Friday, May 11, 2012

The World --Friend or Foe?

Are those who oppose the reforms of Vatican II conservative or liberal?

In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council the label "conservative" has been applied to those who want to go back to the Church as it was in the 1950s: Tridentine Mass, decisively clerical leadership, and papal (curial) control of Church doctrine and discipline.

Those who want to see a more vigorous application of the reforms proposed by the Council are labeled "liberals."

Even during the Council's sessions the majority of the bishops were described as "progressives" and the minority were called "traditionalists."

One can argue whether those labels are accurate. A true conservative could be one who wants to go back to the practices of the Church as they were at the beginning: liturgy in the vernacular, popular election of bishops, married priests, biblically based theology and catechesis.

A liberal, then, would be one who wants to hold fast to the changes in the Church, especially those of the Middle Ages: Latin (papal) liturgy, centralization in Rome, European cultural accretions, emphasis on the separation of clergy and laity.

In that light today's conservatives are really liberals, and the liberals are really the conservatives.

More recently discussions (disagreements) about Vatican II have been couched in terms of continuity versus event (aka discontinuity).

 Some commentators prefer to emphasize Vatican II as an event, as a moment of major change, a rupture; in opposition are those who emphasize the continuity of Vatican II teachings with the teachings of past councils.

Very few proponents of Vatican II have suggested that the Council broke with the previous magisterium. Those who hail the pastoral orientation of Vatican II and mark significant change in the practices and orientation of the Council do not think it caused a rupture.

The pivotal question revolves around the idea of development of doctrine. Pope John XXIII reminded the Council fathers that doctrine does not change but the way in which the truth is expressed may have to change in order to express the truth accurately.

Today's theologians, however, tend to avoid both liberal/conservative and continuity/discontinuity. They see a difference that goes beyond change or no change, beyond preference for the past versus possibilities for the future, beyond clerical vs. lay,  married priests vs. celibacy, curia vs. synod of bishops, event vs. continuity.

The division between those who promote Vatican II and those who shy away from it is perhaps based more on attitude toward the world.

Is the world fundamentally good, or fundamentally evil?

The Council Fathers between 1962 and 1965 gave the Church a review and revision of Catholic theology and practice. In the past 50 years the Church has had the opportunity to reflect upon that gift and decide whether to receive it, reject it, or take some parts and leave others.

Many of the current tensions in the Church stem from how the Council has been received. It is possible to analyze the Council's reception based on the attitudes of those receiving it. Those who think of the world in friendly terms tend to affirm and promote Vatican II, while those who think of the world as a hostile environment tend to be critical and hesitant.

Massimo Faggioli,  professor of theology at the University of St Thomas (St Paul MN) describes the relationship between Church and world as "a core issue of the council."

He says, "It is not an overstatement to affirm that this issue was the origin of a major rift in the interpretation of the council, a rift much more visible after the council than during it."

And the two sides of this rift are labeled "neo-Augustinian" and "neo-Thomistic."

Scholar Ormand Rush explains, "The Augustinian school is wanting to set church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should always be suspicious and distrustful of it."

Rush describes the Thomistic view as reflecting openness to the world. It is not the Thomism of neo-Scholasticism, but it emphasizes responding to the "signs of the times" and living out faith in a very real world. It is a neo-Thomism inasmuch as it is using Aquinas's attentiveness to the world.

Perhaps the litmus test of whether one is neo-Thomistic or neo-Augustianian is how one receives Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World): "The joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of people today...are also the joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ..."(1). And "Christians can have nothing more at heart than to be of ever more generous and effective service to humanity in the modern world" (93).

The majority of bishops at Vatican II would be labeled "neo-Thomistic."

Massimo Faggioli's new book Vatican II The Battle For Meaning (Paulist Press, 2012) is a worthy read.

1 comment:

  1. You begin by referring to "those who oppose the reforms of Vatican II".

    Can you provide an example or examples of persons who say they oppose the reforms of Vatican II?