The Catholic Thing
A Pastoral and Dogmatic Council Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Saturday, 19 July 2014

We all have things that bother us more than they probably should. For me, one of those things is when I hear someone describe the Second Vatican Council as a “pastoral, not a dogmatic” council. “So you haven’t actually gotten around to reading any of the documents, then, I take it,” I’m always tempted to reply.

The numbers alone tell the tale. Of the fifteen official documents of the Second Vatican Council, three have the title “Constitution.” Two of these have the title “Dogmatic Constitution,” the one on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and the one on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). Then there were three “declarations”: one on Christian education (Gravissimum Educationis), one on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate), and one on religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae). Along with these, there were eight “decrees” on: (1) the mission activity of the Church, (2) the ministry and life of priests, (3) the apostolate of the laity, (4) the training of priests, (5) the renewal of religious life, (6) the pastoral office of bishop, (7) ecumenism, and (8) the Catholic churches of the Eastern Rite.

Notably, only two of these documents (out of fifteen) contain the word “pastoral” in their titles: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and the Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus). And both of those are “doctrinal” through and through.

Now look, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that the Second Vatican Council wasn’t in important ways pastoral. The problem, rather, is the dichotomy some people like to set up – which the Council clearly didn’t – between “pastoral,” on the one hand, and “dogmatic,” on the other, as though these were two very different ways of being “religious.” To set up this sort of dichotomy in the Council is not only to violate the “hermeneutics of continuity” with the Church’s centuries-old tradition that Pope Benedict has insisted upon. It is to attribute to the Council a rupture in a “hermeneutics of continuity” with itself.

Consider the following selection from an essay by noted intellectual historian A.H. Armstrong, who exhorts his readers “to appreciate what an unprecedentedly odd and original phenomenon the [early] Christian Church was when looked at from the point of view of traditional Hellenic religious observance and piety. . . . Hellenic religion was a matter of cult, not creed, what really mattered was the due performance of the sacrifices and sacred rites according to what was believed to be immemorial tradition.”

In nearly all of the religions of the ancient world, “doctrinal teaching and moral instruction” were simply never considered any of the clergy’s business.

           Pope St. John XXIII enters the opening session of the Second Vatican Council

“The contrast with the Christian Church is obvious,” says Armstrong. “Here cult developed rather casually and only reached a high degree of elaboration comparatively late.” Although sacraments and public worship “have always been central in Christian life,” nevertheless, “what is taught in the church and out of it, about that worship and the god to whom it is directed and the way in which his true worshippers ought to live has always mattered to Christians in a way which cannot be paralleled in the old Hellenic world.”

Another key difference, says Armstrong, was this: “Any preaching and teaching of religion or morals which was done in the ancient world was done by philosophers, who had no more to do with cult-celebration than anybody else and never held anything remotely resembling the position of the authoritative teachers of a church-type community.”

What the early Church accomplished – especially in the office of the bishop and his brother priests – was an amazing integration of these two functions: the role of the philosopher, on the one hand, to teach and preach the truth with, on the other, the role of the temple priest to perform the sacred rites.

There are plenty of Catholics on both sides of the traditional “conservative-liberal” divide who would prefer to have “priests” of the pre-Christian type, for whom “what really matters is due performance of the sacrifices and sacred rites according to what is believed to be immemorial tradition” – the only difference being that “conservatives” generally believe they’re showing fidelity to a medieval tradition (which is usually mostly Renaissance and late Baroque) while “liberals” take themselves to be hearkening back to early patristic practice (which is often, in fact, an imaginative reconstructions produced by mid-twentieth century liturgists, most of which has been shown by subsequent scholarship to be largely false).

Be that as it may, many in both camps would prefer to leave all the “philosophical-intellectual” discussions about “the God to whom the church’s worship is directed and the way in which His true worshippers ought to live” (of the sort exhibited by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI) out of the church altogether – the only difference here being what the particular congregant in question would prefer the priest talk about instead of actual church doctrine. For some, exhortations to internal piety are thought best; for others, vague platitudes about “helping the poor.”

Do we really want the priest to preach and teach about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection of the Body, Salvation, Justification, Sanctification, and our moral duties to our neighbors? Do we really want in-depth instruction so that we can grow in our understanding of the faith? Do we really want the priest to challenge us morally – both in terms of our interior, personal lives, and also in terms of our obligations and responsibilities to others in society?

Make no mistake: if this were the early Church, and your bishop had been Ambrose or Augustine or Basil of Caesarea, that’s exactly what you would have gotten — in spades.

