"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 6 July 2012


Fr Joseph ratzinger and Fr Yves Congar OP at the Council

This is the final draft of my talk which I gave to the Belmont community.  It is slightly diferent from my last version that I published a few days ago.   To give the community the opportunity to look at it further and to see the talks on video etc, I am publishing it again and shall, at the same time, delete the last version.

"To tell the truth I am convinced that every assembly of bishops is always to be avoided because I have never experienced a happy ending to  any council, not even an end to abuses, only ambition and wrangling about what is taking place ."  (St Gregory Nazianzen 381)

Most councils, in the opinion of Joseph Ratzinger, have caused a loss of equilibrium in the short term, but have been beneficial in the long term.   
I went to an international conference on "Vatican II, 50 Years on: the New Evangelization"" at Leeds Trinity University College.   There were people from all over the academic world.   Cardinal George of Chicago,  Archbishop Fisichella, head of the council set up by the Pope for the New Evangelization, and Cardinal Filoni, head of something very important in the same line of evangelization, were among the speakers who were all high powered and keenly motivated.  

Firstly, I shall tell you what the conference wasn't.   It wasn't a study of Vatican II from various points of view, nor was there any criticism of its documents, nor  of the Catholic Catechism that are seen as consequences of the council.  Nor did it give a blow by blow history of the council.

What it did do was give an insight into what happened from the point of view of a group of reformers, who were hailed as "progessives" at the time, but who, in retrospect, cannot be lumped together with Hans Kung and the liberals. They included Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar OP, Louis Bouyer,Jean Danielou SJ and others.  Joseph Ratzinger joined them in the council.  Karl Rahner, although from a different theological standpoint, was a natural ally in the council, and Bishop Karol Wojtila also sided with them. There was also Hans von Balthasar who was not invited to the council but exercised a strong influence on them all afterwards.  All with the exception of Bishop Karol Wojtyla  had their roots in the Fathers of the Church and Church history.  Wojtyla was a personalist philosopher  All of them had suffered under the Nazi jackboot, and this experience forced them to ask the question, why do modern Catholics leave behind their own faith in favour of a civic religion that offers its adherents something less that the living God as their salvation?   What was so inadequate in the Church to allow people, brought up as Catholics, to become Nazis? The question was extended to Communists, and also to secular society in the West.

Here I shall present to you a coherent overview of the general position and line of enquiry of the chief speakers who were all Pope Benedict's men and women, as I am myself.

"France, a Mission Country" had been published in 1943, and Henri de Lubac wrote about the "loss of the sense of the sacred" in this connection.   He said that people looked for a secular form of salvation in Nazism and Communism because they had lost the sense of the "mysterium tremendum".  This he blamed on a number of factors, but one that came clearly into his sights was the theology currently taught in seminaries and published in books, (a form of neo-thomism) which saw the "natural sphere" as completely autonomous, that saw the theoretical possibility of a person being naturally perfect without grace which was itself another autonomous sphere.   This contrasted with the theology of the Fathers which we find in the old catechism, "Why did God make you?"
"God made me to love him and serve him in this world, and be happy with him for ever in the next."

This implies that human beings and human societies are made for God, have a natural desire for God, and are incomplete without God.   Secular society cannot be completely autonomous because without God it is incomplete.   Even when there is separation of church and state, the state needs religion because it is made up of human beings who, in Karl Rahner's phrase, are capax Dei by definition.)  When this desire is not recognised for what it is, they concluded,  or if nothing is presented to satisfy it, then this religious drive can take pathological forms, like Nazism and Communism.  If people lose the sense of the sacred, it is both a crisis in the Church and a crisis in our humanity. 

This desire for the sacred reaches out through activities that transcend themselves, the seeking for the Truth, the Good and for Beauty. They transcend themselves because these are characteristics of God who is absolute Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and, as human activities, correspond to the theological virtues of Faith, Love and Hope.  Hans von Balthasar elaborated  the religious value of Beauty.

