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A Saintly View of Vatican II: On St. John Paul II and the Council

For St. John Paul II, Vatican II is a concrete, historical realization of Christ’s promise to be with His Church through the work of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it makes a claim on his faith.

Polish Auxiliary Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, The future Pope John Paul II, wearing sunglasses, is pictured in St. Peter's Square in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Editor’s note: This essay, which originally appeared at CWR on May 31, 2020, is reposted in honor of St. John Paul II’s feast day.

“By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (CCC, 828). This is why it is profoundly fitting to make the recent 100th anniversary of the birth of St. Karol Wojtyła an occasion to praise God for what He accomplished in him.

The first and primary mission that God entrusts to everyone is to take responsibility for his own life. Wojtyła calls this self-determination. This is to build oneself up according to God’s plan—“Become what you are!”—through exercising one’s freedom in the truth. By assuming a human nature, the Son of God is the perfect man. He thereby fully reveals the truth about man as image of God and elevates the human vocation to self-determination to the supernatural order, so that all are called to be adopted children of God (Rom 8:15–16) and God’s friends (Jn 15:13–15). The celebration of St. John Paul II is the Church’s acknowledgement that God’s love, His grace, efficaciously brought him to the fulfillment of his human and Christian vocation in the realization of the call to holiness, the perfection of charity.

The Holy Spirit and Vatican II

The mission of the Spirit of holiness is to bear witness to Christ, in Sacred Scripture and the life of the Church, and to bring people to faith in this witness. As for all the saints, John Paul’s faith and holiness are the fruit this mission. Although in God’s plan of wisdom and love his pilgrimage of faith began well before Vatican II, his testimony makes clear the place of the Council in that pilgrimage. The Conciliar teaching on the Universal Call to Holiness in the Church (Chapter V of Lumen gentium) is especially important St. John Paul II. It is “the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the Gospel.” The renewal initiated by the Council is realized above all in “saints [who] have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.” The revitalization of the Church’s mission, which is the goal of Vatican II, depends entirely on a new wave of saints, for “holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of her apostolic activity and her missionary effort” (Christifideles laici, 16, 17).

The Holy Spirit is the chief protagonist of the New Evangelization—the name for the Church’s mission revitalized by Vatican II—and saints are those who are most docile and responsive to His promptings. The same Holy Spirit who guided the participants in Vatican II to produce the written word about holiness made those words come to life in St. Karol Wojtyła. His canonization confirms that he implemented this Conciliar teaching personally, that He received this teaching, and the whole of the Conciliar magisterium, in faith, and that the Holy Spirit made the letter of the Council come to life in him.

In the lead essay of this series on St. John Paul II, George Weigel relates that the Pope told him of previous biographers: “They try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside.” These remarks reflect the saint’s life-long fascination with and reverence for the mystery of human freedom, conscience, responsibility, and self-determination—the anthropological foundations for man’s vocation to communion with God and with others in love. This present essay intends to accept John Paul’s invitation to understand him “from inside” by setting forth his testimony regarding his faith-relation to Vatican II. We will see that he also invites us to read Vatican II “from inside,” and that this reading is rooted in and is an extension of reading God Himself “from inside.” In this way, his invitation is to attend to his Catholic faith, for faith is the power to know man and God and His Church “from inside.”

St. John Paul II’s first and fundamental relation to Vatican II is not based on the fact that as a bishop he actively participated in the Council. Nor is it based on the responsibility of his office—first as Archbishop of Krakow, then as Cardinal-collaborator with Pope Paul VI, and finally as Pope—to implement the Council in the Church’s life. Rather, his primary relation to Vatican II is based on faith. By faith he sees the Council as the word of the Holy Spirit to the Church of our time. By that same faith he responds to that word, entrusting himself to God by conforming his thoughts, words, and actions to the Council’s teaching and directives. In this, St. John Paul II is a model of Catholic faith in the Holy Spirit guiding the Church. This is no abstract, merely theoretical faith, which affirms, on the one hand, that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, but on the other hand does not accept the Spirit’s historically concrete guidance of Vatican II. For St. John Paul II, Vatican II is a concrete, historical realization of Christ’s promise to be with His Church through the work of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it makes a claim on his faith.

Numerous biblical texts ground this faith-conviction. Very often, he refers to the refrain of Revelation, “Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). As the apostle John writes to the Churches, so the apostles’ successors write to the Church of our age through Vatican II’s “letters.” With the Council Fathers, John Paul believes that Jesus’ words—“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16), and His mandate to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them …, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19–20)—resound anew through the Council. Through the Council, the apostles’ successors continue to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20), and by the sensus fidei the faithful are able to receive their teaching “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess 2:13). John Paul’s indefatigable promotion of Vatican II is an appeal to the whole Church, “do not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30) by allowing the Conciliar magisterium to be an occasion for division. Believing the Council to be the special grace for the Church of our time, John Paul made St. Paul’s exhortation his own: “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1).

At Vatican II, the apostles’ successors were conscious of cooperating with the Holy Spirit, as were the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem, so that they can say that their final decisions “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). As the apostles prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost, so the bishops at Vatican II began every session with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, that He “penetrate our hearts … guide our actions, indicate the path we should take … be our only inspiration … let not our ignorance induce us to evil, nor flattery sway us, nor moral and material interest corrupt us … unite our hearts to You alone … so that … we may be one in You and may nothing depart from the truth … [and] our judgments may not be alien to You ….” For the Council Fathers to proceed with humble yet bold confidence—the parrhesía of the apostles—in Christ’s promise to be with His Church through the Holy Spirit and the perpetuation of the apostles’ graces through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, would be a failure of faith.

Many histories of Vatican II look at the Council only “from outside,” neglecting Christ’s promises to the Church, the motives of faith among the participants, their prayer to the Holy Spirit, and the charism of truth of Holy Orders. To view the Council “from inside,” with faith, is to see that St. Paul’s expression of the grace of apostleship applies as well to the apostles’ successors united at Vatican II:

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. (1 Thess 2:3–5)

To view the Council in faith, with St. John Paul II, is to see that at Vatican II the apostolic Church experienced anew the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit, Who “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). For this reason, “Obedience to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council is obedience to the Holy Spirit…. Obedience to the Holy Spirit is expressed in the authentic carrying out of the tasks indicated by the Council, in full accordance with the teaching set forth therein” (Address to the College of Cardinals, November 9, 1979).

St. John Paul II’s faith-vision of Vatican II has a Marian dimension, for Mary is the perfect model of all Christian virtues. John Paul holds that Vatican II’s “description of faith [in Dei Verbum, 5] found perfect realization in Mary” (Redemptoris Mater, 13). Imitating Mary, who at the Annunciation perfectly entrusted herself to God and was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill her vocation, the participants in Vatican II entrusted themselves to the Holy Spirit in faith.

