Evangelii Gaudium and the Culture War

“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

—Benedict XVI, quoted by Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, 7

The Year of faith has just ended with the proclamation “Christ is the center of the history of humanity and also the center of the history of every individual.”  And today Pope Francis has released his first Apostolic Exhortation in which he encourages us to create the conditions in which all men may find Christ in an “event,” a personal encounter capable of bringing a “new horizon and a decisive direction.”  Both Benedict and Francis have invested much in this event of the encounter with Christ, and have proposed it as the way that supersedes all ethical choices and lofty ideas.  This is the new evangelization.

With this post I would like to examine a specific problem regarding the reception of Pope Francis’ teaching.  Unfortunately, some have already pigeonholed Pope Francis as a liberal and are poised to parse his every word in that light.  I would suggest his teaching ought to be approached not simply through an assessment of “lofty ideas,” but as an encounter—a personal opportunity in the here and now to accept a transformative grace.   It is too soon for me to write anything in depth about the Apostolic Exhortation, but not too soon to suggest a manner of reception that will prove to be fruitful.  And for that we need to avoid a serious pitfall. Continue reading

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A Time for Faith

With the stunning announcement of the Holy Father’s resignation to take place on February 28, the speculation will begin as to his successor will be and as to the direction the new pontificate will take.  Of particular interest to me is the “hermeneutic of continuity” of Pope Benedict in respect to the Second Vatican Council.  This is a hot issue at the very moment the Holy Father announces his resignation.

The Holy Father’s appeal to a renewal of faith based on the proper assimilation of the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being rejected, in very the name of the faith, in favor of some “more faithful” and “holier” version of Catholicism.   In fact, this is the appeal of traditionalism:  it represents a more vital commitment to the faith than can even be mustered by the Vicar of Christ.  I am sure we will witness from the traditionalists the hope and prophecy of a more “dogmatic” papacy.

Wait for a much louder drum beating.  It is coming. Continue reading

The Checkmate of Pope Benedict

No more moves for the SSPX.

Pope Benedict has effectively brought the dialogue between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X to a magisterial conclusion.  Bishop Fellay has certainly transformed his way of looking at things.  In responding to the grave concerns of three SSPX bishops, Mons. Fellay is now selling Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity.  Or is he?

Within the Society, some are making the conciliar errors into super heresies, absolute evil, worse than anything, in the same way that the liberals have dogmatized this pastoral council. The evils are sufficiently dramatic; there is hardly any reason to exaggerate them further (cf. Roberto de Mattei, Une histoire jamais écrite, p. 22; Mgr. Gherardini, Un débat à ouvrir, p. 53, etc.).

Fellay’s problem is that Pope Benedict has left him nowhere to go other than into the arms of the successor of St. Peter.  It is either that or what Fellay terms as “real schism.”  His view contains a healthy dose of realism.  But the three bishops and the members of the SSPX they represent pose a real problem for Bishop Fellay.  In the above quote Fellay makes reference to the work of de Mattei and Gherardini, neither of whom are convinced that the Council can be reconciled with Tradition.  Indeed, in the preface to his new book Gherardini states:

There remains truly the fact that neither Vatican II can be recognized fully and peacefully in it [Tradition], nor can it be harmonized with the tune of Vatican II. They are two scores that cannot be reciprocally harmonized with the “dominant”, not due to any accidental note, but because one is intrinsically different from the other; and at times even opposed.

There are those who are in the Church that appear to be going out, and then those very much like them who are out and appear to be coming in. This is very uncomfortable fence sitting.  And it is not getting less complicated.  Last month, Monsignor Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, sent a letter to the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France  regarding the results of their canonical visitation.  There he wrote that concerning seminary formation:

Rather than maintaining a critique of Vatican Council II, even a “serious and constructive” one, the efforts of your teachers must point out the transmission of the integrity of the patrimony of the Church, insisting on the hermeneutics of renewal in its continuity and using as support the integrity of Catholic doctrine expounded by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One wonders what Fellay and Gherardini would think of this.  Fellay is put in a very uncomfortable position by the three bishops because by accepting the Pope’s terms he will no longer be in a position to dismiss Vatican II, as he even now so casually does:

It has reached a good number (still a minority) of young priests, seminarians, and even includes a small number of young bishops who clearly stand out from their predecessors, who confide in us their sympathy and support, but who are still pretty well stifled by the dominant line in the hierarchy in favor of Vatican II. This hierarchy is losing speed.

