Vatican Council II: The Great New Approach
Translated by Graham Harrison from Courrier de Rome, May 1998, for the Society of Saint Pius X’s quarterly review in Ireland, St.John’s Bulletin.
A Kind Of Mutiny
It has been common knowledge for a long time that Pius XII (who died on Oct. 9, 1958) had already considered the possibility of summoning an ecumenical council. He was succeeded by John XXIII who, at the time, was regarded as a transitional pope (transitional from what to what?). Hardly three months after being elected, he announced his intention of convoking a council. The Curia and the Preparatory Commissions began their preparation and, after 18 months’ work, presented 73 “schemas” which were either rejected or profoundly modified by the Council itself. The magazine La Croix, in a special issue in December, 1975, carried an interview with the Dominican Fr. Yves Congar (who was subsequently made a cardinal and was one of the Council’s “experts”). In this article, Fr. Congar openly ridiculed these “schemas”: “Seventy-three of them! Many of them reflected the theology of Pius XII and re-affirmed counter-reformation doctrine…” It could not be clearer: those who pulled the strings of the Council did not want to hear any talk either of “Catholic theology” (for there is no such thing as a personal theology of Pius XII) or of the council of Trent.
It was at that point that Pope John XXIII played a part which reminds one of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The fact is that he was suddenly overtaken by events, giving the impression that he was no longer capable of governing. According to the reports of Fr. Congar (and others), the Pope “had something simple in mind, a kind of kerygmatic1 theology of the Faith, with a very detailed adaptation of Canon Law.” In the event, this Council, which Pope John XXIII intended to last for two months and be completed by Christmas, continued for four years.
The Council had hardly begun, Fr. Congar tells us in the same interview, when “the bishops became more confident and very quickly, from October 1962, a certain number of bishops had simply decided to reject the doctrinal schemas which had already been prepared.”
Carried along by this tidal wave, it is reported that Pope John XXIII said to several cardinals (from whom Fr. Congar got his information): “They didn’t understand me.” If this is so, it implies that he never regained control of the situation. Archbishop Lefebvre, in one of his first addresses on this subject (1969), referring to events which in many ways resembled a mutiny, said:
The whole drama of this situation is this…and I am not the only one to think so: from the very first days, the Council was under siege by the forces of progressivism….We were convinced that something abnormal was happening in the Council. It was scandalous how people were trying to turn the Council from its purpose by attacking the Roman Curia and, thereby, Rome herself and the successor of Peter.
The “Spirit Of The Council”
All the preceding councils, with the exception of the 4th (Chalcedon) and the 13th (Lyons), exhibit a rigorous pattern; the true doctrine is set forth and the opposite errors are condemned. This is carried out in a logical sequence which means that these two parts are inseparable: the second flows necessarily and logically from the first. By contrast, the acts of Vatican II are in the form of a series of addresses followed by recommendations, exhortations and vague suggestions, which are thus capable of being turned and applied in the particular sense desired by the Council’s manipulators. To understand Vatican II, one must bear in mind that the particular approach adopted in each area discussed in its documents follows, in its turn, from a certain general approach which could be called the “Spirit of the Council”…astray and evasive like the spirit of modernity, twisting and slippery as an eel. Accordingly, if one manages to catch a thread, one must follow it and not let it go. Such a thread might be, for instance, the special supplement of La Croix of Dec. 1975, ten years after the Council, dedicated specifically to the “great new approach” of the Council. What we have here is a very interesting analysis of the conciliar documents, followed by an even more interesting interview with Fr. Congar who, in the meantime, had been raised to the dignity of the Cardinalate…which gives his words the weight and value of approval on the part of the Curia and the Sovereign Pontiff.
The “Most Fundamental” Text
Fr. Congar, while he has no great opinion of the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) which he regards as a banal document with no other merit than having “contradicted the Syllabus,” exalts the merits of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) and regrets that this text did not have a greater impact.
We too admit that this document is of great importance but for reasons very different from those of Fr. Congar.
Passing over his laudatory commentaries on things he approves of, we shall concentrate on his statement that this constitution had “a considerable influence”:
Although it is one of the shortest texts of the Council, this constitution is perhaps the most fundamental. By making Scripture the basis of preaching and theology, it has indicated the direction to be taken by all the other texts of the Council. It has presided over the liturgical reform by allowing Christians to have access to a wider choice of scriptural passages, both in the Mass and in the other sacraments. By refusing to ratify the theory of the two sources of revelation (Scripture and Tradition), it permitted a rapprochement with Protestants [who evidently admit only scripture, not tradition – Ed.] and had a considerable ecumenical influence. Fr. Congar was able to say that this constitution had put an end to the Counter-Reformation (i.e., the Council of Trent).
