I've just read one of the most significant articles on Vatican II and its aftermath written in the last twenty years. This, at least, is my judgment based on my own admittedly shallow puddle of experience. The article is by John Lamont, a Canadian convert to Catholicism with a doctorate in Theology from Oxford and currently a Gifford Fellow at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland researching natural theology. He is also author of Divine Faith (Ashgate), a defense of a Thomist understanding of the theological virtue of faith.
In his article, entitled "Why the Second Vatican Council Was a Good Thing & Is More Important Than Ever," he addresses the question of external and internal problem that the Council sought to address and shows why the Council failed to achieve its aimed results. For the first time in nearly twenty years, I felt that I understood a number of reasons, at least, why the Council was both necessary and failed.
The external problems Lamont mentions, rather baldly stated here, are three: (1) The fact that for the most part the Church had ceased in the 20th century to benefit from the protection of governments that recognized her claims and promoted her activities, and instead had to exist under regimes that were indifferent or hostile. Hence its declaration on the right to religious freedom, to protect the rights of Catholics -- a position entirely consonant with Catholic tradition when contextualizes within the larger picture of that tradition. (2) In view of the rapidly accelorating deterioration within Protestantism from the 18th to the 20th century, as well as loosening of anti-Catholic prejudice and paranoia, the relations with non-Catholic Christians -- particularly Protestants -- had to be clarified (both for rank-and-file Catholics and for non-Catholics) in order to facilitate the return of the latter to the Church. (3) The record of anti-Semitism in Church history needed addressing.
The internal problems, far subtler, focus on the legacy of the influence of nominalism in Catholic thought that let to Protestantism, among other things. This is where Lamont breaks particularly new ground in my opinion. I can't go into the necessary detail here, but he mentions three things: (1) the tendency to identify Catholic religion with obedience to orders (in a nominalistic sense), in isolation from an understanding of happiness and truth (in a Thomistic sense). Admittedly, more clarification is needed here that the article provides. (2) Spiritual weakness stemming from a truncated understanding of spiritual "vocation" that created a bifurcation between the spiritual goals of the religious and the secular estates in life. (3) A defective attitude toward the world. This is the most detailed part of Lamont's analysis and goes beyond what time I have available to finish this post before the first class I have to teach this morning (in 8 minutes).
The article, which is printed in the July-August, 2005, issue of the New Oxford Review, and available online without a subscription only in part (here -- though you can purchase the rights to read it for $1.50), will be available to read in its entirety on this weblog site on September 1st by agreement with the publisher.