Skip to comments.The Second Vatican Council: Why Pope John XXIII Would Weep
Posted on 07/24/2004 10:26:32 AM PDT by CatherineSiena
George Sim Johnston has written an article on the still hot topic of Vatican II. The past forty years have been marked by such confusion that we might yet be too close to the events to gauge them with fairness and accuracy. Nevertheless, Johnston's article, "Open Windows: Why Vatican II Was Necessary" (Crisis magazine, March 2004), is both challenging and thought-provoking. He rightly condemns the "self-satisfied triumphalism" sometimes found in the pre-Vatican II Church the pitiful self-complacency of those who, while living very mediocre lives, nevertheless plumed themselves for belonging to the one true Church. Just as the Chosen People of the Old Testament instead of becoming humbly grateful for an immense privilege of which they had no merit could be tempted to look down upon others, so mediocre Catholics too often forgot that the blessing they had in belonging to the one true Church did not justify their feeling superior to others. Unfortunately, human beings have a special talent for going from one error to an opposite one. "Triumphalism" became a slogan to be denounced, with the result that today innumerable Catholics have lost sight of the privilege they have received and shy away from proclaiming the glory of the one true Church. A sad proof of this is a statement of someone close to me a daily communicant who chided me for believing that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Christ, and that the Savior has given the keys to Peter. "No religion is true," I was told. "All of them are seeking the truth." That Christ said, "I am the Truth" (something that no other religious leader had ever dared assert) is now forgotten. And this is how the inter-religious meeting in Assisi in October 1986 is interpreted.
I take exception to Johnston's endorsement of Martin Buber's claim that success is not one of the names of God. Christianity is the greatest success story in human history. Calvary, the greatest imaginable human defeat, was followed by the Resurrection, without which, St. Paul tells us, we would be the most miserable of all creatures. Surprisingly, in his answer to criticisms about his endorsement of Buber's claim, Johnston replies that Calvary "is the defining event of Christianity." He does not mention the Resurrection! In a nutshell, Christian history is constant human defeats followed by glorious supernatural victories. St. Paul has expressed this truth in his second Epistle to the Corinthians: "perplexed, but not driven to despair ...struck down, but not destroyed..." (4:8, 9). This is success indeed, but a success that God alone can explain.
Johnston tells us that Pope John XXIII wanted to take the Church out of "her Tridentine shell" to an active engagement in the modern world. But the Council of Trent brought a rich harvest of saints and religious orders, all of which were founded with the intention of spreading the light of the Gospel to the world, either in contemplative orders or in active ones. St. Francis de Sales, St. Jeanne Francoise de Chantal, St. Vincent de Paul, the holy Cure d'Ars, Don Bosco (one of the greatest educators of all time), St. Therese of Lisieux (apostle of the missions) were all nurtured in the "shell" of the Council of Trent.
Johnston writes that Vatican II aimed at opening the Church to the world, and that because of Vatican II the Church is now "for the world." But the word "world" is ambiguous. When one reads the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16, one is struck by how often the "world" is mentioned. Christ tells us that the world hates Him, that He has no part in the world. He tells His Apostles that if the world has hated Him, it will also hate them. The Devil is called "the Prince of this world." One cannot conceive of a sharper rejection of "the world." There is a religious and metaphysical duel between God and the Prince of this world, and this duel will go on until the end of time, when the Evil One will be defeated. He who loves Christ must hate the world, with all its pomp, for the world is the kingdom of Satan. In Baptism we are ordered to renounce the world. Paul VI lamented that "the opening to the world became a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking" (Nov. 23, 1973).
The word "world" also has another meaning. It refers to the world that God created out of nothing the visible world which reflects God's beauty, the world inhabited by His children, the place where they will either achieve their end or betray the mission God has given them. That Christians should be actively engaged in this world was Christ's command: "Go and teach all nations." This is so true that even those called upon to enter a purely contemplative order, far from forgetting the world, pray, sacrifice, and do penance for their worldly brothers. The admirable missionary work that has been done over the centuries is a response to the call of evangelizing the world. I recall that during my youth in what used to be "Catholic Belgium," the nuns constantly reminded us of the importance of missionary work. We had a yearly retreat mostly given by missionaries who moved our hearts to pray and sacrifice for their work. The Peres Blancs did admirable missionary work in Africa; they too came from the "Tridentine shell." Unfortunately, since Vatican II, Christ's command to "Go and teach all nations" has been replaced by "Go and dialogue with all nations."
Pope John XXIII was hoping for a deepening of missionary activities. That his hopes were dashed is shown by a remark he made in confidence to his close friend, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, shortly before John XXIII's death. I was privileged to have a twohour interview with Cardinal Oddi in March 1985. His Eminence told me the following: "Knowing that his death was close, John XXIII called me and told me: `Silvio, Silvio; my pontificate has been a failure. All the things I wanted to accomplish have not been done; what I did not want to take place is being realized."'
