For Archishop Fulton Sheen’s Thoughts on Vatican II

The good folks over at Catholic Answers have the scoop:

Q: “Did Fulton Sheen support Vatican II? Sheen is a favorite of some who reject the Council, so a quote from him citing his support for Vatican II would be quite helpful for discussions with them.”

A: Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s autobiography Treasure in Clay, which was written just before his death in 1979 and published posthumously, devotes an entire chapter to Sheen’s experience at Vatican II. In his memoirs, Sheen deemed the Council’s document Gaudium et Spes to be “brilliant” (p. 247); he fondly recalled his audiences with both pre-Vatican-II popes such as Pius XI and Pius XII and post-Vatican-II popes such as Bl. John XXIII and Paul VI. Within one year of John Paul II’s election, he was already predicting that John Paul II would be one of the greatest popes in the history of the Church (p. 244).

In addressing the post-conciliar upheaval in the years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, Sheen had this to say:

“The tensions that developed after the Council are not surprising to those who know the whole history of the Church. It is a historical fact that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in a general council of the Church, there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic. Even at the beginning, immediately after Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles, there began a persecution and the murder of Stephen. If a general council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the third Person of the Trinity over the assembly.” (pp. 292–293)

Here is what Archbishop Sheen said in a speech at a gathering of The Legion of Mary,

(Speech given at the Annual Council Officers’ Meeting in Rochester, N.Y.)

“You are the only organization in the world today that ever anticipated the Vatican Council. The only one! You just go through your works and see how far ahead you are of the Council and with the Church. You are Pre-Council, Pro-Council, and Post Council.

First you are a lay organization devoted to the apostolate, though the apostolate was reserved for the clergy. So you swept back about 20 centuries. Read over the list at the close of the Epistle to the Romans, members of the Legion of Mary, so that you will see that you have brought up to date the apostolate of the early Church. Also, in the Acts of the Apostles, it is in the third Act whereby the Church becomes established in a certain house; first a catechist works among the group and finally the Church itself. That is the first way you anticipated the Vatican Council.

The second, and more important still, is that you belong to the out-ministry. We priests belong to the in-ministry. That’s not what God intended, but that’s what happened. We wait for people to come to us and we build bigger rectories. We are failing because we are in in-ministry, waiting. You were from the beginning an out-ministry, commissioned to do the same sort of thing as Our Blessed Lord did ~ walking up and down alleys.

Third, you anticipated it even in relation to the Blessed Mother. This may seem strange but it’s true. Your service is dedicated to building up the Church. It’s not just merely the devotion to Our Lady, it’s a devotion to Our Lady as the Mother of the Church. At the Council, we voted on the question of whether or not to give a new title to Our Lady. Our Lady has many as you know. It was decided not to give her another title. Two weeks later Pope Paul read his Encyclical Letter on the Blessed Mother as the “Mother of the Church.” We gave her a new title. That’s the Mother you love and who is your patroness.

You are a small group ~ you have to be. Remember this! The Holy Spirit never works with the majority, only with minorities. You are the only present effective apostolate that we have in the world.

My good legionaries, this is what you are. From what I have told you, you know how much esteem and affection I have for you. I say you have anticipated the Vatican Council ~ the future apostolate of the Church, and you are only at the beginning, just the beginning. Pray often to the Holy Spirit that your zeal will spread and that others will have the courage to do it. I consider it an honor, really an honor, to be in the midst of you. Just as sometimes oil gets outside of a bottle by osmosis, so too, by being near you, I hope to get some of your spirit.”

Can you say, “Two Thumbs Up!?” Might I add that Jacques Maritain agrees (from what I’ve read in his final book The Peasant of the Garrone)? Guadium et Spes is, I don’t know, is immaculate too strong a word? If so, then it is as near to perfect as I’ve ever seen.

Read it for yourself and see.

Vatican II, its here to stay. For more answers to your questions on the Catholic Faith, head over to the aptly named Catholic Answers website. Lot’s of good information is available there.

Update: Carl Olson with Archbishop Sheen’s thoughts on comparing religions.

  • Dave

    Thanks for sharing this Frank!

  • priest’s wife

    I reject the wackiness that some people went for after vatican II- but the actual documents are lovely

  • Ruth Ann

    Great post! I grew up on Bishop Sheen!

