Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Magna Carta of the Holy Spirit?

Melancholicus was going to turn over a new leaf in 2009 and cease tilting at the council, even if only because his readers are probably weary with his incessant polemic. But this article expresses a view one should have hoped would have gone the way of the dodo by now. One is disheartened to find it still alive and kicking even fifty years after the council was called.

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue is one of the more orthodox and impressive prelates in a hierarchy of wolves and hirelings. Last year he drew praise for his publications Fit For Mission? Schools and Fit For Mission? Church in which genuine Catholic doctrine is upheld in clear and unambiguous terms.

But nonsense is still nonsense, regardless of the pen whence it proceeds, and the following article written by bishop O’Donoghue for the Catholic Herald just cries out for fisking. Let the reader count the number of ebullient bursts of sunshine in his rhapsodical eulogy of the council. We might be reading Gaudium et Spes.

A Magna Carta of the Holy Spirit

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue on why Vatican II still matters
23 January 2009

On January 25 we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII’s convocation of the Second Vatican Council.

There is a story I’d like to recount that conveys something of the frame of mind that existed before the Council among some English bishops. Canon Oliver Kelly, my predecessor as Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, was in a meeting with Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster (1956-1963).

Cardinal Godfrey, waxing eloquently about the purpose of the future Council, walked over to his bookcase and picked out one of the 12 bound volumes containing the draft schemas prepared for debate by the Council Fathers. Fondling the book in his hands, Cardinal Godfrey declared the schemas marvellous and suggested that nothing could possibly be added to them. “It will all be over in three months!” he said [indeed it would have been, and the Church would have benefitted from it, and Cardinal Godfrey was right: the schemas were marvellous. Precise, concise and to the point. Unmistakable Catholic doctrine. But that was before the council was hijacked by the liberal faction ON ITS VERY FIRST DAY and thus deflected from the course originally charted for it by Pope John and the commissions he appointed. The good bishop clearly hasn’t read Fr. Wiltgen, or Romano Amerio, or Michael Davies, much less Archbishop Lefebvre. So instead of theologically precise, accurate and clear documents, we had a council that passed verbose and turgid ambiguities, under cover of which toxic novelties were introduced into the life of the Church the fruit of which is all too apparent today. Bishop O’Donoghue may rejoice in this anniversary, but given the ecclesiastical history of the past half-century, to my mind it is no matter for rejoicing].

However, the reality of the Council was very different [and the rest, sadly, is history].

In November 1962, after heated debate about the sources of Revelation, the pre-prepared schema De Fontibus Revelationis was rejected by the Council Fathers, later to be replaced by the wonderful Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation, Dei Verbum [why is Dei Verbum wonderful, whereas De Fontibus Revelationis was not? Is it because Dei Verbum became one of the official documents of the council, and that is why it is so wonderful? Or is it not rather because the former schema was precise and to the point, whereas Dei Verbum is manifestly lacking in both concision and precision, instead replete with ambiguous phrasing sufficiently open-ended it can be interpreted in accordance with the prejudices of the reader?].

This willingness not to be constrained by the pre-prepared schema [willingness NOT TO BE CONSTRAINED?? What sort of a re-writing of history is this?] set the precedent for a far-reaching and creative [hah!] debate among the Council Fathers, lasting three years and producing a body of documents that are a Magna Carta of the Holy Spirit for the modern Church [that is merely your opinion, my lord bishop, and as such neither I nor any other Catholic is bound to share it]. If we truly lived by the decisions of Vatican II we would know how to balance continuity and change, ressourcement and aggiornamento [of course we would, since we would follow a council that was neither hot nor cold, neither up nor down, neither left nor right, neither truly traditional nor truly novel, neither crystal clear nor totally obscure, neither all for the Church nor all for the world, in a word, the very epitome of mediocrity].

Looking back across the years we are prone to forget, or dismiss as naïve, the sheer energy and hope of the Sixties, a decade that saw the rise of the modern world from the wreckage of the Second World War. It was the age of President John F Kennedy, the first manned space flights, the Third World’s green revolution in agriculture, the civil rights movement, and women’s rights [the ’sixties were also the age of Tsar Bomba, the Cuban missile crisis, the proliferation of mind-altering drugs, the legalization of abortion in the UK, the revolt of the youth against both morality and restraint, and a general revolt even among clergy and religious, against the authority of the Church. Surely bishop O’Donoghue does not look back on the anarchy and dissent which greeted Humanae Vitae with nostalgia? And what gives with the eulogising of John F Kennedy? Surely the bishop cannot be aware of how bad an example that profoundly disappointing family has been for Catholics, especially those involved in political life, ever since?].

The Council Fathers judged rightly that it was time for the Church to find a new language to speak the eternal truths of Faith to modern men and women. I remember the excitement when people heard the Church speaking in a way that was straightforward, biblical, personal, and pastoral [indeed so straightforward was the Church’s new way of speaking that today nearly everybody under the age of 65 has an heretical understanding of the Catholic faith. One might say that when the Church begins proclaiming Christianity in a secular idiom, she will end by proclaiming secularism in a Christian idiom. Can the good bishop deny that such has been the result of this ill-conceived experiment?].

As I wrote in Fit for Mission? Church: “It was as if we were in Galilee again during those heady days when the apostles walked with the Lord, hearing the liberating truth of His words and seeing His love, bringing miracles to all wounded by sin, sickness and doubt [the ’sixties reminded you of this, did it, my lord bishop? What on earth were you smoking?]. And the world flocked to Him, knowing that He spoke with power and authority. And the world flocked to Rome – through the media – during the Council knowing that something wonderful was happening, Christ was speaking His words of hope and healing with authority to the peoples of our times.” [No, no, no and no! Pre-programmed by the media, who exerted an undue and baleful influence on the public perception of the council, the world waited for the Church to announce she was going to change. This influence was not confined to the lay readers of newspapers and magazines in western countries; it was exerted even upon clergy and upon the very council fathers themselves. The world was not waiting for Christ to speak “words of hope and healing with authority to the peoples of our times” but for a definitive sign that after so many centuries of resisting the Weltanschauung of the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church was finally going to embrace the world on the world’s own terms—and not before time too.]

