George Weigel makes helpful distinctions

DSC04342I 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.

DSC08600Of 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.

Weigel continues:

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.



5 thoughts on “George Weigel makes helpful distinctions

  1. In the midst of this discussion, it’s imperative to be aware of the distinction between doctrine and discipline in Catholic usage.

    >> Doctrine is the body of theological and moral truth articulated by the magisterium. Of its nature, doctrine is utterly immutable and irreformable, though the church’s understanding of it has developed over the course of two millennia.

    >> Discipline is the practice of the church, which flows from and must be consistent with doctrinal teaching, but which also may vary from place to place, time to time, and circumstance to circumstance according to the needs of various situations, groups, and even individuals.

    The Second Vatican Council promulgated two major doctrinal decrees — the dogmatic constitutions Lumen gentium on the Church and Dei verbum on divine revelation. Asked whether these documents defined new doctrine, the theologian Fr. Joseph Ratzinger — later cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope (Benedict XVI) responded, “No, but what was implicit is now explicit.” In other words, what these documents stated explicitly for the first time actually was the logical consequence of what was known before the council promulgated them. But the major reforms directed by the council — of which the liturgical reform and the inclusion of laity in active ministry are perhaps the most visible — changed only discipline, with no doctrinal consequence whatsoever.

    Both extremes of traditionalism and modernism actually share the same error — an abject failure to recognize the distinction between discipline and doctrine. As a result of this failure, traditionalists wrongly hold discipline to be immutable while modernists wrongly attempt to change doctrine. But it’s the same underlying error — or should I say heresy? — that gives rise to both.



  2. Without anyone’s permission, I took it upon myself to go back to the sources many years ago. There aren’t many Catholics who do this. Most Catholics pay more attention to the writings after Scripture. Vatican II made it possible for me to incorporate my Scriptural emphasis with my Catholicism. This would have been difficult to do before Vatican II. I am often subjected to being called Protestant or Sola Scriptura, but my personal conscience requires it.


  3. I believe that many of us have come to the place where Pope Francis wants us to be and where the Bishops of the world are also bringing us to. What this means, is that we are called to dialogue and take the journey with others who may think differently to us, still holding to our own values but acknowledging the common need of reasonable people to want the best for all God”s peoples. We are not competing against the good intentions of humanity but, in the midst of humanity, we are living and believing our faith with compassion for all. This is the very way in which Jesus lived amongst the tax collectors and prostitutes. He ate with them and that invariably meant he dialogued with them at their places where they were at in their lives. Pope Francis has been accused by some as showing signs of being too soft or of threatening the fabric of our Catholic faith by moving towards a respect for the place others have found themselves but, this is far from the truth. POPE FRANCIS has simply called us to be people who dialogue with others rather than taking some elevated attitude over others and firing “bullets” at those who think differently. He has highlighted the very words of Jesus who said “FEAR NOT” on so many occasions. This should encourage us to step outside of our own comfort zones to enter into the world of another. I know that many of us are treated as being out of touch even with our own children who are more likely to listen to the wisdom of the world than that of the Church. Yet , if we take the heart of dialogue which is presented, we may see that they too want the best for others, even ourselves. We must, therefore be grateful for the wisdom of the Church which is “LIGHT FOR THE WORLD AND SALT OF THE EARTH” Remember to please pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis..


    • “FEAR NOT” also enables us to pay attention to our personal consciences and Holy Spirit discernment when we evaluate what is best for our spiritual lives. These, combined with Scripture and Church teaching, enable us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21).


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