Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pope St. John Paul II's worry that the Council opened the Church to the "Prince of this World"

Fr. Paul J. McDonald, in an op-ed piece entitled "The Council Opened the Church to the Prince of this World" (RC, July 19, 2014), quotes the encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vificantem, 23, where the recently sainted late John Paul II seems to say that the Council consciously took a risk in opening the Church to the world -- that is, the world that is dominated by the "Prince of this world." It seems that he though the risk was worth taking for the sake of evangelization, but that it was a significant risk. John Paul wrote:
One must learn how to "discern" the salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed in the Council carefully from everything that may instead come originally from the "prince of this world." This discernment in implementing the Council's work is especially necessary in view of the fact that the Council opened itself widely to the contemporary world.
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I read the short op-ed by Fr. Paul

I find this interpretation fundamentally wrongheaded for several reasons:

1) He seems to identify the Church's being opened widely to the contemporary world with what comes from the "prince of this world." But surely the two concepts of the "contemporary world" and "prince of this world" are not identical even if at some points they overlap. Surely what John Paul is alluding to is similar to the distinction that St. John draw between the world as "fallen" and the world as "created." Surely we cannot assume that the "contemporary world" is bereft of the true, the good, and the beautiful as it is a reflection of God's good creation and providential governance of the world. Surely we cannot assume that Jerusalem should not having anything to do with Athens, the Church with the academy, the Church with the world. John Paul urged us to work out the "salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed by the Council" in and throughout the whole spectrum of life, including the culture, and so forth. Of course he also urges us to be wise, calls us to discern good from evil, just as St. Paul does in 1 Thessalonians 5 19:23, "Do not stifle the utterances of the Spirit, do not hold prophecy in low esteem; and yet you must scrutinize it all carefully, retaining only what is good, and rejecting all that has a look of evil about it" (Ronald Knox translation). Vatican II understood this when it spoke of "A monumental struggle [of the Kingdom of God] against the powers of evil [that] pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God's grace. That is why Christ's Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve man's true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle's warning: 'Be not conformed to this world' (Rom. 12:2). Here by the world is meant that spirit of vanity and malice which transforms into an instrument of sin those human energies intended for the service of God and man." (GS, no. 37).



2) Surely Fr. McDonald is not urging us to adopt what Francis Schaeffer once called the "citadel mentality," namely, "living in a castle with the drawbridge up and occasionally tossing a stone over the walls. . . [A] Citadel mentality--sitting inside [the castle] and saying, 'You cannot reach me here'" (The God Who is There, 172). Yes, sometimes we are called to withdraw and renounce the world, in short, to be counter-cultural, but surely that must be followed by an equally necessary movement of responsible engagement in cultural tasks in the whole spectrum of culture.

3) Yes, of course we exist in a world that is created, fallen and redeemed; as fallen, and JPII understood this well in DV 55 and 56. "Unfortunately, the history of salvation shows that God's coming close and making himself present to man and the world, that marvelous "condescension" of the Spirit, meets with resistance and opposition in our human reality. . . . Unfortunately, the resistance to the Holy Spirit which St. Paul emphasizes in the interior and subjective dimension as tension, struggle and rebellion taking place in the human heart, finds in every period of history and especially in the modern era its external dimension, which takes concrete form as the content of culture and civilization, as a philosophical system, an ideology, a program for action and for the shaping of human behavior. It reaches its clearest expression in materialism, both in its theoretical form: as a system of thought, and in its practical form: as a method of interpreting and evaluating facts, and likewise as a program of corresponding conduct."

4) Of course we hope and pray for God's wisdom to take root in our lives so that we discern properly in the world.



5) I don't know what Fr. McDonald means by saying that the Church is suffering from "diabolical disorientation." He gives no examples. I think I know what he means. But surely the Church is called to holiness, to sanctification: Ecclesia Semper Purificanda!

6) I don't know what he means by saying that the "diabolical disorientation" is due "at least partially because of Vatican II." Interpretations of Vatican II? how does Fr. McDonald know that more evil is present in the Church than good? Surely he doesn't believe that???

Anyway, these are just some thoughts that came to mind when I read his short op-ed.



The key to E.E.'s analysis is the word "overlap." E.E. brushes over the word, but this is the key to everything, including the key to the relationship between the letter and the "Spirit" of Vatican II.

Neocaths want earnestly to separate the "Spirit of Vatican II" from the letter and to view the letter as sacrosanct. They are to be commended for their inclination to fidelity. But they miss the thrust of what is happening in the culture of the Church today, and the massive apostasy afoot.

G.S. is a wax nose, which can be twisted to mean just about anything the reader wishes it to mean. The passage quoted by E.E. emphasizes the fallenness of this world, which is of key importance in an orthodox understanding of the place of the Church in the world. Yet the overall thrust of G.S. makes of this a minor point that is generally skirted on the way to the grand celebration of the goodness of the modern world and the Church's accommodation of its proclivities in the spirit of aggiornamento.

Most of the rest of what E.E. says is irrelevant distraction - the goodness and beauty and truth that can be found in the world, the red herring of a suggested return to a "citadel mentality," the fact that JPII and G.S. recognize the fallenness of the world, the call to holiness in the Church, the question whether Fr. McDonald knows more evil is in the Church than good. All distractions, intentional or not.

The issue is the "overlap" that also pertains to the relationship between the letter and "Spirit" of Vatican II, between the "Prince of this world" and "the contemporary world." Whatever goodness is fond in the world and in Vatican II, the bellwether of what lies ahead is in the abiguity of the notorious "overlap." This is what confronts us every Sunday when we go to Mass in a church belonging to an infallible tradition and hear piffle and fluff.