I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to continue to blog regularly. Career and family demands upon my time are steadily increasing. One thing I might try to do a little differently this year is to post up some book and lecture notes I’ve had the good fortune to take in the past.
A couple of years ago I read an interesting book by Fr. Andrew Greeley called The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council, exploring what has happened to the Church in the aftermath of Vatican II.
From Amazon... In short, he says, the new wine burst the old wineskins. He attributes this to the Church's failure to adjust its rhetoric and style to educated contemporary Catholics who no longer blindly obey the directives of Church authorities. Thus, he writes, Church leadership is now in conflict with lower clergy and laity, who have redefined Catholicism on their own terms, holding onto core doctrines and traditions even as they disagree with the rules in such areas as sexual behavior. Greeley does not necessarily endorse these unofficial reforms, but he does applaud the laity for their faith and calls on Church leaders to recognize and respect them. He has especially harsh words for authoritarian liturgists who have imposed their vision of worship on congregations starving for a real connection between faith and daily life. Catholics who want to know what happened after Vatican II will find this compelling reading.
It’s a common refrain on traditionalist blogs to blame the ills of the Church on Vatican II, or if not on the Council itself, on the nefarious Spirit of Vatican II as envisioned and implemented by liberals. The basic argument runs along the lines of “Post hoc, ergo, Propter hoc”. All of these horrible things happening in the Church happened after the Council, therefore, the Council must have been the cause of them…
Most traditionalists and conservatives don’t care for Andrew Greeley much. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus reportedly accused him once of writing “bodice ripper” romance novels. I don’t know about that, I’ve never read any of his novels. But whatever else people might think of him, he’s a trained sociologist and a pretty good one. Traditionalists who take in his book might be surprised to find that there are more than a couple of points they might agree with him on. Virtually everyone agrees that there was a “silly season” in the late 1960s and early 1970s when things got out of hand, and a lot of bad decisions were made.
I’ve been on record here several times maintaining that Vatican II was a revolution in the sense that the assembled bishops finally stood up like men and acted like real bishops, and were no longer going to cower before extreme anti-modernist functionaries in the Roman Curia who equated the Church with themselves. The popes were on the bishops' side… at least for a while. Forgive me if what I’m about to post here is repetitive. Much of what I’ve written below is a rehash of what I’ve posted in other topics and comboxes elsewhere…
If you look at the history of Vatican II, it essentially reads as a huge struggle between the vast majority of bishops from around the world, and a small minority of bishops, represented mainly by the Roman Curia, and the other Vatican bureaucrats who represented the administrative layer between the Pope and the bishops. The Curia figured that they were responsible for running the day-to-day workings of the Church, and intended to keep it that way, without meddling from the bishops. The bishops, on the other hand, resented seeing curial administrators attempting to usurp the bishops’ role as legislators.
For the most part, the Curia was opposed to the Council from the start, tried to maintain the status quo with their original schema (before the bishops rejected those and participated in drafting new schema), and dragged their feet the rest of the way, using delaying tactics and other high-handed methods such as delaying votes, or demanding after the votes were taken that the documents pass though their own Theological Commission for revision. Pope John and Pope Paul had to tell the Curia on several occasions to back off, get on board, and to be faithful to their wishes. Pope Paul first told the Curia himself on 09/21/63 that the Curia needed to be updated, and that several reforms were necessary. Cardinal Joseph Frings of Germany (with the help of his young theologian Joseph Ratzinger) delivered a famously scathing speech on 11/8/63 towards the members of the Curia, ripping into the “scandalous” methods of the Holy office (what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was called at the time). In January of 1965, Paul reminded the Curia that they were under heavy criticism from several quarters, including him, and that they were expected to be docile when their reform was eventually announced.
