior to the Council itself?

Sandro Magister takes note (in Italian) of the Commonweal discussion:

kathy,Here is my two cents. Humanae Vitae was indeed the bombshell that shocked Catholics. But the rupture had to start at the council since many of the documents are compromises with each interest conceding points so that some of its ideas would also be entered. The council had its politics from beginning to end and that is not necessarily a bad thing.Cardinal Spellman declared that the changes of the Council would not "get pass the Statue of Liberty." Mostly all priests at the time who were not associated with seminaries and schools felt very confused about the council. It was a momentous council. Really an avalanche. Which no one was really prepared for as well meaning as many people were.

Bill, I think that Fr. Komonchak is right when he says "I see no reason to fear that he is about to go back on the great conciliar texts on the Churchs relationship to the modern world..."But I see reason no reason to believe that the Pope will apply the texts in the same way they were widely applied immediately following the Council.

For a slightly satirical but nonetheless quite accurate portrayal of things pre and post-V2, read David Lodge's "Souls & Bodies." It's about England, but transfers well into the experiences in the US.

Sorry to go on and on. But I have a question about whether there might have been an unreasonable hope raised by the experience of the Council, which was so dialogical. Maybe it seemed that the Church would always be open to dialogue about everything and that every process would always be consultative.Granted that the Council itself called for greater consultation in many situations, still, it seems to me that these were specified to some degree.I wonder if Councils themselves are high-water marks of dialogue, moments within the life of the Church when consultation is the norm--and whether expecting this moment to go on as a permanent state is realistic.

Kathy, there were conflicts and swings from the beginning. A renewal was hoped for but there was concern about excesses. Paul VI tried to hold peace between both poles. He wanted to hold both toghether. He went back in forth in his positions. Thus "Hamlet."He loved Bernard Haring, for example, but allowed the CDF to investigate him in 1970 after Haring objected to Humanae Vitae. One always prefers that dialogue occur. But like today people become more fixated when the other side becomes unreasonable. Common Ground is a great idea. What is lacking is the leadership to see it through.

Just a housekeeping matter: if possible, please group multiple responses into one comment rather than a series of comments.

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