Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Secularizing the Meaning of the Sacred: A Telling Evangelical Assessment of Vatican II

Joseph F. Martin, "What He Saw at the Revolution" (Imprimatur, June 26, 2016):
You are forewarned: this is a theological post.

I am reading this small book... a disturbing one for people of an evangelical mindset, and all-too unavoidably on target for those of us with comfortable ideas about Catholicism being the rock who now wonder exactly what's up with Pope Francis etc. Dave Wells wrote Revolution in Rome in 1972, and before Benedict XVIs supposed attempted retrenchment, before the conservative trophy moments of John Paul II and his Catechism of the Catholic Church. Also not long after Anthony Wilhelm's consequential doorstop of a book Christ Among Us (1967).

I remember seeing that brick in households of my Catholic friends well as in my Protestant youth pastor's office, of course, along with Hans King's On Being a Christian (those mainstream Protestants, did they have repressed Catholic-envy complexes back then or what?). Wilhelm looked to my naive eyes like the Catholic counterpoint to The Way, Reach Out, or The Living Bible. And I am sure it sold a zillion more copies than Wells' book, that went unnoticed and then out of print. too bad. Wilhelm is thicker -- mammoth, by comparison. But Wells manages far more cumulative clarity -- and, I'll add, as a Protestant also ironically ends up landing himself far more closely to something that sounds like what was known as genuine Catholic tradition prior to 1961 than the new wave of catechetical writers of which Wilhelm was precursor. By now, of course, we are perpetually reminded of the convenient if semi-oxymoronic coverall of 'Living Tradition,' so everything can simply be dismissed to the haze.

Revolution in Rome is both diagnostic and prescient as an overview of what happened at Vatican II, and how the theology inspired by conciliar winds enabled a revolution. The newness of Vatican II involved both medium and content. And it sparked a cycle that 50+ years later remains with us. In his preface to Wells' book John Stott wrote words that could deftly be applied to the reign of Pope Francis in our here and now:

Wells shows himself very sensitive to the acutely painful personal dilemma in which many contemporary Catholics find themselves. The Roman monolith, which for centuries  has appeared inviolable, has at last cracked open. Conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and radicals, are engaged in a fierce power struggle. Because the Council endorsed opinions  which oppose, contradict and exclude each other. The whole church is in unprecedented disarray.

Interestingly, A brand new (2015) book offers confirmation of just what Wells intuited decades ago. Msgr. Brunero Gherardini's book, Vatican Council II: A Debate That Has Not Taken Place, explains:

The rupture, before bearing upon specific matters, bore upon the fundamental inspiration. Certain ostracism had been decreed, ...not towards one or another of the revealed truths proposed as such by the Church [but towards] a certain way of presenting these truths. It thus attacked a theological method, that of scholasticism, that is no longer tolerated. With a particular energy against Thomism, considered by many as outdated and now very far from the sensibility and problems of modern man. One did not realize, nor did not want to believe, that rejecting St. Thomas Aquinas and his method would entail a doctrinal collapse. The ostracism had begun by making itself subtle, penetrating and all-encompassing.
It threw no one out the door, or any theological theory, and still less certain dogmas. [In fact, w]what it evinced was the mentality that in its [own] time [it was] defin[ing] and promulgat[ing] these dogmas.

[But it was] a true rupture because it was strongly wished for, as a necessary condition, as the only way that would allow an answer to hopes and questions that had up till then—since the Enlightenment, that is—remained unanswered. I ask myself if truly all the conciliar Fathers realized that they were objectively in the process of tearing themselves away from this multi-century mentality that until then had expressed the fundamental motivation of life, of prayer, of the teaching and government of the Church.

[Because i]n all, they proposed again the modernist mentality, that against which St. Pius X had taken up a very clear position, expressing his intention of "instaurare omnia in Christo," "restoring all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10). It was thus clearly a manifestation of gegen-Geist.