One consequence of the inability to discover transcendence in our world, is that faith was confounded with opinion, truth with points of view, and beauty with taste.    There was the flight by Christians from reason into feelings.  Ratzinger commented on the two schools of thought, the Thomist which sees the primacy of intellect in our search for God, and the Franciscan that sees the primacy of love.  He insists both are necessary. In Bernard Lonergan's phrase, Faith is knowledge based on love.  Likewise,  the two pillars of our search for God are Faith and Reason, and, in an integrated human being, "faith is the friend of reason."
It was recognised that the modern pathology not only infected laity; it also infected priests.  There was the pre-occupation with legalism, with rubrics and the mechanics of celebration of Mass; there was the perfunctory way iMass was so often celebrated, because the priests were only concerned with validity which became a substitute for entering the Presence of the Father through Christ in the company of the angels and saints.   They also saw how some priests who wanted to do more looked to psychologictal wholeness as a religious goal, or social justice, or something else, not as a consequence of their relationship with God but as a substitute for it. These priests and religious said, quite rightly, that what they do for their neighbour, they do for God; but, in the context, this hid a huge vacuum created by their inability to pray.

The teaching of the Fathers was most important for this  group.  Christian life is Christ-centred, and Christ is in heaven, sharing as a human being in the life of the Blessed Trinity.   In the Eucharist, we too are lifted up into heaven to be one with Christ who is the source of our unity with one another on earth.  Central to Ratzinger's faith, as that of the Fathers, is, "God became man so that man could become God;" that is, so that we can participate  in the divine life as sons and daughters of the Father in Christ.  Time and time again in the conference, there were references to "divinization" or theosis as the whole purpose of human existence, and even of creation.  We share in the Christian Mystery which is God's answer to our natural desire for the sacred.

As noted, the problem is that many do not experience that natural desire for the sacred.  Ratzinger, Bouyer and de Lubac etc believed this was in part, because they were cut off from the liturgy which needed reforming so that they could more authentically participate.     Theology as commonly taught needed to return to its Biblical and patristic roots, as did liturgy.  We needed what Popes John Paul and Benedict later called a "new evangelization"; and to accomplish this we needed a "new theology".   De Lubac's "Surnaturel" was the first blow struck in that direction.

Though under an ecclesiastical cloud with Pope Pius XII, they came into their own under John XXIII.   Wojtyla who sympathized with them was a prominent bishop in the reforming camp, and it was at his intervention that the Curia's teaching on the Church that was legalistic and began with the hierarchy was scrapped and the Council began with the "People of God".   Much of the concern and many of the convictions of this group found their way into the council documents. As far as the documents were concerned, the council was going their way.

  The problems began with the implementation of council teaching.  There was a split between those who were primarily patristic scholars and looked to Tradition for the content of their faith and those like Hans Kung who were not as critical as they were about modern civilisation and who wanted to adapt Catholic thought and practice to modern culture.  It became clear that "progressives" as a whole voted for the same agenda at the council, but there were two camps who voted for radically different reasons.  One believed that the Church must be adapted to modern culture, while the other believed that such an adaptation would only distort the Church and that it is the Church's task to confront and change modern culture by finding ways to present it with Christ.   This is a much more daunting task, but, in its favour is the nature of the human being   who is made for God and whose heart is restless until he rests in him. 

Ratzinger, Bouyer and de Lubac were terribly disappointed at the implementation of the liturgical changes.   It was not so much the texts that they objected to, at least when they regained their calm.   It was the overall business (to use a theatrical term) of the new liturgy.   Remember what they were looking for in liturgical reform:

They wanted to restore a sense of the sacred into those who take part in the liturgy as a pre-requisite for wanting to enter into the Christian Mystery.

In contrast to the closed-in materialistic world that reduces beauty simply into what attracts, they saw beauty as  God's footprint in nature and as something that leads to God.  Bach, Handel, Mozart can help us on our way to God because of the inherent beauty of the music, as can Gregorian chant.  Pop music can entertain and amuse, but it lacks that transcendental beauty which is open to God.  They saw the wonderful musical heritage of Bavaria, for example, being invaded by hoards of visigoths with guitars.