Considering the fact that the theologians and bishops who took part in the Vatican II debates, and later on had sharp differences between themselves over what the proper “Spirit of the Council” was, carrying their debates about "aggiornamento” vs. “ressourcement” into their respective journals Concilium and Communio (although the Communio side has pretty effectively taken out the Concilium side in one way or another over the last couple of decades), I think we all need to be modest in making sweeping claims about what the real Spirit was and what it was not. People who were still in the Roman Curia in the following years, however, such as Cardinal Alfredo Ottavaviani (the head of the Holy Office), were outright opponents of the Council, and obstructionists every inch of the way, and I’d say that at least half of the Catholic blogs I see out there today have veered in the direction of his way of thinking more than they have with either the Concilium or the Communio camps.
One thing I think can be said fairly definitively is that Pope John reigned in his curial cardinals and Roman professors at the start of the Council and gave the bishops and theologians an atmosphere of openness and trust in which to operate. The tenor of the Council was undeniably collegial and open.
Vatican I defined the power of the papacy, but it did not explicitly define the Church. Vatican I was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War before that could happen. There was a corrective needed for the papal absolutism that was seen in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. There was a need for more collegiality. The sails needed trimming a bit. At Vatican II, the Church was defined as “The People of God”, not as a pyramid structure as was assumed by many (with the Pope and bishops at the top, priests and nuns in the middle, and laity at the bottom). The gifts of the Holy Spirit were understood as being distributed throughout the Church, to the laity as well as the clergy, and not handed down from above, as in the pyramid structure... It is not the function of the bishops to lord it over their flocks but to discern spirits within the community and to steward those gifts to the benefit of the local church, and subsequently to the universal Church. Bishop's Synods were to be held regularly, the laity was called on to advise the bishops, there was supposed to be a reform of the way the Curia operated, and there was to be more respect for diversity and for the local churches. Instead, what we’ve seen in recent decades is more and more centralization in Rome, national episcopal conferences marginalized, bishops acting like branch managers, with the bishops at the synods virtually just rubber-stamping what gets fed to them in Rome (this might be changing recently), and the worst relationship between the theologians and the hierarchy that we’ve probably ever seen in living memory. Regarding the synods, many bishops over the last couple of decades have felt very disappointed, claiming that they are called merely to rubber-stamp decisions that have already been made in Rome, that their meetings are subject to curial intervention, and that they are not being seriously consulted. The agendas have been set by the popes, the deliberations are rarely public, and the popes have issued the final documents after the bishops have gone home. National episcopal conferences undeniably have a much lower profile than they did 20 or 30 years ago, as more and more decision-making has been centralized and has been taking place in Rome.
Where I think Paul VI himself specifically ran into trouble is where he took two topics off of the table for discussion in the Council, and reserved them to himself alone. One was priestly celibacy, and the other was birth control. In his refusal to follow the advice of his priests and nuns on the former, and the refusal to listen to the advice of his handpicked commission of laity and bishops on the latter, the aftermath is where we clearly see the effects of the post-conciliar crisis, whether or not we believe those decisions were right or wrong.
Anway, here is a distillation of notes that I took from Greeley’s book. I take responsibility for any errors I’ve made transcribing his thoughts, but I don’t necessarily take responsibility for his thoughts…
Bishops, in euphoria from being freed from the Roman Curia, introduced modest changes that were too much for the rigid 19th century structures to absorb.
Mandated changes persuaded the lower clergy and the laity that “unchangeable” Catholicism could change. They created their own reform, and swept away rules. The laity no longer accept the Church’s right to control their sexual lives. They have become Catholics on their own terms. The higher orders of the Church have not come to terms with the fact that in certain matters, they have lost credibility with the lower clergy and laity.
On the other hand, a small activist elite (principally liturgists?) attempted its own revolution. The tried to sweep out all they didn’t like about traditional Catholic practices and devotions without consulting the laity – resulting in “Beige Catholicism”.
The long reign of John Paul II was an attempt not to repeal the Council, but to repeal the Revolution.
Catholics have withdrawn sexuality from the area in which they feel they have to listen to the Church.
The leadership lost control of the post-conciliar moment because of what seemed to the laity to be an obsession with sex.
The “Revolution” lasted most generously from 1965 to 1974, but was more accurately within the period from 1966 to 1970.
