Posts tagged with: second vatican council

On the website of Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the “tsunami of unsolicited advice from pop atheists, incoherent playwrights, angry ex-priests, and celebrity theologians that has erupted since Benedict XVI’s abdication.” Then there’s Hans Küng’s article in the New York Times:

Much of Küng’s article involves his familiar tactics of citing dubious polls (as if polls somehow determine Christ’s will for His Church) about Catholics’ views of the usual subjects as well as propagating myths about Church history. Then there is his mockery of the evident love for Benedict and his saintly predecessor by young church-going Catholics. According to the good professor, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to “the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups.” Plainly it’s been a very, very long time since young Catholics have applauded Father Küng—assuming, that is, they even know who he is. As one such person recently remarked to me: “Hans Küng? I thought he was dead.”

Hans Küng

Hans Küng

Writing in his Carnets du Concile during the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuit theologian and council peritus Henri de Lubac—who was no reactionary—described Küng as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and habitually speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms. Nothing, it seems, has changed. But amidst his litany of half-truths, Küng is right about one thing. There is something dying in global Catholicism. It’s just not what he thinks it is.

Read “Catholicism, True Reform and the Next Pope” by Samuel Gregg at Crisis Magazine.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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Of all the documents that came out of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty) was, says Omar F.A. Gutierrez, the most revised, debated, and controversial. But as Gutierrez argues, it also represented a development, rather than a reversal of Catholic teaching:

The perception of the Church’s teaching by many was that whenever she found herself in the minority, the Church would cry religious liberty. However, if the Church was in the majority, the state would be obliged to suppress other faiths. If that perception was not addressed, argued the Secretariat, the desire of Blessed Pope John XXIII to make inroads with non-Catholic Christians would be impossible.

This was a tension particularly acute in the Catholic Church in America. Paul Blanchard’s 1949 anti-Catholic book American Freedom and Catholic Power portrayed the Church as a menace to the US Constitution and real religious freedom. Thus Father John Courtney Murray, Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York, and other American prelates agreed and worked to advance the declaration at the Council.

Read more . . .

Over at Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg has an analysis of a recent, and little noticed, article that Pope Benedict XVI published on, among other things, “the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” Gregg writes:

This message isn’t likely to be well-received among those who think religious pluralism is somehow an end in itself. Their discomfort, however, doesn’t lessen the force of Benedict’s point.

The context of Benedict’s remarks was the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s opening. In an article published in the Holy See’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Benedict reflected upon his own memories of the Council. Characteristically, however, he used the occasion to make subtle but pointed observations about particular challenges presently confronting the Church and orthodox Christianity more generally: difficulties that no amount of interfaith happy-talk and ecumenical handholding will make go away.

One of Vatican II’s achievements, the pope argued, was the Declaration Nostra Aetate, which addressed the Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions. This document focused on the most theologically-important relationship—Judaism and Christianity—but also ventured remarks about Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Without watering down Christianity’s truth-claims, Benedict wrote, Nostra Aetate outlined how Catholics could engage in “respectful dialogue and collaboration with other religions.”

Then, however, Benedict made his move. With the passage of time, he noted, “a weakness” of Nostra Aetate has become apparent: “it speaks of religion solely in a positive way and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion.”

Read “Benedict XVI and the Pathologies of Religion” by Samuel Gregg on the website of Crisis Magazine.

Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom is just as timely today as it was fifty years ago, argues Joanna Bogle:

Religious freedom is the issue of the hour: in America, in Europe, in what we (used to?) think of as “the West”. But what is particularly interesting is that this comes just as we are marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council – the Council in which the Church explored the whole question of religious freedom and gave the world a valuable document which established the Church’s approach to this subject for the new millennium.

The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, emphasised that “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.” This duty is fundamental. Religious belief cannot be imposed by government edict, or by coercion using the authority of the State. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.”

