Thursday, February 23, 2012

Celebrating Vatican II

Not everyone in the Catholic world is eager to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Writing from Rome, Drew Christiansen, SJ, editor of America magazine, said in the February 20, 2012, edition, "I have been here a week and seen no reference to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, even in the tourist shops attuned to every other observance."

On the other hand the newly-formed Association of US Catholic priests (AUSCP) has planned a conference for June in Tampa, Florida, with the theme, "Keeping Alive the Vision and Passion of Vatican II." And Catholic University of  America, Washington DC, is sponsoring a four-day conference in September titled "Reform and Renewal: Vatican II after 50 Years."

Undoubtedly Church officials in Rome will in some measure commemorate the council's anniversary, but will they celebrate it?

I suspect they will use the occasion to repeat their interpretation that the council is fully in continuity with tradition as opposed to those who interpret the council as a rupture in the history of Catholicism.

The distinction between "continuity" and "rupture" arose when a symposium held in Bologna in 1996 used the term "event" to describe Vatican II. Some theologians and members of the hierarchy rejected the idea that the council was an event because in historical sociology an "event" is understood to be a detachment from the ordinary or traditional.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) weighed in against calling the council an event, saying, "There is no "pre-" or "post-" conciliar Church...There are no leaps in its history, there are no fractures, and there is no break in continuity. In no wise did the Council intend to introduce a temporal dichotomy in the Church."

Cardinal Camelo Ruini criticized lay theologian Giuseppe Alberigo, a participant in the "Bologna school," for describing the council as event, noting that his use of the term "event" was a borrowing from secular social science and implied a rupture, a change from received norms and ways.

In his analysis of this controversy, church historian John O'Malley writes, "I do not see that Alberigo and others who have used 'event' as an instrument to interpret the council have given it the radical meaning that their critics attribute to them."

Commenting on Alberigo's five-volume history of the council, O'Malley continues, "Nowhere in the Alberigo volumes is there the slightest suggestion that 'new beginning' meant in any way a rupture in the faith of the Church or a diminution of any dogma."

Listening to the two sides of this controversy, one might well conclude that Rome is rightly concerned that no one should think of Vatican II as a dogmatic break with the past, and it wasn't. At the same time there is reason to acknowledge that something new did occur in this 21st ecumenical council that makes it different from the previous twenty.

As cardinal and now as pope, Joseph Ratzinger has cautioned those who are enthusiastic about Vatican II to remain faithful to the letter of the council and to be leery of embracing the so-called spirit of the council.

O'Malley points out the inadequacy of simply appealing to the spirit of the council since your spirit of the council is not necessarily my spirit of the council. At the same time he acknowledges that there was in the council a certain orientation or direction that can rightly be called its spirit.

The work and influence of Vatican II are far from over. This upcoming golden anniversary commemoration is pregnant with possibilities for reviewing the letter and releasing the spirit.

Not everyone in the Catholic Church is eager to celebrate Vatican II, but, God willing, all will commemorate it and re-discover Pope John XXIII's dream for "a new Pentecost in our time."

No comments:

Post a Comment