Alignment With Lutheranism
In other words, this conciliar constitution, which claims to be “dogmatic” and which has set the direction for all the other conciliar texts, which has presided over the liturgical reform, which has had a considerable ecumenical influence, intends to impose – as a dogma – the liquidation of the Tridentine Counter-Reformation. Thus it prescribes alignment with the Protestant Reformation, which the Council of Trent was (we must suppose) mistaken in opposing!
The new “pastoral” approach which the Council wanted to impose dogmatically (Dei Verbum is a “dogmatic constitution”) is an invitation to ignore the Council of Trent, to act as if it no longer exists, as if it no longer has any validity. This is the return to the Protestant principle of “sola Scriptura” – Scripture alone is the source of revelation -which explains (and here Fr. Congar is right) the ecumenical strategy of the Council and the total reform of the liturgy, not only of the ritual but of the entire temporal cycle. This explains the pre-eminent place given to the “Liturgy of the Word” and to biblical texts (sola Scriptura), going hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the systematic teaching of religion according to a true Catechism (which is the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which formed the basis of the diocesan catechisms until 30 years ago). This explains the return to the Memorial of the Last Supper, which does not need a true altar but only a simple table, and the de-natured function of the priest, who no longer sacrifices but has become the president of the assembly.
The Ecumenical Approach
We are very well aware that the liturgical reform has been following scarcely camouflaged ecumenical objectives. The reformers, working together with well-known Protestants, played on the ambivalence of the new rite and, by means of this subterfuge, toyed with the idea that the reformed missal could be used by both Catholics and Protestants, together or separately.
This is intellectual dishonesty, which has created and maintained ambiguity in the hope of attracting Protestants. There is something in this which recalls Pascal’s famous “wager,” in the sense that the catholic invites the non-Catholic to have some experience of Catholic religious practice, by substituting habit for faith. This is why, by the way, certain philosophers consider Pascal a modernist before his time. The “experience” of Catholicism as a source of Faith is very close to modernist immanentism, if not identical with it.
It is permissible to see similarities between Pascal’s “wager” and what is called” communio in sacris,” which the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, far from excluding, considers positively as something to be “sometimes desirable” as a way of re-establishing Christian unity, a method to be used with ” discernment,” prudently, according to the judgment of episcopal authority such precautions are more in the nature of a pious hope.
“Communio in sacris” means participation by non-Catholics in the sacred action, i. e., the liturgy, not only in prayer. There is more than a simple analogy between this practice, which is growing more and more, and Pascal’s “wager.” The latter invites the non-believer, whom he would like to lead to the Faith by means of religious practice, to “wager” on the existence or non-existence of God and then, on the basis of belief in God’s existence, to draw the practical consequences for his life. After this, Pascal indicates what he believes to be the “system” already followed by others:
Begin where they have begun, that is, by doing everything as if they were already believers, taking holy water, having Masses said, etc…. Naturally, that will bring you to believe and help you to become accustomed (Pensées, No.233).
The justified objection to this method is that it has substituted external gestures for the internal act of faith and has given the non-believer license to perform sacred acts in virtue of “experience,” whereas these acts are reserved by the Church to those who have the Faith and the necessary purity of heart. Thus it has authorized the non-believer to perform sacrilegious and gravely culpable acts). Applied to Ecumenism, this process consists, neither more nor less, in inviting Protestants and Orthodox to “act as if they were Catholics,” in Pascal’s terms and to join in (communicatio) the Church’s liturgy (in sacris) after having accommodated it in order to make it easier for them to take this step. In other words, the liturgical reformers have lowered the threshold of orthodoxy so that the invited guests should not stumble at the first step.
The practical result, which is growing more and more evident, is that there are no conversions, while among Catholics, the view is more and more widespread that all the Christian denominations and all the religions are of equal value. Thus, what people believe they can gain in the name of a misconceived charity, is lost at the level of Faith. Is this a coincidence? The effect is contained potentially in the cause, and the cause can be correctly identified in what La Croix called “the Council’s great new approach.”
