Thursday, June 18, 2009

"We Have a Vatican II President."


Reflect on how utterly bankrupt that sentence is as we wade through the following poop-pile provided by Fr. John O'Malley, SJ (insert joke here), in America.


We have a Vatican II president. Barack Obama, I am sure, does not think of himself in those terms, but when I heard his speech at Grant Park in Chicago the night he was elected, and more recently his commencement address at Notre Dame, that is what immediately struck me. On those occasions he embodied and professed in his public persona the spirit of the council.


We should thank Fr. O'Malley for making all this clear from the get-go. Nothing in this article is going to be about Vatican II at all. It's the "spirit of the council."


Translation: We're going to ignore what the council actually said so that I can wax poetic about the president.


On a side note, who would be the Chalcedon president? Or the Florence President? I nominate William Henry Harrison as the Lateran V President, since neither of them really did anything.


In making that statement I know that I am entering a minefield. Catholics who denounce the president for his stance on abortion are of course responsible for many of the mines in the field, but their mines have been so thoroughly discussed lately that for the sake of brevity I will bypass them here.


Translation: Pay no attention to the dead babies behind the curtain. The spirit of the council is ok with them. You should be, too.


Notice the implication that denouncing the president for his abortion policies is somehow bad. It is truly amazing how many people are willing to check their brains at the door just to get in a few paragraphs of fawning.


The other set of mines in the field comes from the expression “the spirit of Vatican II.” The expression, used widely at the time of the council and given a certain official standing at the Synod of Bishops in 1985, has lately in Roman circles been quietly downgraded, if not dismissed as meaningless. No doubt, the expression has been abused to justify interpretations far removed from what the bishops intended, and it has seemed all too prone to ideological manipulation. Your “spirit of the council” is not my “spirit of the council.”


"Certain official standing." Care to elaborate on what that standing is? Of course not. Such things might get in the way of the ideological manipulation that is about to break loose in this article.


Yet the expression has a legitimate place in our vocabulary and is in fact almost indispensable for grasping the big message the council wanted to deliver. By “the spirit of the council” I mean simply general orientations that transcended particular issues. In my book, What Happened at Vatican II, I argue that beneath the particular issues the council dealt with—episcopal collegiality, for instance, and religious liberty—more profound and far-reaching issues lurked. I call these the issues-under-the-issues. I ground them in the texts of the council and in that way ground “the spirit of the council” and give it verifiable substance.


Translation: You can't read Vatican II and get its meaning. The spirit is the message. Only the hidden knowledge of the "issues-under-the-issues" really illuminates what was going on.


Fr. O'Malley is basically preaching Gnosticism here. I still haven't read his book, but I will. We are about to deal with Vatican II, the spirit and the texts, in great detail here. And yes, there were "issues-under-the-issues," foremost among them the desire of certain parties to warp and distort Catholic teaching. Clearly, Fr. O'Malley is siding with those people, since he distrusts what the texts actually say.


Among the issues-under-the issues was style, the issue especially pertinent for grounding “the spirit of the council.” The council spoke in a new style, a style different from all previous councils. It eschewed words implying punishment, surveillance, hostility, distrust and coerced behavior-modification that characterized previous councils. It employed words that espoused a new model for Christian behavior—not new, of course, to the Christian tradition as such, but new to council vocabulary. I am referring to words like brothers and sisters, cooperation, partnership, human family, conscience, collegiality and especially dialogue. The new words cannot be dismissed as casual asides or mere window dressing. The council used them too insistently, intentionally and characteristically for them to be that. This new vocabulary made the council a major language-event in the history of the church.


Hey, at least he admits it. The substance isn't what is significant at all. It's the style. We should focus on that instead of that nasty doctrinal stuff.


The shift in vocabulary had profound ramifications. It meant a shift in values and priorities. Critical among these new values was civility in dealing with persons of different faiths or convictions and a willingness to listen to them with docile heart and mind. This civility was not a superficial tactic but a manifestation of an inner conversion. It of course did not mean surrendering one’s beliefs, but it did mean a willingness to learn from others and a refusal to condemn them without a hearing. Such openness of mind and heart is the essence of genuine dialogue.


