Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Popes to be Canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday

I think The Wall Street Journal gave this editorial the wrong subtitle ("Two popes who differed on the Second Vatican Council become saints a half century later.") although the headline could be correct ("A Moment of Reconciliation for Catholics"):
Pope John called Vatican II in 1959 because he had come to the "conviction that something ought to be done in order to make the church more responsive to this modern world, in order to make the modern world more responsive to the church," according to Jesuit Father Ladislas Orsy, one of the council's official theologians. Or, as Pope John famously put it, he wanted to open the church's windows and let in some fresh air. Initiating Vatican II was by far the most consequential action of his pontificate, though he died in 1963 after the first of the council's four sessions.
Pope John Paul attended the entire council as a young bishop, making major contributions to the 1965 document "Gaudium Et Spes," which dealt with the church in the modern world. He argued that Catholics could better engage secular culture if they approached it more sympathetically. He was also a supporter of the council's declaration on religious freedom, and he furthered the council's aim of world-wide evangelical outreach by traveling to 129 countries during his pontificate. But he also made it his job to correct what he viewed as deviations from the council—including dissent in religious orders—that some had justified by appealing to an expansive spirit of Vatican II.
We cannot say that soon-to-be-canonized Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II disagreed about the Second Vatican Council because the former died before the Council concluded and had no opportunity to implement it in his own diocese (Rome) or in the universal Church. The latter did have the opportunity to implement it in his own Polish diocese and brought that experience to the universal Church when elected Supreme Pontiff. I think that Blessed John Paul II had already worked to open the Church's windows "and let in some fresh air" as he taught in university, worked with young laity, and opposed the oppression of the Communists in Poland.

As I grew up in the Diocese of Wichita, I believe that I was spared some of the confusions of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. We had a wise bishop, David M. Maloney, may he rest in peace. Nevertheless, I remember some of the vapid songs we sang, and of the ridiculous catechesis I endured in high school (interpreting the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel! "I Am A Rock" as the foundation of life!), and some other horrors ("Stairway to Heaven"--instrumental only at least--at Mass!).

The crucial issue, certainly highlighted in the last sentence of the second paragraph I quoted above, has been the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and even more, the "expansive spirit of Vatican II". Ay, there's the rub! Blessed John Paul II--not in any disagreement with either of his predecessors--addressed the fullness of the interpretation of the Council, according to the Council Fathers' intent. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI continued Pope John Paul II's work; as a peritus at the Council, he had his own view of what happened in its aftermath. Another great contribution he made to the historical view of the Council was the term a hermeneutic of reform or continuity; not seeing the Second Vatican Council as a break with the past, but as part of the history of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. Benedict XVI presented this "hermeneutic of continuity" early in his reign, at the end of 2005:

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague. . . .

Read the rest of the WSJ article here. Read the rest of Benedict XVI's comments on the implementation of the documents and reforms of the Second Vatican Council here. Perhaps there will be reconciliation within the Church between these two groups. I look forward to hearing what Pope Francis has to say on Divine Mercy Sunday as two Servants of the Servants of God are canonized (and to seeing if Emeritus Pope Benedict attends the ceremony!).

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