Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reactions To Pope John's Summons

Kicking this series off, we looked at the conciliar summons from Blessed John XXIII and how it is completely opposed to the caricature of him that many in the post-conciliar era have constructed.

Now, I’d like to take a look at what the reactions were by folks who were paying attention, or at least say they were. We’ll do this throughout the series, mostly from the following sources. I picked these because they are not only available without a whole lot of looking around, but they also represent a number of different perspectives. I want to point out now that I don't think any of the Catholic authors on this list would be considered as “radical traditionalists” or sedevacantists or any other epithet that gets thrown against anyone who questions the success of Vatican II. Our commentaries are:

1. Speaking for traditional Catholic doctrine, we have Iota Unum by Romano Amerio, a theologian for the original conciliar preparatory commission and a peritus (theological expert) at the council.

2. For the more “innovative” Catholics, there’s What Happened in Rome? by Gary MacEoin, journalist.

3. The secular view is represented by Paul Blanshard at Vatican II by Paul Blanshard, a journalist that many will recall is a bigoted jerk.

4. The Protestant theological perspective will come from The Ecumenical Revolution by Robert McAffee Brown, a Presbyterian theologian and one of the Protestant observers at Vatican II.

5. Finally, the most purely historical account is The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber by Fr. Ralph Wiltgen, priest and journalist, who was at least sympathetic to the views of “innovative” Catholics.

Just pointing out here that, with the exception of Amerio, these guys will disagree with me on most things Church-related. That’s why they make the best witnesses.

Anyways, let’s see what they think of Ad Petri Cathedram and the idea of a council.

Brown gives the encyclical a grand total of one citation, that bein on page 64. The substance?

"This in itself will provide an outstanding example of truth, unity, and love. May those who are separated from this Apostolic See, beholding this manifestation of unity, derive the inspiration to see out the unity which Jesus Christ prayed for so ardently from His heavenly Father."

Pretty tame statement to focus on in light of the rest of what Pope John said. I have some doubts about whether Mr. Brown even read the encyclical, as the cited portion he gives is footnoted to a secondary source and is translated a bit differently than what we see in Section 62 in the Vatican version linked above.

Regardless, Mr. Brown focused very little on the formal conciliar summons, something that most folks would think was pretty important. He does, however, lavish a large amount of praise on Blessed John, mostly related to creating the Secretariat for Christian Unity and "releasing the ecumenical concern" which bore so much "good fruit" during the Council. In fact, the snippet above was made it "apparent that more could be expected than a perfunctory gathering of bishops to rubber-stamp ideas emanating from pope and curia, and that while the council was called primarily to deal with internal Catholic matters, its import would be ecumenical as well."

Thought experiment. Compare Ad Petri Cathedram to Iam Vos Omnes, the invitation by Blessed Pius IX to Protestants prior to Vatican I. See if you can find a whole lot of difference.

For a more frank assessment, we look to Mr. Blanshard, who was paying a lot more attention. Page 22 of his book remarks on the language of APC and Pope John's coronation as "strange" considering "John's later reputation as the greatest ecumenist of modern times." The encyclical itself was "ecclesiastically egocentric."

Amerio really doesn't go into the encyclical. Instead, he chooses to spend most of his time talking about the general expectations for the Council and other events in the lead-up. This is a bit disappointing, but not overly shocking, since he tends to focus on things that he views as problems, rather than what he agrees with. He does mention on page 59 those who "dare to attribute to John XXIII the intention of blowing up the Stalinist monolith of the Catholic Church from inside" are pushing a "catastophal" interpretation of the Council, which he defines as foreseeing and pursuing a "radical change in Catholicism." Such an idea, while "confused," was "embraced both at the popular level and in the activity of organized groups which imposed important elements of their thinking on the council."

So we are left with the question of who these groups were and what their motivations might have been. For that, we go to Fr. Wiltgen.

Fr. Wiltgen begins in his preface by commenting on the lament of Juvenal that Syrian culture had begun to pentrate that of ancient Rome.:

What happened in Juvenal's day on a cultural level happened in our own day on a theological level. This time, however, the penetrating influence came from the countries along the Rhine- Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands- and from nearby Belgium. Because the cardinals, bishops, and theologians of these six countries succeeded in exerting a predominant influence over the Second Vatican Council, I have titled my book The Rhine Flows Into the Tber.

The public has heard very little of the powerful alliance established by the forces of the Rhine, a factor which greatly influenced Council legislation.

Wiltgen quotes a great deal from APC without much comment, as is his habit throughout the book. As an aside, I think he is very good at leaving his own opinions out of the mix. Anyways, he does this as repitition and not part of a narrative. What is significant, however, is the reaction to the summons on the part of this Rhine group.

On page 15, Wiltgen describes the German bishops as already meeting in the residence of Cardinal Frings in order to discuss memberships on the Council's ten commissions that would be responsible for drawing up the schemas (draft documents) for consideration.

Considerable agitation was caused when someone reported that the Roman Curia had prepared a list of candidates for distribution at election time. To counteract this move, it was proposed that each national episcopal conference should be permitted to nominate candidates from its own ranks for each commission.

This idea was agreed upon by Cardinal Lienart of France, and "both cardinals agreed upon a plan of procedure for the opening day" of the Council.

This is all still just set-up, and I apologize if I move a bit slowly through all this. I think it is very important, though, to get a good picture of Pope John's intentions for the Council, what acts were done in preparation for the Council, how these things changed once the Council started, and who the parties were that were involved.

Our next two installments will be a discussion of the Council's own preparatory work, including the Synod of Rome, and of the Curia, who hold their own respective positions in the views of our commentators.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Turgonian said...

"Right on the Roman shield and sword
Did spear of the Rhine maids run;
But the shield shifted never,
The sword rang down to sever,
The great Rhine sang for ever,
And the songs of Elf were done."

-- G.K. Chesterton, "The Ballad of the White Horse"