Vatican II was a validly convoked Ecumenical Council, a Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Whole Church. If it had chosen to do so, it could have defined dogmas de fide to which (Papal assent having been given) any and every Catholic would have been obliged to give the complete assent of Divine Faith. Laws, canons, which it enacted ... if it did ... bind the faithful for a long as they remain unrepealed by lawful authority or, through desuetude, cease to bind. Its pronouncements command respect, religiosum obsequium, just as those enacted by the Council of Vienne in 1311, did in 1361 and, for that matter ... I presume ... still do.
All this is compatible with certain other propositions. For example: that it would have been better unconvoked; that it did no good; that it encouraged, unwittingly, heterodox tendencies which have had a baleful effect upon the Church ever since. I do NOT wish, in this piece, to advance, attack, or defend, any of those propositions. The proposition which I now have in mind is a little different: that Vatican II is History; that its relevance is Not For Our Time, fifty years later, any more than its relevance was for fifty years previously. Vatican II itself claimed to speak to the World of its own time: fair enough; that time was not our time, is not our time.
Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete or, at the very least, obsolescent. Yes, there are elements in its texts which are well put and will have continuing value and use. But it did not foresee many of the the major problems of our age and, therefore, did not give us guidance for getting through them. Its silly optimisms are no more relevant to our very different, much harsher, age than is the proccupation of so many medieval councils with "Just-One-More-Crusade". The notion that it was some sort of super-council which displaced and replaced - or even simply relativised - the Councils which preceded it is, in my view, a heresy: because it disregards Councils which did, dogmatically, bind, in favour of a council which did not even claim to bind. Worse even than heresy, it is historical twaddle.
Emphasis on Vatican II has a number of unfortunate side-effects. It means that other, worthier, councils are ignored; and, in saying this I am not only thinking of Trent ... and not even of the Synod of Bethlehem. I wonder if you remember the striking ... mind-blowing ... assertion of Cardinal Ratzinger that the West needs to receive the "fundamental lines of the theology" of the Council of Moskow in 1551. And I am far from sure that the Latin Church would come to much harm if it humbly, prayerfully, set itself to assess the teachings of the 'Palamite' councils of the fourteenth century as they bear on the central Christian mystery of theosis.
And the fetichising of Vatican II distracts attention from the real and significant and valuable actions of the Roman Magisterium, which deserve so very much better than the sneers directed at them by illiterate fools. Humanae vitae and Ordinatio sacerdotalis, slender volumes, are worth more than all the paper wasted at Vatican II. Documents of the CDF, keeping up with the errors proposed in areas of ethics by the World's agenda, represent the locus to which perplexed modern Catholics should turn for teaching and guidance.
Byzantine Christians have an elegant custom of keeping, a few days after a major festival, a Leave Taking of that feast. I rather think that 2012 would be a good year for an official Leave Taking of Vatican II (with either a solemn EF Requiem or a patriarchal concelebration of the Liturgy of S John Chrysostom - propers as on Orthodoxy Sunday - in S Peter's?). In practical terms, it is high time that we all stopped seeking help in the yellowing pages of Abbot's not-particularly-good translation of its documents. "Leave taking" would of course include a prudent discernment and recovery of what is continuingly valuable in the texts of the Council.
It is in this context that I view the dialogue between the Vatican and SSPX. I wish it well, very well. But it is really a little bit like the old ARCIC dialogues between Rome and Anglicans ... painstakingly and painfully going over the old controversies of a moribund past in purblind ignorance of the actual problems in the world outside the seminar-room windows. It is all thoroughly worthy and admirable; it is even quite fun to contemplate their lengthy verbal convolutions; for the people who like this sort of thing, this is precisely the sort of thing that they like. But it is of rapidly diminishing relevance to anything real.
If I had any influence with either the Roman dikasteries, or the SSPX, which I don't, I would advise both sides to stop taking this whole business so painfully seriously; to give each other a broad wink across the negotiating table; to drink deep together in whatever vintages the dikasteries keep in their cellars; and to sign up to some cheerful ARCIC-like semantic fudge which would enable the Holy See to get on with the urgent and joyful task of erecting SSPX Ordinariates all over the world. Droves of them. Ordinariates is the Future. Fresh Expressions of Church, as the dear old C of E used to say.