The “Anthropological” Approach
A second current which has determined the reflections and acts of the Council Fathers is the so-called Theological Anthropology or Anthropological Theology, which has transformed theology into sociology. The most authoritative witness to this approach is Pope Paul VI himself. On December 7, 1965, addressing the Council in its final session, he said:
Secular humanism has finally appeared in its terrible dimensions and, in a certain sense, has defied the Council. The religion of God Who becomes Man has confronted the religion of Man who becomes God! What was the result? A shock, a struggle, an anathema? It would have been possible but it did not happen….It is the discovery of human needs…that has absorbed the attention of our Synod……
Has all this, and everything we could say about the human value of the Council, perhaps deflected the spirit of the Church in the Council towards the anthropocentric thrust of modem culture? Not deflected, but given it an orientation. No one observing this predominant interest on the part of the Council, in human and temporal values, can deny that this interest is due to the pastoral character which the Council has chosen as its program. Such an observer would have to recognize that this same interest has never been separated from the most authentic religious interest, either by the charity which is its sole inspiration, or by the close link, constantly affirmed and promoted by the Council, between human and temporal values and those properly called spiritual, religious and eternal: we yield to man, to the earth, but we raise them up to the Kingdom of God (Homily, Dec. 7, 1965, Osservatore Romano, Dec. 8, 1965).
This is a confession of considerable weight: the Church has turned towards man.
Are we to understand that the Church has turned towards man by turning its back on God? Pope Paul VI says no; the hierarchy will certainly say no. But when, 30 years after the end of the Council, we see that the bishops and their clergy have become sociologists and, in fact, no longer teach religion, one can and must wonder if, after all the discussions and statements, this is not the reality of the situation: the Church, in the person of her ministers, has turned towards man by turning away from God.
The “Christian” philanthropy has infiltrated everywhere. It is even found in the Decree on Ecumenism, in the second chapter which deals with the practice of Ecumenism. Here we find a section devoted to “collaboration with our separated brethren,” who are invited to join in the crusade “against the afflictions of our times, such as famine and natural disasters, illiteracy and poverty, lack of housing and the unequal distribution of wealth,” all objectives within the competence of states and public authorities and not of the Church.
So there is no surprise when we see the Pope calling the heads of the principal world religions together at Assisi to promote peace by common prayer. Projects of this kind are perfectly in line with the approach set forth by the Council.
The “Spirit of Independence”
A third factor, which is more a mentality than a deliberate approach but which played its part at the Council and goes a long way towards explaining what happened “after the Council,” is the spirit of independence – which is at the root of Protestantism.
The first manifestation of the spirit of rebellion was the mutiny of an important segment of the episcopate at the start of the Council Immediately thereafter the modernists took charge of the direction the Council was to take. Thanks to this initial revolt against authority, the bishops became infatuated with independence and “freedom.” It was at this time that one impertinent individual, having said that after Vatican I, the Church had had some great Popes, like Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI and Pius XII, dared to add that, with the passage of time, the Roman Curia had become a perfectly effective…omnipotent…instrument of government and study...in other words, it had become tyrannical.
During the Council, Pope Paul VI seemed to share this blind opposition to supreme power. In the interview already mentioned, Fr. Congar gives this testimony:
When he (Pope Paul VI) intervened, he did so with great discretion. As he said several times, he would have preferred not to intervene at all but to leave the Council free. But several times, he reminded us that he was at least one of the Council fathers. There is something unsatisfactory about the way the pope, with his primacy, is related to the Council, of which the pope is a member. We lack a good theological and practical relationship between these two realities (and yet there has been an excellent relationship between them for 2,000 years. One only has to remember that the pope is not a member of the Council but its head, and that he is indispensable to the Council’s validity.) Pope Paul VI intervened discreetly in some Commissions; he sent “modi” (modifications) to the Theological Commission several times, but left it free whether to adopt them or not. Sometimes the Commission rejected these “modi“: He also intervened to have 19 “modi” inserted into the Decree on Ecumenism, which provoked a stir because the text had already been voted on by the whole Council. Of these 19 “modi, ” only three or four were really concerned with the text. Pope Paul VI had no idea that his intervention would give rise to such a storm of protest. Finally, he did not want to have to repeat his action and asked that the texts should be given to him in good time, so that he could make his observations on them.
Here we must recall the episode of the Nota Praevia (Preliminary Explanatory Note) which was imposed by Pope Paul VI to make it clear in the traditional sense the term “collegiality” was to be understood. The very existence of this Nota Praevia (see following page), quite independently of what it contains, is one proof among many of the lack of intellectual rigor on the part of the Council’s artisans. The most worrying thing, however, is the incoherent position of the Pope vis-a-vis the Council, as underlined by Fr. Congar. This is the attitude of a Head who has no awareness of his authority and who dares not intervene. At all events, he does not intervene very much, nor does he do so in a precise manner. We find an incoherent theological attitude here. On the one hand, from time to time, he is obliged to remind the fathers that he has the primacy, while on the other hand it seems that, with his “discreet” interventions, he is trying to win acceptance as one Council father among others (which he is not).