With the Council, the Church first had an experience of faith, as she entrusted herself to God without reserve, as one who trusts and is certain of being loved. It is precisely this act of entrustment to God which stands out from an objective examination of the Acts. Anyone who wishes to approach the Council without considering this interpretive key would be unable to penetrate its depths. Only from a faith-perspective can we see the Council event as a gift whose still hidden wealth we must know how to mine. (Address to the Conference Studying the Implementation of Vatican II, February 27, 2000)

The result of Mary’s self-entrustment to God through cooperation with the Holy Spirit is the Incarnation. And as the humanity of Christ was the occasion for many to be scandalized by His claim to be divine, so with Vatican II: without faith, the Council’s human dimension is all one can see, and the claim that there is a divine dimension to the Council is a stumbling block, a claim to be set aside in the name of being realistic and reasonable, and studying the Council according to principles of rigorous historical science. Reducing the Council to its human dimension, to what can be known “from outside,” explains why so few Catholics have actually read the documents. Thanks to many histories of the Council, their preconceptions preclude the possibility that God Himself—the very God who “for our sake and for our salvation came down from heaven,” the very God who is love and who died to reveal that love—could be speaking to them precisely through the Conciliar texts.

But for the holy John Paul II, to speak of Vatican II as the gift of the Holy Spirit is to speak of love. The Holy Spirit, in fact, is the Person-Love, the Person-Gift of the blessed Trinity (Dominum et Vivificantem, 10). Because God’s word and love are efficacious—His word bringing about what it signifies and His love fulfilling what it intends—to believe that Vatican II is the gift of the Holy Spirit speaking to the Church necessarily entails the experience of being loved by Him through the Council’s teaching. This means that the proof of the Spirit’s assistance at Vatican II is a deepening, an enrichment of Christian faith, that is holiness. Holiness is the authentic fruit of Vatican II and definitive proof of its reception, made possible by the graces of the same Holy Spirit who assisted the Council Fathers. George Weigel puts it this way:

What is not contestable is that the parts of the Catholic Church that are living, vibrant, evangelically dynamic, and culturally consequential in the early twenty-first century are those that have embraced John Paul II’s interpretation of Vatican II’s purpose and teaching, while the moribund parts of the world Church are those that were in opposition to John Paul II during his life and remain so today.

In a similar vein, Joseph Ratzinger leaves it to the Holy Spirit to seal the Council’s work by making its letter become holiness of life.

Whether or not the Council becomes a positive force in the history of the Church depends only indirectly on texts and organizations; the crucial question is whether there are individual saints—who, by their personal willingness … are ready to effect something new and living. The ultimate decision about the historical significance of Vatican Council II depends on whether or not there are individuals prepared to experience in themselves the drama of the separation of the wheat from the cockle and thus to give to the whole a singleness of meaning that it cannot gain from words alone.… Despite all the good to be found in the texts it produced, the last word about the historical value of Vatican Council II has yet to be spoken. If, in the end, it will be numbered among the highlights of Church history depends on those who will transform its words into the life of the Church. (Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, 377–78)

The canonization of Karol Wojtyła, who explicitly bears witness to Vatican II mediating God’s word and call to holiness, invites us to perceive the efficacy of the Council in Christian virtues, joy, liturgical participation, Marian devotion, and apostolic zeal of those countless Catholics inspired by him.

With the eyes of faith, St. John Paul II sees that with Vatican II the Church entered into a new stage in her pilgrimage of faith, a stage marked by a deeper awareness of her own mystery, vocation, and mission. This is why he writes of his “sense of indebtedness” to the Holy Spirit, since “during the Council and by way of it, the word of the Spirit became particularly expressive and decisive for the Church” (Sources of Renewal, 9–10).

The bishops, members of the College, who inherited from the Apostles the promise made by Christ at the Last Supper, are bound in a special way to be conscious of the debt contracted “towards the word of the Holy Spirit,” since it was they who translated the divine message into human language. The latter, in so far as it is human, may be imperfect and capable of increasingly precise formulation, but at the same time it is authentic because it contains that which the Spirit “said to the Church” at a particular historical moment. Thus our awareness of the debt derives from faith and from the Gospel, which enable us to express the word of God in the human language of our time, endowing it with the supreme authority of the Church’s magisterium. (Sources of Renewal, 10)

John Paul’s dedication of his pontificate to implementing Vatican II flows from this sense of indebtedness, this awareness of having been gifted and loved by the Holy Spirit through the Council. It is an exercise of that responsibility for divinely revealed truth that he takes as an essential quality of authentic faith.

The Council as a Sign of Contradiction

John Paul thinks of the Council as an inheritance received in faith, and his understanding of this is anything but narrow. By faith he sees that this inheritance comprises the entire patrimony of faith. Clearly, John Paul sees the strictest continuity between the Church’s 2,000-year Tradition and the teaching of Vatican II. He calls this continuity the principle of integration. This means that “we can rediscover and, as it were, re-read the magisterium of the last Council in the whole previous magisterium of the Church, while on the other we can rediscover and re-read the whole preceding magisterium in that of the last Council” (Sources of Renewal, 40).

At Vatican II, the college of bishops acted like the wise “scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven [who] is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52). “In the history of the church,” he states, “the old and the new are always closely interwoven. The new grows out of the ‘old,’ and the old finds a fuller expression in the ‘new.’ Thus it was for the Second Vatican Council” (Tertio millennio adveniente, 18).

We shall continue in the future to take special care to promote and follow the renewal of the Church according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the spirit of an ever-living Tradition. In fact, to the substance of Tradition properly understood belongs also a correct re-reading of the “signs of the times,” which require us to draw from the rich treasure of Revelation ‘things both new and old’ (Mt 13:52). Acting in this spirit, in accordance with this counsel of the Gospel, the Second Vatican Council carried out a providential effort to renew the face of the Church… (Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, Dominicae cenae, February 24, 1980, 13).

In the current ecclesiastical climate, the preceding claims are bound to provoke a variety of responses. For some, perplexity: How can John Paul II think this way about a Council that is so widely contested? For others, consternation: Is he oblivious to upheaval that Vatican II has caused, the damage to the Church’s faith and unity? For still others, condescending dismissal: his view of the Council is simply naïve and contradicted by historical facts. But the reaction depends on one’s prior conviction or stance regarding the Council. The real issue is to let oneself be challenged by this Saint’s faith and to re-examine one’s stance vis-à-vis Vatican II. If he, who was an eyewitness of the human dimension of the Council and as Pope was fully aware of the crisis of faith and Catholic identity in the years following the Council could still believe as he did, then what is preventing me from viewing the Council with faith?