Today while jogging I had this thought, sparked by my reading and a recent family wedding... The Popes seem scandalized by the drift of the Church, but why? I am assured they are pastors, and not Ivory Tower academics, and so like to think they would be able to engage in some proactive foresight. Yet they seem to me like conflicted parents, ones who tolerate their child living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, possibly even do a bit of encouraging of them to be quietly avant garde, but are later then disappointed when the subsequent grandchildren opt out of getting married in any church ("Nature feels closer to God!"). They operate under what seems like a disconnect. Contra the impression given by Life Magazine spreads of a jolly Pope John waving to peasants, or National Geographic articles on the benevolent Pope Francis hugging teens, Catholic faith can survive only so manny cosmetic touchups for such social media moments before it begins to lose some of its defining edges. The Popes for decades now have been attempting a truce if not synthesis with the impossible-to-stem tides of Modernism, and their overtures continue to produce fundamentally  problematic results. Xavier Rynne's Letters from Vatican City do not stand as a testimony to nothing.

​ In an annotated bibliography Wells observes that in Joseph Ratzinger's commentary on the Council, the great Cardinal seems not quite "candid. One has the impression Ratzinger cannot quite bring himself to say what is really on his mind." Fifty plus years and a steady stream of Raztingerian books later -- some of the latter certainly inspiring -- that impression remains, as does a suspicion that the Council Fathers, even the moderate ones, sort of wanted it both ways. 

But for now, back to 1972... Wells might also have titled his Revolution 'Where is the New Theology Taking Us?,' since his book reads like a confirmation of a famous essay of that title by Catholic colossus Reginald Garriogou-Lagarange. --JM

* * * * *

Some excerpts follow, with emphases added:  

At the cost of oversimplification, the question can be put another way: is God's salvation effected ultimately through our resurrection out of the world or through our involvement in secular institutions in the world? The former option is the one adopted by traditionalists and is consistent, it is said, with their two-layered world. The lower layer is secular and thus provides the Christian with noting but an alien and hostile environment. Traditionalists, progressives argue, long to escape it since the only things meaningful to them belong in the upper world. As they wait to take flight from the world, they begin to resemble the nervous hermit weaving and unweaving his baskets. On this reckoning, the plan of salvation is accomplished vertically through the Christian's extraction from the world. This, of course, puts the options too starkly, but it indicates how the debate is shaping up. Alternatively, some progressives have argued that God's saving plan is partly identified with secular life and is being realized through it. Redemption is ultimately achieved in the world, not above it, for the two layers of the cake have become one. No longer is the Christian a lonely hermit in refuge from secular life. On the contrary, human activity at all levels in our society is providing the raw substance for God's redemptive work. Secular man, then, is becoming a co-worker with God in redeeming human life, and the catalyst in this action is the Christian. Thus Barnabas Ahern has explained: What really matters is the tremendous truth affirmed by the Council that all worthwhile human activity is part of the creative plan of God and of the redemptive mystery of Christ who died that he might re-establish all things and transform them into the perfect eschatological kingdom of his Father. The whole world—the heavens and the earth, the vast oceans and verdant fields, the tangled bush of Africa and the trampled streets of New York, men of all colors and of all backgrounds—all that God has made is alive with an plan to God. (Baniabas Ahern, "The Eschatological Dimensions of the Church," Vatican II: An Interfaith Appraisal, ed. John H. Miller, pp. 296-300).