When this was all being debated at the Vatican Council, and in the years immediately following, attention focused essentially on the internal tensions within the Church on the subject. But now the fullness of the importance and value of Dignitatis Humanae is coming into its own, and in circumstances that would have been unimaginable to many of the Bishops gathered in Rome in the 1960s.

Read more . . .

In a new analysis in Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines “the shifting critiques” of the pontificate of Benedict XVI including the latest appraisal that the world is losing interest in the Catholic Church particularly because of its declining geopolitical “relevance.” But how do some of these critiques understand relevance?

On one reading, it involves comparisons with Benedict’s heroic predecessor, who played an indispensible role in demolishing the Communist thug-ocracies that once brutalized much of Europe. But it’s also a fair bet that “relevance” is understood here in terms of the Church’s capacity to shape immediate policy-debates or exert political influence in various spheres.

Such things have their own importance. Indeed, many of Benedict’s writings are charged with content which shatters the post-Enlightenment half-truths about the nature of freedom, equality, and progress that sharply constrict modern Western political thinking. But Benedict’s entire life as a priest, theologian, bishop, senior curial official and pope also reflects his core conviction that the Church’s primary focus is not first-and-foremost “the world,” let alone politics.

Read “Benedict XVI and the Irrelevance of ‘Relevance’” on the website of Crisis Magazine.

In a special report, the American Spectator has published Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new article on the “civilizational agenda” of Pope Benedict XVI. Special thanks also to RealClearReligion for linking the Gregg article.

Benedict XVI: In No One’s Shadow

By Samuel Gregg

It was inevitable. In the lead-up to John Paul II’s beatification, a number of publications decided it was time to opine about the direction of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. The Economist, for example, portrayed a pontificate adrift, “accident-prone,” and with a “less than stellar record” compared to Benedict’s dynamic predecessor (who, incidentally, didn’t meet with the Economist‘s approval either).

It need hardly be said that, like most British publications, the Economist‘s own record when it comes to informed commentary on Catholicism and religion more generally is itself less than stellar. And the problems remain the same as they have always been: an unwillingness to do the hard work of trying to understand a religion on its own terms, and a stubborn insistence upon shoving theological positions into secular political categories.

Have mistakes occurred under Benedict’s watch? Yes. Some sub-optimal appointments? Of course. That would be true of any leader of such a massive organization.

But the real difficulty with so much commentary on this papacy is the sheer narrowness of the perspective brought to the subject. If observers were willing to broaden their horizons, they might notice just how big are the stakes being pursued by Benedict.
This pope’s program, they may discover, goes beyond mere institutional politics. He’s pursuing a civilizational agenda.

And that program begins with the Catholic Church itself. Even its harshest critics find it difficult to deny Catholicism’s decisive influence on Western civilization’s development. It follows that a faltering in the Church’s confidence about its purpose has implications for the wider culture.

That’s one reason Benedict has been so proactive in rescuing Catholic liturgy from the banality into which it collapsed throughout much of the world (especially the English-speaking world) after Vatican II. Benedict’s objective here is not a reactionary “return to the past.” Rather, it’s about underscoring the need for liturgy to accurately reflect what the Church has always believed — lex orandi, lex credendi — rather than the predilections of an aging progressivist generation that reduced prayer to endless self-affirmation.

This attention to liturgy is, I suspect, one reason why another aspect of Benedict’s pontificate — his outreach to the Orthodox Christian churches — has been remarkably successful. As anyone who’s attended Orthodox services knows, the Orthodox truly understand liturgy. Certainly Benedict’s path here was paved by Vatican II, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Yet few doubt that Catholic-Orthodox relations have taken off since 2005.

That doesn’t mean the relationship is uncomplicated by unhappy historical memories, secular political influences, and important theological differences. Yet it’s striking how positively Orthodox churches have responded to the German pope’s overtures. They’ve also become increasingly vocal in echoing Benedict’s concerns about Western culture’s present trajectory.

But above all, Benedict has — from his pontificate’s very beginning — gone to the heart of the rot within the West, a disease which may be described as pathologies of faith and reason.