Vatican II was a great pastoral council precisely because it was a great dogmatic council. Thinking you can give adequate pastoral care without proper doctrinal formation is like thinking you can do heart surgery without the wisdom gained in medical school.

Randall B. Smith is Professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he has recently been appointed to the Scanlan Chair in Theology.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, July 19, 2014
In the same vein, it is worth recalling that the early Christians were persecuted by the Roman authorities, not because of their beliefs, to which the Romans were completely indifferent, but because they formed a highly organized society with its own office-bearers, exacting obedience from its members – a collegiums illicitum

Bearing in mind that the Emperor Hadrian refused his friend Pliny permission to set up a volunteer fire-brigade in Nicomedia, following a disastrous fire, for fear it would turn into a political club, their attitude is understandable.
written by Manfred, July 19, 2014
There is a guest-op on another site this morning which appears to make the above discussion moot. The priest/writer cites John Paul II's Dominum et Vivificantem, #26 in which JP II admits that the Council took an extreme risk and opened the Church widely to the contemporary world in the hope of evangelization.
It set up a dichotomy between the anticipated Fruits of the Holy Spirit and "what may come from the 'Prince of the World'".
Paul VI discerned the result when he spoke of "the smoke of Satan" having entered the Church.
When one assesses the damage resulting from this Council, discussions of whether the Council was dogmatic or pastoral, or both, is a waste of time and ink.

written by Christophe, July 19, 2014
So, what were the new dogmas declared by the Second Vatican Council?
written by schm0e, July 19, 2014
Just give us the truth and don't screw around with it.
written by ron a., July 19, 2014
To me the basic error of the Council appears in the "pastoral" document Gaudium et Spes, in which it is stated in paragraph 24: "This is why the greatest and first commandment is love of God and of our neighbor". To put these "loves" on the same level is a profound disorientation from which, I think, much of the "spirit of Vatican ll" readily follows.
written by Fr. Kloster, July 19, 2014
I whole heartedly agree with Christophe. The Second Vatican Council was not addressing any heresies nor proclaiming any new dogmas. That was something never seen before. Then too, the fruits of the Council have been very sparse.
written by Murray, July 19, 2014
"The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest."
- Cardinal Ratzinger, Address to the Bishops of Chile, 1988

And from Paul VI:

The magisterium of the Church did not wish to pronounce itself under the form of extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements...
- Pope Paul VI, discourse closing Vatican II, December 7, 1965

There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church's infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmata carrying the mark of infallibility.
- Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966

And finally, from Pope St John XXIII's opening address to the Council:

"The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary."
written by Benedict Augustine, July 19, 2014
Great essay. This truly captures the modern sentiment in so many parishes who see Vatican II as a free pass for converting church into a new age spiritual club for baby boomers. Doctrine and dogma are important, but people seem averse to learning it because it actually requires some effort to learn. It's frightening to see how many adults in the 40s and 50s would rather cling to the theology and terrible hymns they learned as 3rd graders than develop that knowledge and actually practice their faith as mature educated adults. More than anything, this willful rejection of dogma from the clergy and congregation accounts for so many people leaving the Church for something of more substance.
written by Murray, July 19, 2014
As far as I understand the matter, Catholics must acknowledge that Vatican II was a valid ecumenical council, and we are bound to obedience on certain disciplinary changes aiding from the Council (such as the New Mass), even if we think them sub-optimal.

But (again, as I understand it), we are free to regard the Council as a huge blunder born of an excessive--in fact, unbelievably naive--optimism about the nature of the modern world. Any good fruit that may have been yielded by the Council is rendered insignificant by the fields of wreckage stretching as far as the eye can see.

Perhaps (God willing) our descendants will regard Vatican II as a minor council belonging to a particular time, with little relevance to the ongoing life of the Church. Actually, it already seems that way, though we are still burdened with it: another embarrassing relic of the 1960s, like tie-dye and the Age of Aquarius.
written by Papabile, July 19, 2014
I am willing to engage in a conversation on this, but I would like someone of Randall Smith's stature to address the role and understanding of the Nota Praevia. When people assert that this Council was dogmatic and binding under an anathema equivalent, they absolutely never address the Nota Praevia. That MUST be done.

APPENDIX From the Acts of the Council

Notificationes' Given by the Secretary General of the Council at the 123rd General Congregation, November 16, 1964

A question has arisen regarding the precise theological note which should be attached to the doctrine that is set forth in the Schema de Ecclesia and is being put to a vote.

