Recently, we've seen Bishop Robert Barron produce a video series on the purpose and legacy of the Council, in order to highlight the best aspects of it, and to help the faithful, "especially young Catholics", "to fully understand and re-appropriate Vatican II". Secondarily, Bishop Barron’s initiative also aims at countering the influence of a host of opponents to the Council, who are obviously gaining influence on social networks.
I believe that there are four essential ways for Catholics to position themselves today in relation to Vatican II. If we ask a group of faithful "Was the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican a good thing for the Church?", some will enthusiastically answer "Yes!", others will say "Yes, but something went wrong somewhere", others will respond "Yes, obviously, but it's just the beginning of what’s really needed in the Church today", and finally others will declare, "No, it’s a catastrophe”!
So, there is a group of enthusiastic supporters of Vatican II, who give thanks to God for it; a group of perplexed observers, welcoming the Council, but deploring what finally came out of it or what was done with it, often without respecting the original intention of the Council Fathers; a group of unsatisfied supporters, anxious to go further in the modernization of the Church; and a group of fierce opponents who would like to return to the antimodern Church of Pius X. In my next two articles, I would like to examine each of these viewpoints on the Council in more detail.
Group n° 1: The Supporters
The supporters of the Council, who consider its reforms to be balanced and make the case for their full implementation, avoiding any form of liberal or fundamentalist deviation, put forward the fact that:
1) the tremendous value of Vatican II comes from the fact that, in a way, it synthesizes all the renewal efforts that preceded it in the 20th century (biblical renewal, liturgical renewal, patristic renewal, etc.)
2) The work of the Council Fathers allowed this effort of renewal to prevail and the spirit of reform to triumph, in a context where, no long before, such a spirit had often been suspected, by a reluctant Roman authority, of introducing into the Church ideas and practices considered theologically problematic or pastorally questionable.
3) The seal of the Council and the authority of the Church have made it possible to perpetuate this precious heritage to this day. In this regard, the Church is especially indebted to John Paul II and Benedict VXI.
4) we must defend this heritage today (which is in continuity with the Church's great two-thousand-year-old tradition), against anti-modern reactionary movements and hypermodern progressive movements.
Group n° 2: The Bewildered :
Those who have mixed feelings about the Council:
1) recognize the merits of John XXIII's plan of aggiornamento, which aimed at breaking with the siege mentality that prevailed in the Church at that time and which too exclusively conditioned her relations with the modern world, seen above all as a mortal threat by the antimodernist current.
2) consider the main theological and pastoral developments of Vatican II in the ecclesiological field (role of the laity, episcopal collegiality, etc.), the ecumenical and interreligious fields, and the political field (recognition of religious freedom) to be well inspired and well balanced.
But these same people:
3) cannot fail to see what misappropriation and distortion of their message the documents of Vatican II have been subjected to in the name of the Council’s spirit.
4) cannot fail to observe that Vatican II's attempt at ecclesial renewal was followed by a dramatic fall in the participation of the faithful in the sacraments and an acceleration of the secularization process of the West. Without seeing the Council as an exclusive cause or sufficient explanation for this obvious decline, they however allow themselves to examine what went wrong at, in or around the Council, in terms of theological reflection, renewal management and pastoral implementation.
The second and final part of this article is to be found here.