In this regard, Benedict’s famous 2006 Regensburg address may go down as one of the 21st century’s most important speeches, comparable to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address in terms of its accuracy in identifying some of the West’s inner demons.

Most people think about the Regensburg lecture in terms of some Muslims’ reaction to Benedict’s citation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor. That, however, is to miss Regensburg’s essence. It was really about the West.

Christianity, Benedict argued at Regensburg, integrated Biblical faith, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, thereby creating the “foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.” This suggests that any weakening of this integration of faith and reason would mean the West would start losing its distinctive identity. In short, a West without a Christianity that integrates faith and reason is no longer the West.

Today, Benedict added, we see what happens when faith and reason are torn asunder. Reason is reduced to scientism and ideologies of progress, thereby rending reasoned discussion of anything beyond the empirical impossible. Faith dissolves into sentimental humanitarianism, an equally inadequate basis for rational reflection. Neither of these emaciated facsimiles of their originals can provide any coherent response to the great questions pondered by every human being: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?”
“Where am I going?”

So what’s the way back? To Benedict’s mind, it involves affirming that what he recently called creative reason lies at the origin of everything.

As Benedict explained one week before he beatified his predecessor: “We are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis.”

It’s almost impossible to count the positions Benedict is politely assailing here. On the one hand, he’s taking on philosophical materialists and emotivists (i.e., most contemporary scholars). But it’s also a critique of those who diminish God to either a Divine Watchmaker or a being of Pure Will.

Of course none of this fits into sound-bites. “Pope Attacks Pathologies of Faith and Reason!” is unlikely to be a newspaper headline anytime soon. That, however, doesn’t nullify the accuracy of Benedict’s analysis. It just makes communicating it difficult in a world of diminished attention-spans and inclined to believe it has nothing to learn from history.

So while the Economist and others might gossip about the competence of various Vatican officials, they are, to their own detriment, largely missing the main game. Quietly but firmly Benedict is making his own distinct contribution to the battle of ideas upon which the fate of civilizations hang. His critics’ inability to engage his thought doesn’t just illustrate their ignorance. It also betrays a profound lack of imagination.

New books from Pope Benedict XVI and Fr. Hans Kung, two theologians who worked as contemporaries and whose careers were nurtured on the same German soil, show them to be worlds apart in their understanding of the Catholic Church. Unlike Kung, Benedict’s vision of the Church, writes Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg,  is “focused upon deepening its knowledge of, faithfulness to, and love for Christ. It’s also a Church that engages the world, but is not subservient to passing intellectual-fashion. Finally, it’s a Church which is evangelical in the best sense of the word: proposing – rather than hedging or imposing – the Truth revealed by Christ.” Special thanks to RealClearReligion, Fr. Z’s Blog, CatholicCulture.org and The Pulp.it for posting this commentary. Get Acton News & Commentary in your email inbox every Wednesday. Sign up here.

Benedict XVI, Hans Kung and Catholicism’s Future

By Samuel Gregg

Western Europe is considered a religiously-barren place these days. The reality, however, is more complex. Books written by two Catholic theologians recently rocketed up Germany’s best-seller list. That testifies to Europe’s on-going interest in religious matters. But the books’ real importance lies in their authors’ rather different visions of Catholicism’s purposes and future – and not just in Europe, but beyond.

One of the theologians is Benedict XVI. The other is the well-known scholar Fr. Hans Kung. His text, Can the Church Still Be Saved?, was published the same week as volume two of Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth.

Though usually viewed as polar-opposites, Benedict and Kung have led curiously parallel lives. Both are native German-speakers. They are almost the same age. For a time, both taught at the same university. During the Second Vatican Council, they served as theological advisors with reputations as reformers.

More-attuned participants at Vatican II, however, immediately noticed differences between Kung and the-then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. One such person was the Jesuit Henri de Lubac – a French theologian who no-one could dismiss as a reactionary.