Like Christ Himself and His Church, Vatican II is a sign of contradiction. There is no doubt that controversy has followed it. Nor is there any doubt that different parties claim it for their own interpretations. Is Vatican II the cause of controversy and division, or merely the occasion? The distinction is crucial for understanding the mission of Christ. His unanticipated way of fulfilling Old Covenant promises sparked controversy and divided the Jewish people. He even stated that He had come not for peace but for division (Lk 12:51–53). Is He the cause of division, or merely the occasion for the secrets of hearts to be laid bare (Lk 2:32)? Or, is there something inadequate or ambiguous about the Scriptures of the Old Testament that would account for the division that accompanies Jesus’ mission? Jesus, at any rate, looks to the heart. For Him the issue is faith, or lack of it, hardness or slowness of heart (Mt 13:15; Mk 16:14; Lk 24:25). His Church similarly interprets the history of heresies. The doctrinal conflicts that erupted in the Church’s early history are not due to presumed ambiguities in the apostles’ preaching or, as the canon of the New Testament takes shape, to obscurities in the apostolic writings. Rather, the cause of heresy and division is lack of faith. Yet, it is with the conviction as in a first principle that many today hold that ambiguities in the texts of Vatican II—due to compromise among the participants that the histories of the Council bring to center stage, because these are readily apparent to a view of the Council “from outside”—are the cause of the current crisis of faith.

For John Paul, as already seen, Vatican II was an experience of faith for the Church. One of the truly intriguing aspects of his strategy for implementing the Council flows from this. To complement all that he teaches about Vatican II and its continuity with Tradition, he thinks it necessary to initiate others—clergy, religious, laity—into that experience of faith. Whence the significance of his emphasis on “Conciliar initiation,” by which he understands not just instruction about what the Council teaches but “participation in a mystery,” precisely “initiation into the reality of the Council itself,” that is, participation in “the Conciliar consciousness of the Church.” It is precisely by promoting this initiation that John Paul “hopes to repay, at least in part, his debt to the Second Vatican Council” (Sources of Renewal, 11, 421, 422).

Thus, to implement Vatican II in his Archdiocese of Krakow, Wojtyła reproduces the experience of communio, of collegiality and co-responsibility, at the level of the particular Church. Just as the Scriptures of the New Testament are the fruit of the experience of Christ in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and cannot be known—in the biblical sense of knowing—apart from faith, which is initiation into that very experience, so the true understanding of the texts of Vatican II, fruit of a new Pentecost, cannot be grasped apart from a faith-participation in that experience of which they are the fruit. This strategy of initiation applies to all of the post-Conciliar assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and to the continental synods related to the Jubilee Year 2000.

John Paul’s indefatigable commitment to the strategy of initiation by reproducing the Conciliar experience for local and particular Churches is a vital aspect of knowing him “from inside.” With a constant reference to Vatican II as the objective reference of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Church, St. John Paul II exercises his Petrine office in a way that is remarkably similar to the role St. Peter’s role of discerning the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the early Church, when he judges: “these people … have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47); “the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us” (Acts 11:15); “God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us” (Acts 11:17); “God … bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us” (Acts 15:8). This biblical “as He did for us” points to John Paul’s driving missionary motive of loving others as he had experienced being loved by God—precisely through his participation in the Council. In this light, we see that his implementation of Vatican II is simply the fulfillment of the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

St. John Paul II’s example of relating to Vatican II with faith is especially valuable at this time, when scholarly work on the interpretation of Vatican II suffers from a one-sided emphasis on historical-critical methodologies. This is not entirely surprising, since the same trend is characteristic of the interpretation of the Bible. It is well known that Joseph Ratzinger, both as theologian and as Pope, labored to identify the deficiencies of an exclusive use of the historical-critical method and to show the way to an adequate biblical exegesis that takes the Church’s faith into consideration. The principal point of reference for him, as for all scholars who address this question, is Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, article 12.

This text says that because the Scriptures have human authors, it is necessary to employ various methodologies that can be generally described as historical-critical. But the interpretation of God’s inspired word cannot stop there. Because the Holy Spirit is the Divine Author, “sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written.” This requires taking into account “the content and unity of Scripture … the living tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith.”

Because the texts of Vatican II are the fruit of collaboration between human authors and the Holy Spirit, these three criteria also apply to the interpretation of Vatican II. St. John Paul II exemplifies this faith-based interpretation. First, he reads individual passages in light of the entire Conciliar corpus, taking the four constitutions as fundamental and interpreting the decrees and declarations in light them. Sources of Renewal is ostensibly synthetic, as it develops various themes the run throughout the Conciliar corpus. Second, his multitudinous references to Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, previous councils, the liturgy, and saints serve to reinforce the continuity of Vatican II with the apostolic Tradition (his principle of integration). Third, John Paul’s magisterium is profoundly unified by what might be called a pastoral hierarchy of truths, based on the absolute primacy of God’s revelation of his love in Christ—thus the central importance of Gaudium et spes, 22 and 24 in his pontificate—as well as a conscience-centered anthropology of human dignity.

John Paul’s interpretation of Vatican II brings into focus a fourth aspect of reading the texts in the same Spirit in which they were written. This is the ultimate purpose of the documents, which is the same as God’s purpose in revealing and in the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, since Vatican II is “the word of God as it proceeded from that Council” (Sources of Renewal, 11). Among the things that God has revealed is His motive for revealing, namely, His love for man. The Council conveys this this way: “Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col 1;15, 1 Tim 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14–15) and lives among them (see Bar 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum, 12).

The divine intention, that is, God’s love, is the key to John Paul’s view of the Council “from inside.” To view the Council “from inside” is thus a corollary of viewing God “from inside,” based on what He has revealed about Himself. The texts of Vatican II are the fruit of the successors of the apostles’ participation in the divine intention, in the pastoral charity of the Divine Shepherd. For John Paul, the decisive moments of the Holy Spirit’s guidance at Vatican II are the votes by the participants. This is the best criterion by which “one can best decipher the presence of a collegial and conciliar thought and its development. And it is precisely this collegial thought that, at the Council, falls under the special action of the Holy Spirit.” (Here, and in the following, I quote from a letter of Archbishop Wojtyła published in a Polish journal in April, 1965, entitled “The Council Seen from Inside.”)

The key moments during the Council are, for St. John Paul II, those moments of truth in the participants’ consciences when through the votes they expressed judgment about the conformity of a text with the apostolic Tradition. In other words, the votes are the means by which the participants bear witness to the apostolic faith. “It is by the results of the ballots that one can best decipher the presence of a collegial and conciliar thought and its development. And it is precisely this collegial thought that, at the Council, falls under the special action of the Holy Spirit,” which “can go unperceived and unappreciated from the outside.”

With this we arrive at the deepest depth of St. John Paul’s looking at the Council, with faith, “from inside.” The votes manifest each bishop’s judgment before God, that is, with conscience as witness, regarding the conformity of a text to the apostolic Tradition. This is entirely consistent with the place of conscience in John Paul’s Christian anthropology. He reads all of history in terms of conscience. “For history is written not only by the events which in a certain sense happen ‘from outside’; it is written first of all ‘from within’: it is the history of human consciences, of moral victories and defeats” (Letter to the Youth of the World, 1985, 6).

