31 October 2014


I wish, finally, to have a look at the Council's oddest feature: the contrast, contradiction, between the expectations the Fathers had in their suitcases as they set out for the Council, and the documents for which they eventually voted and which they (even Lefebvre) signed.

In historical terms, a reason for this is to be found in the brilliant organisation of a Conciliar minority of 'progressive' bishops from Northern Europe, who succeeded in gaining control of the levers of power ... a full account passim in Mattei. Here is his summary: "The Council did not heed the requests that emerged from the vota of the council fathers, but rather favoured the claims of a minority which, from the outset, managed to put itself in charge of the assembly and to orientate its decisions. This is what emerges indisputably from the historical data". 

But I think I can also discern here a theological factor. A Bishop is supposed to be the Man of his Church. The prohibitions in earlier centuries directed against the Adultery of Translations express this instinct. From the second century, a bishop was seen as possessing the charisma certum veritatis because, as the Man of his Church, he could bear witness to the teaching received from his predecessors and witnessed also by his presbyterate, diaconate, and laity. (An enquirer could be invited to visit the Apostolic Churches, and the churches founded by the Apostolic Churches, to verify that their doctrine was indeed identical. Such an enquirer could be confident of the inevitable identity of the teaching of all those Churches with that of the Church in Rome.)

It is this profound embeddedness of a Bishop in his own Church that should guarantee the authenticity of his judgements when, exceptionally and untypically, he is absent from his ekklesia and sitting with his fellow-bishops in Council. One thinks of those memorable phrases of Pope Francis, that a pastor should smell of his sheep; that he should not be an airport bishop. Both of them bear directly upon this point. Lamentably, the unexpected length of Vatican II meant that its bishops became very much airport bishops. They got to know each other extremely well and acquired a distinct odour of the seminar-room and of the Roman trattorie; they became politicians; they became, some of them, more preoccupied with the views expressed a moment ago by some glamorous peritus than with the opinions of tedious old Fr Black back in Great Snoring, and his even more boring parishioners. Some may have asked themselves only very infrequently whether the exciting novelties in the air of S Peter's were congruous with the teaching that our dear old predecessor Bishop Brown (never an emeritus because he died in office) had hammered away at, in season and out of season, for the fifty five years of his episcopate, not to mention his predecessor Bishop Green, who was born before the Restoration of the Hierarchy. Heaven forgive them, some of the Fathers of Vatican II may even have congratulated themselves on being so much more Modern and Enlightened than Black, Brown, or Green!

After all, had they not sat, entranced, only yesterday evening, listening to the views of professor Hans Kueng?


Jacobi said...

In my humble opinion Father, the "dereliction of duty" will be healed only by, and when there is another Council to specify and correct the false interpretations of Vatican II, as bishop Athanasius Schneider has suggested.

Michael Ortiz said...


I am reading this book now, and am a little dismayed at his broad-brush treatment of the liturgical movement prior to the Council. I just finished Alcuin Reed's book on the organic growth of the liturgy and it seems so much more nuanced!

Sue Sims said...

While I defer to your infinitely greater knowledge of all things theological and historical than I possess, I would very quietly point out that there is no Catholic church in Great Snoring.