Springtime or Drought?

Louie Verrecchio has negatively interpreted the pontificate of Venerable Paul VI in the light of a statement, made by Joseph Ratzinger more than forty years ago, about a “smaller” “more faithful” postconciliar Church. The fuller quote from the Ignatius press record of the statement is as follows:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge–a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.

The Church will be a more spiritualized Church, not presuming upon a political mantle, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed…. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. . . .

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Verrecchio’s quote from this passage is selective, omitting the fact that Joseph Ratzinger’s comments indicate that what he is describing is a necessary process of renewal that will end in a fresh blossoming. He notes that Ignatius Press refers to Ratzinger’s words as “prophetic,” but admits this only in the sense that this prophecy describes a “self-inflicted” disaster.

Verrecchio then goes on to describe the postconciliar disaster that we are all familiar with and attributes it to the ambiguity of the conciliar documents and weakness of Pope Paul VI. Verrechio includes among Venerable Paul VI’s acts of weakness his promulgation of Humanae Vitae.

I have said before that the strength of the traditionalist argument lies on the historical plain. This for two reasons: 1) the empirical evidence weighs heavily in favor of assessing the last fifty years as a disaster; 2) the conclusion by way of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is lent credibility by making the Council and its proponents the villains of the disaster. What is undemonstrated, and undemonstratable, is that in the long run we would have been better off without the Council. But the argument continues to gain adherents because soundbite ideology is popular, as is facile gotcha apologetics.

Joseph Ratzinger has pointed out that early fathers like St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Basil the Great were both very skeptical about the value of councils, which seemed to be more a source of confusion and dissension than of clarification and reform. However, their concerns were specific to the Council of Nicaea which ultimately turned out to be a great boon for the Church.

It may be true that there was no doctrinal crisis looming before the Church when Vatican II was inaugurated. However the problems of the modern world needed to be addressed with hard decisions of a pastoral nature.  That these necessary and good adaptations would potentially initiate a crisis from which it would take many years to recover is a scenario that not only enjoys plausibility within the dispensations of divine providence; in fact, it is the position of the Church itself, in spite of what the crypto-traditionalists would have us believe.

It should also be noted that the position marked out by Joseph Ratzinger back in the early 70’s was reiterated by him not a year before his election to the Chair of Peter. In his interview with Raymond Arroyo he was asked about how he understood the New Springtime of the Church hoped for by John Paul II. He said that small, convinced communities provide the “future for the world,” in which souls are brought to God because of the “truth” held by believers and “the force of conviction.” He said: “Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at that time [sic.]; but it was clear, this is the future.”

After fifty years of antinomianism, the great patrimony of the Second Vatican Council cannot simply be disregarded in favor of a counterrevolutionary reaction that favors coercion over conviction. This would be the mistake of giving a mandate to an extra-magisterial intellectual elite to tell the rest of Catholics how to live their lives. This is why the Church is run by pastors, not by intellectuals and journalists, though, of course, there is a place at the table for everyone.

The wisdom of God is not the wisdom of men. It seems that Louie Verrecchio does much good work and has the support of a number of bishops for his presentations promoting the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. But his sympathies for the SSPX, his attitude toward Paul VI and his selective use of evidence I find troubling. It is representative of a trend among ostensibly “regular joe” Catholics, and for want of a better way of identifying it, I call this way of thinking crypto-traditionalism.

For a much more balanced presentation of the pontificate of Venerable Paul VI, see William Doino’s article: “Rediscovering Paul VI.”

2 thoughts on “Springtime or Drought?

  1. from Bill Foley

    Thank you, Father, for being such a defender of the papal magisterium.

    I suppose those who criticize Pope Paul VI for the failure of Catholics to live up to his teaching, especially the clergy and religious, would also take Christ to task for not changing the hearts of the Pharisees, Saduccees, and scribes, even though they recognized his miracles as such.

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