With all of the other participants, as we have seen, Bishop Wojtyła began every session of the Council with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of Truth (Jn 14:7) and “light of consciences” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 36 and 42). This emphasis on conscience echoes the testimony of St. Paul: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 9:1). A faith-approach to Vatican II, like that of St. John Paul II, makes it possible to see this statement of St. Paul re-actualized at Vatican II, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

On the subject of conscience, John Paul’s self-disclosure upon assuming the Petrine office deserves special mention. Upon conferral of supreme apostolic authority in the Church, which is subject to no earthly authority, civil or ecclesiastical—and thus depending entirely upon the witness of His conscience before God—John Paul, clearly desirous to be known “from inside,” confides his first thoughts. “How, in what manner should we continue?” He seems to be asking: how can I be confident that the Christ is building His Church through my Petrine ministry? How can I proceed with confidence that I am fulfilling Peter’s mandate to feed the Lord’s own lambs and to strengthen my brothers? How, in other words, can he avoid leading the Church in a direction of his own devising?

His answer, again with reference to Peter: “Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is—towards Christ our Redeemer, towards Christ, the Redeemer of man. We wish to look towards him—because there is salvation in no one else but him, the Son of God—repeating what Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68)” (Redemptor hominis, 7). And he continues by specifying that the orientation towards Christ is historically conditioned, as it is in every age of the Church. Believing that the Holy Spirit has recently spoken to the Church and thereby pointed the way to Christ through the Second Vatican Council, John Paul decides to subordinate His supreme apostolic office and authority to God Himself, to the Holy Spirit, by subordinating it to the Spirit’s gift of Vatican II. That John Paul committed his pontificate to interpreting and implementing Vatican II can be ascertained by knowing him “from outside.” To know that he did so based on the faith-conviction that the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ for the Church of this age through Vatican II is to know him “from inside,” based on his own testimony.

To hold that God’s motive in revealing Himself is love, and to be convinced that His love is efficacious, leads to the conclusion that the ultimate purpose of revelation is the Church: “The Church is the goal of all things. Just as God’s will is creation and is called ‘the world,’ so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called ‘the Church’ (CCC, 760, quoting Clement of Alexandria). As every council mediates God’s word, the goal of every council, and thus of Vatican II, is to build up the Church, which by reason of her catholicity is missionary by nature. The Council’s strategy for revitalizing the Church’s mission is to emphasize the call to holiness, since saints are the most docile and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who is the chief protagonist of mission. In this light, the Church’s catholicity and her holiness interpenetrate, so that to say that the Council’s main goal is holiness and to say that it is the revitalization of the mission of bearing witness to Christ are one and the same.

Understanding the Council in the light of faith

Interpreting Vatican II in the light of faith means to attend to the Council’s correlation between God’s love for man and man’s love for himself. For, man’s first and fundamental compliance with His creator is to seek his own fulfillment. Self-entrustment to God in faith only complies with God’s creative wisdom when it is free, and this means that coming to faith entails a judgment that by entrusting oneself to God in faith a person is in fact loving himself. It means that a person believes that in Christ he has found the definitive fulfillment of his fundamental human aspirations. (This understanding of faith can be seen to be rooted the Thomistic understanding of the role of the will in the act of faith.) This is the essential underpinning of Vatican II’s pastoral orientation and its commitment to dialogue. It is the Council’s updating of the traditional Thomistic understanding of grace presupposing, building on, and perfecting nature.

The Council intends to facilitate this discovery that “Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes, 22) by assisting men and women in understanding their own fundamental dynamisms and experiences. For, only if they discover that Jesus Christ is the answer to their questions and the fulfillment of their aspirations can they freely come to faith and entrust themselves to Him—even as in the Gospels the blind and lame, lepers, and parents desperate out of love for their children, came to Jesus to fulfill their hope. This is why Gaudium et spes makes the truth about God’s love for man, fully revealed in Christ’s paschal mystery, the essential content of the Church’s dialogue with the world.

While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ (Lumen gentium, 1), simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love” (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 45).

This emphasis on divine love as the motive and central truth of divine revelation is the foundation for the pastoral character of Vatican II. The Council simply re-appropriates this dimension of God’s word for the Church of our time. It does this based on understanding God Himself “from within,” that is, based on what He reveals about His love for man. And this is why it is fitting to say that the Council is profoundly linked to Tradition in its focus on the paschal mystery and the Eucharist. Benedict XVI phrases it incisively when he speaks of the perfect symmetry between Jesus’ Eucharistic “for you” and St. Paul’s “for me,” “for all,” and “for the Church.”

In St. Paul’s Letters, the “for you” of the Institution of the Eucharist is personalized, becoming “for me” (Gal 2:20)—since Paul realized that in that “you” he himself was known and loved by Jesus—as well as being “for all” (2 Cor 5:14). This “for you” becomes “for me” and “for her [the Church]” (Eph 5:25), that is, “for all,” in the expiatory sacrifice of the Cross (cf. Rom 3:25). (General Audience, September 24, 2008)

While faith assents to the doctrines that are so many crystallizations of divine revelation, its foundation is the perception that all that God has revealed is “for our sake,” “for us men and for our salvation.” Like Mary (“He Who is mighty has done great things for me” [Lk 1:49].) and St. Paul (“The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Gal 2:20].), by faith St. John Paul II perceives the “for me” dimension of the magisterium of Vatican II. His dedication to implementing the Council, including his incessant invitation to the faithful to read the Council’s documents, should be seen his saintly fulfillment of the commandment to love his neighbor as himself, as he was loved by God, precisely through the Council. This is to know him “from inside.”

The preceding brings us to what St. Wojtyła identifies as distinguishing Vatican II as a pastoral council. The Conciliar magisterium is ordered to what he calls the enrichment of faith in the subjective sense (Sources of Renewal, 15–18), that is, a deeper personal appropriation of the content of faith, taken up into what “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC, 2558), the fruit of a personal encounter with God. Vatican II presents the Church’s faith in a manner calculated to facilitate the discovery of its “for me” dimension. Prior councils clarify precisely how the Church understands particular doctrines of faith, leading to a development of doctrine in the sense of new precisions, clarifications, definitions of the content of faith. Vatican II’s project is to promote a more perfect personal appropriation of those very same doctrines. He is explicit about this:

It appears that the essence of progress is not limited to certain details that are materially “new,” but consists in an approach to revealed truth that is more complete. It is in this way that one best understands the conciliar openness: not in a “material” sense, but in an essential sense.

The emphasis, then, is not on new teaching—although the Council does contain elements of development of doctrine, for example, regarding the episcopate being the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, clarifications regarding ecumenism and religious liberty, and the ecclesial status and mission of the laity. What characterizes Vatican II in relation to other councils is its emphasis on the foundations of faith. This is the Council’s response to the erosion of those foundations, as exhibited in a split between faith and life among an alarming number of the Church’s members (Gaudium et spes, 43).

This why John Paul can take a passage of Gaudium et spes as a virtual recapitulation of the Council: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes, 22). The Church “knows that her message is a fruitful synthesis of the human being’s expectation and of God’s response to him” (Address, February 27, 2000). The challenge that the Council accepted, which is the challenge of the New Evangelization, is to lead men to discover this synthesis in Christ.