In his Vatican II diaries, de Lubac entered pithy observations about those he encountered. Ratzinger is portrayed as one whose powerful intellect is matched by his “peacefulness” and “affability.” Kung, by contrast, is denoted as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms.

Fr. de Lubac, incidentally, was a model of courtesy his entire life. Something about Kung clearly bothered him.

After Vatican II, Ratzinger and Kung took very divergent roads. Ratzinger emerged as a formidable defender of Catholic orthodoxy and was eventually elected pope. Kung became a theological celebrity and antagonist of the papacy.

Now both men are in the evening of their earthly days. What, many wonder, occupies their minds at this time of life? In this regard, Jesus of Nazareth and Can the Church still be saved? are quite revealing.

From Jesus of Nazareth’s first pages, it’s clear Benedict is focused upon knowing the truth about Christ as He is rather than who we might prefer Him to be.

Through a deep exposition of Scripture many Evangelicals will admire and a careful exploration of tradition the Eastern Orthodox will appreciate, Benedict shows Christ is who the ancient Church proclaims Him to be – not a political activist, but rather the Messiah who really lived, really died and who then proved his divinity by really rising from the dead.

So what is Kung’s book focused upon? In a word, power. For Kung, it’s all about power – especially papal power – and the need for lay Catholics to seize power if the Church is to be “saved” from sinister Roman reactionaries who have perverted Christianity for centuries.

Leaving aside its cartoon-like presentation of Church history, the Christ of Kung’s book is one who would apparently disavow his own teachings on subjects such as marriage because they don’t conform to twenty-first century secularist morality. Instead, Kung’s Christ faithfully follows the views of, well, progressive post-Vatican II German theologians.

For long-term Kung-watchers, this is nothing new. He’s been playing the same broken record since 1965. And the worn-out tune is that of accommodation: more precisely, accommodation to secularist-progressivism.

Unfortunately for Kung, he has two problems. One is theological. No matter how much scandal has been caused by Borgia popes, inept bishops, heretical theologians, sexually-predatory clergy or sinful laity, the Catholic Church teaches “the gates of hell will never prevail against it.”

In short, the cosmological battle has already been won. Hence the Church isn’t anyone’s to be “saved.” Yes, all Catholics and other Christians continue to sin, but the Church’s survival has been guaranteed by Christ. In that light, the notion the Church needs to be “saved” by late middle-aged dissenting baby-boomers is more than absurd: it’s also arrogant.

Kung’s agenda also has a practical problem. Put simply, it’s failed. Whether it is interpreting Vatican II as a rupture with the past or banalizing the liturgy with clown masses and 1970s music, no-one can plausibly claim the accommodationist project infused life into Catholicism.

Instead, it produced ashes. In much of the West, it facilitated moral relativism, a bureaucratization of church organizations, and the collapse of once-great religious orders into not-especially coherent apologists for name-your-latest-lefty-cause.

In what’s left of accommodationist circles, woe betide anyone who highlights the dark side of the Greens’ agenda, who suggests the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change doesn’t share in the charisma of infallibility, or who observes that the small number of non-negotiables for Catholics in political life actually are non-negotiable. To do so is anathema.

Benedict’s vision of the Church is utterly different. It does not indulge the fantasy that a “new church” somehow materialized in 1965. Nor does it hanker after an imaginary 1950s golden age.

Instead it’s a Church focused upon deepening its knowledge of, faithfulness to, and love for Christ. It’s also a Church that engages the world, but is not subservient to passing intellectual-fashion. Finally, it’s a Church which is evangelical in the best sense of the word: proposing – rather than hedging or imposing – the Truth revealed by Christ.

But perhaps the most revealing difference between Benedict and Fr. Kung’s books is the tone. Can the Church still be saved? is characterized by anger – the fury of an enfant terrible who’s not-so-enfant anymore and who knows the game is up: that his vision of Catholicism can’t be saved from the irredeemable irrelevance into which it has sunk.