The Theological Commission has given the following response regarding the Modi that have to do with Chapter III of the de Ecclesia Schema: "As is self-evident, the Council's text must always be interpreted in accordance with the general rules that are known to all."

On this occasion the Theological Commission makes reference to its Declaration of March 6, 1964, the text of which we transcribe here:

"Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church's supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ's faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation."

**The following was published as an appendix to the official Latin version of the Constitution on the Church.**

A preliminary note of explanation is being given to the Council Fathers from higher-authority, regarding the Modi bearing on Chapter III of the Schema de Ecclesia; the doctrine set forth in Chapter III ought to be-explained and understood in accordance with the meaning and intent of this explanatory note.

Preliminary Note of Explanation

The Commission has decided to preface the assessment of the Modi with the following general observations.

1. "College" is not understood in a strictly juridical sense, that is as a group of equals who entrust their power to their president, but as a stable group whose structure and authority must be learned from Revelation. For this reason, in reply to Modus 12 it is expressly said of the Twelve that the Lord set them up "as a college or stable group." Cf. also Modus 53, c.

For the same reason, the words "Ordo" or "Corpus" are used throughout with reference to the College of bishops. The parallel between Peter and the rest of the Apostles on the one hand, and between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops on the other hand, does not imply the transmission of the Apostles' extraordinary power to their successors; nor does it imply, as is obvious, equality between the head of the College and its members, but only a pro- portionality between the first relationship (Peter-Apostles) and the second (Pope-bishops). Thus the Commission decided to write "pari ratione, " not "eadem ratione," in n. 22. Cf. Modus 57.

2. A person becomes a member of the College by virtue of episcopal consecration and by hierarchical communion with the head of the College and with its members. Cf. n. 22, end of 1 1.

In his consecration a person is given an ontological participation in the sacred functions [lmunera]; this is absolutely clear from Tradition, liturgical tradition included. The word "functions [munera]" is used deliberately instead of the word "powers [potestates]," because the latter word could be understood as a power fully ready to act. But for this power to be fully ready to act, there must be a further canonical or juridical determination through the hierarchical authority. This determination of power can consist in the granting of a particular office or in the allotment of subjects, and it is done according to the norms approved by the supreme authority. An additional norm of this sort is required by the very nature of the case, because it involves functions [munera] which must be exercised by many subjects cooperating in a hierarchical manner in accordance with Christ's will. It is evident that this "communion" was applied in the Church's life according to the circumstances of the time, before it was codified as law.

For this reason it is clearly stated that hierarchical communion with the head and members of the church is required. Communion is a notion which is held in high honor in the ancient Church (and also today, especially in the East). However, it is not understood as some kind of vague disposition, but as an organic reality which requires a juridical form and is animated by charity. Hence the Commission, almost unanimously, decided that this wording should be used: "in hierarchical communion." Cf. Modus 40 and the statements on canonical mission (n. 24).

The documents of recent Pontiffs regarding the jurisdiction of bishops must be interpreted in terms of this necessary determination of powers.

3. The College, which does not exist without the head, is said "to exist also as the subject of supreme and full power in the universal Church." This must be admitted of necessity so that the fullness of power belonging to the Roman Pontiff is not called into question. For the College, always and of necessity, includes its head, because in the college he preserves unhindered his function as Christ's Vicar and as Pastor of the universal Church. In other words, it is not a distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken collectively, but a distinction between the Roman Pontiff taken separately and the Roman Pontiff together with the bishops. Since the Supreme Pontiff is head of the College, he alone is able to perform certain actions which are not at all within the competence of the bishops, e.g., convoking the College and directing it, approving norms of action, etc. Cf. Modus 81. It is up to the judgment of the Supreme Pontiff, to whose care Christ's whole flock has been entrusted, to determine, according to the needs of the Church as they change over the course of centuries, the way in which this care may best be exercised-whether in a personal or a collegial way. The Roman Pontiff, taking account of the Church's welfare, proceeds according to his own discretion in arranging, promoting and approving the exercise of collegial activity.

4. As Supreme Pastor of the Church, the Supreme Pontiff can always exercise his power at will, as his very office demands. Though it is always in existence, the College is not as a result permanently engaged in strictly collegial activity; the Church's Tradition makes this clear. In other words, the College is not always "fully active [in actu pleno]"; rather, it acts as a college in the strict sense only from time to time and only with the consent of its head. The phrase "with the consent of its head" is used to avoid the idea of dependence on some kind of outsider; the term "consent" suggests rather communion between the head and the members, and implies the need for an act which belongs properly to the competence of the head. This is explicitly affirmed in n. 22, 12, and is explained at the end of that section. The word "only" takes in all cases. It is evident from this that the norms approved by the supreme authority must always be observed. Cf. Modus 84.