How are we to interpret these tragic words except by assuming that His Holiness rightly feared that his message had been distorted and misunderstood? A case in point is that of a Hindu woman, as reported in the British publication Christian Order, who went to a missionary informing him of her wish to enter the Church. She was told that it was in no way necessary, that she should strive to become a better Hindu. Missionary activity is so much on the decline that certain so-called Catholics interpret this sacred work as an expression of an arrogant and prideful "triumphalism."
Many of us are talented at doing the right things in the wrong way. It cannot be denied that some Catholics have thundered against errors and heresies, while failing to unveil the beauty of the Savior's message, He who is "gentle and humble of heart." Truth is beautiful and this should be shown to those who have been fed on prejudices. On the other hand, the proclamation of truth is not possible without a condemnation of error. St. John admirably combines a presentation of the radiance of truth with "anathema sit." The Apostle of Love was also "the son of thunder." Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and today we have lost sight of the gravity of religious, metaphysical, and ethical errors. Plato reminds us that the higher a truth ranks, the more we should be concerned about knowing it accurately. If I err concerning the length of a pig's intestines, it is of no consequence. If I err concerning God, it is a grave matter. Modern man not only tolerates religious aberrations, but no longer perceives that they are poisonous to the human soul. Homilies today tell us repeatedly that God loves us a great truth indeed but words such as sin, the Devil, and Hell are now anathema. Two priests I know were severely reprimanded by their bishops because they were "turning their parishioners off" by referring to eternal punishment in their homilies.
How many priests dare thunder against abortion this abomination that must make the angels weep? How many bishops proclaim that "prochoice" politicians are not permitted to receive Holy Communion? Worldly prudence the password of politicians is not a Christian virtue. Had John XXIII witnessed all this, he would have wept.
Johnston is right in lamenting the fact that seminarians in the pre-Vatican II Church were fed an "ossified" version of the teaching of St. Thomas. Fr. Benedict Groeschel told me that when he was a novice he would read the Confessions of St. Augustine hiding the book under his desk, while a boring professor was rehashing dried-up Thomistic ideas taken from a shallow textbook. When I told my uncle (a real Jesuit) that I was hoping to get a Ph.D. in philosophy, he exclaimed: "My dear niece, you made a poor choice. When I was a novice I was the only one unfortunate enough not to be able to fall asleep during our philosophy class."
When "the windows were opened," many seminarians, novices, and priests devoured the works of Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud, and Sartre. At least, they were not boring. Carl Rogers convinced thousands of them that the purpose of life was self-fulfillment, and he was so convincing that he spawned an exodus of thousands of priests, nuns, and novices.
Leo XIII's great encyclical, Aeterni Patris (1879), illustrates this point. It gave Thomism pride of place when there was a dire need to warn the faithful against the errors dominating the philosophical field. Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Spencer were the intellectual heroes of the day. His Holiness knew that philosophy (ancilla theologiae) is all-important in scholastic formation and also knew that the superb clarity of St. Thomas's ideas made him more accessible to seminarians than St. Augustine, whose thought was not as systematic.
The choice was wise, but, unfortunately, when interpreted wrongly, it led to poor results. A case in point: In February 1943, the Dean of the Department of Philosophy at Fordham University, Fr. Hunter Guthrie, S.J., found a pink slip on his desk, firing Dietrich von Hildebrand, my late husband. The latter, who studied at Gottingen under Husserl and Reinach (like Edith Stein), had been branded a nonThomist and declared unworthy to teach in a Catholic university. For Dietrich, who had been in the U.S. for just over two years and had landed penniless on these shores, it would have meant disaster. (Thanks to Jacques Maritain, his name had been put on a list of one hundred professors whose trip to the U.S. was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. From 1941 to 1943, the Foundation paid his salary.) After 1943, Fordham would have had to pay his salary, and they decided to let him go.
Fr. Guthrie protested: He refused to sign the paper tiring one of his most distinguished professors. He saved Dietrich, but Fr. Guthrie was then transferred to Georgetown University.
When history passes judgment on the accomplishments of Fordham University, the name of Dietrich will certainly be mentioned, while the names of his detractors will, I suspect, sink into obscurity.
Men have an uncanny talent for going from one error to another. I recall that in the late Sixties, a nun who had felt the "liberating influence" of Vatican II proclaimed loudly that "Thomism is dead." The dear sister had fallen in love with "contemporary thought," making no distinction whatever between positive contributions and outspoken aberrations. Moreover, to declare a philosophy produced by a gigantic mind and a great saint "dead" is a risky assertion to make. Truth remains truth, and whatever is true in St. Thomas's works cannot possibly die. Clearly the sister followed the Zeitgeist, a spirit that was prevalent in the wake of Vatican II. Anything that was new was welcome and "refreshing." An ossified Thomism so unfaithful to St. Thomas was to be rejected. But to make a hero of Sartre is another matter.
