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Benedict XVI, Vatican II, and the “hermeneutic of reform”

Benedict XVI’s approach to interpreting the council is neither a failure nor an attempt to make the most of a bad situation.

pope john xxiii leads the opening session of the second vatican council in st. peter's basilica at the vatican oct. 11
Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 11, 1962. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Recently, Second Vatican Council’s legitimacy and value have again been challenged. Some observers behave as if Benedict XVI saw Vatican II as a problem and proposed a “hermeneutic of continuity” to overcome the problem. Some people who act this way think Benedict XVI’s approach has failed.  Benedict XVI, who as Joseph Ratzinger contributed to the council as a theological advisor, insists on the value of Vatican II to the Church’s mission. His approach to interpreting the council is neither a failure nor an attempt to make the most of a bad situation. Rather, it is a straightforward, theologically cogent way to respond to those who misinterpret the council so they can further a different agenda from the one upon which the Church embarked in concluding Vatican II and promulgating its teachings. Benedict XVI advocates a “hermeneutic of reform”, which recognizes the necessity of essential continuity in fundamental doctrine, while bringing about a measure of change and thus of discontinuity in certain areas, as part of needed reform and doctrinal development, in light of changed historical circumstances and modern challenges.

Of course Benedict XVI’s fundamental commitment to Vatican II doesn’t mean its documents and concerns are beyond all respectful critique by competent theologians and pastors. But he certainly would reject the idea that the council is heretical or otherwise gravely flawed, should be forgotten, or is irrelevant to faithful Catholic life and mission today.

To help clarify Benedict XVI’s understanding of Vatican II, we reprint here a key excerpt from his 2005 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia:

The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church’s situation after the Council of Nicaea:  he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things:  “The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamoring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith…” (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises:  Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council’s deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word:  it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.

Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord’s gift. They are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor 4: 1); as such, they must be found to be “faithful” and “wise” (cf. Lk 12: 41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord’s gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator:  “Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs” (cf. Mt 25: 14-30; Lk 19: 11-27).

These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord’s service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council’s conclusion on 7 December 1965.

Here I shall cite only John XXIII’s well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion”. And he continues:  “Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us…”. It is necessary that “adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness…” be presented in “faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another…”, retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the program that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.

However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.

In his Discourse closing the Council, Paul VI pointed out a further specific reason why a hermeneutic of discontinuity can seem convincing.

In the great dispute about man which marks the modern epoch, the Council had to focus in particular on the theme of anthropology. It had to question the relationship between the Church and her faith on the one hand, and man and the contemporary world on the other (cf. ibid.). The question becomes even clearer if, instead of the generic term “contemporary world”, we opt for another that is more precise:  the Council had to determine in a new way the relationship between the Church and the modern era.

This relationship had a somewhat stormy beginning with the Galileo case. It was then totally interrupted when Kant described “religion within pure reason” and when, in the radical phase of the French Revolution, an image of the State and the human being that practically no longer wanted to allow the Church any room was disseminated.

In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church’s faith and a radical liberalism and the natural sciences, which also claimed to embrace with their knowledge the whole of reality to its limit, stubbornly proposing to make the “hypothesis of God” superfluous, had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age. Thus, it seemed that there was no longer any milieu open to a positive and fruitful understanding, and the rejection by those who felt they were the representatives of the modern era was also drastic.

In the meantime, however, the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.

The natural sciences were beginning to reflect more and more clearly their own limitations imposed by their own method, which, despite achieving great things, was nevertheless unable to grasp the global nature of reality.

So it was that both parties were gradually beginning to open up to each other. In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.

Catholic social doctrine, as it gradually developed, became an important model between radical liberalism and the Marxist theory of the State. The natural sciences, which without reservation professed a method of their own to which God was barred access, realized ever more clearly that this method did not include the whole of reality. Hence, they once again opened their doors to God, knowing that reality is greater than the naturalistic method and all that it can encompass.

It might be said that three circles of questions had formed which then, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, were expecting an answer. First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined. Furthermore, this did not only concern the natural sciences but also historical science for, in a certain school, the historical-critical method claimed to have the last word on the interpretation of the Bible and, demanding total exclusivity for its interpretation of Sacred Scripture, was opposed to important points in the interpretation elaborated by the faith of the Church.

Secondly, it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practice their own religion.

Thirdly, linked more generally to this was the problem of religious tolerance – a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions. In particular, before the recent crimes of the Nazi regime and, in general, with a retrospective look at a long and difficult history, it was necessary to evaluate and define in a new way the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel.

These are all subjects of great importance – they were the great themes of the second part of the Council – on which it is impossible to reflect more broadly in this context. It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.

It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.

Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. Thus, for example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith – a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience. A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all.

At the same time, she assures peoples and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so, but to give them, on the contrary, a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for – a response with which the multiplicity of cultures is not lost but instead unity between men and women increases and thus also peace between peoples.

The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.

The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues “her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God”, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

Those who expected that with this fundamental “yes” to the modern era all tensions would be dispelled and that the “openness towards the world” accordingly achieved would transform everything into pure harmony, had underestimated the inner tensions as well as the contradictions inherent in the modern epoch.

