17 February 2007


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Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete or, at the very least, obsolescent.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.


B flat said...

Shout "Bravo!" at the end of the second paragraph. This posting is brilliant, and spot on.
Uneasiness stirs when a Romanist to the core starts looking to the East....

It all depends upon your last sentence, particularly to whom it is directed. I fear an east wind is coming.

rick allen said...

As I have no responses, I will cease and go, and simply conclude that you appear to me to have trashed the council by accepting and affirming the worst characterizations of its enemies. No one who reads the teaching of Vatican II could remotely imagine that it was some sort of super-council abolishing the others. Your attitude, and, even more so, that of your commenters, strikes me as disrespectful and dismissive--and thereby, unhappily, thoroughly modern.

Sadie Vacantist said...

“disrespectful and dismissive--and thereby, unhappily, thoroughly modern”

Thoroughly modern most certainly. How can Fr “H” be anything other? That is his point. The Council is no longer relevant to the modern World as the Church is now confronting a different set of problems which ‘unhappily’ (sic) the Fathers did not anticipate.

Jay Scott Newman said...

The naive optimism on display in parts of "Gaudium et Spes" is certainly now of little relevance in the time of Jihad, but in many other respects the teaching of the Second Vatican Council remains essential to the transmission of the Gospel in our time. For example:

+Lumen Gentium on the nature of the Church, the place and authority of the hierarchy in the plan of salvation, and the relationship of the College of Bishops to its head, the Bishop of Rome.

+Dei Verbum on the nature of divine revelation and the relationships among Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium.

+Sacrosanctum Concilium on the principles for guiding a genuine re-enchantment of the sacred liturgy.

+Nostra Aetate on the relationship between the Church and Judaism.

Dignitatis Humanae on the freedom of religion as a natural human right and most essential civil right.

There are riches of many kinds in the documents of the II Vatican Council, and the season of silliness which followed the Council should not blind us to those riches. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI considered a correct appropriation of the Council's teaching to be essential to the right ordering of the Church's life in our time, and that is not lightly to be dismissed.

Figulus said...

I too, like Rick Allen, am stricken by Fr Hunwicke's attitude to the Sacrosanct Council of Vienne and, more importantly, to its Spirit.

kiwiinamerica said...

You're right, Father. Ordinariates are the future. Anglican Ordinariates, that is. I say this as a cradle Latin Rite Catholic. Sadly, I think that the main thrust of your argument regarding Vatican II ("its time has passed"), also applies to SSPX.

You see, Father, there is such a marked difference between the humble petitioning of Rome by traditional Anglicans and the proud lecturing and haranguing of Rome which marks so much SSPX rhetoric. There is a great spiritual beauty to the former which God has blessed. Humility is a virtue much beloved by God. However, it appears to be in short supply in SSPX-land.

Anglicans came on their knees, begging to be allowed in and God answered. SSPX appears to believe that it is Rome which should fall to its knees and ask for forgiveness. The contrast could not be greater. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia still applies.

I think it is interesting and perhaps not coincidental that the SSPX-Rome talks are winding down at precisely the same time as the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is starting to take form and come to life. I see it as playing an important role in the "reform of the reform" and I think the future directions of these two bodies are diametrically opposed.

One will bring a wonderful patrimony to the heart of our Church.........the other will take its pride into outer darkness.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

"No one who reads the teaching of Vatican II could remotely imagine that it was some sort of super-council abolishing the others."

I can only agree with this. It is unfortunate that the Consilium that implemented Sacrosanctum Concilium and so many others who had were advising (and hoodwinking?) Pope Paul VI into the near abolition of traditional penitential practice, the deformation of the calendar, etc., along with those who continue to advance "progressive" reforms based on the Spirit of Vatican II are among those who have failed to read the texts of the documents.

Of course, the sheer verbosity of the texts doesn't help. Most laymen, and probably most clerics, dip into these and just as quickly abandon the texts.

I certainly agree with Fr. Newman that the teachings in many of the texts, especially Dei Verbum and Apostolicam Actuositatem (how little read that is) are of great importance. But it is nearly impossible, in the real world, to separate the actual teaching of the latest Council from the false, attributed teachings of the Council which abound in the world. Better that the Church (perhaps as a post-Synodal exhortation) produce an understandable, less-verbose set of propositions on some of the controverted questions.

Anagnostis said...

Bravo sou! However, re. the Palamite Councils, haven't the Popes and the western councils already painted themselves (irreformably) into a corner with regard to "created grace", etc.? Fr Tim Finegan certainly seems to thinks so.

Sadie Vacantist said...

"Gaudium et Spes is certainly now of little relevance in the time of Jihad"

The neoconservative sentiments expressed in the above assessment of “Gaudium et Spes” is very much part of the problem. America’s total obsession with Israel is NEW and is triggering wars and revolutions everywhere. It is now forcing a once great nation into a permanent state of war on behalf of a foreign power. The alternative view is to invite the accusation of anti-semiticism which is an insult to all who question American foreign policy.

This was not the case in 1950’s. This was a time when Eisenhower feared the growth of the military industrial complex and Eleanor Roosevelt openly cracked “anti-semitic” jokes amongst her society friends.

Times have indeed changed.

