Well, here it is! Today is the 60th anniversary of that Council we either love or hate, the Second Vatican Council.
(Fun Fact: I’ve seen both October 11th and October 12th given as the Anniversary. I’m going for the latter date because I’m writing this post on the 11th, and would like it to publish on the Anniversary instead of the day after.)
Now if you’ve been following this website, or my broadcasts, or my social media posts for any length of time, you’ll already know my opinion of the whole affair as well as of the current Occupant of St. Peter’s Chair. That said, I also think Vatican II had some good ideas that should be evaluated on their own merit rather than just thrown out whole-cloth, and today seems as good a day as any to have a look at them!
What I Think of the Council
We’ll start by pointing out that I make two distinctions: 1) the legitimacy of Vatican II as an Ecumenical Council, and 2) the validity of various ideas found in the Council’s documents. As we move forward, please keep this distinction in mind.
As to the Council itself, I want to be clear at the outset: I have always believed, and still believe that the Council was a latrocinium, owing in no small part to the actions of the so-called “European Alliance” who co-opted it during the first session. This is amply enough documented that a quick Google search will get you up to speed; for now it is enough to say that for this reason, I cannot and do not consider Vatican II a legitimate Ecumenical Council, and certainly not an authentic movement of the Holy Ghost.
(Now the Council as a movement of the Holy Ghost protecting the Church against the European Alliance’s fullest intentions, that might be a hypothesis worth pursuing!)
What I Think of the Council’s Ideas
No matter what I think of the Council itself, since 2008 my thinking has slowly warmed up to some of the Council’s ideas, treated on a case-by-case basis. A little digression might be useful here.
Having a background in the Traditional Movement and raised in a household that looked down on Vatican II, my original reaction was to treat the Council as a net evil, root and branch. This might be easier to understand if we remember the Trad Movement is essentially the Cult of Boomer Childhood™, where the only things, attitudes, or aesthetics deemed acceptable are those current in the 1950s – again, the decade when the Boomers were young children). Anything outside of that period is categorically condemned, regardless of whether it fits with Catholic principles, or even whether it represents a model of “Church” from a period earlier than the 1950s (though material from earlier periods is always welcome for proof-texting” their head-canon of the post-Tridentine Church).
The Trad Movement is, therefore, fully committed to “defending the revolution before the last revolution.”
Digression over. When I left the Trad Movement in 2008 and started wandering the Wilderness of American Religion, I started to notice two things: 1) that Protestants were still fighting theological battles we’d resolved over a thousand of years ago, and 2) that some of the pastoral ideas in Vatican II actually made sense in real-world ministry.
From this starting-point I’ve come to consider that some of Vatican II’s ideas are better than others. The Council may be a latrocinium, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day; if we view Vatican II as a stopped clock, then let’s look at those times the hands pointed in the right direction!
I’m not sure where to begin this, so we’ll go in no particular order. But since the most recognizable result of Vatican II is the “reformed” liturgy, it makes sense to start our discussion here.
This subject is also a good showcase for where the Council may have some good ideas on paper, but those ideas were wholly co-opted and neutered during implementation. This is readily enough visible in the Novus Ordo missal, which was arranged around some ideas in Sacrosanctum Concilium that I could back whole-heartedly (including a multi-year lectionary), yet the final product came out as shallow, limp-wristed, and lame.
Ditto for the Roman Breviary, which could stand the benefit of radical simplification. Yet the final product, Liturgy of the Hours, was likewise lame when compared to its predecessor.
Two more digressions.
Digression #1. Criticisms of the Mass and Office existed long before the Second Vatican Council. During the Council’s preparatory period, for example, Rome sent questionnaires to the world’s bishops asking what items they would like to see included in the agenda. A large number of responses touched on the Liturgy.
Digression #2. Consider a non-Catholic but closely parallel product, the 1924 Missal of the Liberal Catholic Church. It contains a preface written by Wedgewood, where he criticizes the Traditional Latin Mass on points (and in terms) very similar to Bugnini’s criticisms four decades later. This gives us the insight that Wedewood/Leadbeater and Bugnini were working from the same general principles but obtained drastically different results; my conclusion is that two people can take the exact same set of starting premises and arrive at two very different product, depending on temperament, preferences, agenda, and so forth.
Digressions over. As one whose original liturgical training is the Traditional Latin Mass and who still celebrates it, I can identify most (not all, but most) of the points brought up in Sacrosanctum Concilium as expressing some of my own frustrations with certain features in the Liturgy.
Liturgy, the Missal:
For the Missal, I only have two issues. The first is that when the lectionary has the same readings on a year-in, year-out cycle, it gets easy to become stuck in a rut and start preaching the same sermon year after year. In fact, I’ve seen priests do it word-for-word at Christmas and Easter, and I’ve become guilty of it myself.