They had underestimated the perilous frailty of human nature which has been a threat to human progress in all the periods of history and in every historical constellation. These dangers, with the new possibilities and new power of man over matter and over himself, did not disappear but instead acquired new dimensions: a look at the history of the present day shows this clearly.

In our time too, the Church remains a “sign that will be opposed” (Lk 2: 34) – not without reason did Pope John Paul II, then still a Cardinal, give this title to the theme for the Spiritual Exercises he preached in 1976 to Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia. The Council could not have intended to abolish the Gospel’s opposition to human dangers and errors.

On the contrary, it was certainly the Council’s intention to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity.

The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as “openness to the world”, belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.

In his First Letter, St Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (apo-logia) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3: 15).

This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.

When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with Medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time. There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great open-mindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council:  if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

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About Mark Brumley 64 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.


  1. If this is the thinking that directs Ignatius Press after seven years of this disgraceful pontificate and 55 years of the catastrophic destruction of Vatican II, I am happy to let it sink into its torpid disorientation without my patronage.

    • The extent of this rambling with the result of its conclusions leaves me with sorrow at a wounded Ignatius Press.

    • I’ve only purchased four books from Ignatius Press that I can discover. I haven’t directly purchased any book from Ignatius. Typically, I find books that I like from Tan Books. Of course, I go by the title and content and not the publisher.

  2. Even those on the Titanic justified the “changing view” as it sank as looking to “new horizons.” As Ratzinger once said, the Church will shrink to pockets of faith—it is a true shame The namesake of Ignatius Press is justifying the sinking horizon rather than saving the ship with sound doctrine and text.

  3. “The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time”

    This is doubtful in the sense that it is given. The Catholic Church is the same, but there are those who dispute that what is currently identified as the Catholic Church under the leadership of Francis is as is described in the quote.

    I have found at least one article on this website which openly exposes the heresy of religious indifferentism.

  4. Benedict had a chance to influence the church. He gave that up when he abdicated. And deserted the church. To my mind he became an ordinary priest retired. It is to Pope Francis credit he is treated with such reverence. He should pray, contemplate and write in his diary. He was lucky his deceased predecessor could not comment. As a ukranian Catholic I accept more the ability of the church to accept diversity

  5. I find this article interesting and I agree with it’s basic conclusion that Vatican II was a good thing and that, while implementation has been slow and has been impeded by a “conservative” wing within the Church, basically the “hermeneutic of reform” is going ahead in the right direction. I do find myself confused by the caricature it presents of those who have always championed the process of reform in continuity, which looks a bit like a straw man which the author set out to knock down. In fact it’s an exaggeration and it didn’t need to be knocked down. The post-Vatican II reforms speak for themselves. The Church is vibrant, healthy and hopeful in the Spirit.

  6. Good to hear the tune of the Song of Songs , about The Church , in her marriage of wisdom and holiness that The Spirit ever moves her , having ever foreseen the warfare tactics of the enemy .
    Mention in some places as to how when Pope Leo was allowed to see the trial against The Church , it was likely to be in two stages ; the first stage with all the world wars and its carnage ; second stage , as with Job, ? from those who seem like friends , yet , under the influence of the accusing spirits , sowing doubt about the goodness of The Father .
    The flood waters of carnal spirits that was going to be unleashed upon the world , through the idolatry of false gods , such as through psychology , media and music the lusts and greeds , guilt and anger related to same , meant to bring destruction of family and marriage , ? the trust towards The Church itself too .

    God has left us memories of the not too distant history of E.Germany , what life there was like , with the lust for power of atheism , the destruction of the sense of the sacred , instead , everyone expected to spy on and accuse everyone else , betraying own families even .

    Same , as one manifestation of the ‘error of Russia’ that Bl.Mother warned against , to make us vigilant enough to see if that error of Russia is behind the excessive fears about The Church .

    The Consecration , which helped to undo that error to a good extent ,possibly as a fruit of having heeded The Spirit , through The Council ..

    Thus , more confidance too , to be in dialogue , trusting in the wisdom and holiness , to counter the evils and lies .
    July, month of devotion to The Precious Blood , the gratitude to be living in times to hear and relish the power in silence ,of the Lord’s own Blood that has blessed the lives of so many saints , to help heal the wounds and memories of the evil of our own times , from the carnal tides of lying lips .

    Thank you to Ignatius Press , for heeding the words of blessing for the media , from the Holy Father , who , like many others and in the same footsteps of the father of the prodigal , wants to invite in the older brother, to help recognize that his most cherished blessing is the family relationship , in trusting in the goodness of the Father, though whom alone he has received it all .

    St.Thomas did so , in touching the wounds ..and chose to go far to the East , a source of the idolatry and lies of carnal gods ..
    many in lands all over, who withstood same , bringing forth holy saints, such as St.Oliver ..

    St.Serra too, in the footsteps of Columbus who was moved by Bl.Mother and thought he was to go East ..yet , brought to these shores , as part of the plan to dedicate these lands to The Immaculate Conception too , to thus help take in the holiness in marriage and life .

    The Precious Blood , in union with that of many , may same speak to our hearts too to trust the ways of The Spirit leading The Church ..