It is clear throughout that it is a question of the bishops acting in conjunction with their head, never of the bishops acting independently of the Pope. In the latter instance, without the action of the head, the bishops are not able to act as a College: this is clear from the concept of "College." This hierarchical communion of all the bishops with the Supreme Pontiff is certainly firmly established in Tradition.

N.B. Without hierarchical communion the ontologico-sacramental function [munus], which is to be distinguished from the juridico-canonical aspect, cannot be exercised. However, the Commission has decided that it should not enter into question of liceity and validity. These questions are left to theologians to discuss-specifically the question of the power exercised de facto among the separated Eastern Churches, about which there are various explanations."

Titular Archbishop of Samosata
Secretary General of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council
written by Murray, July 19, 2014
Sorry for spamming, but on re-reading the article, I realized that its central argument is completely unsupported, with only a tenuous (and disposable) logical link to Vatican II.

Smith asserts that both liberal and conservative Catholics don't want to hear doctrine from their priests, preferring that they remain in a "pre-Christian" category in which they perform "sacrifices and sacred rites according to what is believed to be immemorial tradition”.

Smith should perhaps listen to the Audio Sancto podcast, in which traditionalist priests give dense, doctrinally rich homilies that put to shame the timid pandering offered at many parishes. Or he could read traditionalist websites and newspapers, which quote extensively from Church documents going back to ancient times. In fact, one of the chief criticisms of the New Mass is precisely that it downplays or smothers essential doctrinal truths in its relentless anthropocentrism.

I can't speak for liberal Catholics but seriously, where is the evidence that conservatives or traditionalists are uninterested in doctrine?
written by pgepps, July 19, 2014
Great point, I think; and good analysis of the reason many want to reduce the clergy to functionaries, so we can all blab on.

In the very last line, you appear to summarize what I was finding puzzling throughout this piece, though, when you treat "doctrinal" and "dogmatic" as equivalent terms. As I understand it, a great deal is "doctrinal" which is not strictly "dogmatic." Much is proposed for our assent, and much is required of us in our practice, which is not only for the good of the Body (pastoral) but also based in truth, explaining truth, and protecting truth from error (doctrinal). But not all of these things have the irreformable status, the claim to be part of the depositum fidei, and the sense that "if this is not true, then the Church is not the Church" we properly attribute to dogma. Right?

And in this sense, the Dogmatic Constitutions of Vatican II were restatements of existing dogma for the purpose of giving authoritative direction to the Church in today's world, and so cannot be read as though they defined new dogma or altered old dogma, correct? That is, they propose an authoritative manner of teaching and rule for practicing what the Church has always proposed, and not some faux-medieval (how much less a modernist or indifferentist!) idee-fixe.
written by Dave, July 19, 2014
Prof. Smith writes, "Do we really want the priest to preach and teach about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection of the Body, Salvation, Justification, Sanctification, and our moral duties to our neighbors? Do we really want in-depth instruction so that we can grow in our understanding of the faith? Do we really want the priest to challenge us morally – both in terms of our interior, personal lives, and also in terms of our obligations and responsibilities to others in society?"

The answer is yes, for many of us, who are frustrated that that presentation of the Faith in all its glory, through effective homiletics and beautifully celebrated liturgies, is hampered by clerical concerns that such a presentation will result in a mass exodus and a collapse of the institutions of the Church. Were the lay faithful fully empowered by authentic proclamation of the Gospel and the Magisterium and fully led in Divine Worship to be encountered and empowered by the Triune God, I believe we would be in very different circumstances today throughout the West, and that the churches would indeed be full. They are not, for in many important respects the presentation of the Gospel and its liturgical celebration have been reduced to trivialities.

I think credit has to be given to Prof. Smith when he notes "liberals" and "conservatives," for here, unless I am being too generous, which I do not believe I am, the good professor is actually commenting upon the politicization of the liturgy and its reduction to secular, post-Enlightenment categories. It's probably a commonplace to note that the "left" seems overly concerned with social justice and the "right" seems overly concerned with interior life, or, to put it in more classical categories, the "left's" concern are the corporal works of mercy whereas the "right" is more focused upon the spiritual works of mercy, whereas they belong together, two sides of the same coin, the reason why the ancient Greeks and Romans found the Christian faith so noxious, and why it is still considered noxious by so many, including those in the Church.