My second issue is that, well, I hate Holy Week ceremonial. As in I freaking despise it, finding its length, complexity, and repetitions distinctly non-Roman and wholly incompatible with the Roman ethic of “Don’t pester the magistrate, just state your business” (in other words, get to the damn point and go on with life). I firmly believe the simplification of Holy Week ceremonial was a step in the right direction, although the restoration of twelve readings on Holy Saturday (from the four in the 1962-1967 missals) is something I’m not on board with.
If either of those paragraphs bothered you, I should point out another distintion, that of the clerical approach to liturgy versus the lay approach. For laity, the year-in, year-out repetition of the readings can be a souce of comfort, accompanied by familiar hymns and the dramatic ceremony of Holy Week and Easter. For clergy, especially career clergy, we’re living the same-old, same-old every day and over the years the repetition eventually gets frustrating or even downright boring.
I went through this phase too, which led to masssive amounts of liturgical experimentation with a mixed Catholic/Lutheran community, resulted in an entire Missal, Office, and Hymnal based on a composite from different sources, and ended on a Saturday afternoon in September 2012, the day I found myself concelebrating a wedding in a UCC church with a Latin translation of the Lutheran Book of Worship’s marriage rite (at the bride’s request), a Latin translation of the Service Book and Hymnal liturgy with elements of The New Century Hymnal, and me saying the full “Mawwiage” speech from The Princess Bride right before the ceremony began; that’s when something in my mind snapped, told me “This has gone too far,” and I started coming back to reality.
(Irony alert: the very next day after the wedding, I found myself celebrating a Novus Ordo at Holy Angels and Saints, the only time the Novus Ordo ever felt anything close to “sane ” or “normal.”)
Beyond that, I’ve always had an issue with the mentality that if you break so much as one of the Mass’s rubrics on purpose, you’re committing a mortal sin; I’m pretty sure God’s got more important things to worry about than whether you’re wearing a maniple, forget to pour water into the chalice, or mispronounce a few words in Latin.
So in fine, I think the idea of a multi-year lectionary is a good idea, along with the reassertion of the Proper of the Time, and the idea of options sanctioned by the rubrics (which loosely correspond to the “permissive” or “may” rubrics found in Protestant liturgies). While I do not necessarily care for the Novus Ordo in its final form, I take no major issues with the principles enunciated in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and can even agree with some of them.
Now the removal of Septuagesima from the Church year, the claim that the Sermon is actually part of the Mass (no, it isn’t), or the current version of the three-year lectionary, those I’m not too keen. Especially when other proposed lectionary schemata were far superior. (The Schürmann lectionary, for example.)
Liturgy, the Breviary:
I have a love-hate relationship with the Roman Breviary, and am more or less pleased at the fact most of my issues were actually addressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium.
That they were addressed in this document means one thing: that I’m not the only person who took issue with the Roman Breviary. (Remember that this was a time before the Divinum Officium website existed, so saying your Office meant a lot of page-turning.)
The prescriptions for the Office were simplicity, making it more accessible to the laity, the number of Psalms for each Hour, the suppression of Prime, and converting Matins an an Office that could be said any time of the day (i.e. the “Office of Readings”).
All of these are good points. It may help here to remember the Divine Office emerged primarily monastic setting, and monks seem to like their devotions long and complicated. Those of us who live in the real world don’t have time for that, because jobs and families and being metaphrocally drawn and quartered by kinds of other responsibilities. For monastics the Office is the center of their daily life and rightfulyl deserves more time, while for the rest of us the Office is an escape from the daily grind so we can refresh and re-center ourselves on God; each circumstance brings different real-world involving time duration and complexity for saying the Hours.
With all that said, the Office is a treasure-trove, especially Matins which gives the mind of the Church for any particular day. It’s just that in the traditional form, that kernel of useful information is surrounded by too much time consumption and repetition (again: “Don’t pester the magistrate, just state your business”). The more we can peel back the layers of repetition and responsory and just get ourselves to the point, the more we can benefit from the Office in general and Matins in particular.
That said, the Liturgy of the Hours does not entirely succeed, and feels gutted by the implementers’ agenda. Compline no longer gives the sense of a ritual for protection, Matins no longer contains the wealth found in the pre-conciliar Breviary, and the “simplified four-week Psalter” still remains complicated for anyone not fully following the Novus Ordo calendar (the best solution comes from the Anglicans, who plug the Psalter into the monthly calendar so anybody can pick it up no matter who they are!).
However, the Office is easier to follow overall, and does not seem to require as much page-flipping as the Breviarium. Ultimately, however, websites like Universalis and Divinum Officium have rendered that a moot point, and in my opinion that’s all for the better.
Method: Participation and Analogy
I probably should’ve led with this, but it’s too late and I’m in a rush to get this finished (this blog post is no good if it drops the day after the anniversary, right?). So we’re sticking to this order.