    Blessings !

  7. The fallacy in Brumley’s article is summarized at the end: “this [broad new thinking] determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.” Seven points:

    FIRST, did the dialogue find its bearings in the Council, or rather does the Church find its bearings in the dialogue between faith and reason? The Council hung its red hat first on ressourcement (return to Scripture and the Church Fathers) and then aggiornamento (well-grounded “todaying,” not flacid updating). A Council is what the Church DOES, not what it IS.

    SECOND, is the more accurate parallel between the person of Aquinas—who harmonized revelation with Aristotle (after removing Islamic accretions)—and (not the Council, but) the person of Pope St. John Paul II? On phenomenology and personalism, in his Acting Person, JPII focuses on personal growth while still retaining (as in the use of brackets in Algebra) all that is theologically true (Revelation). Like Aquinas, he sought to extract what is good in, say, modernity’s existentialism, while freeing it from intermingled indifference or even atheism.

    THIRD, coming in the years after the too-protean (subversive?) terms here and there in the Council documents, are we now replacing dialogue (faith and reason), with violations of the most elementary and non-demonstrable “first principle of non-contradiction”? Dogmas are not denied, but silently shelved behind contradictory novelties. The dubia? Veritatis Splendor? Why did Pachamama get a niche in St. Peter’s Basilica? A regressive/progressive Pantheon to religious “pluralism”? (St. Ambrose refused time-sharing with Arians in his Milan Cathedral.)

    FOURTH, or, is the disconnect between the post-modern world and even the language of the perennial/incarnational Faith now so total that any effort is justified to graft expressions of natural religion onto the tree? This versus any more “insular” Church on the outs with the so-called arc of history?

    FIFTH, so, do we go with the flow and try to baptize it? Accompaniment/accommodation? Does the virtual Council—the so-called “spirit of Vatican II”—win over the real Council as found in its documents? Between faith and reason, between orthodoxy and praxis, and between saying and doing falls a Jeffersonian and Jesuitical “wall of separation.” Not a field-hospital Church, but a field day for wedge issues imported into Polygonia and its multiple synodal paths.

    SIXTH, steadfastness and complementarity are out; divorce as a “form” of reason is in. Binary sexuality is out; James Martin is a prophet! Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism, wherefore art thou? Why affirm—at the same time—both the Commandments and the Beatitudes, as with the clarity of JPII: “…the commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 52).

    SEVENTH, Ignatius Press remains a premier Catholic publisher. Maybe Brumley is just at a loss for words during foggy times? Or, maybe Ignatius is under a cloud because it’s better than his or any such double-speak article? Is the danger now a sort of Index of Forbidden Websites?

    • Mea culpa. Upon re-reading I find that my comment is inaccurate in its beginning (charging Mr. Brumley’s article with a “fallacy”) and unjust in later characterizing it as “double-speak”. I offer my UNSOLICITED APOLOGY.

      Brumley’s summarizing breadth also possibly invites supporting detail with which I am sure he would agree. Regarding only the tension between faith and science and the nature of Catholic Social Teaching (CST), I offer two such footnotes, plus a conclusion.

      First, in the 17th century, members of the second Galileo trial worked from what was probably a manipulated file of the earlier proceedings. And the action taken against Galileo was not by a doctrinal office of the Church, but by a lower disciplinary commission—misled by a prohibition to publish, which was secretly slipped into the file some time after the first trial of many years earlier (Giorgio de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo, University of Chicago Press, 1955). As today in loaded situations, small missteps take on a life of their own—here a (misguided) disciplinary action projected into the exploitable tension between faith and reason.

      Second, the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) might be easily misconstrued by some readers as a middle-ground ideology between liberalism and Marxism (“an important model between radical liberalism and the Marxist theory of the State”). But rather than any middle-ground “ideology,” the categorically-different CST “‘belongs to the field…of theology and particularly moral theology’ […] in CONTRAST both to the ‘atheistic’ solution…and to permissive and consumerist solutions…” (Centesimus Annus, 1993, n. 55). Another example where the very language of the Church—a focus of Brumley’s article—is un-comprehended by the modern world.

      A conclusion: Mr. Brumley’s article on Vatican II is a worthy elaboration of the earlier, concise, and often misquoted wisdom of St. John Henry Newman (Father of the Council): “[a philosophy or belief, and]…old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them IN ORDER TO REMAIN THE SAME. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1885).

  8. “Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968.”

    This is hard to see, quite Frankly. Most of the theological issues focuses on matters above my pay grade; but the Church in the US of 2020 by every significant statistical measure is smaller, its teachings less followed, than it was pre-Council. Indeed if you look at 40 years before and after V2 you see tremendous growth 1920-1960 and its exact opposite from 1960-2000. In the US, for example the number of seminarians grew from 20,000 to 45,000 from 1920 to 1960 and plummeted from 45,000 to 5,000 from 1960-2000. Today the number is a about 4900.

    Hermenutics aside, its not surprising when people look at this data and see the rapid decline after the council that they conclude something went terribly wrong–whether it was the theology of the council and/or its implementation. This cannot be what the participants of the council wanted!

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