Johnston laments that prior to Vatican II the Church was "a juridical machine operated by the bishop of Rome. Over the centuries, the Church's government had become top heavy and centralized." Vatican II wanted to correct this shortcoming, says Johnston, by emphasizing "collegiality." We certainly have heard much about "collegiality" in the course of the past forty years. Here is an instance, once again, where we have gone from one excess to another. Today when Peter, who holds the keys, makes it clear that he wants certain things to be corrected, his requests are unceremoniously ignored. Many laymen have deeply grieved the response given to Ex Corde Ecclesiae by the U.S. bishops. It is well known that the German Bishop Karl Lehmann (now Cardinal Lehmann) repeatedly ignored the orders of the Pope prohibiting his staff from signing papers permitting abortion. It is only when Peter used his full authority "as holder of the keys" that Lehmann finally yielded. What is the sense of having authority if it is not used? Things were not so at the time of Pius XI, who took away a cardinal's red hat because the latter had dared challenge a papal decision. Pius XI was a true leader.
Authority can be abused; but when authority is no longer authoritative, another type of cancer menaces the Church. We all know of bishops who certainly do not live up to their calling. Rome is aware of this. But these bishops know they can continue shirking their responsibilities because they know they will not be demoted.
Another issue raised by Johnston is the reform of the liturgy. One clear aim of the Council was to guarantee the use of the Latin language as the sacred language of the Church. The vernacular was granted "wider use" only where it was of great advantage to the faithful, but the Council also said that "the use of the Latin language ...is to be preserved...." The Council's words are so clear that one wonders how it could be so radically misinterpreted. The Latin tongue, being a dead language, guarantees orthodoxy. The vernacular keeps changing, and to pray the liturgy in the vernacular cannot possibly give us this guarantee. Words keep shifting their meaning. "Discrimination," which used to have a positive meaning (to make intelligent distinctions), is now a dirty word. Why were the wishes of the Council trampled upon? Why was the use of the Latin tongue anathematized? Why were we repeatedly told that "Vatican II ordered this" when there was not a word of truth in these assertions? Who is responsible for hijacking the Council's documents and perverting their message? The faithful are entitled to raise these questions; sooner or later, history will provide the answer, and we should not be overly surprised if one day we will discover that Judas continues to plague the Church. Why is it that the deeper participation of the faithful at Mass is interpreted to mean constant commotion, whereas it meant to say that the faithful should better understand the meaning of the Holy Sacrifice as an unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of Calvary, and refrain from praying the Rosary during the celebration of this most sublime of mysteries? It is true indeed that many Catholics were not properly instructed and never truly understood the awesomeness of the mystery of the Mass. But once again, why must we go to the extreme of making the Mass some sort of social performance in the mold of a liberal Protestant service?
Why is it that Communion rails have been removed at great expense when the Council says nothing about this most regrettable innovation, not to mention the iconoclastic habit of eliminating precious works of art in both painting and sculpture that were supposedly "distracting" us. One need only read the life of St. Teresa of Avila to realize the importance of Christian art in religious life: Both sacred music (replaced today by "masterpieces" of artistic mediocrity) and beautiful sculptures are essential to authentic Catholicism, which understands the crucial importance of the visual and auditory arts in communicating the divine message.
An extremely sensitive topic concerns a change of position on religious freedom, which Johnston starkly refers to as a "radical departure." The Church is willing to collaborate with any form of government which respects the moral law. No doubt to "impose" truth, as Johnston puts it, is counterproductive. On the other hand, Christ has given His Apostles the mission of teaching all nations, and this implies more than just issuing a "proposal," as Johnston tells us the Council recommends. Many contemporary thinkers today lament the fact that the "separation of Church and state" is leading to a subtle attack on any legitimate manifestation of religion in the public life. Christmas creches are no longer allowed; prayers in public schools have been abolished; the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" is challenged. If democracy refers to the metaphysical equality of all human beings, it is to be warmly welcomed. If it means that "all ideas are equally valid" and that there is no hierarchy in the universe, we are facing a grave problem.