According to this view, eschatology will be realized horizontally rather than vertically. The object of God's saving purposes is not merely the souls of Christian people, but rather human life in all of its parts. Moreover, in order to achieve this end, God is not extracting people out of the world, but is presently active in the world in all of its comprehensive reality. This means, among other things, that heaven is not going to be somewhere "out there." Rather, the present physical earth will be transformed into heaven because it is now being prepared for God's eternal habitation. The home of man is going to become the home of God; the institutions of man likewise will become God's institutions. Edward Schillebeeckx is among those who have suggested this new approach. In God the Future of Man, he has argued that there is a deep chasm dividing modern man's secularity and the religious ideals of traditional Catholicism. He traces the growth of secularity from the twelfth century onward and concludes that Christian thought has not kept pace with secular development. Rejecting the notion of two-layered reality, Schillebeeckx goes on to argue that the meaning of God is internal, and its fullest realization will happen on the horizontal sphere of man's own history. Schillebeeckx identifies God with an inner sense which he says men have that the future has meaning. Man has an unshakable confidence that at the end of the road there will be good, not bad. This is God. Some of these ideas were also probed in a volume edited by Schillebeeckx and entitled The Problem of Eschatology. It contains essays by several authors who examine the themes of death, resurrection, immortality and the soul, on the assumption that the afterlife is to occur on the flat plane of man's history and not in some airy world "above."

By removing the frontier that has traditionally divided the natural from the supernatural, contemporary theologians are able to see reality as one composite whole. The whole of the created world is beginning to throb with the hidden life of God. It is this development, more than anything else, which explains the current convergence between Eastern and Western thought. This view has profound implications for the doctrine of man, as we shall see, and it is these implications which are leading Western theologians towards Eastern pantheism, mysticism and universalism.

The infusion of the supernatural in the natural also explains why some of the distinctives of the Christian doctrine of God, such as his personality, seem less tenable today than before. When the being of God is identified with secularity and even with trees, rivers, grass, streets, buildings and atomic bombs, the idea of his personality becomes difficult to maintain. When this occurs, the personality of man also becomes doubtful. He may be nothing more than a chance collation of atoms, in which case the search for meaning in human life will probably end in failure. Before looking at these implications more closely, however, we must examine the extent to which the Council endorsed the new eschatology.

The universalism implicit in the new view emerges in several important passages in the Council documents, one of which states: The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain her full perfection only in the glory of heaven. Then will come the time of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). Then the human race as well as the entire world . . . will be perfectly re-established in Christ [my italics] ."

Second, the idea that secular activity is being incorporated into the divine plan of salvation since the dividing wall between God and the world has been partially broken down is taught in the following passage:

"For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brother-hood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again [my italics] .... This will be so when Christ hands over to the Father a kingdom eternal and universal." Christ's atonement, then, was aimed at restoring earthly institutions no less than broken human natures. Human activity which makes life more genuinely human is bringing us nearer the final consummation because it is making life more genuinely divine. Every technical advance, every adventure into space, every effort to rout crime and every attempt to give capitalism a conscience, if man is really being served, have become means of God's salvation of man. The reality of God has become identified with the reality of the earthly city, the sacred is found in the secular, Christ is in the world. This may give the impression that the Council endorsed the new secular theology without reserve. This, of course, is not true. Alongside ideas from the "horizontal" eschatology were juxtaposed ideas from the more traditional "vertical" eschatology.

The interpreter of the Council's theology is once again in a difficult position. Should conciliar teaching be identified with the first option on the grounds that a majority endorsed it? Or should it be aligned with the second option on the grounds that this teaching seems to have papal approval? The interpretation adopted here is that the new secular theology will either determine the direction in which Catholic thinking will move, despite papal disapproval, or at least it will be highly influential within Catholicism. The reasons for taking this approach are those which were given earlier in trying to decide which theology of revelation should be accepted from the Council's teaching. In the new thinking, man is the focal point of theological attention. He is, after all, the point of integration between the orders of reality. Through man a bridge is thrown over from the one sphere of reality to the other. Consequently, "signals of transcendence" register on his inner life. Insofar as this is true, religious experience does provide basic theological information for these "insights," and "perceptions" can be accepted as a form of revelation. The Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World utilized these insights and accepted man's centrality: Hence the pivotal point of our total presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will. There are two ways to explain how the nature of man is pervaded by the supernatural. Philosophically, an argument has been developed along the lines of being. Man's being, it is said, runs down into and becomes continuous with Being. Since Being pervades the world, man is an important point of juncture between material and spiritual reality. Alternatively, a more theological approach is possible. Man participates in and is an expression of the divine, not primarily through his being but through his humanity. His humanity is the point of connection with divinity.

