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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What does the Pope really think about the Council?

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Extract from his "Principles of Catholic Theology".
I regard as the third indication (Cathcon after the odious Dutch Catechism and the sight of priests on the barricades in 1968) the Congress organized by the editors of Concilium in Brüssels in 1970 to mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of their periodical. The meeting was obviously intended as an antithesis to the congress of theologians initiated by the Pope and supported by innumerable cardinals, archbishops and bishops that was held in Rome in 1966 and by means of which Rome had attempted to keep the newly awakened power of theology in consonance with the hierarchy; but also evident was a certain unmistakable antithesis to the International Pontifical Commission of Theologians founded in 1969. Concilium sought to establish itself, on the model of the ancient rights of the Sorbonne, as the true centre of teaching and teachers in the Church, to become the real rallying-place of theologians from all over the world. But Brussels be¬came, in fact, a turning point after which the authority of that union for progress began to crack. The great scholars associated with Concilium— Rahner, Congar, Schillebeeckx, Küng—were not as united as they had thought. Participants were often offended by the manner in which they were obliged to associate themselves with Statements in the preparation of which they had had no share. They could no longer remain oblivious of a fact of which many of them had previously been unaware: that "progress" no longer represented a unified concept and that, in many particulars, it was perilously close to dissociating itself from the core of Christian tradition.

In the public consciousness of the Church in Germany, the demise of Publik became, ultimately, the event that marked the end of these developments. Anyone who reads the passionate comments cannot help cannot help wondering why the end of a publication that had not yet made its mark could cause such a breach in the history of salvation, could be a '-return to the ghetto". In fact, however, the failure of the attempt begun with such high aspirations meant the farewell to an illusion that had found there the sign of its own reality. For the leaders of postconciliar progressivism, Publik had become the place where Church and world united, where the trauma of the ghetto was overcome. But—the world did not accept it. Publik never ceased to be an unreal world created by intellectuals.

Only since that time has it become generally clear to the Church that progress no longer represents a unified force and that it is no longer possible to act in terms of the simple options offered by the Council. During the Council, the majority of bishops and theologians had shared a mutual concern to combat what was obsolete and to teach the courageous acceptance of the new as a duty for.the Church of today. Since then it seems to be generally accepted that, to be in the right, one has only to affirm the new and reject the old. Anyone who objected, as Hans Urs von Balthasar was alone in doing, (Footnote Two programmatic texts published during the early postconciliar period might be mentioned here: Weristein Christ? (Einsiedeln, 1965) and Cordula oder der Ernstfall (1966). that the program of the Council was not so easily realizable was counted among those who had not read the signs of the time. Only when the ruins of false hopes came crashing down was certainty shattered and new questions raised.

It is perhaps too soon to say that for some time now the era of crisis has been changing into an era of consolidation. Let us ask, first, what we are to think of what has taken place thus far. The summary I have presented in a few short pages seems to suggest a negative diagnosis. Is anything left but the heaped-up ruins of unsuccessful experiments? Has Gaudium et spes been definitively translated into luctus et angor? (footnote In the conciliar text, "luctus et angor" (grief and anguish) are the words that immediately follow the introductory words "Gaudium et spes".) Was the Council a wrong road that we must now retrace if we are to save the Church? The voices of those who say that it was are becoming louder and their followers more numerous. Among the more obvious phenomena of the last years must be counted the increasing number of integralist groups in which the desire for piety, for the sense of the mystery, is finding satisfaction. We must be on our guard against minimizing these movements. Without a doubt, they represent a sectarian zealotry that is the antithesis of Catholicity. We cannot resist them too firmly. But we must likewise ask ourselves, in all earnestness, why such contractions and distortions of faith and piety have such an effect and are able to attract those who, by the basic conviction of their faith as well as by personal inclination, are in no way attracted by sectarianism. What drives them into a milieu in which they do not belong? Why have they lost the feeling of being at home in the larger Church? Are all their reproaches unfounded? Is it not, for example, really strange that we have never heard bishops react as strongly against distortions in the heart of the liturgy as they react today against the use of a Missal of the Church that, after all, has been in existence since the time of Pius V? Let it be said again: we should not adopt a sectarian attitude, but neither should we omit the examination of conscience to which these facts compel us.

What shall I say? First of all, one thing seems to me to have become abundantly clear in the course of these ten years. An interpretation of the Council that understands its dogmatic texts as mere preludes to a still unattained conciliar spirit, that regards the whole as just a preparation for Gaudium et spes and that looks upon the latter text as just the beginning of an unswerving course toward an ever greater union with what is called progress—such an interpretation is not only contrary to what the Council Fathers intended and meant, it has been reduced ad absurdum by the course of events. Where the spirit of the Council is turned against the word of the Council and is vaguely regarded as a distillation from the development that evolved from the "Pastoral Constitution", this spirit becomes a spectre and leads to meaninglessness. The upheavals caused by such a concept are so obvious that their existence cannot be seriously disputed. In like manner, it has become clear that the world, in its modern form, is far from being a unified entity. Let it be said once for all: the progress of the Church cannot consist in a belated embrace of the modern world—the theology of Latin America has made that all too clear to us and has demonstrated thereby the rightness of its cry for liberation. If our criticism of the events of the decade after the Council has guided us to these insights, if it has brought us to the realization that we must interpret Vatican Council II as a whole and that our interpretation must be oriented toward the central theological texts, then our reflections could become fruitful for the whole Church and could help her to unite in sensible reform. The "Constitution on the Church" is not to be evaluated in terms of the "Pastoral Constitution", and certainly not in terms of an isolated reading of the intention expressed in the prefatory paragraphs, but vice versa: only the whole in its proper orientation is truly the spirit of the Council.

Does this mean that the Council itself must be revoked? Certainly not. It means only that the real reception of the Council has not yet even begun. What devastated the Church in the decade after the Council was not the Council but the refusal to accept it. This becomes clear precisely in the history of the influence of Gaudium et spes. What was identified with the Council was, for the most part, the expression of an attitude that did not coincide with the Statements to be found in the text itself, although it is recognizable as a tendency in its development and in some of its individual formulations. The task is not, therefore, to suppress the Council but to discover the real Council and to deepen its true intention in the light of present experience. That means that there can be no return to the Syllabus, which may have marked the first stage in the confrontation with liberalism and a newly conceived Marxism but cannot be the last stage. In the long run, neither embrace nor ghetto can solve for Christians the problem of the modern world. The fact is, as Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out as early as 1952, that the "demolition of the bastions" is a long-overdue task. The Church cannot choose the times in which she will live. After Constantine, she was obliged to find a mode of coexistence with the world other than that necessitated by the persecutions of the preceding age. But it bespeaks a foolish romanticism to bemoan the change that occurred with Constantine while we ourselves fall at the feet of the world from which we profess our desire to liberate the Church. The struggle between imperium and sacerdotium in the Middle Ages, the dispute about the "enlightened" concept of State churches at the beginning of the modern age, were attempts to come to terms with the difficult problems created in its various epochs by a world that had become Christian. In an age of the secular State and of Marxist messianism, in an age of worldwide economic and social problems, in an age when the world is dominated by science, the Church, too, faces anew the question of her relationship with the world and its needs. She must relinquish many of the things that have hitherto spelled security for her and that she has taken for granted. She must demolish longstanding bastions and trust solely to the shield of faith. But the demolition of bastions cannot mean that she no longer has anything to defend or that she can live by forces other than those that brought her forth: the blood and water from the pierced side of the crucified Lord (Jn 19:31-37). "In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world" (Jn 16:33). That is true today, too.



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