If we compare Vatican II with previous Councils, we find a difference of methodology. For example, the Council of Trent commonly gave its definitions with the formula: “If anybody says X, then let him be anathema.”
This is the historic approach, and emphasizes differences, in other words what makes us not like them. The Vatican II Fathers took the opposite tack, an approach of analogy or of finding common ground. Part of this was the idea of participation, which sees each entity as participating in certain things (humans participate in eating, drinking, breathing, etc. for example), and then asking the question of “what kinds of things do these two (or more) groups of people participate in together?”
This is the key to understanding why the Vatican II documents tend to sound “wonky” and frankly quite weak when compared to the thundering anathemas of Trent or even the decrees of Nicaea I. The difference is one of focus; while previous Councils sought to define Catholic belief over and against some other body of teaching, the Council Fathers instead chose to ask “what do we have in common with [Protestants, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.], and what insights do they have that we might be able to learn from?”
I am of two minds about this, because there is a point beyond which the “common ground” approach fails; a very good example of this may be the backstory behind Gaudium et Spes. In 1965, about 400 bishops petitioned the Council’s Theological Commission to have the Council issue a condemnation against Communism (which had been condemned by every Pope since 1849, on solid grounds of materialism and determinism), as well as Atheism. The Commission flatly refused their petition, saying Pope Paul VI desired that the Council not make any condemnations whatsoever. Instead the petitioners were thrown a bone in Gaudium et Spes speaking on Atheism (§ 21), and did not mention Communism at all; in fact the document praised the principle of socialization (§ 25), which lies at the opposite pole from Catholic Social Teaching’s traditional principle of subsidiarity.
Enough about where the approach fails, it should be self-evident that one needs to keep a healthy balance between finding commonalities as well as differences, and maybe the new approach serves a much-needed corrective to the hyper-focus on differences that came before. I want to talk about the good things now.
If we keep a balanced mind, the focus on common ground can open ourselves up to new insights and new ways of doing things, and likewise “improving our game” at preaching the Gospel and ministering to those who come to us. I also think it helps keep us out of a “nitpicking” mode, out of a purity spiral, and restrains us from thinking ourselves better than “those other people” who might do things slightly differently than we do. All these things are realities I saw while in the Trad Movement, and so I can appreciate “participation and analogy” because I’ve seen where the other path leads.
The key when working by analogy, as I’ve hinted above, is to keep a clear eye on what’s negotiable and what’s not, while knowing where you have room to maneuver versus where you must stand your ground. Balance in all things.
Freedom of Religion
I am an American, so it should come as no surprise that I like the First Amendment (and the Second Amendment, and the eight others that comprise our Bill of Rights). That Dignitatis Humanae looks and feels very much like a sermon on the First Amendment is no accident: it was written by the American Jesuit priest John Courtney Murray, whom Traditionalist circles regard as having been a CIA agent. Since I have not researched this and this cannot give a firm opinion on this; I’ll just provide this link which gives the general contours of the story, and leave the reader to make up his or her own mind.
Properly understood – and this is only my opinion – Freedom of Religion does not mean we’re free to believe whatever we want even if it has no connection to reality. Rather, as freedom comes with responsibility, it means each individual has the freedom to test a religion’s claims against the bar of reason, experience, and known truth, and to choose whether or not to accept or reject that religion.
This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that I’m also a major fan of the Free Market, and its related concepts of the Invisible Hand and the Free Market of Ideas (did I forget to mention I’m an American?). This is important because it’s a place where Catholicism has typically performed poorly after the close of the fourth century.
Digression. In the beginning, Catholicism had no choice but to perform in a free marketplace of ideas, whether against Judaism, against some or other form of Paganism, against countless Mystery Religions coming from the Near East, as well as against followers of other claimants to the title of “Messiah.” We see this in the form of advice about other other religions given in Paul’s epistles (factionalism, meat served to idols, etc.), and in the fact each of the Gospels was written to attract specific sections of the population and with specific agendas (God may have inspired the text, but the author’s desires and personality are still in the finished product).
After competing, surviving, and thriving for four centuries, Catholicism suddenly found itself in a situation of state support and no longer having to compete for hearts and minds; she still found herself able to compete with Pagan religions (Catholicism is the via media between Paganism and Judaism, after all), but found herself unwilling or unable to use those same tools in competition against other sects of Christians. Instead she adopted an “excommunicate it and send soldiers to bash it over the head” mentality, something that was hardly sustainable after a century and a half of revolutions, two world wars, and a Western Civilization that was fast approaching secularization.