Too many masses were geared towards augmenting and celebrating the feelings of togetherness of those taking part, which is the only thing left if the people have no sense of the sacred; but without the sense of the sacred, there will be no impetus for participation in the Mystery of Christ. This could cause great satisfaction, but the participants could miss the whole point of the Mass.
There was great emphasis on God becoming man, but not on man becoming God, nothing on our union with Christ in heaven in the presence of the Father, no consciousness of our participation in the liturgy of heaven,  as the council said about our liturgy on earth.  There was no emphasis on God-centredness; and the priest was looking round at the congregation, catching their eyes, even at the very times the text indicated they were talking to God.

Research has discovered that many people have a sense of the sacred at times, even unbelievers, but most people do not associate it with going to church.  This, Ratzinger would say, is because liturgy is not doing its job.  

 The problem is that the new liturgy was interpreted, too often, by priests and religious who had been infected by the modern limitations that the "theologie nouvelle" group had identified and wished to counter.   Thus the latter believed that the resulting celebrations of the liturgy actually strengthened those elements in modern culture that made it impervious to transcendence,  and thus actually helped, without intending to, the process of de-christianization.   The difference between "evangelizing the modern world" effectively, the aim of Ratzinger and co, and "adapting the Church to the modern world", the aim of the liberal group, is a fine one, at least in the first stages, because both groups have to learn its language;  but presenting  Jesus Christ to the modern world and challenging it to change, on the one hand, and re-interpreting Christianity so that its entire message can be understood and appreciated by a modern world without any radical change, only telling it what it wants to hear, are very different.  One group identified modern culture's lack of a  sense of transcendence as pathological, but the other group considered it to be a reality of modern life that a modern liturgy must adapt to.   Ratzinger and co.  believed that the new liturgy, so interpreted, made the situation a hundred times worse than before and made necessary a "reform of the reform".   Then Ratzinger became Benedict XVI.   He does not reject the novus ordo, accepts that there are many places where it is well celebrated, but wants to so remould it so that it will, everywhere, fulfil its original purpose.

Archbishop Fisichella touched on the liturgical problem.   He said that the solution does not lie in dressing up in the clothes of the 1950s nor in copying their ceremonial, any more than it will be found in wild experimentation.  As with de Lubac, he suggested that it is up to those who celebrate to discover and appreciate the sacred in what they celebrate, and this, little by little, with a little nudging from Rome, will transform the rite.

The conference frequently made the distinction between evangelization "ad gentes" and the new evangelization, the former being addressed to people who have never heard the Gospel and the latter to those who have rejected it or simply lapsed.   We were reminded that sometimes it was impossible to make such a distinction because both types of listeners were mixed together or because people did not fall neatly into either category.   However, the goal of evangelization is the same in either case: it is to bring people to a personal meeting and relationship with Christ of a type that changes the way they think and act.   The speakers were as insistent on this as much as any evangelical.   Of course, the difference is that this personal relationship brings us into a relationship with the angels and saints in heaven and with the Church on earth, through the Eucharist.  The Church in heaven and on earth is a dimension of Christ himself because of the Incarnation.

A primary target for the new evangelization is culture itself.   Pope John Paul II was the first to talk of the evangelization of culture.  For European and American culture, it is a question of returning to its roots.   George Orwell wrote somewhere that his problem lay in the fact that all he believed in and lived for had its logical basis in Christianity; yet he did not believe in Christianity .  The new evangelization  would bring out and emphasise that European civilization's basic values are rooted in the Gospel and are logically sustained by it, and that they are under threat if Christianity is rejected because they could not be defended adequately.   Professor Tracy Rowland gave a very good paper on the evangelization of culture.

She quotes John Paul II on how the Incarnation united in Christ all that is flesh and even the whole cosmic reality in order to transform it.   Evangelization transforms culture by the Christians living the "humanism of the Incarnation" and by presenting all aspects of culture with the reality of Christ.   The high culture of Europe was based on the liturgical practices of the Church, and this is what sustains the humanism of the Incarnation.  However, the greatest force for evangelization will not be campaigns, encyclicals and movements: it will be the presence of saints in the midst of the modern world.   Paul VI said that the principle attraction to the Church will be the presence of saints  in the contemporary world, and the art that the Christian message and the Catholic faith have inspired down the ages.