The Council Fathers poured new wine into old winekins and they burst. Then they denied that it was new wine, or that the skins had burst. Finally, they blamed everyone else for what happened and made no attempt to fashion new wineskins. Many tried to repair the old ones.
Church leaders were frightened by the chaos and the student unrest, and aborted the reform. They didn’t proceed with the reform of the Papacy and the Curia called for by the Council Fathers.
In the period prior to the Council, the Church had taken a decidedly confrontational stance to the modern world. As a reaction to the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and Italian Nationalism, Catholicism had delivered an empahatic “NO” to liberalism, modernity, and the enlightenment.
This was a sort of departure from the normal course of history. Previously, the Church had taken in and absorbed the positive elements to be found in Platonism, Germanic folk religion (under Gregory the Great), Irish monasticism, Aristotle, Renasissance humanism, and Baroque art. It couldn’t, however, find any positive aspects of modernity to absorb.
Clericalism, of course, generates anti-clericalism.
Pre-World War I, the French 3rd Republic was anti-clerical.
Post-World War I, the Church was faced with the Communist threat.
Post-World War II, we start to see some movement against the fierce anti-modernist stance. Under Pius XII, there were somewhat progressive encyclicals issued on biblical scholarship and liturgical reforms.
Most early 20th century Catholics did not know that what they presumed had always been the style of the Church had evolved in a century-long struggle with the French Revolution.
A Church of Rules…
Catholicism had two faces:
- One of sacrament and celebration and community.
- One of rules and enforcement
There was little nuance among them. All the rules hung together, not logically or theologically, but psychologically in the minds of those who were forced to keep them, so that if one changed, the whole ball of wax would disintegrate.
The laity engaged in prescribed rituals because they had to. They had no experience in making up thir own rituals. Their identity was tied to obligatory fish on Friday (after the Council, their bishops told them that instead of obligatory fish on Friday, they should do other forms of penance… “What did that mean??”)
The rules were the Church… Sleeping together before marriage, using birth control, getting divorced, not going to Mass on Sunday… The glue that held it together was sacramentality and community.
What happened between the end of the Council and 1974?
Youth culture and a lack of respect for authority? Even older people had a change in attitudes about sex, birth control, and divorce.
Certain groups of traditionalists wanted to undo the Council outright.
Modifed traditionalist version – Claimed that the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church in a Council.
Other modifed traditionalist version – John XXIII didn’t know what he was doing. Paul VI was a vacillator. Restore tradition, emphasize continuity with the past, and gradually restore the old discipline.
Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc?
The theory of “Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc”. “Negative changes occurred after the Council, therefore, the Council caused them.” (The following charge is made by Greeley – Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and Jacques Maritain all turned their backs on the Council they’d helped to make).
Greeley notes, however - After the Council, until 1968, Mass attendence actually increased.
* An aside from the book notes for a minute… regarding the Post-Conciliar period, and problems in actually implementing the Council…There are two major tendencies in interpreting the Council…
Paul VI believed it would happen by “osmosis”. This was a “trickle down” theory on how Vatican II would be implemented, but things were coming from below as well.
Greeley’s position was that the Council was enthusiastically received, but that Humanae Vitae fractured the Church.. The birth control crisis stopped positive movement, and the renewal movement was fragmented.
Council theologian John Courtney Murray maintained that it was a Council of renewal and reform, and that we failed to understand the complexity of those terms. Renewal is about one thing. Reform is something else altogether. Renewal is about the world of ideas. Reform is about institutions, in the political arena. The Council laid out a grand vision of renewal, but without the supporting institutions to implement it. Subsequently, there has been conflict, confusion, and a struggle for consensus. The Council has let loose a pwerful set of themes….
-- Rev J Bryan Hehir
1) The Council was an occurrence… An exercise in continuity, not change.
2) The Council was a momentuous event… A revolution. A structure-shattering event.
Greeley notes that prelates today tend to take the view that the Church should have proceeded more cautiously.
Greeley’s position is that that they should not have tried to make so many changes while simultaneously asserting that nothing was changing.