This seems to be the explanation adopted by the Council, in one passage at least. Speaking of the death of Christ, it was stated: "To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by his incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. [my italics]

For students living in the twentieth century and nurtured largely, if unconsciously, on European existentialism, this statement is at least enigmatic and probably nonsensical. It implies a view of human nature which is alien to our Western mentality. For centuries, however, it has been upheld in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Greek philosophy, human nature was looked upon as a single and universal phenomenon, a kind of web spread over the whole earth, each man constituting a small part. It was like a universal substance, a minuscule amount of which had been dropped into the crucible of each body. Every person, then, is a partial or pale representation of this total reality, and each person is related to the whole of mankind in a far more binding way than mere blood relationship. For the existentialist, however, this kind of thinking spells the end of individual action and responsibility. For him, each man is an independent island. There is no universal stuff called human nature antecedent to the individual's existence. Consequently the individual comes into the world with an unformed nature. What shape it will eventually take depends on the actions of will by which the man fashions and authenticates himself. There is no relationship between individual men and mankind. Plato summarized the Greek view by saying that essence precedes existence; Sartre rejected it, saying that existence precedes essence. 

At this point, the Council showed itself in agreement with Plato rather than Sartre. Did the second person of the Godhead join himself to Jesus as an isolated individual or to the universal phenomenon of human nature and hence to mankind in toto? The Platonic view demands the latter. The Council agreed in at least one place, saying that Christ "united Himself in some fashion with every man." If Christ joined himself to humanity in the incarnation, rather than to the isolated human nature in Jesus, two important consequences follow. First, the focus of theology has plainly shifted from Calvary to Bethlehem, from the atonement to the incarnation. The incarnation virtually effects atonement. Union with Christ is effected not through trusting in his saving death but through being organically joined to mankind in whom Christ's life has been released. In much the same way as a pond will slowly become colored if a bucket of dye is thrown into it, so humanity is slowly being divinized through the life of Christ which has been injected into it at the incarnation. The second important consequence is that the focus of salvation has shifted from the idea of justification to that of deification. Traditionally in Roman Catholicism, sin has been defined in legal terms. The Reformers also built on this idea. Sin, they argued, is law breaking. Under the law's condemnation, man becomes powerless to release himself. Justification, the act of release, was similarly couched in legal terms. God the judge, they taught, releases man from his legal offense and imputes his crime to and exacts his punishment on another. It is true, of course, that this represents only one aspect of the Bible's teaching; the event of being saved involves much more than these bare legal exchanges. Nevertheless, it does not involve less than these.

However, some passages of the conciliar documents define sin more as a clouding of our minds through our mortality than as a perverting of our natures through moral disobedience. Sin, it is said, is internal "imbalance"; salvation, we conclude, consists in introducing the principle of immortality into human life which will then reverse the effects of imbalance in mortality. The life of Christ which is the immortal yeast in the mortal human dough will eventually permeate every man. As this occurs, a man becomes more genuinely human and as he becomes more genuinely human, he becomes more genuinely divine. The new eschatology seems to assume as its salvation-model the idea of deification rather than penal redemption.

The attempt to give the affairs of secular life a divine significance was pioneered by Teilhard de Chardin. It is magnificently illustrated in his account of the exploding of an atomic bomb which he witnessed. With his customary eloquence he described the fears and apprehensions which surrounded the event. The potential for destruction which the explosion was about to demonstrate was on everyone's mind. Was this bomb one day going to show how completely man's technological abilities have outstripped his capacity to control them? Yet, as the earth trembled under the atomic impact and as the sky became incandescent with fire, Teilhard recalled that it was joy, not apprehension, that filled his mind. What he saw in the flecked and shattered sky was not the possibility of destruction but of re-creation. For contained in that mushroom cloud was the omnipotent and crea-tive power of God which had been unlocked from the earth.

