I have seen many Catholics drawn to a traditionalist critique not only of Pope Francis, but also of the Second Vatican Council. Because of the confusion in the Catholic Church right now, many are looking for certainty, for a set of teachings that have stood the test of time; a pre-Conciliar approach that provides clear answers, especially on the church’s moral teachings.
I understand the draw, but I’m not comfortable with it.
As much as I love the Traditional Latin Mass and believe that Catholics need to be exposed to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and well-acquainted with natural law, I am leery of trying to roll the doctrine of the Catholic Church back to before the Council or to some point in history when presumably the teachings of the Church were more pure. We can see from descriptions in the Epistles that even in the Early Church there were divisions and heretical ideas manifesting.
At the same time, I’ve been dismayed by the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, what I call the small “s” spirit of Vatican II that pushed for the wreckovations of sanctuaries, removed altar rails, whitewashed or removed statues, and other revolutionary acts. That was a progressivist “spirit of Vatican II” run amok.
Of course, the Personal Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition would not exist were it not for the Second Vatican Council. We are what “realized ecumenism” looks like, as Msgr. Mark Langham told the Symposium in Rome on the 10th Anniversary of Anglicanorum coetibus.
George Weigel has a piece in The Catholic Herald that helps explain that we are not seeing a two-way divide in the Church, but a three-way one.
In The post-Vatican II Civil War, he writes:
Although the drama of Catholicism and modernity is often described in terms of a battle between traditionalists and modernisers, it is more accurate to think of it as a three-way contest between those committed to resisting modernity in all its forms, those seeking an accommodation with modernity because they believe it has made classic Christian truth claims and practices implausible if not false, and those seeking to convert modernity by placing its noblest aspirations on a firmer, Christ-centred foundation.”
This was one of the aims of some of the Council reformers—to refocus on Christ, on Scripture and on the Early Church Fathers. While this change was not meant to abrogate natural law, or the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, it was meant to go back to the sources, the same sources that Aquinas relied upon.
De Lubac was not the only Council theologian who believed that other theologians, during and after Vatican II, were going so far in their embrace of intellectual modernity that they were emptying Catholicism of its doctrinal content and betraying John XXIII’s evangelical intention for the Council. Their opponents, of course, denied this charge and claimed they were the true heirs of the “spirit” of Vatican II, which they often defined by reference to a selective set of quotations from Gaudet Mater Ecclesia [the Council’s opening declaration].
In 1969, de Lubac, the French Oratorian Louis Bouyer, the Chilean Jorge Medina Estévez, and the German Joseph Ratzinger agreed to meet during the first session in Rome of the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Paul VI had renamed the old Holy Office. At a meeting arranged and led by the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, they dis- cussed the possibility of a new theological journal that would challenge the intellectual hegemony enjoyed by Concilium and the theologians associated with it. They chose the name Communio, Ratzinger later recalled, because the Latin word for “communion” connoted a “harmonious coexistence of unity and difference” that stood in contrast to the ideologically straitened perspective of Concilium.
The name Communio would also challenge the appropriation of the term “communion” by Catholic progressives who were using it to de-emphasise the vertical or transcendent dimension of the Church in favour of a horizontal, populist Church that functioned more like a political party than a community of disciples in mission.
Go on over and read the whole article. There is a choice that is neither traditionalist, nor modernist and progressive, a choice that is dynamic and takes the whole of Catholic tradition into account, not restricted to one era or point in time.
Weigel describes it as [my emphases]: “neither a Catholic surrender to modernity nor a flat-out rejection of modernity, but the conversion of modernity, beginning with a critique from within modern intellectual premises.”
Maybe some of that critique from within modern intellectual premises didn’t work so well, or failed to convince, or has yet to be worked out. But those who tried it should not be dismissed as modernists.