I appreciate Prof. Smith's work here to emphasize the hermeneutic of continuity. One has to read this narrative and hermeneutic along with Card. Kasper's recent declaration that many of the documents were purposefully vague. I am reminded of the old saying that we get the priests we deserve. We who want more from our clergy need to pray more for them, so that they increase both in holiness and number -- and then we need to do our own work in our own spheres, the places where the clergy cannot and should not reach.

I like Ron A's observation on the conflation of the first and second greatest commandments into one commandment only. This conflation seems to sum up the entire crisis, the loss of the understanding of the absolute transcendence of God and of the Divine benignity in assuming our condition for our redemption. How to recover that understanding? There has to be recovered a knowledge of the heinousness of sin, of our absolute incapacity to deliver ourselves from its clutches, and of the absolute mercy of God in doing for us what we can never do for ourselves. In short: there has to be a recovery of the authentic preaching of the Church, and of the sacrament of Confession. Let the lines grow long again, and watch how the celebration of and participation in the Sacred Liturgy changes.
written by Randall B. Smith, July 19, 2014
The Author Replies —

A few notes:

1. The Romans were not entirely indifferent to Christian beliefs, since the Christian refusal to acknowledge the emperor as a “god” (as the first authority in all matters) was a distinct problem. So too, in our contemporary situation, a “faith” that remains in the church and does not disturb the plans of our political rulers is not a problem. Those who teach truths that may disturb those plans or convince people to conscientiously object are not going to be safe from persecution. Churches that worship but do not teach doctrine or morals have little to be concerned about.

2. As for Pope St. John Paul II, he was of course at the Second Vatican Council, was responsible for much of the content of Gaudium et Spes (“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) and says this in Dominum et Vivificantem, #26: “the era of the Church began with the coming of the Holy Spirit.... this era, the era of the Church, continues. It continues down the centuries and generations. In our own century, when humanity is already close to the end of the second Millennium after Christ, this era of the Church expressed itself in a special way through the Second Vatican Council, as the Council of our century.... We can say that in its rich variety of teaching the Second Vatican Council contains precisely all that ‘the Spirit says to the Churches’ with regard to the present phase of the history of salvation.” There is nothing there about “extreme risk.”

3. For those who wish to spit on the Council in general and Gaudium et Spes in particular, they ought to consider the statement quoted above from Pope St. John Paul II about the Council, along with the fact that this great pope quoted certain passages from Gaudium et Spes (#22 and 24) in every one of his major encyclicals, Consider: When you bad-mouth the Council, you put yourself in profound disagreement with Pope St. John Paul II.

4. As for whether the “fruits of the Council have been very sparse,” I cannot agree for two reasons: (A) we owe the papacy of John Paul II to the Council, as the Council owes much of its teaching to John Paul II; and (B) it helped make me, and many others I know, Catholic.

5. “For this a Council was not necessary.” And you have what authority exactly to proclaim that infallible truth? Council’s are held when the Holy Spirit decides, not us. I was not the pope, John XXIII was. I do not have the charism that comes with being pope. He did. I suppose the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing.

6. There were no new dogmas proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council, if by that one means new infallible definitions such as that the Son is “one in being” (consubstantial) with the Father” as defined at the Council of Nicea. This, however, would be a very narrow understanding of what is involved in Church “teaching” (doctrine). The Second Vatican Council does a lot of teaching and repeats the centuries-old traditions of the Church.

7. As for whether the Second Vatican Council was a “huge blunder,” I would only ask readers to consider this: Was the Council of Nicea a huge blunder? The result for several centuries was major divisions within the Church, in which for a long time the Arians had the upper hand. The “fruits” of that Council are, like many things in history, pellucidly clear only in retrospect. St. Athanasius was exiled five times from his archdiocese in the battles that followed Nicea. He could have complained that the “fruits of the Council” were sparse. But he didn’t. He fought tirelessly for the truths the Council proclaimed, rather than whining about what the Council might have done better to make his life less difficult.

8. My thanks to “pgepps” and “Dave” for their perceptive comments. There was not room in this particular piece to get into the distinction often made currently made between “dogma” and “doctrine.” Yes, “dogma” is often taken to mean irreformable teaching. “Doctrine” is usually understood to be a broader term, including not only “infallible” definitions, but also teachings that are authoritative, but not infallible (which includes a whole lot of important Church teachings). This technical distinction is useful, but has not been characteristic of these two terms for all of Church history. The truth is that “dogma” is simply a term derived from a Greek precursor, while “doctrine” is one derived from a Latin precursor.