Jay Scott Newman said...

I am not conscious of harboring any agenda, "neo-conservative" or otherwise, in my assertion that "the naive optimism on display in parts of "Gaudium et Spes" is certainly now of little relevance in the time of Jihad." And please note that these are my words, not the truncated version scorned by Sadie Vacantist.

The naive optimism to which I refer was the hope expressed by the Council Fathers that the violence which has marked so much of human history would fade away in the emergence of modernity around the globe. That has manifestly not happened, and it was naive to assume that it would. There is still much of great value in Gaudium et Spes, but the good bits have to be searched for in the midst of much provisional stuff that simply no longer applies.

Finally, my remarks had and have absolutely nothing to do with the State of Israel or with anti-semitism. My reference to the time of Jihad means the war unleashed on the entire West by Islamofascist terrorists, a war aimed at Jews, Christians, and Western pagans alike.

Sadie Vacantist said...

"Islamofascist terrorists" are a figment of the neoconservative imagination.

As for

"the war unleashed on the entire West ..."

Any aggressive acts by Muslims have been in response to American aggression and its on-going support of the nuclear armed State of Israel.

Jay Scott Newman said...

Dear Sadie,

I'll pass along your convictions about the terrorists to the innocent dead of the World Trade Center.

And while I do that, you might want to look up. I think I hear some neo-con black helicopters coming for you!

All the best.

Kate Edwards said...

This has been a wonderful series, thank you so much Father.

Woody said...

Father's solution to the SSPX-Vatican talks is spot on, but I fear neither side is prepared to adopt such a solution. What comes after the "conclusion" of the talks is anyone's guess. Probably the weatherman's forecast of more of the same is the best guess. It will be interesting to see what effect such an inconclusive conclusion will have on the careers of the players on the Vatican side. Msgr Ocariz is somewhat quietly touted as the odds on favorite for the next Prelate of Opus Dei, unless he goes to a dikasterial position, I hear.

Jay Scott Newman said...

Woody, in the theological conversations between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the renegade bishops of the SSPX, the Holy See is not a "side" in a negotiation, and the Sovereign Pontiff does not and cannot restore to full communion with the Catholic Church those who will not live under his authority and that of the Church's ecumenical Councils.

To cast these theological conservations, which were a pastoral effort on the part of Pope Benedict to reconcile these clerics to the Church, as a "negotiation" is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Catholic Church.

The bishops and priests of the SSPX are in obdurate disobedience to the Bishop of Rome and to the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Rite. Either they will repent of this disobedience and ask to be restored to full communion with the Church or they won't. But whether they do not, it will not be because the Holy See failed in a negotiation. The Holy See is not negotiating with anyone, including the SSPX, on the doctrine of the faith and the authority of the College of Bishops and its Head.

Mark said...

In general, I agree with the comments posted by Fr Jay Scott Newman.
One cannot say "well, some of Vatican II was okay, some of it isn't, so I think we should just leave it on the shelf and largely ignore it."
Also, it difficult to say there is nothing dogmatic in the Second Vatican Council - and that the SSPX and the Holy See should simply move on.

When reading the Second Vatican Council, it is important to open it up at the table of contents and read what the different sections are called.
To put it simply, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium) and the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei verbum) are just that - dogmatic, and should be read as so.
Obviously, certain things like the Decree on the Mass Media are not on matters that are purely that of "faith and reason," and can be read as products of a particular time that contain a large amount of opinion.
The same cannot be said of Lumen gentium and Dei verbum - and in naming those documents "dogmatic", the Council Fathers placed great importance in them and intended them to be of a magisterial nature.

Charles El Mexicano said...

"cannot restore to full communion"

The concept of "full" and "partial" communion is a novelty which has no precedence in authentic Catholic teaching. One is a Catholic or one is not. One is schismatic or one is not. One is a heretic or one is orthodox. There are no degrees of communion.

Whether one is a "renegade" bishop has no bearing on anything. That's just propaganda. St. Athanasius was a "renegade," but he was neither schismatic nor heretic.

Jay Scott Newman said...


The concept of communion with Church by degrees is as old as the Fathers of the Church, and the North African bishops in particular dealt with this cluster of questions.

For a contemporary statement of the idea, please see Canon 205 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is essential a juridic reworking of Acts 2:42-47. It is this concept which the Second Vatican Council employed in Unitatis Redintegratio and which Pope John Paul II developed in Ut Unum Sint.

Your assertions are simply false, I'm afraid, and represent, I suspect, the defective understanding of Sacred Tradition which leads astray the follows of Archbishop Lefebvre, who sadly died excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Jay Scott Newman said...

For a fuller account of the concept of communion with the Church by degrees of fullness, please see here:


Julio said...

I rather suspect that I am infallible when I speak the truth. Therefore, an ecumenical council which also speaks the Truth will be accepted as a real ecumenical council. No matter the declaration, if it teaches wrongly..

Elijahmaria said...

Father Newman,

Thank you for your good words here. I am grateful to you for saving this poor life from one more nosedive into the breach. I do so dislike ranting and raving at strangers, so your sober and settling account, mitigating the arch bombast of the OP is welcome.


Adulio said...

What is partial communion? Is it like partial pregnancy?