He can’t really believe this is consistent with spirit with which Pope Benedict has called the Year of Faith.  Can he?  But he is forced to politicize his position in the interests of winning over the reluctant.

Pope Benedict has a big carrot and a big stick: a personal prelature and the doctrinal preamble.  Checkmate.

A Year of Faith or a Year of Doubt?

This is the last installment of a series that I originally planned to be just two posts, but has turned out to be four.  I link to them, not in the order that I posted them, but in the order of their logical development.   First, there is a bit of background about my own experience and formation with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and what I mean by the term “traditionalism,” and why I think a discussion of it is important (“Traditionalism and Liturgy”).  Second, is a an explanation of the stated motives of Pope Benedict XVI for having promulgated the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum and what he means by the “reform of the reform” (“The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum”). The third installment is an examination of what the current debate over the “hermeneutic of continuity” is all about and why a statement of Pope Benedict has been used speciously as a pretext to question the continuity of Vatican II with Tradition (“Traditionalist Sleight of Hand”).  And lastly, here I wish to illustrate the current problem of sympathy for traditionalism by means of the contrast between traditionalist incursions and the responses to them from the Vatican over the last several years.

On October 11, 2011, Pope Benedict promulgated an apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, “the Door of Faith” in which he announced “A Year of Faith” to begin in exactly one year on October 11, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict tells us that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, who in 1967 announced a year of faith to commemorate the nineteenth centenary of the martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul.

I believe that this announcement is both providential and calculated.  The Holy Father is taking opportunity of the providence of God in the arrival of these anniversaries to address a mounting “orthodox” contempt for the Second Vatican Council—a traditionalist sleight of hand that proposes to dissect the Council and analyze it according to contingent opinions about Tradition and then invoke Pope Benedict as the one who mandated the exercise.  For a growing number of traditional Catholics, in spite of fifty years of papal teaching, the problems of our times within the Church were not occasioned by disintegration of modernity hitting the Church at the time of the Council.  On the contrary, they tell us, the Council itself has been the cause of a great anti-dogmatic revolution.  And Pope Benedict is on their side, they say!

Continue reading

Traditionalist Sleight of Hand

Recently within certain circles a debate has arisen as to whether the Second Vatican Council is actually in continuity with sacred Tradition.  The debate stems from an address given by Pope Benedict to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, in which he spoke famously of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”  It is contended by some that at that time the Holy Father actually invited the debate.

In that address the Holy Father rejected the modernist idea that the Council was a kind of constitutional convention that changed the nature of the Church, and that the actual texts of the Council were compromises between conservatives and liberals, which had to be interpreted according to their innovative spirit.  (This is the origin of the amorphous “spirit of Vatican II”.)  This notion constitutes the “hermeneutic of rupture,” and is corrected by the “hermeneutic of continuity,” which simply means that the Second Vatican Council is not a break from Tradition, but a pastoral adaptation of the perennial principles of Apostolic Tradition according to the circumstances of our times.  The starting point is that the Council must be interpreted in continuity with the Church’s perennial dogmatic teaching.  It should be noted that traditionalists accept the modernist interpretation of the Council, that is, both modernists and traditionalists hold that the Council is a break with Tradition.  Modernists do so because they do not believe in objective revelation; traditionalists because they believe that the Council betrayed objective revelation.

In this post I am following up on my “White Propaganda” contribution that generated a few comments about this debate.  It seems that the work of the Holy See to regularize the Society of St. Pius X has had the effect of lending a certain amount of credibility to anticonciliar intuitions, and that given the Holy See’s openness to the return of the SSPX, the Holy Father himself must share some of these sympathies.  I will address these contentions more directly in my next post.  In this one I merely wish to refute the contention that back in 2005 Pope Benedict invited this debate.