9. Bottom line: The Second Vatican Council was an ecumenical council which, since the time of the Council of Jerusalem (at which the gathered apostles decided that gentiles did not need to become circumscribed to become Christians) has been one of the two most authoritative means by which the Church proclaims and defines doctrine. To reject the teachings of the Second Vatican Council is akin to rejecting the First Vatican Council (no infallibility for the pope?), the Council of Trent, as well as the Councils of Chalcedon, Ephesus, Constantinople, and Nicea. Plenty of people accept “certain” councils “up to a certain point,” and then reject them after that point. We call them “Protestants.”
written by Howard Kainz, July 19, 2014
It is a mistake to see the Council as a result of the spirit of the 60s and the optimism of John XXIII. Both Pius XI and Pius XII considered a sequel to Vatican I. Pius XII set up a Special Preparatory Commission in 1949 to consider the logistics. The conservative Cardinal Ottaviani recommended the council to Pius XII, and also to the newly-elected John XXIII, who decided within three months to go ahead with it. Bishops, religious superiors and Catholic universities were asked for "vota" prior to the council, to determine the agenda. According to Roberto de Mattei's "The Second Vatican Council: the Unwritten Story," the majority of the "vota" asked for a condemnation of modern evils, both inside and outside the Church, above all of communism, and for new doctrinal definitions, in particular regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary." But according to de Mattei, everything began to change when the direction of the Council was removed from the Holy Office and relegated to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which "turned on its head the traditional Roman attitude towards heretics and schismatics."
written by schm0e, July 19, 2014

Not spam. I was wondering the same thing. In fact, I thought I was "conservative"; but perhaps I'm not a "conservative Catholic". Maybe I'm just an orthodox one or, gasp, a "Papist."
written by Murray, July 19, 2014
"For this a council was not necessary."

That was St John XXIII from his opening address, not me.

As for "Spit on the council"? Calm down.

Howard Kainz: my comments about optimism are drawn from St John XXIII's opening address, as well as some of the more starry-eyed things written in Gaudium et spes. I plan to read the de Mattei book at some point, but I'm aware of the hijacking of the original schemas that you mention. I'm not saying a Council wasn't necessary at all (as Professor Smith points out, it's not my place to say), but all the evidence before our eyes I'd that the Council we got was a disaster.
written by Bill Beckman, July 19, 2014
I strongly support Prof. Smith's essay and his reply above. It is quite clear from the comments here and from the many interventions across the web written by those who spare no effort in criticizing the Council and disparaging the popes most closely associated with it that the battle for the Second Vatican Council rages. Frankly, I'm tired of those who regard themselves as more Catholic than the pope, or several popes. Holy Mother of the Church, pray for us.
written by Fr. Kloster, July 19, 2014
Not sparse fruits? Do we live on the same planet? I don't mean to be disrespectful, but how could anyone not admit that all of the leading spiritual indicators are down?

Vocations to the priesthood and religious life way, way down. There used to be a bit over 1 priest to every 1,000 faithful in the USA. That number in now under 1 per 8,000. Religious used to fill every grammar school in the country. The vast majority now don't have a SINGLE religious on staff. It all happened AFTER Vatican II. Tell me where the substantial fruit exists, if that is what you truly believe. For me, any entity needs to show growth to show progress.

Baptisms are way down. Number of conversions are way down. First Communions are way down. Ecclesial marriages are way down. Confirmations are way down. Sunday Mass attendance is way, way down. It used to be uncommon (2 generations ago) to meet a Catholic not practicing his faith. Now it is not common to meet a Catholic who is practicing his faith. It used to be uncommon to meet someone who did not know his catechism. Now the opposite is true and you cannot counter that because we all know it to be the case.

We are not called to be ostriches. Unless we admit and confront the legions of problems that are a direct result of the way in which many of the documents of Vatican II were written, there can be no solution. The progressives cite their passages and the more traditional cite theirs. Confusion reigns supreme in the modern Church. To my mind, Bishop Fulton Sheen was correct, "the world got into the Church and the Church go into the world." Also, the fact that almost none of the suggestions of the Eastern Church were heeded when Paul VI was shaping the Novus Ordo, our liturgy looks a lot more like the Lutherans' and Anglicans' services than the Eastern Catholic liturgy. People believe in the way they worship...anyone get sick of hearing about the lack of reverence for the Real Presence? It's no surprise that our Eastern brethren do not have the same dismal numbers we do when it comes to belief in the Real Presence.

Lastly, the Bishops Councils around the world mirror more and more the bureaucracies of modern governments. We need less documents and more bishops who implement tangible and mandatory initiatives in their Dioceses to evangelize door to door and take refuge in Eucharistic adoration and public processions (or any spiritual armory to protect the flock from the invasions of the wolves).

