Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vatican II: This Time, It's Personalism

Tonight I will be attending a talk on Vatican II by Brother Gabriel Thomas Mosher, OP. From the description:

How can we best understand the Second Vatican Council in light of the current divide in the church between those who ascribe to varying sorts of traditionalism? Addressing the questions of liturgical practice and 'ecumenism,' this talk will consider the differences between a Council called for Dogmatic reasons as opposed to a Council called for Pastoral reasons and ultimately shed light on the issues the Church faces today.
Vatican II was a valid ecumenical council, thus making it metaphysically impossible for it to have taught error. However, the Council Fathers were not the stenographers of the Holy Spirit. Based on my readings of the shenanigans and goings on at the council, it sounds like a bunch of bishops and their theological advisers (periti) went there with a specific agenda and they quickly overwhelmed the hapless curia. The conservatives managed to get their act together enough to prevent serious compromises with doctrine (Pope Paul VI famously intervened at the last second to attach the nota previa to Lumen Gentium which explained that the pope was still the boss). The result is a certain ambiguity in some council texts. One wishes the Scripture scholars were as eager to apply source criticism to Vatican II as they are to the Holy Bible.

Pretty much every informed Catholic knows about the controversy about "subsists in" from Lumen Gentium. I want to take a brief look at another controversy. This one comes from the constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum:
 Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation.
There are two ways to interpret the bolded statement: everything in the Bible was put there for the sake of our salvation, and so the entire Bible is without error; or, that what the Bible teaches about salvation is without error, but everything else is not necessarily without error.

The perennial teaching of the Magisterium and Tradition rests solidly with the former. In the encyclical whose title I shamelessly stole for the title of this blog, Pope St. Pius X condemned the following proposition: “Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.”

Sounds like an open and shut case, right? It should be, but in practice many well meaning and not so well meaning Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars hold to the second proposition, that Scripture can contain errors in those parts that don't explicitly speak of salvation. I myself once had priest professors who said, in the classroom during a lecture, that Noah and Jonah were fictional characters. The problem with this is that Jesus Christ spoke of Noah and Jonah as historical figures, so they are indirectly calling Christ a liar.

I've always had difficulty with the "good council, bad implementation" account of Vatican II because the bad implementation was so universal at every level of the Church, presided over by the same bishops who had written and voted to affirm the documents. If the problem is bad implementation and erroneous interpretations of ambiguous passages like in Dei Verbum or Lumen Gentium, then why has the Church been so slow to provide the correct interpretation? I'm interested to hear Brother Gabriel's answers.

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