Conversion to what? Politeness? Good manners? This is a fairly typical revisionist ploy, where the Church pre-Vatican II is portrayed as populated by a bunch of jerks. We've discussed this before.


One would think that the essence of dialogue is charity. Fr. O'Malley chooses to muddle charity with "openness of mind and heart." He doesn't really explain what that means, though. When I hear "open-mindedness," I think of accepting the possibility that the other's views might be correct. When those views are contrary to Magisterium, though, such openness is impossible. This is strikingly similar to Obama's call that ND students nurture their doubts.


The council hoped that this new style of being, which brings with it a new way of proceeding, would lead to cooperation among all persons of good will—Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers—on the new, massive, and sometimes terrifying problems that face humanity today. This new way of proceeding in large part constituted “the spirit of the council.” It was one of the big messages the council delivered to the church and to the world at large.


Ah. Secular common good.


That is why when I heard Obama’s two speeches I was struck by how much he spoke in accord with the spirit of Vatican II. In those two addresses, as well as in his other speeches, he called for civility, for the end of name-calling, and for a willingness to work together to deal with our common problems, including abortion, rather than a stand-off determination to impose one’s principles without reckoning what the cost to the common good might be.


President Jenkins of Notre Dame called attention to Obama’s oratorical gifts. Such gifts are consonant with the rhetorical tradition that produced the spirit of Vatican II. The council deliberately chose to speak as much as possible “in the pastoral style of the Fathers,” who were schooled from their earliest days in the rhetorical tradition. That tradition is what made them such effective preachers and leaders of their communities.


Notice the shift. He is using the Jenkinsonian definition of "common good." He just left off the "secular" part. Right and wrong must be shuffled into the background. It is far too inconvenient to worry about the dead babies. There are bigger fish to fry, of course. We should just agree to disagree on that murder of the unborn stuff.


And again.What is said is not important. It's how it's said. As long as it sounds nice, it's ok.


I often hear laments that the spirit of Vatican II is dead in the church. Is it not ironic that not a bishop but the President of the United States should today be the most effective spokesperson for that spirit? To judge from the enthusiastic response he received from the graduates at Notre Dame, his message captured their minds and hearts. Maybe through young Catholics like those at Notre Dame who are responding to Obama’s message the spirit of Vatican II will, almost through the back door, reenter the church. The history of the church has, after all, taken stranger turns than that.


The president is the most effective spokesman for an ecumenical council of the Church. This hedges on blasphemy, I think. And why is he the most effective spokesman? Because he has called on the faithful to set their priorities according to his will, rather than that of God.


Yes, we might see this "spirit of Vatican II" re-enter the Church, but I don't think it's the Holy Spirit that Fr. O'Malley is describing.


On that note, I must announce our next series. I'm going to go through Vatican II section by section and do a bit on the footnotes and historical accounts that we have available. We'll see just how Obama-ish things are. I hope you will join us for this. I'm sure it will take a couple of years, but I need a hobby anyway.

3 comments:

Turgonian said...

"When I hear "open-mindedness," I think of accepting the possibility that the other's views might be correct. When those views are contrary to Magisterium, though, such openness is impossible."

That is not quite true, since it is always possible that the Magisterium is wrong, which implies that the Catholic Faith is wrong.

That's a possibility you have to accept, at least theoretically. While it may very well be true that the Church is infallible, the reasonings which led to or support this conclusion are fallible.

It's part of being genuinely open to the Truth. Only when Reason clearly contradicts the other, there is no possibility that he is right.

Throwback said...

That may be true, but taken in the context of evangelization, and even moreso in the cases of pressing moral issues (ie- abortion), it does not take the sort of precedence that Fr. O'Malley envsions. The whole point of his article is that this sort of openmindedness/dialogue/whatever is the very substance and objective of the council.

Roisin said...

Thank you for that post (I just discovered your blog and am reading through it now). "America" was replete with such articles in the lead-up to the election, but never so overt. I guess now they can finally be honest about their support for the President. It's one of the reasons I chose not to renew my subscription to the magazine.