Archbishop Fisichella talked about the new evangelization as fruit of Vatican II.  The decline of Christianity in the West cannot be answered by campaigns.  It is primarily a decline in faith.  What is needed is not to return to the ways of the past, nor to indulge in experiments. Both are cheap substitutes for what is needed, ways to escape the true challenge.   In reality, we need a renewal of faith, and a new apologetic which shows belief in Christ to be rational and good.   We must not content ourselves with a faith based on emotion.  We must be able to give reasons.  We must show by argument that the way to understand ourselves and discovering the meaning of life is not by denying mystery but by entering into it.  We need a proclamation of Christ accompanied by coherent, well-reasoned arguments.

Dr Susan Wood talks about the parish as  the centre of worship and of training, but she argues for the need to form faith communities and to use lay ministries, to be pro-active in sustaining faith, living faith, outreach, and dialogue with the world.  She says that this should be done boldly, not indulging in an escapist nostalgia nor in a form of sectarianism, conservative against progressive, neo-scholastic against modern theologies etc.   At present, there is a lot of demonizing of Karl Rahner and other periti of the council where rumours are quoted as facts and a completely unjust lack of charity.  She gives us a history of mission in Europe and the States, with the worker priests, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day and others.  All broke down barriers in their day.  She goes into the ubiquitous presence of grace and the need for the Church and for mission.

Professor Paul Murray gave an excellent paper (on the video with Dr Susan Wood) where he discusses the "hermeneutic of continuity" in relation to ecumenism.   In this way, he gets to grips with what Pope Benedict XVI means by it.  He says that it was not primarily to criticise the "progressives" or to deny the existence of change in Vatican II, but rather to counter the Lefebvre thesis, what the Pope calls the "hemeneutic of rupture". who claimed that Vatican II was a clear break with the past.  Prof. Murray did not deny that wild progressives could be criticised in this way, only that they were not his target at the time, and that the Pope was not against change of the kind that now acknowledges the value of ecumenism.

Nevertheless, I do not think that Pope Benedict would be against applying this phrase to some in the progressive wing. "Hermeneutic of Continuity" expresses something very central to the Pope's thought.  His central standpoint is a belief in Tradition.   It is in this context that the Scriptures are read, the sacraments are celebrated and the faith explained in the eucharistic community; and Tradition's principle vehicle is the liturgy.   This process descends from the time of the apostles to the present day and is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit invoked in the Eucharist and the Church.   One of the best exponents of the theology of Tradition is the late Father George Florovsky, an Orthodox.  Just as there is one Gospel in four versions, so there is one Tradition in several rites or traditions.   

It is the function of the pope and bishops to preserve and tend these traditions that develop and grow or diminish by their own inherent laws.    They can compose prayers and revise rites, but they have no powers to abolish a living liturgy.   An overwhelming number of bishops accepted and use the misa normativa, which means that it is now an expression of the Latin tradition; but  there would be an interruption  if it were adopted while the previous edition was suppressed.    

 Unfortunately, there was no adequate treatment of the theology of Tradition  and its relationship with liturgy in the conference

Much more was given, and the paper by Cardinal George is certainly worth listening to.   He said that a partizan spirit weakens the Church, of conservatives against progressives, those of the novus ordo and those of the extraordinary rite, and so on.   "conservative", "progressive", "left-wing and "right-wing" are categories taken from politics and are inappropriate, against the dynamism of Catholicity and are a betrayal of the Holy Spirit.   Once differences become obstacles to unity they become unCatholic.  The Church is a communion of those who share Christ's gifts  "Ecclesial communion is a relationship of reciprocal inclusion," and our differences must be harmonized in a higher unity to be truly Catholic. The council gave up a vision of the Church as a predominantly juridical body, united by jurisdiction,  a perfect society,to a net-work or communion of local communities, based on the exchange of gifts from Christ, united by love which is instrument of the Holy Spirit by which the christian community becomes Body of Christ in the Eucharist. and the council taught a  new relationship to the world based on dialogue.   With the emphasis on law and jurisdiction moved to the periphery,  Evangelization through friendship, through informal contacts is just as much the Church at work as the more formal missions.

  There  is much more, but I have given you enough of how the conference treated Vatican II and the New Evangelization.

If you want to see and here the talks on video or see photos and details of the conference,

Fr Robert Barron of Chicago 
on the Evangelization of Culture

2 HRS 31 MINS. 21 SECS.

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