Respectfully in XP, Fr. Kloster
written by Papabile, July 20, 2014
I cannot tell from the author's response as to whether he was responding to my request that someone like him address the Nota Praevia directly.

I do not contest the Council and give assent to it. However, I find it challenging too give it the same assent as other Councils in light of the Nota Praevia.

I would like someone to address it for once ~ directly ~ just once, one time.

Even the author's response does not seem to address it.
written by ron a., July 20, 2014
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the GREAT and FIRST commandment." Mt 22:37-38

"And the SECOND is LIKE it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these TWO commandments depend all the law and the prophets." Mt 22: 39-40

Gaudium et Spes, 24, sounds very much like German engineering to me. And, it appears to open a very WIDE path to Humanism.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." Mt. 7:15-16


* Mass attendance drastically down.
* Laity leaving Church in droves.
* Lose of moral authority and courage from many pulpits.
* Priests and Religious leaving Church in record numbers.
* Pedophelia.
* Record numbers of Church and school closings.
* Seminary numbers at record lows.
* Divorce epidemic.
* Abortions continue on and on and....

I could go "on and on and..."; but, frankly, it's just too depressing and the point should be obvious. In my opinion, Vatican 2 is a "watershed" moment. Defined, one might say, more by its aftermath than by its documents. The NAIVE refused to smell "the smoke of Satin".

Perhaps it isn't what all the various documents said. Perhaps it's how they said what they said. Perhaps it's what they didn't say. But HONESTY compels anyone paying attention to the Church in the modern world to admit that since Vatican 2 the Church has been in turmoil, especially in the West.

Two major ironies cannot be ignored:

1. The purpose of the Council was to bring the Church into the Modern World. So, what happened? The World, in a very real sense, transformed (converted) the Church---at least, when the "Church" is defined as its members. The difference between how "Catholics" and "Secularists" opine, and act, vis a vis modern moral issues is almost negligible.

2. Ecumenism was one of the major initiatives of the Council and what has developed is that the Church ITSELF has become seriously divided. Could there ever be any greater scandal than that! "And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand." Mk 3:25.

What we have, instead of 'two wings' of the Church, is a battle played out in the shadow of the Council. "Church Militant" was woefully ignored during, and since, the Council. Big mistake!! The battle is being waged on many levels and, unfortunately, it is being played out both WITHIN and without the Church.

The result? It would seem the "lukewarm" predominate. The "hijackers" have done their work, the work of Satan. As for those trying to "work out their salvation, in fear and trembling"? Satan's element, confusion, has cast its pall over most attempts to find a univocal voice within the Hierarchy of the Church.

written by Manfred, July 20, 2014
@Prof.Smith Your #7. I hope you are not putting Vatican II on the same plain as the Council of Nicea. Nicea was called by Constantine in order to resolve whether Jesus of Nazareth was a Divine Person possessing a Divine and human nature or whether He merely possessed a human nature. Nothing of that magnitude was ever discussed at Vat. II. Vatican II never required the celebrant to face the people. It never rquired Eucharistic ministers, nor standing to receive Communion, nor Communion in the hand. Any communicant who requested Communion on the tongue was dismissed. It did not allow altar girls. The Latin Mass was never abrogated although anyone who requested it was treated with contempt. I lived through it all and I will never trust anyone, including a pope, as even he is not indefectible, in the Church again unless he is in a Traditional order. Even then I exercise caution.
written by Fr. Kloster, July 20, 2014
Manfred has some valid insights. Any Catholic must affirm his allegiance to the Holy See. Without the Holy See we become Protestants. However, we do not need to applaud every disciplinary decision of every pope. We all need to be reminded that a canonization is a guarantee of being in heaven, not sinlessness during their lives on earth. There are many unknown inhabitants of heaven, but we need not thereby validate every one of their actions here on earth. Even Saints make mistakes!

Nicea was called to address a heresy. Vatican II was not. In fact, things improved after Nicea. We are now almost 50 years removed from the end of the Council. Where are the improvements? To my mind, there were many in the 1960's trying to re-invent the wheel. Things spiritual have not improved after Vatican II, the comparison falls on its face from every angle.
written by Paul V, July 20, 2014
Lots of problems but more of a change in society than V2. Bringing back TLM and communion rails will help faithful RC but won't stop the exodus in the West.
written by Bain Wellington, July 21, 2014
Four constitutions and 16 documents, actually. The author overlooked the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document to be promulgated.
written by Filipe, July 22, 2014
Thanks Randall, great article.
I am in no way a progressive or liberal Catholic, but it seems the more I meet rad-trads and anti-VCII people, the more they annoy me.