  • JM

    Sheen and Maritain both died somewhat depressed over the fruit of the Council, but in denial that the documents themselves could have anything to do with that. In retrospect their idealism seems a bit "Immaculate"? I think the current Pope's comments on it are a bit more muted, and he was more privy to it than those quoted."At discussions of Gaudium et Spes in September 1965, Ratzinger voiced many of the criticisms that would later appear in his books and articles: The schema was too naturalistic and unhistorical, took insufficient notice of sin and its consequences, and was too optimistic about human progress.All in all, we may say that Ratzinger belonged to the inner circle of theologians whose thinking prevailed at Vatican II. Still in his thirties, he as yet lacked the public standing of Congar, Rahner, and Gérard Philips. In the early sessions he collaborated very closely with Rahner and the German Jesuits in opposition to the Roman School, though he spoke with moderation. As the council progressed, Ratzinger became more independent. He made an original and important contribution to the document on missions and mounted a highly personal critique of the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, reflecting his preference for Augustine over Aquinas and his sensitivity to Lutheran concerns….The pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes in final form was primarily the work of French theologians. The German group did not control the text. At the time of the council Ratzinger already noted many difficulties, beginning with the problem of language. In opting for the language of modernity the text inevitably places itself outside the world of the Bible, so that as a result the biblical citations come to be little more than ornamental. Because of its stated preference for dialogue, the constitution makes faith appear not as an urgent demand for total commitment but as a conversational search into obscure matters. Christ is mentioned only at the end of each section, almost as an afterthought.Instead of replacing dogmatic utterances with dialogue, Ratzinger contends, it would have been better to use the language of proclamation, appealing to the intrinsic authority of God’s truth. The constitution, drawing on the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, links Christian hope too closely to the modern idea of progress. Material progress is ambivalent because it can lead to degradation as well as to true humanization. The Cross teaches us that the world is not redeemed by technological advances but by sacrificial love. In the section on unification, Gaudium et Spes approaches the world too much from the viewpoint of function and utility rather than that of contemplation and wonder.Ratzinger’s commentary on the first chapter of Gaudium et Spes contains still other provocative comments. The treatment of conscience in article 16, in his view, raises many unsolved questions about how conscience can err and about the right to follow an erroneous conscience. The treatment of free will in article 17 is in his judgment “downright Pelagian.” It leaves aside, he complains, the whole complex of problems that Luther handled under the term “servum arbitrium,” although Luther’s position does not itself do justice to the New Testament.Ratzinger is not wholly negative in his judgment. He praises the discussion of atheism in articles 19-21 as “balanced and well-founded.” He is satisfied that the document, while “reprobating” atheism in all its forms, makes no specific mention of Marxist communism, as some cold warriors had desired. He is enthusiastic about the centrality of Christ and the Paschal mystery in article 22, and he finds in it a statement on the possibilities of salvation of the unevangelized far superior to the “extremely unsatisfactory” expressions of Lumen Gentium 16, which seemed to suggest that salvation is a human achievement rather than a divine gift.

  • JM

    With regard to this constitution, the later Ratzinger does not seem to have withdrawn his early objections, notwithstanding his exhortations to accept the entire teaching of Vatican II. But he finds that the ambiguities of Gaudium et Spes have been aggravated by secularist interpretations. The council was right, Ratzinger maintains, in its desire for a revision of the relations between the Church and the world. There are values that, having originated outside the Church, can find their place, at least in corrected form, within the Church. But the Church and the world can never meet each other without conflict. Worldly theologies too easily assimilate the gospel to secular movements.In scattered references here and there in his interviews, Ratzinger mentions at least three specific deviations in the interpretations.In the first place, Gaudium et Spes did make reference to signs of the times, but it stated that they need to be discerned and judged in the light of the gospel. Contemporary interpreters treat the signs of the times as a new method that finds theological truth in current events and makes them normative for judging the testimony of Scripture and tradition.Secondly, the pastoral constitution may have erred in the direction of optimism, but it did speak openly of sin and evil. In no less than five places it made explicit mention of Satan. Post-conciliar interpreters, however, are inclined to discount Satan as a primitive myth.Finally, Gaudium et Spes refers frequently to the Kingdom of God. Enthusiastic readers prefer to speak simply of the kingdom (without reference to any king) or, even more vaguely, to the “values” of the kingdom: peace, justice, and conservation. Can this trio of values, asks Ratzinger, take the place of God? Values, he replies, cannot replace truth, nor can they replace God, for they are only a reflection of him. Without God, the values become distorted by inhuman ideologies, as has been seen in various forms of Marxism.";=4&hl;=en&ct;=clnk≷=us&source;

  • Anonymous

    JM,Theologian Ratzinger, even though now elected Pope, was/is not THE COUNCIL. One man, one view, one critique. I appreciate your solidarity w/ him, and I appreciate the Holy Father unique role in Church history then and now, but you/him are not the Council speaking. The Bishops spoke. The Holy Father affirmed. Your desire to undermine is divisive. Whether it's progressives who seek to go too far or traditionalists who seek to roll back, the Church suffers greatly from such disunity and personal subjective bias regardless of source.

  • Frank

    OK, let's not get into verbal fisticuffs here. For clarity, when the Bishops spoke, the Holy Spirit spoke. Let us ponder upon that fact regarding the unity of our Holy Church and submission to the Magisterium, through Christ our Lord.