I really hope that in 2009 we all return to the documents of the Council, especially the four Constitutions, because they are our direct link to a time in the life of the Church dramatically blessed by the Holy Spirit [once again, my lord bishop, this is your personal opinion, and I do not share it. It is difficult for me, in the light of everything that took place then and in subsequent years, to regard the early ’sixties as in any way “a time in the life of the Church dramatically blessed by the Holy Spirit”. Nevertheless, you have a point, for it is important that the Church as a matter of urgency clarify the ambiguities and contradictions that abound in the text of the decrees. Until this is done definitively, the council—even in its officially-promulgated documents—will continue ever more to be a source of confusion and dissidence for clergy and laity alike.]

I have little sympathy with those who argue that we should somehow get past the documents of the Council – which they say are fatally flawed by compromise and politics – and try to re-construct the “event” of the Council in order to know the “true” intentions of the Council Fathers and periti [theological advisers]. [Hmm. Who is he attacking here? Much like the documents he so highly praises, his Grace of Lancaster’s words are ambiguous on this point and could be interpreted either way.]

Just as many scripture scholars involved in the historical search for Jesus created a “Jesus” that merely reflected themselves, there is the danger that those involved in the historical search for the Council will create a picture of the “Council” that reflects their own likes and dislikes. If Catholics really knew the documents of the Council there would not be so much confusion about what they actually say: [Yes, but how can Catholics “really know the documents of the Council”, when the documents are sufficiently open-ended as to be susceptible to widely varying and even mutually-exclusive interpretations? Does it not strike the good bishop that there must be something seriously wrong with this council if there is a danger that even the study of its official documents will create for Catholics “a picture of the Council” that reflects merely “their own likes and dislikes”? Does this not rather highlight the dangerous ambiguity present in the conciliar texts? His Grace then goes on to cite examples of policies called for by the council documents which run contrary to the popular perception—a useful illustration of how the council has been mishandled by those responsible for its implementation, but does this not illustrate the failure of the council to convey its own message when so many different (and mutually-exclusive) interpretations exist?]

1) Catholics could not continue to live lives focused on their own prosperity if they truly knew that Gaudium et Spes 69 teaches, among other things, that we must “feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him” [Did we need the convocation of an ecumenical council at great labour and expense just to tell us this? Has this not rather been perennial Catholic social teaching for centuries?].

2) Catholics could not say that Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae, went against Vatican II if they knew that Gaudium et Spes 51 teaches that couples “may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law” [Here we have an example of one norm contradicting another within the same document, since Guadium et Spes also says (§52) “Those too who are skilled in other sciences, notably the medical, biological, social and psychological, can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family along with peace of conscience if by pooling their efforts they labor to explain more thoroughly the various conditions favoring a proper regulation of births” which, on the face of it, is hardly a disavowal of contraception. In fact it takes some reading and re-reading to figure out what it means, and even then we’re not sure].

3) Catholics would not mock the Mass of Paul VI if they accepted that Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 teaches that “the use of the vernacular... may frequently be of great advantage to the people” [O come on. As though the only thing amiss with the Mass of Paul VI is that it is celebrated in the vernacular. Such is the very least of its problems].

4) Catholics would not say that Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum went against Vatican II if they knew that Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 teaches that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite”. [His Grace fails to notice the disorientating confusion inherent in Sacrosanctum Concilium, which in one and the same paragraph mandates the retention of Latin but at the same time permits the vernacular! Furthermore, those bishops, clergy and laity who object to the Church’s traditional liturgy do so not for the language wherein it is celebrated, but for reasons of ecclesiology. Surely his Grace is aware of the enormous ecclesiological cleavage between Tradition and the Revolution, yet he chooses to reduce it to a simple matter of linguistic preference. I am not impressed.]

Looking back at the ages of the saints, such as St Francis, St Clare and St Dominic, it’s tempting to think: “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have lived during that golden age, when the Church was young and creative?” [And where are the saints of the ’sixties? Ah, silly me, here they come:]

It is time for us to wake up to the fact that during and after the Council, giants have walked among us: Blessed John XXIII, Blessed Mother Teresa, Servant of God Pope John Paul II, Servant of God Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Henri de Lubac, Fr Karl Rahner SJ, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Brother Roger of Taizé, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Chiara Lubich, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Pope Benedict XVI, and many more [this is a motley crew, and no mistake. I can understand the inclusion of John XXIII, Benedict XVI, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, (to an extent) John Paul II, and even Paul VI, Mother Teresa and Cardinal de Lubac, but Rahner?? Von Balthasar?? Chiara Lubich??? Brother Roger of Taizé???? In the immortal words of Alcuin, Quid Ingeld cum Christo? It reminds me of the evil spirit in Acts 19:15 saying to the sons of Sceva “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”].

I suspect that future generations will look back and say: “Oh, to have lived in times so blessed by the Holy Spirit!” [Did the Israelites look back on their forty years’ wandering in the desert with wistful yearning? I think not. Nor will Catholics of a future age look back with nostalgia upon the wretched time that bishop O’Donoghue seems to think was so wonderful. Blessed by the Holy Ghost, you say? Let us not blaspheme Him by attributing the greatest cataclysm to strike the Church since the Reformation to His holy inspiration now please]

So is the council, as the good bishop avers, a “Magna Carta of the Holy Spirit”? Let the reader decide.

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