Digression over. Now let me be clear: freedom of religion is indeed a reversal of discipline, a thing that’s allowed to change as the good of the Church genuinely requires it. And in this light freedom of religion seems less like the blasphemy that TradWorld makes it out to be, and more like an understanding of the sea-change that was taking place after the Second World War. What needed to accompany it was a commitment from the Church to relearn how to compete effectively in the Marketplace of Ideas, and develop a successful program of outreach and evangelism starting with re-converting the First World. Considering the number of fallen Catholics in the First World every year matches or exceeds the numbers from the mainstream churches, that last part is still a niche needing to be filled.
So in fine, it doesn’t matter to me whether Dignitatis Humanae was a CIA psy-op, because the result was (and is) a potentially good one if the Church had taken into account the challenges that would follow and acted effectively.
And if any of that marks me as an “Americanist,” then I’ll just live with that designation.
The “Subsistit In” Clause: Lumen Gentium, §8.
If you remember my previous blog posts or listened to some of my broadcasts, then you’ve probably been waiting for me to get to this one. In the past I’ve put this one down and claimed that one cannot believe this article and still be a Catholic. As I wrote this today, I’m not so sure.
Here’s the backstory: the traditional expression is Ecclesia Christi est Ecclesia Catholica, the “Church of Christ is [i.e. is identical with] the Catholic Church.” That’s it, with no chance for any other church to be the True Church whatsoever. This is where TradWorld stands on the question, and it’s not helped by the post-Vatican II hierarchy still issuing clarifications every so often; two notable examples are Dominus Jesus (2000) and section 2 from the Responsa ad Quaestiones from the Holy Office of the Inquisition (2007).
That above paragraph is what had me insisting “You cannot believe the clause ‘subsistit in’ and call yourself a faithful Catholic.” I would now change that to “You cannot subscribe to certain interpretations of ‘subsistit in’ and call yourself a faithful Catholic.”
That said, I can warm up to exactly one interpretation, namely that given by the man who originally coined the phrase, Fr. Sebastian Tromp: “We are able to say then: [the church of Christ] subsists in the Catholic Church, and this it does exclusively. And so it is said: the others possess only elementa. And this is explained in the text.”
– (Quoted from Thomas G. Guarino’s The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II. 2018. Eerdmans Publishing. Page 74.)
Now this is kind of a tightrope, because it walks a fine line between 1) the Catholic conception of the Church as “all baptized Catholics whether in heaven, on earth, or in purgatory,” and 2) the Protestant conception of the Church as “the invisible body of all believers.”
This is to say, the Orthodox and Protestant churches possess elements of the True Church insomuch as they have valid or invalid Sacraments or Apostolic Succession, correct or incorrect understandings of Scripture and Tradition, the presence or absence of a Divine Mandate, and so on and so on. By “exclusively,” this means the Catholic Church alone possesses all these things. However there’s a dangerous presupposition here: another church may someday claim the mantle of “True Church™” if the Catholic Church were to fall or no longer be recognizable as “Catholic,” and if the Orthodox or a given Protestant denomination were to acquire all those things.
If course, if another denomination were to acquire valid Succession and Sacraments, correct interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, etc., then that denomination would’ve converted to Catholicism anyway and the Catholic Church could (hypothetically) have been restored albeit by an indirect manner. That makes any perceived danger a moot point for anybody who’s not part of the modern Roman hierarchy.
In any case, I’m willing to accept that other churches are able to participate in the saving work of Christ, even if that participation is limited to what legitimate elements of His Church they accept of reject. As to defining exactly what those elements or “landmarks” might be, one can expect a lot of debate because there is no full agreement (especially over the extent of Papal Infallibility, something I’ve been meaning to write about since last June.)
In short, I have a very difficult time believing that when a person dies, the first thing God’s going to care about it “Did you belong to the right Church?” If God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 5:8), then it seems better for the Economy of Salvation to allow for many churches as possible to participate in elements of the True Church (insofar as their theology, praxis, and level of knowledge or ignorance will allow), than to exclude all hope of salvation into only one institution and everybody else gets saved only on account of invincible ignorance.
Now I do believe that it’s possible to take the subsistit in clause too far, but that’s the case with any statement that doesn’t come with a concise interpretation in the very next sentence. That’s why it’s important for us to keep ourselves informed.
This is not where I wanted to end this blog post, but alas, time grows short and I must edit that video of me doing crazy stuff, search for images to go along with this, and actually get this thing posted to the web. Seriously, the most time-consuming work for a blog post is the hunting down of suitable pictures!
So as we leave, I’ll point out again that I’m still not a fan of Vatican II as a whole, and certainly not of the way it was implemented during my childhood, teenage, and young adult years. Of particular note are the postconciliar over-emphasis on the word “Magisterium” (a word that hardly appears in preconciliar texts), that implementation’s over-emphasis on “community” to the near-exclusion of the individual (probably not as bad now as when I was younger), and the general “creeping authoritarianism” that’s really just a continuation of the post-Tridentine trajectory.
But it’s okay if I ran out of time today. Because I can always continue this next year!