The focus of Vatican II and St. John Paul II on the Good News of God’s love, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, as the foundation of faith, is no novelty. Often taking as his source the verse of St. John, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19), St. Thomas Aquinas frequently asserts, almost as an axiom, that nothing can more effectively lead to loving someone than the experience of being loved by that person. Unfortunately, in the early years following Vatican II, a renewed emphasis on God’s love among theologians, homilists, and catechists, including parents, woefully disfigured authentic love by cutting it off from the truth. For many, enthusiasm for the social gospel and love of the poor virtually became the criterion of Catholic identity.

It is not difficult to understand the scandal of those who would hear and read outrageous claims, such as: “Prior to Vatican II, Catholics looked for Jesus and found Him in the Eucharist. Now they look for Him and find Him in the poor.” As if Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, in which He identifies Himself with the naked, the hungry, etc., and His words at the Last Supper, in which He equates Himself with the blessed bread and wine, are somehow mutually exclusive! The truth is that the Eucharistic Jesus “commits us to the poor” (CCC, 1397). Much of the post-Vatican II controversy swirls around the disjunction of truth and love. People would be right to look askance at the Council if it were the cause of this separation, but it is not.

The greatest proof of the divine dimension of Vatican II, perceptible only by faith, is the living synthesis of divinely revealed truth and divinely revealed love in the life of a saint, like St. Karol Wojtyła, whose holiness attests, by his own testimony, to the efficacy of the word of the Holy Spirit speaking to the Church of our time through the Second Vatican Council. This article has focused on John Paul’s faith in Vatican II as the word of the Holy Spirit for the Church of our age. In Verbum Domini, Benedict XVI teaches that “The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the Word of God,” and that “holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked. The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel.” The same holds for the word of God mediated through Vatican II. We can say, then, that saints are the best interpreters of the Council. John Paul’s greatest contribution to the reception of Vatican II is that he lived his faith-understanding of the Council, bearing witness to the fact that God’s word is efficacious, producing what it says.

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About Douglas Bushman 19 Articles
Douglas Bushman is Director of Parish Formation and Mission at the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, MN. He is well-known as past director of the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University and the University of Dallas and for his courses on Ecclesiology, Catholic Spirituality, John Paul II, Vatican II, Pastoral Theology, and the New Evangelization. He is the author of The Theology of Renewal for His Church: The Logic of Vatican II’s Renewal In Paul VI’s Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, and Its Reception In John Paul II and Benedict XVI(Wipf and Stock, forthcoming).


  1. No reasonable person with the gift of hindsight is any longer attributing anything of value to the conciliar debacle. John Paul was a fine man who lived through much tragedy — including the Second Vatican Council. The vicissitudes of his existence allowed him to reasonably miscalculate the Council and its aftermath. He was a holy man, but not flawless. We shoulder the bitter cross of his episcopal appointments to this day and will continue to do so well into the future. Much to be learned from his pontificate. While so brilliant in many ways [primarily because of his character] while simultaneously fatally flawed. Quite the life lesson for all us to absorb and well we should.

    • Pure nonsense. More “infiltration” of the church by SSPX adherents, who hate JP II because he excommunicated their lord and master, the evil genius Lefebvre. Just the sheer nonsensical audacity to say “No reasonable person with the gift of hindsight is any longer attributing anything of value to the conciliar debacle” is such a leap into goofy – land as to be laughable.
      Twice as many Catholics since Vatican II
      Catholicism now spreading like Wildfire in Africa and Asia.
      Catholicism truly a world wide religion, not limited to Europe and the Americas, as it was before the council.
      Get used to it, JP II was a great man who basically turned the church around single handedly. It must be terrible to be locked into hating obviously great men and picking through the garbage to try to find something to hold against them.

  2. Mr. Bushman might have anchored his essay by noting the EXTRAORDINARY SYNOD of 1985. The purpose, on the 20th Anniversary of Vatican II, was partly to retrieve the Council from termites exploiting ambiguous language nested in the Council documents themselves. Five points:

    First, Pope John Paul II’s Synod announcement (January 25, 1985) was preceded by a wide-ranging and incisive interview by Vittorio Messori with Cardinal Ratzinger, new Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 1982), on August 15, 1984. Published as THE RATZINGER REPORT (Ignatius, 1985) the interview can still be read today with timely benefit.

    Second, out of the Synod came a request for a CATECHISM of the Catholic Church (1992/94/97)—framed as a fruit of the Council—-and amplified in 1993 by the encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor (of which we hear curiously little today…).

    Third, among the other systematic “Suggestions” of the Synod was “a more extensive and deeper knowledge and reception of the Council. This can be attained above all through a new diffusion of THE DOCUMENTS themselves [….]” Imagine, after 20 years, functional literacy (!) is invoked—-to clarify a vital distinction (Benedict XVI) between the hijacked “real Council” and the “virtual Council” peddled by the termite colony. (It’s not hard to find seminarians from the 1970s who, in their training, never saw the Council documents.)

    Fourth, good timing! Is it a mere accident, or is it providential that the Council conducted its essential work of ressourcement and aggiornamento (“deepening” and “todaying”, neither “conservative” nor “liberal updating”) still early in the decade, free of the ideological convulsions of the late 1960s? The HOLY SPIRIT sometimes writes straight with crooked lines.

    Fifth, Benedict XVI summarized all of the above, somewhere:

    “A Council is something that the Church DOES, not what the Church IS.” But, today, have the termites simply migrated—-no longer feeding on soft spots from the Council but now doing/splintering into national and “binding synodal paths”?

  3. So you think, James, that John Paul was “fatally flawed”. What do you mean by that phrase? Is it a reference to original sin? Perhaps initially so, as this affects us all from birth but because of the death and resurrection of Our Lord, and baptism and confession, this need not be fatal. I assume you agree that John Paul lived that life of faith as best he could, so you must be referring to something else.

    But what can that be? What is the fatal flaw that you claim existed? If it is fatal, then it must be something pretty important but you do not say what it is. Your sole example is a reference to episcopal appointments. And if these appointees let him down, perhaps he may be somewhat to blame although they should be primarily at fault.

    John Paul’s greatness is of a higher order. Think only of Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor and Familiaris Consortio – there are many others; think also of his theology of the body, a life long meditation and defence of marriage and human sexuality; think of his personal suffering to the end – a rejection of the culture of death. And there is much more. In the light of even these few examples, your comments are trivial.

    • Perhaps the critics object to St. John Paul II being out of the office too much? You know, personally visiting and evangelizing some 120 nations and then having a big hand in taking down the Soviet Union/Empire–an event that history will record as comparable to the collapse of the Roman Empire, except done non-violently and in a couple of years rather than centuries. How soon we forget.

      • Soviet Union collapsed, yes, but Communism has blossomed in the People’s Republic of atheistic China which is 10 times stronger and more dangerous thans USSR was.
        The Roman Empire is still alive more than ever. Never were the West countries’ economies so entangled with USSR as they are with China. The trap was set wide open and we all fell into it.

        • Yes! And lacking from the post-JPII Church has been the clarity and courage of St. Pope John Paul II who reversed decades of Ostpolitik with the Soviet Union, enabling the collapse of the Soviet Union.