There are other ways of developing this new relationship between the natural and the supernatural. As far as the future is concerned, the most important of these is what is now called "political theology," an alliance between political Marxism and religious conviction. A new base has now been established for political action. If God's saving plan for the earth is being effected through secular institutions, then political protest and social revolution are understood as the means God is using to renovate the world. These ideas first came to expression in German Protestantism in Jurgen Moltmann's The Theology of Hope. Later, he visited the United States and published the substance of his lectures. The revolutionary ideas which are barely dis-cernible in the first volume become quite evident in the second. His thesis is simple enough. The ultimate renovation of the earth is the end to which the Christian subjects all else. This is Christianity's unifying concept. The means of achieving this renovation is revolution. And, because it is central to Christian thinking, the revolutionary means of attaining the goal of renovation must receive urgent attention. This kind of religious Marxism moved rapidly from Protestant circles into Roman Catholic thinking which had been well prepared for its reception by Vatican II. Johannes Metz has become the chief spokesman for the Catholic "political theology" in Germany.

What is happening in Germany is by no means of merely parochial concern or peripheral significance. South America, for example, is now ripe for political revolution. The poverty, oppression and thwarted hopes of which revolutions are made abound on that continent. It is not surprising, then, that many South American priests are adopting the stance, if not the practices, of Marxist revolutionaries. What makes this development so significant is that the destruction of the existing order is being given messianic significance. The crumbling of buildings, the overthrow of institutions and even the murder of fellow countrymen may be considered signs of God's impending renovation of society. Revolutions can generate tremendous impetus of their own accord, but allied to religious conviction, they receive a soul, a determination, even an ideology, which they would other-wise lack. This is why the new secular theology cannot be dismissed as merely the brainchild of theologians closeted away in their ivory towers. It may make itself felt one day not only in the lecture room but on the streets of cities smashed by revolutionaries. Vatican II did not openly sanction revolution, except in one paragraph, but its endorsement of the new eschatology, its giving of sacred meaning to the secular, has opened up the possibility of Church involvement in revolutions. There is no question, though, how radicals in South America will understand that one paragraph which gives tacit approval to revolution:

"By its very nature, private property has a social quality deriving from the law of communal purpose of earthly goods. If this social quality is overlooked, property often becomes an occasion of greed and of serious disturbance. In many underdeveloped areas there are large and even gigantic rural estates which are only moderately cultivated or lie completely idle for the sake of profit. At the same time the majority of the people are either without land or have only very small holdings, and there is evident and urgent need to increase land productivity. . . insufficiently cultivated estates should be distributed to those who can make these lands fruitful" [my italics] .

This, of course, is precisely what happened in the Bolshevik revolution where an economic elite were forcibly ejected from the large uncultivated estates which they had owned. At that time the Church was identified with the status quo. It supported the imperial order. Now it appears to be identifying with the downtrodden peasant. At least this is how South American theologians like Mendez Arceo and Ivan Illich are interpreting their Catholic commitment. And, in a slightly different context, this is also how the Berrigan brothers are interpreting theirs. What is alarming about the new direction in which elements of avant-garde Catholic thought are moving is not their concern for ethical, social and political matters but the base on which the concern is built. Radical priests and some laymen are seeing themselves as the instruments in God's re-making of society and revolution as the way in which this will be achieved. Behind this idea lies the new relationship of the natural and the supernatural. God and the world, as biblically conceived, are no longer at odds with one another, but the supernatural is now merged into the natural.

Traditional Catholicism maintained that the connecting link between man and Christ is the Church, whereas the Reformers, for example, argued that it is faith. ...This position was contested by Roman theologians of the day who established an identification between Christ and the Catholic Church. With few exceptions, they said, man can only know Christ through this Church. Since there is an exclusiveness in Christ's teaching about himself, so there must be an exclusiveness in the Church's teaching about herself. If Christ is the only source of truth, then joining the Catholic Church is the only way of finding that truth. The one Christ and the one Body of Christ belong indissolubly together. He who rejects the one true Church is all too easily brought, as by an inexorable logic, to go astray also about Christ. As a matter of fact the history of revolt from the Church is at the same time a history of the progressive decomposition of the primitive faith in Christ. This position was deftly summarized in the third century by the north African bishop Cyprian and officially endorsed by the Fourth Lateran Council (A.D. 1215) in the dictum that "Outside the Church there is no salvation (Extra ecclesiarn nulla salus)."