Is not this attitude an implicit avowal of that “conciliarism” – an ancient heresy going back to the 12th century – which affirmed that the Council is superior to the pope and which was condemned by Vatican I? Pope Paul VI has thus given the impression that he would be content with a simple primacy of honor: “primus in16 ter pares.” This is precisely what the Orthodox schism claims. In any case, this strange Council leaves us with the question: was Pope Paul VI in charge of it, or was it in charge of him?
The Modernist Tyranny
The sequel is in line with this desire for emancipation on the part of the bishops. They demand that the Roman Curia be “internationalized”: it is granted. They demand the reform of the Curia and of Church government: the reform was initiated on August 15, 1967, with the constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, which satisfies those who were complaining of the “tyranny” of Rome. The Holy Office, whose essential task was to guard the integrity of the doctrine of Faith – which was why it was feared by the modernists – is liquidated to make room for a kind of Theologians’ Academy without any coercive powers. The case of Hans Küng amply demonstrated this. The Consistory, a disciplinary congregation (a kind of council of the Episcopal Order), was also liquidated and replaced by a Congregation for Bishops without coercive powers. Moreover, all the congregations lose their autonomy and are now dependent on the Secretariat of State, which thus becomes the central organ of Church government, whereas the pope is reduced to a figurehead, like the sovereign of a modern state where the king reigns but does not govern. From 1967 on, a reign of inverse tyranny begins in the Church. The tyranny of the modernists, who have taken over all controls.
One beneficial effect of the new constitution Pastor Bonus of June 28, 1988, has been to restore to the Roman congregations a part of the autonomy which had been removed from them by the constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, but that does not mean that the Church is safe. The evil has been done and the damage has not been repaired. Thirty years after Vatican II, the Church is 90% Protestant.
Attempts To Protestantize The Church
Once the boundaries were thrown down and the Roman guardianship shaken, the bishops, in their turn, saw their diocesan clergy adopting the same attitude towards them. Then the faithful did the same towards their parish clergy, thanks to the bad example set by those above them. We must even say that it was the clergy themselves who pushed the faithful to act in this way.
Thinking that they were doing well to adulate the laity, who were now invited to become “adult Christians,” bishops and clergy sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. In turn, the faithful made themselves independent. Who cannot see the enormous difference between “adult Christians” and Christian adults? In the wake of the Council, Christians who foolishly had been taught that henceforth they were “adults” grasped that this implied that they were to reject all tutelage, doctrinal and disciplinary, on the part of their pastors. That is how the mentality of the Protestant “freedom of conscience” has been insinuated into people’s minds, without the need -as Luther did long ago, at Wittenberg – to nail a series of theses to the Church doors, declaring the break with Rome. Luther’s Protestantism was doctrinal; that of the modernists, for 30 years, has been practical. It is a Protestantism of deeds, it is concrete, but the result is the same. Why should we be surprised at the attempts to rehabilitate Luther? And what is the purpose of this rehabilitation? Perhaps to facilitate the return of Lutherans to the Catholic Church? …Let’s be serious for once!
And why should we be amazed at the demands made in the petition circulated last year in Germany by the group calling itself “We are Church”? The one thing follows directly from the other!
Insofar as these faithful – though it must be questioned whether they belong to the Church – regard themselves as liberated from hierarchical tutelage, and insofar as their thinking is unconsciously influenced by the democratic principles of modern society, they are only imitating the kind of false demands made by trade-unions in the economic and social sphere. To show them that they are in error, one would have to go right up to the top of the ladder of ideas and there one would arrive at the testimony of Fr. Congar:
One day John XXIII said that he wanted to open wide the Church’s doors and windows: de facto the power of speech had been given to the Church, whereas under Pius XII, people were restricted to repeating the Pope’s words.
In the world of ideas, there are some things as dangerous as grenades; when they are man-handled, they explode and the damage sometimes far exceeds all prediction.
But It’s Yesterday’s Popes Who Are To Blame
Would the hierarchy have the courage, 30 years after Vatican II, to draw up the balance-sheet? Will it still say that, as some people have said, one has to distinguish between the Council and what came after it?