          Instead, with the China that you correctly describe, we also have Bishop Sorondo (Pontifical Academy of Sciences/Social Sciences) redefining China: “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” (Why are we possibly reminded of 1938 Munich?)

          What JPII had to say about China was less conflated and flippant: “The Catholic Church for her part regards with respect this impressive thrust and far-sighted planning [in China], AND (!) with discretion offers her own contribution in the promotion and defence of the human person, and of the person’s values, spirituality and transcendent vocation. The Church has very much at heart the values and objectives which are of primary importance also to modern China: solidarity, peace, social justice, the wise management of the phenomenon of globalization” (2001, cited in the Letter, below).

          After Sorondo set the table, then followed Cardinal Parolin (Secretariat of State) who in a complex and apparently fluid situation risked the Church in China to what has become complete Sinicization. This is not the stuff of JPII, nor of the later Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Letter to [members] of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China. Among other things, this Letter called overall for greater communion between the underground Church and the Chinese Patriotic Association (CPA puppet church), explicit recognition of the papacy by each bishop-member of the CPA, and a genuine understanding by the People’s Republic of China that the Church has its own and inviolable principles of existence and governance, and is not an extension of the Western political powers. All three.

    • My reference was to his pontificate, not to his person. If you cannot see the reality of that statement in what you are enduring today as a Roman Catholic you are living in an alternate reality. There is no need to to engage in polemics or go into a long list of examples, simply regard the Catholic landscape. One need merely compare what we know to be the perennial Magisterium of the Church with current pontificate. John Paul was explicitly warned of the emotionally unstable and temperamentally unreliable character of Jorge Mario Bergoglio by the Jesuit Superior General Peter Kolvenbach and he chose to ignore the warning. John Paul’s personal history made him particularly susceptible to the erroneous positivism of the council and clouded his perspective in critical ways. That being said I have the highest esteem for Pope John Paul and regarded him as a saint during his life. One of a multitude of lessons here is that living out of heroic virtue does not constitute flawlessness.

        • I would agree that the ecumenical and inter-faith agenda of the council was indeed erroneous. Pope John Paul was, as were virtually everyone in the post-war epoch subsumed in a mode of self-deception which allowed it not only to flourish but to develop into the syncretism which flourishes today.
          Saintliness does not preclude making grievous errors of judgement. Saints are not flawless. We are all men and women of our time and with that gross reality we must shoulder on.

      • It is simply a lie, some of the many spread by SSPX and other Catholic breakaway sects, that somebody has seen the Kolvenbach report, which no one has seen and no one has revealed anything about this report. Sorry, but just because you read this on one of the flaky “Catholic” JP II hating web sites does not make it true. I am sorry, there is a lot of creepy, horrific lying going on at many “Catholic” web sites these days. In almost all cases, all this misinformation is being spread by people who are very attracted to the SSPX, or their fellow travelers, because JP II excommunicated their tin god Lefebvre, so now they spread their venom against JP II on their websites. SAD!

  4. I don’t believe the mythology anymore about Pope John Paul II (who of course deserves lots of credit for the good that he did, but who also made bad decisions, especially in governance, that make his canonization seem at the very least, rushed too fast.). Nor do I believe any speck of the Vatican II mythology about its necessity or great fruits. It was force-fed to us in seminary and now seems more absurd than ever.

    Vatican II was a failure. Read the rosy, preconceived success optimism of the time period and look around today if you want to see what I mean. I’m more interested on doing my little part to salvage and safeguard what I can for the Catholic remnant.

    • Half of me does agrees with you about what has followed the Council, and agrees 100 percent. But, three nuances:

      First, deconstruction of the Church probably centers on abuses of the Mass, but these abuses were not authorized by the Council itself: “…no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority (Sacrosanctum concilium, 22:1,3)” The culture of dismantling simply ignored the dysfunctional review requirement; the revolutionaries took over at all levels after the council. Divine worship of the Wholly Other was replaced with “project church” percolating up through the people with their master of ceremonies, banners and kumbaya.

      Second, same thing with the Church as a whole, which instead of being both mystically more-than-human, plus institutional, was overrun as simply a sociological “project-Jesus”. Correcting this hijacking view was at least part of the salvaging effort of the Extraordinary Synod of 1985. But the horses asses were already out of the barn.

      Third, regarding “force-fed” seminarians…may I ask, in general did seminarians actually study the documents themselves(yes, muddled in places, but the “real council”)or simply ingest the “virtual council” redacted and marketed by talking heads in collars? (I was not a seminarian, but base my comment on verbal testimony in the 1980s: e.g., “there’s some very interesting points in these documents; we never got any of this is the seminary”.)

    • Exactly. After fifty years of monumental collapse and the utter failure to achieve any of the council’s stated aims, I am absolutely amazed that people can still be found who are willing to recite this nonsense. Vatican 2 is dead. Bury it. Then try to salvage what’s left of Catholicism.

    • I fully agree with you. Why such a haste to canonize John Paul II when we know that the poor maid of Orleans Joan of Ark had to wait for 4 centuries being canonized?
      In addition if the 2 mandatory miracles needed for the saint to be canonized had to comply with the many strict and narrow requirements of the Lourdes’ “Bureau des constatations”, John Paul II would still be waiting for decades his canonization trial to end.

    • My guess is that this Reverend Father is yet another SSPX or similar breakaway sect guy. My, how they hate JP II because he excommunicated their beloved schismatic leader, Lefebvre. Anyone who uses the term “Remnant” as this guy does most likely belongs to one of the breakaway sects, such as SSPX. They love to pretend they are the loyal “Remnant” of the church, even while acting like protestants and declaring themselves the real church, and declaring the real church the fake church. It would not be so bad if they came out declaring the sum total of their schismatic beliefs, but they pose as devout Catholics in comment sections such as this one. You can also note that no serious Catholic priest would declare that the magisterium of the church – Vatican II – is to be ignored. So yes, people, once again the wolves of the breakaway sects have infiltrated amongst us, posing as faithful Catholics when they are in fact trying to pose as Catholics to undermine the church. “Remnant”, indeed. That is the name of the SSPX supporting website. Surely, priests who reject the magisterial authority of Vatican II cannnot in any sense be considered real Catholic priests. If you doubt this, read this website, which lays it out nicely

  5. That photo of Bishop Wojtyla was shortly after he had written a letter to Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, requesting a healing of his close friend, Dr Wanda Poltawska, from terminal cancer. When the doctors were about to perform an operation, they saw the tumours had vanished! Getting back to the subject of Vatican II, let nobody say Wojtyla was not imbued with the Catholic traditions of the past, and his belief that a stigmatized priest (who he had met personally) would be a powerful intercessor with God.

  6. Just because Jesus promised to always be with his church, it does not follow that every decision made by churchmen must automatically be wonderful. This is not a knock on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may guide, but foolish men may choose to be guided by other things that are not so holy.
    Also, the argument from Matthew 25 is flawed by a poor understanding of the text. Jesus is not identifying with the poor, the hungry, etc., wherever they may be found. He is identifying with his poor, hungry, beat-up brethren, that is, his disciples. The “least ones” of Matthew 25 are Christians ( as everyone for the first 1,800 years of Christian history understood ).