As for all those making lists of the "fruits" of the Council, including lower rates of baptism, ecclesial marriage, higher abortion, lower mass attendance etc. please tell me, in which of these indicators are the Orthodox in a better situation than us? To what Council do they owe these problems? Oh, that's right, they didn't have one nor did they change their liturgy.

Nobody is suggesting we live in a rosy world, but it does not follow that the Council is to blame. I am an 80's child, but I know well enough that a lot changed, very fast in the western world, maybe the council isn't the problem, maybe it actually helped avoid worse problems... who knows? I trust in Jesus' promise. The gates of Hell will not prevail.

BXVIs Hermeneutic of Continuity is the key, lets use it and quit whining!
written by ron a., July 23, 2014
Filipe---The first sentence of your post, more or less, suggests that your stance is 'political' and, therefore, as such, is impervious to truth as 'a priori'. The "fruits" are really not the point!

What appears (in your post) is a major disconnect, a lack of understanding of the real import of cause and effect (or of recent Church history).

Post Vatican II APOSTATES were everywhere. They were in the seminaries and convents. They were in chancellery offices. They were in the universities. They were in the parishes. All the time sowing their seeds of accommodation and dissent. Their attitude, what they said and what they did, DID, indeed, have consequences. Because of the moral condition, and direction, of the Western World, the laity was especially open to the message of dissent and individualism. (This "moral condition" is precisely why the Council was so important. It was, ultimately, reacting to signs of its times. Some, however, were in it for other reasons.)

The Council is one thing; the implementation is another.

I agree with you in your assessment of Benedict's Hermeneutic. And THAT is precisely the point! His was a reaction to the "hermeneutic of rupture", the basic concept used to justify, and which underlies, so much of the "hijacking" employed by the APOSTATE. The brave new world of the Apostate is, clearly, a journey down the horizontal. And, THAT, is no "hermeneutic of continuity", as the spiritual dimension (the primary dimension) is lost. I think it was Benedict that also reminded us that "religion without science becomes superstition and science without religion becomes materialism and relativism". The latter is now what we, generally speaking, have in the West and that which those who professed the new continuity, knowingly or unknowingly, professed. THAT IS THEIR PROFESSION OF FAITH.

As far as the Orthodox are concerned? Let them figure out their own problems. Although we face a common enemy in secular materialism, their issues are not necessarily the same as ours. Perhaps they, too, were scandalized---and influenced---by the Church's "progressives", post Vatican II. Lord knows there were many lost within from that bad seed!

Let's face it. The Culture has radically changed. And the battle continues to rage. Win or lose, it should be fought with more passion and Truth than has been thus far evidenced.

Yes, "the gates of hell will not prevail" as so many, ON THEIR OWN, continue to "work out their salvation, in fear and trembling."
written by eddie too, July 26, 2014
what is the basis for asserting that, the RCC would have been better off without the V2?

that is an impossible premise to prove and leads primarily to speculation, dissent and division.

we should remind ourselves of the vulgar maxim about opinions, "opinions are like a_____s, everyone has them".

no one can prove that the RCC would have been better off without V2? those asserting that are simply stirring up division and dissonance.
written by Murray, July 26, 2014
@eddie too

It's not so much that people are arguing that the Church would have been better off without Vatican II, as that Vatican II has had undeniably, empirically disastrous results. This is a subtle but crucial distinction.

Counterfactuals are always tricky. Vatican II apologists are fond of asserting that things would have been much worse without the Council, and this contention is exactly as impossible to prove as your hypothetical skeptic's claim that things would have been better without the Council.

In the end, Professor Smith has an almost unbelievably thin argument: apparently a sainted pope that he greatly admires spoke favorably about the Council, therefore the Council was good. Never mind that this same sainted pope--whatever his other great virtues--made a number of serious prudential errors, especially in the field of ecumenism or in dealing with the Legion of Christ.

In the end, it seems that everyone should be able to agree on the following statements:

1) Vatican II was a valid ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.
2) It issued no new dogmatic teachings.
3) In the main, Vatican II settled for "pastoral" restatements of existing teaching in a way designed to appeal to the modern world (as reiterated by both Popes John XXIII and Paul VI).

Beyond that, it seems that Catholics are free to disagree on whether or not Vatican II succeeded in its aims. My assessment is that it fell very, very far short indeed.

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