On this matter, Fr. Congar gave an astonishing answer to the readers of La Croix in 1976: those responsible for the post-conciliar confusion, he suggested, were Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Pius X and Pius XII, whose qualities as a very great pope he is quick to acknowledge, only to go on to attack him in what follows:
Many people have failed to take account of the radical change brought about by Vatican II. The Church of the period of Pius XII, who was a very great pope with extraordinary prestige and influence, was submissive in a way that the youngest people of today have not the least idea. Rome then exercised an extremely effective and rigorous control in all areas, based in part on a theology – Roman Scholasticism – but also on a canonical, ethical and cultural systems…The whole drama of the post-conciliar period is due to the fact that things that had been blocked and kept at bay for too long by a Church which kept its doors and windows closed, are now violently – and somewhat blindly – forcing their way in. A kind of vast thaw seems to be carrying everything away with it. To put it more precisely, the 18th and 19th centuries produced some noble values and achievements: confidence in human effort, in science, in progress, in the desire for freedom and the democratic awareness, in equality and social justice, in historical criticism…including that applied to the Bible. All this came about in a climate in which Man was exalted, and clearly the Church could not approve of this. Some people, it is true, began to distinguish between what was true and what was unacceptable, but in general, and particularly on the part of popes like Gregory XVI, Pius IX and, to some extent, Pius X, the Church’s attitude was one of rejection – it was the mentality of a city under siege. Today doors and windows are open. It is impossible to rehabilitate two centuries of history within the space of 20 or 30 years. What we must do is acknowledge and accept things that have been forgotten for too long, while keeping in touch with the Faith. And here the Council gives us good guidance. It is not the Council which is the cause of the crisis but rather the fact that people ignore the crisis or fail to respond to it.
Clearly, then, the distant origin of the post-conciliar disorder and confusion must be sought in the narrow mentality of the popes of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Pius XII.
However, when one takes the trouble to analyze the “great new approach” of the Council, and when one has understood that this fundamental approach of rejecting Tradition, the substitution of sociology for theology, and all-round emancipation explains both the Council and what came after the Council, one has also grasped the intellectual continuity between them and the common cause they share.
It will be remembered that Fr. Congar was influential at the Council as a theologian, as one of its “experts.” This is widely known. He himself was not slow to mention the fact and the journalists who interviewed him were happy to underline it, in order to give importance and authority to his utterances. What he said on the approach adopted by the Council, which is presented as a huge enterprise with a pastoral aim, and that had broken with the Counter-Reformation, cannot be neglected. The fact is that his observations on the achievement of Vatican II have not been rectified by the French episcopate nor by Rome. Not only has Fr. Congar not been disavowed, he was conferred with the cardinalitial dignity. This has given to his views, declarations, writings and publications, the highest guarantee he could have hoped for. Elevating him to the cardinalate, Pope John Paul II and the cardinals of the Curia have ratified Congar’s views and commentaries on the Council’s whole approach, giving them an official certificate of authority. From the simple religious he was in 1960, Cardinal Congar has thus become the Council’s authorized interpreter, in the name of the hierarchy.
Having taken note of this, it will be easy to draw the following consequences – indeed, they are dazzlingly self-evident:
1. In pursuing a “pastoral” aim which breaks with the Counter-Reformation, the artisans of Vatican II have first of all put themselves out of range of the assistance of the Holy Ghost. It follows from this that Vatican II is merely a human work, a work of Churchmen. Its declarations must, therefore, be evaluated by reference to traditional doctrine.
2. Everything in the Council texts (constitutions, decrees, declarations) which calls for the faith and assent of the faithful would not be there had there not been 20 previous, authentic, infallible and irreformable councils. In other words, the Faith and adherence of the faithful has for its object, beyond Vatican II, all the doctrine formulated previously and which is found scattered here and there, in fragmentary allusions, in the Council texts. This means that the Council, as a point of reference, is not only incomplete and therefore superfluous, but it is furthermore harmful insofar as it is contaminated by the modernist vein, which is a spiritual poison.
Here it is appropriate to recall that the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum, which deals with Divine Revelation and replaced the original schema entitled De Fontibus Revelationis, is considered to be the most important document since it gave the direction for the other conciliar texts. It directed the liturgical reform and, by refusing to ratify the theory of the two sources of revelation (Scripture and Tradition), it permitted – as they claim – a rapprochement with Protestants and exercised a considerable ecumenical influence…This is the constitution which, according to Fr. Congar, has put an end to the Counter- Reformation.
3. In spite of appearances, therefore, Vatican II is a pseudo-council. From a totally different point of view, one could say that it was useful in the life and health of the Church in the way that, in the field of medicine, an abscess can be regarded as useful since it concentrates and localizes the organism’s infection. Sooner or later, the “conciliar” men, identified with the modernists, will be eliminated from the Church.
No true progress, no ecclesial development, can be accomplished outside of Tradition, let alone where it is rejected. Yet that is what the artisans of Vatican II wanted and that is what they did. In this matter, Cardinal Congar has given us a formal, irrefutable testimony.