  7. Vatican II was an abysmal failure and, as Archbishop Vigano’s noted only last week, is the source of the apostasy and heresy that’s is full blown in Bergoglio. The mythology of John Paul II and especially the retching obsequiousness of those who want to deify him as “The Great” is preposterous. The uncountable liturgical abuses, sexual crimes, and Vatican financial frauds that occurred in his pontificate annoy be ignored or dismissed. And let no one forget that he snd he alone was responsible for elevating the serial homosexual and pedophile rapist McCarrick and the Pachanama idolator, Luther admirer, and radical leftist Bergoglio to the College of Cardinals.

    • Pope John Paul II relaxed or even canceled many strict rules required in the canonization trials. In particular he got rid of the powerful “Devil’s Advocate” job who had the power to block a trial when the failures of a candidate to sainthood were too blatant or controversial. Certainly this helped a lot in his own canonization trial.

    • But if you read and study the VAtican II documents there is nothing in there about a lax attitiude toward homosexuality as a sin or an affinity to nominalism, protestanitism or modernism. Certainly there were those forces trying to effect the outcome of Vatican II, but I don’t think they were actually successful in the documents. The interpretation of Vatican II was the problem because these evil forces are so strong in and against the Church. One can’t condemn the goodness of the universal call to holiness, the clarity of Dei Verbum on the role and interpretation of the scriptures, the magnificient theme with real ontological meaning in it of Prophet, Priest and King. Yes the devil worked against VAtican II but God brings good from evil often. The failure in the Church has been an effective blocking against Modernism, the errors of modern philosophy and theology influenced be these errors. Condemining the work of an entire Council without actually reading and analyzing the documents with a fair appraisal is a sham.

      • “Condemning the work of an entire Council without actually reading and analyzing the documents with a fair appraisal is a sham.”

        Exactly right. I’ve had far too many conversations with certain Catholics who criticize the conciliar documents, but then either cannot come up with quotes or, in some cases, even admit they’ve not really studied the documents. This isn’t to say the documents are not above criticism. But, while still an Evangelical Protestant, I found “Lumen Gentium” to be an beautiful and profound document, and have since read it (and studied it) numerous times. As Benedict XVI stated back in 2012:

        The Second Vatican Council Documents, to which we must return, freeing them from a mass of publications which instead of making them known have often concealed them, are a compass in our time too that permits the Barque of the Church to put out into the deep in the midst of storms or on calm and peaceful waves, to sail safely and to reach her destination. … We see that the era in which we live continues to be marked by forgetting and being deaf to God. I think, therefore, that we should learn the simplest and most fundamental lesson of the Council: namely, that Christianity in its essence consists of faith in God which is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and community encounter with Christ who orients and gives meaning to life. Everything else flows from this. What is as important today as it was for the Council Fathers is that we see — once again, and clearly — that God is present, concerns us and responds to us. And when, instead, man lacks faith in God, the essential collapses because man loses his profound dignity and what makes his humanity great enough to withstand any form of reductionism. The Council reminds us that the Church in all her members, has the task, the mandate of transmitting God’s word of love which saves, so that we may hear and welcome the divine call which contains in itself our eternal beatitude.

        • “Condemning the work of an entire Council without actually reading and analyzing the documents with a fair appraisal is a sham.”


          I never read Marx;s “Das Kapital,” but, having grown up to the right of the Iron Curtain I saw enough of what communism lead to to condemn it outright based on it’s fruits, without ever even laying my eyes on the “founding documents” of that ideology…

          Perhaps we’re now living in the Church that became so emasculated and eviscerated in the aftermath of the council that we don’t really have to read the documents of the council in order to make a discernment, either.

          Oddly enough, when I hear defenders of communism/socialism defend their ideology when shown examples like Cuba, Venezuela, Soviet Union, East Germany, North Korea, Cambodia, China, Albania, and others with millions of victims, they often say that “this was not really socialism” or “this would have worked if it was properly implemented and followed…”

          Sound familiar to you? ‘Cause to me it sure sounds similar to the arguments staunch defenders of the council make, too…

      • Just as there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about the “right to privacy” on which Roe v. Wade’s right an abortion is based. There’s certainly enough imprecise and vague formulations in the documents of VII – especially Gaudium et Spes, so beloved of JP II -that leave wide latitude for mischievous interpretation, as progressives quickly seized. As several other comments have also noted, we need to acknowledge that, whatever its intentions, the actual effects of VII have been a failure, and beyond that, a pure disaster. We need to ask what the Church needs now and how to address those needs, untethered from the decrees of VII.

    • Ah, here is another one of the breakaway sect Catholics, pretending to be real Catholics. Vigano is almost certainly a schismatic, since he now is openly in rebellion against the magisterium of the church. He has gone nutty, claiming Covid is a plot to take over the world. As someone recently suggested, Vigano is indeed, a “tiresome crank” and the tiresome, cranky breakaway sect people view him as their new pope.

      Those who live in the real world understand that Bergoglio was widely known, up until his elevation to the papacy, as a pretty conservative guy who was known because his Jesuit order removed him from power and sent him to exile in a far away city because of his conservative views. So as far as ANYONE IN THE WORLD knew , Bergoglio was strongly conservative because the Jesuits themselves punished him for his conservatism.
      What is bizarre is that this tiny group of flat earth “Catholics” virtually worship Vigano and hang on his every word, despite his clear schismatic tendencies. You can see how strange these breakaway sect people are, all because JP II excommunicated their other tin god, Lefebvre.

  8. James is intuitively correct regarding sanctity and imperfection. Padre Pio would shout angrily, chastise penitents refuse to listen, Jerome of Biblical fame whose fierce admonitions reverberated through Vatican chambers prompting exile to Jerusalem by the pope, Elijah who with flaming wheels triumphantly raced upward into heaven savagely slit the throats of hundreds of Jezebel’s hopping prophets at the edge of a crimsoned creek, the Apostle Paul who cursed circumcising priests would accidentally castrate themselves,,,,Shall I continue? Wait! There’s more. Our Lord selected Judas Iscariot. Was it to fulfill prophesy or to redeem a wicked soul? What gives hope in the human fallibility of the saints is that we the mediocre have a chance at sainthood.

  9. A beautiful and insightful article Professor Bushman. Thank you for reminding us to practice the gift of supernatural faith in Jesus Christ and to put him first in every aspect of our lives so that we may see more clearly (from the inside and in the Spirit). Wonderful! Thank you for reminding us about the call to holiness of each and every baptized Christian. Edifying! The article is a reminder of Saint Augustine’s frequent saying: “Believing is seeing.” Perhaps we might also recall: “Where Saint Peter is, there is the Church.”

    Andrew Rabel! Great and lovely comment on the picture. Thank you for sharing it. Saint Pio, pray for us! Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us!