Today, however, in an intriguing new development, Roman Catholic theologians themselves are trying to pierce the armor of this argument. It is vulnerable, they say, in its claim that there is an airtight relationship between Christ and the Catholic Church.

The old argument was formulated by men who thought they could know God's truth infallibly. Their confidence, it is said, was the child of classical logic in which truth was always truth, error was always error and the distinction between them was never blurred. The classical mind was composed of black and white only, never of gray. Consequently, there was for traditional Catholics an unbridgeable chasm between Christ and the devil, light and darkness, Catholic and non-Catholic religion. But is this not, it is asked, a rather facile oversimplification of the real situation?

On the level of cognition—what man can know—the old Catholic was confident and affirmative. The new Catholic, by contrast, tends to be agnostic in some respects and uncertain in others. He is the child of the existential, not the classical, world. For him, the object of religious knowledge, in this case Christ, is often obscure. The sharp lines of distinction in matters of truth are now untenable, perhaps even undesirable. The concern has shifted from objective definition to subjective experience. It is not what you believe which is important but that you believe, not what you believe in but the quality of your commitment as you believe.

Consequently, some people have begun to wonder—rather loudly as it turns out—whether there is a distinction to be made between truth as it exists in itself and truth as it is understood in the Church. Do we ever understand truth as it really is? Does not our fallible humanity always interpose itself like an obfuscating filter between the truth and what we understand about that truth? If this distinction can be maintained, then truth could mean different things for God and for man. Reality for God is utterly perspicuous; for man it is always blurred. To God, truth is always an integrated whole; for man, it usually appears as fragmented insights which, at some later point, might have to be revised. Truth is absolute to God; it is relative to man.

A good illustration of the new view of truth, although it is only one of many which could be used, is the book entitled God Jesus Spirit. This book, says its editor Daniel Callahan, was made necessary by the new spirit which Vatican II encouraged. It has forced Roman Catholics to rethink their faith in non-traditional terms. Callahan, therefore, commissioned a number of authors to re-examine the doctrine of God, the meaning of Jesus and the place of the Spirit in Christian life. The three subjects which were chosen would suggest that what was really in view was the doctrine of the Trinity, but Callahan denies this. Modern theologians, he says, no longer think of truth as a whole, nor do they think of Christianity as a system in which doctrines are inter-related. Rather, truth is fragmentary, and Christian theology is made up of a series of partial and unrelated insights. Themes are taken up seriatim; their interconnections are not examined.

If this position can be sustained, there is little doubt that the airtight relationship between Christ and the Church has been broken. The truth of Christ may be absolute, but the Church can never see it clearly enough to comprehend it absolutely. Her doctrinal formulations can never be more than approximations to the truth. Some are good approximations, others are bad, but all are subject to revision. Since the Church can no longer declare with that old ring of authority what the truth is, she must accordingly abandon her old claim to be in exclusive possession of it.

This line of reasoning has an unusual history. For about twenty years before Vatican II, Catholic thinkers—especially those in France—had been probing this distinction, to the acute discomfort of traditionalists. In his opening speech to the Council, Pope John apparently alluded favorably to these ideas. However, we should note that it is one thing for theologians to speculate about truth like this, but quite another for the Pope to do so. Indeed, in the brief interim between the reading of his speech and its appearance in official translation, one traditionalist at least went on record as saying that the Pope could not possibly have endorsed these ideas.' To the conservatives' chagrin, however, it turned out that he had, for he said that "the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another."