Prior to Vatican II…
- There was centralization of power in the Vatican
- There was a Post-Tridentine understanding of sin
- There was a conviction that the Church is immutable
- There was an assumption that all decision-making flowed downward
- Those who disagreed with the Pope were not considered good Catholics
- The primary goal was the salvation of the soul by avoiding sin and keeping the rules
Where were the major changes immediately seen by the laity?
- The Liturgy. In 1965, the altars were turned around
- Ecumenism. Other Christians were considered “separated brethren”
- Meat on Friday. The ban was lifted by the American bishops after the Council was over. Greeley calls this decision unneccessary and devastating (I tend to disagree. IMHO, the mandating of such an obligatory practice flew right in the face of the law-free ethos to be found in the letters of St. Paul, but I see the cultural point he’s trying to make).
None of the reforms touched on the essence of doctrine, but the distinctions were lost on the laity. “What would change next?”
Implicit in the new mutability was the notion that if something ought to change, and would be changed eventually, it was alright to anticpate the change and act on one’s own authority.
- Birth Control… The laity and the lower clergy embraced the principle of following one’s own conscience.
People justified their decision by appealing not to a Pope who did not understand, but to a God who did.
- Priests and Nuns… The dispensation of religious to leave and get married. “Why not let them get married?” Catholics were coming to believe that the Church could change whatever it wanted to, whenever it wanted to…
Central authority has lost its credibility.
The Vatican II message about the Church being horizontal as well as vertical came crashing through to the laity loud and clear.
Greeley quotes John O’Malley SJ – “The Church is defined in the first instance not through the hierarchy and clergy, but through all its members, without regard to ecclesiastical status or office.”
Is a restoration possible? That was the hope for the new catechism, but the new structures are not likely to go away.
Greeley went on at length about a thesis by Melissa Jo Wilde called The Theory of Collective Behavior, which is defined as…
“The expectations of individuals merging into a group experience that often overrides and even reverses the emotions the individuals bring to it, and produces a mobilization of resources toward achieving the goal of the group.”
Wilde calls this “effervescence”. Wilde contends that the Council Fathers were caught up in collective behavior of the most extraordinary kind. Hope and euphoria swept through the Council. Initially thinking that nothing would happen, they began to realize things could change, and that they were going to change them.
The top leader (the Pope) had undercut the rigid controls his staff (the Roman Curia) had tried to impose on the bishops of the world. The bishops voted for reform measures, attributing the euphoria to the Holy Spirit. They knew that the Pope was on their side.
“Liberal” leaders mobilized resources to achieve the ideals of a reformed Church. They arranged formal and informal efforts at organization and coordination – a temporary social movement – to build large majorites at the Council. The Curia, on their part, waited and bided their time.
The bishops went home and left their effervescence behind them. They tried to tell their congregations, afraid of hostile reactions, that nothing much had changed, but the euphoria had already spread to much of the lower clergy and laity.
As early as 1965, people were asking about birth control, and priests were telling them to follow their own consciences.
At the time, 75% of priests expected celibacy to become optional within 10 years.
“Anything goes”, or “Everything is going” seemed to be the order of the day.
The “Confident Church” was in a state of chaos…
Did the Council Destroy The Church?
It destroyed some of the structures of the pre-conciliar Church. Other structures survived, as well as core matters of doctrine, but the structures concerning sex and authority were the ones that collapsed. The bishops were not allowed to address matters related to sexuality at the Council. Paul VI reserved those matters to himself.
If you had been brought up being taught that nothing had ever changed, nothing could change, and then something did change, the changers, without intending it, would have put everything in doubt.
Blind obedience may have worked with peasants, but not with an educated laity.
The Church waited too long to change. After the interventions by Cardinals Lienart and Frings (challenging the preparatory work and tactics of the Curia) , and their acceptance by John XXIII, there was no way to prevent Vatican II from being a revolutionary event.
To blame Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council is to refuse to face the critical question of why the old structures – the patterns and their supporting motivations – collapsed so easily and so quickly.
The key element in the revolution was the demolition of the structure that said that the Catholic Church would not, and could not ever change.