This exercise in the art of illusion consists in a cunning interpretation of the pope’s exhortation in his December 22, 2005, address to the Roman Curia:

There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council:  if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

If one reads this plainly but carefully he will see that the Holy Father is stating something very simple and very pro-Vatcian II:  The modern conflict between faith and reason culminated at the time of the Council in the need for “broad new thinking.”  The conciliar texts went a long way to accomplish this, but the development of this thinking continues as a “dialogue between reason and faith,” established on the basis of the Council.  This dialogue between faith and reason, roughly outlined by the Council, must continue and be “developed” with “openmindedness,” but also with clear discernment.  But it is certainly the Second Vatican Council, interpreted and implemented, “guided by the right hermeneutic,” (the hermeneutic of continuity) that is at the heart of the “ever necessary renewal of the Church.”

So how does this observation that that the dialogue between faith and reason must continue on the basis of the Council, rightly interpreted according the hermeneutic of continuity, become an “invitation to debate” the very possibility of interpreting the Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity?  It is academic sleight of hand, fast-talking lawyering.  See, for example, Roberto De Mattei, “A Council Can Also Make Mistakes”:

The speech to the Roman curia by Benedict XVI on December 22, 2005, opened a debate on Vatican Council II as exemplified recently by the books of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini and the important conference of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, held in Rome between December 16 and 18, 2010, in addition to my study “Il Concilio Vaticano II. Una storia mai scritta [Vatican Council II. A history never written]” (Lindau, Torino 2010).

The pope’s call to interpret the documents of Vatican II according to a “hermeneutic of continuity” has in fact offered a decisive stimulus to developing the debate on the Council in a manner different from that of the “school of Bologna,” which has presented it in terms of fracture and discontinuity with the bimillennial tradition of the Church.

At first glance, De Mattei seems to be supporting the hermeneutic of continuity against “the School of Bologna.” But a careful reading indicates otherwise.  He says that the pope’s call for interpretation of the Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity “has in fact offered a decisive stimulus to developing the debate on the Council in a manner different from the “school of Bologna” (emphasis mine).  He actually says nothing in support of the hermeneutic of continuity.  The “school of Bologna” is the Italian theological school of the progressive “spirit of Vatican II,” and De Mattei says that papal assertion of the hermeneutic of continuity is invitation to oppose the progressivists of that school (as though it was not something acceptable to do before hand).  Is he suggesting that there is no middle way between the school of Bologna and the school of De Mattei?  The pope does not appear to be supporting either the progressivist or the traditionalist school.

What is clear is that De Mattei further uses the observation of the Holy Father, that the dialogue of reason and faith guided by the right interpretation of the Council should continue, as a pretext to challenge the “hermeneutic of continuity” itself.  De Mattei’s reference to Monsignor Brunero Gherardini as being at the forefront of the debate “opened” by the papal address of December 22, 2005, makes his intentions clear, as Gherardini expressly and repeatedly challenges the possibility of the hermeneutic of continuity.  In fact, Basil Valuet in “Perché non sono d’accordo con Gherardini, De Mattei, Rhonheimer” charges Gherardini with rejecting “some formal teachings of Vatican II (“Lumen Gentium” [LG], “Nostra Aetate”, “Gaudium et Spes” [GS] and “Dignitatis Humanae” [DH]).”  At the same time, Valuet sees that De Mattei is not simply countering the position of the School of Bologna, but uses a faulty historical analysis to support Gherardini’s thesis that one must follow Tradition before the magisterium.

Indeed, later on in “A Council Can Also Make Mistakes” De Mattei states the following:

The criticism of Marchetto and Introvigne seems to have a single purpose: to close off preemptively that debate which Benedict XVI has opened with an invitation to develop it. […]

Marchetto and Introvigne criticize De Mattei for challenging the hermeneutic of continuity itself.  De Mattei thinks the pope welcomes a challenge to his interpretation of the Council and De Mattei does so on the basis of a specious interpretation of the pope’s statement.

Unfortunately, it now is just generally assumed by the anticonciliar enthusiasts that the pope really did invite theologians, historians, bloggers and armchair prognosticators to challenge him on the very existence and possibility of interpreting the Second Vatican Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity.

Note that the question answered here is not whether the traditionalists are right in challenging the hermeneutic of continuity.  That will be answered in the next post. The question here is simply whether the Holy Father has really invited or encouraged the debate over the possibility of an interpretation of the Council based on a hermeneutic of continuity.  He has not.