Jesus of Nazareth, however, is pervaded by humility: the humility of one who approaches human history’s greatest mystery, applies to it his full intellect, and then presents his contribution for others’ assessment.

Yes, there are many things going on in Benedict’s book, but in the end there’s only one agenda really in play and it has nothing to do with power. It’s about helping readers to encounter the fullness of Christ in the most important days of His earthly life – to know what God was willing to do to save us from ourselves.

Besides such things, Hans Kung’s agenda seems very trivial indeed.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, and Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy

The pope has certainly earned his salary this week. In his attempt to heal a schism, he inadvertently set off a fire storm.

As most everyone knows by now, the pontiff lifted the excommunication of four bishops illicitly ordained by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre in 1988, whose dissent from the Second Vatican Council drew a small but fervent following. One of these bishops, Richard Williamson, is a holocaust denier.

To understand the saga, it is necessary to peel back its various layers.

Many who followed Lefevbre did so because of a devotion to the traditional form of what is known as the Latin (Tridentine) Mass. A smaller number rejected the whole of the efforts of Vatican II to take account of the modern world by engaging in ecumenical relations, and a deepened appreciation for religious tolerance and human liberty. Part of their complaint, rightly in my estimation, was that an excessively optimistic outlook whereby everything that was simply new was seen as automatically good was simply wrong and weakened Catholic identity. This would result in a spiritual malaise and moral mediocrity that would ultimately become unattractive and deadening. History bears out their insight, but as Chesterton once observed, “Heresy is truth gone mad.”

There are toxic vapors at the far end of the Lefevbre swamp and Bishop Williamson seemed to have breathed deeply of the fumes. The man, for sometime evidently, has been a marginal character, a fact that the Vatican and the pope admittedly should have known but did not. Some preliminary effort should have gone into uncovering Bishop Williamson’s conspiratorialist propensities. What’s more, an assessment of the communications failure on the part of the Vatican is appropriate.

The bishop now has a choice to make: paddle further out into the swamp (the Lefevbrites having already silenced him), or he can pull back and recant. The Vatican has demanded that he “distance himself in an absolutely unmistakable and public way from his position.” Unless he comes to see the historical absurdity and moral obtuseness of his assertions, he will have no ministry in the Church.

We need to be clear that the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops did not re-establish full communion between these men and the Roman Catholic Church. They remain suspended priests, forbidden by canon law from practicing their ministry. They will remain so until some resolution is achieved as to their full adherence to the authority the pope, which would include the authority of Vatican II. The lifting of the excommunication begins the discussion, it does not settle it.

Among the documents that Vatican II published is Nostra Aetate (The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions) which emphatically decries all forms of anti-Semitism, anywhere and by anyone. Whether or not these bishops follow the teaching of this document will be followed carefully.

It seems at least worth pondering the possibility that when people are offered the opportunity to come in from the cold they sometimes may come to learn the lesson of reciprocal responsibility which is what civilized life is mostly about. But sometimes they don’t.

Some of the reaction to all this is clearly justified. Certainly Joseph Ratzinger knows full well the evil of denying the very evil he witnessed at close range. This was the man who grew up in a family known for its resistance to the fascists, who as a child in his native Germany refused to attend the mandatory Hitler Youth meetings, and who had a cousin with Down’s Syndrome euthanized by the Nazis as part of their war against the disabled. He has spoken out repeatedly and consistently against anti-Semitism, as a priest, bishop, cardinal and now pope.

But some of the reaction smacks distinctly of opportunism by politicians, theologians and even some bishops who have other axes to grind with Pope Benedict. These opportunists have sought to exploit whatever confusion, ignorance and possibility this controversy affords.

For those of us inspired by Pope Benedict’s efforts at the renewal of the Church’s liturgy and life, it is sad that what might have been an occasion for a spiritual deepening — both for Catholics and with those outside the Church — has instead turned into a political imbroglio.