To a Protestant casually browsing over the speech, this sentence may appear so bland as to seem almost meaningless. It may seem as if John was merely saying that each generation must re-express the unchanging core of Christian truth in its own language and jargon. But this idea is so obvious the Pope need not have said it, and it is certainly not capable of precipitating the furor which followed his statement. We must look elsewhere for its real significance. In the audience of trained theologians, John could use a kind of theological shorthand which would be interpreted in the way he wished. His single sentence was a pithy, if deceptively simple, summary of the new ideas: There is a distinction to be drawn between truth in itself ("the deposit of faith is one thing") and truth as it is comprehended by the Church and taught to the world ("the way in which it is presented is another").

This distinction is primarily responsible for freeing contemporary Roman Catholicism from its traditional attitudes towards culture and religion. Because the close relationship between Christ and the Church has been broken, no doctrinal formulation from the past can bind Catholic attitudes in the present. Each formulation is to some extent deficient. Each generation must try afresh to penetrate the deposit of faith more deeply and correspondingly reformulate its own faith. No generation will again be able to claim eternal and unchanging status for its formulations.

Hans Kung was the first major theologian to pursue these ideas in print. For example, he tried to give Council decisions a merely local or momentary significance.' They were infallible in the moment in which they were enunciated, but at a later date they could be changed. But then in 1970, he moved to a more logically satisfying position in his book Infallible?: An Inquiry in which he denied that infallibility can ever be found in any form or in any place (including the Vatican).

The New Catholicism, then, does not find itself limited by past statements on man's religion. The traditionalists were formulating faith for their time; progressives are now doing it for ours. Both parties are said to be working with the same "deposit of faith," but as they work with it, they see different things.

According to progressives, the crucial statement in the Council documents occurred early in the Constitution on the Church. There it is stated that "at all times and among every people, God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right." This sentence appears before any of the discussion on the traditional means of salvation, such as the sacraments. This order is important, as Butler explains:

The constitution on the Church . . . in its chapter on the People of God, opens its discussion of salvation by a primary affirmation that 'whosoever fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.' Only after laying down this principle does it proceed to teach that the objective means of salvation are given by God in the People of God, that is the Church. This inversion of the traditional order of thought may be taken as a shift in emphasis from objective to subjective. ... Salvation is, for the individual, radically dependent on subjective good intention [rather] than on external ecclesiastical allegiance ... [B.C Butler, The Theology of Vatican II, 167]

One of the French theologians who did so much to influence the Church towards many of the new positions is Henri de Lubac. On this particular point see his Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, (London: Bums and Oates, 1950), pp. 107-26)."

[This last reference is telling. De Lubac's theology, according to Jacques Prevotat, "prevailed in Lumen Gentium and also in Dei Verbum." How he went from being suspect, to becoming a guiding light of the Council and an author now championed by Ignatius, a Catholic press founded five years after Wells wrote and reputed for its Catholic orthodoxy, is a phenomenon I have yet to hear explained satisfactorily in terms of Development of Doctrine. -JM]
[Even in] the texts on Atheism, two basic shifts of understanding have evidently taken place. First, the Council did not think that atheism is, of necessity, morally wrong... Second, the Council did not exclude the possibility of an atheist's being saved... This approach to atheism falls within the context of the new approach to man as a whole. First, it assumes that all men are implicitly religious and that Christ is the explanation of this. Second, it sees man's religion in terms of gray, and rarely if ever in terms of black and white. Third, it also fits into the new sacred-secular relationship , which offers some undergirding to the 'political theology' which has given parts of Roman Catholicism a Marxist appearance. Finally, the new assessment of atheism dispenses with the necessity  of the Church for salvation, and this accords with the general mood of the New Catholicism. The raison d'être for the Church has now disappeared, in effect making salvation dependent not on external Church allegiance but on internal self-commitment.
 Joseph F. Martin, a Catholic convert, is Assistant Professor of Communications at Hampton University

1 comment:

Catholic Mission said...

Theology is at the centre of the Vatican Council II confusion and SSPX canonical problem.

Archbishop Pozzo : continuing a monologue with the SSPX