On June 9th, Milroy Joseph, concluded his contribution to Second Sight with the words: “Vatican II succeeded greatly in the creation of disenchantment and ‘squabbling’ at all levels; and the fundamental reason – as I see it – is the break with Tradition. Finally, if you wish to witness what the Catholic Church used to be, please visit a service of the Society of Pius X. You will soon see the difference between the ‘boogie woogie’ church and Tradition.”
I was particularly interested in this because the issues raised by the Society of Pius X have never been aired on this Blog, and because there is currently active talk of some members of the Society being reconciled to Rome, probably in a personal prelature. But no champions of the Society have been willing to share their views with us – at least, as yet. So I think it would be valuable for us to look at some points of interest, and to discuss them. I will be as fair as I can, but I am all the more eager that someone who understands the Society better than I will jump in and correct me.
On this occasion I wish to look at the Council as a whole.
When the Council concluded, many Catholics of substance believed that it would introduce a large number of welcome changes in the Church – which would benefit from the developments in a way that not only left the identity of the Church intact but would in fact make the face of Christ all the more clearly seen in the Mystical Body.
But it didn’t work out quite like that. Very soon we were overrun with a horde of progressive Catholics whose only common denominator appeared to be a lack of real theological knowledge. Many priests, secular and regular, waltzed out of their vocations – in some instances with a bride on their arms. It seemed to many Catholics that, although the Church had a certain primacy of tradition, in reality God called people equally through different Christian and non-Christian pathways. And of course the Church’s authority to teach the moral law came second by a long chalk to the individual conscience. These were the years when a steep decline in all the (western) Catholic statistics took place – church attendance, baptisms, marriages, vocations.
I recall my father, who had been a powerful supporter of the Council, reviewing all this with the same jaundiced eye with which Luther must have regarded the Peasants’ Revolt. Not what was intended at all.
Archbishop Lefebvre, and so the Society of Pius X, disagreed with the Council on specific points – most of which we will look at on other occasions. But to be able to do so consistently it was necessary to show that Vatican II did not have the binding authority of, say, Trent. But if it were more correctly stylised as a pastoral council – interpreted as primarily exhortation without any intention to bind with authority – it could be regarded as a series of unfortunate mistakes inconsistent with Catholic tradition. In course of time the Church could be steered back from its several follies.
So what is the correct interpretation? Fortunately, we have a clear statement from Paul VI, In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statement of dogmas that would be endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the supreme ordinary Magisterium. This ordinary Magisterium, which is so obviously official, has to be accepted with docility, and sincerity by all the faithful, in accordance with the mind of the Council on the nature and aims of the individual documents (General Audience of 12 January 1966).
At a longer view, we have John Paul II making it clear that our current course should be the understanding and the practice held out to us by the Council. Pope Benedict believes that many tendencies following the Council have been destructive; but his remedy is not repudiation but closer attention to the Council documents themselves rather than unjustified interpretations.
My conclusion would be that, although the conciliar documents may be refined by deeper understanding, there is simply no room for picking and choosing among the Council’s statements. And that, in understanding them in the light of the traditions of the Church, we will find the right ways for the Church to grow, while avoiding the eccentricities and over-enthusiasms of the post conciliar period.
What do you think? Was Vatican II a good thing, a bad thing, or the curate’s egg? And if the last, which are good and bad parts?
On other occasions I shall look at some of the specific points which the Society of Pius X emphasises.