Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Vatican II, round 2

Last week I mentioned in the course of another post on Vatican II that I'd read several articles worth linking to, but of course then I got busy and forgot about it... (Funny how that's so often a theme in life.)

Still, good article ought not be forgotten, and as a member of the post Vatican II generation, the council and its aftermath is a source of enduring interest for me, since I wasn't around for it and yet it seems to have effected nearly everything about Catholicism as I experience it.

Philip Blosser got permission to republish at the end of last month an article from New Oxford Review: "Why the Second Vatican Council Was a Good Thing & Is More Important Than Ever" by John Lamont.

Now, the gradual decline into isolation and snarkiness of NOR over the last decade has, to my mind, been a huge loss for orthodox Catholic readers, but this article definitely has the old flame burning bright. If you don't like NOR, please click through and give it a read anyway, it's a thoughtful piece and worth reading in entirety.

What's interesting about the article is that it's written from the point of view of a traditional leaning Catholic who nonetheless sees Vatican II very important to the revitalization of the Church. Lamont's purpose is as follows:

In its June 2004 issue, the NOR [New Oxford Review] asked the following question apropos of an article in Crisis magazine by George Sim Johnston: "Johnston's subtitle is 'Why Vatican II Was Necessary.' We'd dearly like to know why it was. We can think of a few things that Vatican II did that were good and necessary -- but only a few -- and we doubt if an ecumenical council was necessary to accomplish them." This is an excellent question that needs an answer, and this article was written to take up the challenge posed by it. It will not attempt to show that the Second Vatican Council was necessary, because it wasn't -- the Church would have survived if it had never happened -- but rather that it was a good thing.

Lamont goes on to explain what weaknesses had developed in the Church which Vatican II sought to correct:

The internal problems for which the Council was an appropriate remedy were subtler, deeper, and more difficult to discern. Following such scholars as Louis Bouyer, Alasdair MacIntyre (pictured left), and Servais Pinckaers, I see these problems as ultimately stemming from the influence of nominalism on Catholic thought in the late Middle Ages, an influence that gave rise to Protestantism, and that in the emergency of contriving a Catholic response to Protestantism was not properly eradicated. This noxious influence, which affected the whole spectrum of Catholic life and spirituality, consisted in a particular understanding of happiness and the will, which can be sen by contrasting the thought of St. Thomas and William of Ockham on these subjects. For St. Thomas, the will is directed by its nature toward goodness itself, the enjoyment of which constitutes happiness. Freedom consists in the ability to achieve this end; so the virtues confer freedom, and vices are enslaving. For Ockham, on the other hand, there is nothing the will seeks of necessity, and freedom consists purely in the ability to choose between contrary alternatives. Natue and virtue drop out of the picture, and the sole basis for morality is the obligation imposed by divine commands. Because God's freedom must be absolute, it is the simple fact of His commanding something that makes it good; if He had commanded murder, sodomy, or idolatry, these things would have been good and their opposites evil. Although these extreme views did not become generally accepted, the basic idea of seeing religion and morality in terms of obedience to commands, rather than in terms of fulfillment of the end of man, persisted.

The tendency to identify religion with obedience to orders, and to separate it from happiness and truth, is the fundamental internal weakness that the Council needed to address, and also the cause of the disaster that followed it. One manifestation of this tendency was anti-intellectualism and hostility to reason. If faith is a matter of obeying orders, then asking questions about Catholic belief is insubordinate; questioning the reasons for orders is what barrack-room lawyers do. This meant that faithful Catholics who were not scholars tended to become ignorant and intellectually lazy, while Catholic scholars often adopted the psychology of rebellious adolescents. Both groups became indifferent to reasoned argument, not just because of lack of intelligence and proper education, but because at the deepest level they felt that such argument was a tool for affecting behavior rather than a guide to truth. Only such indifference could make possible the wide influence of an obviously mediocrity and charlatan such as Teilhard de Chardin (compare his effect on Catholics to that of a real intellect and scholar such as Etienne Gilson).

The chaos resulting from the implementation of the council was, in Lamont's view, the result of the entrenchment of the very problems that the council sought to correct:

These attempts to address this fundamental weakness, however, were received by a Church that was still enthralled by them. That is what explains the disasters that followed the Council. Its attempts at overcoming the nominalist mindset were interpreted as rejecting the previous requirement of obedience. This freed all the bitterness and resentment that had been produced by such obedience, a bitterness untrammeled by any intellectual discipline or loyalty to truth.

He goes on to blame the Novus Order far more than I would for contributing to the post-Vatican II breakdown. Though far from being a liturgist, it seems to me that there is certainly nothing defective about the Novus Ordo as a rite, the problems have been with the Novus Ordo being abused in ways that were certainly never intended by those who originally created it.

I do think there can be some question as to whether simultaneously creating a new rite and allowing exclusive use of the vernacular right after a major council was pastorally a good idea. To the council fathers themselves the reasons may have seemed quite clear, but I think to many of the faithful (who had not been kept well informed at all about the council and its teachings) it seemed very much as if all of a sudden everything was being changed, and anything that hadn't been changed yet might be changed soon.

In order to avoid alarming and scandalizing lay Catholics who in many cases may not have been clear on the differences between doctrine, discipline and practice, it seems like a more gradual process might have been wiser. On the other hand, as I once heard an executive say regarding business change, sometimes change is like detox: it's going to be terrible no matter when you do it, so you might as well get through it quickly. Perhaps that's what the US bishops had in mind.

The other challenge coming out of Vatican II was that the shepherds themselves weren't in the best of shape. From the number of priests ordained in the 50s and 60s who we all heard growing up saying things like, "Back then everything was a sin. Eating meat on Friday could send you to hell." I have to assume that one of the major obstacles to evangelizing people about the council was that a lot of the priests and religious were themselves confused about the differences between doctrine, discipline and practice, and thus added to the confusion after the council by preaching confusion from the pulpit.

I've run into a few other interesting Vatican II articles recently, so there's more to come.


Todd said...

Why bother with the articles when you can read the real thing? We're involved in a discussion on the third document this year at my web site.

Darwin said...

I do certainly have an interest in the documents of Vatican II (I hadn't realized you'd started up on Apostolicam Actuositatem again, but after seeing your link I dropped by) but I think there's a separate and legitimate interest in the dynamics of why the fallout of the council was the way it was. As well as a pastoral and theological event, it was a major historical and cultural event in the history of the Church in this century.