The universe has an architectonic structure, and liberal democracy tends more and more to wage war on any type of hierarchy. Whether we like it or not and woe to those who do not God is the King of the universe and any systematic elimination of this Kingship bodes evil for those who advocate it. Divine Monarchy is the very cornerstone of the universe. Johnston says, "The council made it clear that she no longer wanted a confessional state tied to a monarchy; it was high time to make peace with liberal democracy." It is not my intention to claim that monarchy is the best form of government, but in our world it is being so maligned that I wish to offer a remark in its defense. The very structure of a monarchy is symbolic, and one of the things we can all deplore is that after Vatican II, symbols which are so meaningful in religious life have been abandoned. French monarchs were anointed in Rheims by bishops and were reminded of the fact that their authority came from God, and that one day they would have to give an account to Him the King of the universe. They were His representatives; they were to be a father to their people, aiming at serving their good, spiritually and physically. Few lived up to this noble calling, but let us not forget that Catholic nations produced great saints who were kings. Consider St. Louis IX, one of the greatest monarchs in history; England and Germany also produced saintly kings and queens. A tree that can produce such fruits cannot be completely bad. I am still looking forward to the time when liberal democracy produces a saint. I cannot think of a single president of the U.S. who would qualify for this honor. Once again, one can legitimately challenge whether the intentions of the Council have been properly interpreted by Johnston.
Let us pray ardently that our spiritual leaders will (with the help of a self-sacrificing and prayerful faithful) bring the Holy Barque of Peter back on course.
It would have been better to wait a week to post this article.
New Oxford Review's generous permission for republication states, in part, "As for posting material on the Internet, permission is hereby granted only to private individuals to post only one item from each issue, and that posting may occur no earlier than one month after the date of issue." [italics in original]
Since this was from the July/August 2004 issue, it would have been better to wait until August 1 to post.
As well, when posting items from NOR, they have requested that the following be added, "Reprinted with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave, Berkeley CA 94706, USA."
"His Eminence told me the following: "Knowing that his death was close, John XXIII called me and told me: `Silvio, Silvio; my pontificate has been a failure. All the things I wanted to accomplish have not been done; what I did not want to take place is being realized.""
The fact that John XXIII recognized that his pontificate had been a failure didn't prevent the liberals from rushing to have him beatified.
Here are some related articles on this topic:
In a similar vein, I doubt Pope John Paul 2's recent questions about the effectiveness of his own pontificate will delay his beatification either.
The holy father's infallibility doesn't extend to his every action as some people seem to believe. Catholics are at liberty to question the prudence of some of his innovations e.g. ecumania, and are not required to indulge in interfaith worship - even if the holy father himself does.
We aren't required to kiss the koran either.
Twenty-two years after JPII's death, methinks Oddi was engaging in a bit of 20/20 hindsight.
A Woodward-Casey moment, perhaps.
"Twenty-two years after JPII's death, methinks Oddi was engaging in a bit of 20/20 hindsight."
As far as I know JP2 isn't dead yet.
Are you sure you're not thinking of Kerry's Pope Pius XXIII?
I think Oddi made his "recollection" out of whole cloth.
That's a despicable thing to say.
"I meant John XXIII.
I think Oddi made his "recollection" out of whole cloth."
Ah yes, Sinkspur accuses the good Cardinal, of Happy Memory, whom I am certain Sinky remember as one of the signees of the "Ottaviani Intervention" lied, apparently with no proof whatsoever.
What a magnanimous, loving, charitable heart this post-Vatican II church has produced. Sinky says the good Cardinal lied in a public forum with no evidence whatsoever.
Slander or detraction, anyone?
Let's just say that the circumstances are odd. Even you would have to admit that.
The Ottaviani intervention, which Ottaviani later renounced?
Oh, so you are believing that line of thinking, esp. in light of the fact that a modernist prelate got him to sign a document while misrepresenting it to him, late in his life when he was blind. Oh yes. I have read that version of events. Either way, it doesn't seem to change the theological insights made by the document itself. You probably also believe that Eucharistic Prayer No. II, attributed to Hypolytus, an anti-Pope, is actually the oldest Eucharistic prayer. Man, the modernist propaganda is spread far and wide.
By the way, I was talking about Oddi. You are obfuscating. You caused detraction on the good name of a dead cardinal. That was the gist of my message. Did Oddi retract on this document as well? You accused him of lying. What is your proof?
By the way, pretty fair, accurate and balanced article by Alice von Hildebrand, huh?
"Let's just say that the circumstances are odd. Even you would have to admit that."
Not any moreso than the fact that Jean Guitton, Pope Paul's good friend and a well-recognized philosopher, has related years after Pope Paul's death that his intentions were specifically make the Mass like a Calvinistic service as well as a theological treatise presented to the Pope Paul VI Institute in Rome with allegations of modernism (by Jean Guitton and prominent, recognized Roman theologians) within the documents of Vatican II itself. Not odd at all. Just shows how history eventually brings to light what was clouded years before.
The Murky waters of Vatican II. What a concept.
Your last post to me is not clear. Whose intention was it to make the Mass a Calvinistic service?
By a mile.
Besides, I discount every single supposed deathbed statement, especially when it involves a Cardinal who opposed Vatican II using that deathbed statement to justify his POV.
Well, these two sentences wrap it up nicely.
Go get 'em Alice!
Pope Paul VI's intention according to his good friend the philosopher Jean Guitton.
I don't believe Guitton, either.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.