  10. “In the current ecclesiastical climate, the preceding claims are bound to provoke a variety of responses. For some, perplexity… For others, consternation… For still others, condescending dismissal.” Oh come on. How about simply a considered set of sober reservations based on extensive study and observation? Vatican II is not revelation, and JPII is a saint, not a doctor of the Church and certainly not a prophet. Sure there’s lots of good in the documents of VII. And in JPIIs example and papacy. But there can still be problems in the council’s final statement It attempted to apply gospel truth as well as declare it, and in doing so stepped well beyond the bounds of typical conciliar definitions. Suggesting the whole thing has the stamp of the H.S. is like saying the same thing about the election of popes. Yes… and no.

  11. ‘ The spark to prepare the world for the Second Coming will come from Poland ‘ –

    The above image , even if the colors might seem out of place , for the deeply caring grieving , Fatherly heart of St.John Paul 11 , who knew well what evil in human hearts can be ,what the world was about to face , in the enemy attacks that were manifesting through out ,in the carnal fires unleashed through messages of lust as love , oppression and destruction as ‘serving the poor ‘ through those who had been blinded by the service to the enemy kingdom and knew well , maybe as confirmed to him,by St.Pio , how he was to be part of that spark and fire , by leading The Church

    …and being dedicated to The Mother , knew well how to allow The Spirit to flow ..

    The Spirit , as mighty as He is ,moving the earth , at 18 miles a second and yet do not allow us to feel that impact , being often as gentle as The Dove in our lives ..
    and yet , let the fires burn to expose what need to be , to help bring forth new , through tears and repentance and awareness of need for His mercy , to implore same with ever more fire in our hearts , for generations too .
    Those colors above , would it be that many find similar sort of things , what truly ought to be in the family of gnats mentioned by The Lord , being out of place and allow that distaste , to color all else ( talk about color ! )
    thus attributing the evils unleashed upon the world by the enemy , esp. through the 60’s , to the wrong sources …
    thus forgetting that , if not for that ardent invitation and pleading for The Spirit , through the chosen occasion persons and of the Council too , we might have seen lots more blood red colors and rivers , deep despair without hope and trust in His mercy in many a heart and nation !
    May persons world over , who are constantly exposed to the flood waters of the dragon , be blessed through truths The Church ardently want us to take in , to be thus girdled and armed well , loins and all . 🙂

    Blessings !

  12. I was getting literally ill reading repetitious talk implying an equating of faith with the belief that the work of councils must be acting with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Really? Are Synods the work of the Holy Spirit too? If so, given the numerous idiocies of recent Synods, the Holy Spirit would have to be a fool. But I do not engage in blasphemy to suggest this because I would never say anything so questionable that councils or Synods are automatically the work of the Holy Spirit. And yes, I have read all the documents of VII. But the best of them are like an excellent essay from the minority of good theologians in the Church, with content rescued from the schemes of deconstructionists. Okay, in a limited sense the Holy Spirit was clearly involved, being more merciful to our Church than we deserved.
    But human vanity and sinfulness never takes a holiday. The lessons of man’s enormous capacity for sin from the recent horror of WWII were ignored, and utopianism and syncretism obtained a foothold in the thought among Council members. Not a single theological thought, even by saintly theologians or groups of them, is ever contemplated without the temptation of pride to strike out in a wholly innovative direction that detaches what should never be more than derivative truth from immutable antecedents, especially when “proposed and received with consensus among peers.” The human condition is permanently imperfectible. Believing that it is perfectible via nonexistent “new ideas” that either God is too stupid to have ever thought of or maliciously withheld from the peoples of the past is profound foolishness. So is the belief that man can eventually do what God can never do, eliminate sin altogether and the most common of human experiences and the one thing everyone shares as our greatest talent: self-deception.

  13. At the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Spirit was frantically waving his arms and yelling “No, guys, don’t go there! It’s a mistake!” And the bishops said “Now, now, H.S., go sit in your corner and be quiet. We know what we’re doing.” Self-deception indeed.

  14. I am reading “The Vision of Vatican II – Its Fundamental Principles” by Ormand Rush, an Australian priest and professor, published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 2019. It is superb in its presentation of Vatican II. One of his most telling statements is when he presents the shift in understanding of revelation which took place during the Council: “When seen alongside the original schema De Fontibus Revelationis, according to Avery Dulles, ‘ the view of revelation proposed by Dei Verbum may be characterized as concrete rather than abstract, historical rather than philosophical, biblical rather than scholastic, ecumenical rather than controversial, interpersonal rather than propositional.’ Or, as Rene Latourelle summarizes the shift: ‘The transition to a personalist, historical, and christocentric conception of revelation amounts to a kind of Copernican revolution, compared with the extrinsicist, atemporal, and notional approach that prevailed until the 1950s.’ This paradigm shift conditions all the other principles of the vision of Vatican II outlined below, functioning as a kind of megaprinciple.” (Ibid. p. 40).

    • You have to vet anything coming out of Collegeville very carefully. That place was notorious for being the epicenter of homosexual abuse activity in years gone by. There is even a website devoted to exposing the crimes of the priests there, called Behind the Pine Curtain. A very, very liberal place.

        • Because by declaring a “paradigm shift” one can easily simply dispose of everything that came before as “outdated,” or “we don’t think like that anymore.”
          The fruit of 1900+ years of reflection by the Church, as well as previous Councils and papal teaching, can be discarded as no longer relevant.

          • Actually, the “paradigm shift” of Vatican II was returning to the truly traditional faith of the Church which was narrowed down at the end of the 16th century in order to focus on refuting the Protestant Reformation. Study the Church’s teaching for the first 1500 years, and you will find the understand of revelation which the Council teaches, as first of all a personal relationship with God, then, from that, as the assent of the intellect to the truths of faith. Study the Fathers of the Church and St. Thomas Aquinas. It will help clarify things.

      • By the way, in reading your other comments on this article, I get the impression that you support Vatican II. In that case, I suggest that you check out Rush’s book before you denigrate it. It is a clear-sighted, well reasoned and thoroughly documented vindication of the Council, besides being deeply spiritual. In rejecting it, you may find you have shot one of your best allies in the back.

  15. From the day of the election of St. Pope John Paul ll, I followed him till he died. I followed him through his General Audiences and his noon Angelus talks. He had a great treasure of wisdom that most of the world did not listen to. He condemned every Modernist heresy. He, by the Indult for the Old Mass triggered off the Traditionalist Movement. He called for the “Reform of the Reforms”. He saw Vatican ll in a most positive way as he was one of the Council Fathers. I always sought to see Vatican ll through his perspective, only to be able to accept the Council. But I could never accept the Council in my heart, I could only give lip service to accepting it. I ask that one day his words and writings be so scrutinized that he be given the title “St. Pope John Paul ll The Great”. Most Holy Father, St. John Paul ll ORA PRO NOBIS!

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  1. A Saintly View of Vatican II: On St. John Paul II and the Council (IMO worth reading BUT in prayerful-care…Pjm) – On God's Payroll

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